Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical

Hello, all!

Those nice people at Big Finish have just put up my new collection of short stories on their website, available for pre-order!

I am very excited about this. It's my first book since Tiny Deaths, which picked up the World Fantasy Award last year. And like it, it's a series of quirky stories - some of them funny, some of them a bit disturbing, and all of them focussed upon love and our attiudes towards it.

I see it as a bit of a self-help manual. What do you do when your wife leaves you, and presents you with your own heart in a Tupperware box? (And what happens when each morning the wretched thing starts to grow bones?) How can you cope when you lose your husband on a business trip to Europe, when the entire country of Luxembourg he's visiting just disappears overnight? How do you weigh your fiance's heart for love, to find out *exactly* what percentage of it belongs to you - what's the right way to behave when the ghost of your childhood cat keeps sitting on your bed whenever you try to find a new sexual partner - is it worth pursuing a relationship with a woman who has a physical allergy to your very own happiness?

Useful stuff. And there are stories too about the Devil's efforts at writing romantic fiction, the first love song in the world as composed by a pig in the Garden of Eden, and how a husband allows his new job as a tree to come between him and the family he's providing for.

Eighteen tales of the weird and the uncanny. I'm honestly very proud of it.

There are three editions available for sale now. There's a standard hardback. There's a leatherbound limited edition. And there's an extra special limited edition, also leatherbound, which contains a story handwritten by me in letter form. There are fifty of them, and the story's over a thousand words, so that really hurt my wrists. The book was put up on the site yesterday, and over a quarter of the copies of that edition have already been sold, so you may want to order that one quickly if you want it. A paperback edition will follow some time later in 2010.

I'll give a proper update on stuff and be a bit more chatty soon - but thanks for reading such a blatant advertisement. I'll be no doubt talking more about book launches and readings all over the place as well pretty shortly - in as many countries as I can!


Oh, you know. Updates and stuff. The usual drill.


Oof. I haven't written on here for ages. But let's be honest - I haven't been in the country for ages either. Not really. I went out and bought a laptop some little while ago, simply so that when I'm in some strange city I could feel I wasn't entirely cut off from my family and friends. What I've discovered, though, is that I'm rubbish at accessing the internet abroad. Sweden wasn't interested, Estonia wouldn't have me, and the dry ironic laugh that Lithuania gave when I tried to search for available networks seemed just a little too personal, frankly. It was as if the entire Baltic state was mocking me. Why on earth would it want to do that? I'm sensitive.

And I'll be honest. The reason I'm writing this now is because I ought to be packing. And I hate packing. It seems a lot more fruitful to be spending time online talking about suitcases than actually fetching any down from the cupboard. I'm off to Singapore on Tuesday morning, and that's very exciting. And a little bit nerve-wracking, as I'm not entirely sure what it is I'm doing over there. The National Library of Singapore wrote to me a few months back, telling me that one of the short stories in my last collection has been selected as this year's international representative, and wondering whether I'd like to pop over and give a few speeches about that. Of course I would. I live in London, where the sun only shines after every other country in Europe has had a go with it already and doesn't want to play with it any more. Being somewhere warm, where noodles are plentiful, and chewing gum is frowned upon, sounds very good to me.

But I'm only finding out by dripfeed now what it is I'm meant to be doing. Some time in the next few days I'm appearing live on Singapore's prime time breakfast TV show. And I understand now that the British Council have poached me so I can go to a few schools and try to inspire kids about the joys of writing. (There are joys, of course there are. But most of them involve the fact I can stay in bed late in the morning, and don't have to wear a tie to work.) And I'm giving readings to big audiences, I think. And meeting lots of dignitaries. In all honesty, one of the reasons I'm delaying my suitcase packing is I'm not sure how formal I should dress. I quite fancied wearing a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. It may not be appropriate.

It'll be fun, though. And I'm getting rather good at the handshaking and cheekkissing that these sorts of things involve. My handshaking is expert, even if I do say so myself. I'm firm and masculine, and have timed to perfection just how long I should grip for. (I've been practising on myself, using the other hand.) The cheekkissing is a bit trickier, because I can't practise on myself, it's biologically impossible. But I think I can do it gently and sincerely, and with my facial hair causing only a minimum abrasion to the recipient. So all will be well.

When I last wrote I was about to nip off on the first of my lecture cruises. I was talking about Flemish literature and fine art, as I sailed around the rivers of Belgium and the Netherlands. It was all very jolly, and the getting up for an hour without recourse to notes and talking about authors whose names I can't pronounce only mildly terrifying. I met some lovely people, and ate an awful lot of food. (Those luxury ships have seven course meals, you know!) Since then I've been touring the Baltic Sea, visiting a series of nine countries, talking about Russian literature. It's been absolutely wonderful, and I'm going to do some more of these in 2010, I think. And you haven't lived, let me tell you, unless you've tried giving an account of the humanism of Ivan Turgenev, and his contrast with the disillusionory novels of Mikhail Saltykov, during a storm - so that you need the lectern to grip hold of to keep upright, and you see your audience constantly dipping out of your eyeline as the sea rolls. Fabulous. Sort of.

But it has meant that when I've been in Britain, I've had to use my time to catch up with a whole series of deadlines. Some of the drama projects are a bit hush hush and I can't talk about them much yet. (But there's one BBC radio one for which I'm going to need your help - a thirteen part weekly series which I write, with my plot affected by suggestions from the listeners. I need lots of sympathetic plot suggestions from my mates. And a minimum of suggestions that suddenly everyone turns into dragons, or ends up on the Moon.) But the book ones are up for grabs, so here we go.

I've got three books coming out this year, which is very exciting. My first is an armchair guide to The X-Files. It was a little hobby project I started whilst watching all the boxsets with my wife Janie last year - we'd watch a couple of episodes, and then I'd go upstairs and write what I thought. And just for fun, I thought I'd throw Chris Carter's other series into the mix as well - Millennium and The Lone Gunmen - just because I didn't have enough to do. By day I'd be working on my fiction - what my agent calls my Proper Work - and by night I'd be wondering whether Mulder and Scully had enough sexual chemistry or not. The result of all that - this vast quarter-of-a-million word tome called 'Wanting to Believe' is out... well, now. I think. I haven't seen a copy yet, but my US publishers (Mad Norwegian) tell me it's now shipping. Do consider reading it if you like The X-Files. I'm not part of that series' fandom whatsoever, so I suspect the book will be greeted with cries of dismay, and I'll find out my views on the series are ignorant. We shall see.

The second is an Australian publication, released in September by Twelfth Planet Press. They specialise in exciting speculative fiction, and have recently been celebrating the novella form, and it's something of a matter of personal pride that they're taking a story of mine. It's not really a novella, but a long-ish short story called Roadkill - but it's being released with another long-ish short story by Tansy Rayner Roberts called Siren Beat. (Rather cleverly, we both get our own cover, by virtue of the fact you can turn the book over and upside down. I like that!) Roadkill is a story I wrote largely in Australia last year, and was inspired by a lot of the friends I met attending the Swancon convention there - not least Alisa Krasnostein, who runs Twelfth Planet. Do check it out.

And in November my second collection of short stories is released! It's called Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical, and it's big and funny and weird. It's a series of stories which reflect and bounce off love - sometimes comically, sometimes as horror, mostly with quirky fantastical elements in them. A talking pig in the Garden of Eden becoming the composer of the first love song as he falls helplessly for Eve; the Devil writing romantic fiction; a man breaking up with his wife when she returns to him his heart sealed within a plastic sandwich box. All this, and lots of advice about the dangers of kidnapping psychotic succubi, or exactly what to do if you take a job as a tree, or if your husband vanishes on a business trip taking the entire nation of Luxembourg with him. You know. Useful stuff.

Because my last collection, Tiny Deaths, did rather well, and picked up the World Fantasy Award, my publishers at Big Finish are releasing this in a series of editions. Nice glossy hardbacks and limited editions bound in faux leather. You know. Posh stuff. The stupidest idea I had was that there should be a special limited edition, which came with a short story placed in the book in a series of envelopes, all of them individually handwritten by me. The story is just over a thousand words, and writing out fifty of the things doesn't sound so bad - but believe me, I'm counting them off very grimly, one by one. Last night I reached number forty. Grr. Ten to go. Needless to say, I'll be writing a lot of these stories in Singapore. My hotel looks very nice, I'm sure it'll have a writing desk.

So there you go. Sorry it's such a splurge, and sorry it's so blatantly self-publicing. If I can get my laptop to work in Singapore, I'll try to relax a bit and be a lot more chatty. So long as I'm not handshook or cheekkissed out. It's hard to write properly when you've done too much cheekkissing. All that puckering up can take a lot out of a man.



This last month, after my daily spell of writing, I've mostly spent my time cramming my way through Flemish literature. There are reasons for this, it's not just the fact that I'm caught in some strange masochistic urge. (Though halfway through the seminal 1860 classic, Max Havelaar, or The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company, something very close to pleasure came through the pain, and I began to take genuine joy from the four-page-long paragraphs about colonial iniquities.)

I may have mentioned this before - but next week I'm acting as a lecturer on a cruise around the Low Countries. I was asked last year whether I felt I was up to the task of being one of the resident 'experts' employed on the rather posh end of the leisure cruise circuit, and naturally enough I was thrilled to accept. I love cruises - I love the fact that every day I'm in a different city, seeing new things; I love the people that I meet on these excursions; and I love the ships themselves, the elegance and the calm. So my first trip is around Belgium and the Netherlands, and I'll be delivering a maximum of three lectures, specialising in the history of Dutch and Flemish lit, and the relationship between fine art and the way it's characterised in the modern novel (with especial attention given to Rembrandt and Vermeer, as we'll be looking at some of their masterpieces at the Mauritshuis and the Rijksmuseum on the way). Then, in July, it's a two week voyage around the Baltic, where I'll be talking mainly about Russian and Swedish authors.

It's enormous fun. And a great opportunity for a book collector like myself, who buys up everything in translation by the bucketload (I have a weakness for author's names I can't pronounce), actually to *read* the damn things I've been putting on my shelves all these years. And if Max Havelaar is a bit painful - it's seen by the Dutch as their Great Classic Novel, don't you know. I beg to differ - then it's introduced me to the work of Harry Mulisch, Cees Nooteboom, Edwin Mortier, and Hugo Claus. Terrific writers who otherwise might have just sat on my overstuffed shelves gathering dust. I'm really looking forward to wittering on about them at great length to an audience trapped on both sides by a great expanse of water.

The difficulty with all this is that I agreed to do the lectures at a time when I really wasn't too busy. But the workload has really crept up this year. Last week I *finally* finished my new book of short stories, Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical, ready for its release this Autumn. (No, really. The contract's all signed and sorted. I'm so pleased. More news on this later!) And I'm now going through a series of other commissions, both for TV and for books, and enjoying it all hugely. But I'm keenly aware to make it all fit in, and to reach all the deadlines, that as most couples on board the cruise ships will spend the evening gazing dreamily out on to the banks of the Baltic, I'll be scribbling furiously into my notebook in my cabin trying to get my plotlines making sense.

I'm not complaining, mind you. After all, how great can Baltic banks be?

I'm travelling rather too much at the moment. When I got back from my latest Doctor Who convention, in Los Angeles this February, Janie sat me down gravely in the lounge, and told me that the cat no longer missed me. Usually Nero would spend his time searching my office for any signs of his master when I was out gallivanting around the world - but I'd been gone so frequently, that he'd given up. Indeed, I looked at Nero, then and there, and realised he was somewhat bemused to see me in the house at all. But if I'm in Europe come May and July, then I'm at Doctor Who conventions in June (Toronto), October (Orlando) and November (Chicago). And in August I'm in Singapore. One of the stories from Tiny Deaths, rather to my gobsmacked surprise, has been picked up by the National Library of Singapore as its international short story representative, so I'm going across there to give a few readings and talks. All rather exciting stuff, of course - but it'll only add fuel to that particular fire of Nero's, so that by Christmas there's a reasonable chance he'll no longer have a clue who I am.

The thing is, I'm a sucker for a foreign trip. Here we are. It's mid-May. I haven't been abroad now for nearly three months. I keep on googling random cities worldwide, just to see what the rainfall or the exchange rate might be. I can't *wait* to be on an aeroplane again. It almost doesn't matter where. It doesn't matter that I'll have to talk about the colonial disputes of the coffee trade in Java to get there, either.

It's not my fault the bloody cat hasn't got a passport. That's what I say.


Very simply...

...A very Happy New Year!

To all of those who made 2008 so special to me - and that's the lot of you, isn't it? - thank you so very much! I made tons of new friends this last year, all over the world, and I hope to see you all again in the next. (And in some particular cases, actually meet you for the first time! Oh yes. You know who you are.)

Wishing us all a rather splendid 2009!


Throats and plugs


Okay - so what's the deal with air conditioning in North American hotels? When I was in Calgary six weeks ago, it was chilly outside, but inside the Hyatt it was as warm as toast. And after a few days spent there, the dryness of that air conditioning did weird things to my throat. But that was nothing to spending Thanksgiving in Chicago at a Doctor Who convention - where the weather was not so much chilly as deliciously freezing (snow! blizzards! walking around in your shoes making crunching sounds on the ice! There's really nothing as wonderful as bad weather when it's pretty and it's Not Yours), and the hotel was not just as warm as *ordinary* toast, but toast that had just popped nice and crisp and steaming out of the toaster, but for some reason you thought still wasn't quite warm enough, and could take a couple of minutes' reheating in a microwave.

And my throat paid the price. Some of you reading this will have seen me at Chicago, so you'll know that what I'm saying is no exaggeration. On Thanksgiving I arrived bearing my Usual Voice - boyish, a bit raffish, dare I say it, light and charming. By the beginning of Saturday morning it had dropped an octave, and I was now growling with the voice of a man who'd been chainsmoking since his days in the womb, a voice so sharp it actually made me feel each time I spoke that I was chewing barbed wire. And that might have been fine in itself - I rather enjoyed parading my new voice around a bit, trying it out for size, realising I could now join a Welsh male choir. But I spent six nights in that hotel, and every morning I'd wake to find my voice had got even deeper. It was strange. I'd go to bed at night, and my mouth would be so dry that I twice dreamed I was being forcefed salt. And by the time I flew home, my voice was *so* low that the airline staff at the check-in desk couldn't quite understand me and scowled at me as I tried to secure an aisle seat as if I were talking a foreign language - I suspect by that point I was on a decibel level that could only have been easily understood by great whales or bricks.

I wouldn't complain. Well, I obviously am. A bit. But it happened twice in two hotels in two months... and I don't remember this happening in hotels before. (I was in a hotel in Cardiff inbetween, and nothing of the sort happened. Possibly because there was no air conditioning. There was no comfortable bed, or friendly service, or clean duvet either - but that's beside the point.) So is it something new to North America, some plot to make the atmosphere in all the hotels so dry that we're forced to drink lots at the bar, or risk losing our very vocal identity? Or is it - more likely - something to do with me getting old? Hmm.

I may have coughed a lot, and my throat ached a bit, but I didn't get a cold. I was very healthy, and ate lots of fruit. Oh no - I waited until I was back in London to get the cold. So now my voice is still very low, and when I talk to the cat, he acts as if he doesn't recognise me. Mind you, he is extraordinarily stupid, so may simply have forgotten in the week I was away that we ever lived together at all.

Enough of that. Lots of writing stuff going on, which I want to plug shamelessly.

A couple of months ago, rising pop star, and really very witty lyricist, Penny Broadhurst, wrote to me asking whether I'd consider writing a short story to go inside the booklet for her Christmas EP. I'm very fond of Penny's music, so I was immediately interested - and okay, I was shamelessly attracted to the idea of having anything to do with pop music, because that sounds so 'with the kids' and exciting and stuff, and I thought I might look a bit cool from the association. Penny sent me the lyrics to her new Christmas song, and it's funny and acerbic and poisonous and really rather brilliant - and I was inspired to write something of that nature back (without the brilliant part, but there you go). The CD is now available on Penny's website, and it's a limited edition - go to and check it out.

And the Doctor Who novel which I've had a part in - The Story of Martha - actually exists too! I've seen it! I've held the hardback novel in my hands. (I didn't stroke it with my cheeks, as I *would* have done, because I was shown it at a BBC party, and there were lots of people about so I'd have felt self-conscious.) It's technically out, I think, on Boxing Day - because, naturally enough, Boxing Day is the traditional time of the year when all the children want to raid bookshops and buy more TV tie-in merchandise, they won't have received anything like that in their stockings for literally *hours*. But there's a not unreasonable chance that the more enterprising booksellers in the UK, looking to flog it as a last minute stocking filler, will release it earlier than that. That'll be all of them then. If you see it, do handle it, and admire the way they've spelled my name correctly on the cover. And if you feel the urge, stroke it with your cheeks. And if you *really* feel the urge, buy it afterwards.

Something which doesn't yet exist, but from today is available on pre-order from, is my book of X-Files criticism, 'Wanting to Believe'. (Look, here's even a link! That's what the cover looks like!)

I was pleased to see they'd spelled my name correctly there too. Hurrah and stuff. So if you've ever lain awake in bed at night, wondering exactly whether Rob thought Scully's character was compromised by the ending of season seven episode 'Orison', or at which point during the second season of Millennium you can tell from Lance Henricksen's facial expression that he's no longer any idea what the series is about, or which is the *one* halfway decent episode of shambolic spin-off series The Lone Gunmen... well, now those anxieties can be put to rest. You lucky lucky people. (Although if it was bothering you that much, you know, you could simply have emailed me and asked.) No, no, really, it's a very insightful book about the development of a TV series which summed up the 1990s zeitgeist. And only partly an excuse for me to watch all my old DVD boxsets again, and pretend there was practical value in doing so.

I have finished my X-Files book, but most of it still exists in handwritten first draft form. Normally at this point I'd be typing away quite merrily, but this is rather a *large* book, with *lots* of words in it, and I'm really lazy. So whilst I was in Chicago I bought myself some voice recognition software, so that I can now read my scrawl into a microphone whilst wearing a really tight headset, and the words just magically appear onscreen. It's brilliant. It may revolutionise writing altogether. (Although it doesn't recognise the word 'Duchovny', and always interprets it as 'so cough me'. It's a bit of a bore having to correct it every paragraph, and I'm actively considering changing it to 'David So Cough Me' for the entire manuscript.) The only real worry I have is that the software tells me it's designed to adapt to my voice, and the more I use it, the more it'll recognise the unique way I sound. And yet at the moment I'm still operating on several octaves below zero, and best able to speak to the aforementioned whales and bricks. When my voice gets better, when I recapture that youthful, dare I say it, raffish and sparkling turn of speech I'm used to, the software might give up the ghost and reject me. And then there'll be no book after all.

...North American air conditioning. You'll be the one to blame.


World Fantasy Convention

I've kind of resisted writing about the World Fantasy Awards for the last few weeks for a number of reasons. Partly because it was such a strange whirl I'm still not *entirely* sure I understood it, or what was going on - and therefore can't quite believe that I actually came back from the thing clutching one of the statuettes in question. (Well, all right, not clutching. Buried in the bottom of my hand luggage. Smothered in bubble wrap, which was itself inside a separate bag, which was itself concealed beneath piles of underpants and socks. I'd been warned by Steven Jones that whenever *he* won one, that airport security always threatened to smash it up in case it had drugs smuggled inside. And clearly I thought that trying to hide the award as much as I could was the best way to avoid suspicion.) Where was I? Oh yes - and partly because, well, I *did* win - and that was great and incredible and frankly a bit tearjerking, but I'm British, damn it, and I hate to sound as if I'm showing off.

But also partly because there's a danger that the Awards and the Statuettes and All That Stuff can seem a bit too important, and overwhelm the rest of my time there. And although if I'm honest, once I *did* win Best Collection, overwhelming was just the start of what I was feeling - up to the moment they announced I'd won I was perfectly happy with the *probability* of losing. I'd had a great time. I'd met some terrific people. I'd bought some expensive books, and laughed at airport welcomers in cowboy hats. I'd have flown home to London perfectly happy with my lot, still proud as punch to have been a nominee, and not wanting to have missed the experience for the world.

So, let's get the award out of the way first. Okay. Not to sound ungrateful, but it's the ugliest thing I have in my house. And I have pictures of me on my wedding day. It's a bust of H P Lovecraft's head. H P Lovecraft probably wasn't a looker at the best of times, but frozen in statue form he's been caught on the worst day of his life, with a streaming head cold and an allergy, having just received a letter in the post telling him that his house is to be repossessed, with the neighbours next door playing very loud bass music. It's not a happy statue. Lovecraft's eyes has no pupils, for one thing. And his lips are curled in a sneer. And the back of his head bulges like a knobbly arse. All cast in silver resin. Mmmm. Steven Jones was wrong about airport security - they didn't want to give it a closer inspection when it passed through X-ray, they didn't want to *touch* the thing. It now sits in my library. Where it wards away the cat. Because it scares him. It scares me a bit too.

But I have never been prouder of something so ugly. The award ceremony itself was agonising. It was a reasonably smart affair in the big dining hall, and advertised it as a Banquet. I like banquets. They sound medieval and sumptuous. The difficulty was that said banquet was set to take place at 12.30 pm - and as greedy as I am, my stomach is not really equipped to deal with something as grand as a banquet at a time of day when it hasn't quite yet started to think overmuch about a light lunch. There were starters and entrees and desserts, and lots of bread rolls, and wine - and I didn't want to have any of it. Because I was far too nervous. For the past few days the award nomination hadn't mattered a jot to me, and now, suddenly, horribly, it actually did. I saw fellow nominees up for the same award as me, also nervous, also unable to eat - and we'd all become friends over the convention, and mutually supportive, and now I wanted them to *lose*, ha ha! And a part of me had never wanted to prepare an acceptance speech, because the assumption I might win might seem terribly arrogant, and now I began to worry about that too. That I'd win, get up on the podium, say something embarrassing, and everyone would throw their banquets at me. Or, if not actually *throw*, perhaps *flick*. With a spoon. Janie texted me during the meal to say that it didn't matter if I won or not, she'd still be proud of me. And so when my name was announced, and I was genuinely shocked (I thought there was a chance I might win Best Short Story, but Best Actual Book Of The Things was so clearly an impossibility I almost wasn't listening when they read my name out), all I could think of what to say when I got up to receive the award was to mention that text. And give it a comic reversal, so that I pretended my wife had said I wouldn't be welcome home unless I'd won, that she'd dump me. It got a laugh. Which was reassuring. And then I looked at the award, picked it up - it was bloody heavy! - and thought, "Shit, that is *repulsive*!" I nearly said so. I doubt that would have been politic.)

The rest of the convention wasn't repulsive at all. And I had my appetite, and ate a lot of beef - which Calgary does rather pride itself on, hence the huge great bloody buffalo head on the wall in the bar looming over anyone brave enough to sit under it - and put on weight. Which is why I'm now back on a diet. I made some great friends. Mark Morris and Stephen Volk, terrific writers both, flew over to Canada on the same flight - and became the mates I could retreat to when all the socialising got a bit too much. (We explored Calgary together, and it was fun to watch Mark almost pick up the nerve to walk on the glass floor at the top of Calgary Tower.) Ellen Datlow was a sweetheart. I burbled my enormous love of 'The Arrival' to Shaun Tan, and to his credit, he didn't run away. Even on the third day when I was still doing it. I was able to discuss short stories with new pal Deb Biancotti, whose debut collection is out next year, and is clearly going to be great. My old Doctor Who writing pal Paul Cornell tried his level best to get me to meet everyone he knew, and encouraged me to network a bit. And was gloriously patient with me whenever my shyness prevented me from making the most of those opportunities.

And I loved Calgary too - whenever the sci-fi and fantasy got a bit too much, I'd escape into the city. It's small and friendly, and clearly only really comes alive during the Stampede in the summer, when everyone jumps about on cattle and wears cowboy hats and shoots revolvers into the air, most probably. But I loved it *because* it wasn't doing that, that there was some sanity in the air whenever I needed fresh air, and the only cowboy hats I saw were in tourist shops, and on the heads of poor elderly ladies in the airport arrivals lounge, whose job it was to present international travellers with a glimpse of Calgary which conformed to all the Wild West stereotypes of my guide books. (I don't know, because I'm always too tired to check - but maybe at London Heathrow we do the same, and we have beefeaters, and people driving red buses, and lots of miserable repressed people holding umbrellas and moaning about the economy.)

But maybe the most memorable thing... really... was the flight back. On the night of November 4th. When my plane took off, there was still no word on the US elections; the ballots were closed, but we were hours away from any announcements. At some time in the early hours, with most of the passengers still dozing, the pilot turned on the intercom and told us - very softly - that we might like to know that Barack Obama was the new President of the US. The resultant applause rippling around the aeroplane - and to be a part of it too - was wonderful. I'd left Britain with the world still feeling strange and uncertain, and a place where people were invited to listen to the words of Sarah Palin without irony. I returned to one which seemed rather giddy with hope. And one, too, in which I had a very ugly head in my hand luggage. Yay for both things, I say.

I'm off to Chicago on Thursday, for a Doctor Who convention I love. Lots more food - turkeys on Thanksgiving - lots more friends. Maybe the greeters at the airport will be dressed like Al Capone. I fully expect some other world changing announcement of glee to be given on my flight home the week later. I've come to expect it now.



Happy birthday, Mr Doctor Who.

Forty-five years. Who would have believed it?
It seems like only yesterday that I gathered all the family around the portable television device, to see this spanking new educational series about a medical practitioner who didn't know his own surname. I was magically transported to another world - of school classrooms, and junkyards, and corridors. And twenty-five minutes later I was on the internet, voicing my dismay at Verity Lambert's straight agenda, and writing slash fic between foxy teacher Barbara Wright and the fourth schoolgirl extra from the left.
Happy days.

...I feel so very old.

Waving goodbye to England...

This is my last night at home. ...Well, obviously not forever. I mean, I'll be back one day. In fact, to be more specific... I'll be back next Wednesday. Which doesn't sound very dramatic a departure at all, quite frankly. I'll be back just in time for Guy Fawkes' Night, on which date, every year, Janie and I make our way to the nearest common and watch lots of fireworks set off in celebration of the execution of a man who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament four hundred years ago. We like fireworks. And we like, I suppose to a lesser extent, parliamentary democracy. But I digress.

I'm off to Calgary, and the World Fantasy Convention. I haven't packed yet. I really ought to. I've been looking forward to Calgary enormously, ever since I heard I'd been lucky enough to get two nominations for the awards there - but, if I'm honest, it's never quite been real. Now it's in my face and imminent and really very real indeed, and I can't help but find the prospect makes me wary. I can't quite work out why - it's as if I haven't done my homework for it. Yet there's nothing to do - I'm doing a reading, and a couple of panels, but nothing that needs preparation. I think it comes back to the vague idea I used to have when I was a kid that the impossibility of transatlantic flights only really worked if I concentrated on it hard enough, and took the trips terribly seriously. In this case I've barely had time to open a guide book (and what I've found inside merely tells me it's going to be cold - no, worse than that, it's going to be officially Sodding Cold) - and so part of me doesn't really believe that Calgary exists. So when I get there they'll just be a strange void, and everyone will turn to me, and shake their heads, and tell me that the city's absence is all my fault - I didn't work hard enough at thinking about it before I go.

The one thing I've done in preparation is to have my teeth inspected. A few weeks ago I began to get the odd twinge of toothache. And I don't like toothache, but I dislike going to the dentist even more - lots of childhood visits in which I had to stare up the nose of Mr Silcock (no, that really was his name) whilst he glared down at me, amid a smell of fluoride, and drilled my tongue to make me stop crying with fear. So I was in denial about the toothache, pretended it didn't even exist, and that my growing reliance on painkillers to get me through the night wasn't a medical need but a recreational choice. But it dawned on me that I really didn't want to lose at an award ceremony - or even potentially win! - whilst clamping a towel to my cheek, and that I'm 38 years old now, and surely adult enough to overcome my terror of the waiting room and the drill. I went down town, forthwith, and registered with the first surgery that would take me. I met a very pretty young dentist called Cindy, who was deceptively slight of build and gentle of demeanour. As soon as she looked in my mouth she visibly recoiled - then held me down, brandished a pair of forceps, and extracted one of my wisdom teeth. It was done so quickly it seemed as if it were a ticking time bomb, and she had to get rid of it before it could explode. I take it as a sign of maturity that at the very moment she gripped the offending tooth with metal bits, and then yanked it out with a terrible crack, that I was worried less by the pain than by how much this was going to cost me... For the next day I was walking around with a swollen mouth, trying desperately not to feel the strange new alien world of my upper left side with my tongue (because she told me something terrible would happen if I did), and not to spit out any blood (because that would be even worse). That would have been fine, but I had to be giving a reading of 'Tiny Deaths' at an event in Liverpool, and the very moment when I got up to the lectern and started to read a pretty story about a woman giving birth to a sofa was also the very moment I felt I was able to open my mouth fully wide for the first time since the Cindy Incident. For the entire reading I was terrified I was spraying the front row of the audience with dribble, blood, and small grains of tooth. No-one complained, but I'm sure it affected my performance a tad.

The only certain confidence I can take when my plane touches down in Canada within the next day and a bit, is that however unprepared I am for Calgary or the convention or anything appertaining to either, at least - by now, surely - when I gibber at people with ignorance it will be dribble-free. That will give me a lot of reassurance, actually. And at the award ceremony on Sunday, at which I plan to wear the only smart leather jacket I now own, and even matching socks, it may be the only truly positive thing I hold on to. We'll wait and see.

In other news, this weekend I went to Stratford Upon Avon to see David Tennant do a bit of Shakespeare. The production of 'Hamlet' is very good indeed; it's a clear and engaging reading of a play which can so easily be bogged down in philosophical asides and Too Many Famous Quotes. I adore Shakespeare - if I hadn't had the luck to be picked up as a writer when I was, I expect I'd now be lecturing on him in a university somewhere, as was the plan - but 'Hamlet' has always struck me as the play in which Shakespeare suddenly worked out just how *good* he was, and kicked back, and showed off. It's an extraordinary piece of writing, of course - there's nothing else like it in the world - but it's also the greatest playwright in the world at his most self-indulgent. It's very tempting for a production to be self-indulgent too, and this one laudably managed to be very clean and yet full of invention. Patrick Stewart was the most sympathetic Claudius I've ever seen, a murderer who dearly would love to put aside all his former acts of evil and just get down to being a benevolent king - and who feels increasingly uncomfortable as Hamlet manouevres him into a position where he just *has* to get rid of his irritating nephew. Great comic performance too from Oliver Ford Davies, who managed to make Polonius genuinely funny rather than just tedious. David's Hamlet was fascinating; at first I was a bit concerned by how remote and uncharismatic he was, and this meant that his early speeches of grief and contemplation seemed self-absorbed rather than moving. But I think now this was rather clever - David presented a Hamlet who, against the odds, begins to *enjoy* his new purpose as a revenger. As he plots the downfall of his uncle, Hamlet perks up, becomes ever more playful and teasing, and by the time he's rushing headlong towards death, he's all but capering around the stage in celebration. It's a very persuasive reading of the part, to see Hamlet transformed from the sort of angstful youth who'd sit in his bedroom writing sulky poetry, into a sparkling wit whose intelligence and comic timing and sheer exuberance can run rings around anybody else. It's a tragedy, of course, but I've never seen it performed before as something quite so life-affirming. David's performance as Berowne in 'Love's Labour's Lost' is even better. It doesn't put a foot wrong - it's a triumph of relaxed charm. His soliloquies become conversations with the audience, even singling out certain lucky women in the front row at whom he can wink and flirt. I first met David when he was best known for his theatre work - we became friends because we were both Doctor Who fans, and both hung around the National Theatre a lot. (He was legitimately working there, and I just found the cafe a really comfy place to write in.) As good a Doctor as he is onscreen, I've always thought he was a remarkable stage actor - the theatre just *lifts* when he comes on - and I was so proud to see him being so effortlessly commanding at the RSC.

Anyway, enough of that. I must go and pack. Against the official guide book temperature of Sodding Cold. I'm trying to find nice warm sweaters that somehow don't make me look as tubby as Santa Claus. I think that I may have to give up on squaring that particular circle.

Busy, busy, busy

Hi, everyone!

I haven't been writing much recently. Which makes me feel somewhat ashamed. I finished my new book - absolutely, utterly, completely... unless I decide to add another story, which I absolutely, utterly mustn't - about a week and a half ago. And part of me is celebrating, because I'm proud of the book, and even prouder that the work's done. But the part of my brain that kept me slogging away with the exercise book is now prodding me to stop being lazy, even though I've nothing specifically to write at the moment. Bloody brain with its fierce work ethic, and its lack of an off switch. It's spoiling my ability to laze in front of afternoon television watching bargain hunt programmes.

But there hasn't been much time for writing either. Because I'm dashing about all over the place, giving interviews and readings, doing panels and things. I'm not used to it. Two days ago I was in Bath, as part of the Children's Literature Festival. I was (almost literally) a last minute replacement for Paul Magrs, whose new Doctor Who book has just been released. (Paul's influenza was my gain.) It was a funny event. I sat on stage with Mark Morris and Simon Messingham, two sterling chaps who have also been writing those hardback novels that seem to sell so well in Waterstone's and Borders. And we were asked questions by a packed house of children of ten years of age. I'm frankly rather scared of children. Adults mostly feel a social obligation not to make it obvious when they find you boring or pompous - kids haven't mastered that particular facial expression yet (which in my case looks a bit like I'm withholding a fart - I know, I checked in the mirror to see), and look away when you answer their question, or start playing with the zip on their jacket, or get up from their chair and walk away. Thank God I didn't get too much of that. Flanking me on stage was a big BBC owned Dalek, which looked distinctly less threatening than the audience. And after the panel was over, the three Doctor Who writers sat together and autographed books for a couple of hours. Mark and Simon could sign theirs; my 'Story of Martha' thing isn't in the shops yet, so I kept on signing Paul Magrs' book instead. For a while I wrote in: 'I didn't write this - Rob Shearman', until the BBC told me I was disappointing the kids - so I added a note of ambiguity to the signature with 'I haven't written this yet, but will probably fob it off as my own work later - Rob Shearman'. Then the BBC told me off for making the queue wait too long, so I just resorted to scribbling in a few 'exterminates'. That always works. That's the safe fallback.

We were all rather surprised that our event was sold out, as we were scheduled directly opposite, in a room just up the stairs, an 'Audience with Sarah Jane'. You could hear all the kids' excitement as they got to meet Lis Sladen, and thrill to her sonic lipstick. The children we were talking to about the Joys of Writing looked very much like they'd got the booby prize in comparison. Sometimes you could hear the faint echo of childish merriment above us, and all the kids stuck listening to my justification of Dalek timelines sighed mournfully. It was great to see Lis again. I'm still somewhat overawed by her, because she's *Sarah Jane Smith*, for God's sake. She was Doctor Who's best friend when I was *three*. I told her that. She seemed very put out. I can't think why. I sat with her over dinner, and because it was BBC paid for, I allowed myself a dessert. I'm very fond of Lis, and think that her new Sarah Jane Adventures are rather lovely, but I still refused to let her have a forkful of my chocolate fudge cake. There has to be limits.

A few days before, in extreme contrast, I'd been at the British FantasyCon in Nottingham, reading from my book, being on screenwriting panels, and meeting lots of new writer friends in the bar. All rather lovely. I'm not very good at the networking thing, but enough people seemed keen to network with *me*, so I could respond without embarrassment. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. So:

On Wednesday I'm being interviewed on the BBC Radio 3 arts programme 'The Verb', about my short story writing and my forthcoming book. There'll be a reading of one of the new stories too - although not by me, which is a considerable relief. I'm very excited by this, as it makes me sound Properly Authorial. (I'm even listed in this week's Radio Times!) At the moment I'm walking around the house a lot, trying to sound very clever, giving supposedly witty answers of great insight to imaginary questions, and pretending that I'm the subject of The South Bank Show. I've even found a South Bank Show voice, which is a *bit* like mine, but somewhat deeper, a bit more drawled, and clearly rather pleased with itself. I know that once I'm in the studio I'll be my bag of nerves self, my voice will rise an octave in its eagerness to please, and I'll say 'absolutely' a lot and make silly jokes that get cut before broadcast. If anyone wants to hear the interview, it's going out at 9.15 pm on Friday October 3rd, and is available on the BBC website for a week afterwards with their 'listen again' facility.

The week after that I'm a guest at the University of Chichester. I'll be reading a story, and talking to MA students as part of their 'Metaphor and the Imagination' module. I'm looking forward to that a lot, if only so I can resurrect the South Bank Show voice - it'll be lying broken and bleeding after the radio interview, and this might perk it up a bit. And then I'm off to Liverpool on the 16th October, reading and talking at the Bluecoat Arts Centre as part of their Chapter and Verse Festival. (Anyone in the area, please do come along. There's a ticket fee to get in, but I'll buy you a pint afterwards. Possibly.) I get my breath back, then fly to Calgary on the 30th, to attend the World Fantasy Convention. The reason I'm going, naturally enough, is that I have a couple of nominations for the World Fantasy Awards - but it's also a chance to do more readings, more drinkings, more eating of fudge cake, and more of the terrifying networkings. I'm already receiving invitations in the post asking me to attend various book launches and parties and things - there's a whole stack of things I need to RSVP to.

It's fun. It's not leaving a lot of time for *writing*. But, you know, it's fun. Close my eyes and I can even start to believe that all this paraphernalia is more important, and that the writing will magically do itself. In October I have two meetings set up now with Rather Big Publishers about the prospect of forthcoming novels. Even a few months ago I'd never have considered the possibility of writing novels. They're just so many *words*, aren't they? Now, with all this attention, it'd seem rude not to write one or three. It's bizarre. I can feel my career changing around me, and I rather love it.

And I'm beginning to forget what my wife looks like. She's the short, blonde one, that everyone calls Mouse? Oh yes! She's fab. Just checking.

August, in the middle of, some thoughts appertaining to.

I'm feeling cautiously celebratory. The last time I felt this celebratory was a couple of weeks ago, for no especially good reason, and to commemorate that I took Janie off to the South of France for a few days. There's a lovely town there called Carcassonne which boasts a huge medieval walled city on the top of the hills - as you fly in on the plane you pass right over the top of it and it looks like a cardboard cut-out with its cobbled walkways and arrow-slitted ramparts. We love castles, so spent the holiday in the baking heat (and it was *baking*) yomping up the hills three times a day to walk around the place and pretend we were living in the fourteenth century. And afterwards we'd sit in as much of the shade as we could find and drink ice cold lager, and eat cassoulet. (Cassoulet is the traditional dish in Carcassonne - it's a pot full of haricot beans, and every single bit of dead animal that they could find walking the ramparts. Some evenings I'd find sausage in it, other times bits of chicken and duck. I'm sure if I'd stayed in France long enough I'd probably have one day found myself picking out the odd bit of llama or penguin. I don't eat meat much any more, and my cassoulet experiences, as tasty as they were, sort of reminded me why. On returning to London I never would have believed a lettuce leaf would look so friendly and so *safe*.)

So, yes. I'm feeling celebratory, and it seemed that this time I should curb my impulse to get on a plane to another country, only to return with nothing to show but a tanned nose. (Seriously, in that heat - and the only part of my body that caught the sun was my *nose*? It still glows in the dark. In order to sleep, I have to hang curtains off the end of it and keep them drawn when I turn the lights off.) This time I thought it would be cheaper to express my celebratory urges by writing a post on Livejournal. Not as exotic, but just as exciting, I'm sure. If you keep your mind open.

I'm celebrating because I've almost - but not quite - finished two books. I've never worked on two books at exactly the same time before, and it feels peculiar timing that they've both come to an end (almost - but not quite) at precisely the same time. The first of these books is my new collection of short stories, due out early next year, called Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical. There are still a couple of stories I'd rather like to write for it, but I'm beginning to wonder whether the book actually *needs* them - it's getting to be a pretty hefty tome as it is. So I'm cautiously going to say the book is completed, and wait to see whether over the next couple of months the absence of these still unwritten extra tales keeps me up all night worrying at them and chewing at the duvet in frustration. (It probably will. The bite marks all over the duvet are testament to my inability to let things go. But I'm trying to fool my brain. If I announce the book *is* over, and tell my brain it's now switched off, then I can creep up to it sideways and mug it into making a decision.) So - there you are. New collection of short stories. Completed. (Save for the yarn about the woman who marries a camel, and the one about the Von Trapp family member who can't sing.)

I've been writing the fiction during the day time. Of an evening, as a bit of a hobby, I've been writing a critical guide to The X-Files and its related spin-offs. It's been enormous fun, actually, unwinding on the sofa watching Mulder and Scully pursue yet another mutant that eats human body parts, or seeing whether Frank Black might actually crack a smile on Millennium. Then I nip upstairs and write an essay about them. I worked out at the beginning of the writing that there would be 283 separate instalments to sit through then analyse, and for some reason (forgetfulness? mathematical naivety? plain stupidity?) I didn't quite see what a mountain that was to climb. Well, I've almost - but not quite - finished. Inasmuch as I've now written up 279 of them. Three final episodes of The X-Files to go - this is about the time the series is struggling a bit to find a pulse, but once in a while I'm delighted to find a heart beat, there *is* still life in the old show yet - and then off to the cinema later this week to see the new movie. (I've remained entirely spoiler-free on this, and I'm hoping against hope that it'll be very good. If for no other reason than that it'll be a better ending to my book. If the last chapter just says 'It was crap', then I'm concluding on a bit of a downer.) Is it any good, this movie? Tell me it is. Even if it isn't. Like Mulder and Scully, I want to believe. (Do you see what I did there? With jokes like that, you just know this book is a must-read.)

So I'm a little written out. Which is why so many of my friends must be wondering why I never email any more. Sorry. I'm sliding back into that now. I'll be in touch in a few days. I'm almost - but not quite - certain of that.

Other bits of news! I'm absolutely delighted to report that I've been nominated for two World Fantasy awards. One of which is for my last book of shorts, Tiny Deaths, up now for Best Collection. And the other is for one particular tale, 'Damned if You Don't' (if you've read it, it's the one about the man who goes to Hell and falls in love with Hitler's childhood dog), up for Best Short Story. I've no idea if I've even the remotest chance of winning, but I feel duly honoured to be given this attention. So this October I'm taking off to Calgary with my best suit and my fingers firmly crossed. I don't know much about Calgary, and I really think at some point I should check what it's like in a guide book - but for the moment it's rather lovely to just *imagine* what Calgary is like - it might spoil it if I saw photos of the place too soon. I vaguely think that I've heard something about Calgary sweaters in the past, so in my mind's eye Calgary is a big fluffy department store of winterwear. I'm hoping that's the case; and that the award ceremony will take place in the sock department. I like socks.

And I'm on my travels again soon. I've been invited as a guest to February's Doctor Who convention in Los Angeles, and I'm almost certainly going to go. (It's always at a slightly awkward time of the year for me - it's the same week not only as my birthday, but as one of my anniversaries with Janie. Not Actually Getting Married, nor First Meeting, but Getting Her To Finally Accept The Idea Of Going Out With Me And Calling Me Boyfriend. Janie's remarkably unsentimental about anniversaries, but I always wait and see each year whether she finds the numbers significant enough to celebrate. It'll only be my 39th birthday - so that's pretty nothing-ish - and our 12th anniversary - which is *probably* important if you're an astrologer and into zodiac related numerologies, but otherwise not much to write home about.)

And, rather oddly, I'm also starting a new part time job soon, where I act as a lecturer on luxury cruises. I was approached a few months ago to see whether I'd be interested - and the lure of being on a ship, visiting exciting new destinations, and eating nice food, made it very appealing. (And I like writing on ships too, it's very peaceful.) I've been on a few cruises before, mostly as a Doctor Who guest on the 'sci-fi sea cruises'. This would be very different. Those boats had a passenger total of maybe 2500, and the whole experience was rather like being on a floating holiday camp. The lecture cruises are much smaller, more intimate - probably no more than a couple of hundred people on board - and I'll be discussing the history of literature, and the particular cultural touchstones of each city we visit. Not a mention of a Dalek, I'd have thought - instead it'll all be Flaubert and Pushkin and Kadare and other heroes. Years ago, if I hadn't been waylaid by a job in the theatre, I was making moves to stay in academia and be a university lecturer. It'll be rather lovely to get back to that, with the backdrop of the sea behind me.

So, there we go. Celebratory. Cautiously. Life is good. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to put some more lotion on my blistered nose.