Eastercon 2016

March 17th 2016

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Which is next week in Manchester – Easter is almost as early as it can be this year (March 22nd is the earliest, for you ecclesiastical nerds out there).

I’m doing two official things. Secondly, I’m on a panel on Sunday, 10-11am: How High is your Brow? (Rooms 8&9)

Science fiction and fantasy have long had a tumultuous relationship with the world of “highbrow” art. There are divides in funding, attention, and prestige between artforms deemed (by some) to be “serious” and those deemed to be “popular”, and it sometimes seems that never the twain shall meet. What would science-fictional high culture look like? (SF opera?) How are discussions about “high” art shaped by social class and background? How do we, as science fiction readers and writers, challenge the divide? In what ways do we find ourselves reinforcing it? Can we just ignore it — and why, or why not?

Which should be fun. At least no one will be able to criticise me for bringing class into it, because look! It’s right there in the description.

And firstly, I’m bringing The Alchemist’s Dream to Eastercon! The session is Friday, 20:30-21:30 (Room 10)

Come and play a brand new game designed by first-time games designer, Simon Morden. The Alchemist’s Dream is a two player game with draughts-style movement across a hexagonal grid. There are no dice, very simple rules, and the object of the game is to eliminate your opponent’s playing pieces and capture their ‘home’.

There are 6 spaces available so please reserve at Ops. There will be informal opportunities to play the game over the weekend in the Games Room if you miss out.

The important things to remember here are: it’s on Friday – I won’t have much time to drum up support, or remind folk it’s happening, and there are only 6 places available on the night. It’d be brilliant if I had a full room, because I genuinely want to see what experienced gamers make of my little effort. I’ll usually be porting a copy of the game around with me, so if you fancy a go, you can either stop me on an ad hoc basis and see if I’m free / make a play-date for later, or you can email me now at brilliantthings@blueyonder.co.uk and we can negotiate a time if you can’t make the Friday evening session. During the con itself, you can either email or poke my twitter feed (@ComradeMorden).

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Afloat on the ocean of Down

March 4th 2016

Posted by: in: News and Updates, Reviews, The Books of Down
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Well, that was … busy.

First, a signing at FP in London – well attended, I GOT TO MEET PAT CADIGAN. Pat – if you don’t know – was at the forefront of the cyberpunk movement with books like Synners and Fools, and they had an enormous influence on the genesis of the Metrozone and Freezone. And I got to tell her all that after I’d got my breathing under control. They say you should never meet your heroes: in Pat’s case, that doesn’t apply, because she’s as brilliant and funny and sharp in real life as she is in her fiction. And she’s kicking cancer’s arse. And I signed a copy of Down Station for her. I SIGNED A COPY OF DOWN STATION FOR PAT CADIGAN. We’re good here.

Then, a reading at the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club, which is held in the roof-top bar in an outrageously upmarket hotel in Holborn (for reasons that are fascinating, but incidental). Inevitably, my discomfort rose to almost-but-not-quite critical levels, but I adulted and gained admission, whereupon seeing friendly faces calmed me. I don’t what it is about posh, but I just don’t do it. Then when we all reached the top, the full moon was rising red over the London skyline, and that was a diversion, and even though I was down to read third of three, it didn’t matter much. Thank you for putting up with my coarse northern ways, and those in the audience who later admitted to being born and brought up in the north-east but have been travelling incognito since through the publishing world. Your secret is safe with me.

All during that, I was staying at my mum’s, and replacing fence-posts, and trellis, and doing other gruntwork in the garden. Bookended by two roughly seven hour journeys to and from. I was driving pretty much for the whole of Down Station’s launch date.

How did that go?

There’ve been lots more reviews. No, I’m not going to show you the rubbish ones, of which there are fortunately few. As I said previously, it’s not going to be for everyone, however much I’d like it to be. What I want, what I need, is for Down Station to find its audience.

So, from Amazon (and in all seriousness, if you enjoyed the book, leave a review – it does make a difference):

Down Station is one of the most intriguing novels I’ve read in a fair while and I doubt I’ll forget it.

The book has, then, a very engaging and serious moral strand as well as the sheer sense of adventure that comes form exploring – and surviving in – a new land.

This is an interesting read with a great new world to immerse yourself in, it is fantastical and thrilling, a great book to add to your fantasy/sci-fi shelf.

And from elsewhere:

To wit, in terms of plot and pace, Morden’s ninth novel is tight and taut—and I’d argue that its relative brevity is a boon to boot. At approximately 300 pages, Down Station is a ways off wearing out its welcome when the literary kitchen closes its doors; though the portion sizes might be on the slight side, chef serves up a satisfying three-course meal here, leaving readers stuffed enough, but not so full that they won’t have an appetite for more when it’s over. And in case you weren’t aware, there will be more, folks: The White City beckons, and after that… why, this whimsical world is Morden’s oyster. (Tor.com)

A shining example of why I think a come back of modern portal fantasy, could make a significant impact on the genre. (Book Frivolity) The actual review is an audio one, linked here.

A twirling mix of fantasy, reality, a strange new land, and strange new people. (Planet Books)

I’ve been asked what the situation with US distribution. Bear with us, because we’re sorting that out. I know for sure that the kindle version is available here, and if you’re desperate for the hardcopy, then one of these is probably your best bet.

Also, The White City is due out Feb 2017. But since it’s written, and edited already except for the line edits, it might be brought forward to the end of this year instead. Watch this space.

 

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Mind the Gap: next stop, Down Station

February 12th 2016

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You can’t get off at Down Station, of course, merely glimpse it as you rush by between Green Park and Hyde Park Corner on the Piccadilly Line. But you can visit the outside of it. It’s on Down Street (unsurprisingly), third road on the left as you walk along Piccadilly from Hyde Park. This is what you’ll see:

Which is unprepossessing, but that door with the blue sign is precisely the door through which our beleaguered travellers find Down. And this is my invitation for you to find Down, too.

There’ve been some more reviews in the last week:

Down Station is filled with choices that mirror well into the real world, the sense that we are never too far away from chaos, and it’s the decisions we make that define our future. 9/10, A ‘must read now’. (SciFiNow)

…a balanced, nuanced, story with no absolute heroes and villains, but plenty of muddled, baffled people trying to do the right thing, to make their own history. (Blue Book Balloon)

This book was really good! Exciting, imaginative and unexpected. It felt different and creative and had a good story. The world was fascinating, the characters diverse and the plot was very intriguing. (How to Become a Heroine)

All of which are good signs. There are over 250 hoping to win a copy over at Goodreads (draw still open at time of posting). And the first three chapters are now online, in lovely audio (not read by Cathy Tyson, who had to pull out at the last minute due to family commitments, but by Thomas Judd, who does a very fine job indeed).

The book itself is out on Thursday, but I’m signing copies (along with Tricia Sullivan, who’s going to be there with Occupy Me) at Forbidden Planet in Shaftsbury Avenue, London, on the 20th of Feb, 1pm-2pm. It’d be brilliant to see you there. I’m also supposed to be at the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club on the 23rd – I’m a little unclear as to where that’s actually being held, but hopefully I can snag a native guide to help me find it.

What else can I say about Down Station? If you want a story of ordinary people finding themselves in extraordinary situations, which have morally complex and not always noble solutions, where secrets can kill and lies are mandatory, then Down Station is what you’ve been waiting for. Even if it’s not, I’ve had more than one reviewer comment, “I didn’t expect to enjoy this quite as much as I did.”

Open the door. Step through. Find Down in all its terrible glory.

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Two weeks till the train leaves

February 4th 2016

Posted by: in: From the Author, News and Updates, The Books of Down
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First stop, Down Station.

This has been a long time coming. A change of publisher, a change of editor, a change of direction: if I’m trying to constantly challenge myself as a writer, I’m doing it the hard way, it seems.

I’ve wanted to write a ‘proper’ portal fantasy for a while, and now I’ve done it, it’s inevitably not quite like anyone else’s. A portal fantasy is, for the want of a better definition, the pitching of ordinary people into an extraordinary environment. I can check both those off: Dalip and Mary, Stanislav and Mama, are just regular folk, doing their daily jobs, when they discover the entrance to Down. And when I say ‘discover’, it’s literally that. They open a door, and there it is.

Because Down is not Narnia, or Barsoom, or the Pliocene, I have to chase them over the threshold. Down is a world with a conscious magic woven into every leaf, rock and blade of grass. It’s a terrifying, beautiful place, full of danger and wonder. Neither do they find themselves alone, which is altogether more perilous. Down Station is the beginning of the story of how Down sits alongside our world, and their fates are intimately joined together. The story continues in The White City – which, because this is publishing, I’m doing the edits for now, while thinking about launching its predecessor.

I could give you all kinds of spoilers and teasers. Let’s not do that. Here are some reviews:

This is a very fast paced book, with intense moments of danger as well as being full of wonder. There are so many things to discover in Down not only geographically but historically…Morden has written a book full of mysteries that are just waiting to be discovered. (Fantasy Book Review)

Down Station is a fun and interesting read which I zipped through in no time at all! (Books By Proxy)

The world is an interesting and well realised one. The central characters are believable and feel entirely human (though I would like to see more of the supporting cast in the sequel). The plot rattles along nicely, and kept me enthralled to the last page (Sci-Fi and Fantasy Reviews)

Once again Simon Morden takes the fantasy genre and moulds it wonderfully…What makes Down Station so great is the immaculate pacing and the way character shapes fate for each of the well-drawn main characters (The Sun)

And a few from Goodreads:

The story was a kind of fantasy that I rarely see, very Robin Hobb-ish, and by the end, some of my questions were answered, and I had a lot more and GOD DAMN IT I NEED BOOK TWO.

This is an interesting read with a great new world to immerse yourself in, it is fantastical and thrilling, a great book to add to your fantasy/sci-fi shelf.

Overall, this is an excellent, fast-paced, and satisfying read, and I’m very much looking forward to reading more of Mary and Dalip’s adventures in Down.

Which are all nice. It is, of course, not everyone’s cup of tea – as I discovered with Arcanum, fantasy readers are sometimes quite conservative in what they’ll accept as fantasy, and if it’s too different to what they expect, they’re not going to like it. I’m going to warn you now: Down Station is different. At times, it’s startlingly different. It’ll keep you guessing. It’ll surprise you. It won’t give you all the answers, and the answers it does give are often replaced by better answers later on.

Obviously, I want you to buy it, read it, love it, and talk about it to your friends. That’s because I want this story to entertain as many people as possible – and starving in a garret isn’t a great way to go. But if I was going to go on and wish for one further thing, I’d say this: I want this story to breathe. I want you to imbue Down with life, to think of the rarely-opened doors as you pass them by on the street, to wonder what you’d do in Down and what you’d become. Because that would be brilliant.

I came across a quote from the theologian Frederick Buechner: even though he was writing about this world, it sums up Down so perfectly, I wonder if I hadn’t been subconsciously channelling him.

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.

One last thing: don’t forget the signing at Forbidden Planet in London on the 20th February with me and Tricia Sullivan, between 1pm and 2pm.

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Defying Reality at Forbidden Planet London on 20th February

January 15th 2016

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No, really. Apparently that’s in my skill-set now.

*shakes fist* I DEFY YOU!

And in case that doesn’t work, you are cordially invited to join award-winning me and award-winning Tricia Sullivan, who will be flogging signing copies of Down Station and Occupy Me respectively (we can sign each others books if you want, though that’s normally frowned upon) between the hours of 1pm and 2pm at the Forbidden Planet Megastore on That London’s Shaftsbury Avenue – nearest Tube station being either Tottenham Court Road or Leicester Square.

There may be an opportunity for both of us to talk about our new books, and probably time afterwards for chatting, assuming that neither of us has become wildly popular overnight…

Details are here, and more news as it arrives.

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And now the end is near

December 31st 2015

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Not so much near, as here. It’s always a bit odd, as far it goes. New Year’s eve is just another night, like all the others before it and after it. Nothing even happens in astronomical terms: it’s no solstice or equinox, that’s for certain. And these days, it doesn’t even mean that you spend the next few weeks having to rewrite cheques, because you’ve got the date wrong. I’m struggling to remember the last time I wrote a cheque.

And, of course, there’s the enforced reminiscences. I’ve just gone through all the blog posts from here, and all the things I put up on the Book of Face, simply to remind myself what I’d got up to during 2015.

1. Running. A lot of running, in fact. I never used to see myself as a runner, or even someone who’d enjoy running for itself. I used to play football, before I became susceptible to one particular injury that’d leave me flat-out for a week at a time. Football involves a lot of running, but mainly short sprints stretched out over 90 minutes, and not the sustained running for much longer periods. Then I moved on to cycling and swimming and walking, and never thought that much about running until a couple of years ago, when the Girl needed someone to take her to Parkrun, and … bang. I’m up to 94 Parkruns, and on a flat course, I can get home in under 26 minutes. I can also do a sub-1 hour 10k. I could go for longer, and that’s one thing I’m definitely aiming for in 2016. That, and regularly breaking the 26 minute barrier at my local Parkrun.

2. Writing. A lot of writing, in fact. Two novels (The White City and The Alchemist’s Dream), one novella (At the Speed of Light), one short story (Diggers). That’s roughly 220,000 words. But that still only works out at just over 600 words a day. And even though I’ve had no books published this year, I genuinely feel like I’m at the most productive I’ve been for a decade. I got to speak at Greenbelt again this year. I read out a story at the mid-summer Phantoms at the Phil. I’ve changed publishers – Orbit to Gollancz. I’ve a new editor (more by accident than design, and Simon, if you’re reading this, you were brilliant, and thank you) (and Gillian, if you’re reading this, you are brilliant, and thank you). I’ve more projects, finished and potential, than you could shake a word-covered stick at. So I’d like to get moving with those, while still creating new things next year.

3. Ancillary stuff. You all know about The Alchemist’s Dream game already: that’ll get showcased at Eastercon, but also other times and places too. I’d like to have made at least one serious attempt at getting a games manufacturer interested by the time 2017 turns up. More mountains: I spent a week, mostly on my own, in the Cairngorms in high summer, just walking through forests and up glens and along ridges and up to windy tops: I’d like to do that again. And use my writing in different areas: there’s a whole world of screenwriting and non-fiction I haven’t really explored, or had time to explore yet. Let’s see.

If there’s one bit of advice I’m going to try and hold on to, it’s going to be this. Be bold. Which at first sight, is a bit odd, but this will mean me taking risks. It’ll mean making mistakes. It’ll mean failing. It’ll mean getting up again and doing it better. It’ll mean not writing safely or easily, and leaving myself open to criticism. It’ll probably mean upsetting people. It’ll mean not apologising, when my first instinct is always to avoid conflict. I have no idea how this is going to manifest itself, but I have all year. And if I look like I’m slacking off, you have permission to remind me of this.

Watch this space.

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Progress: not just a name for Soviet-era spaceships

June 16th 2015

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I have been officially busy, and progress (not this kind of progress) has been made.

Firstly, a correction. Phantoms at the Phil is on the 3rd July, and not on any of the other dates previously advertised. Today was going to be the day I started writing my story. I’ve been enveloped in a cloud of post-book exhaustion, so will start tonight. Or tomorrow morning. Honest. Tickets usually sell out, so get in while the going’s good.

Secondly, I have done made a book. The White City (being the Second Book of Down) is wholly extant at 97,000 words*, and while parts of it are eye-poppingly strange, I think it works. Some of the plotting is deliberately audacious, not so much as to challenge you, dear reader, but to stretch me as a writer – being comfortable isn’t a place where I want to be. It’s off to the agent, and subsequently to the publisher. Down Station (being the First Book of Down) is scheduled for release on 18th February, 2016, and The White City will probably follow a year later. Or maybe sooner if a slot falls free. I have seen a rough cover for Down Station, and it’s gorgeous. So it’s definitely happening.

Thirdly, I am at Greenbelt again this year, and will be talking about writing faith well – using the examples of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, and William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist. I appreciate that last choice is a little risky, but bear with me, it’s brilliant. The talk is currently scheduled for Monday afternoon in the Literature tent. I also note that me and AL Kennedy (also appearing) share an agent. Hopefully we can meet up and compare notes about how fantastic he is…

Fourthly, the second-ever Gollancz Festival is now extended to two days, and I’m provisionally booked in to be in London on the 17th October.

That’s about it so far – keep well, keep safe.

 

 

* eagle-eyed readers will note that on 13th April, I said The White City was just over 30,000 words. Two months later, I’m at 97,000. I’m quite pleased with that.

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The David Gemmell awards, and looking forward

April 15th 2015

Posted by: in: Arcanum, From the Author, News and Updates, The Books of Down
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While Monday’s post dealt with the past, today’s looks forward, because, you know – science fiction and all that.

I’ve already mentioned that Arcanum wasn’t submitted for the Clarkes, despite being in the very strictest sense, an utterly SF book. It has, however, been submitted for the David Gemmell Awards, which is decided by popular vote. I am very aware of my place in the food chain, and there are proper fantasy writers on the list who outrank me in every way. All I’m going to say here is that it would be nice to make the shortlist, and for that, Arcanum needs votes, which you may deliver here. If you’re looking for heroes, then Peter, Sophia and Frederick aren’t such a bad bunch to emulate.

Down Station has a publication date, which is February next year – that means a whole year without a book. It does give me some time to both recharge the batteries, and more importantly, write. The White City (being the Second Book of Down) is progressing, and will be done by summer. After that, there are a multiplicity of options, but only one of me to do the work. Despite that, I already have two books in hand, so I do need to choose wisely.

I’ve agreed to do a couple of short stories: one ghost story for the perennially popular Phantoms at the Phil event, which is performed, live, by the authors, to a full house in Newcastle’s Lit and Phil library; and another for an anniversary anthology. Short stories were what I started on, and I find writing them a peculiar kind of joy. On one hand, they’re bloody difficult to pull off, on the other, the satisfaction when you manage a really satisfying ending is out of proportion to the length of the thing.

On a slightly sideways note, I returned from Eastercon to find a royalties cheque waiting for me. For Another War which, after 10 years, has earned out its advance. That, comrades, is playing the long game.

Next year, as well as Down Station, will see me crossing the pond to be Guest of Hono(u)r at InConJunction in Indianapolis. Which will be … interesting. I’ve never been a GoH before, anywhere. I’ll try not to blot my copybook between now and then, or at the con itself. I’ll take advice, because I don’t want to make n00b mistakes, but it’ll still be me no matter what. You’ve been warned.

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Eastercon and other stories

April 13th 2015

Posted by: in: Arcanum, From the Author, News and Updates, Non-fiction
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Strange to say, but this year’s Eastercon (Dysprosium, at the Park hotel, Heathrow) seems to have marked something of a turning-point: if not that, at least a waymarker for the onward journey.

It’s been almost six months since my dad died, a bit longer since I headed south to help my mum care for him, and pretty much a year since we got a concrete diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. I went pretty much straight from visiting them before Easter 2014 to Eastercon in Glasgow, and everything I did from then on was viewed through the lens of ‘my dad is dying’. That, and Worldcon – my first ever, and in London to boot – was… not quite a disaster, but I was emotionally all over the shop. Sure, I can wear a stiff upper lip as well as the next Englishman, and I don’t think I made an idiot of myself at any point, but I probably made promises to do stuff that not only didn’t happen, but will never happen because I can’t remember.

The one professional decision that I made in that time was to finish Down Station, which was the ended in September. Because if I hadn’t, Gollancz would still be waiting for it, and they deserve better than that. There were other things I let slide – the one big regret I have now is not pushing for Arcanum to be submitted to the Arthur C Clarke awards – but spilt milk and all that.

I started writing again in January. Slowly, somewhat tentatively, but then more assuredly. The White City is over the 30k mark, and whether it’s too different in tone will be something I’ll have to discuss with my agent and editor. I also agreed to do a new ghost story for the Summer Phantoms at the Phil, after my somewhat impromptu appearance as a last-minute stand-in at Christmas.

So, to Eastercon. I can’t honestly say I ‘did’ much. I was on three panels, chatted to all sorts of folk, drank tea during the day, beer during the evening, went to a couple of readings and precisely one presentation (on the making of Robot Overlords, so nothing too highbrow). But I rediscovered that these were indeed my people. Throughout the weekend, I was attempting to do my least-favourite writing task, which is ‘summarise your book in a paragraph’. I got help with that too. I waved my geek flag high, played the appalling and reprehensible Cards Against Humanity, and survived on too little sleep and too much caffeine. I came away with a liberal dose of ConCrud, and feeling far more optimistic than I have done for ages.

What’s happened before inevitably shapes our present and our future. But there’s no reason for past events to control us. Time’s arrow only points forward. To quote Petrovitch, when told we’re all time-travellers, exploring the future one second at a time. “Some of us are moving much faster than that.”

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Eastercon 2015

March 30th 2015

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I’ll be at Eastercon again this year, and am on two panels.

Firstly, the Worldbuilding workshop (Sunday, 1730-1830, Bleriot), where we (Victoria Donnelly, Marcus Rowland , Bridget Wilkinson and myself) will coerce the audience into making snap decisions about a fictional country called Brittia.

Secondly, I’ll be in conversation with Dave Clements and Jaine Fenn on “What is a planet anyway?”, with almost the last item on the entire programme. (Monday, 1345-1445, Bleriot).

Otherwise, I’ll probably be in and around the bar, going to talks, buying books, and getting my talking for the next six months out of the way. See you there!

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