Sufficient Flop and Throb

Quite a lot of new readers (hello!), which puts me in a bind.

I have no idea why you’re here or where you came from. Let me know, if you like. Or revel in your mysterious origins.

Between vintage mysteries, Julia Quinn and The Survivalist, I do occasionally read more topical materials. Why, just recently, I was perusing a copy of Prose of Persuasion: A Collection of Advertising Copy (1931).

Prose does exactly what it says on the tin: it is a collection of contemporary ads. Given the era, this means a few hundred words extolling the particular product. They’re surprisingly good. A few are heavy-handed, but most are delightfully atmospheric. In the absence of CGI, retargeting, interactivity, personalisation, or even, you know, pictures, each little package of words has a lot of work to do in attracting the reader, engaging them, building a little self-contained world, and selling a compelling call to action.

The best contribution, however, comes fromauthor Naomi Mitchinson, who provides the book’s forward. It follows below.

Reviewers and people like that - I am sometimes one myself, so I know - have a horrid habit of talking about the decline in fiction.

This is so silly of them.

They keep their eyes firmly turned backwards onto Walter Scott and Dickens and Hardy, and they neglect the new and admirable branch of fiction which has sprung up and blossomed like a daisy field round the feet of the great oaks: they do not read advertisements. For what after all is the main difference between Pamela and Clarissa Harlowe and one of the charming set pieces which adorn the pages of this book? Surely the difference is merely one of length. Both works of fiction have a purpose and it seems just possible (though not much more) that several young women have been kept in the path of virtue by Pamela or Clarissa, and that several young men have been induced to buy this or that brand of drink or tobacco through the appropriate advertisement.

Of course this is to put myself into fundamental opposition to Mr. Steel [the book’s editor], which, as a fellow-Scot, he should appreciate. Because, to my astonishment, he says that these lovely, miniature works of art are actually meant to sell things and succeed in doing so. This seems to me to be very odd, but perhaps he can produce Statistics to prove his case, and then one just has to run away. Or else one has to stay and argue the case on moral grounds, because I am almost sure that if advertising really does do any of the things which it says it does it would be quite immoral; but then, why should we believe? No, no, fiction is fiction.

And, as fiction, advertisements are clearly a lesson to us all. This collection is certainly very much better reading than most novels. The novel is as likely as not only a large heart-flop, something that has to be got rid of before the writer can sleep well o’ nights; and so long as there is sufficient flop and throb about it, the quality of the writing matters wonderfully little - to the sales. But the successful advertisement has to be well written in its own convention and completely to the point; it is also short, and one doesn’t have to pay for it, even to the extent of a library subscription, so there is no economic motive to induce one to go on reading it if one doesn’t like it. Best of all it is written not for the soothing of a heart-throb, but - like Shakespeare’s plays - for money.

And now I had better let the advertisements speak for themselves, which they will certainly do. And if at the end you have decided to buy everything which occurs in the book, including the very fetching aeroplane on page 150, don’t blame me.

There’s a lot in here.

  • ‘If advertising really does do any of the things which it says it does it would be quite immoral’. Magic, even.

  • ‘Flop and throb.’ Obviously the words themselves are a joy, an expression of ‘emotional engagement through lowest-common-denominator pathos’. I think floppiness is a quality that’s valued, and valuable, in more than just commercial fiction. Ads have 30 seconds to play your heartstrings like a harp from hell. And by ‘your’, I mean ‘the largest possible audience’. Of course they’re going for the emotion cheap shot. (Six puppies lick Chris Evans’ face. He dies beautifully. Giving birth to twins. They have his eyes. Buy yoghurt!)

  • Mitchinson noting that, in 1931, that the ‘fiction is dead’ complaints are already boring. Sadly, there’s still no end in sight…

Perhaps most important is Mitchinson’s deliberate inclusion of advertising as a form of entertainment, or, more broadly speaking, ‘culture’.

We, the enlightened author/reviewer/copywriter/strategist know that we create with a purpose. But to the consumer, as Mitchinson notes, our product is all part of the general cacophony of life. Some forms of communication are easier to hear; some easier to ignore. See also her description of advertising as fiction that’s ‘free to quit reading’. But all, ultimately, all comms - paid, earned, owned, or rogue - are part of the cultural noise. It is essential to study it critically.

Admittedly, this is a concept I nicked it from another timely and relevant book, Thompson and Leavis’ Culture and Environment (1933). C&E is half-manifesto, half-textbook. It posits that we, as modern humans, need to spend more time studying things like film, radio, and advertisements. They inform our worldview, and, more importantly, we’re stuck with them. Refusing to engage critically with advertising won’t make it disappear: it’ll just make you a bigger sucker.

(C&E is also notable for how grudging it is about all this. The authors don’t even try to hide their editorial stance: modernity sucks, and this stuff is crap. But still they soldier on with writing lesson plans, and occasionally consoling themselves with the odd chapter on traditional wheelwright skills.)

A few agencies go so far as to make ‘creating culture’ a part of their shtick. I can’t argue with the aspiration - and it certainly makes you seem cooler at dinner parties. But I can’t help think that it also reeks of insecurity - an attempt to ditch the pharma bros and Cambridge Analytica to go sit at the lunch table with real artists and the BBC.

As Mitchinson points out, there’s also a very important distinction here. Advertising is culture with a purpose. It is ‘meant to sell things’. Advertising always has a particular behavioural or attitudinal change in mind. Often this is sales - but it equally applies to quitting smoking, renewing your road tax, or voting Leave. Advertising is definitely part of the culture. And, hell, it may even be an art. But it will never be ‘art for art’s sake’. Hiding from your own objectives makes bad ads, not good art.

* * *

If you’re stuck on the train, some more reading elsewhere:

Fun fact: 300,000 people have read classic novels on Instagram. Amazing. (h/t Viv)

Wherever you go, there you are

The mystery of identity

I’m still trying to decipher the secrets of the universe from the list of Edgar Debuts. (Challenge started here. Update here. Online list is here.) I’ve now read 36, which is disappointingly just under half. (I blame Julia Quinn, as there’s been a lot of distracting Regency duke-bonking novels on my Kindle as of late.)

My reading order is entirely random, so it is always considerate of the universe when the books shuffle themselves into a sort of pattern. But then, all reviewing - and most communications planning - is a polite form of apophenia, so I’m happy to roll with it.

In this case, I encountered a series of formulaic - ‘classic’ even - detective novels. Hero, villain, crime!, procedural sleuthery, ‘surprise’ whodunnit, and a tense finish. The only difference between them, besides era-specific tonal shifts, was the choice of protagonist. These books could have all used the same elevator pitch: ‘A detective novel, but the detective is [x]’.

For example:

  • Nightmare in Manhattan (1951). Detective is a transport cop.

  • The Bright Road to Fear (1959). Detective is an undercover agent.

  • Florentine Finish (1964). Detective is a diamond trader.

  • Strike Three, You’re Dead (1985). Detective is a baseball player.

  • No One Rides for Free (1987). Detective is a recovering drug addict. [PEAK 80s!]

  • Carolina Skeletons (1989). Detective is a journalist.

  • A Grave Talent (1994). Detective is a lesbian. [PEAK 90s!]

This pattern isn’t solely exclusive to these recent books. Probably the most egregious is Dorothy Unnak’s The Bait (1968), the entire premise of which is ‘but the detective is a WOMAN’.

For most of these, the [x] doesn’t really account to much. It is a shtick. An aesthetic twist on the trope. If the detective is a baseball player, the reader gets a slight change in vocabulary and some sporty world-building. If the detective is defined by his addiction to cocaine, there’s the mandatory relapse chapter. Ultimately, the structure, the journey, and the themes are all the same.

However, that slight twist can (or could) be huge. The detective’s identity is an opportunity for an entirely different view of the world. And it also has the potential to change how the world sees them. Nightmare in Manhattan’s station cop has a different process for apprehending a criminal: that’s a shtick. A Grave Talent’s Kate Martinelli has completely different way of seeing the world, and being seen by it: that’s something more.

(At least, she should. I would argue that A Grave Talent has dated badly. By being so painfully coy with the reader, it makes Kate’s sexuality itself the biggest twist in the mystery - and a very predictable one to anyone, say, post-1994. Like The Bait, 35 years earlier, identity-as-object is the focus, rather than identity-as-perspective, and the book misses out because of it.)

To reference back to the best book I’ve read so far from this list: In The Heat of the Night. Heat is a basic detective mystery, but changing the detective’s identity has a huge impact on the type of story told, how it is told, and the themes it can address. Sherlock Holmes without privilege is a very different sort of story. (More on this excellent book.)

* * *

Identity is a subject of vast interest to strategists and marketers. For the purposes of this email, let’s define it broadly: how people see themselves, how they are seen by others, and, most importantly, the resulting lens through which they see the world (‘worldview’, in the classic sense of the term).

Identity has even replaced behavioural economics as the thing that we all need to be conversant in. This makes sense: behavioural economics taught us that consumers and citizens don’t necessarily behave rationally, but, instead, there can be certain predictable irrationalities. Identity is perhaps the irrationality: the infinitely personal, worldview-driven influence on decision-making that separates humans from econs. Identity helps explain why people act the way they do, rather than how they ‘should’, in the economic sense.

Our grab-bag of mysteries demonstrates two key points about identity. Points that, I believe, marketers have long understood in an intuitive way:

First, these mysteries all have the same story at their heart. The same product. The difference? The identity of the protagonist. One slight shift in perspective, and a familiar story can become something very different. Identity is a key variable when it comes to how a story - or any narrative - is told, or heard. A bucket of fried chicken is a bucket of fried chicken, but you sell it differently to suburban families than to Londoners; to comic book fans to hungover Millennials.

The grab bag also demonstrates the role of multiple identities. In every one of our ‘but the detective is an [x]’, said detective could be a [y] or a [z] as well. At various times in A Grave Talent, for example, Kate identifies as a police officer, a woman, a lesbian, an art aficionado, a San Franciscan, and even a runner. In each of those moments, that identity decides her worldview: inflecting how she acts, and the decisions she makes. Kate’s never solely one identity, she’s an ever-shifting sequence of them. The tricky thing with books, of course, is that they have a rigid, textual construction, so at any given moment, Kate can only be one thing. Non-fictional people contain, as Whitman said, multitudes.

With a marketing, like a book, a certain amount of flattening takes place. A message needs to speak to the right identity at the right time, in the right place, and in the right worldview:

…and the reverse is also true. You don’t speak to someone as a parent during Game of Thrones, as an accountant at a Tool concert, as a Manchester City fan in the waiting room of an NHS clinic. It is simply a matter of common sense. And identity.

* * *

More reading on the topic:

  • Burke and Stet’s Identity Theory is a much deeper dive, and, although most won’t all be useful for marketing purposes, it is a readable approach to a dense topic.

  • A pricier volume, but with all the key readings: Rediscovering Social Identity.

  • Each individual will also interpret and express their identity in a a different way. Very elegantly illustrated in this gorgeous new exhibition on what it means to be ‘British’.

  • Flexible identities may be linked to better creativity. This study looks it through one dimension, but how could you prime other forms of identity in workshops or brainstorms?

Perhaps more importantly: every study, survey, biography, etc, is a de facto look into identity. A basic grounding (above) is useful to know what to look for, and the language to use to describe what you’ve seen, but ultimately, as with everything else we do, it is about developing an empathetic, or at least sympathetic, base of audience insight.

As always, please send any recommendations my way, and I’ll share.

* * *

Two links about me:

I was a guest on the Hype Collective’s podcast. We talk about what strategy ‘is’, breaking in to the industry, and a bit about agency culture. It was a fun and far-reaching discussion, thanks to hosts Josh and Helene. There are some things I said that I want to mull over a bit more, so I may be returning to this later. Hmm.

The Best of British Fantasy 2019 continues apace. I now take submissions via Twitter, which seems like a publicity stunt, but has been really effective. I’ll share the numbers in a future update, but it has made a substantial difference in the number of stories submitted - and who is submitting them. Details. Again, more on this and the thinking behind it later.

* * *

This influencer had a rough brush with reality. And not even identifying with Taylor Swift can save her. The comments are a must-read. (Here’s some background, which is also very entertaining/mean.)

What is a Gothic Romance?

A charming coincidence

A charming coincidence:

Lavie Tidhar’s “Bag Man” has been shortlisted for a CWA Dagger - selected as one of the year’s best crime stories. Fantastic news, and congrats to Lavie.

The Outcast Hours, containing “Bag Man” (and twenty-odd other stories) is currently on sale for 99p on Amazon (UK, US), Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

Have a lovely weekend.

The Good, The Bad, and The Patterson

Update on my self-imposed Edgar Debuts reading challenge - I’ve now read 26 of the 74. The list is here.

Since the last newsletter, I’ve endured a fairly lengthy run of ok books in there: The Expats, A Cold Day in Paradise, The Faithful Spy, Act of Fear and The Thomas Berryman Number (more on that last one).

They were all fine.

This is not damning with faint praise. Well. Objectively. They were, genuinely, fine. I read them. And I don’t regret it. Win and win. Behaviourally, I played more games on my phone during this particular streak, which doesn’t bodes well for how ‘engaging’ I found them. Or ‘gripping’, as the blurbs would say. But no complaints. Ergo, fine.

The thing is about creative quality - or cultural quality - or however you want to call it - it is a fantastic living experiment in watching your own standards erode. If I read, or ‘consume’, a lot of stuff in a row that’s fine, I very, very quickly find that ‘fine’ becomes ‘ok’, or even ‘good’. My own expectations become managed, as I convince myself that what I’m consuming is satisfying, simply because I’m consuming it. The sunk cost fallacy + a DIY shift in social norms = boiling the frog of quality. (And, of course, this very much applies to any other area as well, from Netflix binges to creative campaigns.) Given enough adequacy, you can forget what good looks like.

But then… you stumble on actual greatness, and that puts everything else back into perspective. That’s where the damnation of faint praise occurs. Relatively speaking, ok is ok. But it is also long, long way from great.

In this case, greatness came in the form of John Dudley Ball’s In The Heat of the Night. All the clever detailing and intellectual rigour of a traditional detective novel, but interlaced with powerful social commentary and gloriously rich, complicated characters. There are several different voices in this short novel, yet each and every one is distinct. Heat has a lot to say, and uses the mechanics of the mystery as the way of getting it all out there. Moreover, despite the mystery not being ‘the point’, it is an incredibly good mystery. It manages to capture far more than its genre, while still being true and loyal and loving to the genre itself.

In fact, that latter point is one of the (many) reasons Heat is stuck in my mind. I’m - and steal yourself - not a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy the stories immensely, and still remember reading them for the first time in a battered brown paperback omnibus, smuggled into the back of class. And, like others of my generation, Holmes is Jeremy Brett (or perhaps vice versa).

As I’ve grown up though, the appeal of Holmes has faded. I find it to be the Asimovian mystery: all about the intellectual rigour and the bitty detail, but with character - and to some degree, story - lagging behind. Kudos to a centuries-old fanbase who have worked tirelessly to give Holmes the sexiness, personality, and depth that’s just not present in the original texts. Holmes as written is ‘Hard Detection’. (And don’t get me started on Agatha Christie, who I find about as interesting as reading an IKEA manual with the front cover missing. AHA! It was a Detolf all along! I sussed it when we opened the second bag of dowels!)

In the Heat of the Night features a Sherlockian uberdetective, in this case, Virgil Tibbs. He’s a highly-decorated homicide officer, a martial arts expert, a master of deduction, and, also, black. The last is particularly important, given, in Heat, he’s tasked with solving a murder set in a small town, in the deep South, in the mid-1960s. Imagine all the admirable intelligence and deductive prowess of Sherlock Homes, but in a character completely devoid of privilege. Unlike Holmes, Tibbs’ authority is never taken for granted. The police aren’t Lestrade-like, bumbling goofballs, they’re actively opposed to Tibbs’ every move. Two-thirds of Tibbs’ witnesses won’t even talk to him, and the remaining third won’t make eye contact. Every single statement he makes is challenged; no deduction goes without thorough cross-examination. He can’t utter a word without being contradicted, shouted down, or flat-out ignored by everyone around him. Gallingly, they’re all his intellectual inferiors, and as the reader, we know. Tibbs has no resources, no connection and no allies - frustratingly, the people he’s trying to help are the ones most keen to reject him.

It is infuriating, but also, in a literary sense, completely wonderful. Holmes is Superman - a perfect, alien being who has to disguise himself as a relatable human being. Tibbs, however, is a lightning rod for human frailty. While Sherlock has fans, Tibbs suffers fools. He’s every female academic that gets mansplained their own subject matter on Twitter; every person of colour told to ‘go back where they came from’; every hard-earned success that’s undermined by pettiness and aggression. In Bells’ novel, we have the satisfaction of knowing that Tibbs is right. We watch him slowly, inexorably, grind towards justice (and edge those around him just the tiniest bit towards progress). It is a beautiful and deeply, deeply rewarding sight to witness.

I suppose the only downside of the whole thing is that the book that followed - The Cold War Swap - would, in other circumstances, be the best I’d read on the list. It is very, very good indeed. But it isn’t In The Heat of the Night.

We all deserve a touch of goodness in our lives, if only to remind us not to settle for ok.

Get: Anyone in a position of creative judgement
To: Not stop at ok
By: Reminding them what good feels like

* * *

Alluded to above: James Patterson’s The Thomas Berryman Number.

I am not a Patterson reader. I’ve tried Patterson’s books. I did not like Patterson’s books.

As a result, I was not particularly keen to read The Thomas Berryman Number when it appeared on my challenge, but I am extremely courageous so in I went. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was not the cheeseball straight-to-Cinemax thriller that I anticipated. Instead, Berryman is an intricately-constructed character study. It isn’t perfect, but it is, in fairness, fine. Possibly even pretty good. Something like The Last Picture Show by way of George Pelecanos. Occasionally tedious, definitely messy, but atmospheric and pleasantly ambiguous.

Patterson fans haaaaaate it:

James Patterson is usually a good writer, so I'm surprised he hasn't pulled this one. Granted, I only got half way through, but still couldn't make heads or tails of it.

🔥

I can usually read his stuff in a day but this was not the case. It took forever to finish and I wanted to throw it away half way through the book. It never got better.

🔥

If I had read this before any of his others I dont think I would have read any of his other books!

🔥

Constantly through all my reviews on Patterson books I have continually said that i have yet to find a bomb so to speak. The Thomas Berryman Number was my 21st Patterson novel and how ironic the bomb i would find planted within the Patterson bibliography would be his very first book ever??!!

🔥🔥🔥

I'm a big fan of Patterson and have read most of his work. I have been looking forward to reading his first novel for some time and was very dissapointed. If there is one possitive thing to come out of this book it is that James Patterson's story telling has greatly improved since he penned this work. Quite possibly the worst book I have ever read.

🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥

Ow.

Berryman is the third-lowest rated Patterson title on Goodreads. Its supremely shitty 2.86 rating puts it squarely behind such treasures as The Lifeguard, The Homeroom Diaries, French Kiss, Give Thank You a Try, Mistress (Free Preview Edition), Zoo: Graphic Novel Edition, Private: Delhi, Middle School #12 (also, de facto, #1-11), The $10,000,000 Marriage Proposal, and the immortal Penguins of America.

The only two Patterson titles with lower ratings are: Trump vs Clinton: In Their Own Words and The Candies Save Christmas.

Meanwhile, Patterson, by the numbers:

  • 114 New York Times bestselling novels

  • 67 #1 New York Times bestsellers by a single author

  • One in 17, roughly 6%, of all hardcover novels sold in the United States

Patterson. He’s an overwhelming commercial success, he’s connected through the supply chain, he aggressively reaches out to different reading audiences (including new ones), he has a clear value in ‘the story’, and he’s converted his name into a brand that’s far more iconic or recognisable than any publishing imprint or logo. Dude has won publishing.

Yet, it wasn’t until his 8th (I think?) book, Along Came a Spider, that Patterson began his evolution into THE PATTERSON: the birth of a brand. Berryman is arguably both the purest form of Patterson and the book most distant from THE PATTERSON. As the author’s debut, it was written with no personal industry context: no pressure, no precedent. The pilot: the book Patterson wanted to write, and written, relatively speaking, in a vacuum. The evolution of THE PATTERSON, the commercial powerhouse, is utterly fascinating. Was this a conscious choice? Is it incremental? How does this work?

Just like trying to piece together ‘influences’, this is an impossible question to answer. I like Patterson a lot (see above, especially as regards using his clout to reach - and create - new readers). Knowing that he can, when he chooses to, write a pretty good, Edgar-winning novel, only increases my respect for him.

* * *

Stuff happening: I’ll be in Dublin in early August (exact programming tbd - negotiations ongoing). I’m reading for The Best of British Fantasy 2019. The Outcast Hours sold really well at Bradford Literature Festival (thank you, THE NORTH), and is still available at all good bookshops. And, of course, Djinn.

The One Constant in Life

From the introduction to The Best of British Fantasy 2018:

When starting a new tradition - and I sincerely hope this inaugural volume of The Best of British Fantasy becomes one - the respectful thing to do is study what came before. And then promptly do the opposite.

In the case of the “year’s best” subgenre, introductions tend to take one of two forms. The first approach is that of the annual overview. The editor heroically attempts to catalogue all things related to the genre that occurred in the calendar year. Some of these introductions can run into the hundreds of pages: an annual index of trend-spotting that captures publications, movies, comics, awards, theatre, and beyond.

I suspect the reasoning behind this approach stems from the sub-genre’s distant origins – that is, “before the internet”. It is flattering to be part of a tradition this ancient, but, in 2019, I think these details are best captured elsewhere. There are a host of formal and informal resources that capture this data for posterity far better than I ever could.

The second approach found in “year’s best” volumes is the imposition of thematic consistency. The editor stares at the year’s fantasy outputs until the void stares back - and then helpfully whispers a single, unifying truth. Future readers then learn that 2018 was entirely about the apocalypse. Or nostalgia. Or any other themes that could, with the appropriate amount of pruning or plumping, define the historical record. As a fan of brutal simplicity - and of sweeping statements - I can appreciate this approach.

However, as much as I admire the ambition, I’m not comfortable with how the thematic approach deceives when it comes to chronology. All of the stories enclosed in this volume, for example, were definitely published in 2018. They were not all written in 2018. Some were written and published that same day: the miracle of self-publishing. Others were written in the interminable past, then sent forth to run the submissions gauntlet: the vagaries of traditional publishing. Some were inspired years before being written; some were constructed on the spot in workshops. Nor can we even ascribe “publisher intent”. The websites, anthologies and magazines that published these stories all began their own selection and publication processes at various times.

As much as I would love to declare 2018 to be the year of the apocalypse, nostalgia, or anxiety, that would be a false imposition not only of my own perspective, but of what even constituted “2018”.

What unites both approaches - the fact-collecting and the theme-building - is the sense of writing for posterity. These are introductions not for readers in 2018 (or even 2019), but in 2028, 2038, and beyond. They are attempts to provide valuable context for future readers of the collection. To explain not only that these are the best stories of the year, but to provide a ‘why’: what it is about the stories that makes them so very 2018ish.

But if the ‘facts’ are best provided elsewhere, and the ‘theme’ is chronologically suspect, what else is there?

Only the most important thing of all: the reader.

Whenever they were written, commissioned or conceived, all of these stories were first read in 2018. The reader is therefore the ultimate context. Who are the people who read these stories? And how would the stories have reflected their attitudes, or their perceptions?

* * *

Because I like self-inflicted pain, I then spend the rest of the introduction actually trying to answer those questions. If you enjoy spurious use of data, please do pick up the book.

I’m fond of this introduction for two reasons. (Three, if you count my natural attraction to my own voice.)

The first, in the past, I’ve written a pretty venomous review of a “Year’s Best” volume for presenting personal opinion from an authoritative platform. I’ve also gone on record writing about the flaws in the cataloging approach. I am probably the only person that remembers either of these articles, but… I still needed to find a new path for this book’s introduction.

The second - and this is a little less personal - it follows some of the best advice I’ve ever received as a planner: everyone will always listen to the audience.

As long as the strategy is based on evidence of what the audience is saying or thinking, it is sound. As a debating tactic, it is solid: you can’t argue with what the audience feels. As a planning tactic, it is even more solid: remove yourself from the equation, and all the subjectivity that goes with it. This isn’t about you: it is about the people you are setting out to influence. And, finally, as a sales tactic, that’s one of the core pitches of any agency: you’re providing a client with insight into the attitudes and behaviours of their user or consumer.

I’ve been swinging the ‘audience-first’ club a bit more vigorously recently - especially in speaking with practitioners and academics. Both groups have a tendency to go in with the hammer mentality, and will immediately start searching out nails. Taking a step back and reviewing the audience(s) - again, we want to influence - and what they’re thinking, feeling, or doing - isn’t just best practice, it is essential.

* * *

Relatedly, I’m now taking submissions for The Best of British Fantasy 2019. All the details are here. Please share about, if you can.

* * *

I’m at the Bradford Literature Festival this weekend and next.

There’s been a slight schedule rejig, which works out well for everyone involved:

  • On the Industry Day, the marketing panel will now have an arts, culture and publishing focus (the organisers: ‘there will be a lot of publishers there, do you have anything to say to them?’, me: ‘I CAN THINK OF SOMETHING’.)

  • And on the 7th, Anne and I have swapped Takeover panels, so I’ll be leading the discussion around Dystopian Fiction, while she’ll be talking Stereotypes. Sort of a win-win for everyone involved.

  • You can also find me talking Fatherhood and the Night, two topics very near and dear to my heart right now. And, as you might expect, interlinked.

All my recent books will be at the festival, but in case you aren’t: The Best of British Fantasy, The Outcast Hours and the perennial favourite, The Djinn Falls in Love. Enjoy.

* * *

Pub simulator, complete with Orcs.

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