The way a writer starts a novel can really hook you into their narrative.

There are some awesome starts to novels. A few of which I might list at some point.

Why does this matter?

If you enjoy the opening line, it can be a promise of a good narrative. An exciting story, the fulfilment of why you picked up the book in the first place.

The first novel I wrote, The Great Wide Open, is a heavily fictionalised and compressed, alternate reality version of part of my first year at what in the UK we call Sixth Form (the school two schools year from aged 16-18).

I studied English Literature in those years and one of the lessons we were taught surrounded introductions to narratives We were being taught analysis of text. But I saw it as part of my education in how to write.

That first year at Sixth Form I began writing The Great Wide Open (It took several more years to complete – a common theme in my writing – finally being finished when I was 22).

As part of the novel I reflected on this lesson about beginnings and in a post modern way I included pastiche of other beginnings. See the photo with this blog of that novel’s opening page.

Maybe I was being a bit pretentious and maybe not. You tell me…

My only defence is: I was young. And like so many things in youth (see the narrative of The Great Wide Open) it seemed like a good idea at the time.

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The subject of equality and how men act towards women has only become more relevant since I wrote The Joy of Ex.

The novel follows the story of a bet between two [male] friends about the nature of love and whether someone who once loved you can love you again.

The novel was written from the point of view of the men – they always say write about what you know – but I wanted to extenuate the pressures which make men behave the way they do towards women.

The ongoing themes were the three “M”s of marriage, maternity and mortgage which I had found men so feared.

They build up walls and hide from each of these types of commitment – some of these issues more than others (and some men more than other men), I depict a protagonist who has a mortgage, but a profound fear of marriage and maternity.

This created a tale to explore these themes, against a back drop of a bet, which only heightened the sense of disconnect from women.

When I first sent the manuscript to agents I got a call from one. I was pleased, I had a list of 70+ agents to send the manuscript to and the first round had resulted in a call. I assumed there would be more calls.

Flashback to 2001 and my previous novel, UHF Shadow I had sent this to lots of agents and one had called back. It was a Wednesday, I know as I was in the office late on deadline day putting the newspaper to bed and I took the call and walked away from my desk, the journalists and subs watching me stroll off to take a private call on my mobile. She wanted to see the whole novel as she liked the sample chapters I had sent. I sent these off the next day. I didn’t get a deal. But I learnt my work was good enough for all of it to be seen by an agent.

Back to the novel in hand (I may well write more about UHF Shadow another day).

I knew The Joy of Ex was better than UHF Shadow, the main criticism from people who read the earlier work was there was a story, but the premise was weak.

I took on board the constructive criticism and The Joy of Ex was premise through and through – that bet was a beautiful premise upon which hung lots of episodes which built up into a whole narrative.

In the great Chekov tradition, I loaded lots of bullets at the start and shot them off one by one. With the biggest one being shot with the reveal of the reason behind his fear of marriage and maternity.

When I took the call about The Joy of Ex after sending out only the the first wave of samples, I figured there were going to be lots of calls.

This agent said she liked the concept and would sign the book if I agreed to do one thing for her.

As I say, this was the first wave of samples, I assumed there would be lots of interest if this was anything to go by.

She asked for a complete re-write of the novel to make it from a woman’s point of view.

This: a) seemed like a bucket load of work; and b) would mean writing about something I didn’t know – I’d never been a woman, so how could I write as one?

I said: “No”.

Talk about a sliding doors moment.

That one word has no doubt defined everything which has happened to me since I spoke that simple syllable.

No other agent even so much as called me.

Sanitised versions of my concept sprung up. Maybe this is coincidence and maybe this is connected. I will never know for sure.

Since I wrote the novel the concept of toxic masculinity has become something I am aware of. Thanks in part to Tim Winton, a great Australian novelist who has an ongoing theme around masculinity in our modern world.

The two men in The Joy of Ex are completely toxic. I even led the reader up a garden path of redemption towards the end of the novel*, only for it to roll away with the wind. He was just too toxic for salvation.

I had always intended the protagonist to be an anti hero. A bastard who perhaps women would love to hate.

The type of male I was trying to create would be just the type of guy women flocked to the worse his alpha male behaviour became.

I wrote The Joy of Ex intentionally to be challenging and thought provoking. There is a line in The Doors where Val Kilmer’s Jim Morrison says: “I guess I always liked being hated” – this line was in my mind as I wrote the novel and I think this shines from the character.

Indeed, the close of the novel refers to the protagonist knowing he was exactly what his sister had called him.

I had used the word already in the novel, so avoided a second C-bomb at the end, feeling the repeat would detract from the power of using it in the first place.

The Joy of Ex was published more than a decade ago. It had premise and a plot.

In retrospect, I think I could have made the irony around the toxicity of these men more apparent. Hindsight is 2020.

Life is all about learning and I know the jump from book to book has made me a better writer, both in terms of reflecting on what I had written and the time passing between each.

In the end I self-published The Joy of Ex as I had drafted it and didn’t sell many copies. But it can be purchased for Kindle from Amazon here.

I am working on a new novel, but that is a story for another day. Hopefully a decade from now I will not be lamenting either not getting my message across as I had intended, nor another sliding doors moment over the fate of this new book.

* I certainly played with the idea of a cut away where Lorna Adams goes home to her fatherless son, but I felt that was letting them both off the hook and didn’t stand up in the logic of the narrative, so got cut.

I wrote a long time ago about the changes in the publishing industry around how physical books would become luxury items of desire.

While out in Cheltenham, UK, today, as well as a book shop full of board games and pretty stationary, I saw this display which I took a photo of to share.

Sets of popular out of copyright novels, bound in hardback in beautiful designs. They look absolutely fabulous. But they are objects of desire – coffee table books if you will – and priced accordingly, I saw £15 or more price tags.

If you really want to read some of these works – they are out of copyright, which means public domain, which means this content is free (when you buy them in physical printed form you are only paying for the cost of making, shipping and storing the physical media, the publisher has no obligation to pay any money to the author, their heirs or estate, so the rest is pure profit for the publishing house) – then Project Gutenberg is the place to read them. In digital format for free.

If you prefer a physical book, there are cheaper options. Back when I was a student in the early 1990s I would purchase classics in paperback editions from Wordsworth for £1. They are still publishing and a quarter of a century later only £2.50, which is much more reasonable than the beautiful hardbacks I saw on display today.

Or you can scour what we call charity shops in the UK and from memory what are thrift stores in the USA. These often carry books at significant reductions on retail. Or eBay.

  • For the record I am not being paid to endorse anyone here, I would recommend Gutenberg which is free, but I would also suggest if you must have a physical book when you buy out of copyright, go with the cheapest option, whether that is second-hand or a reasonably priced publisher.

First up, a quick declaration of interest. I am (slowly) working on a novel which looks at the possibilities of life extension.

I almost didn’t read Suicide Club for that reason.

But, I am really glad I did choose to read the novel. Heng can certainly write. Her prose is a thing of beauty and she can really hit the emotional high and low notes when she chooses to.

The narrative carries you along from a 100th birthday party at the outset through the ongoing investigation following a minor road traffic accident, covering off some family history, which is revealed later, with a massive emotional impact, to not be quite what we were led to think it was.

Heng creates a world which is believable, the descriptions of the crowded streets of New York are suitably claustrophobic. But, an area which could have been improved upon is the wider world building. I was not totally clear about the social structures in this near future world. Exactly what difference there is between the lives of those who have longer life and those who do not? At one point the narrative makes reference to the general population “wouldn’t touch a lifer” but it is not really clear why this might be the case. Where would this level of fear come from?

There is reference to the areas outside New York being unpopulated due to low birth rates, but it is unclear why this is the case. While I do believe writers should show rather than tell, I think Heng could have painted the wider world around her narrative in a richer way and this would have enhanced what is already an excellent narrative.

There were also a couple of instances where I was not clear why people with the potential to live forever might not want to. I guess everyone has their own reasons, but if Heng could have made it much more apparent why someone would go to the lengths required in her imagined world of healthcare, I think this would have strengthened the narrative.

Overall, the minor issues I have with the story, do not deter from the narrative enough to make it anything less than a good novel. Heng is a good writer, her style brings you along and the emotional ups and downs are enjoyable.

Her vision of life extension is based in the world of medicine and health care improvements, while my part written novel is very much not in this vein (I was worried this book would be too close to my creation, which is why I was considering not reading Suicide Club).

If you are looking for a novel which is sci-fi light, but depicts a future world with a deep emotional story, Suicide Club could be just what you are looking for.

In celebration of the life and work of Douglas Adams, writer of the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, today is Towel Day.

His works of fiction are enjoyed across the world and it is fitting to his sense of irreverent fun the world remembers him in this way.

More: towelday.org

To say Reynolds latest novel is a procedural detective novel is, while technically true, a vast under selling of Elysium Fire.

The novel is set in a cluster of habitats known as the Glitter Band and follows a number of Panoply operatives who are entrusted with protecting the participatory democracy which sees every citizen voting on every issue which faces their society.

Each habitat, it turns out, can leave the democratic union if they choose. And a rabble rouser, who is not exactly open about how much a part of the establishment he is, is stirring up dissent and encouraging breakaways.

So the set up feels a lot like brexit – Glit-xit, in this scenario. I was worried about where this was going to take us.

On the plus side, after the set up Reynolds leaves the Brexit analogy alone (unless he continues it and i am too uninformed / he is too subtle, for me to know it’s there).

In parallel to the politics is a story about brain implants going wrong and melting their hosts. This is starting to reach the levels where citizens might panic if the media made the links between the deaths.

Reynolds creates a narrative which is at once compelling and totally immersive.

His creation has shadows of the Culture novels of Iain M Banks. But any well written future set society is bound to have parallels with the Culture. And observing the similarities should be seen as a compliment to Reynolds.

There follows an imaginative narrative as the operatives unravel the deaths and find links to the politics of their age.

This is a great read for any sci fi lovers and if you have enjoyed any of Reynolds work before, this will in no way disappoint.

For some reason no one has made movies of the following sci fi source material (books or graphic novels) and in my humble opinion they really should as the material has hit movie written all over it.

Special effects have moved on so far, the difficulties of any of these could be overcome to make a spectacular film:

Tiger, Tiger by Alfred Bester – one of my favourite sci fi books of all time. A rip roaring rampage of revenge. Gully Foyle is left for dead in the opening salvos of a war between the inner and outer planets of the solar system. Oh and people can self teleport, which is a genius idea well used in this narrative. His path for revenge takes him across the solar system.

On the Flip Side by Nicholas Fisk – a story about people being able to step across to another dimension by the power of thought – and what the world left behind is like.

Neuromancer by Gibson – the novel which launched cyber punk is a delightful read from start to finish. And a cracking thriller which would make an epic cinematic experience.

Look to Windward by Iain M Banks – a simply beautiful novel with so much scope for some beautiful cinematography as the broad canvas of the Culture painted by Banks is played out across this enigmatic book. There is also a fabulous thriller plot which bounds along at a perfect pace for the narrative.

The Ballad of Halo Jones by Alan Moore – if you could skip over most of book one in the intro (like the first harry potter film skips half the book in about the opening 10 mins) and then cover book 2 and 3 in the actual movie. Book 2 of this graphic novel series is an interstellar cruise from the point of view of the waiting staff while book 3 is a sad tale of life in a universe where the only way to make money is join the army and wage war across the stars, a severally depressing view of war (which in the closing chapters borrows significantly from The Forever War by Joe Haldeman). Halo is also a feminist icon and a trailblazer in the representation of women in comic books.

If you can think of any other sci fi novels or graphic novels which should become movies please comment.

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