Notes from sf author Stephen Palmer

The Palmer Luck Timeline

I seem to have acquired a reputation as “Mr Random” by insisting that much of an author’s career is completely out of their hands: luck and luck alone, whether good or bad. After an interesting discussion on the highly esteemed SFF Chronicles forum, I thought it might be worth noting down all those times my worries were for nothing because so much is chance, out of the hands of the author. Hence this blog post.

Authors worry too much because it is a profession in which much of their self-esteem, confidence and identity are placed. A story rejection or a bad review can feel awful, especially for new authors, but that is because such events seem to attack the author themselves. The bad review is taken to heart. The book rejection is personal. Over many years most authors can learn to deal with this aspect of the business, though not all, as various online spats between authors and readers have testified. I personally do not rest easy until somebody has left me a 1* review or something similar. Then I know all is well out there in the real world.

Here then for all to see is my catalogue of phenomenal luck. Writers or new authors reading this might like to try the exercise for themselves.

And remember – it’s mostly random out there. You shouldn’t worry about that.


Date: 1991-ish

Inside a rejected manuscript partial I find a yellow post-it, which turns out to be a note from an editor’s reader to the editor – a note I shouldn’t have seen. It slams my writing as bad and “lacking zing.” This note is the kick up the backside I need. I up my game, going back to my 1988 book Kray to create a completely revised version – with added zing. This book five years later is published as my debut Memory Seed.

Date: mid-December 1993

A few days before moving house – from a home where massive and appalling neighbour abuse from two mentally ill people means me and my wife never leave a forwarding address – I receive a letter of interest from Tim Holman at Orbit. Had he written a few days later I would likely never have received it. This I think was my most extraordinary stroke of luck. Not only had somebody important noticed my work, he had written to me in the nick of time. Luck quotient: 100%.

Date: 1995

After a long wait due to me writing a third version of Memory Seed and Orbit Books (part of Little, Brown) moving offices, I get to meet Tim Holman in London. During this first meeting he informs me that they receive about 2,000 manuscripts per year, and have waited about five years before approaching me, and others. In other words – odds of about 10,000:1 against.

Date: late ‘90s

SF goes through one of its periodic declines and I and other authors are dropped by the big companies. Totally out of authors’ control.

Date: very early ‘00s

My good friend Keith Brooke is in touch with Sean Wallace at Wildside Press, who happens at the time to be looking to work with British authors, including Keith, Dave Langford and others. I get onto the bandwagon. Fifteen or so years later I find out certain facts about Sean Wallace which mean publication by Wildside was a mixed blessing.

Date: November 2006

With all main options gone or used up, I decide to start again from scratch, sending my work to British publishers as I had in the early 1990s. I decide to start at the top: PS Publishing. Two days after emailing Urbis Morpheos out to them – an eyeblink in publishing terms – I get an acceptance. The cheque arrives shortly afterwards. Luck quotient: 100%.

Date: 2015

Keith Brooke and I need a really good cover for my novel Beautiful Intelligence. I don’t have anything much cop myself. I ask a few friends online, which leads to a chap called Steve Jones, who I have never heard of. He has a fantastic double-android image which would be absolutely perfect. Except… it turns out I do know him, under his internet alias, and he is already a fan. Subsequent arrangements are a doddle! Luck quotient: 100%.


So you see, worrying about random things is a mug’s game. You have to take a few steps back, don’t invest so much of your personal worth into your work, chill, and accept that there’s no such thing as fate, no such thing as destiny, and no such thing as “if you work hard enough at your dream it’s bound to come true.” Disney et al were wrong. You are at the mercy of the real world and random chance doesn’t care about you. Get used to it. You’ll feel better then.



Wilfred Owen

This is part of a photo I took of a statue in Shrewsbury – Wilfred Owen, the Shropshire poet best known for his WW1 poetry. This image is currently used on my Facebook page.


Improbable Botany out at last

The Improbable Botany anthology is out at last! Congrats to Wayward Plants, and all the contributors for what is a terrific-looking book.


Tommy Catkins to be published

Delighted to announce that my World War I / shell-shock novel Tommy Catkins is to be published later in the year by Infinity Plus Books.


Monica blog 2

1900: Blackbury, England.

My Life As A Ten-Year-Old Boy by Nancy Cartwright

I came quite late to the Simpsons. In the early days – the first half of the ’90s – I thought to myself, “I don’t want to watch the antics of a bratty American boy.” How wrong I was back then. Soon, after watching a few episodes, I realised the series was about far more than just Bart. It was about America, and even, on occasion, about humanity itself.

Since then I’ve become a confirmed fan. The series, like no other American television I’ve seen, has British elements of humour – wit, irony, intelligent charm. In My Life As A Ten-Year-Old-Boy, the voice of Bart, Nancy Cartwright, lifts the lid on what it was like at the outset and how the series developed.

The book is written in an informal style, almost as if the author is speaking it. Some reviewers have held that against her, and on occasion the style can be a little wince-inducing. But overall I think it does add to the charm of the account. In any event, the story overall is a fascinating one, with much to recommend it. Certainly for any Simpsons fan this is a must-read.


Highly Sensitive Person on BBC Radio 2

Great to hear the Highly Sensitive Person trait getting some exposure on today’s Jeremy Vine programme on Radio 2. Check it out here on the iPlayer.



Perhaps CatSidhe didn’t like Edward! 🙂


The Girl With Two Souls

A Brief History Of Everyone Who Ever Lived

A Brief History Of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford

I was hoping to like this book a lot, and I do like the content, but the writing style… ouch. Adam Rutherford, for all his undoubted skills as a radio presenter, has convinced himself that he’s the world’s most amusing writer of prose, which, for me, reduced the enjoyment of reading the science considerably. Because he’s not amusing.

That science is fascinating though – Rutherford deserves the adoring comments of his many famous fans inside the front jacket. But the text is not only cringingly unfunny in places where the author believes he is being hilarious, it is peppered with pointless footnotes – and Rutherford is no Jack Vance.

So for style I’m giving 2** and for content 4***, which averages out at a somewhat underwhelming 3***. A shame.


Council tax rises

What the hell is wrong with British people?

Talk today is all of council tax rises, which could be 3% for most councils, or 5.99% for the largest councils. I make that an extra £6.78 on my (average band) council tax for the larger rise. Yet all we’re hearing about today is how terrible it is that “so much” is being taken away in the form of council tax, and how councils should be making ever more stringent cuts in order to balance the books. Recycling collections every month, maybe?

Let’s look at this the other way round. The worst case scenario on my tax – an increase of 5.99% – is an increase of £6.78 per month. That is a ridiculously small amount of money to be making a fuss about. It equates to the loss of two Costa hot chocolate with cream and marshmallow drinks per month. Two. Just two. Even though I earn far below the nation average salary, I’m pretty sure I could manage that.

The reason this is an issue at all is that for cultural and political reasons this is an exceptionally selfish country full of people who have been taught to think that every penny possible should come to them for their own selfish use. Well, the truth is we live in communities, and communities need money.

In fact, communities need lots of money. Maybe the solution to the “problem” is that British people could stop being so selfish and think about the societies they live in.

Because Thatcher was wrong: there is such a thing as society. And we have to pay for it.