I was asked to contribute a 'minigraph' (which is what the cool kids of academic publishing call a 20-30k-word monograph) to CUP's new Cambridge Elements Series: “A new series of research-focused collections of minigraphs on aspects of Publishing and Book Culture.” So I did.
This new series aims to fill the demand for easily accessible, quality texts available for teaching and research in the diverse and dynamic fields of Publishing and Book Culture. Rigorously researched and peer-reviewed minigraphs will be published under themes, or 'Gatherings'.
I'm not sure when my vol is due out (later this year, I think) but Cambridge have now sent me the cover art, above. Brown and understated, which I quite like. Publishing and the Science Fiction Canon looks at the step-changes in the technologies of book and magazine publishing and distribution, and the connected explosion in literacy rates, that occurred at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th-century (I focus mostly on the UK and France) in order to make a particular argument about the science fiction of the period. Something remarkable happens to SF around the time of the Verne-Wells 'scientific romance' boom, I think. For centuries science fiction had been an interesting but small-scale aspect of a larger cultural context; but from roughly the 1870s-80s through to the 1930s it expanded hugely in terms of cultural production and popular appeal, growth that set the genre on its path to becoming what it is today, a massive and global popular culture. Exactly what did happen back then is a large question, and I try to unpack one aspect of it by reading key works in the context of the techologies of their material production and distribution. At any rate, it's one of the things I've been doing during my research leave.
Yesterday evening I was one of the latest batch of Fellows elected to the Royal Society of Literature. We all gathered in a venue in Bloomsbury, with existing Fellows and friends and family, for the induction process. The Society's President, Marina Warner, made a speech, and one by one we went on stage and signed the RSL's big book—the same one that they've used since the Society's creation, by George IV, in 1820. To sign our name we were offered the choice of: Byron's quill, George Eliot's quill, or T S Eliot's fountain pen. I chose the last of these. Above you can see my signature, top right; middle-left is that of my friend (and amazing writer) Frances Hardinge, just above Anthony Horowitz. So: my name, in the book itself! Blimey.
Amongst the other inductees were two friends and colleagues from the RHUL Creative Writing department, Nikita Lalwani and Ben Markovits. Royal Holloway Creative Writing is a subset of the English Department and not a large outfit as these things go nationally; but since our colleague Jo Shapcott is already a Fellow our small department is now home to four FRSLs. That's unmatched and, I think, unprecedented anywhere in the country.
Being made a Fellow gives me the right to add the letters FRSL after my name, and to take part as much or as little as I wish in the Society's various outreach and literary activities (I think I'll aim for the more rather than the less, so far as I'm able). It is, I hardly need to say, an immense and indeed rather staggering honour, wholly unexpected on my part, and just as wholly delightful and wonderful. As I sat and looked at the calibre of the writers around me being inducted, and reminded myself I was joining a select group that included my beloved Samuel Taylor Coleridge, not to mention Tolkien, Yeats, Kipling, Hardy, Shaw and Chinua Achebe (and amongst the living: Margaret Atwood, David Hare, Kazuo Ishiguro, Hilary Mantel, Paul Muldoon, Zadie Smith, Nadeem Aslam, Sarah Waters and J. K. Rowling) I found it, simply, hard to believe. And yet here we are. Honoured and humbled doesn't begin to cover it.
So it seems this is now all official and out-in-the-open. Dave Hutchinson, a writer I admire enormously (and I'm pleased to say, a friend) and I have been collaborating on a series of books for Rebellion. This is "The Aftermath" set a century or so after a massive meteor shower wrecked civilisation, as communities slowly struggle out of basic survival into rebuilding something more sustainable. Dave wrote the first volume, Shelter (available 12 June 2018, don't you know); and I've written vol 2, Haven, pictured above. I'll give you more information as and when Rebellion say I'm allowed ...
The designers and artists at the mighty Blacksheep studio have, once again, done me proud. That's the cover to the sequel to Real-Town Murders: also set in future-Reading, another impossible murder for Alma to investigate, this time parsing Kubrick rather than Hitchcock. Now: I know I never write sequels, that I do something new each time I publish a novel. But it occurred to me that, never having written a sequel to any of my books, writing a sequel to one of my books would be doing something new. In this manner I aim to keep one step ahead of myself, going forward.
I'm a writer, so mostly What I Do All Day is write. Since the part I love most about being a writer is the actual writing, and the parts I enjoy least are all the other stuff, working through edits and doing proofs, pitching ideas and filling in my tax returns, reading swingeing reviews without collapsing in a heap, doing events and public readings and so on, this works out pretty well so far as I'm concerned. If you're thinking of becoming a writer, then I say (a) good luck! and (b) check in your heart that you actually like writing, the process of sitting down and putting words on a page, or a screen. Otherwise this profession will drive you mad. A writer is somebody who writes.
Much of my actual writing takes place in local coffee shops, because that's an environment that works for me (there are too many distractions at home: too much washing to be ironed, dishwasher-loading-and-unloading to work through, hoovering to hoover and so on). The occasional who does he think he's kidding? "working on his screenplay" yeah right glance I get from this or that fellow customer is just the icing on the cake. Mornings are mostly when I write new stuff; afternoons and evenings are when I tend to deal with admin and emails and invoices and so on, when I work on revisions and edits and do all the necessary but tedious para-gubbins. Mornings are more fun.
I work seven days a week; if I don't write on any given day it will only be because there are pressing eventualities compelling my abstinence. If you want, for whatever reason, to imagine me at work, then I invite you to impress the following stock-photo image for 'writer' upon your inner eye, which is the bliss of solitude. I look exactly like this. Exactly.
I am a writer but I'm not a very famous or successful one (not very successful in terms of community esteem, and more to the point not very successful financially speaking). But there are many bills to pay, kids to feed and an eye-wateringing large mortgage to service, so I have a day-job, working at the University of London teaching literature and creative writing. Writing, therefore, fills the time when university work doesn't crowd it out. At the moment I am on research leave, and writing All The Day. Next academic year my writing time will be squeezed, but I'll mountain that molehill later this year rather than right now, thank you very much. Sufficient unto the day, and so on and so forth.
One more thing I do, not on All The Days but on at least Some Of Them: I go about. This, generally, is not paid: I'm talking about readings, signings, events, talks, convention panels and so on. There's the general idea that this is 'publicity' and therefore a Sellar-Yateman-esque Good Thing in and of itself: that it leads, let's say, to enhanced sales, word-of-mouth buzz and through them to fame and respect and riches beyond the dream of Croesus. The truth, of course, is that it doesn't. Last month I did an event co-organised by Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Wolverhampton University: I went up, talked, answered questions, shook a few hands. I wasn't paid, and of the twenty or so (nice, enthusiastic) people who came to the event I guess two or three might have been inspired to buy one of my novels, which by itself won't cover the cost of the petrol I burned pootling up and down the M40. Still: nice to meet enthusiastic people. And sometimes I do these sorts of things because they are worthwhile in a general rather than a propel-Adam-onto-the-bestseller-list sense. So: I talk at schools and libraries where I can, to promote literacy and encourage kids who think they might want to be writers themselves. I have a few times gone into prisons and talked to inmates. Next Wednesday, terrifyingly enough, I'm addressing the Henley-on-Thames Women's Institute on the subject of 'storytelling'. That sort of thing. And last week I went to Vilnius and spoke to some very pleasant Lithuanian fans about Tolkien, and (the following day) about Pratchett. There was no fee there either, although the pleasant Lithuanians did at least pay my flight and accommodation. So that's something else I Do All Day, although as I get older, and less excited by the prospect of travel as such, I have, I think, come to the conclusion that I'll do less of it, going forward. Less travel will mean more time to do the main thing I want to Do All Day, which is read. And write.