Saga shortlisted!

I’m thrilled to say that Saga’s Children has been shortlisted for a BSFA Award in the short fiction category. Huge thanks to everyone who nominated the story.

The full shortlists are on the BSFA website here, with links to the stories and articles you can read online. Congratulations to all the other nominees!

First sighting of Cataveiro!

Great excitement today when a box of brand new UK editions of Cataveiro arrived in the post. This book has been a long time in the works, and it’s both wonderful and a bit scary to see it in its final, physical form, knowing it will soon be out in the world. I’m so thrilled with this cover, which features Ramona’s aeroplane, Colibrí (the Spanish word for hummingbird).

Here it is in its multitudes:

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And next to a suite of Osiris compadres!

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Cataveiro is released from Del Rey UK on 20 February.  You can read more about it on the Del Rey website.

Year’s end, and the year ahead

Ends/beginnings of years inevitably call for round-ups, and 2013 has been an eventful one. On the writing front, I was thrilled to see the UK debut of Osiris with Del Rey UK in its trade, audio, and paperback forms, and the Osiris US paperback released in August with Night Shade Books, now part of Skyhorse Publishing. I finished work on the second in The Osiris Project trilogy, Cataveiro (pronounced ca-ta-veh-ro), which is scheduled for publication in February 2014, UK trade paperback, and July 2014, US hardback. I also had a short story, Saga’s Children, in the solar-system themed Pandemonium anthology The Lowest Heaven, and saw The Complex reprinted in Best British Fantasy 2013. I’m now working on the third novel in The Osiris Project and this will be the focus for the first half of 2014. After that – well, plans are in the works.

For the last few years I’ve kept a record of books read, and after some slightly disconcerting analysis of my own reading habits I made a decision that from last year I would read an equal ratio of male and female authors. A lot of the writers that I came to love at university, when I had more time to read than I probably ever will again, were male – looking back, and thinking about the bias of the course curricula, this is no real surprise. So this year I’ve split my reading 50-50.

In total I read 26 novels, 13 male and 13 female authors, plus a few anthologies. As part of my research for Cataveiro I discovered some superb Spanish and Portuguese-speaking authors, and would particularly recommend Angélica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial, Roberto Bolaño’s Last Evenings On Earth, Chico Buarque’s Budapest, and Bernardo Carvalho’s Nine Nights. I started but haven’t yet finished Lygia Fagundes Telles’ The Girl In The Photograph. I found recommendations for several other female writers I would have liked to read but alas, couldn’t find a translation. Meanwhile, Bolaño’s epic 2666 is still on the shelf, awaiting its moment.

I’m usually a year behind with new releases as I tend to wait for the paperback (hardbacks are beautiful but I can’t bear to see them get messed up on the tube, and although I love my Kindle, as a writer there is no substitute for a library you can flick through) so I caught up on a number of older releases. I read a lot of brilliant fragmented novels this year: Hawthorn and Child by Keith Ridgeway, Tokyo Cancelled by Rana Dasgupta, Communion Town by Sam Thompson, The Race by Nina Allan. I’d thoroughly recommend the beautiful and haunting All The Birds Singing by Evie Wyld, and was delighted to find Jennifer Egan’s Look At Me to be just as clever, funny and touching as one of my favourite novels of recent years, A Visit from the Goon Squad. My last read of 2013, What Lot’s Wife Saw by Ioanna Bourazopoulou is a clever, intriguing conundrum of a novel.

Going to be spoiled for choice for reading in 2014: I want to catch up on novels by Aminatta Forna (The Hired Man), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Americanah), Eleanor Catton (The Luminaries or The Rehearsal), and Kate Atkinson (Life After Life), just for a start, and of course, a new David Mitchell novel, The Bone Clocks, out in September.

Here’s to 2014!

Recent reading – autumn 2013

It’s been a while since I posted any book recommendations – I blame The Kills for taking up two months of my reading life – but these are a few I have to post from the last few months’ reading:

The Falling Sky – Pippa GoldschmidtFalling_Sky_170x176.270

Simply and effectively told, The Falling Sky is the story of Jeanette, astronomer, and Jeanette, daughter and sister. The science is beautifully written and accessible, a fascinating exploration of not only the methodology of astronomy, but the competitive academic world where discoveries are made. Goldschmidt pitches the vast, mysterious quantity of space against the lifelong impact of an individual tragedy, as Jeanette struggles to come to terms with past and present. A quiet and lovely novel.

 

The Race – Nina Allan (read in manuscript)

I’ve really enjoyed Nina Allan’s previous work, and I was thrilled to be asked to read The Race, Allan’s first novel, to be published next year by NewCon Press. A beautifully crafted novel in four parts, The Race explores the intertwining fates of the Hoolmans, the Pellers, and the smartdogs of Hastings. The directness of the writing cuts right to the emotional heart of the characters, but it is also the details, the sensory descriptions, which linger. Allan’s work always reveals a strong affinity with the natural world, and in this case the novel is a damning indictment of the environmental consequences of fracking on the Sussex countryside; an engagement with place at once lyrical and political. Evocative and compelling, this is an irresistible read.

The Kills – Richard House

What can I say about The Kills? It’s such a huge book, in every sense of the word – it took me two months to read but it was worth the time and effort. House’s four-novels-in-one is a sprawling masterpiece which among other things offers a blistering examination of post-war Iraq. For me, the dominant theme was of exploitation and appropriation, both deliberate, and the unforeseen yet inevitable consequences of a single action. One line which has stayed with me is ‘sutler’ Ford’s observation of travelling student Eric, as someone who wants to “become someone who has been somewhere and done something”. But The Kills is much more than a book which has something to say – it’s superbly clever, metafictional, layered with connections and intersecting motivations. The writing is clean and sharp in that effortless way that you don’t even notice, and when House wants to pack a punch, he really does. The final sequences of each book – in particular, Rem’s recurring dream of hovering over the motorway – will linger with me for a long time to come.

man with compound eyesThe Man With The Compound Eyes – Wu Ming-Yi

“So this was what a mountain was like, the same as a person: the more you know, the less you fear. But even so, you still never know what it’s thinking.”

I really wanted to love this novel and even by the end I wasn’t quite sure what I made of it. Theoretically, it caters to all my favourite traits – the relationship between humans and the natural world, subtle fantastical elements, a mesh of narrative styles, a quite astonishing ending, and even a cat thrown in for good measure. All this I loved. However, there was something rather odd going on with the translation. Not knowing the original language, I don’t know what the intention was behind it – there were moments of real lyricism and some gorgeous observations, but at other times the rough colloquialisms felt clumsy, and pulled me out of the narrative exactly when I wanted to be immersed in it. This particular quibble aside, I would absolutely recommend this book. Look out for a wonderful section where each character tells the tale of ‘their’ island.

Just finished reading: Any Human Heart by William Boyd. Just a joy, really.

Next in line: Dear Life by the marvellous Alice Munro, which I’m hoping will inspire me for a couple of short fiction projects.

Meanwhile: stuck into the first draft of the third book of The Osiris Project. It’s going to be a long writing winter. So here’s Jeanette Winterson on ‘Why I adore the night‘ for some inspiration though the dark days…

US paperback for Osiris

A quick update to say that the US paperback edition of Osiris was released this week. US folks, you can get hold of a copy on Amazon here or Barnes and Noble here.

A few extracts from reviews below, and more over on my links and reviews page:

‘A fantastic blend of world-building, excellent storytelling and complex characters… An engrossing story from start to finish… Osiris would still be good if all it had was world-building, but it offers so much more by way of plot and storytelling. The thrust of the narrative is the motivation of the characters… forces readers to ask themselves what it would take to spur them to action. Now combine this with the other interesting elements of the book like political intrigue, subterfuge, the way the story is told from alternating viewpoints… and you can see why OSIRIS shines. It’s that kind of impressive storytelling that makes OSIRIS hard to put down, and when you have to put it down, something that you remain eager to pick up again.’  –  SF Signal

‘Swift’s first novel, with its brilliant near-future vision of an ecologically and socially devastated world and characters who resonate with life and passion, marks her as an author to watch.’  –  Library Journal

‘Here is an assured and accomplished debut novel from a writer we’re sure to hear more from in the future. Swift’s intensely observed interplay between the two principals mirrors in microcosm the obstacles to easing tensions between the factions. This is the beauty of the picture – the brushstrokes are broad but look closer and you will discern incredible detail. An absolute gem – there are many who would do well to take note of what this book says.’  –  Interzone (#246, May-June 2013)

‘… Swift’s writing is exceptional, vivid and compelling… I found OSIRIS to be a novel that deserves to be read. Swift’s talent as a writer can’t be questioned, and it’s clear to me that there exists an intent behind her work. It lends a depth that helped me persevere, not only to finish, but to anticipate the sequel. I’m hopeful that other patient readers will take the time to find the beauty in it that I ultimately did.’  –  Staffer’s Book Review

Music and Suffolk fields

This weekend saw an expedition to Suffolk for Latitude Festival, where I was speaking as part of the Ebury Does… programme. It was my first time at Latitude and as glorious as the music was the chance to get out of London for a few days and switch off the phone.

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My talk was on the Friday. I tracked down the Ebury tent in the morning (located in the suitably whimsical Faraway Forest) and found the team setting up after a hellish 9-hour drive from London the previous day. A couple of hours later I returned for my talk and found the tent full of cushions, beanbags, deckchairs, and of course books, including a very shiny array of Del Rey UK titles. I was truly delighted when people turned up for the talk as the tent was a little off the beaten track and I had no idea how it might go. I read the prologue from Osiris and spoke about my influences, how I got into SF, and my inspiration for the trilogy. However, SF readers are everywhere, as I later ended up talking to a group of French electro swing musicians from Toulouse, one of whom recommended some French SF for me after a conversation in Franglais about George Orwell, and my housemate helpfully describing Osiris in his (far better than mine) French.

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The rest of the weekend I was free to relax and enjoy the music. Highlights were Beth Orton, who had the crowd mesmerised and was just a joy to hear; Josephine singing with guitar in a small tent away in the forest – her voice was even more stunning live than on her album; the Mark Lanegan Band being generally cool; Laura Mvula; and Everything Everything. I’m always interested in how some artists are far better recorded and others live, and I’d see all of these again. I caught a few songs of Daughter, who I hadn’t heard before, and bought her album as soon as I got home (in fact I’m listening to it as I write this). I also saw the Ballet Boyz on the waterfront stage performing a piece by Russell Maliphant, I think called ‘Falling’, which was spectacular, and reminded me once again just how powerful contemporary ballet can be.

This week it’s back to digital screens and reality. Cataveiro is almost signed off on the edits front and I’ll be getting stuck into Book 3 in the next few weeks. Onward…

Latitude with Ebury

A very quick note to say this weekend I will be at Latitude Festival courtesy of the marvellous folk at Ebury Publishing to fly the flag for Del Rey UK (or at least, to brandish a Del Rey book). The Ebury Library has a full line up of authors and I’ll be speaking on Friday 19 July at 2pm, on how I came to write in the genre of Science Fiction and Fantasy, how I got published, and discussing the inspiration for the Osiris Project trilogy.

Here’s a link to the full Ebury Does… schedule: http://www.latitudefestival.com/line-up/artist/ebury-library-does

Do come say hello!

Now it’s off to pack as much mosquito repellent as my bag can hold and of course, a hula hoop.

 

Recent summer reading

A few recommendations from recent readings:

Spin by Nina Allan

I read this novella in one sitting, perched outside in my garden on a sunny day, which was the perfect place for it. Beautiful, sensory writing which made me want to run off and coast around the Mediterranean, but with touches of darkness (the crushing of the sea snails for ink was a particularly disturbing scene). Something about this reminded me of the stories in Tokyo Cancelled. The SF elements are lightly done, but it’s that suggestion that even in the most technologically evolved world there is room for myths and strangeness – that things can still slip through the cracks – that I loved about this story. Last week I also picked up Allan’s new collection Stardust, which I’m very much looking forward to.

How The Dead Dream by Lydia Millet

Millet has been on my to-read list for a while. I can’t remember where I saw the recommendation, but I spied a copy of How The Dead Dream in Skoobs earlier this year and picked it up. It was a challenging book, in theme (we’re talking mass extinction and dementia, there was a point where I wasn’t sure I could bear to finish it, despite the black humour) and in prose (it’s dense) but I think it’s one that will stay with me. In summary – a child obsessed with money grows up to be an investment/property mogul, but in the wake of a shocking event becomes obsessed with animals on verge of extinction and starts breaking into zoos to sit with those that are ‘the last’. What makes it work is the surreal, sometimes funny, always exquisite language and Millet’s handling of T., the protagonist, whose final journey seems completely plausible, despite his unlikely beginnings. The final section was the knock out for me. A kind of Drowned World / Heart of Darkness descent.

Martian Sands by Lavie Tidhar

A totally mad and very enjoyable book. The closest comparison I can think of is Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 – Tidhar does the same thing of taking a overwhelmingly serious subject (in this case the Holocaust; in Slaughterhouse 5, the bombing of Dresden) and applying to it a surreal and farcical lens – using humour to highlight tragedy, which is of course what the best theatre does. Through the multi-stranded narrative, from sentient bullets to simulacrum leaders (the Golda was undoubtedly my favourite character), weaves the mysterious, never quite defined figure of Bill Glimmung. There are nods to all sorts of things, many of which I’m sure I missed, but I particularly enjoyed the Wizard of Oz moment in the Martian warrior section. See also: a couple of links to Tidhar’s story in The Lowest Heaven.

Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh

Soft Apocalypse was a book I very much enjoyed last year, and I’d been looking forward to McIntosh’s new one for a while (just check out the gorgeous cover art for a start). This is very much an ideas book, fast paced – I raced through it in a weekend – and character based. For me, it’s the engagement with social media that is most fascinating – projecting into a future world where public profile is Everything, and being seen is more important that what is being done – it’s not the event, it’s the story you tell about the event. McIntosh presents a more extreme version of, say, the concluding chapter of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad. The plot centres around the exploitation of women in such a world, and depressing as this was to read, it also rings uncomfortably true. In this sense, and in the public-private debate it explores, Love Minus Eighty is very much a contemporary novel.

Hawthorn and Child by Keith Ridgeway

This was one from last year that went on my to-read-for-2013 list after seeing many people rave about it. And it did not disappoint. Another fragmented, perplexing narrative, another book where you feel like you are looking at the world through a distorted lens, another writer whose prose I am in lost in envy reading. Phrases like (okay, I was always going to love this) ‘drops of neon’ to describe a cat’s eyes. The language has a rhythm, a flow to it. As when I read The Virgin Suicides, I know there are phrases and images that are going to stick with me (there is one obvious parallel with the Eugenides but it would be a giveaway to say what). See also: a blistering invective of Tony Blair, the war in Iraq and our mental health services. As for the final chapter… well. Just read this book.

Current reading: I usually only have one book on the go but somehow at the moment I’ve got four. How, I’m not entirely sure.

The Girl in the Photograph by Lygia Fagundes Telles
The City’s Son by Tom Pollock
The Falling Sky by Pippa Goldschmidt
And finally, about 3/4 through the stories in The Lowest Heaven. And if you’ve enjoyed the Lowest Heaven, here’s a great list of where to find other work by the contributors over on the Pornokitsch site.

This week’s fangirl moment: meeting Evie Wyld in the Review bookshop in Peckham.