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.