Boldly going nowhere

Global pandemic. Race riots in the US as its unacknowledged legacy of slavery, white supremacy and race-based murder comes back to bite. But what frightened me most last week was the SpaceX launch on Saturday.

Back in the day I used to be a science fiction geek, and I still keep up. I wanted to be an astronaut. I read all the greats during my teens and 20s, was an avid viewer of Star Trek through all its iterations (I’ve even watched ALL episodes of Discovery and Picard – more on that another time) and even suffered through most of Babylon 5. I lost faith when I became fully aware of the stupidity of (some) humans, and of how ill-advised it would be for us to set out to truly explore space. Let’s keep the destruction local to our own planet, people. Until we sort out our relationship with this one, let’s not go where our irresponsible behaviour might unleash something worse than ecological breakdown, climate catastrophe or nuclear holocaust, on a galactic scale.

So Saturday was my worst nightmare. Borne out by the patriotic fervour of Murican bombast. We were told again and again how this was a triumph for Murica. Never mind that Trumpy has eviscerated NASA because it kept pointing out the error of his climate strategy, or lack of one. Never mind that NASA’s astronauts were heading off to the INTERNATIONAL Space Station (where they neglected social distancing rules on arrival). Never mind that commerce has had to step in to save Murican face, and we now have the egotist that is Musk running in the Murican space race. Musk, who has given up on this planet and set his sights on Mars.

And, clincher; the apogee of this event, we were told by the over-excited representative from SpaceX, was that the best that this moment – this seminal, historic voyage – could offer was that some kid might be inspired to become the next Musk, or Bezos. Yep, more tax averse technocrats is what we want, apparently.

It was bad enough when we had national space programmes, run by people who answered to elected officials. As more nations compete and more commercial interests become involved, who will get to decide who leaves our orbit to become ambassadors for Earth? The nature of the experiments and studies performed? Do we really want to leave billionaires in charge? Do we want commerce to set the agenda for space exploration?

I suppose the good that could come out of this is that space becomes the destination for all neolibs with ambition. We can jettison them off once a year. And when they’re all gone, things might get better down here on Earth and we might have a chance of cleaning up our home without the kids messing it up again.

ps – the image I’ve chosen to illustrate this blog is a bit tangential but it represents all that I still love about the genre

Dear earth protectors, I wrote you a book

It’s about a year since I published my second novel, To See The Light Return. I wrote it as a love letter to climate activists. I thought it might entertain, encourage and amuse at a time when caring about having a biosphere viable for future generations felt like swimming against a tsunami of individualistic materialism. Boy, what a difference a year makes! Now, with cleaner skies, and dolphins frolicking in Venetian canals, more and more people are realising how human activity directly correlates to pollution. Calls for action on the climate and biodiversity emergencies to be taken with as great a dispatch as we have seen for COVID-19 (or greater, in the case of the UK and the US) are coming from all quarters. We know that action is possible when the threat is recognised.

So, from an individual, materialist author’s point of view, that’s more readers then, surely. Unsurprisingly, not so much.

I knew climate activists would be a niche market. It turns out to be even nicher because, understandably, no one who is busy working to keep our planet liveable for humans and other species has much downtime. Or, it turns out, much appetite for reading anything that isn’t full of information about how to accomplish that laudable end. As I didn’t have time to write the book for many years, for exactly those reasons, I am not surprised. But I am disappointed. Why can’t you make an exception in this case, I think, a little forlorn.

It’s been a discouraging year, from this narrow perspective.

I have had some amazing reviews. One reader told me she burst into tears as she read the end of the book, because it held out the vision of something hopeful, something other than the individualist, materialist world of 2019. I was touched and delighted. This was exactly the response I had been hoping for. It tipped the scales, balancing out the year of slog, the slow sales and rebuffs from independent bookshops that only buy from wholesalers. The silence from prospective reviewers, too busy being serious to take a moment for a bit of fiction. A bit of fluff from an unknown noveller.

But here’s the thing. Fiction is a serious business. What we read informs our view of the world and our expectations. The principal impetus to write TSTLR was being unable to find much to read that represented the world as I see it or, more importantly, that represented it as I and other earth protectors would like it to be. That looked at all that materialist individualism and found it lacking; not ‘normal’ but alienating, frustrating, arid. I wanted to be an alternative voice offering an alternative vision.

And more important, reading fiction can increase the reader’s capacity for empathy. In my own work I write from many different characters’ points of view. I find myself experiencing empathy, even for my villains and – according to my reviews – my readers feel it too. In a time when our society is becoming increasingly polarised and divided, our ability to put ourselves in the minds of those with whom we do not agree, to see why they might feel the way they do, needs to be exercised, toned, not left to atrophy. Reading data-driven nonfiction might give us the tools to win an argument, but will it help us reach agreement or understanding?

So please, earth protector, consider putting a bit of downtime my way. To avoid the industrial behemoth that is Amazon – reasons why it’s available there, here – email me direct: sophiegb@me.com

ps, if you’re wondering, earth protectors, eh? check out the life work of the much missed Polly Higgins and the Ecocide team.

 

 

 

Short story: Day 0 – the bride

She slammed the lid of her laptop down in a fury, cutting off the Churchillesque mugging of the PM as he exorted the country to pull together. Right, like he’d be fucking pulling anything except his own fucking todge. And presumably he had someone on staff to do that sort of thing.
Shit. Fuck. Fuckity fuck.
She opened the calendar on her phone and counted 12 weeks from the date of the weekend.
Yep, Saturday June 13th. The earliest day they might expect the recommended restrictions to be lifted.
What should be her wedding day.
It had to go ahead. It just had to.

She didn’t make a fuss when her fiance came home. Likely he hadn’t noticed the significance of the 12 weeks. And she knew if she drew it to his attention, he’d tell her not to fuss, that everything would be OK and the worst that could happen would be that they would have to delay the wedding for a few months. Maybe a year. But she couldn’t be that sanguine. It had taken years for him to commit to a date. She had booked caterers, florists, the photographer, a stylist, and a ridiculously expensive venue overlooking the sea, accommodation included. A dress was being hand-sewn. The list they had published at Harrods was already half ticked-off.

The expense of cancelling would be huge. Even postponing was bound to cost. The thought made her neck contract with tension.
Eventually he noticed her preoccupation, her whimper as he turned on the 10 o’clock news and the press conference was replayed in all its godawful glibness.
“What’s up? Worried about the wedding?” He tousled her hair, pulling strands of hair out of her carefully controlled coiffure and making her wince. She pulled away.
“Of course I’m fucking worried,” she snapped, forgetting her earlier resolve. “This could ruin everything!”
“If the worst comes to the worst, we’ll just postpone. It’s only money. Calm down, love.” He pulled her against his chest, and she forced herself to relax.

“It’s only money.” The words chased themselves around her head as she lay sleepless beside him, listening to his gentle snores. It was easy enough for him to say, he’d been born with loads of it. She had not. This wedding was her way of announcing to the world that life had changed for her, that she was no longer the penniless data inputter from his office, but about to become his equal, his wife.
Half an hour later she decided it was no good, she wasn’t going to sleep. She got up and pulled on a dressing gown. Her laptop was on the kitchen table and she flipped open the cover and made herself a cup of camomile tea while it woke up.
Her Facebook feed was full of friends lamenting cancelled holidays, home-working memes involving pyjamas and a general air of stoicism. She scrolled through with mounting irritation. The ad in the sidebar almost missed her attention altogether. TOO BUSY FOR A SHUTDOWN? CAN’T MISS A THING? THIS GROUP CAN HELP. Intrigued, she clicked.

The man who had promised he could help her did not look like a saviour. For one, he looked ill. But that was good. That was the point.
He stood hunched over and coughed into his fist, against all the medical advice she had read. She approached warily.
The shop windows that overlooked them were blank, the streets empty. They were alone except for some pigeons, unaware of the human crisis and happily courting in the fitful sunshine. Evenso she still felt exposed and wondered if she could be seen on CCTV, if anyone was watching. So what, it wasn’t as if she was doing anything illegal.
He didn’t notice her until she was almost upon him. She cleared her throat and he looked up. Close to, he looked even worse, face shiny with sweat.
“You Nadine?” he rasped.
She nodded.
“Got what I asked for?”
An envelope full of £20 notes passed between hands.
“Right, how do you want your dose?” He laughed. It turned into a terrible, wet cough that bent him double.
She was startled. She hadn’t thought this bit through.
“You’re not bad looking. I’d be happy to give you a snog,” he offered, after the fit of coughing had subsided.
She recoiled and he laughed again. She wanted to step away, it was instinctive, but she forced herself to stay within the infection zone. The quicker this worked, the better. This time he coughed hard into a handkerchief, and when he had done he offered it to her. Repulsed, she stared at it.
“Go, on, take it, your’re not going to get a better opportunity than this,’ he wheezed. She took it and he turned and shuffled away.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked.
“How else a publican going to make a buck in these times?” he wheezed, before slipping down an alleyway.
“You’re sure you’ve got the right bug?” she shouted after him. There was no reply.

On the drive home, on almost deserted roads, she wore the handkerchief wrapped around her mouth and chin, like a mask. If any other drivers thought she was odd wearing it inside the car, as they sat beside her at the lights, she didn’t care.
When she got home she found her fiance working in his home office and gave him a long and impassioned kiss.
“Glad you’re feeling happier!” he said.

She had a week or two, she thought, before the symptoms kicked in. Another week of being ill. Then, surely, they would be allowed out of the house and life could return to normal. Before she got sick, and after, all she had to worry about was getting close to her guests and wedding staff, in time to be sure they’d be fit for her big day. Humming under her breath, she started a new table in her wedding spreadsheet.

[Disclosure: at time of writing the author is hoping to get married on June 20th.]

Brexit. Undone.

On January 31st, the day the disUK left the EU, I stuck my tongue in my cheek and posted on my Facebook author page, thought ‘what the heck,’ and boosted the post.

The post comprised an image of the cover art of my book and the headline “Brexit. Undone.” The cover art has an eye-grabbing image, the text, To See The Light Return, a Brexitopian novel, and my name. I sat back and watched to see what would happen.

I’ve done a few ads that had precisely zero impact. This was different, and I learned a few things.

  1. Brexiteers are alarmingly easily triggered. Always hope they are unarmed with actual weapons
  2. Having ‘novel’ in the post in no way guarantees anyone will understand you are referring to a work of fiction, and
  3. It is possible to be offended by the very idea that someone might write a fictional story about a scenario with which one does not agree, and
  4. One apparently requires a right to write, as in “What gives you the right …”
  5. People who don’t know you will have all sorts of opinions about you based on one thing they know about you, and feel quite relaxed about insulting you
  6. Other people who don’t know you will come to your defence
  7. Brexit is brilliant and no one need worry about a thing
  8. Facebook algorithms are hilariously flawed

During the 10 days or so that the post was being boosted I was ill with a cold. Much too meh to be bothered with monitoring the abuse, so I would check in every day or so to see that exchanges were taking place without the need for input from me, take a dip into the insults, switch it off and get back to being poorly.

I felt quite upset at times. I know I should have expected some flack as a result of what was, admittedly, clickbait. But I’m yuman. It was tempting to let rip in a series of ripostes to demonstrate my wit. But that would have felt like reinforcing what was already turning out to be a toxic thread, and y’know: Be the change.

So, rather than reacting online – beyond a Like when someone stuck up for the right to write or a Haha when someone wrote something particularly silly, like calling me a ‘traitor’ – I put some imagination and empathy into Inhabiting the mindset of the people I’d offended.

I ended up feeling sorry for my detractors. They have clearly been posting enough political content over the last three years that Facebook identified them as having an interest in a post about Brexit, and apparently feel that though they might have ‘won’ the argument they haven’t won the complete cultural dominance they voted for, and still feel threatened by folk with contrary ways.

Which is pretty scary, really. If the whole of the last three years has been about a self-serving political elite (those that weren’t ideologically anti-EU anyway) appeasing this one sector of the electorate, and they’re still not happy, what will it take? What will be given?

I know this blog would really annoy the people who derogatoried my post (that little neologism is for the one who derided my calling my job ‘noveller’). How very dare I.

And I confess that tickles me.

If you want to see the post – heck, you can insult me if you like – it’s here.

If you want to buy the book, it’s here.

Kaboom – navigating the moral minefield of selling a book on Amazon

 

My friends, I am fairly confident, love me. But many of them refuse to buy my book on Amazon.

I understand fully that the socially and environmentally conscious steer clear of Amazon. Zero-hours contracts, and tax avoision, who can blame them? But what is an independent author to do? All online retail is morally tainted to some degree, depriving high streets of custom and clogging residential streets with CO2 emitting delivery trucks, but in order to find readers one has to use the available channels. And to reach a readership outside of one’s social circle, without the resources of publishing companies (most of which are now owned by multinational conglomerates with their own dubious ethical quagmires to pick one’s way across), I am obliged to go where the readers are.

I thought long and hard before choosing a publishing platform that boasted access to 70,000 outlets via Amazon’s print-on-demand service. Turns out a lot of that was bull, but back then it was persuasive enough that I am now committed until April 2020 at least. If I can only crack this marketing malarkey, in theory I could recoup at least some of the money I’ve spent on self-publishing. Perhaps even turn a profit, some of which will be tithed to the charity I used to work for and still support, Transition Town Totnes.

Because the biggest local independent bookshop on my high street refuses to stock it. Their reasoning? It is not available from wholesalers (exept Amazon, whom they abhor for killing off independent bookshops, forgetting Waterstones had already done that). And so it is too much paperwork. They do have independent local authors on their shelves but won’t take on any more until one of them dies. Hmmm. Knowing if that happens will be difficult unless I make a habit of popping by frequently to ask, “Anyone dead yet?” which seems rather distasteful.

So, my book is available from Castle St Community Bookshop and Arcturus in Totnes – from the dreaded A****n and iTunes (Apple books), and direct from me, via emailing sophiegb@me.com, or contacting me through this blog site.

#1 thing you shouldn’t ask (this) writer

“How’s the book going?”

What? Why? Where’s the harm in asking that?

  1. If I’m in the process of writing one, it throws me into a self-absorbed and critical state from which it is difficult to emerge. Answering “Fine,” never seems to suffice, but no one seems interested in my breakthroughs re character or plot, either.
  2. If I’ve just finished and released one, it’s asking me to acknowledge what a complete waste of time that was in the eyes of a world that views success in numbers. What you’re actually asking me is “How many have you sold?” and, unless you’ve actually bought it, read it and (ideally) raved about it to me personally and online, that is not information I am prepared to disclose.

Every single friend and acquaintance I encounter at present asks me that question. Every single time I am forced to reflect upon my uselessness as a marketing person (which is more terrible than you think, as my other job is marketing …), and want to crawl under a duvet and never emerge. So, think before you ask. If you’re just asking to be polite, please consider commenting on the weather instead.

Author Feature; To See The Light Return: a Brexitopian novel by Sophie Galleymore Bird

Many thanks to workingtitleblogspot for their support and notice. It’s way too easy to feel invisible as an independent noveller.

WorkingTitleBlogSpot review

Working Title Blogspot

Decades into the future, in a disUnited Kingdom, the breakaway county of Devon harbours dark secrets as its leader, Mayor Spight, trades with the rogue state of New Jersey to keep the engines of state running. Resistance agents are working against the clock to restore power to the people, but time is running out. Young Primrose, tithed by her parents to serve the county, tries to escape the horrors of the fate planned for her…

The surface of the drive was pitted, eroded by decades of heavy rain channelling itself down the hill, but the road beyond was worse and her progress slowed even more as she struggled to keep her balance on the ruts. Her slippers kept coming off and it was an effort to stoop and pull them out of clods of mud, then slip them back on her sore feet. She was sweating and breathing hard even…

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Love undying – short horror story. Because I’d rather do anything other than market my book

It’s one thing when your beloved dies. The grief is overwhelming, a battering flood of agony that could leaves you scoured by salt. But over time anguish is spent, slows to a trickle. One moves on.

It’s quite another thing when your beloved is still shambling around with his – sorry, its – new zombie girlfriend, dead to your pain. New wells of suffering open up in the aisles of the supermarket, threatening the glistening packages of food and consumables that teeter on the edge. Or here in the bar of your local, when the undead stumble in, arm in rotting arm. Laughing out of the sides of their necks.
Now it is speaking, ‘Aaargrrh Ssshlufel,’ with much drool pooling from its lower lip, on its shuffling way to the bar.

‘Alright Steph? Pint of bitter please Tom.’ He checks wordlessly with his girlfriend, ‘And a dry white wine.’

Time to take a stand. I need weapons. How do you kill the undead? Romero makes it look so easy. Rodriguez’ practically implode if you poke them hard. This is more Resident Evil or the sprinters of Dead Set.
Maybe holy water?

‘What the hell? What did you do that for?’ He shakes beer out of his hair. ‘Christ’s sake Steph, what’s your problem? I thought you’d got past all this shit.’

OK, not water, that’s vampires and maybe the Wicked Witch of the West. But it had had some effect – it was definitely looking smaller. Maybe it was just looking shrunken in death; shorter, squatter than in life. Where was the noble mien, lost in this putrid horror? He had never been this … plain. Despite the cadaverous pallor and purpling wounds it was looking distinctly … ordinary.
Was that a maggot crawling from its hairline into its ear? Leaving its family of wriggling brethren to infest a wound half-hidden by shaggy hair.
Head wounds.
That was how you killed zombies. Shoot them in the head.
Or batter them.

She headed for the alley at the side of the pub, where she knew scraps of lumber lay heaped up in a skip. Eyes straining against the failing light, she searched for what she needed.

This should do it. Hefting a length of 2×4 I wait for it to come out to smoke. I don’t have to loiter long – it seems nicotine addiction carries over into unlife post-death. The street outside the pub is crowded with people rushing home from work, or out for a night on the town and I watch as it moves towards the alley, concentrating on lighting the roll-up dangling from its mouth. Focused on keeping the flame alight, it doesn’t notice me until it is too late.

‘Steph, didn’t see you there … What? … What are you …?’
THWACK.

Why is it bleeding? They never bleed in The Walking Dead, just snap and ooze. But the battering does seem to have done the trick. It lies there, unmoving, eyes unseeing.
Finally! It is dead. I can grieve and move on.
So why is everyone staring at me and screaming, like I’m the monster? Is this the zombie apocalypse? Where is my weapon?

So, I published a book

Well it’s been a year or so since my last blog. Turned out the editor liked it, I wrote three more drafts, and now it’s available on Amazon, iBooks (not live yet), Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Booktopia among others. I held a launch last week. But I don’t actually own a paperback myself. Yet. It’s on order. I have no idea how many pages it is, printed. I do know it’s just shy of 90,000 words. Like a proper book.

Turns out when you use the awesome Tablo platform you don’t get proof copies but you do get amazing service from Ash, the originator of the site, with rapid responses to my many questions and concerns. No mean feat when he’s several time zones away on the other side of the world.

The title changed. It is now called To See The Light Return (a Brexitopian novel) which is a bit wordy, but gives a much better indication of the content. Maybe. What does that title say to you?

Indie author

So the first draft of Power, my latest bit of novelling, is with an editor I picked at random from the internet. It’s a horrible feeling, waiting for a verdict on whether someone else (particularly a complete stranger) thinks a project is worth your money and their time. Hence, blogging. It’s a distraction and keeps the writer muscles from atrophying.

I had so much fun writing that first draft. Unexpected twists and turns took the story in all sorts of different directions and introduced characters with whom it was a pleasure to work. I was riding high on it for a couple of months, but now it’s been two weeks of waiting for a report and confidence is low. Ah, the rollercoaster of authorship.

This is my sixth novel. Number one – Maneater – was published in the US in 1993. You can find it on Amazon but be warned, it’s filth. Numbers two and three were abandoned at around draft three, due to lack of confidence and an agent who kept trying to shoehorn me into a box that fitted a particular publisher. Numbers four and five are at second draft stage and will become my next projects once Power is finished. (Assuming it isn’t bottom-drawered because the editor doesn’t rate it, in which case anyone reading this blog will be hearing all about Wasted and Trashed instead.)

A return to novelling this late in life is, I confess, a bit of a mid-life crisis. At 50-something, it would be easy to coast downhill towards retirement, keeping busy with the beloved, paid employment, climate activism, the dog, the chickens, the renovation of our home that will now have to be squeezed in between drafts. But my mother died last year. She wasn’t very old, and it smacked me in the face with the fact of mortality as well as loss. So, a return to novelling. And a bash at self-publishing. I haven’t the time or will to woo another agent, then a publisher. But I do have time to woo you, dear reader; with you I hope to form a warm and lasting relationship.

To this end I will be strewing petals in the form of free short stories, excerpts from works in progress, and special BOGOF deals. OK, not the BOGOF deals, but you get the idea. Content, people, content.

And in due course, all being well, Power will be published online, with a limited-edition print run for those who like an actual book in their hands.

 

If not you, who? If not now, when?  –  Howard Johns, Energy Revolution