Jo’s world is about to change forever, and it’s about time
Her marriage is on auto-pilot, daughter hates her, job sucks and it’s not even Tuesday. As Jo’s life implodes, a freak event hurls her back to ‘90s Los Angeles where, in a parallel universe, she’s about to hit the big time as a rock star. Jo has to choose between her dreams and her family in an adventure that propels her from London to Hollywood then Glastonbury, the world’s greatest music festival. In her desperate quest, Jo encounters a disgraced guru, a movie star with a fetish for double-decker buses, and the biggest pop star in the world… who just happens to want to kill her.
Back to Reality is a funny, heartwarming story about last chances, perfect for fans of Rowan Coleman and Helen Fielding.
I’m really proud of this book. It’s very different to the usual science fiction/fantasy stuff I write, but it’s funny, fast-paced and has a big heart, so if you’re looking for a little bit of uplit to brighten your day, then grab a copy now!
Back to Reality, the novel I co-wrote with Mark Desvaux for the Bestseller Experiment podcast, has been having a good run with reviews since its publication in 2017. Folks have liked it a lot and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. To meet our rather ambitious self-imposed target of ten thousand copies sold by the end of the Glastonbury Festival (our book climaxes at Glastonbury) we’ve been dialling up the advertising and asking anyone who’s read the book to leave a review. That means I’ve been checking the Amazon customer reviews fairly regularly, and that’s when I noticed that we received our first ever one-star review for the book. At first, my heart sank a little, but then I clicked on the review and had a read and this is what I found…
For context, here’s the part of the book that the reviewer objected to. Our hero, Jo, has travelled back in time from contemporary England to ‘90s Hollywood. She finds herself on a late night chat show where she reveals that she’s a time traveller…
There are two things going on with this review. First is an inability to make a distinction between the protagonist and the authors.
This still manages to surprise some readers. To write crime thrillers, you don’t need to be a cop or a murderer, to write science fiction you don’t need to explore deep space, and you, dear writer, can write repulsive characters and not agree with their world view.
But this is what writers do: we put ourselves in the shoes of these characters and try to imagine would those people might be like — and very often it can be based on personal experience — and we try to convey that in words.
As an aside, I think this is why there is such a liberal bias in the entertainment industry. Creators will try and see both sides of the argument in a story, character or situation and present them in a compelling way. That sense of fairness is very much a characteristic of liberals, especially in contrast to the meritocratic views of the right.
The second aspect of the review is the disappointment in the reader that we’ve dragged the messy world of politics into their reading. This prompts the much bigger question: should writers get political? Sure, if you’re writing a political thriller it’s expected, but when you’re writing in an escapist genre like comedy, romance, science fiction or fantasy should the poor reader be inflicted with soap box politics? And is it worth it for the writer? Think back to The Dixie Chicks when they made disparaging comments about George W Bush and the effect that had on their sales. Isn’t it just safer to avoid any political content altogether?
Here’s the thing: all writing is political… if it’s any good.
Fiction isn’t like a family gathering where you avoid religion and politics. It should be a truthful reflection of what the creator believes, otherwise what is the point?
I’m not saying that our joke where Jo compares Trump to Hitler is some kind of profound insight into the human condition. Far from it. It’s simply the thing that stuck out for the reviewer. What that reviewer missed was the masses of other political content in the book. The themes of family, compassion, sexism, work, money and greed are threaded throughout the story, and if you don’t think those are political then you’ve not been paying attention to the world around you.
So, will we lose sales because we’ve upset some fans of Trump? Possibly. We’re hardly the Dixie Chicks, but to be honest if you’re a Trump supporter I don’t want your money. You’re going to need it when you realise you’re on the wrong side of history and need to pay for therapy.
In the meantime, I shall continue to write about the world through the eyes of characters that both attract and repulse me. It’s pretty much the only way I can make any sense of the chaos around me, especially that Trump fella…
PS. To be clear, there are my opinions and not those of The Bestseller Experiment or my co-presenter -author Mark Desvaux…
It’s been a fun week with a trip to the beach at Whitstable to interview Julie Wassmer. I had hoped to get some lovely audio atmosphere with waves lapping on shingle and gulls screeching overhead, but the tide was out so I had to settle for a gentle breeze buffeting the microphone. Fortunately, Julie is great fun to chat to and she told me all about working on EastEnders, bumping off the locals in her novels, and why all writers should live in fear of a cup of tea and bacon sandwich. Listen here.
I also got to visit Hachette’s new warehouse in Didcot. While this may not sound like everyone’s idea of a fun day out, I did get to ride on one of their pickers, which went some 25 metres in the air and the queues were shorter than Disney…
Also, if anyone’s concerned that print books are on the decline, this vast palace of storage and hi-tech distribution should allay those fears. This place was built to pump books out into the world and they’ve left plenty of room for expansion.
I finished a short story this week. It’s a prequel to The End of Magic in which we meet our antagonist. My agent Ed read it and enjoyed it, though he did have one note: “Maybe the humour could be a little less lavatorial…? But that’s probably my shit to deal with.”
I do seem to have a thing about bodily functions… What do you say? Should I take this crap?
Like many science fiction and fantasy authors out there, I found myself sighing in despair at this comment from Liz Thomson in the Bookseller. I am beyond proud to have been published by Gollancz, and I realise that this kind snobbery exists, but you expect better from Liz (who’s always been very chatty and friendly whenever I’ve met her) and the Bookseller, a publication that should celebrate all publishing regarding of genre. Sigh…
And a quick update on my fantasy novel The End of Magic– it’s now 80% funded over at Unbound, so it’s not too late to pledge to join the adventure and get your name in the book along with some other cool extras. Click here for more info.
I had the pleasure of speaking to the superb Ed McDonald on the podcast this week. Ed talks very honestly about his first year as a professional author, achieving his dream of getting published, and then he asks the question, “What next?” It’s a very revealing chat and you can listen here.
She was deluged with replies, some from some very big names, and one from me. Only last week, I had a book pitch rejected by a publisher. The response I got was, “We pissed ourselves laughing, we loved it, we just don’t know how to sell it.” And that’s fine. I appreciate the honesty and know that there would be nothing worse than slogging away on a novel for however many months only for the publisher to give a shrug on publication.
And the big treat for the week is the Bestseller Experiment live show with Orion editor Emad Akhtar (pictured above). He answered all sorts of listener questions on writing, editing, storytelling and WWE wrestling… Yes really. You can listen here.
My co-presenter this week was the wonderful Jenn McMenemy, whose own podcast The Ancient History Fangirl, has just launched its second episode and it’s a blast. Check it out here.
In other news, I hit 60% funded on The End of Magic this week! A huge thanks to everyone who has supported the book so far. As a reward (punishment) here’s me reading from the book with another terrible “comedy” accent…
And finally, at the time of writing I’m 59% funded on my book The End of Magic. A thousand thanks to everyone who’s pledged so far, and if you haven’t joined the adventure yet, why not be the hero who nudges me over to 60%? Click here and hit the blue pledge button.
Yes, that’s the BBC microphone muffler I found in the gutter in Oxford Circus last week…
I mention this as it’s one of the many highlights from last week’s Bestseller experiment live show that are now available to plug directly into your earholes via the medium of podcast. Click here for audio fun time.
Thanks to snowmaggeddon I had to record this one at home, but the usually flaky BT broadband actually held up and a splendid time was had by all. We discussed…
The dark secrets of metadata and how you can make it work for your books
How you can make a blog work harder
Tips for when you’re stuck on your outline
Why you should celebrate weaknesses
The pros and cons of present tense versus past tense
We discover what “brain tabs” are, and we discuss top tips for avoiding distractions while writing
The question from Edward Kane on tenses was a fun one to answer, though I’ve since realised that my erudite rambling could be cut down to two simple principles:
The present tense works better for unreliable narrators
The past tense works better for reliable narrators
And the less we will say about the future tense the better*
*I made a bad grammar joke! Am I not funny?
PS. That novel I wrote with Mark Desvaux is still getting lovely reviews. Grab your copy here and tell us what you think.
PS. Oh, and if you want to support our work on the podcast, we now have a Patreon. Do please support us and we can keep this crazy train rolling.
Another week passes and I’m currently at 35% funded with 73 wonderful backers. A big welcome to everyone who’s joined the adventure in the last week. Your pledges mean the world to me.
I’m also amazed to see that the ‘Be in the book’ pledges have sold out! Thank you Craig, Phill and Andy… I look forward to giving you all glorious deaths on paper very soon.
I’m currently hitting my target of 1% per day, and if we keep this up then we should be fully funded on 4th May, so if you’ve already pledged please continue to spread the word and let any fantasy fiction fans you know that the book is coming. Word of mouth is the best way to help make this happen. Here’s the link: https://unbound.com/books/end-of-magic/
We discuss The End of Magic and how Unbound work in this week’s episode of The Bestseller Experiment podcast. Have a listen here… http://bestsellerexperiment.com/unbound-and-the-end-of-magic/