Thursday, January 29, 2009
My first book has just been published and I’m a little too naïve to realise that a hardback release of a debut novelist means I won’t be everywhere. In fact I’ll be lucky to have my novel stocked by 1 in 10 bookshops – yet still I cling to the hope that there’ll be a copy sitting on the shelf in the fantasy or general fiction section in every bookshop I enter.
When there isn’t, I deflate a little, but Sarah consoles me: “They could have sold out already…”
…That was then.
In 2007 I had a habit of torturing myself by looking for my book much in the same way a football fan tortures his or herself by following a team that never consistently wins. The average football fan suffers much disappointment, but you know it’s good for the soul. It’s good because you become the stubborn optimist (when you follow Crewe Alexandra FC you can be nothing but); like Sarah a couple of years ago, you learn to put a positive spin on anything. (In the case of C.A.F.C., you simply resign yourself to the fact the division you’re being relegated into will offer you a more realistic opposition – an opposition that you can finally beat!).
In the case of the hardback of The Secret War, I personally didn’t even try to put a spin on it because the facts were stark. The hardback print run for The Secret War was less than 2,000. That sounds low, but actually that’s quite usual for a print run from a debut in hardback. With Goldsboro Books and Waterstone’s Sheffield accounting for more than 200 copies sold within the first month, most bookshops wouldn’t be stocking it other than on-line. There just weren’t enough copies to go round, and more importantly, no one had heard of me – so how were they going to sell it?
Obviously there were exceptions, such as the booksellers my family and friends pimped me to, the local sellers in Sheffield like Waterstone’s Orchard Square, Borders as well (who stocked quite a few copies, including Leeds Borders who were very helpful); and indie bookshops such as Goldsboro and the Bakewell Bookshop. But the sparse coverage meant I received e-mails from people asking how they could get their hands on a copy – and I could only point them to Amazon.
Two years later and something has happened. I’m in paperback. It’s very much a larger print-run than the hardback of The Secret War, and all of a sudden it feels like I’m everywhere. Well, almost.
During the trip to London a couple of weeks back, 6 out of 7 bookshops I looked in not only had copies of the Secret War in paperback – they had lots of copies. And they had “lots of copies” (in the case of Waterstone’s and Borders) in the 3 for 2. Stacks. Some on the tables, some on the shelves; some on the display stands. All of a sudden I was face-outwards, looking across the bookshop, and moreover, I was selling.
I was even selling in WHSmiths, a bookseller that pretty much straddles the middle-ground between traditional bookshops and supermarkets (they don’t appear to take risks on the unknowns or mid-list hardbacks, usually only selling bestsellers by heavily discounting). But there I was – in WHSmiths’ sci-fi/fantasy section – a copy of The Secret War, its malevolent blue eyes staring back at me from the front cover.
I’ve had people e-mail and phone me from Bournemouth to Scotland to say the novel sits proudly in their local bookshops - and not just The Secret War paperback either, but The Hoard of Mhorrer is more widespread than the first book in hardback. Copies have shifted before their very eyes, and slowly stocks are reducing.
It’s fantastic news, but also unnerving. I guess I no longer have that anonymity of a small print run. It’s there to be criticised by the many, and all the good and the bad will land on my doorstep for me to be pragmatic about and/or revel in. Am I bothered about that? Well, actually not too much. Of the two major reviews I’ve had for The Hoard of Mhorrer, one was good, one was not so good, but thankfully the good review was from a magazine I have a lot of time for (and the bad review was from a chip-wrapper magazine I haven’t bought for almost two years). There’ll be some bad reviews on the internet, I have no doubt (aren’t there for every book?), but that’s okay, as there are some great reviews already on the web.
And besides… The fact the book is finally out there, on the march in numbers and selling, matters more to me. Yep, from nowhere to everywhere (almost). There will be exceptions. There will be places where The Secret War won’t be stocked, where the bookshelves will be devoid of those menacing blue eyes, or the red eyes of The Hoard of Mhorrer.
Sure there will.
But as Sarah kept telling me back then, “Hey, you know, they might have sold out already…”
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
They’re a bit cheaper than the hardback/ paperbacks (but then for the cost of a Sony e-reader I’d expect them to be!!!) so if you feel the need to embrace new reading technology, what better way to do so than by reading something set in the 19th century?
And because it doesn’t deserve a blog entry in itself, I thought I’d mention that along with coining a new sub-genre (Muskets and Monsters) someone else on the team has come up with “Fighty Fiction” as a new description for the Secret War books (on account of how many pitched battles I’ve crammed into each novel). So expect the term to be used more on this blog as it grows on me…
…(now if only Grumpy Old Bookman and Shameless would return…)
Top five cool blogs:
Tell Mr Mikey, Ladies
Eliza Graham’s Staring out the window
(no pressure to carry on the meme, by the way – these things are finite, there are only so many blogs to link to!!!)
Sunday, January 25, 2009
In the latest issue of Sci-Fi Now, the new book - The Black Hours - is mentioned by name in an interview with me, and there's nothing like seeing a future or current project in print to galvanise one's direction. It's almost as though by seeing it printed there, it must be true. I'm completely committed.
The timing is good. The short stories I've written are - barring a few tweaks - completed and it feels natural to return to a project that has felt more natural than perhaps anything I've written. (Hopefully that's a good sign!) Currently I have one reader going through the 2nd draft of the book as I type this, and so far so good - they’re enjoying it immensely. I've had a couple of reports back and they're very positive. The book is achieving everything I wanted it to achieve, and that confidence should keep the momentum going for some time come.
So what happens next? Well, I won’t be making any major changes during this draft, and all things being equal it’ll be completed come April and ready to go off to Macmillan (another first for me: sending a completed 3rd draft to my publisher; it usually takes four or five drafts before I’m confident enough to do that). I'll be understandibly nervous about it, but unlike the last time I won't allowed to brood during their decision making - I just won't have the time. While Macmillan look over the manuscript, I'll be looking over soiled nappies. So in all fairness, I probably won't be thinking about The Black Hours for the first few months.
One thing it does mean, however, is that this blog will be taking more of a back-seat again (I know, I know – I’ve only recently got started with regular blog entries…) and it also means that one date aside, I’ll probably be doing very little publicity for The Hoard of Mhorrer from this point forth (unless The Secret War and/or Hoard of Mhorrer suddenly explode onto the bestsellers lists, that is…).
But needs must…
…Needs must tells me I have to get this book written before April…
…Before another adventure begins: fatherhood.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
…For those not in the know, Sci-Fi Now (along with Deathray) has been going for just a couple of years, yet already it’s blazed a trail through the newsagents, providing great relief for what has been almost ten years of mediocre and disposable treatment of sci-fi, horror and fantasy from the newsstands (with a couple of notable exceptions from the small-press). Both Sci-Fi Now and Deathray are high content, high comment magazines and for me have largely filled a void left by the long defunct FEAR magazine in the early 90’s (especially since Deathray has started publishing fiction). I’ve been buying both magazines regularly over the last 18 months, and have not been disappointed (well not completely – when Deathray missed the odd issue and decided to go bi-monthly, I admit I held my breath expecting the worst…). Hopefully both publications will get the chance to grow their readership – and if you’re into this sort of stuff, you should check them out…
(…By the way, Sci-Fi Now also ran the first review for The Hoard of Mhorrer in their January issue and this is what they said):
“Curran is a relatively new writer, but his prose is crisp and well-formed, moving at a decent enough pace to sustain momentum during the quieter moments, exploding into action scenes that have a visceral sense of momentum about them…Curran is obviously an exciting new talent in the science-fiction and fantasy scene...” – Sci-Fi Now
And while we’re talking Mhorrer, if you’re looking for signed editions of the hardback you’ll find them in the following stores:
Waterstone’s, Sheffield Orchard Square
Goldsboro Books, Cecil Court London
Waterstone’s, Piccadilly, London
And for signed paperbacks of The Secret War, you could do no worse than check out:
Waterstone’s, Sheffield Orchard Square
Waterstone’s, Piccadilly London
Borders, Oxford Street London
Over the next couple of months, I aim to sign a few more books at stores in North Yorkshire, Cheshire and Manchester – watch this space (or that one over there) for further information…
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
And that’s where writing etiquette comes in.
You see, my mum is adamant that one of the stories I produced over the last few weeks should be submitted to a writing competition, and perhaps she’s right. Writing competitions are a great place to get your name bandied about, and hell if they don’t provide a little bit of writerly income.
So with that in mind, is there such a thing as writing etiquette when submitting a short story to a short story competition? And is there more so in the situation of a novelist already established at a major publishing house?
Over the last couple of years I’ve heard tell of novelists (including some bestselling authors) who entered short story competitions under pen names. The most infamous case was the competition judged by Zadie Smith – one that degenerated into a complete debacle, especially when it was revealed that several prominent writers were amongst those who had entered and had been judged as writing poorly. That they entered under pen names probably saved both their blushes and the competition organisers’, but it all looked a little shady. Entering under a pen name seems a bit cloak and dagger (if you’re trying not to persuade a judge to flatter your short fiction entry) and a bit dishonest (if you trying to hide your reputation if it all goes horribly wrong). If I was to enter one, I’d just use my usual name. Why be so secretive?
But there’s more to writing etiquette than just that.
When I was entering the novel writing competition for Channel 4 way back in 2004, if I’d discovered that several bestselling writers had also entered, I would have been a bit put out. After all, writing competitions are the best way for unknowns to become known. It’s like watching a TV talent competition only to discover half of those short-listed, already have a blossoming music career but just want a higher profile. It’s a bit of a cheat.
Yet these days, most writing competitions stipulate no eligibility criteria when it comes to who can or who can’t enter. For example, Writing Magazine now allows any writer to enter their monthly short story competitions. It used to be, I think, limited to writers who earn less than 10k a year from their writing. With this criteria dumped, I guess if you’re a successful writer and you can turn your hand to a short story, the chances of you winning are higher than someone who is a relative novice. It all seems a bit unfair (especially when you're paying to enter) but there it is.
So is there etiquette to these things? Even though it is not written, are established writers not expected to enter these competitions, or is it perfectly acceptable?
As I look for a home for the four/five stories I’ve written recently, an answer to this question would be most, most helpful…
(By the way, I’m not expecting a right or wrong answer to this – I just value all your opinions on the matter!)
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Last Friday was the London launch of The Hoard of Mhorrer at Goldsboro Books. I’ve always been a bit jealous of authors that have had their launches at Goldsboro Books (I haven’t attended a duff one yet) so I was looking forward to at least a launch on a par with those I’ve experienced - and you know, I wasn’t disappointed. David Headley and staff put on a delightful launch; he was the consummate host and everyone attended looked happy (or drunk, or both!). My speech was ad-hoc, and the reading was unprepared for but was ultimately better for it (and perhaps a better reading than the Sheffield launch). I never asked David how many books were sold, but I did sign all 100 copies and personally signed a large stack of books for eager readers at the do, so I think they did quite well…
…And yes, I did buy a collector’s edition while I was there – a fellow Macmillan New Writer’s first edition, no less (I won’t say who – don’t want to embarrass them!)
Anyway, I’m digressing. A lot of people came far and wide to be there at Goldsboro Books last Friday. Some risked the wrath of friends and family to come, others splashed the cash buying more than one copy of the book. Some were unable to attend due to last minute obstacles but sent their blessings and best wishes, and on the night I said I was very proud and honoured of all the support I’ve been shown during these two launches, from booksellers and publishers, to friends and family, to would you believe it, fans as well. Similar sentiments shown on the last page of The Hoard of Mhorrer.
So this is a huge, MASSIVE THANKS to everyone who has begged, borrowed and stole to give me that support. It won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
So what of the photos? Well, foolishly I forgot to bring my camera with me, so I’ll be “begging” friends and family to e-mail pics to me from the launch. They should be pretty good, especially the moment I’m almost arrested by an officer from the Metropolitan Police… ahem.
I’ll post them as soon as I get them either here or on the website.
And that’s not all. There’ll also be more gumph about the launch on this blog in the next week or so, including details of a conversation where I believe I’ve committed myself to writing a classic pulp horror novel, the like that hasn’t been seen for a good twenty years or so (when horror was truly king). It should be fun – but where the hell do I get the time to do it? (Anyone have a time-machine, or perhaps a device that can split one’s being into two or more identical selves?)
And if you live in London you might find a few copies of the paperback of The Secret War in the 3 for 2s at Waterstone’s Piccadilly and Borders Oxford Street (I’ve been busy, you see… signings and launches, and yet another short story: “May Contain Traces of Nuts” – but more of that later).
I have to admit, London is growing on me more and more. And I should be returning there more and more in the future.
(But, I confess, it’s always good to be back in Sheffield.)
Whew. Anyway, that’s it. All that promotional stuff has taken my eye off the writing. Must get back to it again - “…Nuts” is beckoning and I’ve but two weeks left before I start draft 3 of The Black Hours.
So many thanks again. It wouldn’t have been the same without you…
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
First up is the interview in the Sheffield Star which you can access here.
Next is the Sheffield Telegraph interview which can be read here.
And… if you’re curious as to what I sound like and you don’t mind listening to a rambling, slightly incoherent writer, (talking either side of a Girls Aloud track!) you can catch me being interviewed on BBC Radio by clicking here. My thanks to Gareth Evans who interviewed me.
Note: this is the entire programme – to get to my interview you’ll need to go 2 hrs and 08 minutes in. Unfortunately the interview can only be accessed by folks in the UK (due to BBC copyrights).
And just a reminder if you’re in London on Friday, the Goldsboro Books launch of The Hoard of Mhorrer starts 6:45pm and is a public event (non-ticketed).
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Also a big “thank you” to Dr Annaliese Connolly for framing and posing the questions on the night…
And a big “thank you” to Jo and the staff at Waterstone’s Sheffield for supporting a local writer, and their continued support by promoting The Hoard of Mhorrer and The Secret War…
…Next stop, Goldsboro Books, London – and another supporter of my books and Macmillan New Writing as a whole: proprietor David Headley, who heavily promoted The Secret War in hardback from the beginning, and accounts for a large chunk of the sales. It seems fitting, therefore, that any launch in London would be held by Goldsboro Books, repaying the loyalty that David has shown me since I was published two years ago.
That and Goldsboro’s fantastic reputation for book launches.
I’ve attended a few Macmillan New Writing launches there over the last three years, and they’ve always been fun, busy events (and expensive, I might add - I usually part with more cash than I expect to, being lured like a magpie to the shiny covers of signed first editions that crowd the shop – the place is an Aladdin’s cave!). So if you’re coming, and you have a penchant for first editions, bring some extra cash; I’ll see you there…
(PS: If you live in the South Yorkshire area, you’ll be able to catch me talking about The Hoard of Mhorrer on BBC Radio Sheffield, Tuesday, 11:10am)
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Then there’s the launches – one tomorrow in Sheffield at Waterstones, another on the 16th in London at Goldsboro Books. All require a little public speaking, something I’ve become more accustomed to (though it still feels surreal that there are actually people out there who will listen to what I say!).
On the bookselling side of things, you’ll probably find the paperback of The Secret War in the 3 for 2 section of some Waterstones stores, alongside – I might add - Alis Hawkins’ excellent Testament (which is also out this month).
And because writing is what I do, I’ve had the first reader report on the short story “The favourite” today. I reduced them to tears, which is good – I think!
Monday, January 05, 2009
Today marks the first day where my day-job hours have been cut to concentrate on the writing.
As I write this at 8:20am, I’m sitting at the desk with a bowl to the side of me, littered with the dregs of crunchy-nut cornflakes floating lazily in a thin layer of milk, while to the other side a cooling cup of herbal tea sits, steam swirling into the air. Outside, a thin smattering of snow has dusted the world white…
But these two mornings off a week are for a definite purpose – writing more stories of freakishness and adventure.
But it’s not just the stories I’ll be bashing out during these mornings. In the future expect a few more blog entries on the Monday or the Tuesday. Perhaps even a Musket and Monsters Monday report (mmm… like the sound of that.) This year I expect free time will be squeezed as tightly as the last squirts from a tube of toothpaste, so the first two days of the week are the best times to catch me. If I do do a report on what I do, every Monday, it’ll probably be a round up the previous week’s news and other stuff. It’ll also be something more regular, something I hope to stick to even if on occasion it’s only a couple of sentences long.
Anyway, it’s time to bid you adieu, and cross over to the other laptop for some writing-japery.
I’ve a got a fistful of stories to write and only four hours to save the earth…
Friday, January 02, 2009
In 2007, when The Secret War was published, the Launch Day was terrible. It was a complete downer, like organising the biggest party in the world only for nothing to happen. It was saved only by the timely intervention of my wife, Sarah, who put on a surprise party for me (the photos of which can be found here). But other than that it was a sad little day – none of the bookshops had copies in stock, and it wasn’t until two weeks after 'Launch Day' that half of the bookshops in Sheffield had The Secret War on their shelves. I was, perhaps understandably, miffed.
The main problem with ‘Launch Day’ is that for most writers very little happens. It’s rare that a book finds its way into every bookshop on ‘Launch Day’, and rarer still for it to create a stir from day one. Unless you’re a writer with a bestselling career behind you, you’re never going to get those bookselling headlines from the Launch Day, i.e. how many units sold (numbers that are more like casualty figures from the first day’s fighting in World War One). As an author, published amongst over a hundred others that month, you have to be pragmatic. Being pragmatic is the only thing that can keep a writer sane when they’re published (that and an infinite amount of patience).
This is my second launch day, and even though I have prior experience, it still it feels like an anti-climax. Sure, ‘round here some bookshops stock The Hoard of Mhorrer or the paperback of The Secret War (one bookshop was even selling the paperback of The Secret War before the launch date – making the whole thing feel even more unreal!). But there’s always an author who has better coverage than you, someone who’s made it onto one of the presentation tables, or the window, or even the 3 for 2 section (which is in itself quite a bonkers thing to be jealous of – would anyone feel pleased about being discounted so early? Oddly we writers do…) The fact that other authors are moaning about you in the same way never enters your mind, but there you go. There is no such thing as consistency in bookselling across the UK!
But, and being pragmatic about it, the disappointment of 'Launch Day' is illusory. After all, 'Launch Day' is not the start of something, it’s the middle chapter in the life of the book, and we’ve all be disappointed by middle chapters only for the next ones to blow us away. On the 8th January, I’ll be attending the first public appearance for The Hoard of Mhorrer, in Sheffield. It’ll be followed by the London launch of the book at Goldsboro Books off Charing Cross Road on the 16th. I think that will be the point when it feels like something is happening with the book, where the illusion becomes something more tangible (it certainly did with the first book). Whether or not the following chapters after ‘Launch Day’ will be more uplifting... Well, there’s already been a creditable review of The Hoard of Mhorrer in January's edition of Sci-Fi Now Magazine (the first review of the book, as I understand it) so I’m certain they will be.
So what will I be doing today, of all days: this Launch Day? Well, I’ve already finished a few errands for the weekend, I’ve read a little (the wonderful Affinity Bridge by George Mann), and updated this blog. But more importantly, I’ll be doing the one thing that has brought me here, and perhaps why you are reading this now: the writing. I’ve got a couple of short stories I want to finish off this weekend, and what better time to start that than today.
Sure, being published is great, but if ‘Launch Day’ has shown me anything, it’s that nothing can beat the joy of writing - when you take that first step into a bright new project.
That first chapter…