Notes from genre author Stephen Palmer

The Once & Future Moon new review

Editor Allen Ashley has just sent the contributors to The Once & Future Moon anthology (EibonVale Press) a nice review, which has just come up at the British Fantasy Society. Here’s the link. My tale ‘White Face Tribe’ was one of the anthology’s stories.

2020 In Summary

Well, it’s been a strange writing year…

I started 2020 half way through a two year writing break, which I decided to have because of a backlog of publishable novels. Then came Covid-19. In April, having been furloughed from the day job for two months, I thought I might as well use the time to write something new, so I set to work on a short novel called Uncanny, a near-future work set in the Far East with the theme of the Uncanny Valley. Mostly because of the weirdness of lockdown, I found the experience pretty unsatisfactory. I enjoyed some days; less so others. But the novel was completed, and when I read it back a few months later I discovered it wasn’t as bad as I remembered. In fact what I had done was recall the experience of writing rather than the writing itself.

Having been told that I’d be furloughed until the end of August, I had to reassess my strategy. By then, two of the unpublished novels, Monique Orphan and Monica Orvan, were at the forefront of my mind. I’d always known there was scope – and perhaps even a reason – for a third volume, though earlier I’d considered the work complete in two volumes. Yet the tantalising addition to the work tempted me, not least because of the Noölogical Gardens at Kew, where much of the story is set. As the entire third novel was planned and ready to write, I decided, in a better frame of mind, to write it – and I’m glad I did! This is Monica Hatherley, the third book of the Conjuror Girl trilogy. (I say trilogy, but actually, like the Factory Girl trilogy, this is one book in three volumes.) The writing experience for Monica Hatherley was far better than Uncanny, and when preparing all three volumes for delivery to Keith Brooke at Infinity Plus I realised writing the third volume was definitely the right thing to do. Keith has provisionally agreed to publish the work in autumn 2021.

My other main writing of the year was the three stories for the Future Care Capital charity’s ongoing one year thought experiment Fictions: Health & Care Re-imagined. Having been commissioned alongside Anne Charnock, Keith Brooke and Liz Williams, my goal was to write three short stories imagining future health and social care opportunities. This was at once a restricted brief and one with lots of potential, and writing for it has been fantastic. I’ve learned a lot. My three stories are all written, two of them, Goodbye and Genomancer, already published online by the FCC, the third, George, ready to appear next year.

What else lies ahead for 2021? Well, April 4th sees the 25th anniversary of the publication of my Orbit debut Memory Seed, so that is going to be republished in paperback form with a brand new cover. My plan is to design the cover so that it matches the Art Nouveau style of my Newcon Press anthology Tales From The Spired Inn. It’s amazing to think that twenty-five years have passed since Memory Seed came out. I can still vividly remember a lot of the events surrounding it. I was extraordinarily lucky to be published by Orbit; that single event changed my life, allowing me the pleasure of being a professionally published author in the years since, something for which I remain very grateful. But I could never have guessed in which direction my work would go (steampunk, fantasy, Hairy London…) though the ride has been great! So here’s to twenty-five more exciting, unexpected, creatively satisfying years…

Solo music back catalogue

Music on the day of Yule! For those fans and friends interested in my solo music, I have today released the entire back catalogue on Bandcamp. There are various styles, ranging from orchestral through electronic to acoustic and kosmische. Check it out here!

Genomancer discussion piece

This is the discussion piece accompanying my story Genomancer, for the FCCs ongoing one-year thought experiment Fictions: Health & Care Re-imagined. Read the story, the response, then join in the debate!

My Second Story For FCC

My second story Genomancer has just been published by the Future Care Capital charity as part of their ongoing series Fictions: Health & Social Care Re-imagined. The idea as ever is to get people thinking, then get them to join the debate. This is the sixth story in the well-received series, which has included stories by Keith Brooke, Anne Charnock and Liz Williams. My story focuses on the problem of social media and how it has affected our perception of what a medical expert might be.

FCC fifth story piece

Peter Bloomfield of the Future Care Capital charity has responded with his usual accompanying piece, this time to Keith Brooke’s story Vigorish, which deals with gambling addiction. Read the piece here, then get involved with the debate!

The Art Of Being by Erich Fromm

When I checked into Goodreads and marked Erich Fromm’s posthumous book The Art Of Being as current reading, I was surprised to find that I’d given it only three stars. But, reading it again, I think that was about right. Published thirteen years after Fromm’s death in 1980, the book is essentially chapters Fromm wrote for his final work, To Have Or To Be? but which he withdrew just before publishing, worrying that the chapters might give people the wrong idea about the paths they needed to take to achieve self-realisation.

I must point out that I am still very much a Frommer. He remains a central foundation of my own thinking and work on the evolution of consciousness and the analysis of the human condition.

This book though, for all its interest and worth, is not a great advert for the man. Too much reads as him at the end of his life criticising in irascible mood the fads and fantasies of Western culture, while his continuing insistence on Freud’s relevance to modern thinking on psychology comes across as anachronistic at best. Freud did humanity a tremendous service in discovering that the contents of our conscious minds are only a tiny proportion of what we hold, but his juggling of theories, re-writing of old work and so on leaves the reader of 2020 somewhat baffled.

Then there’s Marx. I like and admire Marx’s analysis of the human condition, for all that I think a lot of it is incorrect, but Fromm still insisted in the late 1970s that Marx was right to claim in his lifetime that historical conditions were suitable for a humane revolution originating in the working classes. The problem, Fromm said, was that people made him, Lenin, Stalin et al into idols.

I do not think the world was ready for a humane revolution in the early twentieth century, indeed, I doubt it will be ready at the end of the thirtieth century. It’s rather ironic that Fromm, whose brilliance included pointing out the necessity of shedding our narcissism and mental illusions, was incapable of seeing that human narcissism has a very, very long life yet before it fades away from our species. Like many compassionate humane thinkers, he wanted change in his own lifetime. That, alas, was and remains nothing but an illusion.

There is a lot to like in this book – Fromm’s grasp of the importance of Buddhism and meditation for instance – but much to wince at. The truly brilliant works were all published in his lifetime: The Sane Society, The Art Of Loving, The Anatomy Of Human Destructiveness, Psychoanalysis & Buddhism, and To Have Or To Be? This posthumous volume is for those who recognise the continuing value, clarity and brilliance of Fromm’s vision, but who have the insight to grasp its limitations.

FCC Fictions: Fifth story

The year long thought experiment of Future Care Capital continues with the fifth story, Keith Brooke’s Vigorish, which has as its theme gambling addiction. Read the story here, then join in the debate!

Music and more interview

To celebrate twenty years of recording music as Blue Lily Commission, I’ve done an audio interview with DJ and music promoter Brendan O’Melia. In it, I talk about music, SF, writing, and more. Here’s the link if you’d like to have a listen…

Tony Ballantyne: Midway

Tony Ballantyne, author of the new collection Midway, asks: does technology shape art?

Of course. The sound of the orchestra evolved as first clarinets and then trombones were added. It changed further as inventors like Boehm improved the design of instruments such as the flute.

Pop music was influenced by the invention of the electric guitar, the keyboard and, more recently, a whole range of music software.

But what about writing?  Has there been the same change as we’ve moved from handwritten manuscript, to typewriter, to word processor to purpose written software such as Scrivener?

Undoubtedly yes. Midway would never have seen the light if it hadn’t been for technology.  I wrote most of the first draft on my phone.

I didn’t intend to write Midway. I had an idea for a novel set in an old cotton mill near where I live. I was working on the preliminary notes when my father took ill. The next six months, the last months of his life, threw everything into turmoil. Most days were spent driving between my home and my parents house. I found myself sitting in waiting rooms and cafes and service stations, drinking coffee and eating sandwiches. I began to record my thoughts and experiences on my phone, using Evernote.  The thoughts began to join up, they got caught up with the mill stories.  I began to rearrange my notes, merge them together.  Gradually, the first draft of Midway took shape.

Would the stories have existed if I simply took notes in my trusty notebook? Yes.

Would they have existed in the same form?

I don’t think so.

I believe that notes are best taken “live”. As Sol Stein said, stories are  about communicating emotion. You’re not describing a landscape, for example, you’re describing your reaction to it. I always had my phone with me in that time, I could do just that. I took notes whilst waiting in queues for coffee, I took notes when out for a walk, I took notes whilst waiting for the nurse to fetch my father a drink. Taking notes became  my way of dealing with the situation.

My normal process when writing a book is to sit down at a PC and type everything into Emacs ([[][you can read about that here]]) 

Midway was different. The first draft was as close to a live recording as a book can be. Think Deep Purple ‘Made in Japan’ or, a better example, Thin Lizzy ‘Live and Dangerous.’ I added the polish in the remix.