Fifty-One finally hits the streets (and Internet) on Monday 12th February. The ebook will be available internationally, and a print paperback will be available in the US. The print version for those of us stranded in the UK, will follow in March (date to be confirmed).
To make things easier, I’ve updated the various links and collected them together here.
Exciting for me, obviously. But we’ve reached the point in the publication journey where the writer can start to feel helpless. The words have been writ and re-writ, and then they have been through the editing wringer.
The cover has been designed and re-designed. (Have I mentioned the cover, by the way? I love it so much I’m worried I’m turning into Catherine Cookson.)
And now it’s at the actual physical printers, so what can you do but worry?
One worry that has plagued me recently is the question of Winston Churchill. Here in the UK, we’re mildly obsessed with Churchill, and that period of the War when it looked inevitable that all was lost, Britain would have to surrender and Europe would be at the mercy of Hitler.
In fact, as we know, during 1940 and 1941 Churchill helped the nation rally, and we stubbornly held on until the USA and USSR helped remove the chestnuts from the fire.
It sometimes feels like the 1940s were the last period when Britain really had no doubts about what it was doing as a nation. Ever since, we’ve not been sure whether we’re European or Atlantic, a big country or a small one. All this means that Churchill – despite his faults – remains a hero. Recent movies- such as Dunkirk and Darkest Hour – suggest the fascination with those days remains strong. And the muddle over leaving the European Union shows we still aren’t sure what we’re doing.
In my book, Fifty-One, Churchill plays an off-stage part early on. My hero, Jake Wesson, is sent back from 2040 to 1941 to foil Churchill’s assassination. That mission is accomplished suspiciously easily, and the book heads off in other directions. But the recent Churchill worship got me worried that my compatriots might feel I had committed the sin of doubting Churchill’s importance.
Early on, Jake and his partner Lew Brockley are being given their orders by their boss Ed Robinson. When Robinson tells them there has been an unauthorized time jump back to 1941, and their mission is to counter it, we get this exchange:
Robinson said, “We’ve checked it out and the system says it’s at least 90 percent likely they’re behind the assassination of a politician, a guy called Winston Churchill.”
“Should I know him?” Jake didn’t share Lew’s interest in obscure periods of the past, but the thoughtful expression on Brockley’s face said he’d heard of Churchill.
“Well, he was prime minister for a year, as I’m sure Agent Brockley could’ve told you,” Robinson said. “I’ve had it checked out: if Churchill isn’t shot after a year in the job, he turns out to be an inspirational war leader.”
“How can anyone know that?”
“You know I can’t talk about that, Jake. But you can trust me on it. Churchill shouldn’t die, and your job is to save him.”
“Hold on.” Lew frowned. “What’re these guys trying to achieve by killing Churchill?”
“I assume they want Britain to lose the war.”
“But the Allies won without Churchill,” Lew said. “So they failed.”
“Maybe their computers aren’t as good as ours. But we still need to undo the damage,” Robinson said.
The recent Churchill worship got me worried that my compatriots might think I had committed the sin of doubting Churchill’s importance.
All right, I confess. When I was writing the novel that became Fifty-One, the cover was not front of my mind.
Big issues bothered me, like whether the time travel paradoxes in the story might sink it under the weight of mind-bending puzzlement (they don’t, honest!). And so did small issues, like what had the weather been like on a specific day in July 1944.
In my idler moments, I even indulged fantasies of which actors might play Jake and Amy, my time-tossed, star-crossed lovers, if ever there was a movie version of the book.
I didn’t think about the cover. Maybe I’m just not a visual thinker.
(I’m still catching up with SF classics I missed first time round.)
Inspired by the excellent TV series, I finally got round to reading Margaret Atwood’s classic novel of religious dystopia. I’m sure everyone knows the set-up by now – a near-future New England, in which the US government has been overthrown by an extreme, Christian theocracy. The story focuses on Ofred, a handmaid, whose role is to serve the family of a powerful member of the elite, and to try to bear a child for him, through regular ‘ceremonies’, in which she is forced to have sex with him (toe-curlingly described, in a way that makes you feel sorry for everyone involved).
The television version was so tense that after each episode, I found myself releasing a long breath and wondering how I could face the next one.
If anything, the book is even more tense. Ofred’s thoughts flit from present to past erratically in a thoroughly convincing evocation of the mind of someone utterly terrified that the slightest mis-step, or word out of place, could be fatal. I don’t know how convincing the future world might have seemed in 1986, but in 2017 it is eerily on the money.
How did I miss this back in the 1980s? Atwood is a writer with a lot of mainstream credibility, by no means confined to a genre. But it was nominated for a Nebula and won the Arthur C Clarke award, so is clearly science fiction. I think – to my shame – that at that young age I probably assumed the book was not for me. I’m embarrassed to admit that I probably saw it as a ‘women’s book’, and passed by.
My loss, which I’m glad I’ve now put right. A big thumbs-up and eight out of ten.