Monthly Archives: April 2012

UK pricing for our print editions

So far, UK pricing and distribution for our print editions has been a bit erratic. For example, today’s prices at Amazon UK are £14.99, a hefty mark-up on the $11.99 US price; when I checked a couple of weeks ago the price was a much more reasonable £7.99…

Over at The Book Depository, however, the UK prices are much more reasonable, at £7.45 with free postage:

 

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Insecurity and validation

Are all writers insecure?

Maybe not, but most will admit to it at least some of the time, and for many insecurity is a recurring thing. As I’ve said before, writing is a strange blend of absolute insecurity and the sheer arrogance of that belief that other people should spend several hours with something we’ve written: my words deserve your attention!

Before I start a project I worry about whether the idea behind it is strong enough. While I’m writing I worry about whether I have the skills to do the idea justice. While I’m rewriting and discovering just how bad my first draft is I look back on all the time I’ve invested so far and wonder how I can ever justify doing this thing. When I send the story to my first reader, agent or publisher I’m terrified that all my doubts so far are going to be confirmed in a single line “You sent me this… why?” response.

But there are those magical moments along the way. If I’ve reached the point of worrying about doing the idea justice, at least that means I now believe in the idea itself. And there are times when I’m rewriting when I get carried away with the story and realise that something in there is working. Times when I come to edit a scene and I wonder where on earth that came from: the refugee camp and the rape scene in The Accord, for example, or the approach to Harmony in alt.human. Times when at least some of that arrogance seems justified.

One of the most magical moments for me is when that first box of books turns up. Often by then I’ll have seen a bound proof, or even a lone advance copy of my book, but it’s only when I get the box that I really believe that they’ve printed more than one copy: suddenly it’s a real book that people are going to sell and other people are going to read. Even after all these years, it’s a huge thrill. Suddenly, all that effort is validated: people believe in what I’ve been doing – they’ve invested their time and money in it.

For a moment, then, I say Pah to all the insecurity. I’m a writer. A real writer, with real books. Look at them: a box full of the things. This is what I do.

A box of alt.humans

Note: If this box of books had contained the US edition, it would have been a box full of Harmony, not alt.human. For a variety of reasons, the book will have different titles in the US and UK, but for the record, Harmony is alt.human and alt.human is Harmony. Oh, and it/they is/are out in June, and available for pre-order at Amazon and other booksellers.


Snapshots: Catherine Asaro interviewed

What have you recently finished? What’s recently or soon out?
My most recent novel is Carnelians, which is in the Tales of the Ruby Dynasty (the Skolia books). That came out in October 2011 from Baen Books (Simon & Schuster). I also had an anthology come out, a limited collector’s edition from ISFic Press that accompanied my Guest of Honor appearance at Windycon this last November. It’s called Aurora in Four Voices. The anthology includes “The Spacetime Pool,” which won the Nebula, and several Ruby Dynasty works. It also has an essay about the mathematics that I use in my fiction called “A Poetry of Dreams and Angles.”

In eBooks, my most recent publications are The Spacetime Pool and The City of Cries,  both available on Kindle, Nook, and other formats (The Spacetime Pool also includes the novelette “Light and Shadow” and the essay from Aurora in Four Voices). My publisher in audio books is currently in the process of recording Carnelians.

Oh! I also have a brand new Ruby Dynasty novelette about Soz Valdoria (one of my most popular characters) coming out in the anthology The Mammoth Book of SF Wars, edited by Ian Watson and Ian Whates. The release date for that anthology is May, 2012.

And of course, I recently had a chapter co-written with Kate Dolan in a great book called Strange Divisions and alien territories: the sub-genres of science fiction.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on a near future thriller at the moment, and also on a CD that will go with it as a soundtrack.

What would you draw attention to from your back-list?
I have such a big backlist. The stand alone novels are mostly still available, near future thrillers like Alpha and The Phoenix Code. For my Ruby Dynasty books, a good one to start with is Diamond Star because it doesn’t depend on the others in the series (it was written first). In my fantasy, I’d say The Charmed Sphere or The Misted Cliffs. In my fantasy, I’d say The Charmed Sphere or The Misted Cliffs.

If you were to offer one snippet of writing advice what would it be?
Never give up! No matter how many rejections you receive, no matter how hard it may seem to get your stories out there, never stop trying. And be polite. Don’t spam people about your books. Use courtesy. Read Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog about writing and publishing.

So… the easy one: what’s the future of publishing? How will writers be making a living and publishing in five or ten years? What will readers be reading?
I’d expect to see a lot more works available as eBooks. It’s the wave of the future. We’ll probably be seeing a lot more writers publishing themselves in electronic format.

More…

The author of more than twenty-five books, Catherine Asaro is acclaimed for her Ruby Dynasty series, which combines adventure, science, romance and fast-paced action. Among her many distinctions, she is a double winner of the Nebula®, a multiple winner of the Analog AnLab and a three time recipient of the RT BOOKClub Award for “Best SF Novel.” Her latest books are the novel Carnelians (Baen) and the anthology Aurora in Four Voices (ISFiC Press). Her award-winning novella “The City of Cries” recently came out as an eBook.

Catherine also has two music CD’s out and is working on her third. The first, Diamond Star, is the rock-opera soundtrack for her novel of the same name. She appears at cons and other venues, including as Guest of Honor at the Denmark and New Zealand National Conventions. In concert, her band performs a multimedia project mixing literature, dance, and music. She is also a physicist with a PhD from Harvard.

Visit Catherine and chat with her at www.facebook.com/Catherine.Asaro.

On Twitter, you can hang out with her at Catherine_Asaro.

With Kate Dolan, Catherine wrote the chapter ‘The Literature of Planetary Adventure’ in Strange Divisions and Alien Territories: the sub-genres of science fiction (edited by Keith Brooke, published by Palgrave Macmillan, February 2012).

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Snapshots: Eric Brown interviewed

What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished the sequel to Helix, entitle Helix Wars, set two hundred years after Helix closes. For people who haven’t read Helix, the Helix is a vast alien construct comprising some ten thousand worlds, and seas, strung in a spiral around a G-type sun. The Builders constructed it as a refuge for all manner of alien races around the galaxy in danger of self-annihilation. The human race on the Helix have the unenviable task of attempting to maintain peace between the six thousand alien race who inhabit worlds on the Helix.

Next up is a novella with Keith Brooke, a couple of short stories, and then The Serene Invasion, my next book for Solaris. It’s about the peaceful invasion of Earth by aliens who arrive and banish our ability to do violence to each other.

What’s recently or soon out?
Just out is a collection from infinity plus books: Ghostwriting collects all eight of my ghost/horror/supernatural tales, and I’d like to think it contains some of my best writing. I don’t write many stories in this genre – the introduction to the collections suggests why – but I enjoy writing them on the infrequent occasions as strange idea comes to me.

Due out in June is The Devil’s Nebula, a space opera adventure set in the world of Weird Space, a future history I developed for Abaddon Books, and which will be featured in novels by other writers. Weird aliens, a little like Lovecraft’s monsters, are breaking through from another realm, infesting human with mind-parasites, and enslaving the race…

Describe your typical writing day.
I try to be very conscientious when I’m working on a novel, short story etc. I begin work around nine and work till midday, then have lunch and begin again around twelve-thirty and knock off for the day at three, when I pick up my daughter from school. I try to write four thousand words a day on a novel, two or three if I’m doing a short story. I try to get the first draft of a novel written in a month or two, and then spend a month re-writing.

When you’re not writing, what do you do?
Read. I’m always reading, and day-dreaming – an important part of a writer’s life. And I love cooking, especially curries. Playing football with my daughter on the beach at Dunbar, to where we’ve just moved.

What would you draw attention to from your back-list?
I think my best books are The Kings of Eternity, Kethani, the Starship novellas, and perhaps the Bengal Station trilogy. They’re all about, principally, human beings, and their emotions, rather than about big SF ideas. I think my other PS Publishing novellas, too, are among my best work – Gilbert and Edgar on Mars, A Writer’s Life, etc.

Which other authors or books do you think deserve a plug?
I’m a big fan of Michael Coney, a sadly neglected Brit SF writer resident for a long time in Canada before his death. His best work is character-driven and lyrical. I’d recommend Hello Summer, Goodbye; and The Girl with a Symphony in her Fingers. Contemporary writers in the genre I enjoy are Chris Wooding and James Lovegrove.

If you were to offer one snippet of writing advice what would it be?
Never give in. Start writing on the next project before the last one is rejected. Read a lot and write a lot. Don’t believe in writer’s block!

So… the easy one: what’s the future of publishing? How will writers be making a living and publishing in five or ten years? What will readers be reading?
Good god… if I had the answers! Make a living? You’ve got to be joking. Those days are long gone. Scrape a living, maybe… E-books are the coming thing, for good or bad. As for what people will be reading. Good fiction, I hope.

More…
Ghostwriting by Eric Brown

Born some time in the last century, Eric Brown is older than he likes to believe, though physical degeneration is making him reassess this situation. He’s published knocking on for forty-five books – almost totalling the same number as his age, but he didn’t start publishing until he was twenty-seven. He follows Leeds United football club and consumes too many curries. His website can be found at: www.ericbrown.co.uk

Eric is the author of Ghostwriting, newly out in paperback and ebook formats from infinity plus.

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One Of Us: an extract

One of Us by Iain RowanAnna is one of the invisible people. She fled her own country when the police murdered her brother and her father, and now she serves your food, cleans your table, changes your bed, and keeps the secrets of her past well hidden.

When she used her medical school experience to treat a man with a gunshot wound, Anna thought it would be a way to a better life. Instead, it leads to a world of people trafficking, prostitution, murder and the biggest decision of Anna’s life: how much is she prepared to give up to be one of us?

Shortlisted for the UK Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger award, here’s an extract from One of Us by award-winning writer Iain Rowan.

CHAPTER ONE

Twelve months more of medical school, back in my country, and I would have been a doctor. Here, I scrape grease from a stained griddle under buzzing lights, while drunks stagger and shout on the other side of the counter. When they vomit on the tiled floor, I have to clear it up, with a metal bucket and a mop that is falling apart. Maybe this is not so different to a hospital on a Saturday night. Thinking this helps, sometimes.

Before the burger bar I worked in a cheap hotel, stripping stained sheets and emptying ashtrays for three pounds an hour until the assistant manager came and closed the door behind him, and smiled while he undid his belt. If the old couple had not returned to argue about who had left their theatre tickets behind, I do not know what would have happened. Or rather, I do.

Before the hotel I scrubbed left-overs that were worth more than I was from dishes in a restaurant, and before that I shivered on the streets for four nights that lasted a year. Before that was a boat, and before that, days in the back of a lorry. Even now, if I smell lemons I also smell diesel and fear. Before that was another lorry, and before that another city, and before that was the day that the policemen beat my brother to death, and dragged my father away to die in a prison cell, and I heard it all from the cupboard under the stairs, shivering behind an ironing board with my fist stuck in my mouth to stop my screams from coming out.

So I scoured grills, and burnt my hands, and I wiped half-chewed chips from plastic tables. No-one asked me for any papers, the work paid me money in my hand, and the money paid for a bed in a room in a hostel. I shared the room with three other women, and a small bathroom and kitchen with everyone who lived on the same floor, but there was a bed for me, and there was a lock on the door, and after the four nights on the streets that was enough.

Alice came from Kenya. She worked very early in the morning, cleaning in a hotel. She had a picture of a beautiful child stuck to the wall next to her bed. At night she touched it with her fingers as if she was touching the child’s face, and she cried without making any noise. Safeta was Kosovan, and she worked in a laundry, washing and drying a thousand sheets that a hundred Alices stripped from beds every morning. She smelt of the laundry, a clean and nice smell, but her hands were always red and she bled from around her fingernails. Sally was English but she was also a drunk. I do not know what she did in the daytime but at night she just slumped on a couch in the common room of the hostel, drinking cheap wine and staring through the television into a world beyond. Sometimes she had bruises and what looked like bite marks all over her arms.

If I lived there for too long I would go mad, and end up sitting with Sally by the television, pulling at my hair or picking at scabs on my arms. But without the proper legal documentation I could not get a better job, and without a better job I could not make more money, and without more money I could not live anywhere other than the hostel.

I could not go back; it was not safe for me. Even if things changed I could not go back. Would not go back. I could not live with so many ghosts. So I am here.

I save as much as I can from the endless nights in the burger bar to buy some papers that will say that I am legal. I do not want to do this, because I want to be a good citizen, and because the men who deal in the false papers remind me of the men at home: they do everything with a swagger that says that anything that gets in their way will be beaten out of it. I do not want to deal with them.

But I do not want to go back.

Daniel was not one of those men, but he worked for them. He was all smiles and loves and sweethearts and he laid his hand on my arm as if he were my friend. Safeta knew a Kosovan who would not deal with me, but he gave me a phone number, and I rang it and spoke to an English man who did not give me his name, not then. I met him three days later in a busy coffee bar at the railway station. He was tall and slim, and the way that his black hair fell loose over his forehead made me think of a boy that I had known in school.

“I’m Daniel, sweetheart,” the man grinned. “Just Daniel.” He sat opposite me, sipping at his coffee, smiling at me a lot and looking at me a lot, and asking me questions about what I wanted. The cafe smelt of coffee and warm pastries. Daniel asked me why I did not have a drink.

“Because I do not want one,” I said.

“Don’t have the money for it, more like,” he said, shaking his head. “Come on, don’t lie to me, sweetheart. How can I trust you if you lie to me? And I want to trust you, really I do.” He leaned over, rested his hand on mine for a moment, just a moment, and then took it away.

“I cannot tell a lie,” I said. “It is because they use Robusta beans for this coffee, and I prefer Arabica. I am fussy that way.”

He smiled, a perfect white smile that I could tell he had practised on many girls before. I thought that it would usually have worked too, that and the way he held eye contact just that little bit longer than necessary. Once, it maybe could have worked on me. But not now. I was too tired, too busy just living, for anything like that. “So if you can’t even afford a cup of this slop, how exactly were you planning on paying me?”

“That is why I do not drink the coffee,” I said. “It is why I do not buy newspapers, or cans of cola, or anything except for rent and food. So I can save the money, so I can get what I need.”

He liked my answer, because he laughed a lot and bought me a cup of coffee and told me that he liked my spirit. He asked me where I came from.

“I come from North Ossetia,” I said, and Daniel made a face and shrugged.

“Russia,” I said. “To most people here, just Russia.”

“Don’t think I know it,” Daniel said.

“You won’t,” I said. Most people do not, and to them it is all just Russia and Russians. The one thing that people know about my country is the school called School Number One. This school was in a town called Beslan. But I do not like to talk about what happened there. “My home was in a city called Vladikavkaz.”

“I know that name,” Daniel said. “Why do I know that?”

It was my turn to shrug. When I did, I caught him looking at how my breasts moved under my sweatshirt. He gave a little grin of no apology but an acknowledgement that he had been caught.

“Think United played there once, didn’t they, mid-Nineties?”

I folded my arms, and then shrugged again, I am not here for small talk, do I look like a woman who cares what United did? Anyway, it was Liverpool, and we lost to them. Aleksey took me, kept threatening to embarrass me by holding my hand when we were walking to the stadium.

“So what did you do Anna, back in Vladiwhatever.”

“I was a medical student,” I said. “I was studying to be a doctor.”

“Were you now,” said Daniel, and he did not seem very interested in talking about it, because all that was past and gone, so I did not say anything else. I remembered when I was at school, studying hard for exams. I was sat at the kitchen table, my books spread everywhere, a cup of tea gone cold, when my father came in. He stood and watched me for a moment, not saying anything.

“How’s it going?” he said in the end.

“Lots to do,” I said. “And I’m tired, can I not—”

“No,” he said. “You can not.”

“But I haven’t—”

“You don’t need to. Listen Anna, your schoolwork is important. You pass these exams, as I know you can, and there will be a place in the Medical Academy and you will be a doctor, Anna. Think of that, a doctor.”

“I know,” I said, sulking because I wanted to be a doctor but I also wanted to be out with my friends. “But—”

“If your mother could see you a doctor,” he sighed. “She would be so proud.”

And that was the end of that. I could not argue any more, because I knew that he was right. She would have been.

My father placed a hand on my shoulder.

“Study hard, Anna. I know I seem like a tyrant. But my daughter, a doctor. I will be so proud, too, to see you do something with your life. Something better than I do.”

I stared down at my books.

“Yes,” he said in the end. “Well, dog won’t feed itself.” And he stomped off, out of the kitchen, and I went back to my work because I wanted so much to pass those exams, but it was hard to concentrate when my vision was so blurred.

Daniel bought me another cup of coffee even though I said no, and then he named a price that I could not afford.

“I do not have that much,” I said. “Not nearly that much.” Can you not tell, I thought. Look at me, look at these jeans, which cost less than I would once have spent on a pair of tights. Look at these hands, with their bitten nails and their red marks from hot grease. Once, everyone in this place would have looked when I walked in. Now, they probably think that I am staff, on a break.

He shrugged, flicked his hair away from his forehead. “You’ve got a problem then. I really do want to help you sweetheart, but that’s the price. I’ll throw the coffees in for free. You’ve got my mobile number. Phone me when you have the money. We’ll do business.”

“It will take me a long time,” I said. “When I pay for food and rent, there is not much left to save.”

“Girls manage,” he said, “they find ways,” and he gave me a long look over his smile. I went back to work, and ate food that customers had left so that I could save more money, and I slept, and I did not do much else.

~

A month later I was working the evening shift again, slapping a mop around the floor in front of the counter and trying to replace the stink of vomit with the smell of bleach. Rain rattled against steamed-up windows. Sean slouched at the till, deep in a library book about ancient Rome. The week before, it had been a library book about astronomy. His obsessions changed with the weather.

I met Sean on my first day at Peter’s restaurant. Peter handed me my uniform of bright red shirt and itchy grey trousers, and told me that he was going to be very busy in the office, so one of the team would show me how everything worked.

“Sean,” he said. “This is Anna. Show her the ropes, will you?”

A tall, thin man with scruffy hair that wasn’t the colour of anything in particular took an awkward step forward, like a heron. He held out his hand, and I went to meet it but my own hands were in my pockets and by the time I got one out he had blushed and dropped his hand, thinking that I did not want to shake hands, and then when I did hold my hand out again, he had put his in his pockets. He said, “Oh, sorry,” and blushed again.

“Sean,” he said. “Um.” He waved a hand around the kitchen. “I work here. Good to have you around, we’re short on staff. Sorry, don’t mean that it’s only good to have you here because we need just anybody, it’s good to have you here as um, you.” He tailed off, coughed, scratched at an eyebrow. “Right. Anna, yeah?”

“Yes, I am still Anna.”

I regretted it when I said it, because I thought that he would be offended, and I did not want to offend this shy man who I would have to work with. But he did not look offended, he laughed.

“Good. Be a bit scary if you were someone else, really. Let’s start again and give the comedy routine a miss.” He smiled, and held out his hand again, and I thought: there is more to this man than there seems. Sean became the closest thing I had to a friend. He was well-educated, I think that he too had been to university, but he never spoke of it, and only ever talked of many dead-end jobs like this one. There was often a sadness in his eyes and sometimes his hands shook and shook until he put them in his pockets and clenched his fists very tight and I pretended that I had not noticed.

I plunged the mop into the water that was already dirty, and slopped it onto the floor because I was too tired to go and change the water. The door banged open and I felt cold air and then somebody standing near me, so I concentrated on mopping in circles around my feet, not wanting to look up, to have to see a leer and allow the chance for a conversation to start with a middle-aged man running to fat who did not often get the chance to talk to twenty-five-year-old girls running to skinny. I tried just to be a piece of furniture, without age, without sex, nothing to look at of interest. Since I had left my country, I had much practice at this. Not that it made much difference to many men. I was a woman, and so I was fair game. I could have worn a potato sack and not washed my hair for a month, and it would have made no difference to some.

“Forgot which burger place you said you worked in, didn’t I,” a voice said. “Fifth one I’ve been in. I’m getting soaked, and I’m sick of chips.”

It was Daniel. He grinned at my surprise, like a child who had just performed his first magic trick. I did not know what to say so I did not say anything. I do not want to talk to you, I thought. Not now anyway, when my hair needs a wash, and I am sweating into this stupid shiny red blouse that reflected the lights on to my face and made me look like I was blushing.

“So, this is your office,” he said. Peter came out from the kitchen and frowned at the sight of someone standing talking and not buying, but he dropped a cardboard box of plastic cups behind the counter, grunted at Sean to put the damn book down and follow him, and stomped away again. Peter was the manager of the burger restaurant. He made me think of a bear in the zoo at home, he was hairy and he growled, and whenever he came into a room it looked smaller. Sometimes he was kind, sometimes his temper scared me. I forgave him that, though. He gave me a job, without asking for papers or identity cards, and he paid me on time, and he did not try to touch me. He looked sometimes, but he never did more than that, and that is no more than most other men that I have known and it is much less than many others.

“What do you want?” I said to Daniel. “Why have you come looking for me? I do not have the money yet.”

“Got some good news for you on the money side of things, sweetheart,” he said. “You come with me now, but no messing around, it has to be right now, just do one little job, and you get a new identity, the full works, all the papers. Real, not fake, people on the inside, worth ten times what I quoted you for a knocked-together one. Make you one of us, as legit as me.”

“A job?” I said. “I am already working in a job.” I slapped the mop down on the floor. “And you are messing it up with your wet feet.”

“Is that what you call this?” he said, looking around. “A job? Must have been desperate, where you came from.”

“Yes,” I said. “It was.”

I said it with more anger than I had meant to let out, and Daniel did not know quite what to say.

“Yeah, sorry, whatever.” He flicked hair from out of his eyes, and did not look very sorry at all. “Listen, man I work for, he needs your services for the night. But we have to go now, or not at all.”

I shook my head, backed away, holding the mop handle out as if it would protect me. “Fuck off,” I said.

“Didn’t put that well, did I?” He laughed but he was nervous, I could see it in the way that he shifted from foot to foot. “It’s not what you think, sweetheart. Christ, I’m not a pimp. It’s your medical skills, not your beautiful body, that Corgan’s after. But you have approximately, oh, fuck all seconds at all to make up your mind. I mean it, the car’s outside, you come now, do this little job, you get your papers, the works, make you more legal than the queen. Trust me, Corgan can help you go places. He’ll help you, and me bringing you to him will make me look good. We both win, see? Besides, you really, really don’t want to piss him off.”

“What do you mean, medical skills? I was only a student, I—”

“Close enough. You studied hard, didn’t you? Read all the books? Two minutes,” he said. “Up to you. I’ll be right in the shit if you don’t, but hey, it’s your call.” The door banged behind him. I stood for a moment, watching the floor dry to a dull smear. I thought about waiting for my number to be called, for yet another interview. I thought of the noise my brother had made when they were kicking him. I had seen a horse fall once, and break its leg. We were staying out in the country, at my uncle’s house, and my brother and I had been playing in the field. A woman had been riding a horse, hard. It was beautiful to watch, it raced the length of the field with power and grace. Then one foot must have gone into a hole left by a rabbit, and the horse came down in a tangle of legs that were now too long for it, the woman pitched over its head and onto the ground, and we heard the horse’s leg break from where we were standing. The rider staggered to her feet after a moment or two, cursing, but the horse rolled about on the ground, and I put my hands over my ears but I could still hear its terrible squealing. My father and uncle came rushing out. My father led me back to the house, made me tea and held me tight while I cried. He held my head tight against his big chest, and it was only that evening I realised that he held me this way on purpose so I would not hear the shot.

Late that night, when he and my uncle got drunk, and I was supposed to be asleep, I heard my uncle complaining about the woman who had been riding the horse.

“A beautiful animal,” he said. “I had to shoot the wrong one.”

When the men kicked my brother to death, he made a noise like the horse did. And I put my hands over my ears then too, but I could still hear the terrible sound he made.

I walked out into the kitchen and told Peter that I was sick, I had to go home.

“Sick? What the hell do you mean sick?” Peter tugged at his beard, as he always did when something came along that upset the smooth running of things. I often thought that when we had a health inspection at the restaurant, the thing that would get us closed down would be Peter’s beard.

“I mean vomiting. I think I have a stomach flu. There is diarrhoea too, I think, I need to go very bad.”

“Jesus, spare me the details. Don’t want to catch it either.”

“I can manage fine on my own Pete,” Sean said. “It’s not exactly busy. Tuesday, quiet night.” He frowned at me, from behind the coffee machine, his face a question I could not answer.

“Go on then, get yourself away Anna, before you give it to me. It’s coming out of your wages though; if you’re not here I’m not paying you.”

Daniel was waiting in a dark blue car, talking on a mobile phone. When I came near he finished the call, and leaned over to open the passenger door.

“Good girl. You’ve just saved my life. Already told ’em you were coming, had faith in you.”

I got in, and he drove away fast, looking in his mirror a lot. We drove down wet streets that shone orange on black, and I thought, this is how a life changes. A stupid decision, a moment where what you want so badly wins over what sense tells you, and then you are in a strange car, driving in the night and you do not know what waits for you at the other end. I thought of girls from my home, who had wanted so much, and so had gone on journeys across Europe without asking too many questions. And I thought about where they ended up. Because I knew this. I knew this very well.

I closed my eyes for a moment. Then I thought, this is stupid, because when you open them again, nothing will have changed. So I did, and it hadn’t.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“Onwards and upwards, Anna, onwards and upwards.”

I did not see the point in asking any more, because I knew that I would not get an answer. We stopped at a quiet row of old houses. They had once been grand, I think, but now next to each front door a rash of bell pushes showed how the houses had been divided and divided and divided, and the sagging curtains at the windows looked as if they would not be opened in the mornings.

“Here we are,” Daniel said, and I could hear the tension in his voice.

“Here we are for what?” I said, but I knew that it was too late to ask the question. Whatever I was here to do, I would have to do. I felt sick.

Daniel did not answer. He got out of the car, then walked around to my door.

“Come on, it’s this one,” he said, and we walked up a cracked concrete path. Daniel used a key to open the front door, and I followed him in. The hallway was lit by a single dusty bulb that hung without a shade. A table inside the door overflowed with free newspapers and junk mail. A pay phone hung above the table. Someone had patterned the wall all the way around the phone with cigarette burns. Daniel walked up the creaking stairs, and I followed him. I could smell burnt food, and cigarette smoke, and sweat. We stopped on the first floor, and Daniel paused in front of a wooden door that was all pits and splinters.

“Keep your mouth shut,” he said in a low voice. “Keep your eyes on what you’re doing, say nothing. Just do what you’re told, and it’ll be fine. Promise you, sweetheart.” He tapped on the door. It opened a fraction straight away, as if someone had been standing there all along, and I saw a shadow inside. Then the door opened all the way, and Daniel put a hot hand in the small of my back, and I walked in to get away from it.

A man with an expensive suit stretched over big shoulders leaned against the wall by the door. He looked me up and down with the cold eyes of a shark. I could smell violence on him, like sweat. Another man lay on a bed, naked from the waist up, with a sheet wrapped round and round his arm. The sheet was stained dark red in the middle. The room stank of whisky, and an empty bottle lay on the floor by the side of the bed.

“This it?” the big man said, and it took me a moment before I realised that he was talking about me.

“Yeah,” Daniel said. “Don’t worry, Corgan, she’s cool.”

“Oh, thanks Danny boy,” Corgan said. “If you say not to worry, that’s OK then. I’ll stop worrying.”

Daniel looked as if he wanted to speak, but he did not.

Corgan said, “You waiting for something?”

Daniel walked off without a word.

Corgan reached out a hand and slammed the door shut. Then he turned the key. He was no taller than me, but he was wide, powerful, and a man who would never be afraid to use that power.

He looked at me for a long time and I felt like a fish on a slab in the market. “Well,” he said in the end. “Here’s our new doctor.”

…continues in One Of Us by Iain Rowan (available in ebook and print editions)


That perfect writing day

In the series of brief “Snapshots” interviews I’ve been running, one of the standard questions is “Tell us about your typical writing day”. As the answers show, a typical writing day can vary from writer to writer, and even for the same writer: one day I might only manage to grab half an hour to keep that first-draft momentum going; another day I might work ten hours solidly on writing, editing, social-mediaing and so forth. Who’s to say which of these is typical? For me, it’s the pattern that’s typical, not the individual days.

What, then, would be a perfect writing day?

I’ve had them. Quite a few of them.

Up about eight, and straight out for a run. I say “run”. By this I mean jog slowly, looking red in the face and as if I’m about to collapse, ending up exhausted but incredibly pleased that I’ve managed the five-mile circuit along the river and back through the university campus and made it all the way home before collapsing in a sweaty heap.

Bizarrely, this strange activity has benefits which last the rest of the day. It’s time spent just with my thoughts, time when my brain starts to work on where I left my story, and where it needs to head today. By the time I get home there will be a rush for a notebook so I can jot down all the story revelations that have come to me while I was out. And then a shower, definitely a shower.

Breakfast, catching up with Facebook, Twitter and other online networks, and then it’s down to some serious writing.

In a good three hour morning session, I’d hope for a minimum of 1500 words, and usually far more. Such a session breaks down into a series of fragments, punctuated by cups of tea, playing Scrabble online, checking email, more catching up on Facebook and Twitter, and so on. For some writers this digital buzz is a terrible distraction, and it can be for me on a bad day. But generally, I like it: it cuts through the isolation of the writing life, and prompts the brain.

Lunch with a newspaper is a luxury for me, and one that I indulge in less frequently now. Online content has largely replaced printed papers for me; it’s something I regret, but accept as one of the consequences of having a hectic life. But on this writing day, I’ll definitely have a newspaper to read while I have my lunch.

Another session in the afternoon should add at least a thousand words, but by now I’ll be happy to mix it up with other activities – editing, designing and producing ebooks, or all the activities that go into promoting them, for example. I like that mix. Sometimes it’s a bit much: if the writing hasn’t gone so well, then all the other jobs seem like chores eating away at my time; if the writing has flowed, though – and remember, this is a perfect writing day – I love to be working on a variety of things. At the end of a good day, I like to look back and realise that I’ve done this, and this and this, rather than “merely” a couple of thousand words.

And then, when I’ve finally finished, I’ll get that call from my agent to tell me we’ve had an offer for yet another movie deal. I did say it was a perfect day, didn’t I?


Free for two days: Iain Rowan’s Spinetingler-nominated Nowhere To Go, 5/6 April

Nowhere to Go by Iain RowanWhat: a whole collection of crime and suspense fiction for free, you say?

And it contains a winner of the Derringer Award for short fiction? And the original story that formed the basis for a novel shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger Award?

And it’s just been shortlisted for Spinetingler magazine’s Best Short Story Collection Award?

Ah… I see what you’re doing. You’ve made it free in the hope that lots of people will download it and then vote for it in the Spinetingler awards. And then maybe go on and buy a copy of that Debut Dagger-shortlisted novel, which is just out in print and ebook editions.

*

Okay.

It’s a fair cop. That’s exactly what we’ve done.

An award-shortlisted collection containing award-winning fiction, for free, so you can read it and decide whether you’d like to reward this really rather good author with your vote, and maybe then go on and buy more of his work.

Seems like a pretty good offer to me.

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