Transreal Fiction

I noticed when editing my short story collection how many times I use my recurring character Tom Robinson – a person who shares a lot of their life experiences with me.
Part of the reason for this is that I wanted to use a lot of the events I have lived through and the feelings I had at the time so it seemed “honest” to have a reasonably accurate version of me go through them in the story. I hope I have been careful not to make Tom a hero but a person who shares my flaws as well as my strengths.
Another reason is that I was attracted to Rudy Rucker’s concept of Transreal fiction where you use your own life as a jumping off point in fantasy or science fiction so that the characters are realistic even if the setting is fantastic.
Other authors have used the inclusion of a “me” character as wish fulfilment, but I didn’t want to do that. Tom is normally the narrator retelling what has happened to other characters while he is only a peripheral part of the action.
There are exceptions – particularly the “Dulwich” short story and novel – based on my experiences as a journalist but taking their stylistic cues from two alumni of Dulwich School: P.G.Wodhouse and Raymond Chandler respectively.
The short story – included in The Cat Factory and Other Stories and attached below as a free taster – is a farce where I tried to emulate Wodhouse’s wonderful domino rally plotting. The plot elements are carefully installed at the start and you then just push the first one over and see the pattern emerge as they tumble.
The novel is a noirish crime story with a lot of black humour in the background. A dark sense of humour is endemic in journalism as well as other professions where you deal with the aftermath of tragedy on a regular basis. It gives you a way of being empathic but keeping a degree of distance.
Most of the background incidents in both stories are completely true, although the characters they happen to are removed from reality in order to protect the innocent (and me from libel, although I still have the notebooks). The newspaper I worked for has already featured in one comic novel: Yeah,Yeah, Yeah by Angus McGill, and formed the basis for Norman Wisdom’s Press for Time.
As well as putting in a fictional crime plot I used the mythic subtext of the Fisher King legend. It is set in the Queen’s Jubilee year of 1977 when Elvis died and punk was king. It was also a year of economic and political turmoil as Militant Tendency were struggling for the soul of the Labour Party and the seeds of the Thatcherite revolution and the death of Tyneside’s traditional heavy industries were being sown, as well as the start of change in the newspaper industry as it moved from hot metal to litho and computers. It seemed the perfect setting for a coming of age story with the death of the Council leader echoing the death of so many other things we thought would keep getting better in the heady freedom of the sixties.

Although on the face of it the novel is in the crime genre, I added a few things to make it an alternate reality novel – just because I could.

Tom so far has featured in two novels and five short stories – nine if you realise he is the unnamed narrator of the London Institute of ‘Pataphysics stories. He will feature again in the rest of the novels in the series started with Masonic Fire and may have a walk on part in the Three Wise Monkeys stories.

To read Identity Crisis click here

Self Publishing

I’m busy preparing my short story collection The Cat Factory and other stories for publication via Amazon. It seems pretty straightforward so far.
There are, of course, lots of paperwork to sort out. As Amazon only has a US based service, although I can sign in via Amazon UK, I have to give details so I don’t pay US taxes and then declare them on my UK tax form.
It also allows you to create a cover so I could use one of the drawings I created.
I also used my new writing name – Tim Newton Anderson. I decided to add the middle name as there are a lot of Tim Anderson’s on the internet, including someone who won Masterchef in the UK a few years ago, and someone who writes on IT. Newton is my mother’s maiden name so it seemed a good option. I am the only person with that name who comes up on Google at the moment.
I also created a publisher with a few keystrokes – ATJ Entertainments which is the partnership my wife and I formed when we took over the hotel.
This is exciting and scary at the same time. Doing everything yourself avoids the trauma of someone else messing about with what you have written – although as an ex journalist I’m used to someone changing my words. However I am now the only person I can complain to if there are problems.
It also means I have to do my own marketing so I’ve been busy researching potential blogging reviewers, how to use sites like Bookbub etc, and thinking of a strategy for discounts etc. as well as ways to get followers so I can get the news out as soon as widely as possible.
Watch this space for more information and a launch date.

Making a Pen and Ink

The Cat factory

The Cat Factory

tangled in the tree of ghosts

Tangled In the Tree of Ghosts

Sniffing Out The Truth

Sniffing Out The Truth

stripping the past

Stripping the Past

I’ve been preparing the various short stories I’ve written to publish as an e-book on Amazon.

I decided it needed some illustrations and rather than get someone to do them thought I would have a go myself. I haven’t done much drawing for forty years so getting out the Rotoring pens was fun as well as a challenge.

I’ve never been that good at freestyling so used some photographs as a basis and then adjusting the images to fit the stories. They were drawn freehand, however, rather than copying or tracing. I’m not sure they are that good, but I’m quite proud of them so have pasted some below.

Those familiar with the work of Georges Perec may recognise the inspiration of the first of these – appropriate as the inspiration of the story it comes from: The Cat Factory, was also inspired by Perec’s life and writing.

 

In jokes and obscure references

I have to admit I love texts that include in jokes and references to other books and media. That’s why I’m such a fan of Philip Jose Farmer, Kim Newman and Howard Waldrop.
When I wrote The Revolutionary Tapestry I wanted to do some of this myself. Not just because it would be fun to do, and hopefully fun for readers who spotted them, but because it is an alternative world novel. One of the recurring jokes is that incidents in the book inspire later writers – including Jarry himself. A case of art imitating life.
The Jarry references are the key ones – there are scenes that reflect elements of The Supermale, Days and Nights, Le Dragonne and some of his journalism. The other references – more obvious to those who don’t have a good knowledge of Jarry – are around the Fantome character. He is supposed to be the inspiration for Fantomas, the Phantom of the Opera, the title character in the Werewolf of Paris, and the Lone Ranger!  There are also references to Verne’s Robur the Conqueror.

This came as a bit of light relief to the historical research I had to do to get the period right. All bar two of the speaking parts are real people and have largely the same back story as they did in our world. The trick to this was to avoid the “Hello Mr Wilde, have you met your fellow Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw.” school of historical fiction – normally worse in visual media than written. I don’t mind a bit of name dropping if it is done subtly: “Roger saw the man he was after – he was at the far side of the room talking to the Prince of Wales”. Generally,however, if I was going to introduce someone I wanted to have a reason for them being there.

The other challenge I wanted to overcome was the need to drop in background information without a reason for doing so in the plot. It is difficult to totally avoid it, but by including some of it in during reflection by characters on their current situation I hope I avoided the worst of it.

 

A Novel Approach

Brazen-HeadI have been busy sending my second novel -Masonic Fire to literary agents for consideration and bracing myself for the inevitable slew of polite rejections as well as hoping for at least one reply expressing interest.

This activity – with the half a dozen different query letters, synopses, extracts and covering emails needed by the different requirements of the agencies – has prompted me to think about what sort of book it is.

It started out as a more or less straightforward thriller with a hidden conspiracy behind the series of arsons and murders in contemporary Norwich I wrote over 15 days for National Novel Writing month the year before last. What it was actually about was the state of Britain today – how we treat those on the margins based on greed, lust for power or advantage, and the desire to have someone we can look down on to make ourselves feel better.

The historic conspiracy mixed up lots of real facts about Norwich’s history in a blender with its mythology and came up with links to the Hellfire Club and the occult. In researching these I realised there was a lot more in this aspect – enough for several more books if I used the core characters and moved the action to different locations to pick up other issues. So I rewrote it adding in a fantasy element. However my then agent rightly said that it would confuse readers as the beginning was one sort of book which suddenly became something different part of the way through. I don’t actually mind that sort of mutation myself, but I took his point. It is one thing expanding the sense of wonder by successive revelations, but that sort of switching genres in mid stride would mean a very restricted audience.

I was also taken with my idea of an artificial intelligence that interacts via a model talking head (a project I had actually thought of some years ago as a way of being a tourism and historical interpretation portal based on local work on AI avatars but never got round to pitching for funding). The idea was based on the myth of Roger Bacon’s Brass Head – featured in a play by the Norwich Playwright Robert Greene – and used in C S Lewis’ book That Hideous Strength. It had a lot of resonance and I wanted to see if I could give it amore important role.

My wife, and wonderful first reader, Jules also reminded me that my  mindset is a pretty rationalist one. I accept there are things that do  not have a scientific explanation, but I’m a lot happier if I can find or invent one. So I went back to basics and tried to fit together an explanation of how magic could work – see my post A Kind of Magic for details.

To give readers a way into the new book without making them suffer genre confusion I came up with an agency responsible for tackling threats to life as we know it – the London Institute of Parapsychology – which has spotted a growing crisis in Norwich  and launches its own investigation parallel to the one which was the core of the first draft. This means the reader knows more about some aspects of the mystery than the hero, but the two investigations converge at the end and set up things for further novels in the series.

Hopefully this now works and I will find an agent that agrees with me!

 

H Jones Has Talk Mod – an appreciation of John Thomas Sladek

One of my favourite science fiction writers of all time is John Thomas Sladek.

Sladek, who died in March 2000, first came under the spotlight in the New Wave of British science fiction around Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds magazine, although he was born in Iowa and most of his writing was set in the USA, His writing fitted the experimental nature of the New Worlds stable of young – and young at heart. He also shared the sense of humour of many of them – especially his frequent collaborator Thomas Disch.

Where Sladek was unique was his satire and scepticism, and especially his fascination with puzzles and formal games. His experimental fiction often resembled the blend of mathematics and art practised by the OuLiPo group of writers who grew out of the Institute ‘Pataphysique and included Raymond Queneau, Italo Calvino, Georges Perec and Harry Mathews. It also echoed Postmodern writers like John Barth. Unlike those writers, the publication of most of his short stories and novels under the science fiction banner meant he had little critical interest from the mainstream and his experimental fiction meant he did not achieve the sales of more more straightforward SF writers.

Like OuLiPo he would set rules in the way he approached many stories – including writing the mystery novels Black Aura and Invisible Green under the rules laid out Rev Ronald Knox for Golden Age detective novels at a time when no-one else in crime writing cared about them. At the same time he subverted Asimov’s rules of robotics in Tic Toc – one of his many novels which used robotics, artificial intelligence and the sciences of Information Theory and Cybernetics developed in the Macy Conferences in the 40s.

Although the structure of his stories and novels were based on formal rules – they were anything but formal in their humour. He was a savage satirist of the worst of human nature and particularly of wilful ignorance, stupidity and hypocrisy. His non fiction book The New Apocrypha ripped apart pseudo science, woolly minded and crank theories and cults with devastating logic and rationalism and most of all with humour. Sladek was always very funny and he used the same scalpel in writing his mock new age books Arachne Rising, The Cosmic Factor and the Judgement of Jupiter – the best joke being that most readers believed they were serious non fiction.

He has sometimes been compared to the more well known satirist who came out if the science fiction community – Kurt Vonnegut. But his work could not be more different to the bleakness of Vonnegut’s vision. Sladek has hope and his masterwork Roderick (published in various slices as one or two books) brings out the humanity in his young robot who becomes a real boy and suffers but overcomes the same issues we can all face in childhood. A Candide for the Information Age.

Some of his work was written just for fun – like the affectionate but devastatingly accurate parodies of other science fiction writers or some of the squibs collected in Maps – but he never wrote anything that wasn’t interesting and clever and his best work deserves wider recognition for its innovation, fun and intelligence.

Most of his writing is available as e-books. Read them.