Not an actual book tour – one of those things where authors slope needily from bookstore to bookstore in the hope that somebody might want their signature. No, this is a tour of the places in which the book happened.
For the next seven days you can buy my first novel Cuckoo on the Kindle for 99 cents in the US, or 99 pence in the UK. I I’ve written plenty about Cuckoo before, so instead of re-introducing the book in the usual way we’ll take a little visual tour of the places where it was written. These are the places where a book happened.
Please note that they are all private property. If you wish to place a commemorative plaque on any of these buildings, please ask the owner’s permission first.
When I started the first draft of Cuckoo I lived above a funeral directors on Argyle Street in Glasgow, with Mark, Em, Finzi, and Freud (two of whom were cats). I was mostly unemployed, and having just been kicked out of an altogether too intense romantic relationship I retreated to my bedroom and started writing. I hadn’t really done much of that before, but there was a grim image stuck in my head that I thought might be something if I let it. Also, shutting myself in my room for weeks and not thinking about real life seemed like an entirely sensible thing to do given my overwrought emotional state. The flat looked like this. If I remember right, I was on the first floor, just above and to the right of the clock.
I wrote for four weeks with no idea where the story was going, if it was going anywhere at all. I took a bit of a break to go and do some stuff in a production of Hamlet at the Citizens Theatre, then came back and kept writing until we relocated to Gibson Street (adding a Lucy to our menagerie in the process).
My room was the single first floor window in the middle there. I finished the first draft of the novel on a Christmas morning, having deliberately stopped work a couple of days earlier without writing the final line just so I could say that I finished on Christmas morning. I was sort of pretentious, even then.
It was a bit of a surprise to find myself with a finished manuscript, even if it was only a first draft. I had no idea what to do next, but eventually started editing and reading up on how to submit the thing to people who might to kill trees in its honour.
Another move, one in which we shed both our Lucy and the Tex she had acquired, took us to Great Western Road (the window with the net curtain was mine). This was where the novel sold from, to an electronic publisher in America called Hard Shell Word Factory. It was released on a floppy disk, which seems bizarre today, and had a very different cover…
This was at the very dawn of electronic publishing, a decade too early for the medium to really to catch on, but the book did pretty well for what it was – business was brisk enough that I ended up with a few hundred dollars worth of royalty checks over the next couple of years. Reviewers liked it (the SF Site review at the time is still, to my amazement, available here). People bought it. It was even nominated for a Frankfurt Book Award, which seems insane now. Hard Shell did pretty good by this book, and I was in fine company on their roster.
To get to the next bit of Cuckoo‘s travelogue we have to skip a whole property, but we’ll visit there next week when we do Thy Fearful Symmetry‘s book tour/sale.
A couple of years down the line, with the print rights to the book still mine to sell, I sent the manuscript off to a small press publisher in the UK called Razorblade Press. By then I was living in a very small portion of this rather grand house – the left side of the attic level, all sloping roofs and odd little windows.
Razorblade had been producing some beautiful books for a few years by the time I submitted to them, including work by Tim Lebbon and Peter Crowther. Not only that, but they’d managed to distribute their books to a couple of national book chains in the UK. It seemed as though they were the place to be. I’d already had a short story featured in an anthology of theirs (the rather strange and marvellous Hideous Progeny) and seen that turn up in Glasgow bookstores, so was insanely excited when they took Cuckoo on.
Alas, I broke them. Razorblade imploded almost immediately after they published Cuckoo (and at the same time Simon Morden’s marvellous Heart). It probably wasn’t actually my fault that the publisher went under. That’s what I tell myself anyway. The paperback of Cuckoo managed to ship just before they bust, so I did get the anticipated pleasure of seeing it in bookstores, but it vanished after just a month or so. Once what was on the shelves sold, there was no way for stores to reorder if they wanted to.
That could have been the end of the book’s journey if it hadn’t been for the public library system. Razorblade somehow managed to get copies into the libraries, and every year I’d get a little check based on the book’s borrows. The money wasn’t much, but it was a way for the novel to keep tapping me on the shoulder. Eventually, I paid attention.
I was living in India when I got round to investigating the whole self-publishing thing. My apartment was on the third and fourth floor in this block, on the far side of the white divider thing that’s actually a stairwell.
That’s where the 2011 edition of Cuckoo happened. As I discovered the other day, sort of to my surprise, it’s currently my bestselling novel if you look at overall sales since release. Granted it’s been available a year longer than any of the other full novels (it still startles me when I write ‘novels’ in the plural), but it’s ahead by a quite a considerable margin.
I suspect every writer looks back at their first novel with a sense of discomfort. I think that’s because it’s hard to remember the person who wrote it. Taking things a step and place at a time though, I can see the links more clearly.
Seven days. 99 cents/pence. Go grab one, if you haven’t. There are paperbacks at the same link if you’d prefer that, though they’re not on sale I’m afraid.
Next week Thy Fearful Symmetry gets the book tour treatment. Stay tuned.