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Notes from genre author Stephen Palmer

I Have Something To Say! by Kathryn Harper

I read this book as research for a novel I’m expecting to write next Easter, in which one of the two main characters is a selective mute. What I didn’t expect was that the book would be relevant to me in a personal way. I usually steer a balanced path when researching such things (for instance, shell shock in Tommy Catkins), so that I have on the one hand a grounding in the subject, but also plenty of freedom to imagine what my character will be like.

Selective mutism is a condition sourced in sensitivity and anxiety. A child with selective mutism is unable because of high levels of anxiety to speak in all but the safest circumstances. So, a selective mute can usually speak at home despite not being able to speak in any public or social circumstance.

Although I’ve never had this condition, as an HSP (highly sensitive person) I immediately grasped the reasons for its appearance. HSP is not the easiest thing to live with, for all its benefits in certain areas, and it is still much misunderstood. For example, I find it difficult to forgive people who have lied to me, especially if that person was somebody I previously respected, or liked. I do not wish to be lied to.

Add anxiety to an HSP and you have a recipe for selective mutism in a child, or even, on occasion, in an adult.

This book is an honest and moving read. Kathryn Harper went through her teenage years and into her twenties suffering because of the consequences of her undiagnosed anxiety. She struggled with alcohol and with relationships. But she pulled through, and when she began to understand that her childhood traumas with selective mutism were rooted in anxiety she made the courageous decision to face herself, so that she could try to move on.

The final sections of the book are a testament to her courage, and to her realisation that she had to stop fitting in with other people’s expectations, and try to be herself. Now she has a new relationship with what she calls the most common word used to describe her: quiet. Quiet is good. Quiet is often better than good. Quiet people should be celebrated, supported, cherished. But all too often we are not. Too often we are mocked or belittled. Kathryn Harper’s quietness was extreme when she was a child, but she has renegotiated her relationship with quietness to her advantage, and to the advantage of people with selective mutism, who will enormously benefit from her remarkable book.

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Hairy London audio book

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…”

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Hairy London – cover

The March Of Unreason by Dick Taverne

In Labour/independent/Lib Dem MP Dick Taverne’s 2006 book he presents a powerful argument in support of the scientific method, reason, and their offshoot democracy. Taverne is a long-time supporter of the importance and public remit of science, and writes with passion, insight and clarity on his subject. His ire is in particular aimed at those he (rightly) calls eco-fundamentalists, whom he exposes as brilliant media operators with a deeply irrational attitude.

I’ve long found this irrational aspect of Green attitudes troubling – and not just the absurd, crystal-wielding part of it. I’ve enjoyed being part of the alternative/underground world for a long time, but, even amongst friends, I’ve always realised that I walked on the outer fringes of the group, with my regular attacks on conspiracy theories, unreasonable arguments (eg those against GM foods), absurd “alternate history”, unethical exploitation of media, entrenched attitudes etc. The inability of many people to use evidence and follow peer-reviewed methods is a huge concern. But in these days of social media and fake news – little more than ten years after the publication of this book – we are sleepwalking into an even worse situation, where not just truth but reality itself is the casualty. Reading this book a few years after it appeared, as traditional media fawns to public opinion and science continues to be downtrodden, is not a pleasant experience, for all the work’s excellence.

We have failed once again to learn the lesson of history. But that of course is part of our current problem. Technology is changing at a pace faster than human beings can psychologically cope with.

In my view, the great majority of what Taverne presents in this book is not only correct but vitally important. I think he does give capitalism and multi-national corporations too easy a time (he still believes in enlightened self-interest), but his main message, that democracy and its benefits come from the evidence based scientific method – itself a child of the Enlightenment – needs to be heard across the world. Unfortunately, at the moment, that seems the least likely message to achieve visibility in our age of digital media, let alone enhanced credence. A highly recommended book.

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A Universe From Nothing by Lawrence Krauss

This is one of the best science books I’ve read for ages. I spotted it in a remainder shop in Hay-on-Wye over the summer, which is a bit of a shame, as it didn’t deserve that fate.

The author is a well known and lauded cosmologist, whose work has explored the more difficult aspects of the Big Bang: How did it happen? How could it have happened? Is our universe the only one? Later on he does ask why our universe might have been created, but he points out that such a question may be meaningless. Above all, his goal is to show how the universe could have appeared from nothing, and how that means a creator is unnecessary.

Written with skill, clarity and economy, this is a superb outline of the state of play in cosmology circa 2012. It simplifies theories without sacrificing their essence or importance – a rare skill in science writing – and while it doesn’t give all the answers, it does elegantly and clearly give reasons why such answers may be impossible for us to know. Highly recommended.

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Writing Magazine profile

Big thanks to freelance writer, editor and all-round decent chap Gary Dalkin for assembling an author’s profile for this month’s edition of Writing Magazine. Available now at WH Smiths etc.

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Tommy Catkins new review

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.’

Tommy cover only 19 June

Asylum Steampunk weekend

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!

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  • photo courtesy Tink Bell.

Tommy Catkins early reviews

A few customer reviews beginning to come in:

Thrilling, sad story about a strange corner of history and a mesmerising imaginary world. (Ben, on amazon)

This one doesn’t leave you warm and fuzzy, but it does leave you thinking. Tommy Catkins will take you back in time, and the uneasy feelings linger well after finishing the book. (Shellie, on goodreads)

Tommy cover only 19 June

Factory Girl new covers

I’m thrilled to announce that steampunk artist Tom Brown (he of ‘Hopeless, Maine’ fame amongst much else) is going to create three book covers for my Factory Girl trilogy. Tom is a well known and highly respected artist, whose mysterious style of painting is ideally suited to the steampunk machinations of the Factory Girl world…

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Tommy Catkins Guardian review

Reviewed yesterday in Guardian Books. “Stephen Palmer likes to ring the changes…” Yes. He does.

Tommy cover only 19 June