The Outcast Hours is out in a few short weeks, so you'll have to excuse this brief commercial interlude. But it is important that you know how unbelievably awesome it is and why you should buy sixteen copies.
The anthology collects over two dozen original stories about 'life at night'. It is a broad brief, and certainly more abstract than 'djinn'. But Mahvesh and I were interested in stories about the hidden and underrepresented; the people who live and love and work and travel in the hours that are 'supposed to be' for sleeping. 'No decent person would be out at this hour.' Except, of course, those who choose - or need - to be.
For me, the first glimmer of The Outcast Hours was born out of a few years of 'glamorous' international work. I flew out of London's smaller airports twice a week, invariably at hideous hours. It was pretty gruelling, and I was entirely fuelled by self-pity and miserable Schiphol coffee.
It took me an embarrassingly long time to realise that, however miserable I was for having to get up so early, there was always someone there to pour me coffee. Or drive my taxi. Or check me in. An entire ecosystem of people who got there even earlier, making sure that my morning was slightly less awful. My taxi driver doesn't get a taxi. No one pours coffee for the barista at Caffe Nero at 5 am in London Luton Airport? It goes on and on, a stack of turtles, all the way down to chronic sleep deprivation.
Jonathan Crary's 24/7 is a feisty work that looks at the rise of capitalism and the corresponding decline in sleep. The premise is simple - and, I suspect, accurate - we now have systems and technology and markets that operate 24/7, but we don't have the minds or bodies to do so. Nor does society protect us from the impact of continuous, relentless on-ness. The insulation that does exist is on offer for folks like me, who have careers that come with benefits, mental health awareness, and expense accounts for those very, very late nights. And I suspect many of this newsletters' readers know that, even with that psychological padding... it can still really suck at times. We get burned out; we crash; our work/life balance topples over. Now imagine what it is like for those who get even less sleep, fewer benefits, and none of the safety net.
Thus was born The Outcast Hours, née a 'book about night people'. A chance to explore the other half of life.
Of course, that's just my side of the book's inception. Mahvesh came to it with her own inspiration. And, as with any creative project, as we expanded the four-word pitch into something resembling an actual brief, it immediately sprawled. Night-time living isn't always an imposition, it is often a matter of choice. The people who choose to live at night - who prefer the anonymity and the privacy; the freedom and the frisson - are equally compelling subject matter. Because the night-time is an opportunity for many: a chance to be who you want to be, safe from the constant scrutiny of daylight.
Outcast has stories of those who are night-bound by necessity. There's the hotel employee who finds himself captured (and captivated) by his guest, the bartender running the gauntlet of her late shift, the paramedics who stumble into a new sort of emergency, the refugees trapped in nameless places, the nanny with a particularly troublesome child, the lighting engineers who diligently serve in the background at elite parties.
Outcast also has the stories of those who seek out the night: the teenage runaway, the Tinder opportunist, the gray-market fixer, the gambler, the adventurous hiker - and so, so many forms of lover (doomed and otherwise). For good or for ill, there are plenty who seek out the dark places.
And, as with every brief - an unexpected twist: the intrinsically nocturnal. These are the people - and places - and things - who are native to the night, and find daylight as alien as we do the darkness. These are the stories of wistful dreamlands, neon-lit virtual futures, a haunted house (or two), even the Tooth Fairy. The beauty of fiction is that we have the freedom to explore from every perspective, even the impossible ones.
But that's just how I see The Outcast Hours. I suspect that even Mahvesh has a different take. Without going all Barthean, there's only so much that our intent with The Outcast Hours even matters. It may start as our our vision, but it is interpreted by two dozen authors, then filtered through the reader's own personality, philosophy and identity. The night is that rare phenomenon: something truly universal - literally and figuratively experienced by every single person. It would be impossible to capture what it means to everyone. But Outcast gives it a pretty good nonetheless: that's why we have contributors from six continents, every conceivable genre, and authors with a wide range of life experiences. Somewhere in The Outcast Hours, there will be something each of us can recognise. No one owns the night, but we all share it.
To: Buy my book
By: Demonstrating that it is relevant to your own experience
A hard sell, using social proofing!
With the turning of the calendar comes the monthly 'must read' lists, and The Outcast Hours has made the cut at Gizmodo, Kirkus, Tor.com and Barnes & Noble. The latter is particularly gratifying, as they note the "incredible and incredibly strange stories, and the stellar cast of contributing writers certainly delivers". Americans, reward their sagacity by buying your copies here.
Similarly, SFX hearts Outcast, with 4.5 stars (out of 5, you cynics), calling it "an expertly-curated, truly global collection of dreams and nightmares".
A clear call to action!
There are also two events later this month, each with a terrific mix of contributors.
On 21 February, Marina Warner, Will Hill, M. Suddain, Lavie Tidhar and Louis Greenberg will be at the Phoenix Artist Club. (Tickets!) And on 28 February, Frances Hardinge, Will Hill, Karen Onojaife and Maha Khan Phillips will be at Brick Lane Books. (More tickets!)
Can't choose between them? Obviously the only sensible solution is to attend both. If you do attend both, I'll, uh, draw a special T-Rex in your book. Collectible!
A secondary call to action, lower effort by contrast with the first, but still linked to an important KPI!
If you can't wait (or can't attend) the shindigs, you can also order your copy online at any of these fine destinations: Amazon, Amazon.co.uk, B&N, Foyles, Blackwells, Waterstones, or Forbidden Planet.
Things that aren't all about me that still managed to catch my eye this week:
Georgian recipes; Anab Jain - 'stop shouting, start doing'; the death of the high school mall brand; reimagining Oakland; someone else shares my opinion of pricy 'masterclasses'; Man of Steel: strong brief, bad creative.