Forbidden Planet Signing

So, I turned up at the offices of Macmillan at about 12.20. I was a bit early but didn’t fancy mooching about the streets of London until it was time because it was bloody cold. After I’d signed in and sat down Louise Buckley came out to keep me company for a while. Only then did I spot my books in the display behind the reception desk.
Bella Pagan duly arrived and we headed out to a nearby pub/restaurant. A short while later the others arrived and an enjoyable 2 hour lunch ensued. From left to right these are James Long, Bella, Me, Julie Crisp and Sam Eades.

These guys had to go back to work afterwards so that left me at a loose end for a while. I took the tube over to Holborn and wandered towards Forbidden Planet, slipping into a pub called the Princess Louise for a glass of wine. There I was alone effectively in a booth by the bar so I had a stealthy vape or two. The barman spotted this and told me I could not do that in there. Fucking jobsworth. This annoyed me so I left. This, I decided, was probably a good thing because I did not want to turn up at my signing completely bladdered. I just turned in the opposite direction from Forbidden Planet and walked up High Holborn for half an hour as far as St. Paul’s before turning round and heading back.

I arrived at Forbidden Planet at about 5.20…
…and was conducted into their backroom offices. The décor there tells you precisely where you are, especially the aliens climbing out of the desk. 
The staff brought in a stack of my books to sign for pre-orders. Sam Eades turned up a little later for moral support as we waited for signing time. I had coffee and a chocolate biscuit, both of which I ended up abandoning when I was told there was a queue outside.

When I went out well there was a queue – about my first ever – but then I guess that’s what happens when you haven’t done a signing for 7 to 8 years. The first two guys here were collectors who had me sign 30 to 40 books. I recognised the first guy from a previous signing – tad unnerving to note he was right there are the front of the queue wearing surgical gloves!

The whole hour was used up signing books and standing up for photos. I’m told that out of 100 copies of Dark Intelligence there were 30 left. Whether the figures included those I signed for pre-order I don’t know. Here’s a few of the guys who were there.

After the signing, as was my habit on previous occasions there, I went round to The Angel for a beer or two. Some of my fans were there and an enjoyable evening ensued. Right now I must apologise to those who attended who didn’t know about this. I didn’t want to broadcast it and end up swamping the pub and sort-of assumed that those who follow me on Twitter and Facebook knew about it.
At kicking out time I finally managed to buy a round. Once that was gone I said my goodbyes and headed off. It was about midnight when I caught a train back towards Wickford. I remember seeing the first station it passed through then nothing afterwards until some woman shook me awake. I’d slept through numerous stops, missed the one at Wickford and now the train was parked up at Southend Victoria. Bugger. I was too knackered to think about getting a train back so got a taxi home, which cost me £50.
But in all, this was successful and enjoyable. It’s humbling to see fans who have travelled quite some way just to get my scrawl in a book. There were people there who had come from France, Germany and one even from Japan. If there’s anything that is going to reaffirm my intention to get back to writing properly then this is it. 

Tanith Lee

When I was first being published by Macmillan I used to get invited to various parties, book launches and conventions. Generally I went not because I’m a party person, though the free booze did help, but because I felt obliged to go. At these events I met some interesting people. Many of those who were being published by Pan Macmillan at the time like China Mieville, Liz Williams, Justina Robson and Andy Secombe. Some other stars like Jon Courtney Grimwood, Alastair Reynolds and Freda Warrington. And then some megastars like Harry Harrison and Michael Moorcock.

While Caroline and I were at the launch of a book by an up-and-coming fantasy writer called Cecilia Dart-Thornton, sat in a corner out of the way, we spotted a guy standing up at the bar by himself. Peter Lavery, my editor at the time, went over to him and they chatted for a while. I noticed the guy looking over at us then he came over with Peter. He apparently came over to chat with us because we seemed like the only normal regular people in the room. Standing at about six and a half feet tall in his boots, with long black hair like a red indian, this guy did not strike me as quite so regular and normal. However, he was great company and a good evening was had, terminating after drunken pizza. This was John Kaiine who I was excited to learn was the husband of Tanith Lee.

Tanith Lee wasn’t there that evening but I did get to meet her later on during a trip to Hastings, and have been meeting up with her and John there ever since. Here’s the thing: checking dates I see that The StormLord was published in 1976 so I must have read it sometime after the age of 15, but not long after I think. Either that book, or another called Birthgrave, was my first Tanith Lee. Over the ensuing years I read many of her books (not all in the collection here since I used to regularly burn through whatever the library had too) and I can state without reservation that I never read one I didn’t like. When asked some years back for my top ten fantasy books I put her Volkhavaar in that list. I was even lucky enough to get a stack of signed copies from the lady herself.
Since meeting her I’ve learned that her books have been in and out of print over the years and that I’ve probably hardly dented the surface. She’s had 90 books published. During one chat with them the subject of ebooks came up and I was surprised to learn that this massive backlist wasn’t then available. Now it seems that it is, while others of her books are being released. So, if you like your fantasy Gothic and bloody (and let me add that she was the one who invented that kind of fantasy), I suggest you give them a try.      

Christmas Done.

The season of goodwill and good cheer and all that shite. Well, as I have learned, it’s about the worst time of year if someone you shared it with has died. I didn’t even consider getting out the decorations, since I always passed them from the loft down to Caroline and, really, it just seemed like an empty thing to do. And knew that I was going to bugger off somewhere. I think receiving Christmas cards addressed to Neal & Caroline just affirmed that. It’s a silly time of year often of pointless presents and, obviously, of meaningless Christmas card lists. Thankfully, my first boss at Macmillan, Peter Lavery, had a place for me to stay so I buggered off to Hastings.

Amazing how a bit of sunlight transforms a place and it was bright and sunny on Christmas day. A lot of wandering about ensued and since this is also the season of excessive boozing, that too.

Had to include this picture. This is Inspector Foyle’s house from Foyle’s War. I have other pictures on my phone, which I’ll download when I find or purchase the correct USB cable. These are of the house where Rider Haggard lived and the house where Alan Turing was born. I didn’t get a picture of the first pub I ever went into there – where Whistler drank – it’s been converted into four flats.

While there I met John Kaiine and Tanith Lee and had an excellent afternoon. I’ll talk more about that in another post, because people need to be aware that many of her 90 books (I’ve never read one I didn’t like) are being reissued and can now be picked up on Kindle. Above is the first I ever read. I was attracted by the cover probably because back then I was reading the Robert E Howard Conan books, but found something very different.

But I drank too much wine. This resulted in some stupid drunkenness and crashing depression. I came back home to a familiar stabbing in the guts and feelings I remembered from my earlier months in Crete, and which are somewhat more than hangover blues. And even a day later I’m still getting post alcoholic cringes. That’s Christmas over and done for me and the start now of the season of temperance. I’ll not toast in the New Year – just hope it’s a better one.

Full of Illusions

On June 3rd of last year there was only this post that might have given anyone a hint that something was wrong:
Well, how odd that my last post concerned health systems. So, without going into personal detail, what do you think of the likelihood of this happening on the NHS: getting to see a doctor, without appointment, in quarter of an hour; less than an hour later getting blood and urine taken for testing at a microbiology lab; then an ultrasound scan shortly after that, but only when your bladder is full enough – being sent away by the technician to drink beer and water; then being sent by the technician to a specialist doctor for further check-ups and another scan (though having to wait for half an hour because the doctor was busy); and the next day – at midday – getting an MRI scan; and, in every case, being greeted by the professional concerned with, “Yes, I know who you are.” Actually, I wonder if this would even be possible in England if you went private. Quite a lot of this is to do with numbers of people.

Of course this was about Caroline who, though she felt fine at the time, had noticed some blood appearing where it hadn’t since before her (early) menopause. I wrote some more for this blog, but she didn’t want me to post stuff about her and, as things steadily went from bad to worse I just didn’t write about it any more. Writing is often cathartic. In this case it just wasn’t.

But why the title of this blog post? Well, here’s one of those unpublished posts from a week after the one above.

June 10th

Well, it’s been a traumatic week, hence the lateness of this blog entry. The hospital stuff I related last Monday concerned Caroline who, it turns out, has a cluster of growths eleven-and-a-half centimetres across in one of her ovaries. The internet being the perfect hunting ground for the hypochondriac, in that it is a place where you can relate any set of symptoms to some lethal malady, we were having fun looking at ovarian cancer. If she had that her chances were not much different to those of my brother Martin i.e. she could survive for five years, with treatment, but it wouldn’t be life. However, there are no growths outside of her ovary, her lymphatic system is showing no signs of anything nasty and it seems that these growths are benign. That being said they have to go.
A number of years ago we would have gone running back to England but now we know better. If we went back it seems likely that months of hospital and doctor visits would ensue, with lengthy waits between each, followed by another lengthy wait for an operation. Screw that – we’re going private here. What else are savings for if not for something like this? The gynaecologist is booking Caroline into a private clinic in Iraklion for an operation within the next ten days. Hopefully a result of that will be that she’ll lose all those twinges and back-aches, and regain her waistline – much to the irritation of many women here who already think she’s far too slim.
We were wrong about the tumours being benign, wrong about the survival time, wrong about staying in Crete for treatment, wrong about the kind of cancer it turned out to be … in fact it was from this point onwards that our illusions were steadily destroyed – the ground cut from underneath us week after week. But yes, she did lose her large belly after the oophorectomy and hysterectomy she had here in England and, of course, there’s nothing quite so slimming as something called cachexia.   

Steam Punk Zeppelins!

Here’s a little taste of what some fans get up to when you’re not keeping a careful eye on them. I’ve been asked to name a starship simulator and to provide some tongue in cheek names for some airships, which I’m glad to do. The starship simulator could so easily be Schrodinger’s Box out of The Engineer (esp. when you look at that caravan). I’ll hand over to Paul Mackay now:

HMAS Absence of Gravitas is a 1969 Carlight Cassetta caravan with a ‘victorianised’ interior. We have used a back projection system to project from outside onto the interior front windows so it actually looks like you are in the gondola of an airship with the horizons:


The control linkages use miniature potentiometers to feed control inputs into the sim which runs into a PC running Flight Sim 2004 with an airship mod. There is a navigator’s station (uses a real map as location is real world correct and can plot routes using it). The engineers panel has 4 separate throttles which can all be set independently, useful if you want to chuck in a failure or fire scenario. The helmsman controls the nose pitch and engine angle (as they rotate up and down in modern airships). There is usually a captain as well.

Big brother is moving towards constructing a second sim that will be able to run several different software packages – i.e submarine, starship or airship. The problem with the caravan sim is that we can’t bring it indoors whereas the second sim (that we would like you to name) comes in collapsible sections that can be erected in pieces. 
The second will run a package called Artemis which is a multi station starship bridge simulator hoping you might be able to come up with a name for the starship sim. (see diagram above, its only half finished).
As I said earlier, we we run a gift shop at shows…we make and sell merchandise related to the sim – mostly my steampunk jewellery but also things like pewter cast airship keyrings, badges etc. We are also hoping to commission a poster of lots of scale drawings of various ‘ships of the line’ – all imaginary airships as if we had this whole alternative historical backstory, with the ‘Absence of Gravitas’ as just one of the fleet. We were wondering if you wanted to give us a few tongue in cheek bombastic airship names as well – think I might have to call one of them ‘Penny Royal’ if you don’t mind.
Anyway, just thought you might be interested in the sort of stuff your fans get up to when we aren’t waiting for the next book.

We have some masters getting 3D modelled in Holland at the mo, then we make silicon moulds from them and use them to cast models in pewter to sell to punters. The sims have to pay their way in the diesel etc. to get it to shows, we don’t profit much but it pays its way.

Regards and can’t wait for more writings


We took a train to Chester on Friday, neither Caroline nor I particularly liking driving there, and it was a quick and easy journey. Also, for no immediately apparent reason it was cheaper to travel by train there than it was to go to Brighton. Go figure. Here are a few photos of that city.

We went to see my brother Bob, sister-in-law Christine and their two daughters Samantha and Rebecca. Here’s Christine, Bob and Caroline.
Here’s the Waterstones I visited. On seeing that they only had four of my books there I wasn’t going to bother to ask if they wanted them signed, but relented. The girl working behind the counter then took a number of books out of a display alcove and put my signed copies up in it, along with my book marks, so it was worth it.
The whole break involved an awful lot a walking, which I’m still recovering from. I think my body went into a kind of shock after the first five miles, which could only be relieved later on by copious red wine. 

Join In

I’ve been going back through my blog selecting out old reviews I’d done and posting them on Good Reads. While doing this I was reminded of various ways in which readers of this blog can get involved beyond just commenting.
There is the ‘Who Reads My Books’ thread. For this you send me a biography (doesn’t have to be very long and I will edit the English) a photograph of yourself and, if you like, a few more photos of related interest: maybe something about what you do, maybe your family, maybe your book collection. Here’s Huan Tan’s example.
There is the ‘Five Desert Island Reads’ thread. Send pictures of the books concerned (if you can) along with an explanation of why you would like these books on that island. Here’s Andy Oliver’s example.
Pictures of people’s books collections have often been a talking point here, so, if you haven’t sent in pictures of yours, why not give that a go?

My email is below my short biog to the right here.

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.