Friday, April 26, 2013

Weeds 'n Stuff

Wednesday April 24th

So, we’ve been back on Crete for six days now, the first three of which were colder than in England and required us firing up the stove throughout. It is much colder than last year because then we only used the stove in the evening, and that was upon arriving here two weeks earlier. There was surprisingly little wrong with the house. Yes, the paint is flaking off part of one wall in the hall and there are patches of mould here and there, but we’re now a long way from the days of black ceilings and water features in our bedroom. I’ve also found a way to deal with that flaking paint/damp area. I’ll do what I did, and which seems to have worked, around the lower half of the kitchen arch here: after scraping it I put on a layer of waterproof tile cement. There have, however been other annoyances, some unexpected.

The car we left here over winter became the home for a mouse and the little bugger ate through the HT leads. This wasn’t too much of a problem as the guy looking after the car for me had them replaced. However, since then a warning light has been showing. The garage guy traced this to an emissions sensor on the exhaust and blamed water in the petrol. My concern is that it might not be that and that somewhere else in the car bastard Micky has chewed through some other wiring. I also recollect my mother having similar problems with cars she owned – in one of which the dashboard caught fire because the wiring had been damaged.

The garden of course was a jungle, as you can see by the pictures here:

No problem, thought I: I’ll just get out there and pull them up. This will be good exercise for me and a welcome change from my sedentary winter. The problem was that my sedentary winter had turned me into a wimp. After one day of pulling up weeds I was thoroughly knackered, aching all over and had the grip of a pack of wet sausages. Three days of weeding later and this is where we’re at:

We spent two days at the house working on the garden and tidying stuff up. Not having any shopping in we tried the new taverna that had opened in our village last year. Positive points and negative points there: It’s cheap – a half litre carafe of white wine costs €2.50, and a souvlaki €1.50 – they have internet down there, just a short stroll from our house, but the owner, with typical Greek lack of foresight, even knowing that we are here now for six months, overcharged us on both occasions we were there. First time a couple of €s went on the bill for no reason at all, while the second time he charged us for a carafe of wine we didn’t have. My inclination is to say fuck him and never go back there, but that would be shooting myself in the foot. Next time we go down there I’ll warn him, ‘Oshi extras’ and if he questions that I’ll show him the two bills and explain.

It’s warmer now and we’re venturing out in shorts. We took a visit down to Makrigialos yesterday, had something to eat in a cafe called the Obelix, played about on the internet and paid for the next level of that highly addictive game ‘Sugar Crush’. Interestingly, while checking Twitter, I found a tweet from someone claiming to have been about to buy my books but being put off by my ‘abhorrent political views’. As a guy called Jim Braiden pointed out on Facebook: ‘Remind me again which side of the political spectrum spends so much time extolling the virtues of tolerance?’


Friday 26th April

In the evening here it was time for us to delve into the collection of DVDs we’d built up over the winter. The first film we watched was called Contagion starring Matt Damon and Jude Law. I usually enjoy this sort of stuff but the film was simply rubbish: disjointed, completely lack of emotion; completely lacking of fear. Oh look, people dying, sigh. Then, a couple of days later, I see a news story about bird flu killing people in China and now appearing outside that country...

The next film we watched was Passengers ... I say ‘watched’ in the sense that we looked at it for a while in a way one would perhaps experience Vogon poetry. I turned it off before my small intestine crawled up my spine and throttled my brain.

We did enjoy the first season of Alcatraz – in fact just about anything with Sam Neil in is good – however, after a few episodes and having nailed down the formula, we wondered if we wanted to watch about three hundred episodes to discover what the hell was going on. Perhaps those who financed this thought the same, since it was cancelled after this season.

And while I’m on the subject of films: I watched a clip of Robert Redford being interviewed concerning his Sundance film festival. Apparently, with the way the film industry is now, he wouldn’t have become an actor but chosen some other career. What a berk. So, you’d have been off to Waitrose to apply for that job at the checkout would you Robert? Seriously, these actors don’t live on the same planet as real people. Oh, and that reminds me of one of the presenters on BBC World talking to someone about pensions and investments. Even he flinched after coming out with, ‘But how does that apply to ordinary people like us?’

Snigger.   Update: Having just checked under ther bonnet of my car I see Micky did chew right through the wires leading to the emissions sensor.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Mrs T.

Martin Durkin’s excellent documentary last night perfectly outlined my thoughts on the dangerous subject that is Margaret Thatcher. You can see it here on the Channel 4 catch-up site.


Many years ago when I received my first poll tax bill I of course did not like it at all. It was only in retrospect that I realised that there it was in black and white: this is how much your council, your police, your fire service … are charging to provide their services and here’s the bill. The knee-jerk reaction to this was to protest because of course it was all the fault of the evil Tories. I didn’t go to any protests because, unlike most of those throwing chunks of paving slab at council offices, I had a job to do. It was a stark reality check. The Poll Tax never went away and was just made more unfair by being rebranded Council Tax and then aimed at a target that couldn’t duck it: the home owner. No subsequent Labour government removed it. In reality it was as unfair as any tax to fund state-run organisations because you have no choice; all taxes are demanded with menaces. Which brings me to the 1970s.

A lot has already been written about how things were back then: just about everything state-run and inefficient, unions demanding ridiculous wage rises and striking at the drop of a hat, 33% and 83% income tax rates, rubbish piling up in the streets, endless blackouts, dead bodies going unburied and stacking up to the extent that one city even considered burial at sea, trains running a damned sight more erratically than they do now. However, one small thing can illustrate it better for people now: you didn’t even own your own telephone. We had the British disease; we were Cuba without the sunshine. Britain, prior to 1979, was under the dead hand of the state. And the British were sick of it, which is why Thatcher got in, three times, with majorities that today’s parties can only dream about.

So, Margaret Thatcher started closing down our industries and putting people out of work. She destroyed our country yada yada. Well, no, what she did was stop us having to subsidize moribund, unionized, inefficient, pretend industries that simply could not compete in the real world. We were living in the illusory world of twenty people building a crap car while hurtling towards us was the reality of one person and a series of robots building a good one. And yes, that did hurt and did put people out of work. However, that was because previous governments had been doing just what many governments are doing now with the financial crisis: kicking the can down the road. Reality was going to bite; it was just a question of when.

Margaret Thatcher destroyed our coal mining industry … except it was the Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson (managing to restrain himself from kicking that can) who closed three times as many pits as her, but that was okay, because Wilson was Labour, and a man. Never let it be forgotten that the coal miner’s strike was firstly illegal because Scargill couldn’t get enough miners to vote for it, and was secondly an attack by Scargill, and other left-wing apparatchiks, on the Thatcher government. It was about who ruled the country: an elected government that won three landslide victories, or the unions. That man used the miners as cannon fodder and, when it was over, it wasn’t him on benefits, oh no, he just toddled back to his 1.5 million mansion.

Anyway … the interesting thing that Durkin documentary highlighted was that Margaret Thatcher fought the establishment, both Labour and Tory, on behalf of the working class. The Tory ‘wets’ didn’t want the working class to have social mobility because, well, shudder, they didn’t want the plebs having the wealth to move in the same rarefied strata as them. Equally, Labour didn’t want social mobility because shit, if the oiks toss away their flat caps, buy white vans or mobile phones and start making money, where’s the sense of grievance and the client-base that gets Labour elected? The very idea of these people buying their own homes or buying shares in companies was anathema. In fact the unions told their members not to buy shares, and were ignored. Both parties had and still have their total snobs. You can see this attitude reflected in the term ‘yuppies’ and in Harry Enfield’s Loadsamoney character – this is the awful sort of thing that happens when oiks and plebs dare to rise above their station. Shudder.

In the end, of course, the dead hand of the state came back with Blair, Brown and the EU while, damn it, I would prefer to see people working in industries rather than as clients of the state – meaning either uselessly employed by it or on benefits – but how do you get round that? How do we get full employment in an increasingly mechanised world? A world which, in their way, the Luddites were right to fear? That’s a post for another time perhaps.        

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Right, I just managed to do my 2,000 words. This was after drinking far too much red wine last night, which resulted in me waking up at 3.30 in the morning and only dozing intermittently thereafter. And this was after I’d deleted some drunken tweets from the night before and while our house was overrun with plumbers – doors open, central heating off, electric fire just managing to stave off the cold. I’m not sure they’re very good words, but they’re down now and I can knock them into a shape another time. I then felt I should do a blog post and asked for suggestions on a subject. These included: hovering robotic coffee cups, steampunk prador, xenobiology and neural warfare.

Nah, as I noted on Twitter, I have a dead pigeon in my mental reservoir.

So I’m just waffling to see what surfaces (hopefully not the pigeon). Some bright spark suggested I do a post about Margaret Thatcher but, just like some of my old posts on Global Warming, I suspect that’d go down as well as bacon sandwiches in a Mosque. People’s opinions on both subjects have petrified and long since moved into the territory of confirmation bias. I have to wonder how much spittle is being wiped off computer screens lately.

More about the Night Shade Books thing perhaps? All you need to know is that I’ll be signing up for the new contract and crossing my fingers. I haven’t got the time to be too paranoid about books I wrote years ago because I’ve got books to write. And as for another idea I’ve been toying with – of all that’s been involved in getting my books published in the US – that I’ve promised elsewhere.

A book review perhaps? Well, I’ve just started Peter Hamilton’s Great North Road so there won’t be any reviews here for a while. Enjoying it btw, and was amused to see a character in there who works in publicity at Macmillan.

No, I’ll go back to those 2,000 words even though it’s territory I’ve visited before.

It’s not actually 2,000 words in total but of fiction. In reality, after I get up in the morning I first fill in a page in my journal so that’s about 200 words. This is sometimes quite difficult as you would expect in extending ‘got up, pissed about on the internet, wrote 2,000 words, ate stuff, went to bed’ to fill a page. Then there are the tweets, occasional blog posts and stuff on Facebook. I kid myself that this is all justifiable advertising and that writing on twitter is a good exercise in prĂ©cis, but I just enjoy that shit. So, as I alternately muck about on the internet and write, I normally do my 2,000 words of fiction by about 3 or 4. On those occasions when things are going a bit slow the count might be 1,000 to 1,300 at that time, and by then and I’m thinking to myself I’m not going to hit my target. At 4 we have a dance to the Wii because the glamorous life of a writer is sadly lacking in exercise. After 4 I then usually polish off any remainder within an hour. Don’t ask me why. The workings of my brain are a mystery.  

 But next week things will change because we’re heading back to Crete. There, without an internet connection, I open up my laptop and have few alternatives but to write. There, because hell it’s sunny and I want to get outside, I usually polish off my word count by about 2. This year it’ll be the same for a few weeks as I complete the first draft of Penny Royal III, then I’m going to spend plenty of time editing and generally tidying up those three books, also writing synopses and blurbs. I look forward to the time, after that, when I can sit down and work on some short stories.
So, how do I end this? I know…

That’s all for now.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Final Days - Gary Gibson

"Science fiction asks what it means to be human; how we relate to our technology; and what our place is in the vastness of time and space" - Gareth L Powell (Ack-Ack Macaque). Gary Gibson’s Final Days fits neatly in there with its wormholes, ancient alien technology, questions about predestination, much more closely linked networked technology (in the form of contact lenses). But it also does all this in the form of Philip (Mortal Engines) Reeve’s reply to Gareth: "But crucially it asks these questions through the medium of explosions and running about in corridors." Both of them have put their finger on it. And this book is another fine addition to the vast questions with explosions genre. Enjoyable.

Update: I have to add that he's definitely been watching those video clips of 'Big Dog' from Boston Dynamics!

Saturday, April 06, 2013

My Tuppence-Worth on Night Shade Books

While I meticulously study contracts I see that the whole Night Shade Books debacle is being written about all across the internet. I won’t provide links here – just go to Google Blog Search and get up-to-date posts on Night Shade Books. There’s some insightful stuff available; there’s some bitter stuff out there too.

The essence is this: NSB is on the point of bankruptcy so is selling assets to a publisher called Skyhorse Publishing and another called Start Publishing (ebooks for the latter). The apparent aim of this on the part of Jeremy Lassen and Jason Williams is to ensure that authors can be paid what they are owed. The crux of the matter is that those ‘assets’ are the rights to those same author’s books. It means, for the sale to go through, that the authors must agree to changes to their NSB contracts as they are taken up by the other companies.

The authors are in a cleft stick.

If they don’t sign up to this they risk losing the royalties they are owed and the books dropping into legal oblivion (scare tactics?). If they do sign they get reduced royalties.

Ebook royalties are chopped in half. However, a read somewhere of writers supposedly having to sign over Ebook rights they never sold to NSB. Well, the contract I’m looking at doesn’t say that. It should also be noted that NSB were paying twice ‘industry standard’.

Skyhorse is claiming audio rights even if they weren’t sold … again at ‘industry standard’.

My main bone of contention concerns this 10% of net receipts. Here’s my contractual bit with NSB:

8% on the first 50,000 copies, 10% on 50,001-100,000 copies, and 12% over that, of the retail price of all MASS MARKET PAPERBACK copies sold.

 Note that ‘retail price’. Publishers sell books to booksellers at half and sometimes 40% of cover price. Going with half this would mean on a $10 book, and supposing I wasn’t over that 50,000, I would be taking a cut in income per book from $0.80 to $0.50.  

But at this point it is worth noting that if you’re not being paid, then percentages are irrelevant.

The whole thing is a bit of a bastard and the decisions of the individual authors concerned will be based on a number of things: how many books they have with NSB (and whether they have books with other publishers), how much NSB owes them, what they think their future earnings might be from the NSB books, how much financial pain they are in …etc. It’s not easy. I really feel sorry for those authors who have one or two books ONLY with NSB. It’s probably heartbreaking.

In my case it’s five books. However, the Owner series – The Departure, Zero Point & Jupiter War – were sold to them by Macmillan who aren’t exactly lightweights. I’m confident that Macmillan will have their contracts department scrutinizing the deal very closely. But personally, at the request of NSB, I wrote Prador Moon & Shadow of the Scorpion for them and sold them the American rights, and it is for these books I must sign up to the contract changes, or not.

I’m not a one-book wonder. The two books are two, thus far, of the twenty books I’ve had published. I have Jupiter War yet to be published and as you know I’m close to finishing the third Penny Royal book, so after JW I'll have another three in the bank. And, because I keep producing books and keep getting published I’ve been doing okay, which is why I never lawyered up and went after NSB. As a consequence they owe me a shitload of money. I might decide to sign up so that I get that money, and consider those other two books loss-leaders – in America, since they are still published here in Britain and in translation. I’m certainly going to push for some changes to that contract. Or I might just say fuck it, shove your contract.  

I’m still undecided.


Jarred and I have been listening to and thinking through what the Night Shade authors and agents have said on blogs, on facebook, over email, and during several very long phone conversations. Skyhorse and Start now have a much more complete picture of what the Night Shade authors been through and it’s helped us to understand the reaction that many of them have had to the deal as offered. Both Jarred and I have decided to make a strong attempt to see this deal through. We’ve decided to take the long view, the view that what we want to do is build a publishing company, build on the Night Shade backlist, and we’re willing to offer a deal that we feel is very favorable to the Night Shade authors and will trade short run profits for long-term relationship. Here are the revised terms:
7 1/2 % of retail for all printing books.
25% of net receipts on all ebooks up to 15,000 copies sold and 30% thereafter
50/50 on audio, with a reversion if we don’t sell the rights in six months. Audio rights money to flow through within 30 days of receipt of payment, provided that the advance has earned out.
The assignment clause, clause 7, would only apply if the assignment is part of a sale of “all or substantially all of the assets of the company” purchased by either Start Publishing or Skyhorse Publishing.