Thursday (May 7th) sees the UK publication of HarperCollin's 20th Anniversary Edition of ONLY FORWARD. There's a competition — details are at the end.
But first... I wanted to give huge thanks to Jane Johnson — who accepted the novel in the first place and has relentlessly championed it ever since (aided and abetted by Sarah Hodgson, Jim Rickards and Malcolm Edwards back in the day, and Natasha Bardon and Eleanor Ashfield more recently). Without Jane I seriously doubt ONLY FORWARD would have made it to the shelves. I well remember the wintery afternoon when, hanging out in my sub-atomic flat, I asked Nicholas Royle for a list of potential homes when I finished it. Jane was his first suggestion, thank God. She has also edited plucky hopefuls like Clive Barker, Robin Hobb and George R. R. Martin, was intimately involved in the LORD OF THE RINGS movies — and writes beautifully herself, producing novels at about three times the rate I manage, while still somehow being a senior publishing maven and living in three different places. Plus she's an amazing cook and a lovely friend. It's all rather annoying.
She also however made me turn up at the publishers dressed in a suit, to stand in a small room and perform passages in character as Stark, in order to gee up the bemused sales and marketing force — an act for which she will never quite be forgiven. You think self-pimping on social media is tough? Take a suck on that, my author friends.
ONLY FORWARD is what happens if you've never written a novel before, set yourself no limits, have no deadline or expectations to meet (I fully anticipated that it would wind up as the trunk novel that never sees the light of day)… and just go nuts. I was in a transitionary phase of my so-called life: twenty seven years old, largely (and deservedly) single, living in autumnal North London, listening to a lot of Tori Amos, wishing I had a cat. I'd been writing horror stories for a couple of years by then but grew up reading SF, and was still intermittently doing radio comedy for the BBC. I was reading a lot of Jack Finney, and enjoying his very approachable first person voice (the last book I read before starting the novel was THE NIGHT PEOPLE), along with that of Martin Amis. From this, and a pocket full o' dreams — no, seriously: I did actually dream the city, and the tree babies, and the buff puffs and the tiger, and other chunks of the book both large and small — came ONLY FORWARD.
The first draft was completed in five months while doing a full-time day job, and didn't change much afterward. I knew nothing about the best or most productive or even safe ways of tackling a novel: I just kept working out what happened next, the purest and most engaging kind of writing. It's the most fun I've ever had while typing, that's for sure.
The result’s a long way from perfect, but it is what it is. In many ways it's a young man's novel, perhaps, but when I look at it now I suspect I knew a few things back then that I subsequently forgot for a very long time. Plus I totally predicted the iPhone, a fact that Apple's lawyers continue to be tiresomely reticent in accepting.
Now it's coming out again, and I'd also like to thank all the people who've said kind things about the book in the last two decades — and especially Neil, for his lovely introduction to this edition. There are children (and cats) out there named after characters, people with tattoos of quotes, passages have been read at christenings and funerals — and that's an amazing and humbling position for an author to be in. ONLY FORWARD had a channeled quality, to be honest. It kind of wrote itself, and so there's a limit to how much credit I feel I can take, but I'm happy to at least have had skin in the game.
Once in a while I try to face the fact that my first novel may wind up being the best I ever write. But I turned fifty yesterday, which ain't so damned old in this business or life in general, so I'll keep on trying to prove the idea wrong.
Only forward, after all. It's all still out there.
And finally, the competition. Through happy chance, I recently came into possession of a copy of the second printing of the first edition — the original, bobbly-covered one. I can't claim it's mint (it’s twenty years old), but it's certainly VG+, and I'm going to sign and send it to the person who tweets the best/zaniest/strangest/sweetest photo of themselves or someone or something holding a copy of the 20th Anniversary Edition... Don't feel you have to buy it, but don't actually steal it, eh?
As this isn't entirely fair on people in territories where the book's not available, there will be an ancillary competition, too: the best/etc picture of any other edition of the book will received a signed copy of the 20th Anniversary Edition.
Tweet using a #OF20 hashtag so I'm sure to see it (or tag me on FB, if you don't tweet)... The deadline is 28th May. Yes, you can submit more than one picture. No, I don't know where your shoes are, or if it will all be okay. I hope so. Ask again later.
Go. No, seriously — GO.