On Writing Head Of State, Part 1

Sorry for my absence for a few days. This has been an incredibly busy and stressful few weeks — since the election I’ve had a severe illness in my family, spent a couple of evenings with a friend over from California, and had various other bits that needed doing.

One of those things, that’s occupied a big chunk of my spare time recently, is putting together the final edits for my novel Faction Paradox: Head of State, which will be out in the summer. So I thought I’d talk a little about it, without spoiling too much, because I think the process of writing it is of some interest.

It started, as a matter of fact, as a space opera. I was trying to come up with a Faction Paradox novel idea, because my friends Simon Bucher-Jones and Lawrence Burton, both of whom have written their own very good novels in the series, said I’d be good at it, and my original thought was to use a space opera idea I’d posted here, about first contact with a planet that was exactly like Earth in every way.

The idea was a good one, and I may well come back to it, but I hit a few snags. There were things I wanted to include, things that I had a hazy idea of, that just didn’t fit — I wanted to include a book that held some great significance, I wanted to talk about power, and I wanted to include a plot point hinted at in The Book of the War which I still think is one of the best ideas in the Faction Paradox series. And none of this really seemed to fit the space opera storyline.

Then, I had two other ideas. I can tell you precisely where I was — I was walking through Piccadilly train station, and I could show you the precise spot where I was when these ideas came to me, they were that vivid. The first idea was to have the Thousand and Second Night, as told by the decapitated head of Scheharazade. The second was a scene which comes right at the end of the book, so I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s set in 21st century America. But the thing is, I *knew* those two scenes, totally disconnected as they are, were part of the same book.

I also realised that the Thousand And Second Night could be the important book that I wanted to write about, so now all I had to do was connect the two images.

The first, obvious, thing was that Sir Richard Francis Burton, the Victorian explorer, was a translator of the Arabian Nights, and also appears as a character in The Book Of the War, so I decided to use him as a character, and model the version of the Nights in my book on his translation. Making the book the motivating factor behind a character in the last scene could tie the threads together.

But that’s still only five ideas (1002nd night, Richard Burton, ending, book, motivation). At a rough approximation, you can get about 1000 words out of an idea. So I needed seventy-something more ideas to write a novel. I’ll talk about how I pulled those together next time…

Brief Note on Head Of State Progress

A couple of people have asked me recently what’s going on with Head of State, and why it’s not out yet, so I thought I’d just post this to save time. Basically, the simple answer is that books take time to get published, and it’s still happening.
It can take up to a year from delivery of a manuscript to the book finally appearing. I delivered the second draft of my book in February, but there were several books “in the queue” ahead of mine (Obverse is a small publisher) — a Sexton Blake novel, Paul Magrs’ book on the Doctor Who annuals, two anthologies edited by Philip Purser-Hallard, and a Faction Paradox anthology edited by Kate Orman. Two of those have been released now, two (including the one with a story by me) will be released in the next month, and Obverse’s Facebook has just posted that the FP anthology is going back to Kate Orman for a final check of the text before that, too, is published.
That means my book is at or near the top of the pile. Which doesn’t mean that a release date will be announced tomorrow or anything — it’s entirely possible that Stuart (the editor) will want me to make more changes to the manuscript before it’s released. This is, after all, a first novel, and an insanely ambitious one, and publishing’s an iterative process. But I’ve received my advance, I’ve seen roughs of the cover painting, and everything is proceeding according to plan.
So for those of you who have been worried that it’s been a while since I posted anything about the book, don’t be — it’s just that publishing takes time. But it’ll be worth it, I hope.

Pre-Order Tales Of The Great Detectives Today!


The City of the Saved houses every human being who ever lived… but some of its immortal Citizens need more.

For the Remakers, one fiction above all exerts its fascination: a character existing in countless interpretations, many of them now recreated in the flesh and in business together as the Great Detective Agency.

These are their tales.

In the Agency’s annals, the City’s many Sherlock Holmeses solve the Case of the Pipe Dream, experience the Adventure of the Piltdown Prelate and explore the strangely clichéd Mansion of Doom. A Watson falls in love; a Moriarty goes missing; and Holmes comes face-to-face with his arch-nemesis, the sinister Dr Conan Doyle…

Edited by Phil Purser-Hallard, who created the City for the Faction Paradox line, with artwork by Blair Bidmead, this third in the City of the Saved series and is a little more…focused…than usual…

You’ll all know how much I rave about Phil Purser-Hallard, both as a writer and as an editor, and he’s edited two books coming out from Obverse Books next month, Iris Wildthyme On Mars, which I’ve not read, but which contains stories by many of my friends and shoud be great, and this, which I have read and know is superb.

If you like Sherlock Holmes, eschatalogical science fiction dealing with the nature of reality and identity, the Doctor Who/Faction Paradox universe, or just good stories, you’ll like this. If you don’t, buy it anyway because it has a story by me in it, The Adventure Of The Piltdown Prelate, that I think is the best thing I’ve ever written except my forthcoming novel. (NB I don’t make any more money if you buy it unless I misread the contract — I’ve already been paid. Just buy it because it’s a good set of stories).

Pre-order physical book, ebook

Ten Sentences From Head of State

Just to whet your appetites a little. The book is still being edited, and there may be rewrites ahead, so these may not all be in the final book, but here are ten sentences chosen at random…

These Mal’akhim are spoken of throughout Araby in dark whispers and legends, and are capable of taking the shape of a man, but are neither human nor ensouled, and should they go without the human blood on which they make their beastly repasts, they soon begin to decay into a foul slurry.

If you think being a pretty, skinny little girlie gets you hit on by too many repulsive men, you need to try being a pretty (if I do say so myself — I *am* fucking fabulous), skinny little girlie with a British accent in the Midwestern US, attached to a political campaign which acts like a gigantic Strange Man Magnet.

While my illustrious colleague hath told a tale of the past, of Allah’s creation of the universe, and of the war between Jannat and Jahannam, my tale, no less fantastic, is a tale of the present, of a far-off, distant land, many leagues from here.

They’re treating Matt Nelson like he was Zac Efron (look, I have a little sister who was way into High School Musical, don’t judge me) or someone, and it’s a bit freaky.

Sometimes you couldn’t tell how nutty they were for a while — they’d be talking about normal stuff like how we should go back on the gold standard or something, and then they’d start in on how the Republican and Democrat parties were really fronts for two rival groups of aliens who secretly controlled the world, or how there was a mad god trapped in the centre of the earth that was controlling everyone’s thoughts.

“I mean he’s the Antichrist, Dave.”

It has been suggested by some that I should put down for posterity an account of the circumstances behind my induction into the organisation to which this missive, written currente calamo but not, I hope, to be taken as evidence of cacoethes scribendi, is dedicated, and which it is meet not to mention, at least in terms which the profane masses will readily comprehend.

There may be some confusion here, though, and Civitata may be an aspect of sakīnah, a word which means a blessing sent by Allah, but with overtones of “dwelling place” or sanctuary.

The typical Democratic voter, even those who support him, says “he’s a nice enough guy, I guess” and little else (the Republicans say “he’s a Communist atheist who wants to sell out our country”, but then they’d say that about Ronald Reagan these days).

On one side there’s a group of… I was going to say “people”, but in one sense they’re something closer to what you’d get if you crossed the Greek gods with the mathematics department at Cambridge University, while in another they’re more like laws of nature but with very slightly more personality.

Beach Boys Book Volume 2 Now Available!

BBs Vol 2 Cover

The second volume of my Beach Boys essays is now available in paperback, hardback, and all non-Kindle ebook formats. It will be available within a few hours on Amazon for the Kindle (US link, UK link).

As always, with all my books, the ebooks are DRM-free. Also as always, the paper copies are priced so that when the paperbacks get sold through Amazon I’ll only make as much from them as I do from the ebooks (I make more if you buy them from Lulu).

If you do buy them — thank you. And please let your friends know and leave a review.

Kinks ebook now (finally!) out!

My book on the Kinks, which has been out for a while in paperback and hardback, is now available for ereaders. The delay was due to some health problems, which are thankfully starting to abate.

It will be available from Amazon (US) and Amazon (UK) later tonight, and is already available for all non-Kindle devices from Smashwords.

Proper update soon.

No New Music Books After Beach Boys vols 2 And 3

Just so people know, I won’t be writing any more music books after the two Beach Boys ones I promised to write. It seems that no matter how clearly I label the books, or how much I make available for free, the majority of people buying them who care enough to post reviews have four complaints:
1) That they’re not sessionographies or reference books listing times and dates.
2) That I have opinions which they disagree with
3) That they don’t contain any photographs
4) That I use what they consider an excessively large type size.

1) and 2) are never going to change, because dry reference books already exist about these people. I’m interested in analysing the music, not in saying “the session took place on 23rd March 1964 and featured Joe Drummer on drums”, and am never going to write that kind of book. 3) would only change if someone was willing to pay the many hundreds of pounds per book photo licensing would cost. And 4) isn’t going to change, partly because I don’t consider twelve-point type to be exceptionally large, and partly because I want my books to be accessible to people with visual problems (I design the layout of my books specifically to make them easy for my wife, who has limited vision, to read).

This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop writing and publishing books — I’m writing a novel at the moment, I’ve got a book on comics I’ve been planning for a while, I’m going to turn my Mindless Ones Doctor Who essays into a book, and so on. Expect at least four books from me in the next year. But after I finish the Beach Boys books, I’m not going to write any more music ones. I’m not going to spend six months working on, say, a book about David Bowie for the end result to be three days of sales followed by “Hinkey doesn’t even tell you the recording dates! He thinks he’s an expert and yet he thinks Kooks is better than Life On Mars! And Hinkey uses large print!” It’s simply not worth the stress. I could just punch myself in the balls and save everyone involved a lot of time and effort.

The annoying thing is I know there are a lot of people who *do* like those books — but they’re not the people buying them, and I don’t want to write books that sell to people who don’t like them and don’t sell to people who do.

I’m not being self-pitying here. The reactions of the people who *do* like my music writing have made it more than worthwhile for me to write those books — a lot of people I like and respect, and a lot of total strangers, have said lovely things about them. But I don’t write books in order to upset people, and so I’m going to concentrate on my other writing.