Thursday, 31 March 2011


As part of the background research I'm doing for 'The Demi-Monde: Fall', I've been reading about famous urban battles. That's why I came to read 'Leningrad: State of Siege' by Michael Jones. It describes the 900-day siege of Leningrad in the Second World War when the Nazis attempted to starve the city - now renamed St Petersburg - into submission.

In fact I only half read of the book: I found this graphic account of the suffering endured by the Russian people so harrowing that I couldn't finish it. But what I took away from the book - apart from an admiration of the tenacity of the citizens of Leningrad - was that this suffering was inflicted by maniacs posing as messiahs. That ordinary soldiers - both German and Russian - could be persuaded to do some of the terrible things they did in the name of the specious creeds mouthed by charismatic psychopaths is a warning to us all.

Yesterday on the BBC News there was the sad report of the death of two servicemen in Afghanistan, but it is chilling to remember that just seventy years ago 200,000 Russian soldiers were dying each day to preserve the power of one madman from the onslaught of another. The death toll on the eastern front was the result of the rivalry between the criminally xenophobic Adolf Hitler and the insanely paranoid Stalin.

The one lesson we must take from this is it is everyone's duty to distrust demagogues who come with a message.

This is why it is so important to teach history in schools: only by understanding the mistakes of the past can we hope to avoid them in the future

Monday, 28 March 2011



When my two girls were smaller, Nelli and I used to entertain them during long journeys in the car by playing tapes of Harry Potter read by Stephen Fry. It is only now that I have begun to appreciate what a trial that must have been for J.K. Rowling. Reading your work aloud betrays all its worst aspects: the duplicate adjectives and phrases; the clumsy dialogue; and any over-wrought verbosity. Being read aloud is the real acid test for any piece of writing.

The problem is that reading your work aloud is a very tedious and time-consuming activity. I always start off determined to read all my edits aloud but about ten pages in I get fed-up and begin to silently scan-read. That’s why going to a writers’ group is so useful. You get the chance to read some of your stuff aloud and the self-criticism that results is, I think, even more valuable that the criticism you get from your fellow attendees.

I haven’t had much to read at Renegades for the last few weeks, but I decided that this week I’d make an effort and chose a scene I’d written a few months ago which is – probably – going to feature in the final Demi-Monde book, ‘The Demi-Monde: Fall’. I chose it because it had originally been intended for inclusion in Summer but because of pace and plot changes it got bumped, but as I’d edited it a couple of time I was fairly confident that it was of an okay standard.


I think since the editing of the first DM book ‘Winter’ my style has changed. Much of this is due to the influence of Nick, my first editor at Quercus, and his mania for pace. It’s a mania I’ve caught and now when I write I want the story to move along briskly. Pace is everything and I rely much more on the readers’ imagination to fill in any descriptive blanks I might leave. Not so much ‘show not tell’ rather ‘suggest not tell’. And this change in style was really emphasised when I read the piece out at the Renegades.

It seemed so slow and ponderous, giving way too much information and detail none of which moved either the plot or the action along. I couldn’t even forgive it on the grounds that I’d written this twaddle to achieve that old standby ‘character development’.

SO … I’m going to re-edit and take it to the next Renegades and have another go. And I’ll keep taking it back until I’ve got it right!

The last thing I want is ever having to listen to Stephen Fry reading crap with my name on it (I wish!).

Sunday, 27 March 2011


With attention starting to shift away from the hardback of ‘The Demi-Monde: Winter’ and towards the paperback (due out in September 2011), Jo asked me to give my suggestions regarding how we could re-work the blurb that goes on the back cover.

One sage on the net calls the blurb ‘eye-candy for readers’ which isn’t a bad description, while another called it the second most important factor in securing the purchase of a book (after the cover design). I’m not so sure about this (surely the author’s name/reputation is the most important thing in the buy/no buy stakes) but it’s certainly up there. So it’s IMPORTANT and has to be taken seriously.

The experience I’ve gained from writing promo-copy for pharmaceutical products and telecom services tells me that a blurb must do three things. It must STOP the potential customer, it must INTRIGUE them and it must CLOSE them (i.e. persuade them to buy). Closing is of course the difficult one and always brings to mind Alex Baldwin in ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ (brilliant movie!) and his ‘ABC’: Always Be Closing.

It was these three imperatives – STOP, INTRIGUE, CLOSE – I had at the back of my mind when I tried re-writing the Demi-Monde’s blurb. On this basis I suppose you could call blurbs SIC-Notes!

The original blurb Quercus used on the hardback read:


The Demi-Monde is the most advanced computer simulation ever devised. Created to prepare soldiers for the nightmarish reality of urban warfare, it is a virtual world locked in eternal civil war. Its thirty million digital inhabitants are ruled by duplicates of some of history’s cruellest tyrants: Reinhard Heydrich, the architect of the Holocaust; Beria, Stalin’s arch executioner; Torquemada, the pitiless Inquisitor General; Robespierre, the face of the Reign of Terror.

But something has gone badly wrong inside the Demi-Monde and the US President’s daughter has become trapped in this terrible world. It falls to eighteen-year-old Ella Thomas to rescue her, yet once Ella has entered the Demi-Monde she finds that everything is not as it seems, that its cyber-walls are struggling to contain the evil within and that the Real World is in more danger than it realises.”

All-in-all it ain’t too bad especially as none of the potential readers would have known me from a hole in the ground. But now I suppose it’s too long to STOP, too convoluted to INTRIGUE and there’s no CLOSE. Worse, I think including the names of some of the historical characters I use in the novel is a bit of a turn-off: a couple of reviewers have mentioned being nervous of the historical baggage the book comes with, so, in retrospect, emphasising it wasn’t such a terrific idea.

The blurb we’re currently working on for the paperback reads:

“We want you to go to Hell, Miss Thomas.’ And for five million bucks Ella was prepared to give even Hell – the Demi-Monde – a shot. And all she had to do to earn it was find the President’s daughter and lead her to safety.

But getting into the Demi-Monde was the easy part, surviving to collect her money was quite another. There were thirty million digital-Duplicates at war in the nightmare that was the US Military’s virtual-training ground, thirty million Dupes living and dying in the Victorian cyber-slums of this make-believe world, Dupes programmed with a craving for blood and led by some of history’s most vicious tyrants.

And as Ella was to discover, for every bizarre conceit in the Demi-Monde there was a sinister reason behind it. In the Demi-Monde she could trust nothing and nobody . . . not even herself.”

It’s obviously shorter and snappier – which I like – and I like having an ellipse near the end; ellipses denoting something unsaid. I wanted to bring out the blood aspect too, just to intrigue those with a penchant for vampires. The opening is good too, quite arresting. Yeah, I like it.

As for the Closing aspect, unlike the hardback, we’ll now have a few quotes to play with and these, from what I can see on other books are what turn a potential buyer into a real one. The quotes that are challenging for inclusion are:

‘Part Matrix, part Escape from New York, with a dash of Film Noir and a whole host of imagination. Beautifully written . . . ’ Falcata Times

‘…the world…is a psychopathic nightmare, while Ella, by contrast, is a touchingly vulnerable heroine whose quest is fraught with both physical and psychological dangers’ Eric Brown, The Guardian

‘A proverbial page-turner . . . Demi-Monde: Winter is a magnificent debut novel . . . that fires the imagination in the way that only truly good SF can’ Concatenation

‘Discworld's savage noir cousin. Welcome to holo-hell' Stephen Baxter

‘Wow! It's highly ingenious and very well written, not only gripping to read but beautifully executed’ Ian Watson

‘Incredibly entertaining’ The Times

‘A f****** brilliant book’ Burlesque Bandstand

The BIG problem I face with book blurbs is that there seems to be an inherent conservatism within the book wholesaler/retailer community. So some of the ideas I have for Spring and Summer will probably turn out to be no-nos. Shame, I thought they were real Stoppers.

Friday, 25 March 2011


Okay, as the girls are on holiday we decided to make TWO trips to the cinema this week and the choice was 'The Eagle', the film version of the novel 'The Eagle of the Ninth' by Rosemary Sutcliff. This film split the Rees family along the age fault-line.

Set in Britain of 140CE the story relates how the hero - Marcus Flavius Aquila - and his faithful slave - Esca - journey to the wilds of Scotland to retrieve the Eagle lost by the Ninth Legion that was commanded by Aquila's father.

As I said, the older and younger generations of the Rees household were split.

My opinion (supported by Nelli) was that it was a somewhat dour, over-long historical drama which teetered on the edge of being simultaneously boring and risible. I thought the lead actor - Channing Tatum - had all the charisma of a deckchair as he glowered and emoted through the movie's two hour length, while even the normally reliable Jamie Bell seemed unable to give his reluctant but loyal sidekick character any noticeable depth. Low points were Donald Sutherland lumbering his Roman senator with a mid-West accent and the 'Seal People' - the Scottish natives the hero has to interface with - having the appearance of MacMohicans daubed with B&Q's best undercoat emulsion. There were, of course, some good things: the cinematography was terrific and the portrayal of the squalor of 2nd Century Britain suitably ... squalid. But really this was an eminently forgettable film.

But ...

My daughters (16 and 18 years old) thought it pretty good entertainment. They enjoyed it! They also thought Mr Tatum was a good lead. Kit voted it a solid 7 out of 10!

So I guess if you're 25 or under it's a good movie, but if you're 25 or older, it ain't.

Rod: 4/10
Nelli: 4/10
Kit: 7/10
Ellie: is too cool to do this scoring shit but judged it 'good'.

Chronological criticism.


The title of this blog reads (according to Misha at the Renegade Writers group) 'The Polish Connection' but if I've misconstrued it and I've insulted everyone in Poland, I apologise.

I must admit to have had a certain trepidation about the reaction to the book in Poland. The Warsaw Uprising that I use as the basis of the middle part of 'The Demi-Monde: Winter' was a terrible event and what was done to the Jews and to Warsaw itself almost defies belief. I suspect it's still pretty raw subject with Varsovians even sixty-odd years on, so I was unsure of the reception my re-imagining would get. Then there was how the translator would handle my use of puns in words such as LessBiens and the like. I was also worried about what they would make of Burlesque's patois.

It seems I needn't have worried on either score and certainly the translator made a much better fist of things than Google ever could.

Miscontruing from Polish into English is the subject of this blog. The first instalment of the Demi-Monde saga was released in Poland in February as 'Demi-Monde: Zima' and there's been quite a lot of internet traffic about it. The problem is that most of this traffic has been - understandably - in Polish and whilst Nelli can help me with the occasional word for the most part I've had to rely on Google to translate. Which I have to report is unbelievably FRUSTRATING!

Let's start with Lena173who writes on She says 'The  Demi-Mnde is a novel which has strengthened my conviction that it is worth reaching for what is unknown'. So far so good. But she ends - courtesy of Google - with the paragraph: 'I look forward to another volume of this series and yet it remains for me nothing else but shoot the next victim of the fantasy genre. I highly recommend!' The last three words I can applaud but the rest ...

Next up is Sheila who reviews (I think) for the Fantasta site. This is the sentance I really love: 'Especially since niesztampowe really surprising ending make that I can not wait for the next volume'. But the great thing is that Shiela really liked it.

Fenrir reviewing on Lubimy Czytac said, 'Here, the story (of the Warsaw Uprising) played out again, with a completely different ending, which surprised me mercilessly.' Well, that sounds Okay, especially as Fenrir goes on to say, 'I rarely get such interesting titles, an Demi-Monde, wandered on the shelf reserved for your favourite items'.

It's early days but the reaction so far in Poland seems very positive. Phew!

Sunday, 20 March 2011


I’m a BIG Philip K. Dick fan. I loved ‘The Man in the High Castle’ (tho’ I could never get to grips with ‘The Three Stigmata’) and I think it was this book which sparked my life-long love of alternative history. So I was intrigued by the thought of yet another PKD story being brought to the cinema. I've not read the short story The Adjustment Bureau was based on – I will – so I had to judge the film on its own merits.

Okay. David Norris (Matt Damon) is an up-and-coming politico with a penchant for self-destruction and a family tragedy writ large in his life. On the eve of being dumped out of a senatorial race after revelations about high-spirited shenanigans when he was younger he meets a rather fey and free-spirited dancer (Elise Sellas played by Emily Blunt) in the Mens’ Room (as you do!) and is instantly smitten. Unfortunately he has an encounter with representatives of the eponymous Adjustment Bureau who are required by ‘the Chairman’ to manipulate human activities to achieve specified outcomes, and one of these necessitates Norris never getting it together with Elise. Of course, having been smitten he can’t get the girl out of his head and spends the rest of the movie trying to find her, Fate having decided that no matter how determined the Adjustment Bureau operatives are that True Love will find a way.

Quite a simple story with some intriguing twists. Damon is excellent – he’s a fine actor – but Blunt I found less convincing. If I have to criticise the movie I would say that the ending isn’t quite as emotion wrenching as it could have been: the dilemma confronting Norris should have been made MUCH more difficult.

No matter: I thought it was a good film … not great but good. The girls liked it too, though I think they would have liked more of a Notebook-esque denouement. A chick movie with attitude.


The family went to see the disappointing ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ at The Theatre Royal Nottingham yesterday.

The Rees family seems to be haunted by the Harper Lee’s book: Ellie had it for GCSE so we’ve all read it several times and given the movie a couple of viewings. I think we all agreed that it was an ‘important book’ so everyone was excited about having the opportunity of seeing the characters in the flesh, so to speak.

As I say the production was a disappointment and this, despite the valiant efforts by the players and some very effective stage effects. The fundamental problem was, I think, the script itself. This stage version was written by Christopher Sergel back in 1970 and forty years on it creaked. Overly reverential to Harper Lee’s book it was not a stage adaptation as much as a staged recreation – as Ellie, my daughter, remarked, the only way they could have made it any drier was by simply having one of the actors read from the book.

My other major gripe was the use of a grown-up Scout acting as narrator. This destroyed any chance of the audience suspending disbelief and gutted the play of any tension: every point of conflict was signalled well in advance and there was no room left for the audience to make up its own mind. The narrator also eliminated the childlike naiveté of Scout which, for me, was one of the main strengths of the book. This was a case of too much ‘tell’ and not enough ‘show’.

Compounding these problems the ponderous nature of some of the scenes, a number of which were simply superfluous. I was left with the feeling that to work on the stage the story had to be reworked, with the courtroom scene coming at the end. Sacrilegious I know but better to be contentious than boring.

It would have taken supreme acting skills to have overcome these obstacles. Duncan Preston as Atticus Finch was good but too hectoring – almost peevish – in his handling of Scout and Jem. But then, I suppose, Gregory Peck casts a long shadow. Grace Rowe was too old to be a convincing Scout, whilst Matthew Pattimore’s Jem simply didn’t convince.

One upbeat aspect was the set design. The staging and the lighting effectively evoked the despairing emptiness of a 1935 America gripped by depression and I thought the use of video inspired.

All-in-all a flat, boring production, an opinion shared by the rest of the audience if the rather begrudging applause at the end was any indication.

Thursday, 17 March 2011


I think one of the benefits of going to a writer’s group (apart from having your writing critiqued, of course) is that you get to see how other writers approach their work and to compare it with your own modus operandi.

Writing is one of the few forms of delusion that is socially acceptable. I mean, there aren’t many outlets for your fantasies which are so cheap, convenient and which don’t involve plain envelopes, PVC and the risk of social ostracism. Start talking to the chap sitting next to you on the Clapham omnibus about journeying to a virtual world run by long-dead psychopaths (a la the Demi-Monde) and it won’t be long before you’re interfacing with men in white coats and getting up close and personal with an industrial-sized helping of thorazine.

Yeah, the more deranged of our fellow citizens might occasionally visit Cloud Cuckoo Land but few of them are as intent on building a holiday home there as are most SF writers.

Because of this – and because writing is, by definition, very much a solo occupation – there is, I suspect, a real danger that writers can lose perspective. So it’s useful, once a week, to touch base with Planet Earth (even if it is a Planet Earth that occupies different temporal and spatial co-ordinates, but I digress).

And the lodestone of normality at the Renegades is Misha.

Misha is one single-minded lady. Every week she brings in another chapter of the second book relating the adventures of Lettie that she’s writing. She never seems to get fed-up or to succumb to writer’s block (or, as it’s called in the Real World, Can’t-Be-Arsed-Itis) or to get side-tracked and I think it is this determination that will see her books published in the end.

Self-discipline like Misha’s is I think vital for any writer – they’ve got to be able to resist the temptation of ‘Busy Work’, doing things that are related to their writing but which ain’t directly involved with finishing the story they’re working on. Things like writing a blog when you know you should be working on Demi-Monde 4.


Tuesday, 15 March 2011


I wrote this in a fit of depression. It was a good fit having been with me since birth. This is why you you should never, ever willingly become a writer,

Old Enough to Know Better but too Old to Care

I’m thinking of declaring a jihad against actuaries.


My theory is that they’re in league with the government to stop me retiring. I’m getting to feel like Tantalus: every time the fruits of a pension come within reach they change the pensionable age and I’m back to square one looking for something to do that will provide me with three square a day.

And then, of course, when you could actually use an actuary – professionally rather than carnally that is – there’s nary one of the buggers around. And, boy, the day I decided it would be a good idea to write a novel was sure as hell one when I could have used some advice of a statistical nature.

Gotta tell you, if deciding to write a novel is a dumb idea, then deciding to write one when you’re sixty is a really dumb idea.

Sixty is a funny age. It’s the Wednesday of your lifetime: too far from the fun-packed weekend of your youth and too far from payday ever to stand a chance. It’s the age – as Leonard Cohen so pithily reminds us – when we begin to ache in the places where we used to play. It most certainly is not an age to embark on novel writing. But then I suppose there’s no good age to start writing because it is – both actually and actuarially – a stupid occupation.

Okay, you need to be stupid to start writing a book. But read any guide to ‘writing a book’ and the word ‘determination’ features prominently, this being the trait considered necessary to finish writing a book. But in my case you can substitute ‘determination’ for ‘enraged naivety’. I was prompted to write ‘Dark Charismatic’ after watching the travesty of a re-imagining of the Jekyll and Hyde story that was the BBC’s ‘Jekyll’. Now although I love and revere Stevenson’s tale I nevertheless accept that like many things approaching their one hundred and twenty-fifth birthday (me, for example) it could certainly handle a wash and brush up. Unfortunately as wash and brush ups go the BBC’s effort was more akin to a really good sand blasting in that it stripped all the good things away and left...well, not much actually. And like many before me, as I sat there aghast watching this twaddle, the thought crossed my mind, ‘I could do better than that’.

Fool! Such hubris!

So I sat down and wrote...and wrote and wrote and wrote. Two hundred and twenty thousand words to be exact, each word of them carefully, lovingly and laboriously crafted. And the final two were ‘The End’.

Now here I pause to proffer my first statistic, namely, the one regarding how many books once commenced are ever completed. My guess – and I suspect this is an amazingly generous estimate – is that no more than one in a hundred neophyte writers ever stagger across the finishing line. Around the country there must be millions of first, second and third chapters gathering dust in drawers or languishing forgotten on laptops (and long may they remain there; who needs competition). And as support for this contention I am willing to bet, dear reader, that you too are the proud possessor of an unfinished novel.

So remember that statistic: only one in a hundred books is ever finished.

Having written the bloody thing I was troubled by a rather belated thought: what do I do with it now? And the answer is, of course, get an agent. Oh, you can do it yourself, sending your unsolicited manuscript to publishers directly but you might as well spend your time attempting to roast snow. Believe me, nobody in the publishing world will touch unsolicited manuscripts. They’re the tsetse fly of the literary world: everyone’s heard of them but no one wants to come in contact with them. So I googled ‘agents + science fiction + fantasy’, chose the three I though most receptive – that is they had kind faces – and sent off the first three chapters of my magnum opus. And waited...and waited...and waited. One outright (or is that outwrite) rejection in the form of a platitudinous standard letter, one rejection because ‘the end of the book was obvious’ – the guy must be prescient or something because I didn’t know what the ending was until a week before I sent it off – and – hurray! – one acceptance.

So back to those statistics. In later conversation with my agent (get me: ‘my agent’) he advised me that during his time in the business he’d received something north of six thousand submissions from would-be writers and as he’s currently got a stable (or should that be a pen) of forty-three authors that comes out at a newby having something like one chance in a hundred and fifty of securing an agent.

Remember that: you’ve one chance in a hundred and fifty of finding an agent.

So ‘Dark Charismatic’ was sent out...and every publisher and his father rejected it. The general feeling was that there was too much sex in it. My fault: in retrospect what I’d written was an over-long aide-memoire, something to refer to if Alzheimer’s kicked in and I found myself with some free time on a Saturday night. So what do I do now? As I’d just spent a year wasting my time, writing unpublishable crap and earning precisely zip, the answer was obvious: I’d write another book! I think this sort of behaviour is classifiable under Obsessive Compulsive Disorders. Anyway, thus was born ‘The Demi-Monde’. Another year drifted by but this time when my agent pitched the book it was taken up by a publisher.

Remember that: there’s only one chance in two of your agent being able to find a publisher for your book.

Okay, so you’ve got a publisher now, so let’s have a look at the sales prospects for your master work. Somewhere between seventy thousand new fiction titles hit the bookshelves every year in the UK and the average sales of each are somewhere between one thousand and three thousand copies. That’s average, folks, so there are some seriously shit sales needed to compensate for the stellar success of such literary luminaries as Dan Brown and Stieg Larsson. No matter, these average sales, by my calculations, will net the author between £500 and £1,500. That’s after two years bloody hard work (and don’t forget you’ll also have to go through the publisher’s editing process which can be enormously time consuming, especially if your grammar is as rotten as mine...or, possibly, mine is): that works out at about 10p an hour. Minimum wage it ain’t. It makes misdirecting customers at B&Q look like a gig from heaven.

So what are your chances of your book generating something approaching a reasonable return on your investment of time – say £30,000 a year? My guess is that maybe two and a half thousand titles turn that sort of profit for their authors: one in thirty.

Remember that: one book in thirty turns an okay profit.

If I recall my statistics – and those lectures were a bloody long time ago – the chance of you finishing a book, finding an agent, having it published and turning a reasonable profit is about one in forty thousand. Or about the same chance you run of being struck by a renegade meteor...on a Slough.

That’s why, in my humble opinion, the chief quality needed by a would-be writer isn’t determination, or creativity, or style, or a wonderful plot’s stupidity. No matter how you slice it, writing’s a mug’s game.

But to paraphrase Lloyd in ‘Dumb and Dumber’: ‘One chance in forty thousand? So you’re telling me I’ve got a chance’.

What do actuaries know anyway?

Rod Rees is currently writing the fourth volume of ‘The Demi-Monde’ saga and reports that the psychotropics are working wonderfully.


Just sent the re-edit of the second volume in the Demi-Monde series off to Jo Fletcher at Quercus. I got the typeset version back about a month ago and it was obvious that I'd over-written the thing. Not having read it for a year it seemed flaccid and ponderous so I decided to slim it down. So I've been working flat out culling the thing so that's it's gone from 191,000 words to a little over 150,000 (the same length as 'Winter' which was always my target). I've ditched three set-piece scenes which didn't really move the action or the plot along. A couple of characters have gone (including Botnikov, who I liked a lot) but I think they died in a good cause. I've also invented a new form of intra-Demi-Mondian communication which I'm pretty pleased with.

All-in-all it is I think a better book. It's simultaneously lighter and darker than Winter so it'll be interesting to see what Jo thinks of it. Now all that's left is to tweak 'Summer' to reflect these changes and then to dive back into 'Fall'. The end beckons!!!!!

Monday, 7 March 2011


Really delighted to be able to write that a French publisher, J'ai Lu, have taken all four of the Demi-Monde books with the first one hitting the streets in Autumn 2012. J'ai Lu look like a first-class outfit - they've actually assigned the DM a marketing budget! - and it's great to be on the same label as Neil Gaiman.

Funnily enough I'm just finishing the edit of The Demi-Monde: Spring where a lot of the action takes place in Paris. God only knows what the translators are going to make of Burlesque Bandstand's Franglais!

Saturday, 5 March 2011


I’ve been asked to think about the ‘blurb’ that will go on the back cover of the paperback edition of ‘The Demi-Monde: Winter’ and as these invariably include quotes from reviews I had a quick trawl through the ones the DM has garnered. And one aspect of a couple of these reviews that was particularly noticeable was how impatient readers are.

For instance, one queried how the technology in the Real World was so much more sophisticated than our own when the setting of the Real World was only eight years distant from our own. Because the reason for this wasn’t spelt out, the reviewer automatically assumed it was because I had being rather naïve in my extrapolation of present day technology … that I’d screwed up. He didn’t trust me as a writer to have done this for a reason and was so linear in his thinking to be incapable of conceiving that there might another rationale for this apparent anomaly.

Another couldn’t understand why the Dupes were dependent on blood, putting this down to an aberrational quirk of yours truly.

What these reviewers were forgetting was that this is a four-book series, with the story developing gradually. Each book will peel back a few more layers of the fictional onion that is the Demi-Monde … what I call ScriptTease. Hopefully as each book of the series comes out there will be readers kicking themselves and saying ‘Of course!’.

I suppose if I wasn’t an SF debutant readers would be more inclined to trust me as a writer to resolve and to explain … eventually. But, hopefully, over time, out, readers will learn – I hope! – to rely on me and my storytelling.

Thursday, 3 March 2011


I've been working on an article to explain how I built the Demi-Monde and this is my first pass. It's a bit long for a blog but what  the hell.



Funnily enough I began ‘world building’ without realising that this is what I was doing but then being a novice writer I suppose I started the whole of the writing process without realising what I was doing.

No matter.

World building is the term applied to the exercise undertaken by all Science Fiction and Fantasy writers involving the creation of a believable and coherent backdrop – be it an alien world, a dystopian future or an alternative reality – to dress the stage upon which the writer’s fictional thespians can perform. And its purpose is just the same as scenery; to allow the audience to more easily suspend disbelief and willingly to enter the counterfeit world of the writer’s imagination, a world (hopefully) made so speciously plausible, so consistent, so logical, and so precise that the reader is persuaded to think...well, why not.

The counterfeit world I built is the Demi-Monde. Most of the action of my book ‘The Demi-Monde: Winter’ (and the subsequent books in the series) takes place in a virtual world - the eponymous Demi-Monde - built for the US Military to train their neoFights – grunts – in the arts necessary to survive and triumph in an asymmetric war environment. The Demi-Monde itself is a circular, sealed world divided into five mutually antagonistic and disparate Sectors – disparate in terms of race, religion and religion – the whole realm locked, technology-wise, into a Victorian mindset. One other wrinkle: I’d seeded into this world what I call Singularities, these the digital duplicates of some of the most vicious and evil characters from history – Heydrich, Beria, Robespierre, Shaka Zulu, to name a few – the intention being that these psychopaths would provide each Sector with suitably perverted leadership.

So far so improbable.

Okay, so how did I begin my world building career? By drawing up a map. Maps are essential both to orientate both the author and, more importantly, his or her readers through this world of the imagination. In my case I wanted a sealed world – a closed system – in order that I could explore certain ideas I had about the deterministic nature of the human condition, so I fretted long and hard about what shape to make the world. The circular world thingy had been done before but because I wanted my world divided into five Sectors and because I had given it a militaristic cast I was drawn to having it pentagonal in shape (the Pentagon, geddit?). It soon became obvious why the round shape is so popular: depending where you stand on the circumference the external borders of a polygon are at differing distances from the centre and this can be confusing, especially for someone as non-spatial as me...I could get lost in a one-way street. So finally, reluctantly, I opted for the cliché – but geometrical convenience - of a circular world.

Right, map drawn, now I needed to ensure that the physical parameters of my virtual world were consistent and coherent. In my book the Demi-Monde was created by a publicity-shy corporation called ParaDigm CyberResearch so I had the idea of replicating the brochure ParaDigm used when it was first pitching its product to the US Military. This turned out to be a Good Idea. As these sort of documents can’t be woolly and vague the act of describing the cyber nuts and bolts of the Demi-Monde really crystallised my thinking. I had to define how the rivers of the Demi-Monde flowed, what the weather was like during the various seasons, how the waste and sewerage created by my Dupes was collected and disposed of, in fact all the minutiae that is needed to make an make-believe and somewhat unbelievable world, well, believable.

The other great benefit derived from this exercise was that it obliged me to decide what would be the ‘Areas of Tension’ built into the Demi-Monde that would provoke the five Sectors to be continually at each other’s throats, after all, for a war simulation the last thing the designers wanted was peace breaking out. And the Areas of Tension I chose were those I thought would be simultaneously the most fun for me as a writer to explore and the most provocative: to paraphrase Mr Bennet, what are the foibles of the human race for, if not to be made sport of. So I finally decided upon to make the inter-Sector antagonisms to stem from differences in race, religion, gender and sexual orientation...and the greatest of these was religion.

The religions I developed for the Demi-Monde - UnFunDaMentalism, ImPuritanism, HerEticalism, HimPerialism, RaTionalism, nuJuism and Confusionism - are merely the religions of our world stretched and distorted to breaking point, my belief being that only by showing a belief system in extremis is it possible to see it as it really is. Reductio ad absurdum and all that. I’d love the Demi-Monde series to be remembered for its satirical aspect. Satire is the way a belief system is stress tested. It is essential, if a society is to flourish that it is open, free of censorship and one in which everything and everyone can be criticised in a rational manner; the concept of a loyal opposition is one I subscribe too. Of course, for a writer this is treacherous ground, as Jonathan Swift, said, "satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own.'

But I digress.

Finally, I my world building brought me to the selecting of the historical characters I would use to flavour the Demi-Monde, my psychopathic Singularities. And reading about them the one thing that struck me about these high-performing über-psychopaths is how stone cold evil they were; totally without empathy, without compassion and without remorse. Unfortunately our PC-world refuses to accept that there is such a thing as undiluted wickedness – nowadays everybody has to have some redeeming feature, has to possess some humanity - but I wanted to write about these bastards as they actually were, flat-out evil. Okay, that might make them, to modern folk, a little pantomime-esque but, folks, that is how they were.

So now I had my stage, my script and my players...enough to write my book, but in today’s internet-driven world that ain’t enough and this, I suppose, is the real purpose of this essay. Thanks to the internet, factual reality (if that isn’t tautology I don’t know what is) and fictional reality (a wonderful contradiction in terms) are merging. BI (Before Internet) the imaginary was distinct and readily distinguishable from the real. AI (After Internet) this separation is blurring. For instance some individuals operating on the web take the names and personae of celebrities (living and dead), so much so that it is almost impossible for the veracity of the real celebrity’s cyber doodlings to be accepted or even established. And as even the most spaced-out wacko has the same ability to spout his or her nonsense on the web as do 'normal' people everything on the internet has to be taken with several grains of salt, because everything has a veneer of cyber-credulity. Consider Wiki, the most used reference resource in the world. Wiki has become so adulterated by mischievous editing that every time you use it you have to question whether what you are reading has been infected by nonsense.

The result is that as time has passed - as the Internet has becoming increasingly all-pervasive - fantasy has begun to merge with reality. On the Internet reality and surreality, fact and fiction, rumour and truth have to co-exist but they can’t do this without contaminating each other. The result is sort of nu-reality - a faux-reality - which is simultaneously truth and lies. There was a nice phrase in a recent article in the Sunday Times by Camille Paglia about Lady Gaga (‘What’s Sex Got to do with It?’) which said ‘In the sprawling anarchy of the web, the borderline between fact and fiction has melted away’.

Oh, the idea of reality and make-believe become malleable and interchangeable is not new (Orwell explored this to great effect in '1984') but what is different today is that it is so easy to do. The real world and the cyber-world are becoming increasingly intertwined, creating a Gordian Knot of competing realities which are often impossible to disentangle.

And this process of merger has hardly begun.

In the future fact and fiction will become increasingly indistinguishable and this change has profound implications for writers. As I see it in the future, not only will truth and fiction conflate but so will all media, coalescing into one enormous cyber-continuum, the distinction between films, videogames, comic books, music, images and the written word blurring and finally disappearing. Even now there is an enormous overlap, this driven by the fact that now the audience has come to join the players on stage. Thanks to social networking, the audience is now part of the creative process.

And the implications of having the audience as a creative partner are profound: my suspicion is that today’s proto-reader is - and increasingly will be - looking for an altogether more immersive (dare I say, a more visceral) experience than one which can be found within the covers of a printed book. They will want to explore the backgrounds of their favourite characters, be able (especially with the SF and fantasy genres) to make a deeper, almost forensic examination of the world the writer has created, they will want to interact with the characters and with each other, they will want to see the writer’s visualisation of his or her book and, most importantly, they will want to become involved. This nuReader will want all his or her senses engaged and like it or not it will become incumbent on writers to create worlds and characters which transcend the printed word. This will be the only way they will be able to persuade a cyber-savvy generation to suspend disbelief.

Of course, appreciating this doesn’t make it any easier for a writer. My own modest step was the creation of the Demi-Monde website (, this designed to allow my readers the opportunity of immersing themselves more fully in my virtual world and to better understand the nuances and detail that can only (because of considerations of pace and length) be alluded to in the book.

One small step, but an important one ‘cos if you don’t embrace the revolution that is upon us you’ll be in danger of being swept away by it. Just as the lust for spectacle engendered by Cinemascope ramped up the cost of film-making which in turn reduced the number of films Hollywood churned out and just as the need to promote bands on MTV made a costly-to-make video essential to the launch of a band and hence fewer being signed, so the need for a book to be transformed into an eye-popping e-book (paper is so last year, darling), this accompanied by an all-singing and dancing web-site, a film tie-in and a computer game down-load will ultimately mean less and less money will be available to finance new writers. Marketing will become king in the publishing world.

For world builders, life is going to get a lot tougher...and a lot more interesting.


I hadn't been to Renegades for a couple of weeks - Kit had a gig I needed to attend and what with Nell being away... - but I managed to get there yesterday. I suppose I was a bit distracted - I've still kinda wired after the Big Push on editing Spring - so everything that was read I just sat there thinking about how I would edit it.

I've come to the conclusion that every sentence you write has got to do one of three things:

  • help with exposition, and this has got to be the absolute minimum required to keep the reader's belief appropriately suspended;
  • push the plot along; or
  • describe some action or thought which is pertinent to the development of the character or the plot.
Everything else is just padding. Now I'm sure there's some learned tome out there which will tell me that this is bollocks but certainly for the type of action-centred books I write it's valid. What I've been guilty of is writing stuff that I think is kinda neat and clever but which is simply ballast - the sort of stuff a reader skip-reads. But no more: you are looking at a leaner, meaner writer now!

Back to Renegades and the reason for my digression. Misha brought another chapter of her book about Brunel and the Clifton Suspension Bridge and it read very well but I think she falls into the same trap as me...she over-writes. And as her book is aimed at 9-12s I guess she's got to be very parsimonious with her words. The good thing is that even now the story has got good pace - and believe me you can't buy good pace - so I think with the use of a red pen it's going to be turbo-charged and this I suspect is what kids want from a book.

I read a canto of my Eddic of Loci which will form part of the poem inscribed on the mysterious Column, the Column being my McGuffin in Spring. I'm not really much cop at poetry - the nearest I got before was writing lyrics for Nell when she was in chanteuse mode - but I was quite pleased with how it sounded and the comments from the rest of the Renegades were useful too.

Interesting evening.


The last few weeks have been difficult. Nell is away in Russia and I got the first edit of The Demi-Monde:Spring back, so it's been very hectic.

It's amazing how you change over the course of a year. When I submitted Spring twelve months ago I thought it was pretty good but when I got it back it just seemed bloated. So ... I decided it needed slimming from 191,000 words to as near as I could get to 150,000. It's a difficult task knocking out so many words because if you're not careful you can destroy the plot. It took me 120 hours of solid, concentrated work to achieve it. I'm finally down to 156,000 and the book is all the better for it. Now all that remains is a final read-through and then it's off to Quercus.

One thing's for sure I'll never ever over-write again!