In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Saturday, 30 July 2016


 Hi guys.

 Well, Angry Robot turned down Death of Ghosts. They sent me an email explaining that I'd broken a rule by entering more than one novel, and quoted the rule - which was in the FAQs section. I read the rules, and the limit of one submission wasn't mentioned there. So I feel a bit hard done by.

 Still, the novel is obviously good enough. It took the Robots six months to decide against it, and then they only did so on a technicality. So, onwards and upwards. If you can't suffer these blows and rebound then you're never going to make it as a writer anyway.

 I may have indulged in some frustrated cursing, mind.

 At any rate, my next published novel will now be Black Lord of Eagles, due out at the end of this year or early next. It's volume one of a story about a people called the Ashir, who've always believed they're alone in the world, the only civilisation on earth - and then strangers come. The novel is about their struggle to hold onto their land, and also to keep some sense of themselves when all their old certainties are being destroyed.

 One of the stars of the book is the setting. It's an ancient land, covered with ruined temples to gods no one remembers anymore, filled with peoples of different tribes, made of jungles and plateaux and deep valleys. By night pumas cough and by day spider monkeys scream in the trees. It's ruled by a king, but the spiritual power rests with a man called the Servant, who bears a birthmark which names him as the chosen one of the main god. This is one of the central characters, a man called Kai, who usually opens festivals and takes part in ceremonies. Now he finds himself in the middle of a struggle he never dreamed of.

 I'll be talking about Ghosts on The Voice radio on Monday night, in the Book Club slot at 7pm. I'll also speak about Sol Bookshop, at the end of the Strand in Barnstaple on the Square. Sol now runs a stand for local authors, and there are several on the shelves; Jody Medland, Olli Tooley, Michelle Woollacott, and my good self (hehe), plus others. If you fancy a good read by a local writer, pop down, there's something to suit most tastes. And if you're sitting about on Monday with nothing much to do, tune into The Voice. With an hour of mixed music and chat to fill, I might even say something useful now and then.

 Well, you never know.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Big Changes

 People have a habit of panicking. Give them a minor change to their lives and they run about like Chicken Licken, sure the sky is falling in (one of my favourite analogies). I'm thinking here about the UK vote to leave the EU, of course - yes, I promised to get back to the writing this time, I know. Bear with me, OK?

 Leaving the EU is a minor thing. There will be some economic wobbles, some jobs will be lost and others created, policies will change, blah blah. But at the end of it all Britain will still be a hell of a lot richer than most countries in the world. The vote, and impending Brexit, is just a wrinkle.

 Now think about some real sky-falling moments.

 When Europeans brought smallpox to the Americas, it caused carnage. Something close to 50% of the population of the Inca empire died in the first two years. It was similar among the Plains Indians, centuries later. Whole ways of life were changed. Or imagine living on Easter Island near the end, when there was no more wood and no canoes could be built, no fish harvested, and the island collapsed into starvation and war. In maybe two hundred years, the Rapa Nui population of seven thousand fell to barely one hundred.

 Think of the Plague of Justinian, 541-42 AD. It killed 25 million people around the Mediterranean, more than a tenth of the population of the world at the time. Some people say it killed 80% of the people in Byzantium alone. Look at the Three Kingdoms War in 3rd century China, which killed 40 million people - two thirds of the population.

 To those alive at the time, these things must have felt like the end of the world. In fact they were exactly that; the end of the world as it was, and the beginning of a new one. It happens, from time to time. There are those who argue that we're on the edge of one now, here in 2016, as the nations which dominated the last century try to hang onto their power and wealth while others emerge to change the balance. It interests me, because a writer doesn't focus his attention on times when nothing happened. He looks for stories to set against a background of events. It's why Casablanca is still so powerful now. It's a love story, but what drives the grief in it is World War Two, and its power to break people apart. Every time I watch it I want Ilsa to stay.

 (See, I told you I'd get back to the writing)

 I've mentioned smallpox in a forthcoming story, The Blessed Land. I want to cover disease more fully though. One way is through a planned novel called Over the Rainbow Bridge, which is set among Plains Indians ravaged by smallpox. I'm interested in the Rapa Nui story too, Another idea is to deal with the results of a volcanic eruption, big enough to cause floods or famine on the far side of the world. Like Tambora in 1815, an Indonesian volcano which caused two years without summers in Europe.

 It's all a bit grim, isn't it? But I've always been fascinated by how the Inca rebounded from the plague and from military disaster. How they managed it, I don't know, but they did, and nearly regained their country at the Battle of Cuzco. What does it take to do that? To suffer the blows and just shrug them off? I wonder whether another people might do the same in the face of ruin by war, or famine, or the emergence of magic into a world which never knew it... pick your disaster. There's so much possibility there.

 I hope you see, now, why I call Brexit such a piffling little thing. It doesn't really change anything, just like most of history's battles only meant one lord winning and another getting killed. Life for most people stayed just the same. Even so, put people in the midst of a minor incident and they'll throw bricks through windows and make death threats, or so it seems from this week in the UK.

 I prefer my chaos in the pages of a book. Where it belongs.

Friday, 1 July 2016

For Richer, For Poorer

 So, the UK voted to Leave the EU.

 I voted that way too, though with a heavy heart. I like the idea of European integration, even a single nation one day. But it has to be done properly. The EU is such a mess of compromise and corruption, and so incapable of taking care of its own problems, that I felt I had no choice.

 My reasons don't matter to some people. Simply for voting Leave I've been called a racist and an idiot many times. I've been informed that I'm a fool who doesn't understand the damage I've done. I have never encountered such vitriol and bile over a political decision before. It happens across the world, but not in the UK, not in my experience - though there were stories of similar venom after the Scottish Referendum in 2014. They seem likely to be true.

 I even know a man who has said he's "evaluating our friendship", on the basis that he might not be able to be friends with someone who helped steal his children's future.

 Yet while the EU has helped make Britain richer, it has not helped vast numbers of the less well-off. Tell someone on a zero-hours contract that he's benefited from the EU. Tell a person working at minimum wage, or doing two part-time jobs and unsocial hours - at minimum wage. Tell me, come to that, while I work variable shifts at unsocial hours, and guess what? For minimum wage. The gap between the rich and poor in most countries in Europe is wider than for a hundred years. Where is the wealth we're told the EU has created?

 I used to live in an old mining town in South Wales. Pontypridd has collapsed into poverty and a benefits existence since the last mines were shut. My wife once lived in Cornwall, remote and afflicted by patches of equal poverty. Both areas have seen massive injections of EU cash to regenerate them. In both cases the money has gone to out-of-area construction firms, or to build universities that local people can't attend because their school system is shot to hell. And both areas voted by significant majorities to leave the EU, because the union has not been able to do the very thing it exists for in the areas which need it most.

 Meanwhile the EU, under financial pressure, has abandoned Greece to perpetual debt and youth unemployment of 45%. Poverty is so extreme that people scavenge food from bins. Under immigration pressure the EU has allowed member states like Hungary, Austria and Croatia to erect border fences to keep out migrants. Yes, the EU protests, but then does nothing, and the fences remain. And people who defend this monstrosity have the nerve to call ME racist?

 I am, as you can probably tell, angry about this.

 I don't believe a system that enriches a few beyond reason, while offering little or nothing to most people, is worth saving. That isn't limited to the EU. The world is obsessed with Free Trade, but that impoverishes more people than it helps. We should be protecting local industries, paying decent wages - in short, practising the Fair Trade principles which we sometimes try to use when dealing with poorer nations. If it's fair for them then why not for us? The problem isn't lack of wealth; we have plenty. The problem is that most of us don't share in it.

 I find it hard to believe that the Fantasy/Historical worlds I write about have societies less unequal than our own. All our efforts on human rights, civil rights, women's rights, and still we have a wealth gap more suited to feudal England than modern Britain. This isn't envy, I'm not interested in being rich. I simple don't want to be made poorer by the system which claims to be enriching me.

 Rant over. Next time I'll try to get back to talking about writing, which seems to have got lost in the message somewhere. Take care everyone.