Tuesday, 30 November 2010


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.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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


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.


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


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


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.