Pleased to be mentioned for Tommy Catkins in the Irish Independent ‘Best Reads Of 2018’.
A few of my author friends have recently been discussing the wisdom of Margaret Attwood writing a sequel to her wonderful, famous and very important novel The Handmaid’s Tale. I suppose even for an author as successful as Attwood there is always sequel temptation, particularly given the popularity and critical success of the televised version. Attwood says she wrote the book because of what her fans were saying in response to the tv series, but I can’t help thinking that a sequel is unwise. I’m on record as saying: ‘write for your readers, but never for your fans.’
George RR Martin has a similar problem with his never-appearing final volume of A Game Of Thrones. Basically, he has imprisoned himself. Not a great place for an author to be. I have written a trilogy, but I’d never write a series. Book series are the literary equivalent of prison cells. I’m not keen on series any way, nor books that endlessly explore the same world. For all the brilliance, wit and humanity of Terry Pratchett, I bailed out of Discworld around the eighth novel. I like my authors to explore a wide variety of characters and worlds.
Would I write a sequel to any of my works? Well, I have been tempted, but…
Memory Seed/Glass/Flowercrash: No. This was never set up as a trilogy, but it is a trilogy of theme, with characters that go from book to book. As I’ve written elsewhere, I’ve long felt the temptation to return to the Memory Seed world, but since being asked by Ian Whates to do the Tales From The Spired Inn collection I think that temptation has departed.
Muezzinland: No. For a while I wondered what might happen to Princess Mnada after her stroke, but there’s no pull back to her or her world.
Hallucinating: No. It was a fun one-off.
The Rat & The Serpent: No. For a while I had ideas for a kind of alternate vampire/Romania novel, but the inspiration for it passed pretty quickly.
Urbis Morpheos: No. It’s done.
Hairy London: No. I did write a sequel in fact, following Sheremy and Juinefere in an alternate WW2 setting, but it was a poor novel. Hairy London won’t be repeated or followed up, not least because it was written off the top of my head, with only the barest essentials of plot – a risky thing to do. It was enormous fun to write, but I’ve kind of been-there-done-that…
Beautiful Intelligence/No Grave For A Fox: Highly unlikely. It is an interesting world, with relevance to where our real (digital/AI) world is going, but it’s probably best not to write any more, particularly as I tied Muezzinland in to the end of No Grave For A Fox.
The Girl With Two Souls/The Girl With One Friend/The Girl With No Soul: Yes. Once I’d written the trilogy, I realised there was more to discover about Erasmus, so I have written an additional novel, The Conscientious Objector, set in 1914 and following Erasmus’ experiences in WW1. It remains unpublished however because, although the Factory Girl trilogy did very well critically and artistically, sales were average at best.
Tommy Catkins: No. No need.
As an addendum to the series I’ve posted this week about mental health and online living, I thought I’d write about some modern technological aspects that led me to create Kora Blackmore.
Readers of the Factory Girl trilogy will know that Kora and Roka are two identities within one body. I had the title of the first volume, The Girl With Two Souls, long before I put the scenario together, but one of the later inspirations was a brief mention of an extraordinary psychological effect. In India, there is a variety of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) where two personalities alternate on a day by day basis. I was so struck by this peculiarity that I made it the heart of Kora’s disorder.
But what was the origin of Kora’s illness? The Edwardians of her time, being Christians in a highly ordered, buttoned-down and judgemental society, considered her to have two souls, with Roka deemed the extra soul. But that was a false belief. Kora has DID. As more is learned about her childhood, and especially following the meeting with her mother in Africa, the reader becomes aware of the dreadful circumstances of her upbringing. Sir Tantalus Blackmore, desperate to find some way out of the dilemma he faces inside the Factory, attempted to alter Kora’s entire character by having her raised by automata. This shocking revelation, mediated earlier by the notes deciphered from Nurse Law’s automaton, shows that Kora lacked basic human contact from an early age. She lacked eye contact, touch, some aspects of speech, and more.
Could Kora’s upbringing have any relevance to some of our modern practices? Surely not. But what about the practice of giving infants screens to watch? What about toddlers? Children of school age, online?
There is in fact a strong correlation between the extraordinary inhumanity of what Sir Tantalus did to his child and what is presently happening to internet-age children.
A basic point, elaborated by Dr Mary Aiken in her startling book The Cyber Effect, will illustrate this. It is commonplace these days to see parents with their young children in situations where the parent concentrates only on their smartphone. Aiken relates an incident where a mother and infant sat on a train seat opposite her, and for half an hour the mother stared at her smartphone, never once making eye contact with the infant. Aiken was moved to ponder the consequences of that deed. In her opinion, the consequences will be catastrophic.
Infants need constant eye contact, face-to-face contact and skin-to-skin contact in order to survive, to grow, to develop. The modern practice of allowing children – under the guise of ‘interactive’ apps or ‘educational’ games – to spend hours each day attending to their screens is more damaging than has yet been realised. Aiken herself, an expert in this field, is aware of the paucity of research in this area, but she is clear on the dangers. Interactivity comes from other human beings, not from the vacuous, over-stimulating, quick-changing stuff online. To grow up with reduced intimate human parenting is to lack the absolute basics. To grow up in such a world is to face depression, anxiety and relentless stress later on. (This is seen a lot in Japan, and even more in Korea, as described in the third part of my blog series, but the epidemic is spreading across the globe.) We are turning potential human beings into something akin to AGIs.
Kora developed a deep-seated mental illness, DID, because of what she lacked in childhood. She separated parts of herself that she could not bear to feel, to experience, into an entire separate character, that she then lost contact with. To the outside observer it seemed as though she was two children. And she was. But she could have been one.
The cold, callous, empty hands of the internet will not raise the kind of children we would recognise. It will raise something else.
I’m delighted to say my new AI novel The Autist has formally been accepted for publication by Infinity Plus Books. At a guess, it should be out some time in the first half of next year.
Tomorrow I’ll begin a series of five pieces looking at the relationship between internet use and mental health. A couple of further pieces will follow the week after.
To my great surprise, and delight, this half term I’ll be writing a couple of new short stories from the same world as my debut Memory Seed. The editor of a well regarded UK independent press asked me to write them for a slim collection (30,000 words) to be published next year; and although I did blog a couple of years ago about returning to the city of Kray, I never thought I’d properly do it.
It’s been a peculiar experience. I even had to read a few chapters of the novel to remind myself what it was like…
Some years after the publication of Memory Seed I did write and have published in magazines and in an anthology three ‘Tales From The Spired Inn.’ Those will be part of next year’s work, along with a specially written introduction. So… it’s back to rain and abundant greenery.
I’m delighted to say that the audio book of Hairy London, read by one of the most talented voices in the biz, Roger Watson, is to be released by Andrews UK. Hairy London was in many regards a comeback novel for me, following a decade of difficult events in my personal life and elsewhere, which meant that only Urbis Morpheos was published between 2005 and 2014. Luckily my esteemed editor Keith Brooke took the plunge, to the pleasure and bafflement of my SF fans.
Hairy London is of course a surreal, silly, slipstream novel, which plays all sorts of games via word-play and mental images. Roger has done the work more than justice, with his delivery and his considerable skill at voices and accents. It’s going to be interesting to see how it does!
“In the end I was left wanting more.”
“I highly recommend this fun, engaging novel.”
“Hairy London was a real page turner and I found it difficult to put down.”
“I enjoyed every page of this book…”
“Thought-provoking and a lot of fun…”
Great new review from respected author Toby Frost up at SFF Chronicles.
‘… Tommy Catkins won’t be for everyone, but I really liked its blending of historical reality and whimsical – but sinister – fantasy. It’s an enjoyable and ultimately unsettling story, that (much like its hero!) defies easy analysis. Recommended.’
I had a terrific couple of days in Lincoln at the Asylum Steampunk Festival. Invited as a guest author by Nimue and Tom Brown, I met lots of great people, made new friends and fans, sold all my copies of Tommy Catkins (see photo below of me looking tired half way through Sunday…), gave two talks – one on whether or not automata can become conscious, and one on how to approach writing a novel – met fellow author Craig Hallam, got invited to his and to one other event, and spoke with Tom about the three book covers he’s going to design. So, all in all, it was a fab couple of days!