Results of #OF20, and FREE BEER*

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Results of #OF20, and FREE BEER*

Okay, people of earth — put down your chainsaws and listen up. It’s time to announce the results of the #OF20 competition. 

*There's no such thing as a free beer. You should know that by now. I could maybe do you a breakfast burrito. 

Firstly, thank you all for entering. It was outlandishly hard to choose a winner, and so far as I’m concerned you’re all winners. Apart from Russell Brand, who’s a tosser. As he didn’t actually enter I suppose that’s just gratuitous abuse. So be it. 

The “Picture with a copy of the new edition in it” competition had many fine entries, but in the end Liam Jax (@jaxAttack3B) pulled into the lead with his awesome illustration...  

Competition was also fierce for the “Picture with any previous edition in it" award, many of which — I'm happy to say — featured cats, but I’m afraid that once seen, Bob Lock (@Bob_Lock)’s tortoise-based creation proved impossible to unsee. In fact, I understand that many historians now divide the evolution of human culture into two epochs — that preceeding the existence of this picture, and everything that happens afterward. Time will tell whether that’s a good thing. Time is supposed to be telling a lot of things, and I’m getting bored of waiting. There should be an upgrade tier called “TimePro™” or “Time Enterprise Edition" where you could pay a low monthly fee and be able to interrogate Time right away, without having to wait for it to pass. Plus an app, obviously. With iCloud sync. And Slack integration. 

But, because it’s the kind of guy I am (an idiot), I’m boldly going to also present three runners’ up copies of the new edition, to @eyglo, @motleyhippie and @rossjparsons...

Eyglo

Maggie

Ross

If you could all either DM or IM me your addresses, along with any inscription you might like in the books, I shall get them to you as quickly as my notorious level of inefficiency allows. Worst case, and if you’re still waiting at that point, I’ll bundle in a copy of the 50th Anniversary Edition too. 

Okay — as you were. You must have something else you should be doing. Seriously. 

 

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The Most Exciting News Of All Time

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The Most Exciting News Of All Time

In a stunning turn of events that many are describing as “literally the most exciting thing that’s ever happened, like, ever’, Ememess Press have announced the immediate availability of a Kindle edition of MORE TOMORROW & OTHER STORIES

Despite the fact this 2003 collection won the International Horror Guild Award and contains the ground-breaking tales of unease that established Michael Marshall Smith as a household name (within his own household), the publishers have been astounded by the sheer magnitude and fervor of the response. 

“Never in a bazillion years did we expect anything like this,” publisher spokesperson Dee Muir said, speaking with phones hooked under both ears. "We’ve had to build a whole new Internet to cope with the demand, and are commissioning entire continents of virtual trees from which to fashion these eBooks. It’s insane.”

Excitement about the news transcends all demographic and age boundaries. “I don’t care what happens in any future sporting events of any kind,” unemployed Bakersfield father of nine Pete Jarrett was reported as saying this morning, “even if they involve my home team. After the MORE TOMORROW announcement, it’s all kind of small beer.” Legendary movie director Stephen Spielberg agreed: “The Oscars? Who gives a shit?’ he said. “This MORE TOMORROW news has blown my fucking mind.” 

Children across the nation have dismissed their upcoming birthdays as ‘blah’ in the light of the news, with San Mateo tween Amanda Huginkiss declaring ten minutes ago that she would probably open her presents “at some point, but only after I’ve heard a bit more about this MORE TOMORROW thing.” The incumbent recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Ikyyr Rømsstyr, reportedly neglected to book a flight to Oslo for the ceremony, so wrapped up was he in the unfolding news of the long-awaited eBook — and after being informed of the announcement the Dalai Lama was seen cartwheeling down a hillside screaming with delight.

Only presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton set a restrained tone, initially responding to the news with a reserved "Booyah", but was later observed punching the air and performing pelvic thrusts with what onlookers described as "disturbing intensity". 

Today has been declared a holiday in many countries across the world, so that overjoyed readers can show their appreciation in parades and other spontaneous public demonstrations of joy. At time of writing, millions of people have actually lost consciousness as a result of the uncontrollable delirium caused by the news, and so — to avoid crashing the web and its associated financial infrastructures — now would probably be a good time to zip over and pick up a copy. 

It’s here. And here. And in other Amazons worldwide.

You'll tell your grandchildren about this day. You know you will. 

More-Tomorrow--Other-Stories-Kindle.jpg

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Only Forward #OF20

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Only Forward #OF20

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.

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A few things I learned while being uncharacteristically manly

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A few things I learned while being uncharacteristically manly

 

So here’s how it happened. 

Last Spring, when I was trying to write a book and not really paying attention, an old college friend suggested that our small circle of chums go snowmobiling in Alaska. The last of these trips involved surfing in Morocco, a week from which we limped back with injuries including bruised ribs. Nonetheless I agreed, in the spirit which says “That’s ages away, and therefore not real”. Then in February this year, shit suddenly got real. The other two guys bailed, but I somehow wound up still committed. 

So three weeks ago I flew up to Anchorage, met up with my pal Will (arrived that day from the UK), and off we went. First there was a three-hour drive to the landing, where civilisation abruptly ends (truth be told, there hadn’t been much sign of it for the previous hour or so). Then, after donning layers of warming and protective gear, balaclava and cumbersome helmet (of which more later), we were given a training session that went: “Here’s how you make it go, here’s how you make it stop. Okay?” 

Thus tutored, we steered the machines out of the lot and slid down a 40 degree slope the height of a three-story building, straight onto a frozen river — to embark on the seventy mile journey to the lodge that would be our base for three nights.

It was, all in all, quite an experience. And here are some things that I learned: warning — it’s pretty long. Save it for when you’ve got a moment, and/or are unusually bored. 
 
1. You don't want to be a poorly cat in backwoods Alaska.

Why? Because when you have cause to visit the vet — never a banner moment in the feline calendar — you'll be getting there the same way everything else travels to the nearest town: a 140 mile round trip along an iced-over river, by snowmobile. Go on — try to picture how happy a cat will be about that. 

The lodge was nestled into a forested hillside, with living space downstairs and six bedrooms above. Power came from a generator that was turned off between 10pm and 6:30am, making attempts to find the restroom in the night quite the adventure in sensory deprivation. Soon after we arrived, still vibrating from five hours of hectic snowmobiling, I observed a wild-haired and unusually-attired man striding out of the woods toward the porch. He closely resembled the kind of person you generally cross the street to avoid, but turned out to be our host — and he and his wife and children (and grandchild) were truly excellent company throughout. On the second evening we discovered that the mink, squirrel and otter pelts on the wall were our host’s own work, and that he had trapping lines stretching from the lodge out into the snowy backwoods. We were shown a very-recently prepared coyote skin of remarkable size, and offered the chance to watch an otter be skinned. We politely declined the opportunity. Don’t lie — you would have too. 

He trapped not for the hell of it, or as a lifestyle statement, but in order to make hats and other items: because that’s the kind of thing you do when you’re living a long, long way from Target. Just as you spend the winter months repeatedly doing the trek to the landing and back, week after week — plus an hour's drive at the other end — to stock up on provisions for the summer months, which you then schlep back the same way. Come the Spring, when the river thaws, you can’t do this any more, and bringing things in by boat is punitively expensive. There are no roads. It's snowmobile or nothing. The flour in the cookies had come that way. So had the half-and-half. The toilet tissue. Everything. Maybe this doesn’t seem a big deal to you, but it made me acutely conscious of the value of things while I was there, and how little you need to get by. This point had already been made by the fact we only had a 30 litre bag on the snowmobile to carry our stuff for the four-day trip. That’s not a lot — Will and I wound up leaving most of our clothes in the back of the truck back at the landing — but it turns out it’s enough. 

Anybody out there worrying about the cats will be relieved to hear that, said animals having been frank in their lack of relish for repeating the snowmobiling experience, this year our lady host had organised for the vet to come up the river for a night at the lodge instead, in exchange for giving the cats a once-over and their shots. All the cats had to do was stay put. Cats are like that. Sooner or later you’re going to be doing it their way.

Speaking of the cats, one morning I was up well before the rest of the house, drinking coffee and trying to warm up and shake off a night of weird dreams. I blearily noticed that one of the cats was playing with a mouse. I wasn’t sure what to do about this. When the lady host arrived she came over, got the rodent away from the cat, and threw it into the wood stove. Still squeaking. Again, no big deal, probably. But it doesn’t happen in my house.

2. Everything is relative

This is well-known, of course: there’s a joke about how a hundred years sounds like a long time to an American, and a hundred miles a long way to an Englishman. Distance is indeed relative. I can tell you that 30 mph feels pretty fast when you're careering along over ice, and 280 miles a very long way when driving something that feels like riding an antique rollercoaster. If you’ve ever been on Santa Cruz’s venerable Giant Dipper (third oldest in the nation, unnervingly), it’s like that. For hour after hour. 

Comfort is relative too. The little things — like not being dead, and being warm, and being able to take a shower, even just the availability of coffee — seem bordering on the extraordinary. And when you’ve been rattling around in the freezing cold for seven hours on a machine you know for a fact is being driven by an incompetent, pulling round a bend in the river as daylight dims and seeing the tiny sign pointing up the slope to the lodge feels like you’ve been shown the way to some miraculous haven.

The insight fades, of course. You don’t have to be back home long before you start huffing when the line in Starbucks is a little slow, or the supermarket has run out of capers. But it’s good to be reminded not to take the small things for granted. 


3. The road takes many forms

Basically, snowmobiling terrain breaks into four types. Best is fresh powder, soft and flat and a joy to race across. During the powder parts I felt part-Bond henchman, part-The Guy Who Delivers Milk Tray Chocolates In Those 1970s TV Adverts, and even — dare I say it — somewhat "cool", all of which are very rare sensations in my life. Snowfall is way down this year, however, and we only saw powder about 3% of the time. 

Far more common were the paths of previous progress through the snow, which are sort of okay except when they've melted in the days or weeks since last used, refreezing into icy ruts as hard as bedrock, which are difficult to escape and have a tendency to make the machine tilt alarmingly from side to side, occasionally pitching you over. Then there's the miles of extremely bumpy and unpredictably twisty forest hillside sections, which actually suited me best: I could get behind the short-term goals of making it over that bump, and then that bump, and then that bump, and suddenly round an abrupt bend without smacking into a tree, and then over that bump... and thankfully I also have a strong stomach. Two hours of this on the third day reduced Will — a far more competent and bullish rider overall — to an intriguing shade of green. (To be fair, he was very jetlagged, and there was also an issue over beer. In making the initial arrangements via email, Will quipped that as Englishmen we'd need at least ten pints of beer a night. Our guide had taken this quite seriously, and gone to a lot of trouble to ensure plenty was provided — putting us under some pressure to step up to the plate each evening. The night before this ride, I'd sensibly switched to coffee after four or five unpredictably-strengthed Alaskan craft beers. Will went the extra mile. That's one of those mistakes you make only once.) 

Then... there's patches of pure ice, over water. Sometimes its presence is obvious — wide aqua sections (complete with ominous cracking) right in the middle of the river you’re hacking along. So long as you maintain a gentle line and a consistent speed (which, as our guide felt drawn to remind me several times, didn’t have to be “very slow”), you’ll probably be okay. If it doesn’t crack, of course. Our cheerful and patient guide had not only laid half the forest trails himself, but worked as a kayaking guide in the summer and a fireman the rest of the year. Yes, okay, settle down girls (and boys) — close questioning revealed he knew barely anything about the early work of Chagall, so, ha. I win. 

At other times the ice was more stealthy, hiding under a thin layer of snow. On the very first day, thirty miles in and daring to hope that I'd got the hang of it, I was unexpectedly confronted with a patch of ice while attempting to make a sharp left turn up a steep, six-foot bank. I'd already spun the machine in a graceful 360° on an earlier (thankfully flat) stretch, and thus was developing something of a respect (and nervousness) for ice, but this came out of nowhere and, to be frank, I rolled the thing. Luckily I was thrown off with sufficient force that I landed well clear of the snowmobile, cleverly using my head to break the fall. 

The impact was enough to enable me to confirm that yes, you really do see stars if you bang your brain hard enough, and to dislodge a bolt from the helmet. Our guide soberly observed that without the headgear it would have been "Humpty Dumpty time”, which was probably supposed to be comforting but actually wasn't, at all. I climbed back on the machine and the next thirty five miles passed without incident — despite my now having a bent steering column — though I spent much of it muttering darkly to myself within the confines of a helmet I was now intensely grateful for. While snowmobiling, incidentally, it appears you may end up having long internal dialogues with yourself: some of which suggest that I’m a misanthropic bastard with unacceptable opinions on many subjects. One afternoon I had such a serious argument with myself, in fact, that we wound up on non-speaking terms for the rest of the day. (Speaking of helmets, it's almost impossible while wearing one to not smile if someone takes your picture, even though your face is invisible. This is a free, bonus piece of wisdom. Make of it what you will. There's probably something about how hard it is to step outside ingrained cultural responses, but do the work yourself.)

That evening at the lodge our guide discussed the best ways of handling ice patches, which were going to feature prominently on the next day's sixty mile ride up river to see ice caves in a glacier (a mission eventually stymied by the ice cracking in such a major way that we couldn’t get across, for the love of God). The problem was that every comparison he attempted to draw merely provided further evidence that I’m a hapless effete who’s spent his life avoiding butch pursuits. 

"You know what it’s like when you’re riding a motorbike fast down a wet road?” he said. "No," I replied. "Okay — what about when you're hammering your truck along a dirt track in the dark?" “I’m afraid,” I admitted, “that I am equally unfamiliar with diversions of that type.” He looked a bit nonplussed. "Oh, but wait," I tried, "Is it like when you’re making a chicken liver parfait, with Madeira and a hint of Thyme, and you realise near the end that the bain marie didn’t go high enough up the terrine?” 

They all just stared at me. Our host glanced at his knife, as if wondering what my pelt might fetch.


4. Snowmobiling is a rich source of metaphor

I bored Will senseless about this in the back street bar in Anchorage where we threw back local ambers for several hours, giddy with exhaustion and relief, on the final night, but you weren’t there, so… Snowmobiling up a river is a pretty perfect analogy for life, it turns out. There’s the infrequent patches of powder where it’s all easy and incredibly good fun and everything's simply glorious. Far, far more of life will be spent in ruts, however, the journeyman sections of existence, from which there may be no safe way to escape. Then there’s the scary ice sections, when you have to carefully work around thin patches and open cracks, and keep a consistent speed and your concentration levels extremely high. 

Snowmobiling helps explicate the mechanisms of metaphor, too. Verbal communication is inherently metaphorical, as Guy Deutscher points out in "The Unfolding of Language", but languages have been around a while and their references are often archaic. You get the gist, but don’t grok it as viscerally as you would when the metaphor was first deployed. Case in point — being in a rut. It’s easy to get into a rut — and often that’s where you need to be. It’s going where you want to go. But ruts are restricting, of course, and can be hard going, psychologically wearing after a time. Any given rut can only take you only in one direction, whereas by leaving it you can head somewhere else entirely or at least have a brief spell on smooth powder to the side. Getting out of a rut can be very hard, though. It requires courage and strength to yank yourself out of a well-worn track toward new pastures. The rut may be there in the first place because there’s thin ice only a few feet either side. You may also roll the machine trying to escape, in which case you hope you can right it and start again, but it's not guaranteed. You may have a humpty dumpty moment of your own. 

I won’t belabour it further, but my point is that in the old days people would have had an immediate understanding of what was meant by the metaphors inbuilt into common thought (through encountering ruts on muddy tracks, or when ploughing fields) — and so they had immediate emotional resonance. In modern life we sometimes have to go through a very unfamiliar experience in order to understand the meaning of a very familiar phrase.
 

In Summary

So — can I recommend backwoods snowmobiling? That would be a qualified “hell yes”. There’s an awful of lot of actual snowmobiling involved, unsurprisingly, so it’d best suit the kind of person who totally gets off on riding an unusual motorised vehicle in iffy conditions for extremely long periods. I tended to find that after fifty-odd bumpy miles I’d had enough snowmobiling for one day, thank you. This did however enable me (while my more gung-ho companion was off with the guide having an extra ride one afternoon) to take a long solitary walk in the snowy woods and explore an abandoned lodge, which is about as me-centric experience as I can imagine. I also loved the strange, utterly dream-like experience of being adrift in hundreds of miles of snowy, forested nowhere, seeing nobody for day after day, but then I am notoriously anti-social. 

The place we stayed — Talvista Lodge, which I can recommend without hesitation — provided comfort, very congenial hosts, and remarkably good food. I loved the bleak grandeur of Alaska, and the people there. And experiences like arriving at a tiny isolated lodge on a frozen lake in the snow and chatting to nutters doing the Iditarod on foot (two of the only four lunatics doing it this year happened to pass through while we were exhaustedly mainlining coffee, the only other people we saw in the entire four days, which was surreal in itself), or of cautiously progressing down a river in a mini-blizzard, or rattling at high speed across a frozen swamp with nothing but open space for a mile either side, or of hearing total and utter silence for a change, or finally arriving back at the landing at the end of the trip, somehow still alive and in one piece… yeah. It was a good thing to do. I can recommend it. 

Now, having done it, I shall go back to sitting quietly in my study and making stuff up until the end of time. Unless Will comes up with something daft and dangerous to do next year, in which case I’ll probably not really listen, and say “yes".

Thanks for reading. Oh, while you’re here — on an unrelated note — there’s now a lonely and needy Facebook author page which could do with some friends. It's here. Go and Like it, why dontcha. I know I should probably have put this bit at the top of the page but I’m putting it here. If I couldn't get you to read this far down, then what kind of author am I?

Plus, I’m a wild man of the backwoods now. Untameable. Don’t even try. I skinned a banana only yesterday. 

 

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Stay Loud #intruders

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Stay Loud #intruders

Sadly, we are finally able to announce that BBCA will not be renewing INTRUDERS.

The remit was to adapt the book, which Glen and his team did brilliantly. It was never a given there would be more — though we did discuss ideas for future arcs — and for a variety of reasons the first season had to out-perform the norm in order to continue. Unfortunately it did not.

Why? Well, they didn't play it safe. The show was distinctive and unusual, narratively uncompromising and texturally bold. In a world where many viewers will bail after twenty minutes because something's not just like everything else, it dared to ask people to care — to keep the faith and wait to see what happens next. They didn't sell the book short: they did it proud. As an novelist that makes you feel very privileged, and grateful.

A huge thanks to everyone who watched and supported the show — you made the whole thing fun, before and during, and are still doing so afterwards. I'm glad to know you.

I also feel extremely honoured to have had a book worked on by so many people of such extraordinary talent. Producers like Julie Gardner and Jane Tranter (and Jess Pope, who doggedly developed the show for years in the UK before it came to BBCA);  a developer of Glen's unique vision and experience, writers like Kristen and Darren; the remarkable cast of actors in roles both large and small; creative geniuses like Mark Freeborn and Bear McCreary; directors like Daniel Stamm and Eduardo Sanchez — not to mention the social media and marketing people from BBCA who gave it such loving attention here in the US.

In the end (and truly, the end is never the end), it comes down to this: What you want most, if you're lucky enough to have a book adapted, is for it to be made by people who give a shit. 

These people gave a shit. And it was good shit.

Thank you all :-)

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