Sunday 23 August 2015

The Death House

Sarah Pinborough seems to be taking a social media break, probably to get on with writing marvellous books, so I can sneak in and say that The Death House is absolutely freaking awesome without getting all embarrassed about being fanboyish, and also without letting on that it took me six months to get round to reading it.

Stephen King thinks it's awesome, so my tuppence is hardly required, but anyway. It's a great book that needs bracketing alongside The Lion The Witch & The Wardrobe, The Hobbit, and particularly Lord of the Flies as a timeless children's classic (or YA, whatever, but that wasn't really a thing when the other three were written).

From a writering point of view, world-building obsessives should take note of the highly broad strokes with which Pinborough paints the society and sequence of events that leads to the young Defectives being sent away to the Death House, and its mysteries that are never entirely solved. As with Lord of the Flies, from which this technique is most obviously familiar, the story is everything, and wider exposition is dripped in miserly doses only when it's absolutely necessary.

And what a story. Pinborough is a former teacher, and as William Golding proved with Lord of the Flies, that does seem to help creating truly realistic adolescent characters. As the cast of children while away their days waiting for their symptoms to develop, the conflicts, bonds, lies and coping mechanisms all ring true.

And the ending, oh dear. Certain plot developments are abundantly clear to readers, long before the characters catch on, reinforcing the idea that we're reading about frightened and confused children who are forced to pretend to be adults as they confront their mortality. In spite of me being Mr Smuggypants Smug Reader, however, the closing chapters quite simply blew me away, and I cried. And I don't cry at books. Or anything. 22 August 2015 was a baking hot day in the UK, so it was just eye-sweat, I tell you.

Do yourself a favour and get hold of it in whichever format you think you prefer: The Death House.

Wednesday 12 August 2015

Coming Soon...

"Andrew, where can I buy more of your fantastic writing?" This is what my cat keeps asking me, in a voice that sounds suspiciously like my own falsetto, as I bounce her up and down on her hind legs like an excitable fan.

If you are of the same opinion as my cat (and I'm frankly starting to question her sincerity so do let me know if you are), you'll be aroused to learn that there are in fact three tomes that contain my written contributions, coming soon to a bookshop near you. If there are any bookshops left near you, that is.

Please note I don't have solid release dates for any of the below, so I'm posting these according to the order I think they're likely to be released. Check back in five years and see if I was right!

Flash Fear (KnightWatch Press)
Prey For The Dead is my contribution to this anthology of horror-themed flash fiction. Originally submitted as part of a website relaunch, this chapbook-style release looks like a lot of fun.
(This book doesn't even exist yet and it's already got my favourite cover yet of anything I've ever been published in)

Grimm & Grimmer: 4 (Fringeworks Press)
The Frag Prince is my contribution to this fourth volume of re-imagined and updated fairy tales. It's a rare example of actual science-fiction from me. This book has been a heroically long time coming, so I'm very excited that it looks like it's about to land.
(This lovely cover does actually remind me of a joke more horrible than anything that's likely to be in the book, but still...)

A Time Lord For Change (Chinbeard Books)
This charity collection is going to be brilliant, I'm so thrilled to be part of it. Raising money for mental health causes, A Time Lord For Change contains one drabble (short story of exactly 100 words, fact fans) inspired by Every. Single. Televised. Doctor Who. Story. And quite a bunch of spin-off stories across various media. I think I'm allowed to say that I've done the drabbles for Caves of Androzani and Survival.

The other writers contributing to this book is just a list of phenomenal awesomeness. There are some true stars from Doctor Who fandom, the stable of Doctor Who's professional authors, and some world-class writers who just happen to love the show.
(Yes, I did put the picture in correctly, the above tease is all that's been released publicly of the cover)

It's all pretty cool, though it won't keep my voraciously literate cat satiated for long. I'd better keep typing. Look out for some zombies and other stuff in the not too distant future.

Thursday 18 June 2015

Announcing... Something Nicer

Something Nicer

What happens when ET doesn't phone home, but stays for 30 years? When the evil clown under a child's bed carries on lurking in the shadows through sixth form? When a cat decides catching mice is over-rated, and fixes her ambitions on becoming an art critic? Or when the Internet becomes sentient, and googles the best way to overthrow humanity? 

With a cast of ghost zombies, senile witches and cloned Santas, this second volume of short stories from Andrew K Lawston develops the author's unique way of looking at the world, and ensures you'll never look at a stepladder in the same way.

Yes, I have a second collection of short stories out. Truth be told, it's been out since late February, but I didn't realise I'd left this blog post languishing in draft status. Slick, that's me.

Something Nicer was my most successful launch yet, and has been popular with readers across the world. There's a real variation in the length of stories, from drabbles to a 9,000 word-ish short story. It's a contrast with Something Nice, whose stories were mostly a uniform 2,500 - 3,000 length (because they were written for submission to the magazine market).

The book is available on Kindle only for the moment, but my hope is that I'll soon be able to bring out a paperback combining both Something Nicer and Something Nice, possibly in conjunction with a third volume which I'm afraid may now have to be called Something Nicest.

Something Nicer is available from Amazon for just £1.99 / $2.99.

Monday 15 June 2015

Sir Christopher Lee

I was sitting on a film set when I heard Sir Christopher Lee had passed away. I suppose that's quite fitting, though mostly I just mentioned it to show off.

But, no, it was an occasion rendered extra-poignant because I was sitting in a room full of actors, aged from 15 to... well, quite a bit older than me.

Even though he was 93, absolutely everyone was saddened by the news of his passing, and absolutely everyone had a different personal career highlight for this extraordinary actor. The 15 year old, you won't be amazed to learn, knew him as Saruman. The actors in their 20s, including a trainee stuntman, remembered him best for his lightsabre-wielding Count Dooku. As the age ticked upwards, Bond fans and Hammer fans chucked their own nostalgia into the ring, and though no one was prepared to pretend The Wicker Man was their favourite Lee film, it was probably mentioned more than any other.

For myself, I had a few weird thoughts rattling round my head. Lee had a part in a BBC adaptation of Ivanhoe in the late 90s. His distinctive voice popped up to surprise me in Kingdom Hearts 2. He was of course the only choice to play Death in TV adaptations of Discworld novels. And I can never forget his delivery of the word "lollipops" in Tim Burton's version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He was the first victim of the Headless Horseman in Sleepy Hollow as well, wasn't he? And the highly dodgy elements of the Fu Manchu films mean his excellent work in that series is pretty much overlooked these days.

Even if he hadn't recorded metal albums into his 90s, met JRR Tolkien, and spoken seven languages, Lee would have been a legend in his own right. As it is, he will never be forgotten as long as people are still watching films. Someone on my Facebook page commented that Lee could be a bit hammy in his acting. I didn't rise to the bait, but... well...

When I was 10, I played a retired vampire in a school play called The Horrors. My Dracula had become a rock singer (and even had a backing group who I think were called The Vampettes). I had one scene full of dreadful one-liners, followed by a song to which I mimed along disgracefully. I over-acted my heart out, wearing my Dad's old graduation gown as a cloak, and did my very best to steal the show.

The local newspaper named me in their single paragraph write-up, along with the words "Eat your heart out, Christopher Lee!"

At the age of 10, I thought that was a pretty cool line to get, though I'd never seen a single Hammer Horror film. Now that I'm, ahem, a little older, I see it for the slightly condescending journalistic shorthand it clearly is. At the same time, if there's one thing my pre-teen vampire performance had in common with Sir Christopher Lee's acting, it's this. We were both clearly having an absolutely incredible time.

Wednesday 11 February 2015

So why DO you self-publish, Andrew?

I openly hate pretty much everything about self-publishing. So why do I still do it?

Almost three years ago now, I self-published my short story collection Something Nice on various e-platforms. Since then, I've self-published my MPhil thesis in Film Studies, and a translated Casanova memoir. I've sold a stonking 320 copies of my books, received a couple of dozen reviews, had conversations with interesting people, and bored quite a few others. Really, that's about it.

When I entered the self-publishing market, I wasn't complimentary about it. My early marketing efforts centred around drawing attention to ways in which I wasn't a typical self-published author. I highlighted previous professional publishing credits for each of my stories. I avoided the de rigeur promotion method of giving away the book to build a bigger readership (a tactic I've admittedly seen work for others, but which still smacks to me of South Park's "underpants gnomes"). I took to various forums, and indeed the previous incarnation of this blog, to take issue with people drivelling on about "dead tree books" and their specious waffle about how self-publishing would sweep aside "trad" publishing.

I deleted a lot of this ranty stuff "just in case" when I applied for a job with Amazon in late 2013. I didn't get the job, but given what we now know about Amazon tax and working conditions, I'm not too bothered about that.

Clearly, I still hold every single one of those opinions, and a few more besides, so with Something Nicer in the hands of my very-talented designer, why do I still self-publish my books? Well, let me tell you a story.

I coulda been a contender

Anyone who identifies as a writer, self-published, traditionally published or even unpublished, has at least one anecdote of meeting someone who tells them that they could have been a writer themselves if they only had the time. Hang around writing procrastination forums for more than a minute, and you'll see the resulting shrieks of outrage from writers, who procrastinate with open derision at the idea that anyone might have unfulfilled ambitions in their life.

"Oh yes, because of course it's only a question of time and just anyone could write a three volume epic about werewolves bumming Nazi zombie dinosaurs," they'll sniff disdainfully, and you're probably not allowed to point out that it sounds as though just anyone just did.

"They should get their fat arses off the sofa and cut down on TV," others continue, which, well, no names and no pack drill, but I do feel this argument overlooks a certain point of empirically-verifiable data about the average buttock circumference for members of a profession that requires a lot of both sitting down and sugar. Also, Breaking Bad  is popular with enough writers that for some reason it doesn't count as wasting time in front of the TV.

I have a lot of sympathy for people who want to write but don't have time. Everyone gets the same twenty-four hours, and some people have more demands on their time than others. But as soon as you voice this moderate point of view, the blonde spectre of JK Rowling comes steaming down the tracks to derail the argument, straight from her Edinburgh bedsit where she scribbled on cafe tables with the blood of her first-born, while simultaneously scrubbing toilets with a brush made of her crushed dreams, or however the story goes.

JK Rowling is an intensely irritating example when she appears in any writing-based debate, because every single writer in the history of written language has, with only one exception, not been JK Rowling. Seriously, I checked.

People who think they have no time to write also often lack the confidence to write, and I think that's what the armchair procrastinators miss. But also, a lot of people don't have time to write. I'm often one of them. I have a full-time job, a wedding to organise, an acting hobby, and a string of social commitments. It's highly usual for me to leave the house before 8am and not return until midnight. Whole months go by where I write nothing at all. Care to criticise me, self-publishing forum ninjas?

So when someone tells me that they'd love to have the time to write, I sort of see it as the deeply unhappy cry of frustrated creative ambition that it so clearly is, and I say something kind like "It happens to us all. In a few years when the kids have grown up/moved out/you've retired/you've murdered your partner/you get probation, maybe you'll have more time."

Will they ever write anything? I dunno, probably not. See if I care. But I've not shortened my own life by several minutes by getting so weirdly angry about it all, that's the main thing.

That's not a story

Oh yeah. Anyway.

Frustrated and unproductive writers don't bother me, because a lot of the time I am one, and so is just about every other writer I know. But there's a related phenomenon that keeps me pushing to self-publish even though I hate it.

This first happened in 2002, when I was teacher training at Warwick University (a mistake that would make a far longer blog post, trust me). A fellow trainee asked me about performing, and I mentioned a couple of plays I'd done at university. She sat back and said, "I was nearly a pop star, actually."

This was more interesting than talking about QTS standards, so I encouraged her to go on.

"Yes," she said. "I always liked singing, but never really did much with it. Then last year they had the auditions for Pop Idol near me."

I was really curious by this point. "How did you get on?"

"Oh, I decided not to go in the end. But if I had, I reckon I'd have nailed it."

I should have ended the conversation there, but you just have to pick at that scab, don't you? "Oh. Sorry, why do you think that?"

She looked at me as though I'd crawled out from under her lettuce, this girl who for all I knew couldn't actually sing a note. "Well, I'm better than some of the ones that get on."

"So when you say you were nearly a pop star..."

"Yes, because if I'd turned up, I'd have won."

Now, not only is this a real anecdote involving a girl who I'd be happy to be name if challenged (if only because I just checked Facebook and she lives in New Zealand now and so can't easily come to my house and beat me up), but this was the first of several times I had this exact conversation over the next ten years or so, with a string of [usually] girls. The show changed from Pop Idol to X Factor, but the story stayed the same. Unlike the frustrated writers, these people just had to turn up.

There was something indescribably sad about their apparent bulletproof confidence in their untested singing ability, contrasted with their tendency to bottle it at the last minute when called upon to put their money where their mouth was. I decided I'd never be one of those people, and that's why I self-publish. So I'll never be the kind of person who tells someone "I could have been a brilliant writer but I didn't bother turning up."

Rambling conclusion to a rambling post

And why self-publish? Why not submit full novels to publishers and agents instead? Well, look. I do submit short stories to small presses, competitions and other bits and pieces, and frankly I do all right. You can read or will soon be able to read my contributions to Sanity Clause is Coming, Grimm & Grimmer 4, A Time Lord For Change, The Cat That Walked Through Time, Shelf Life, and forum collections like A Splendid Salmagundi. I walked away from a contract for Casanova, and I gather there's something in place for Chantecoq. And that's before the freelance jobs, the competition winners, and stuff. Damn it, I was once retweeted by Neil Gaiman. I'm legit.

And yet. I have a pretty nice job that pays pretty well, and the pension's decent and I can walk to work. I know that I earn more than just about any published author you can name except the statistically irrelevant Harry Potter lady. I'd be mad to give it up. I'm not a 'quit the day job' kind of guy. And as I mentioned, my writing time is frequently squeezed from existence for months at a stretch.

So, let's look at a scenario where I finish a novel length manuscript, and send it off to an agent, and it clicks with them, and we have a boozy session, and sell it to a major publisher.

The various drafts and changes to the manuscript between submission and publication are fine in principle, but when I'm self-publishing stuff I can put it away for years at a time until I feel like getting back to it. Publishers have these things called deadlines, and they sound awful.

And then there's the marketing. One of the arguments against "traditional" publishing is that authors are increasingly expected to do their own marketing. And there is some truth in that. Now, by self-publishing my work, I'm actually condemning myself to do all my own marketing forever, with the added handicap of everyone thinking I'm an illiterate squit with a weird thing for vampires and too many cats.

But here's the thing. When I self-published Casanova, I was going to do a big launch thing, with readings and fancy dress and wine (mostly wine, actually). But by the time it was ready, I'd just got engaged, and frankly I needed to put the cash into wedding plans.

So I sacked it off, and Casanova's Story Of My Escape didn't get a marketing push beyond me talking about it on my own blog and in forums. For such an important book, that's a bit of a crime. Certainly if I was in any way accountable to anybody with my little publishing adventures, they'd be furious with me. Rightly.

With self-publishing, I can change my plans overnight. I can suddenly turn into a marketing machine or I can just drop the whole thing as I see fit. And the only person who's put out is me.

This isn't the same for anyone with a proper publisher's logo on the spine of their latest. Essentially you're responsible for shifting enough product to keep the lights on and pay people's salaries. So, Casanova went unpromoted and the only net result is that my family will drink slightly nicer wine at my wedding. If I suddenly decided I had better things to spend my cash on when it came to promoting the first blockbuster in my three book deal, there would be hell to pay.

And of course, the marketing obstacles might not be of my own making. Whenever you go to an interview for a professional job, they like you to have interesting hobbies. After about three months of doing the job, though, it becomes clear your employer expects you to drop them all. Take it from someone who's worked in magazine advertising for more than ten years now... writing gets a lot more slack than acting, but I'm pretty sure I'd run into trouble with the chaps who pay my rent about halfway through the second signing tour.

People talk about self-publishing in fevered evangelical tones because of the creative freedom it provides, whatever that means, but the factor that pushes me to hold my nose and keep on putting books out is that it gives me professional freedom. Mostly the freedom to be spectacularly inept and lazy. And yet, and yet, I'm still in the game. I'm having a go at being a writer, in spite of the time I have such a small amount of time to realistically devote to it.

And I'm still saving for the wedding, so do please buy the books, even if I don't bother promoting them. Cheers!

Friday 23 January 2015

The Next Book...

I have hopes that I'll be putting a few books out this year. And I've got one lined up before the end of January, so I'm getting off to a pretty good start.

Something Nicer is the follow-up to Something Nice, the short story collection that I first released in 2012. It contains a mixture of short stories and flash fiction. The adventures include what happened when ET didn't go home, the unbreakable bond between a small boy and the nightmarish creature under his bed, and the news that these days even the dead aren't safe from zombies...

I'm excited about the new book, which will be along just as soon as design and formatting are complete. A lot has happened to me in the three years since Something Nice was published, and while I wouldn't dream of claiming to have grown up or anything, I think my writing has developed.

I look forward to previewing the cover as soon as it's finalised, but in the meantime, you can sign up to my mailing list to get updates on my writing and new releases. You can sign up at - your email address will never be passed on to any third party and I will only ever send a maximum of two messages per month (probably fewer most months, knowing me).

I hope you'll join the party, and I hope you enjoy Something Nicer.

Friday 16 January 2015

A Belated Happy New Year!

How was 2014 for you? It was pretty diverse for me. I published my translation of Casanova's Story Of My Escape. It's a book that people seemed to be waiting for, and I had some lovely nice feedback from people who have been waiting years to read this adventure in English.

Still, if Casanova was "important", then my story in Sanity Clause Is Coming was necessary. Pantocrime was written in Autumn 2012, but finally came out in time for Christmas 2014. It's the least seasonal book I could ever plug in mid-January, but if you fancy a reminder of the hangover of Christmas Past, there's no finer collection of festive horror on the market.

Away from writing, I appeared in one play and two smaller shows in 2014. This included wearing a fantastic shirt as Malcolm in Bedroom Farce:

And wearing a fantastic mask in what can only [politely] be described as Kafka meets the Brothers Grimm, Twelve Angry Pigs. I also played a Victorian architect in a piece called The Fall, about a church spire which collapsed in Sheen in the 19th Century.

The theatrical fun continued when I directed a show for the first time ever, Puss In Boots. This was harder work than I ever imagined (and I didn't think it would be easy), but the company put on a great show, and we raised a bunch of cash for charity, hurrah! And my sister in law, the very talented Rachel Lawston, designed this brilliant poster:

I also took on a new day job, Advertising Manager for a membership organisation. That meant I was able to walk to work, which is utterly brilliant. After a while I moved to a new flat ten minutes up the road, meaning I can now walk to work ten minutes quicker.

The new job, and its walking-based commute, has been particularly good for coming up with ideas, and for thinking about writing. Over the course of 2014, I wrote three complete short stories, a dozen drabbles, three pieces of flash fiction and, as I know that doesn't look like much so far, I also translated a complete 80,000 word French novel that has never before been available in English.

As a result of all that writing activity, I won three competitions, at either end of the year. First up was a New Year's Resolution competition on drablr,com. I won first prize with the imaginatively titled New Year's Resolution. There were no runner up prizes, but it's possibly worth mentioning that I also came in third place with the slightly more imaginatively titled New Year's Resolution 2.0.

Then in December, I won two prizes on The Cult Of Me. That blog runs regular competitions which to date I'd failed in spectacularly. In the space of three days though, I learned that I came third in the December short story competition with my piece Hansel & Grendel, and had been selected as one of the Twelve Drabbles of Christmas with The Santa Nick Hordes. That story was posted on New Year's Day 2015, a great way to start a new year.

So, on to 2015. I think it will be a busy year for me as a writer. There are two anthologies coming out with my stories: Grimm & Grimmer 4, and A Time Lord For Change. In the former, I have a science-fiction retelling of The Frog Princess, called The Frag Prince. In the latter, I have two Doctor Who drabbles. It's all for charity, and this also represents my first published Doctor Who stuff since Pierrot le Who back in 2008's Shelf Life, so it's terribly exciting.

I've also got a new collection of short stories in the final stages of being collated, edited and formatted. And that novel I translated still needs to be edited, it's in something of a rough state at the moment (try having a character called Frida in your book in this auto-correcting age). I'm not sure when that will be out, but it's going to be worth looking out for. On top of that I'm hoping to release a few novellas later this year, at least one of which will be under an alias for reasons. Some of this will be the zombie material I've talked about here before.

Mostly, this will also be the year I get married, which is terribly exciting, and possibly also the reason why I've stepped up my writing schedule a bit - I've got a wedding to save for!

Anyway, procrastination blogs aside, I should probably get on with some writing. Have a very happy 2015!