Writing Workshop

Here’s a thought: how about a writing and criticism section on my message board? A place where people can stick up samples of their writing and have others criticise it? This would be an internet version of the kind of postal workshop, or folio, I was a member of for about 10 years…
Obviously I wouldn’t be able to add lots of comments myself while I’m in Crete, but this could still be a useful resource for those who want to write.
H/T Guy Haley

Oh, and seeing as I nicked this idea from Guy I just went and bought his novella (a mere 65p) for my kindle.

Brighton Weekend

So, we popped down to Brighton (I’ll scatter a few pictures here) by train to visit Peter Lavery. He was the editorial director of Pan Macmillan (and Tor) and is now retired, that is, he doesn’t have to go to London any more but still spends a lot of time freelance editing books. He bought flat in Brighton because he likes to be by the sea, with easy access to plenty of facilities, but also wanted a place with fewer stairs. He’s worried about his mobility in later life, but still manages to leave us Essex flatlanders utterly knackered when we all go for a stroll.
Arriving just a quarter of an hour after us from Hastings was the legendary Tanith Lee and her husband John Kaiine, and we enjoyed plenty of red wine, fish-and-chips and conversation with them. Tanith Lee has been a bit of a heroine of mine since I started reading her books at about the age of 14. The first ones were Stormlord and Birthgrave, a particular favourite was Volhavaar and frankly, I’ve never read a book of hers I haven’t enjoyed. She’s written somewhere in the region of 90 books but for reasons that baffle me doesn’t get published so much now. However there is hope on the horizon concerning her backlist, which may be appearing as ebooks in the near future. If or when that happens I’ll let you know.
The following day I woke up with a mouth as dry as a camel’s fundament and a head feeling like someone had taken a baseball bat to it. This was my birthday, when we took a ride on the Brighton ‘eye’, had more fish-and-chips and red wine and when I got my present from Caroline: a Kindle. So I have now joined the 21st century.
The next day, after obligatory strolls, we then met up with Elizabeth and Deirdre Counihan. These sisters were the publishers of a magazine called Scheherazade – one of the many knocking about in the small presses twenty odd years ago and in which my story The Halfman’s Cellar appeared. We had pasta with the red wine and conversation this time.
In all it was an enjoyable experience, though bloody cold and I didn’t enjoy the booze as much as I expected. Throughout it all we caught up on a lot of publishing world gossip. It was both sad and illuminating for me to realize just how many writers, who were taken on by Macmillan at around the same time as me (I’m talking about over a couple of years), have fallen by the wayside. Counting up this morning I see that less than half of them are still around regularly producing books and getting published.
Writers who were heavily hyped and vaunted as the next big thing appeared with a big flash-bang and disappeared with a whimper. The reasons behind this are manifold. Some did some really silly things, like getting greedy agents who claimed to be able to turn them into major league sellers and just failed to sell their books. Others just could not keep up the production, or match the quality of their first book. Some became rather too in love with the idea of what they thought they were, and forgot that this is a job that you really need to keep working at. They believed their own hype and thought everything they typed was gold, and it wasn’t. Others just decided they hated the whole writing world and dropped out of it.
During those lengthy conversations I also got confirmation of some things I already suspected. Publishing is no different from any other human endeavour: favourites can be chosen and cliques formed, bitchiness can abound (especially among the writers). Writing for critics might get you some nice publicity and you’ll find yourself feted amongst the SFF literati and wannabe academics, and you might even snatch a few awards. But writing for your readers and keeping an eye on ringing tills is what will ensure your survival. Having an editor who isn’t afraid to tell you you’re waffling is an essential. Never believe the hype – believe your fans and believe sales.
An enjoyable and interesting weekend in all, but now it’s time to get back to work.   

Dreams and Nightmares

Damn but I wish I had dreams, and nightmares, more often. Last night I was chasing sheep off a vegetable patch I had in my parent’s garden whereupon I came upon a really tough cobweb made by a large green spider. When I cut the web it collapsed into a powerful spring. When I showed this spring to Steven Spielberg he didn’t believe me, so I threw part of it at him and told him to get it analysed. Next I was in a toilet in which the urinals and toilet bowl folded out from concealment, which was good, because they were filthy. There I found another web and another spider, though this spider was larger and covered in flowers. The spiders then made a perfectly natural transformation into worms I kept in a pencil packet and thereafter things got a bit chaotic…

Why do I wish for more dreams and even nightmares? Consider a nightmare I had many years ago. I was on an island covered in jungle, stepped onto a bridge over a stream and saw what looked like trout in the clear flow of water. Then one of the trout lifted its tubular thread-cutting mouth out of the water and I realized it was a leech. Retreating to the beach lying before a wall of jungle I saw long spidery blue hands reaching out and grapping someone (it might have been me – you know how jumbled nightmares are). Later this person was found, still alive, without his skin… I think you can work out where this one went.

Another nightmare involved being trapped in a cellar. The floor of the cellar was mud I was fighting not to sink into, and while struggling I realized the mud was actually alive. Next, out of the darkness came something moving like and ape. It turned out to be the still living body of a man, headless and chopped off at the waist. But he was okay because I knew he was there to help me. This nightmare I turned into a story called The Halfman’s Cellar which got me ‘honourable mention’ in the ‘Writers of the Future’ contest in 1991 and was published in a magazine called Scheherazade in 1994.

So what do I need to do, eat more cheese or something?

Nostalgia Trip.

After putting up that clip of the coming John Carter of Mars film, and then searching for the cover of the first of those Edgar Rice Burroughs books I got hold of, I’ve been pondering on the first SFF books I read. When I do interviews, I often chunter on about first having my mind distorted by E. C. Tubb’s Earl Dumarest saga, but maybe I chose that simply because of its connection to the first bit of creative writing I did in school (wholly derivative stuff about people having their brains removed). But I wonder which book was the first.

There are a few contenders. I know that the first E. C. Tubb book I read was The Winds of Gath. However, did I read that before one of the books my mother – a school teacher – was reading to her kids and kept at home: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. As an aside here I should mention that the second bit of SF I attempted to write, as a teenager, was something called The Crab, the Serpent and the Carpenter … shortly after something called The Planet of the Light Creatures, with drawings.

I also remember my first visit to a library and, when asked by mother what I would like to read, I mentioned that I had enjoyed a story a school teacher had been reading to my class. Knowing the author she directed me to the relevant shelf. The story mention was The Hobbit, and the book I picked up was The Two Towers by Mr Tolkein. But was I already reading the previously mentioned books before that.

Then we get back to John Carter. I picked up A Princess of Mars out of my brother Martin’s collection of books (mostly Louis L’Amour cowboy books), but was I already reading the skiffy stuff then? I don’t know … had I by then started picking up those Robert E. Howard Conan books? And how long was it before I started in on Larry Niven and my first taste of Ringworld Engineers?

John Carter (2012) Trailer 2 HD 1080p

Okay. I watched one trailer and wasn’t convinced, but seeing this one I now know I’ve got to see this. I think John Carter of (on?) Mars was about one of the first SFF books I ever read. It was the big four-armed green bugger on the cover that attracted my attention.


I was looking round for the cover picture of ‘John Carter of Mars’ which shows you how your memory plays tricks with you. The first of these books I read was ‘A Princess of Mars’.


Here we go. Andy Remic contacted me about maybe submitting a story to Vivisepulture. Now, I don’t really have any Polity related short stories that haven’t already been published somewhere, but I do still have a few nasties in my files, so I sent him one called Plastipak. You’ll find the kindle version here. I’m told:

The official release date is 20th December, and the antho will be going out for the special Christmas price of £0.99p (to try and get it up those Amazon charts!!). On 26th December it will revert to £1.99.

                                  Edited by Andy Remic and Wayne Simmons
Welcome to our anthology, a collection of weird and bizarre tales of twisted imagination by Neal Asher, Tony Ballantyne, Eric Brown, Richard Ford, Ian Graham, Lee Harris, Colin Harvey, Vincent Holland-Keen, James Lovegrove, Gary McMahon, Stan Nicholls, Andy Remic, Jordan Reyne, Ian Sales, Steven Savile, Wayne Simmons, Guy N. Smith, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Jeffrey Thomas, Danie Ware, Ian Watson and Ian Whates. Artwork by Vincent Chong.
The anthology is dedicated to the late Colin Harvey, with great affection.
In the tradition of Poe, Kafka, Borges and H. G. Wells, this collection of weird stories are written with the primary drive of presenting twisted deviations of normality. Whether it’s the deviant factory workers of Neal Asher’s Plastipak™ Limited, the pus-oozing anti-cherub of Ian Graham’s Rotten Cupid, the acid-snot disgorging freak of Andy Remic’s SNOT, or Ian Watson’s alternate zombie-crucifixion, each story will drag your organs up through your oesophagus and give your brain a chilli-fired beating.
Vivisepulture is an EBOOK original anthology edited by Andy Remic and Wayne Simmons. Vivisepulture can be purchased from www.anarchy-books.com in PDF, EBOOK and MOBI formats.
EPUB versions can also be read on your PC/MAC by installing Adobe’s Digital Editions for free. Check out: www.adobe.com/products/digitaleditions/

5 Desert Island Reads – Andy Oliver

Here are another five desert island reads (once again demonstrating that my fans can’t count) for you to pore over and discuss whilst I bugger off down to Hastings for a few days to eat fish and chips and drink red wine.

Hi Neal,

Here are my desert island books. Sorry for the poor quality photo – was taken on my phone as I cannot find our camera, and also for for my dog’s ass – he would not move out the way!

Like others have found I really struggled to cut the list down so I also have cheated slightly. Rendezvous with Rama & The Stars My Destination are both quite small you see – so I figured that they would only take up the room of one larger book (self justification, self justification).

I walked along my shelves and could easily have doubled the number I ended up with, but I made a deliberate choice to not have books others have chosen (with one exception, more on that later), so there are no Asher, Banks or Baxter, however the choices for those would have been the Skinner (first Asher book I read and look where that got me 😉 ), Banks would have been possibly Player of Games, but that would have been a difficult choice, and for Baxter well, god knows. As someone mentioned – he turns his hand at everything and is pretty damn good at it all!!

So, onto my choices:

Rendezvous with Rama (and the follow up Rama books too) – Arther C Clarke – 2001 may be a seminal work and it truly is a good book but the Rama sequence is an epic journey of a story. I this when I was about 17 ro 18, and it has shaped my reading ever since, I very quickly had to read the following trilogy of Rama books. I was always drawn to SF, but I think this book sealed the deal.

The story follows an alien cylinder which enters the solar system so we send an crew to find out what it is. We follow the crew through there exploration and slow understanding of the vessel only to be left wanting more at the end. Then followed a series (3 more) of books which take you onto a universal scale tour finally exploring the true meaning of our place in the universe.


The stars my destination (Tiger Tiger) – Alfred Bester – my only double of someone else (I think), but I had to have this here. I read this in one night, I was just lost in the story. The story of Gully Foyle is intense and dramatic. Revenge and murder are both beautifully shown in the story. Our protagonist develops from a feckless nobody into a one man killing machine with high intelligence and, more than a desire, a necessity, to succeed in his mission.

The Descent – I read this before the movie came out, again when I was 19 or 20. Its the story of an underground world of ‘monsters’ who became more advanced than us, but then lost the skills and smarts (or just stopped learning) while we on the surface kept on expanding. If I remember correctly a group of explorers go wandering, get into trouble, then it escalates with the army becoming involved. There is war, massive scale death, ambushes and deception.

Hmm, haven’t read it in quite a while so need to re read it – I’m struggling to remember the finer details of the story, but it made enough of an impression for me to choose it here.

Altered Carbon – the first of Richard Morgans Kovac’s trilogy, and also Morgans first novel. Its a fast paced blitz through a short period of Kovacs life. He is a former Envoy – a special forces solider – who has been forcible ‘hired’ by a man who is part of the long lived ‘Meths’ (Methuselah), This man was killed but everyone has a cortical stack which records the essence of the person. This can be backed (if you have the money) up so Bancroft only lost 24 hrs – now he wants to know why.

The only way to truly kill people is to blow out the stack and hope they don’t have a backup somewhere.

Inverted World – Christopher Priest, I had not read any Priest stuff before but this definitely makes me want to (he also wrote the Prestige which was a film with Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman). The story here follows a city which travels along tracks to stay ahead of time. The residents of the city have to build the tracks ahead of them, and rip them up from behind. Along the way they encounter ‘natives’ from outside the city who the occasionally trade with. Often the trade involved the ‘loan’ of women who are used for breeding to ensure the city’s population remains topped up.

The story follows one man growing up and becoming an explorer who helps to produce the route that the city must take. These explorers age artificially quickly, due to the nature of the world. Big revelations and a fantastic slow reveal twist make this a brilliant read.

Yellow Blue Tibia – Adam Roberts. This is an excellent, comedic tale that starts with Stalin calling together a (dozen perhaps) SF authors from across Russia to write a story about alien invasion and domestic terror. This is to be used to replace the waning threat of America so that Stalin can keep the Russian citizens under control.

Quite quickly the group is disbanded and told to forget everything they have thought of ‘or else!’

Years later the story they wrote appears to be coming true. The story is excellently written with some fantastic laugh out loud sections, (the torture section where our protagonist turns the questions around on his questioner – I had to read twice because I kept laughing!), but its not all jokes. There is a very good twisting story that keeps moving from start to end.

Definitely recommended – as is ‘Dragon with a girl Tattoo’, a recent Roberts book parodying a certain Swedish novel that has recently been making waves!

What’s left…

Oh, that’s it – I’ve finished my list!! Doh

I can certainly recommend all the above for people to read. Hope that above has made good reading.


Andy (Osh on the comments section occasionally)

Bugger – just remembered about Joe Haldeman – Peace and War (forever war series), another I would happily have on my island, but thankfully that’s been covered by someone else!

Oh – and any spelling mistakes have obviously occurred while Neal put this on his blog as opposed to during my typing!! Honests…

5 Desert Island Reads — Phil Middleton

Hello Neal,

Well, that was a challenge and if you give me another ten minutes I’ll change them all again.

One thing I have now noticed is that most of the books I read these days are multiple volume stories. There are many authors I could include, ASHER, Hamilton, Clark, Reynolds, Banks but it’s always nice to have some variation. Of course if I washed up on a desert island with my luck the only other survivor would be the crate of Mills and Boon!

Jack the Bodiless by Julian May. After borrowing The Saga of the Exiles from a friend and thoroughly enjoying it I moved on to this, The Galactic Milieu series. Mankind’s telepathic abilities awake and while they argue and fight among themselves the rest of the galaxy watches, for a while anyway. I just liked the concept and as most of the story was set in modern times you can relate to it a little more. Unfortunately Mays later books did nothing for me.

Illium by Dan Simmons. Now here’s an author that can knock out a mean book. Dan, as already mentioned by Rob Darby, is probably best known for The Hyperion books, which I have read, but my preference is for Illium/Olympus. The siege of Troy mixed with sentient robots and strange goings-on on planet earth, what more could you ask for. Dan is one of these authors who can turn his hand to anything it appears; SF, detectives, horror.

Evolution by Stephen Baxter. Where does this man get his ideas from? Mammoths, alternate history, “human” civilizations existing at the micron size, to name but a few. I have yet to find a Baxter book I didn’t enjoy. I would have to place him as my second favourite author…………..can you guess who’s first?

The Gap into Conflict by Stephen Donaldson. This, of course, represents the whole Gap series. Having read “The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant” and being very impressed by a fantasy that didn’t obviously rip off the Lord of the Rings I think Donaldson made an exceptional debut in scfi. He has since chosen to revisit Thomas Covenant but hopefully he may write some more scfi in the future.

The Silkie by A E Van Vogt. This I’ve had for a long time so it must have something going for it. If I remember correctly it’s about genetically modified humans. I don’t know if I’ve read any more of his books and certainly can’t name any. This obviously needs more investigation

So there you go, hardest bit of work I’ve done all week!


Best regards

Phil Middleton
Purchasing and Logistics Manager

Last Argument of Kings — Joe Abercrombie

This was a hugely enjoyable completion to the trilogy. What else is there to say? Okay: great characters I really cared about, pain that really hurt, the dirt blood and reality of battles in which people are hacking at each other with effing great meat cleavers and, very very loosely paraphrasing Arthur C Clarke, magic with the drawbacks of technology, especially the kind of technology that appeared at the end of the cold war and has haunted us ever since. I also have to acknowledge wry hat-tips here, and in the other books, to various, ahem, famous speeches and scenes both in reality and fiction. Immediately springing to mind from the last book are The Caves of Moria, whilst in this one we have Churchill… And for me, it’s been wonderful to discover that I still like fantasy, or rather, I like fantasy that’s done well. Nice one Mr Abercrombie.