"Just When I Thought I Was Out..."
What can I say? They made me an offer I couldn't refuse. A 20% pay-rise backdated to April - I mean, that's not something you scoff at, is it? With the possible option of going part-time from the New Year on, working 3 days a week or suchlike, and so having a good 4-day run of writing every weekend. Sounds good to me, even if it does mean I might actually have to do me some working instead of shirking at my day job from now on. It's a sair fecht, as the teuchters say. And, hey, if Vellum were to become an overnight international blockbuster (aye, right!), sitting in airport book shops all around the world as the evil antidote to the godawful Left Behind series (full of awe for God... godawful... same thing, innit?)... I mean, if I do get into a situation where it looks like I could sustain myself writing full-time, then that period of half-and-half writing/work should be a good way to build up some discipline.
Discipline, though... Makes my skin crawl, that word, just thinking about it. I hear the word discipline and I picture Tory ministers in schoolboy uniforms with oranges in their mouths, tights over their heads, and a latex-clad dominatrix caning their hairy, flabby buttocks. I don't want that picture in my head, believe me; I have a sick imagination, but I'm not a freakin pervert. Well, OK, strictly speaking, I am a freakin pervert, if you listen to the Moral Moronity, but on a scale of 1 to 10, honestly, I hardly rate. If I don't get laid soon my official membership in the Abomination In The Sight Of God Association may well lapse. They're already threatening to take my Sodomites For Satan card away for having no Kylie Minogue in my CD collection. If I don't look out, one day I'm going to find myself whisked away in the dead of night to wake up in a place where everyone wears rainbow-stripes and insanely cheery smiles...
"Where am I?"
"In the Village."
"What do you want?"
"Will & Grace."
And how I will run.
Anyhoo, I'm getting off the point, that being... drive I can do - it's just a matter of coffee, cigarettes and a slow build-up of thujone in the bloodstream from a glass or two of absinthe every night - but discipline, shit, discipline is something I'm going to have to learn if I want to go full-time eventually. Getting up before 1 in the afternoon when I'm not working, sitting down at the computer and just firing into the novel. Shit, I keep realising I only have till the end of the year to finish Ink, with Vol 4 in rough-as-fuck draft, a shitload of work to be done on it... and revisions for Vellum to be done by late October, and I'm off to New York in a week's time, and I'm still hacking and slashing at Vol 3, fucking stubborn fucking evil fucking son of a bitch bastard that it is, with its umpteen plot strands and its theme of madness and its intransigent fucking final chapter which has to provide some sort of resolution, fer fuck's sake, some sort of closure, rather than just descending into total gibbering chaos as it really wants to do. I had to go and rewrite The Bacchae, didn't I? I had to do my Finnegan's Wake section, didn't I? All midwinter nights and saturnalian chaos, a schizoid descent into dreams and delusions. Right now? Right now, I am the fucking Pierrot/Pentheus character at the heart of it, jaw set in a grim determination to deal with this bloody spirit of revelry and revenge, this Dionysus dancing round me like a Harlequin, blowing raspberries, making lewd gestures with his flute, and all the time leading me down the garden path to my own doom. There's a scene in the movie Hearts Of Darkness, the documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now, where we see Coppola going bugfuck crazy. What am I doing? he says. What am I doing? I'm making the worst movie ever. This is nonsense, pretentious... it's shit... they're going to hate it. I don't even have an ending. What am I doing? I'll be a laughing stock. Etc. I'm not quite hitting the nervous breakdown point yet, but that's the kind of writer I am anyway, swinging from a sort of blind faith unrivalled since Ed Wood, and Coppola's abject horror at the utter fucking insanity of his plan.
So maybe, I'm thinking, just maybe it's a good idea to stick with the security of the job for the moment. Let's get the bugfuck-crazy Cubist epic fantasy out of the way before we go making life any more complicated and insecure than it needs to be. We're really not going to enjoy WorldCon next year if we're on day release in a jacket that zips up the back, and can't take alcohol because it doesn't mix with lithium. So let's just take things reeeeal easy for now.
12-point Courier, I tell myself. Editors like to see manuscripts in 12-point Courier. Not crayon.
Oh the giddy life of Hal Duncan, media slut! I'm playing catch-up here with this blog because last week was fucking hectic as hell. Photoshoot at the Glasgow Science Centre on Wednesday, Gary's book launch on Thursday, interrupting my hangover on Friday to crawl to the bank and cash the first installment of my advance (woohoo!), then off to the shops to pick out brand spanking new laptop - Hmm... all so tasty... all so neat... ooh pretty... but I think I'll have... that one - and then of course off to the pub to celebrate the purchase of aforesaid laptop ("wetting the baby's head", I believe it's called).
But, yeah. I don't know what the coolest part was. Was it Wednesday afternoon with Gary, Mike and me posed under Glasgow's gleaming silvery-finned tower that turns in the wind (clearly designed, it is, I think, for launching spaceships, mooring retrofuture zeppelins)? Was it being in this trio of leather-jacketed anti-geeks posed by the photographer fellow on the steps under that soaring structure, like some mutant hybrid of an indie rock band and The Champions? Was it walking back to the West End in the blistering sunshine of Glasgow's one-day-summer, chatting with Mike about his move to Moldova, and writing, and WorldCon next year... and thinking about the chances, the feel of those chances, the smell of them, the taste of them, of what might be, just maybe, maybe?
Or the next day, sitting in Ottakers watching Gary take to the whole professional writer thing like a duck to water, reading out his novel chunks all slow and self-assured, fielding flippant questions from the floor (like Phil's tongue-in-cheek "Do you have any advice for an aspiring young writer?"), giving even these glib jests good ten minute answers? Or fluttering like a social butterfly between the tables of smokers and non-smokers in the pub afterward, getting off on that buzz of good-feeling and mock-jealousy for a mate's success? Drunkenly planning the Scottish assault on SF's bastions? A Velvet Revolution in British SF, by God! Tennent's Velvet, that is. And realising that the really cute friend of my mates Chris and Claire - yeah, the one in the old army jacket and the indie-boy stubble, so British Sea Power and so clearly straight it hurts - well, that was Xander, yeah, Claire's little brother, yeah, the gay one that you met before, dipshit, the smart and cute and interesting one you met before, fool... and you didn't even say hello to him, you twat. But, hey, there's no time to kick myself cause it's all back to mine for absinthe(!) and Bob's flavoured gin(!) and song after song after song after song on the stereo, until half my CD's lie scattered across the floor and I'm on my knees amongst them digging through for the right tune - exactly the right tune - to follow what is playing right now. On my knees like a fucking supplicant to my gods. Io, Dionysus, daimon deity of this drunken fool right here, right now. Io, Apollo, go-go-boy of good tunes, jangling blue guitar strings singing things exactly as they are, right here, right now.
Right now... right now... right now. It's time to... kick out the jams, motherfucker!
And a good night was had by all? Fuck yeah!
Or was the high spot waking up on the Friday to a splitting headache and a cheque through the letterbox, the first installment of my advance? Yeehaw! So I grab me a couple of Anadin Extra and a bottle of Irn Bru to slug down as I shuffle through Kelvingrove Park with my dog, Kore. After a mug of coffee and a few chocolate chip cookies for brunch, bachelor waster that I am, I shuffle up to the bank and, well, I could just pop into Laptops Direct, couldn't I? Just for a look. Just for a look at the IBM ThinkPad A31 with the blah and the blah and the yakkety-shmakkety of hardware specifications. All I care about is it's woofty, it's solid enough to brain someone with and it's got a good hardy keyboard action. I don't play computer games, I'm not a gadget freak, and all the geek-speak of memory and megahertz leaves me cold. Fuck that shit. A "gig" is somewhere you go to listen to loud music, strip to the waist and throw yourself into the mosh pit with gay abandon. Computer games? The only "Doom" I'm interested in is the one in the Silver Ford Capri, the one that's burning the road of all dust, tearing towards us all out of the shimmering heat of summer's end.
Life's too short. Fucking believe it, man.
"So You Do Understand..."
"... it may be a while before the second book comes out."
Ah, the sweet sound of panic as my boss's boss's boss tries to explain to me why I really want to think very hard (No shit, Sherlock) about the viability of supporting myself (uh-huh...) without the security blankie of a full-time job (...really?) and so on and so forth. He has a brother in the business, you see. And naive little moi, you know, dizzy with the flush of success and all... well, I shouldn't be too hasty.
So I sit there holding the phone, smiling blithely and biting my tongue. Grandmothers, I'm thinking. Egg-sucking, I'm thinking. Do not teach.
See, we had ourselves some developments since I went all Christopher Walken on their asses and put the big gun of resignation to my head... Come on. Click. Make me do it. Click. You think I'm scared? Click. Give me one good reason why I - BANG! Oopsy.
So, my boss's boss comes back from holiday to find the letter on his desk. He gets on the phone to his boss, and Finance, and Human Resources and whatever zombie-fucking minions of Mammon are involved in the chain of command between me and a decent bloody wage. And it turns out there's this pay review proposal that they've been sitting on for the last five months, and, well, it was on hold because of a larger-scale wages review, and, hey, coincidentally, you know, that's just finished and if you can hold off for a few days, yes? a week, hmm? maybe a couple of weeks? cause we don't want to make any promises until it's signed off by the arch-fiends of the board, you see... well, anyway, there might be a pay-rise for you. Backdated to April.
Which would be nice.
Which is how I end up with my boss's boss's boss on the phone, congratulating me on the book deal, apologising for not being able to give me a figure just yet and - heh - explaining the trials and tribulations of the writing lifestyle. To a writer. Like, did you know that publishers tend to take on new writers and try them out for 2 or 3 books first? That they may not buy the next novel if those ones don't succeed? Well, fuck me up the ass with a candlestick! Suddenly my dream comes crashing down. Suddenly my plans seem just crazy. Me stoopid. Me no think good.
Anyhoo, being a fluttery-eyelashed young ingénue, obviously I've taken their level-headed advice to heart (it's all purely in my interests, after all, nothing to do with them trying to push my fear button, nothing to do with them playing up the threat of financial insecurity to try and make me chicken out... perish the thought!) and I've temporarily withdrawn my resignation, pending some details on a possible pay rise. I wouldn't want to be rash, after all, and, who knows, they might come through with a pay level that actually approximates the fucking market rate. I have my doubts, but fuck it, a shite raise backdated to April could be a nice wee bonus.
And then I can smile, say thank you very much, and then resign.
"Tell Me Why I Don't Like Mondays"
Nicotine. That's fucking why. Sodding nicotine.
See, ye've got Friday night out in the pub, with pretty much constant smoking. Saturday afternoon writing at the PC, with pretty much constant smoking. Saturday night in the pub, with pretty much constant smoking. Sunday afternoon writing again, with pretty much constant smoking. Sunday night either in the pub or writing, with - is there a pattern developing here? -pretty much constant smoking. So Monday comes round and it's an early start after the weekend of late nights and long lies, and with three hours sleep or thereabouts to refresh me, I crawl out of bed, I shave, I shower, and I drag my sorry ass to work with a newly invigorated nicotine habit.
Now do I have the good sense to take the (hourly) fag breaks neccessary to keep the little tobacco monkey on my back happy? Course I don't. Because, like any nicotine junky I suffer under this foolish delusion that I really don't smoke that much. Honestly, I don't. Why, I can get by with just a fag at the train station in the morning, one after lunch, then one on the way home. That's all I need, man, I swear it is... until the evening comes and I sit down at the PC and out come the Rizla and the Drum Mild. But hey, that's just when I'm writing, just to help me get in the zone, just the odd one here and there, like. It's not serious.
And on most days it isn't. But, O, the dreaded Mondays. O, the dark Mondays of psychopathic mood swings, black Mondays of the panther spirit of addiction, hated Mondays of twitching wrath. "Shoot 'em all down"? Screw that. I wanna take a fucking lead pipe to their soft and pointy little skulls. I don't even know who "they" are but I still wanna bash their brains in. And I've got to get my shopping on the way home, fer fuck's sake.
Bollocks. I really need to smoke more.
"So Are You A Big Fan Of Star Trek, Then?"
Cue snarling, frothing at the mouth and mutterings of phrases like "soulless, ball-less, spineless, corporate wank... ya fucker".
Had me first ever interview yesterday afternoon, a by-product of the impending launch of fellow Glasgow Science Fiction Writer's Circle member Gary Gibson's first novel, Angel Stations. Glasgow's main daily tabloid, the Evening Times, seems to have taken a shine to the idea of this little group of scribblers that's been working away for 15+ years, with one member or t'other now cracking through into novel deals, Year's Best anthologies and other such successes. And ye know - thank fuck - the question I've used as headline above didn't come up at all. Not once. Jesus and the Sodding Gerbils! I thought that was a requirement of membership in the NUJ. At the end of the day, I suppose, we do kinda have to wait and see how the story gets played by the sub-editor and suchlike (assuming it does actually make the paper), but I feel quite optimistic. And Gary, Mike Cobley of Shadowstuff fame (being yet another one-time GSFWC'er) and meself did at least have the nous to:
a) pick a smart venue - Stravaigan, the cocktail and cuisine capital of Glasgow's bohemian West End;
b) turn up without an anorak between us (one plastic bag, though. Damn it, Cobley, have ye no sense, man?);
c) not speak in those pointless sub-Pratchett circumlocutions burned into the brains of media geeks who've watched too many Red Dwarf reruns;
d) not crack bad jokes based on an in-depth understanding of the geography of Tolkien's Middle-England (sorry, Middle-Earth);
e) actually make sure the conversation was about fucking BOOKS!
Given a shitty article on WorldCon 2005 that came out in Glasgow's broadsheet, The Herald, recently, do I really expect anything other than an appalling pun headline and a few references to sad geek boys all clearly suffering from the delusion that their cretinous techno-wank might be considered "literature"? Could it be? Is it possible that for once a Glasgow newspaper might represent the medium as something other than the domain of sweaty-palmed adolescent computer-nerds? Well, one reassuring thing is that they actually want a photograph outside the Glasgow Science Museum as opposed to, say, the big blue Dr Fucking Who police box on Buchanan Street. No deelyboppers. No lightsabres. No fucking gazing up into the fucking sky at fucking UFO's.
So maybe, just maybe, somewhere in the hour and a half of us trying to pound the reality - the New Wave and the New Weird, the cyberpunk and the Sumerian myth, etc., etc., etc. - into the poor journalist's skull, maybe she's found just enough sound-bites and ideas to splice together into a wee story about this bunch of writers all plugging away for a decade or more and, one by one, starting to hit paydirt. Writers with wide-ranging interests, mule-headed determination and - shock, horror, stop the press! - the actual fucking social skills required to deal with other human beings... if you exclude my potty mouth and chain-smoking. It's possible. It's just bloody possible. So I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
I bet they still call us Sci-Fi writers though.