Friday, 31 December 2010


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:


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


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.'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


I got a story - 'To Infer is Human' - published in Wild Stacks, a free (as in FREE) e-magazine ( 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


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


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


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


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


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

Thursday, 16 December 2010


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 prĂ©cis 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


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


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


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.


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


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.