Friday, 31 December 2010

FIRST AMAZON REVIEW

What a great way to end the year! My first review on Amazon and it's a five-star one too.

5.0 out of 5 stars The Matrix meets Sheri S. Tepper, 30 Dec 2010

By Steve Benner "Stonegnome" (Lancaster, UK) - See all my reviews

(TOP 500 REVIEWER) (VINE VOICE) (REAL NAME) This review is from: The Demi-Monde: Winter (Hardcover)

In "The Demi-Monde: Winter", Rod Rees has managed to produce a fantastical fabricated world that is simultaneously both ridiculous and credible. The Demi-Monde is supposedly a high-realism heuristic computer simulation, developed to provide the US military with an extreme asymmetric warfare environment (AWE) in which soldiers can be trained and prepared for operations in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan without subjecting them to a life-threateningly hostile or inflammatory scenario for real. The simulation is peppered with computer-recreated "pre-lived" psychopathic "singularities" from earth's history ("Dupes" of people such as Aleister Crowley) mixed into a densely populated series of social milieux (18th Century London Rookeries; the Warsaw Ghetto; Rangoon), designed to provide a powder-keg mix of conflicting racial, sexual and religious ideologies and intolerances, engendering perpetual and widespread internecine strife -- a veritable virtual "Cyber-Hell on Earth", in fact.

The story's basic premise is not new: predictably, things are not entirely going to the military's game-plan with the Demi-Monde. Not surprisingly, (to the reader at least) a number of programming errors have been made which have resulted in some rather quite embarrassing and alarming consequences in the way the simulation is operating. The first problem is that trainee soldiers "released" into the simulation are being quickly identified for what they are by the denizens of the Demi-Monde, captured and incapacitated within the simulation, from which they cannot now be extricated (and which cannot, of course, be turned off). Secondly -- and more mysteriously -- the rebellious and unruly teenage daughter of the US President has somehow or other been drawn into the simulation and has similarly been captured and is now also held captive. Someone will need to go into the simulation to effect a rescue. But who...?

While this scenario is not at all new -- and indeed, borders on the hackneyed -- I have to say that Rod Rees' approach to it is not at all hackneyed, defies all predictability and is often nothing short of masterful. The "rules" for the operation of the Demi-Monde, its competing ideologies and factions, are developed to a very high degree and, in spite of their often entirely ludicrous natures, are often portrayed with full internal consistency and with an extremely clever (and playful) eye for detail. The book balances seriousness with humour in a way that few authors can achieve effectively, and blends comedy and horror (as well as a playfulness with words, albeit with a penchant for bad language) in a way that is encountered only rarely -- I haven't found it done this well before outside of the writings of Sheri S. Tepper ("The Visitor" springs most immediately to mind) an author with whom Rod Rees seems, in fact, to share much in common (quite apart from the common approach to religious and sexual mores, Burlesque Bandstand is exactly the kind of name that Tepper would opt for in a character too!)

Rees not only handles the essentially ludicrous nature of the world he has created in an all-too believable manner, he also manipulates the story arc supremely well too, constantly unearthing new, darker, undertones which run beyond mere real-worldly incompetences. And just when it looks like things are going to work out to schedule and everything be wrapped up nicely at the end, he suddenly injects a nice little twist, conjures a whole series of cliff-hangers from his hat, and absolutely guarantees that every single reader will have but a single question on their lips as they reach the end of this book: "How soon will Spring be here?"

A great book and a fun book; highly recommended.

I've never read Sheri S. Tepper before so I'm gonna have to check her out. Anyway thanks for the kind words Mr Benner: much appreciated.

Monday, 27 December 2010

10,000 HOURS

I got to thinking over Christmas about a side conversation I'd become involved in at the last meeting of the Renegade Writers. Peter asked how many times I edited/revised my books before I submitted them to my agent. It wasn't something I'd ever thought about before so my answer - twenty or thirty times - was a little off-the-cuff. But now that I think about it, it's about right.

But the impetus for this particular blog piece really came when my sister came to stay for Christmas and asked how long it had taken me to write the first Demi-Monde. I'd never added it up before but it goes something like this:

  • I made my first attempts at writing (under a pseudonym) a few years ago. This taught me the basics - maintaining POV; making characters interesting, plot consistency etc. I churned out one short novel and eight or so short stories (short story writing is a great way to become an author) and as I try to write at a rate of 3,000 words per day - but end up averaging 2,000 - so if this lot totalled 200,000 words I guess we're talking (with editing etc.) of around 1,000 hours of work. I earned zip.
  • Then I moved on to SF. My first novel was 'Dark Charismatic' , a reimagining of the Jekyll and Hyde story. Research for 'Dark Charismatic' (understanding Victorian slang; delving into psychotics; reading Jekyll and Hyde etc. etc.) took about two months or about 500 hours.
  • Writing 'Dark Charismatic': this was the precursor to The Demi-Monde and although it secured me an agent it never was taken up by a publisher, but I don't begrudge this because without it there wouldn't have been a Demi-Monde. It weighed in at 250,000 words. There were a couple of revisions too, so let's say, 1,500 hours.
  • Researching 'Invent-10N'': this was meant to be the next novel. I did a load of background research on philosophy especially determinism. Let's say 500 hours.
  • Writing 'Invent-10N': I went potty: 300,000 anguished words. I submitted it to John Jarrold and then pulled it because I decided it wasn't good enough. 2,000 hours anyone?
  • Research for 'The Demi-Monde' (the history of some of the real-life characters I'm using; finding out about Fascism and other cults; trying to get my head around quantum computers etc.etc.). Say 500 hours.
  • First Draft of 'The Demi-Monde' (or as it is also known 250,000 words of crap): 1,500 hours.
  • Preliminary edit: taking it down to a more publisher-friendly 190,000 words. I can edit at a rate of about 1,000 words a day (it's a slow, laborious, painstaking process). Say 1,500 hours.
  • Quercus' edit: getting it down to 150,000 words (and boy, I sweated over every word I canned). 40,000 words deleted or around 500 hours of torture.
  • Other bits and pieces (mainly stuff for the website); 500 hours.
This gives a grand total of....9,500 hours or four years of solid work. When I rounded up to 10,000 hours bells began to ring. A couple of years ago a guy called Macolm Gladwell suggested that 10,000 hours of practice is necessary to become proficient in anything. The Beatles needed 10,000 hours hammering out music in the clubs of Hamburg, Beckham needed 10,000 hours to perfect his free-kicks and I'm guessing that every other expert in their field has invested a similar amount of practice time in honing their skills.

Now I'm not suggesting that I'm of a similar proficiency to these experts but I think that this sort of practice mileage is necessary if any natural talent you have is to be given a chance to shine. Golfer Ben Hogan is reputed to have coined the maxim 'the more I practice the luckier I get'.

This 10,000 hour idea coincides with the proposition - proposed by Ray Bradbury, I think - that an author needs to have written one million words before he or she can have any claim to have mastered their craft.

That's why I get so annoyed when I see established authors advise would-be authors that the route to success is to read the masters. This is bollocks: the way to success is to write...and write, and write and write. And then to edit the shit out of the crap you've written.

Unfortunately shows like the X-Factor have inculcated the impression that there's a short-cut to success but in the vast majority of cases there ain't. We still (just) live in a meritocracy which is defined as:

SUCCESS = (TALENT x HARDWORK) + LUCK

and the greatest element here is HARDWORK...10,000 hours of it!

THE WAY BACK

We all went to see 'The Way Back' on Boxing Day. Directed by Peter Weir, it's the tale, set during the 2nd World War, of how a group of inmates escape from a Siberian prison camp and make a 4000 mile walk to freedom.

It's a premise that approached flat didn't really jingle my jangles but it is a terrific film. The recreation of life in a Soviet gulag is very authentic (Nelli, eagle-eyed as always spotted only a couple of errors) and the performance of Colin Farrell as a hardened criminal simply breathtaking. I had given up on Farrell after the nadir of 'Alexander' but since 'In Bruge' he seems to have gotten his mojo back. Nelli thought his Russian excellent and his singing spot-on!

The problem is that once Farrell vacates the film it sags and the emotional tension within the group of escapees ratchets down several turns. This isn't helped by the other characters being quite similar - especially when they're camouflaged by dirt and mosquito bites! - so the story becomes quite mono-emotional. Even the deaths of some of the principals doesn't have the emotional heft I think Peter Weir was striving for. The film is also at 133 minutes a tad too long.

But...it's still a very good movie and created lots of discussion with the Rees family. Well worth seeing if only for Russell Boyd's ravishing cinematography and, of course, that man Colin.

He'd make a great Vanka Maykov!

Rees Family Rating: 8/10

Friday, 24 December 2010

WILD STACKS

I got a story - 'To Infer is Human' - published in Wild Stacks, a free (as in FREE) e-magazine (http://www.wildstacks.co.uk/) which is intent on 'expanding the imagination'. It's edited and everything by Peter Coleborn (who I know from Renegade Writers) and he seems to have done a bloody good job of putting it together. Well worth a look.

'Infer' is one of my ABBA-related stories, ABBA being the quantum computer which drives the Demi-Monde virtual world, and which will (hopefully, if they ever see the light of publication) feature in any number of stories I've got planned. Indeed, for the foreseeable future all my stories will revolve around this technology - how it was developed and what the ramifications are of creating AI. It's a rich lode.

I'm quite pleased with 'Infer' tho' in retrospect I'd have modified the ending slightly. Still I hope people find it a worthwhile read and gives them a taste of what to expect with The Demi-Monde:WInter.

One point: a reviewer (John Xero) quite rightly pointed out that I hadn't explained what ABBA is. So for the record it stands for Archival, Biological, Behavioural Acquisition, tho' the fact that it is also the Aramaic term for God is quite co-incidental.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

RENEGADE WRITERS' GROUP: 22ND DECEMBER

Xmas bash time at the Renegade Writers! So we all gathered at the Jolly Potter for pies and festive words one of which was 'drabble'.

Peter stunned by the groups lack
of knowledge of the X Files
I had never heard the term drabble before but as Peter explained it relates to stories which come in at under one hundred words and then proceeded to read one penned by Neil Gaiman. As I advised someone else, I think drabbling is a young man's game, all wham, bang and thank you ma'am. It's not for me, my brain no longer has the required ductility.

Jan read out some verses by Dorothy Parker. I don't know if it's my sort of stuff or maybe I just prefer to remember her as a quippologist. Anyway, the next of Jan's offerings was more interesting: 'A Child's Xmas in Wales' by Dylan Thomas. Some of the imagery was - as you'd expect - terrific. I particularly like 'ice-bound boots' and a by-blow of this is now going to feature in The Demi-Monde: Summer. I'll be buying Thomas' book.

Jan and Tim wondering who Moulder is
Tim read from 'The Rat' by Gunter Grass. Tim's writing style reminds me a little of Grass' so his one and only New Year's Resolution should be to finish the sex-o-drama! He also read from 'Christmas Poem to a Man in Jail' by Charles Bukowski. There were a couple of great lines here notably 'I don't believe in perfection, I believe in keeping the bowels loose'. Tim very kindly let me have his copy so I can study the poem a little more closely.


Peter with his collection of
Jack the Ripper mince pies
 Peter - the other Peter - brought along a Jack the Ripper story which I think has great potential. The open sequence needs a little work: the principal lead character should show more fear when confronted by the Ripper. I also think the two parts of the story need to be linked; maybe a paragraph describing the lead character's emotions at seeing the body at his feet and this being what drives him to go to the pub? Anyway I don't think Peter should relegate it to a drawer but continue worrying at his edit of it.

I had written a 1000 word story (flash fiction I'm told) entitled 'Father Xmas 2010'. Peter seemed to think it might be a candidate for next year's Xmas edition of Wild Stacks, so I'll tweak it a bit and rename it 'Father Xmas 2011'.

All-in-all a bloody good evening and much recommended to all those of a literary bent.

So to all my fellow Renegades, from Nelli and me, a Happy Christmas and Published New Year!


Wednesday, 22 December 2010

SciFiNow REVIEW

It's been a turgid week so I'm grateful for anything that'll lift the spirits and SciFiNow duly obliged. In their latest issue (#49) they've given The Demi-Monde: Winter a terrific review, Four stars, the much coveted 'Must Read Now!' imperative and some great comments - 'a great, balanced first novel that is a fascinating, edgy read': I couldn't have ask for much more.

Of course, Lynsey Kay Potter - the reviewer - had, as all good reviewers should have, some interesting and constructive criticisms. She thinks that I'm a little light on the background description of the Demi-Monde which is a pretty fair comment: much of this was jettisoned when we were editing for pace and hopefully I'll be able to re-instate it when we do the 'Author's Cut' e-book.

She's also a little cheeky in suggesting a modern history revision guide as companion reading, but thinking about it maybe she's right. My belief is that the teaching of history in schools is short-changed. The cyclical nature of history (which I explore in DM:Spring) means that the past is an excellent guide to the future, and by failing to teach kids about horrible events like the Holocaust and the purges of Stalin we make similar events more likely to happen again. So if the DM persuades readers to delve deeper into the background of the book that's good news.

All-in-all an excellent fillip, with only one niggle: it's Rod Rees not Ron Rees!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

SHIT/SHINOLA TIME

Today I finished The Demi-Monde: Summer, the third of the four Demi-Monde books.

It's been difficult. The task I had was to take multiple storylines which come together in one denouement but which had to remain interesting and entertaining whilst they were en route to the climax. And this has been bloody tricky as it involves bouncing the reader around between characters and situations. Originally I had planned to have three separate stories and a ending, but I finally reverted to telling the tale chronologically and trusting to the reader's patience. We'll see what Quercus says.

Length-wise it's weighed in at just north of 154,000 which is bang on target. I'm also pleased with some of the new characters especially Fresh Bloom Dong E, ImperialNoN Mao ZeDong and PhilosopherNoN Xi Kang.

Right now I've read the book so many times that I can't judge whether it's good bad or indifferent: the old Shit from Shinola conundrum. Anyway I'm now handing it over to Nelli who will do a quick pre-submission proof-reading with the aim of sending it off to John Jarrold at the end of January.

So I've managed to clear the decks ready to edit Book 2, The Demi-Monde: Spring, before heading to NoirVille for the final book.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

DEMI-MONDE:ZIMA


The Polish cover of
The Demi-Monde: WInter

The Polish publishers of The Demi-Monde - AMBER - are launching the book on the 25th January. I'm very impressed: having worked with Nelli - who is the best translator I've ever worked with - I know just what a task translating 500-odd pages is and AMBER have done it in less than six months. Well done!

The great news is that AMBER are planning a big promo campaign hopefully in association with EMPiK, Poland's biggest chain of bookstores which sounds terrific.

Of course now I'm having to rely on Google to translate the Polish web-sites that are carrying info about the DM which is a real trial. Try this:

'Most deliryczny virtual world, what world created since the "Matrix". A world where the greatest criminals are doing everything to escape from his virtual prison, and learn real. Is a lonely girl can stop it?'

Machine translation still has a way to go!

Friday, 17 December 2010

WEB-SITE WASH AND BRUSH UP

I've been neglecting the web-site a little of late so I decided that before The Demi-Monde's publication in January we would give it a wash-and-brush up. So Nigel has been beavering away.

Most of the changes won't be spottable; they're mainly me making sure that the changes necessary to accommodate the plots of the second and third books - Spring & Summer - are in place. So the Product Description Guide had to have a few tweaks - I substituted a couple of Singularities - and the images in the Personae Dramaticus section went thru a filtering process.

The big changes were that I added new entries to the PollyPaedia Section. Now there's explanations of Auralism & ImPuritanism (which feature in Spring); Confusionism and HerEticalism (which feature in Summer); and HimPerialism (which will feature in Fall). I'm pretty pleased with them all but my especial favourite is Confusionism and the WunZian and TooZian philosopies of the mysterious Master.

The web-site's on http://www.thedemi-monde.com/.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

RENEGADE WRITERS' GROUP: 15TH DECEMBER

Nelli and I went to Renegade Writers in Stoke last night and as always it was an interesting evening. Only Jan had anything to read: she’d brought two stories.

The first (which she read) entitled ‘Bridal Bouquet’ was set during the latter stages of the war in 1945 and was a retelling of events drawn from her own family history. It was quite a moving love story and as such needed a more studied pace...a little more space to breath. Perhaps the problem is that Jan is so intent on meeting the length stipulations of the various publishers she is pitching her stories to that she forgets that the stories have needs too and some tales just aren’t capable of being condensed. I hope she brings the story back to the group though, I think it has real potential.

Her second story ‘Otter Burn’ (which was read by Sandy) I think exemplified this tail wagging dog syndrome. Jan had taken a complex story of 6,000 words and tried to précis it to 1,600, keeping some of the subtleties of the tale intact as she did so. It didn’t work but then to tell a complex story, imbue the multiple characters with ‘character’ and to have a pay–off replete with pagan imagery and to do all this in 1,600 words is a nigh-on impossible task. Better I think to have the story at its natural length and wait for a publisher rather than trying to force the issue. Then it would be tale wagging dog!

Sandy Auden made a great announcement: her graphic novel (working title ‘Double-Edged Sword’) has been taken by Accent Comics as part of their Cursed and Blessed Series. The book will be out at the end of 2011. Everyone was delighted for Sandy and although I have been told to be light on what I blog I’ve a feeling, from what Sandy told us, that it’s going to be a blinder. Well done, Sandy!

This led naturally onto a discussion as to how superheroes and their ilk get their powers. Of course, in my humble opinion the master of this was Philip Jose Farmer and his Bole Newton meteor. Well worth checking out.

It’s the Renegade’s Xmas bash next week so if there are any writers (would be or otherwise) who want to mix and mingle we’ll be at the Jolly Potters pub, Hartshill, Stoke-on-Trent on Wednesday 22nd from 7:30 pm. See you there.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

FORBIDDEN PLANET

Just heard that Quercus have organised my first public signing at Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Avenue in London on the 13th January between 18:00 and 19:00.

I'm really quite excited. FP is a huge place dedicated to all things fantastic so it's THE venue for an author to do a signing. Of course, the Demi-Monde being my first novel and coming only a week after the publication I'm not expecting to be beating customers off with a stick but still it'll be fun.

To stimulate things I'm going to give away signed copies of my Heydrich posters with the first ten copies of the book I sign and stamp. Yeah, stamp. I thought it would be kinda cute if I not only signed my books but stamped them too as this would add an air of authenticity (and would prevent any sneaky sods ripping off my signature!). So Nigel duly obliged and I am now proud possessor of a Demi-Monde: WInter stamp.

Friday, 10 December 2010

SIGNING!

This has been a truely horrendous week with Nelli and I bouncing between Derby, London and Oxford (where Kit and Ellie were being interviewed).

Daniel of Quercus making sure that
Rod has no time for coffee
The one bright spot in an otherwise fraught week was visiting Quercus' offices on Wednesday. The hardback is now in stock and a very handsome beast it is too.It's not as intimidatingly thick as I feared it would be and the type is nice and large (I hate cramped type). The cover looks super and the endpapers with the plans of the Amoured steamer terrific. So to all at Quercus: well done!

The great thing was that I was asked to sign some copies. Now I thought these would be just 'thank you' souvenir copies but there were also one hundred copies for Goldsboro Books who apparently specialise in signed first editions. Now as I am fast coming to understand the publishing business is suffused with superstition and the Goldsboro order is seen as a good omen. Anyway I signed and stamped away...I just hope this is the first of many signings.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

THE DEMI-MONDE:WINTER (AUTHOR'S CUT)

When Nell and I were in London I had a quick chat with Iain Baird, Quercus' marketing guru. Seems Quercus are in the throes of sorting out the e-book with a view to having it available at the same time the paperback is launched (June 2011, I think) but the really interesting news was that they are thinking of doing an author's cut.

It they do it'll mean that I'll be able to reinstate all the chapters deleted in the edit to make the book flow better. This will expand the book from its current 150,000 words to around 190,000 words. I'm really excited about this because some really neat chapters were consigned to the wastepaper baskets, viz:

  • Two chapters which introduced Vanka Maykov and gave the background to his problem with Skobelev;
  • The chapter describing Trixie at the social where she met (and slapped) Dabrowski;
  • The section when Baron Dashwood attends the politburo meeting (it'll bring Horatio Bottomley back into the book, hurrah!); and
  • A whole chunk at the end which amplified the antagonism between Trixie and Ella,

Hopefully we'll be able to find space for the Product Description Manual too.

Okay so the book will be a tad more ponderous and didactic but it'll be great to see those chapters back. Here's crossing my fingers.

BFS XMAS BASH


The traditional BFS Xmas clog
dancing contest
Lucy from Quercus invited Nelli and I down to London to attend the BFS' Xmas Bash. It was a good day.

Although the car registered minus 12 degrees when we set off and the windscreen washers refused to operate for the whole journey the roads were suprisingly clear, though just outside Brent's Cross one poor sod managed to run into the back of me (his fault) but I got away without a scratch while I think he'll need a new radiator.


Martin failing to scare Helen with
his Spirit of Xmas Past impression

Nell and I took the chance to pop into Quercus to thank the Fabulous Flora for all her good work (with maybe more countries on the not-too-distant horizon); touch base with the Ronster (excellent news that WH Smith Airports are going to stock the book); and to talk about the possibility of an 'Author's Cut' e-book (more anon). Then it was off with Lucy to Truckles (sp?) for the evening.




Steve explaining why Santa
couldn't make it
The snow had put quite a few people off from attending which was a shame but everybody there seemed to have a terrific time. While Nelli was busy taking her photos (we'll have an album up on FaceBook soonish) I was busy chatting (increasingly incoherently)
with people (c'mon Rod who else are you going to chat with?). It was good to see Martin and Helen who we'd met at Renegade Writers again. I had an interesting time discussing movies with Greg James who's a writer and Dickon Edwards who seems to be a writer/DJ/musician/critic. Both were good company and I got a couple of good ideas from the conversation notably a recommendation to check out 'REC.' and a prompt to rethink what 'Scientific Romance' actually means. I'd forgotten the word is 'Romance'.

An excellent evening! Many thanks to Lucy for the invite.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

VIDEO TIME

There are a number of key events in December that will have an influence on the success of The Demi-Monde: Winter' when it's released on 6th January. The February issue of SFX Magazine published on the 15th will - I understand/hope - carry a review of the book (and other bits and pieces). From the 20th - 24th December Quercus are going to dedicate their blog to the Demi-Monde (I'm currently writing these). And last but by no means least I have a story - 'To Infer is Human' - being carried in Issue #1 of Dark Stacks an e-magazine which will be out before Xmas.

To help these efforts along Nigel is revamping the website (deadline the 15th) and I'm doing a video of me reading from the DM's Prologue. This will be used on the website, on YouTube and on Quercus' site.

I wanted to keep the video as snappy as possible but the problem is that try as I might I couldn't get a decent reading down below four minutes. So that's the script I took with me when I went to Studio JK:AK tonight. Jimmy Knott the guy who took me through my paces was really good. I did around six takes and - according to Nell, but she's biased - my readings got better as I went along.

I never really understood how difficult acting was until now: trying to put passion and pace into a reading is a real bitch. I just hope it came out OK: I'll know in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

HELLO CROATIA

November's been a good month and to cap it off Fraktura, a Croatian publishing house, has taken all four of the Demi-Monde books. So I'm sitting here hoping that the books do really, really well there so Nelli and I have an excuse to spend some r&r time on the Adriatic.

The eastern Europeans seem to have gone for the DM in a big way: as well as Croatia, the books have been taken by Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech republic and Russia. They've all been hitting the website pretty hard too which is why I've had more hits this month than ever before.

Like I say, it's been a good month. I'm very pleased.

WIKI-LEAKS: SOME THOUGHTS

The news that a quarter of a million cables from US embassies around the world have now - courtesy of Wiki-Leaks - found their way into the public domain has got me thinking. And the one recurring thought was this might be a watershed moment in the history of secrecy.

Now that we are well along the road to becoming an e-society it is probably the time to reconsider what we mean by the term 'private'. Thanks to the proliferation of mobile phones, computers, surveillance cameras and the ever more ubiquitous networked sensors we are living in an increasingly See-Thru World. Governments with chilling ease can eavesdrop on our 'phone conversations, check-out our e-mail correspondence, examine what we buy (Tesco warehousing the data it collects from your Customer Card etc.) and know where we are (a combination of cameras, mobiles and credit cards sees to that). We must accept that nothing is private anymore.

But there is something more fundamental we must accept and that is it's impossible to eliminate surveillance. The technology has gone too far. To demand that a government (any government) ceases and desists in its ever expanding surveillance operation is both naive and counter-productive. A government will only respond by creating ever smaller cameras, ever more subtle ways of monitoring you and me and everyone else in the country. And in doing so governments have destroyed privacy.


So as I see it the real objective of those railing against surveillance (like me) should be to protect the average-Joe citizen from the inequalities of surveillance. We must continually remind ourselves that what makes surveillance so invidious isn't that it invades privacy but that it is intrinsically unfair. Why? Because only certain people - the digerati if you must - have access to the fruits of surveillance! Surveillance is the new feudal system: the vast majority of people labour to provide the information which feeds the government’s surveillance apparatus but they are deprived of the ownership of the fruits of their labours. Even the social hierarchy of the Information Age mirrors this feudal structure: we have those at the top - the politicians - who rule; those in the middle - the bureaucrats - who watch over the peasantry; and finally the digitally disenfranchised at the bottom – the nu-peasantry.

We don't need less surveillance...we need fairer access to the information that underpins that surveillance. Maybe the guy who provided Wiki-Leaks with this material was just trying to make the system a little fairer.

Friday, 26 November 2010

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!

Yes folks, it's my birthday...pressy time. And this time I got my presents a day early.

My two daughters had applied to Oxford and we heard on Thursday that they've secured interviews. Oh, there's still a big hurdle to clear but I'm delighted that they have got this far. Kit (saxophone and quiet introspection) is hoping to read Russian at University College and Ellie (electric bass and sarcasm) Law at Christ Church. They're both exceptional young ladies, I love 'em to bits and I'm so very proud of them.

Now I'm crossing everything there is to cross that they perform as I know they can perform. So much pressure and they're still so young.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

RENEGADE WRITERS' GROUP: 24TH NOVEMBER

Another Wednesday and another Renegade Writers' evening, tho' with it being so bloody cold it took and effort to drive to Stoke. But it was worth it.

Shaun read the first chapter of his new book - working title 'The Predators' - which introduced the hero, Brenden. It's certainly different to have as your principal a down-and-out and I think it gives a lot of scope for character development. I did tho' think that Brenden should have been a little more preoccupied with the cold and more could have been made of his 'educated' demeanor, but as a first draft I thought it was terrific.

Jan was next up with her 1,000 'flash fiction' piece called '13th Day' which she's submitting for a Christmas edition of an on-line mag. It was certainly quirky and, typically of Jan, was packed full of ideas but there was pretty universal agreement in the group that the song 'exposition' that she's currently got at the end of the story needs to be moved to the beginning. I think if she does that then the mystery aspect will be enhanced rather than compromised.

Tim read the next instalment of his sex-o-drama and here the group was split. In a nutshell Tim's story relates the tale of a serial killer, a psychopath - it's sort of 'Hudderfield Psycho'. Now to me the almost languid style Tim's using when he's voicing the killer works really well, after all psychopaths are deemed to be unemotional, arm's length type of people with no use for empathy or feelings of guilt. So in my humble this matter-of-fact relating is perfect and sets up an interesting juxtapositioning with the more visceral and murderous moments of the story. Shaun disagreed - he was of the opinion (and I'm paraphrasing here) that Tim needed to inject some pace. I guess that's one of the things about writers (and readers) we all have different perceptions of what makes a good book but then if we all liked the same thing we'd be killed in the rush.

Jeanette read a short piece called (I think) 'Catching the Eye'. It was well written but it just shows that I wasn't fully compos mentis last night that I did 'get' the pay-off subtleties. Oh hum.

The evening was rounded off by Louise reading a poignant short about a quadriplegic with a gift for art. It reminded me in some ways of 'Flowers for Algernon' (brilliant book) and could and maybe should be taken further. Look at it from the painter's perspective perhaps?

A good evening though the white wine seems to have deteriorated. Never mind.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

THE CZECH BOOKED

Sorry about the horrible pun!

Just heard that the Czech publisher Jota (http://jota.cz/) have taken The Demi-Monde series. I am mighty pleased with this: I've never been to Prague and I hear it's a lovely city. It seems that the Eastern Europeans are mighty taken with the DM - I suppose having a Russian hero and quite a chunk of the action set in Warsaw helps. How they are all going to cope with the translation of Burlesque Bandstand's mockney patois I have no idea.

Hot on the heels of the Jota deal is news that Infodar (http://infodar.com/) want the books for Bulgaria. Again this is great news.

Much of the credit for this flurry of signings (and I think there are a couple more in the offing) must go to Flora in the Rights Department at Quercus...obviously the Frankfurt Book Fair was a busy time. Well done, Flora!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

THE DEMI-MONDE: SUMMER...OH BOY

I've decided that a major rejig of the third Demi-Monde book is needed. I re-read the middle section and loathed it: I think I was trying to be too smart and it's just come out as boring. So I'm moving events around, bringing one action sequence from the end and sticking it into the middle and re-introducing another fast-moving sequence to replace it. It'll mean a lot of work but it's got to be done otherwise all the book will be is just a bunch of people talking to one another. I also want to pep up the beginning a little.

I'm always envious of those writers who can map out a book in advance. I wish I could do that: it'd save a whole heap of anguish and aggravation. But I can't, so I suppose I'm stuck with the treadmill of re-writes. In this regards DM 3 has been a real bitch. I hope it's worth it in the end.

Of course the edit of Demi-Monde 2 is looming so I want to get a move on. I'd like to finish (that's finish as in I'm happy with the bloody thing) DM 3 before I turn back to Spring.

Oh hum.

Friday, 19 November 2010

NIGEL ROBINSON: DESIGNER EXTRAORDINAIRE

Nelli and I went up to see Nigel - he's the genius designer responsible for creating the visual aspects of the Demi-Monde - in Driffield today.

I've been neglecting the DM's website of late and it's gotten a little out-of-date (overtaken by events in the Demi-Monde) so it needed a revamp. I spent the first few days of this week reworking and reviewing the Religions contained in the 'NeoFight PolyPaedia Section'. I've refurbished 'UnFunDaMentalism' and 'ImPuritanism' and finished 'HerEticalism', 'Auralism', 'Confusionism' and 'HimPerialism'. I'm particularly pleased with Confusionism and I had a lot of fun researching oriental philosophy.

I've also redone 'The Demi-Monde Product Description', the maps, the Glossary and the Personae Dramaticus cigar cards (Nigel will be altering the images to make them more 'Demi-Mondian'). We've also added an 'Images' Section to include the poster images of Heydrich, the new Demi-Monde map, the Column of Loci and the armoured steamer.

Talking of the armoured steamer Nigel (as he is liable to do) has gone into overdrive. When the thing is finished it's going to be AWESOME. The one thing he'd forgotten though was an auxiliary water hawser...these designers so impractical!

A good day. It was great to see Nigel again. Meeting with talented (and nice) people is always a sure way to lift your spirits.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

RENEGADE WRITERS' GROUP: 17TH NOVEMBER

Bit of a surprise at the group yesterday to find Sandy Auden there. I first met Sandy - who's a freelance journalist - at WHC in Brighton when she was stricken with laryngitis and we've kept nearly-bumping-into each other since. She did an e-interview with me for SFX which she told me last night will be in this month's issue. Good news! She read a review she'd written about 'The Fall' by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Sandy obviously liked the book but I don't know if I'll read it...I'm not too keen on vampire stuff. Great to meet Sandy again, tho'.

Peter read a new piece of his which I think will be entitled 'The Room of Ambiguity' - maybe that should be 'Room for Ambiguity', Peter, it's more, 'er, ambiguous - which involved several rather surreal happenings, including a talking tap. Very interesting but I think the tap should have a more sinister aspect...less drippy, perhaps?

Shaun read  the opening prologue of his new book but I don't think I can say too much about it as Shaun seems very keen to keep the plot sotto voce. An intriguing opening nevertheless but a May deadline sounds very daunting.

Tim brought a piece he'd written about war graves and the fallen of the First World War called 'The Last Shot' which sounds rather dour but has real potential. Tim has a talent for communicating languid despair. I think all he has to do now is choose which story he's going to run with (this or the sex-o-drama) and concentrate all efforts towards finishing it.

Peter C told me that they'll be using my short 'To Infer is Human' in the Christmas edition of Dark Stacks which is good news.

All-in-all a good night.

Friday, 12 November 2010

STEPHEN BAXTER MAKES ME BLUSH!

Lucy Ramsey - the PR guru at Quercus - sent one of the Demi-Monde bookproofs to Stephen Baxter and - amazingly - he not only found the time to read it but also offered an endorsement:

'Rod Rees' first novel is your portal to the Demi-Monde, a steampunk horror-pit crowded with avatars and ruled by history's choice psychos. The writing is state of the art, from the depiction of the quantum supercomputer that underlies the prison-world to Rees's expert manipulation of red-hot genre trends. And it's all exquisitely worked out and told at a cracking pace. the Demi-Monde: Discworld's savage noir cousin. Welcome to holo-hell.'

So Steve - wherever you are - if you should ever stumble across this blog may I extend my humble thanks. It's enough to make a grown man blush.

IKB Mark IV Metropolitan Pacification Steamer

Quercus have been looking for designs they ccould use on the end paper of the Demi-Monde (that's the inside front and back covers to non-publisher types) and Nigel came up with a great idea of doing a blueprint for one of the armoured steamers that feature so heavily in the book.

IKB Mark IV Metropolitan Pacification Steamer (Armoured)
The steamer was commissioned in Spring 1001 AC by the SS-Ardo Templi Aryanis Materiel and Munitions Commissariat, the Contractor being Pantechnicons of Distinction (London) Limited whose Chief Designer is Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

RENEGADE WRITERS' GROUP: 10TH NOVEMBER

The weather's been so bloody miserable the last couple of days that it takes a real effort to get out of the house. But Nell and I braved the cold and the rain and went to the Renegade Writers yesterday. It was worth it.

Peter read a poem - which I thought very good - and then five 100-word microStories. I'd not met this trope (my word de jour) before and I have to say it came as a bit of a shock, especially as it seems obligatory for each story to have a twist at the end. Peter did them well - though I did struggle with the punning one which turned on there having been a 'Vowel Deed' done. Interesting.

Tim had a new story he'd just started - I was a little disappointed, I was looking forward to more of his sex-o-drama - but the story had some good things in it. The opening line was a killer: 'the corridor was lined with the death masks of her lovers'. And some of the other ideas will, I think yield some good things. He needs a twist at the end...maybe he should liase with Peter, he seems to have lots of them!

The highlight tho' was Jan's continuing of her neo-noir fairytale 'Jack, Out of the Box' where she's brought fairytale characters to life in a Chandler-esque setting, all molls and mobsters. There are so many good things happening in the story and that I think is Jan's problem: she's simply got too many ideas and you find yourself being overwhelmed. The staccato feel is great but i think there must be the occasional opportunity to draw breath. Anyway Jan very kindly let be have a hard-copy so I'll have a look at it over the weekend and, hopefully, be more constructive with my comments next Wednesday.

A really interesting evening and I'd strongly recommend it to all aspiring writers in the Stoke areaa.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A HARD DAY AT THE TYPEFACE

I staggered to the end of the third Demi-Monde book 'Summer' yesterday but I wasn't as elated as I thought I'd be and the reason was simple: it ain't good enough.

It's 154,000 words of OK and I hate OK. And what's worse is some of the plot moves seem very contrived which I HATE. Plot twists and turns have got to seem natural and organic otherwise they jar and the reader loses faith in the writer and the world he or she is trying to create

So I started back at square one on the Prologue and began re-reading. It wasn't long before I hit problems: the opening chapter is one which combines a lot of exposition with a set-up for the rest of the book. I find this sort of stuff very difficult to write - it always comes out too long and ponderous and boring - so I decided to remodel. I worked on that one chapter - five pages, a couple of thousand words - all f*****g day. Six re-edits.

I think it's better now but it still ain't right - or should that be write - so I'll have another go today. The one thing that's come out of it is that I can cull a character. I had had to introduce him to move the plot forward but he was always an awkward fit and now he can be deleted. Unfortunately that'll involve even more re-writes.

I suppose that's progress but...

Saturday, 6 November 2010

ALT.LIT DERBY # 2: CLASSIC SF IS UNREADABLE

The second panel discussion was a two-header (Tony Ballantyne and Peter F. Hamilton) who were lumbered with the subject 'Science-Fiction Discussion and Q&A' which I think was designed by TOR to give their authors as much latitude to puff their books as possible. But...

Panel Discussion 2
It was all pretty anodyne stuff until Peter Hamilton began to talk regarding the importance of getting the technology right in SF and to make it future resistant in order to give the books longevity. This it seems is done by making the technology described in SF stories persuasively vague: for example a Faster-Than-Light-Drive is merely created by a box involving 'solid-state circuitry' rather than an effort made to scientifically rationalise it.

But then he went further saying that 'classic SF is not readable today' and the reason he gave for this contention is that classic writers (Asimov was heavily cited here) got their technology wrong and hence all classic SF has to come with the warning 'only to be read in context'. Peter Hamilton's proposition was that classic SF writers - he called them writers of 'retro-SF' - were not as fact-driven as today's crop of writers and failed to get their technology/physics/engineering right.

Now my feeling is that technology in a SF story should be sufficient - and no more - to have the reader suspend disbelief and hence is simply a platform from which the writer can launch himself into an examination of more important issues...namely the sociopolitical consequences of change. And I think this is the attitude adopted by many of the earlier SF writers.

Did H.G.Wells concoct a persuasive technological argument for time travel? No, and it didn't detract from his book one jot.

Did Asimov explore the probability theory underpinning psychohistory? No, and the wonderful Foundation books were (and are) no lesser works because of it.

Does the lack of awareness of smart technology diminish the power of Orwell's '1984'? Of course not.

Sure at a distance of fifty or sixty years it's easy to pick holes in these and similar works of genius but the simple truth is that they (and 'Cat's Cradle' and 'Man in a High Castle' and 'A Clockwork Orange' and 'Flowers for Algernon' etc. etc.) are great books that deserve to be read over and over again because they were so original. These writers shaped SF and the wider world around them and ALL SF writers have been standing on their broad shoulders ever since. As a writer I'd love to be remembered for having created the Three Laws of Robotics or an argot as refined and original as Nadsat and that is why the classic writers deserve to be read and re-read...because they inspire us to be original.

Sorry, Peter, on this issue, I can't agree with you.

ALT.FICTION AT DERBY # 1: SF/FANTASY LANDSCAPES

Attended Alt.Fiction in Derby today. The venue was the QUAD: it was my first time there and I have to say the facilities are marvellous. And thanks to Alex Davis for helping me with the poster issue.


The QUAD: Derby
I attended two panel discussions the first featured two fantasy writers (Mark Charan Newton and Adrian Tchaikovsky) and two SF writers (Tony Ballantyne and Peter F. Hamilton) the subject to be discussed being ‘Other Worlds: the landscape of SF and Fantasy’. I don’t think the subject did any of the panellists much in the way of favours.

First Panel Discussion
The initial discussion centred around the persistence of stock images in both SF and Fantasy: spaceships/three moon nightscapes/scantily clad women/power spacemen in the case of SF and dragons/wizards/scantily clad women/powerful heroes in the case of Fantasy. There seemed to be a consensus that writers in both genres were constrained by these stock images. The unstated theme running thru this was that subliminally marketing had more say than anyone was willing to admit: the reader expects X and hence marketing wants the writer to deliver X. The Market Categorisation of a book is all.

The discussion became more interesting (though it needed a more provocative chairman to really have brought it to a boil) was when the panellist debated the differences between SF and Fantasy. I hadn’t realised there was such an undercurrent of competitiveness between the two. There were some great asides and throw-away lines:

‘All fiction is fantasy, it’s just that some is more honest about it than others’;

‘Today’s Fantasy is more cutting edge than SF’;

‘The technology has caught up with the dreamers’;

‘Fantasy sells more than SF’;

‘Hard SF is nothing more than techno-porn’.

Do I detect a certain elitism amongst the SF-ers and a concomitant feeling of inferiority amongst the Fantasists? Interesting, I'm going to be on the look out for this in the future. But if the first panel discussion was interesting, the second was a beaut...

Friday, 5 November 2010

TARMAC: SOME THOUGHTS

Nelli and I drove to Birmingham and I was struck by how shitty the road surface of the M6 was, which got me thinking.

The system of making roads is pretty much as it was developed by Thomas Loudon McAdam in the early party of the nineteenth century - a crushed stone foundation covered by a composite mixture of stones and bitumen, the whole lot cambered to let rain run off -  which means that there hasn't been any significant advance in road building for the thick end of TWO HUNDRED YEARS!

Surely some clever sod could have come up with a better and more durable method by now! And can he or she do it before my suspension is terminally ruined.

NELLI REES: AUTHOR

Roll of drums...


This weekend sees the official publication of my wife Nelli's book: 'Glass Bead Jewelry Projects'. To say I'm proud of her is an understatement: she has laboured long and hard to produce a book which remedies all the deficiencies of the standard texts on glass bead making. And to do that Nelli has turned herself into a brilliant photographer (she's had professional snappers pumping her for tips) and has revealed steel in her character that no one - not even me - suspected was there.

Nell will admit that when she took on the project she had no idea as to the amount of time and sheer hard work the book would involve.- which I suppose why so few books ever see the light of day - but with mind-boggling determination she powered through. And the result is remarkable and remarkably beautiful. But the best thing about the book is Nelli's candour: whereas some other authors are coy about revealing the exact materials they use or the exact techniques needed to create the beads in their books, Nelli has laid it all out in detail.

But what's delighted me most is the positive reaction to the book from the bead-making community: they know a work of art when they see one!

Congratulations, Nelli!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

DEATH OF A MERITOCRACY

I thought I’d give it 24-hours or so after the announcement by the British government that it was raising university tuition fees to £9,000 in order that my response should be mature and considered. This is it:




Okay, all joking aside there are a number of problems I have with this change of policy. First and fundamentally, I have always believed that the only way to make a society truly fair is to ensure that talented and intelligent individuals – no matter what their background - have access to equally good education. Only in this way can a kid with ability from the wrong side of the tracks have faith in his country, have faith that by hard work, diligence and innate talent he or she can rise above his or her situation in life. That is the whole basis of a meritocracy and, as I was taught from an early age, Britain is a meritocracy.

Or rather was...

The foundation of a meritocracy is the quality of its schools. Now I don’t wanna get into a long diatribe about the quality of state school education but my experience is that it’s pretty poor. Which means that the gulf between those educated in state schools and those educated privately instead of shrinking is actually widening. There MUST be radical reform of the state school sector and – politically incorrect or not – a realisation that whilst all kids are born equal they ain’t all born the same. Some have talents and abilities denied their peers and it’s society’s responsibility to identify those special talents and abilities from an early age and nurture them. If this isn’t done talented kids become frustrated and frustration leads to rebellion...

History teaches us that if the intelligent are deprived of opportunities to become all they can be they become malcontents: I’d cite the Russian anti-Semitic policies at the end of the 19th Century as an example. These policies denied Jewish kids an education and it was these same disaffected Jewish kids (Lenin, Trotski et al) who twenty years later sponsored the Revolution. The biter bit.

Which brings me back to university tuition fees. The proposition that kids should be made to pay for their tertiary education because their earnings post-university are enhanced is specious. These kids’ earning are higher because they contribute more to society: without them Britain doesn’t have much of a future. Vince Cable’s moaning that now 40% of 18 year-olds are going to uni we can’t afford this level of student population is similarly fallacious: wouldn’t it be better to back say just 20% of kids - the most talented – and know that our brightest and best – regardless of background - have been given the opportunity for their abilities to flourish.

I have tried to ignore politicians - they all seem a pretty poor lot to me – but the lack of STRATEGIC vision evinced by them over the last twenty years or so is simply staggering. When any government can place the financial demands of a fatuous nuclear deterrent above that of educating its youngsters then I simply give up.

Britain a meritocracy...you’re having a laugh.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

THE UNDEFINITION OF TERRORISM

At the last Renegade Writer’s group Peter Coleborn canvassed for stories for the new ‘Wild Stacks’ magazine so I thought I’d oblige. Unfortunately the story I’d intended to submit ‘Image Rights’ – a Demi-Monde story featuring General Mikhail Dmitrievitch Skobelev - defied every effort of mine to find a suitably intriguing final twist. So I was obliged to start from scratch.

The story I’ve come up with will be called ‘To Infer is Human’ and the plot turns on the definition of who is or isn’t a terrorist. I’ve got to say researching plastic bombs and terror organisations on the internet wasn’t something I did with a great deal of enthusiasm. The stories about your surfing being monitored by the Secret Service are too legion for that and the last thing I want are the men in grey wandering down my drive.

But anyway...

Now being a simplistic sort of bloke I assumed that as we seem to have been fighting ‘the War on Terror’ since Noah was a boy and that there are all manner of laws now designed to deter and to punish terrorists that there would be a well tried and tested definition of what a terrorist is on the statute books. But there isn’t. Nobody it seems can agree on a catch-all (sorry!) definition. There’s even a 48 page report by Lord Carlile of Berriew Q.C. entitled ‘The Definition of Terrorism’ in which the good Lord states: ‘Hard as I have striven (good word that!), and as many definitions as I have read, I have failed to conclude that there is one (definition) that I could regard as a paradigm. This report will not offer major new statutory language’. Terrific!

Now this I saw as interesting. Why couldn’t the powers-that-be come up with a universally accepted definition? And the answer, as in so many things, is politics. Terrorism is a somewhat nebulous beast and – sorry to regurgitate a very tired maxim – one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom-fighter, so I suppose legislators have to be very careful that the definition they adopt doesn’t end up hanging them on their own petard. Let me give you an example.

Being something of a naïf I would have thought that any definition of terrorism would – naturally – contain a reference to terror, the aim of most terrorists, as I judge it, being to scare the shit out of the civilian population until they lose confidence in the existing government (or, if that fails, to blow them to bits). But the United States Law Code states that in its opinion ‘the term ‘terrorism’ means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience’. Not a word about them being associated with ‘criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public’ (this is part of the UN’s definition) and the reason is that the US wants to include acts of violence against property and property (pipelines, empty abortion clinics, out of hours synagogues etc.) are pretty impervious to being terrorised. The lawyers must be having a field day.

I’m rambling now but I hope you get the picture: countries are wary of defining ‘terrorism’ too precisely in case their own activities could be judged as ‘terrifying’ (I mean, I could argue that the War of Independence was a terrorist action) and that I hope is a great basis for a story.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

RENEGADE WRITERS' GROUP: 27th OCTOBER

In retrospect I shouldn't have gone to the Renegades last night - my guts were really churning - but in the end I'm glad I did. The highlight of the evening was Tim reading the continuation of his sex-o-drama. He reads well and there is a plaintive quality to his work that I like: it's sort of 'American Psycho' set in the Midlands. The 'hero' certainly has a arm's-length, almost detatched view of the world, a world which he seems intent on proceeding through murdering en route. I know from my own experiences that maintaining that feeling of disassociation - the character being in the milieu of the novel but not of the milieu of the novel - is an especially difficult trick to pull off. He's the observer who is simultaneously the catalyst for the plot's action. Anyway, I hope Tim perseveres: there is something interesting happening there. Nelli thought so too.

All the other pieces were interesting too: I thought, in terms of quality, that it was the best Renegade evening yet.

The one exception was my own effort. I read a part of a chapter from the third Demi-Monde book - Summer - in the hope that I could get some feed-back regarding my use of the old 'book-within-a-book' device. The problem is that by Book 3 the assumption is that the reader is now pretty much up to speed regarding the DM's foibles and idiosyncracies and, of course, that isn't the case. I won't make that mistake again!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

THE DEMI-MONDE SUMMER

I took a draft of the unfinished third book with me to Egypt. I'd got sorta stuck with my characters running down way too many plot cul-de-sacs so I needed a little thinking time. And it worked. I came away with most of Summer outlined and the plot of the final book Fall almost finished. The key to this was a funny (well, not so funny actually) Russian called Konstantin Pobedonsotsev.

Konstantin Pobedonostsev

Now if ever there was a guy whose face was just made for horror fiction it's got to be Pobedonostsev. He lived during the nineteenth century, was head of the Holy Synod (which made him supervisor of the Orthodox Church) and, most importantly, exerted a huge influence over Tsar Alexander III. That he was fervently anti-Semitic, a believer in autocracy and an opponent to all things liberal and progressive makes him a perfect candidate for reincarnation in the Demi-Monde.

I've done a little piece of dialogue already:

Q: ABBA, I observed, seems to loom large in Mr Pobedonostsev’s thinking regarding the ForthRight's role in the world.
A:‘In this increasingly secular world, when we are all beset by the specious ideas peddled by a decadent scientific establishment, when the atheistic cant of the RaTionalists people is taken as the new gospel, when the faux-religions of HerEticalism and ImPuritanism are promoted and propagandised, it is easy for the young and the less clever to be seduced from the path of Righteousness. They do not realise, as I do, that these ideas are actually sent by Lilith to test and challenge our belief and faith in Him. The ForthRight is a bulwark against the evil of Lilith that has infested the Demi-Monde.’
Q: But what of liberty…what of individual human rights?
A:Mr Pobodonostsev laughed, ‘In my opinion liberty is a dangerous delusion of nihilistic youth. I would rather talk of liberating the people from Doubt, of liberating them from the lies of Modern Science and of Liberating them from the contamination of the nuJus. I would rather talk of Liberating them from Lilith. We must expunge doubt from the Demi-Monde and to do this there must be one race, one nationality, one language, one religion and one form of government. Where there is the Spirit of ABBA so there is Liberation of the Soul.'
Q: And what is the role of the Church of UnFunDaMentalism in this expunging of doubt?
A: ‘This expulsion of doubt is the ABBA-given duty of the Church,’ observed Pobedonostsev. ‘In the ForthRight the Government and the Church are as one and together we are building a kingdom of ABBA here in the Demi-Monde…’
Q: A theocracy, I suggested.
A: ‘Theocracy is a word brought into disrepute by the hysterical and evil nations addicted to false religions…these, thankfully, will be destroyed when ABBA sends His fury of retribution sweeping over their lands. I make no apology for the use of this word: the ForthRight is a theocracy and as such those in the Demi-Monde who do not bow to UnFunDaaMentalism must be seen as the agents of Lilith they are, as the enemies of Right. There must be no dissent; the enemies of ABBA will be silenced. More…the ForthRight must destroy its enemies…must destroy the forces of the devil.’
Q: And who are these enemies? I asked.
A:‘There are so, so many…’ Mr Pobedonostsev answered. ‘The ForthRight is assailed on all sides by the armies and the agents of Lilith.’ He paused for a moment, ‘But there is one thing above all others that we must do: we must also eradicate the contagion that is the nuJu…’

He's the guy I'm gonna use to link all the action in the ForthRight, NoirVille and the JAD. The tragedy is that every opinion expressed in the dialogue was voiced by the real Pobedonostsev, and he was regarded by contemporaries as an intellectual! Crazy as all hell.

THOMAS COOK SUNRISE HURGHADA: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

Just got back from a week in Hurghada, Egypt where Nelli, myself, (plus daughters #1 & #2) went for a little r&r. This was very close to being a very good holiday but...

The hotel: Sunrise Mamlouk, Hurghada
Let's start with THE GOOD: The hotel - the Sunrise Hurghada - is, in many ways excellent. It's only 20 minutes from the airport, the facilities are pretty good, the rooms are excellent (the soundproofing is terrific!) and the food (for the first three days or so) tasty and interesting. Its got a good beach and an enormous pool area so its easy to make the most of the Egyptian sunshine.

Now let's move on to THE BAD. I got ill (I suspect food poisoning) and judging from what some of the other poor sods were going thru in the queue at the airport coming home I wasn't the only one. The food certainly nosedived in quality after Day 4 - a change of chef perhaps? One other irritant (and this sounds really perverse) was the friendliness of the waiters! I'm all for bonhommie but my two girls did get kinda pissed off with always been leered at and I am sure if one more waiter had asked me 'how many camels did I want for the girl' murder would have been done - Ellie was getting pretty stoked by the end of the hols. We were scheduled to do on two tours (I missed the second to Luxor because I was bouncing between bed and bog): the snorkling one was a real disappointment. The organisation was chaotic (and it's difficult to relax when you think yourself in danger of being marooned on a desert island) and the sealife nondescript. The Red Sea isn't a patch on the Caribbean. Hughada town itself was an odd place too, sort of plasticy and artificial. The shops only seemed to sell tat (though they do a good line in rip-off Ray Bans) and the absence of local women on the streets was a little freaky too.

Hurghada taken enroute to snorkling
Now THE UGLY. I guess this turns on the little corruptions that invade life in Egypt. The airport touts who promise to get unsuspecting Brits to the head of the queue and then just abandon them there to face to ire of the porr sods who have been queing for forty minutes...the promise of a free service which turns out to be bloody expensive...

Couple of other points. If you're over six feet tall you're gonna have a REAL problem in Thomas Cook's aircraft: the legroom is non-existent. Watch out for the hidden extras too: I think the charges made to pre-book seats were nothing short of extortionate and the beer prices on the snorkling tour were really up there.

Still the girls enjoyed it and I'm sure my mood will mellow once I have regained control of my bowels.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

RENEGADE WRITERS' GROUP: 13th OCTOBER 2010

Attended the second Renegade Writers' Group in Stoke tonite and it was very useful. It's good for a writer to hear what other writers are doing...the number of ideas I come away with is remarkable.

But tonite was especially notable because Martin Roberts read a story which I thought was truly outstanding. It was untitled and I'm still not sure what it was about but some of the ideas and imagery was terrific. Dig this:

  • 'He liked standing barefoot in his fishtank getting a blow-job': as fine a piece of  of neo-Vonnogutian whimsy as I've ever heard.
  • When one of the protagonists charges a door to take out a bad guy (don't ask) the scene is described as being a mix of 'door and gore'. Wonderful.
  • And the piece-de-resistance? Having one of his characters talk in...well I won't say in what because it's so good some bastard would nick it.
Anyway very enjoyable and I hope Martin is inclined to finish it. I think it could quite easily be worked up as a sort of Dirk Gently-type story, though it would (should) be made even more trippy.

A good evening!

Monday, 11 October 2010

THE AMERICAN CONNECTION

So it's official! HarperCollins is to publish the first two books in the Demi-Monde series in the US, Winter and Spring. Gabe Robinson my editor in the US sent this to Publishers Weekly and Publishers Lunch:

'The first two books in a wonderfully inventive series about a highly sophisticated computer simulated world - the Demi-Monde - that is populated by numerous psychotic personalities from history and the efforts of a woman from the real world who is sent to save the President's daighter, who has been abducted in to this all-to-real nightmarish cyberworld. To Gabe Robinson at William Marrow by Emma Thawley at Quercus'.

Well, I guess this means that HC are now happy with the books' titles.

Anyway I'm a very happy little cat!

Saturday, 9 October 2010

NEWCON 5

Nell and I attended NewCon 5 today and I’ve got to say I was a little disappointed.

First the venue: Nottingham FishMarket in October is seriously cold. It comes to something went by late afternoon the most popular gathering places from delegates wasn’t the bar but around the heaters dotted about the hall. The acoustics are dire too: it was impossible to hear questions from the audience during the panel sessions.

We sat in on three panel discussions and none of them really sparked (it might have been the cold!). The first ‘SF in Other Media’ never really seemed to get a focus...maybe the topic was just too broad. Couple of good things came out of it though: the idea that the viral videos on YouTube are now a genuine art form; the comment that kids are now living ‘secret lives’ in video games; and the news that Sci-Fi-London will be screening ‘Monsters’ (which is a must-see). The highlight was though Paul Skevington making the statement – apropos of nothing – that ‘the cake is alive’. Great!

Two Generation of McKenna SF-Lovers
The second panel discussion was entitled ‘Well AI Never’ an examination of whether Artificial Intelligence was feasible etc. etc. Again the discussion was disorganised: I’d have thought the place to start would be with the question ‘what is intelligence’, but that’s me for you. I suppose the most disappointing thing for me – considering the panel were all SF writers and hence presumably ‘think outside the box’ for a living – was how predictable the conversation was. The reference point they took for intelligence was Man and I am fast coming to the conclusion that Man isn’t intelligent...99.9999% simply possess the ability to regurgitate taught intelligence. To me emotion isn’t a sign of a higher intelligence it is just static interfering with the though process.

I have though to check out Nicholas Humphries theories of Social Intelligence (thank you Stephen Palmer) and the Turin Test (courtesy of Chris Beckett).

The third and final panel considered ‘Is YA fiction Really so Different from Adult Fiction?’. I thought Kim Lakin-Smith was especially lucid here especially her comment that the secret of YA seems to be to have the young protagonists at the centre of all the action.

I suppose if I hadn’t been so worried about frostbite I might have enjoyed it more, but in the end the cold triumphed and Nell and I cut bait about 4.00 p.m. Shame.




Friday, 8 October 2010

OY VAY! THE WRITING, THE RESEARCH...

I’m currently writing a new chapter for The Demi-Monde: Summer, the third book in the series, this scene being set in the JAD, the nuJu Autonomous District, the homeland for the nuJu’s (the DM’s faux-Jewish people). This involves a meeting between Vanka Maykov (one of my lead characters) and a guy called Schmuel Glebfisz, the leader of the JAD.


I hadn’t realised how difficult it is to write yiddisher speech without it coming out as a horrible pastiche of Jewish speech patterns. The one good thing was that having had to research Jewish phraseology (‘Drek’ by Yetta Emmes and ‘Let’s Schmooze’ by Julian Sinclair are both recommended) I unearthed some real gems viz:

Bubeleh: little grandmother...there’s obviously a linguistic connection with the Russian baba here.

Molodyets: clever chap. Again there’s the same word in Russian...this is what my Russian teachers occasionally (very occasionally) called me.

Groisser sheeser: a big shot.

Shtik drek: a turd or a shithead.

Golem: an oaf...and obviously where Tolkien found the name for his character.

Shlang: a snake or a large penis. I’m gonna use this a lot...the word that is...

Thinking about it there seems to be some similarity between Yiddish and Dutch...I wonder. And as I’m currently getting into the whole bit about the proto-Indo-European language and the Urheimat hypothesis this is real food for thought.

Oy vay! But will you look at the time. Plant you now and dig you later.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

RENEGADE WRITERS GROUP, STOKE

Nell and I attended the Renegade Writers Group in Stoke yesterday evening (every Wednesday night, 19.30 at the Jolly Potter pub – the house white ain’t bad either) and had a GREAT time. I think the success of any Rees outing is directly proportional to the amount of conversation in the car afterwards and believe me the 40 minute trip back to Derby seemed to fly by.


Renegade Writers 1 (or 4, but you know what I mean!)

The biggest frustration I have is that each and every one of the pieces read gave me loads and loads of ideas and the bugger is I’m so committed to finishing The Demi-Monde: Summer (the 3rd book in the series) I ain’t got time to digress and explore them. I really loved Tim's (I missed your surname Tim, apologies) sex-o-drama, though I think it could bear a little ‘pushing’. The anti-heroine needs to be made more conniving and the ‘hero’ more visceral, but overall there’s a great story in there. I liked Jan’s ideas too: I’d be inclined to lean harder on the glass/light motif to make it a more strident metaphor for Bekki's (?) fractured personality. Very interesting though.

Renegade Writers 2

The best thing about attending the meeting (other than the intelligent company which is quite rare these days) was that it made me think about writing styles other than the one I’ve adopted for The Demi-Monde. Seeds have been sown.

I read part of the Prologue from DM1 which was good experience tho' I find reading aloud really shows up the flaws in your work...I should have made the Prologue leaner and meaner. Damn! I’m gonna take the opening chapter from DM3 to the next meeting – having a little early criticism will, I think, be good for the soul...and the syntax.

Many thanks to Peter Coleborn for organising a very worthwhile meet. It’s highly recommended folks!

Monday, 4 October 2010

THE RUSSIAN CONNECTION

Just heard from John Jarrold that a Russian publisher - Ripol - is taking the first two books in the Demi-Monde series. Winter will be published in September 2011 which is shaping up to be a frantic time (the US, Germany and Russia are all launching around then). The really interesting thing is there were two Russian publishers in the frame which I hope indicates that they think the book has got legs. Of course with part of the action being set in St Petersburg and two lead characters (Vanka Maykov and Beria) being Russian there will be - hopefully - something for Russian readers to identify with.

Needless to say the Rees household is jumping. Nelli is Russian, I lived there for eight years in the 90's and both the girls were born in Moscow so there's a strong connection with the country. It'll be great fun promoting the book there and catching up with all our old friends from M-TEL days.

Seriously good news!

THE DEMI-MONDE VIDEO 2

Spent some time on Sunday working on the storyboard for the Demi-Monde video. I’m looking for something that I can use on the website and on You Tube etc. and which will give potential readers of the book a flavour of what will be coming at them. Of course, the other key aim is to make it as punchy and impactful as possible without breaking the bank. Budget considerations mean that outside shots, exotic locations and the use of actors is a no-no. This ain’t gonna be Avatar but I want it to be something worth watching, so...


The set is that ABBA – the supa-dupa quantum computer which the Demi-Monde is platformed on – is in communication with the US Military from the Demi-Monde. To do this it has to anthropomorphise (try saying that when you’re pissed) and in this state (anthropomorphisation not pissed) ABBA will be played by Nelli. Nelli’s terrific at this sort of stuff so I’ve no worries there. But while Nelli might act her socks off – her message is that the President’s daughter is lost in the Demi-Monde – she’ll still be just a talking head...a very sexy talking head but not terribly arresting.

So...we’re gonna do some digital enhancing. I have a McGuffin in the book called PINC – Personal Implanted nanoComputer. It’s a sort of cyber-encyclopaedia fused to the cortex which gives an individual access to almost limitless information. PINC has obviously piqued Nigel’s imagination because he’s been trying to represent it on screen. The trouble is that if we’re not careful it’ll end up looking like a lo-priced knock-off of the Terminator’s Head-Up Display.

Nigel has come up with one idea – I call it the halo – which he won’t let me post until it’s better developed. I think it might be interesting.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

LOVE IS...GOING LINE DANCING

A lot of you might be too young to remember the cartoon series 'Love Is...' which was immensely popular - so my increasingly flawed memory tells me - back in the 1980's. You know the sort of thing:

Love Is...remembering her birthday.
Love Is...a bunch of flowers

Or as I saw on a tee-shirt one holiday in Key West: Love Is...Swallowing.

But now I truly know what love is. Love is going Line Dancing!

Nell has been talking intermittently about us going Line Dancing for the best part of a year, but I thought it was simply some form of pernicious though thankfully minor, mental aberration so as is my wont I ignored her and hoped this particular fantasy would go away. I mean,,,Line Dancing! It looks awful and is simply not the sort of thing Rod Rees indulges in. After all I ain't Kevin Bacon and the Midlands ain't Footloose territory. But...

Now we're reasonably settled in the new house Nell's been investigating Line Dancing clubs in the area and it seems Derby is knee-deep in the bloody things. So she's decided that this Tuesday we will sally forth and dance. The club she's chosen does 'Modern' Line Dancing -whatever that is - which means that - thankfully - I don't have to dress up like an extra in Midnight Cowboy. But believe me folks, I ain't looking forward to this.

Love is...making a bloody fool of yourself.

Friday, 1 October 2010

TWELVE ANGRY MEN

Isn't coincidence wonderful?

Yesterday when I was trying to join Facebook (that might be a mistake, folks!) and I was struggling to fill out the favourite films category my mind went blank and I couldn't remember that great film of the 1950's starring the impeccable Henry Fonda, 'Twelve Angry Men'. Then today I read the comment on one of my blogs by amberkraken, checked Anthony out, and lo and behold his favourite film is TAM!

I'm really quite bucked up by this. It's great that these gems aren't forgotten and that they're still being appreciated for the masterpieces they are. Okay, so there was a lot of dross pumped out in the 50's but there were diamonds in the rough.

So it isn't just Daughter 1 who raises eyebrows when she's asked what her favourite movie is and cites something most of her generation has never heard of ('Some Like It Hot').

Thursday, 30 September 2010

TONY CURTIS

Just heard that Tony Curtis has died.

Oddly I'd just been on Facebook trying to post that my favourite movie of all time was 'Some like it Hot'. SLIH is perfect: the script is marvellous, the direction flawless (what a light touch Billy WIlder had) and the performances from Tony Curtis (including a great, great take on Cary Grant), Jack Lemmon and Marilyn simply wonderful. The supporting cast was terrific too: I still laugh at Joe E.Brown.

A few years back there was a rumour that they (who are these mysterious 'theys'?) were going to re-make it with Tom Cruise and Jim Carrey - I couldn't believe it. The mind boggles that they should even think about trying something so stupid.

No, you can't improve on perfection. So...thanks Tony for a great performance. You'd have made a super Vanka!

NELLI'S BOOK

I'm not the only writer in the Rees household. Nelli's new book 'Glass Bead and Jewelry Projects' is published by GMC on the 7th November this year.

Nelli's new book!
 It's been a real journey for Nell and I'm really proud of her. Not only did she have to design and make the beads and the jewellery shown in the book (and they are terrific!) but she also ended up doing all the photography. To do this she had to teach herself photography from scratch and I think it's a testament to her skill that GMC (her publishers) used her shots in preference to hiring a professional to do them as they'd first planned.

Nell is a very creative, artistic woman and these talents are displayed to perfection here. She is also a perfectionist as I think GMC found out during the editing process!

I'm sure the book is going to be a resounding success and after all Nell's hard work it deserves to be.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

THE DEMI-MONDE VIDEO

I've decided to do a Demi-Monde promo video.

The original idea was to have Nell reading from the book but a couple of things sorta decided me against it: first despite Nell's undoubted skills as an actress a straight reading can be quite boring, and secondly, the number of profanities in the book (and YouTube's aversion to them) meant that some of the best bits were verboten.

So Nell, Nigel and I have put our heads together and come up with an all-new concept. It'll be somewhere between 30 - 60 seconds in length (so quite snappy) and quite graphics-heavy. Nell will still be centre-stage but in a different role: she'll play an anthropomorphised version of ABBA, the quantum computer that the Demi-Monde is platformed on. We're aiming to do the shooting at the end of October.

We went up to North Cave (it's near Hull) today to meet with Tim who runs Cavewood Video to discuss things. Most of the more grandiose ideas (blue screens etc.) had to be binned because of cost but I'm pretty confident that we can come up with something really quite good for a manageable amount of money.

Now all I need is an oil lamp and some enamel crockery.

HERBALIFE

Week 1: Lost 6 lbs

By coincidence the guy who runs the computer shop in Hatton ( and who sorted out my router!) also has a  Herbalife franchise and a week or so ago I got chatting with him. I've always been very dubious about these sort of 'patent medicine' dietary systems, but feeling very overweight I decided I'd give it a go for three or four weeks my reasoning being that if I could lose a stone in a month then maybe...

Gotta say as diets go it's a real drag but as milkshake aversion therapy it's without peer. Trouble is it seems to be working (tho' I think my having knocked wine on the head had a lot to do with it) so I'm morally obliged to stick with it.

I'll keep you posted.