Wednesday 5 June 2024

To the Stars and Back is out, and more

 Newcon Press's anthology in honour of Eric Brown, "To The Stars And Back", is out in the world and contains a very nice selection of stories. Here's an early review of the book:

https://ww.runalongtheshelves.net/blog/2024/6/1/to-the-stars-and-back-stories-in-honour-of-eric-brown-edited-by-ian-whates

All of the authors offered to waive their contributor fees, which I think indicates the high esteem Eric was held in by his friends and colleagues, and the desire to lend a little support to his wife and daughter.

Again, a link to Newcon Press:

http://newconpress.co.uk/

Another good cause, which I hope you won't mind me mentioning again, is my half-marathon run for Alzheimer's UK. I said I wouldn't go on about it too much, but we're in a new month now, and the donations so far have been very generous, so I feel it's worth pushing on with the fund drive. I mentioned my dear grandmother's affliction with Alzheimer's, and on that note I thought I'd reprint the introduction I wrote for Subterranean Press when they did my last anthology, Belladonna Nights, because it touches on my grandmother (Megan) and her link to my writing.

Introduction: Winter did come.

The early weeks of 1982 were significant in the UK, bringing some of the heaviest snows seen in a generation. People still talk about it, just as those with longer memories still talk about the winters of 1963 or 1947. Schools were closed and much of the country effectively paralysed. Through circumstances that I can’t now remember, my sister and I ended up marooned about twenty miles from home, staying with my maternal grandmother in the Welsh seaside town of Barry, my original birthplace. I was fifteen; my sister a year and a bit younger.

It wasn’t such a bad place to be marooned. Being off school was certainly no hardship. Despite the bitter cold, our grandmother’s house was always warm and cosy. Nanna plied us with tea and biscuits and kept us clean and well-fed. There were Reader’s Digest magazines to keep us occupied, and although there were only three channels on the television, there was usually something worth watching, even if it was only the snooker.

For me, importantly, there was a near limitless supply of lined paper and pens. Nanna had the most wonderful wooden bureau, stocked with stationery supplies – heaven for a quiet, bookish boy with a love of writing and drawing.

So I wrote a short story.

This wasn’t the first story I had written, because prior to then there had been any number of school exercises. But it was a different thing altogether to sit down and write a story that wasn’t written at someone else’s behest; a story that existed only because I felt the need to express something, and which could be as long and digressive – or as short and to the point - as it needed to be.

By that time, I was starting to have an inkling that I wanted to write science fiction at a professional level. And although I didn’t yet understand the mechanics of publication, I realised that for many writers, short stories were a part of the process.

Although the story I wrote was in no sense publishable, it was an important step on the road to taking my craft more seriously. By the end of the year I was teaching myself to type, and I had begun, in a very tentative way, to research the magazine market. Mostly that meant reading the story notes in paperback collections and learning that there were magazines with names like Analog and Asimov’s, which is where these stories had often appeared. Actually obtaining these magazines was going to take a bit more work – quite a bit more, as it happened -  but at least I knew that they existed.

Over the next three or four years I kept writing short stories, still in long-hand for the most part, because I was too slow to type efficiently, but gradually the latter winning out. By the mid eighties I still hadn’t seen a single copy of Analog or Asimov’s, or any of the American magazines I had been reading about. They were exotic creatures of far shores, never venturing into the bookstalls and libraries of South Wales. By lucky chance, though, I became aware of Interzone, which at the time was really the only British science fiction magazine of any standing. And so I concentrated my efforts on submitting my stories to that magazine, and really only that one.

Interzone took a chance on a story of mine in 1989, although it wasn’t published until the following year. My first piece was a near-future, Earth-bound story involving Inuit communities and strange messages sent across time. My second piece, published not long after, took place on a plague-ridden starship travelling between alien solar systems. My third piece for Interzone was another Earth-bound story, this time about sentient weapon systems in the aftermath of a nuclear war. I’d go onto publish one or two more Earth-centric stories before returning to a space-themed setting.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but that early template of switching between the near and distant future, between the local and the distant, hasn’t served me too badly across the ensuing thirty years, as I hope this collection demonstrates. The bulk of the work here stems from the last decade, but my abiding concerns – and indeed my methods - are much the same as they were at the start of my career. You’ll find plenty of starships and far-off worlds in these pieces, as well as sentient machines and alien plagues. But there are also no small amount of stories set much closer to home, and one or two that inhabit in almost contemporaneous versions of the present day. Although my novels have tended to be set in remote or unrecognisably transformed solar systems, centuries or even millions of years from now, I can’t say that I prefer one mode over the other. What I’d chafe at would be forced into doing only one type of thing.

I’ve enjoyed revisiting these pieces – it’s surprising how quickly even a new-ish story stops being fresh in the mind – and I hope that readers will find something to enjoy as well. While the writing of novels, coming as it does with the necessary engagement with the commercial side of publishing, can at times bring stresses as well as joys, I’ve very rarely found writing short fiction to be anything other than a delight. Certainly, one gets a repeated buzz from finishing things, far more frequently than with novels. And the turnaround from completion to publication is often quicker, meaning that stories can feel like bulletins, rather than distant reports from one or two years ago. I have had great fortune to be able to sell these pieces, and I’m indebted to the editors and anthologists who took a chance on them. Even more so, though, I’m indebted to my Nanna and the cold winter of 1982.

Thank you for reading, and if you're encouraged to drop something into the pot, my fundraising page (along with updates on my running) is below:

Cheers and best wishes,

Al









1 comment:

  1. I'm looking forward to this collection. There's a few authors I read, some I've been meaning to read, and some that are new to me.
    It's a great thing you guys have done in honouring a much loved and missed colleague.

    ReplyDelete