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.

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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.

Read this story about robots looking after children in Metro.

It is a good point and it is news that a futurologist said this.

And for some reason they refer to a 15 plus year old movie about a robot boy.

(Incidentally the only thing in this movie which I recall being in any way ground breaking for cinema was the idea sex robots, in this case Jude Law, would exist for women.)

In mu opinion it would have made more sense to refer to Issac Asimov’s short story Robbie which was the tale of a robot childminder first published in 1940 whom a child becomes attached to.

Exact same concept (AI is more Pinocchio) and 75+ years old.

Literature literally loves lovers.

Of all ages – from those first flushes of Romeo and Juliet to middle aged lovers such as Antony and Cleopatra – love across human life has always been a focus of plays, poetry and novels.

There is an entire genre of, in my opinion, trashy romantic novels which seem to still sell.

At the more literary end of this genre is Bridgett Jones and her diary (I only made it about 2/3 of the way through the first one before I had to put it down) which appeal to so many.

There is also the slightly darker end of the market, popularised by 50 Shades of Grey.

There is love in many areas of literature, including unrequited love, The Great Gatsby being a tour de force in the lengths some will go to for their unrequited love.

Well, whatever type of literary love you love, today is the annual day of love, so think about those literary lovers and show your real lover just how you feel about them (maybe with the gift of a book about love)…

How do you follow up one of the greatest sci fi debuts in recent years?

Andy Weir’s debut The Martian was originally self published, before going on to be picked up by a major publisher and later turned into a movie starring Matt Damon.

His follow up, Artemis, was released late in 2017.

So how did he approach what could have been a difficult second novel in the shadow of such previous success?

Weir has produced Artemis, which more than stands up as a good novel in its own right and is not overshadowed by its predecessor.

Artemis is set on the moon, in and around the city of that name, the only city on the moon.

The main character, Jazz, is a young woman. But she shares enough personality traits with Mark Watney, the hero of The Martian, to keep things interesting.

Watney was alone on Mars for several hundred pages so he needed a bucket load of personality.

Jazz is not alone, but has enough of Watney’s brand of humour to keep the plot running along while interacting with a host of other characters.

Sample line: “on a scale of one to ‘invade Russia in winter’ how stupid is this plan?.”

The only area I felt The Martian could have been improved was through more descriptive sections around the plot.

Artemis has more descriptive parts than The Martian and this works well.

While The Martian didn’t lend itself to an obvious sequel, Artemis could easily be the first in a series.

Whether this is what Weir has in mind, or not, I have no idea.

Whether he chooses to visit Jazz again or do something else with his next novel, I will certainly be happy to read it.

This is a solid novel, with enough twists and turns to keep you interested. There is enough world building going on for the novel to work in its own logic, without the back story being overbearing.

I had hoped for a knowing reference to The Martian somewhere in the narrative, but didn’t spot one (please use the comments to tell me if there is one I haven’t picked up on).

Expect to see a big Hollywood movie version in the near future.

As usual I have read quite a few books this year.

Here are some highlights of books I read this year:

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham – love this author (The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos are two of my all time favourite sci fi books) and this book, while taking a while to get going, ended up un-put down able. A great exploration of unfounded intolerance, and relevant today as when it was written.

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher – which I wrote about before, is a tour de force in modern teen fiction. Better than SE Hinton – and my teenage self is properly upset I have written that statement. Highly recommended.

Archangel by Robert Harris – any novel which can make me interested in post WW2 Russian history must be doing something right. This is a real page turner from the opening right up to its fabulous, if ambiguous, conclusion. Some of Harris other works I have found slow, or the world building more attention grabbing than the plot (Fatherland), but this has it all going on.

House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds – in a future where faster than light travel is impossible a house of long living clones travel the galaxy in cycles, spending vast aeons of time in suspended animation, holding reunions every few millennia. The scope of this novel is breathtaking and while it feels like it wanders off from the plot towards the end, maybe the real point of the novel is how even hideous events lose their horror after 17,000 years or so. Up for debate, which only adds to the positive feelings I have towards the book – still deciphering meaning long after reading is always a good sign about a book.

Please feel free to share your views on these books in the comments and also any novels you read this year, either ones published this year or otherwise.

Happy reading in 2018.

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