I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available, to help anyone make a decision about what they want to read next, or just to give background if you’re already familiar with the story.
A novel – my longest novel – today.
The world is populated by everything from humans to Artificial Humans, but speciesism runs rampant. Everything that can go terribly wrong does; and while it always comes back to Brazil, it all seems to be going down in London, which is a seething pot of conflicts and crossed wires, as new lies are told and old ones resurface; as old murders are recalled and new ones committed; as history is rewritten; and as a very ugly but potentially extremely powerful statue is passed from wrong hand to wrong hand.
My first full-length work that I published, my longest work that I’ve ever published, the longest thing that I’ve ever written and in terms of cast size and continuity almost certainly the most complicated.
This took me a long time to actually write out – the genesis was in 2002, when I went to a literary festival at my university while drunk and had a small epiphany regarding how, to most characters, the main through-line of action in a story’s plot is actually a very minor part of their lives, and that we only see a snapshot of their existence around this. I wanted to write more of the flesh around the pit, as it were, and had a few characters beginning to talk who seemed like they could make it happen. I got about 35,000 words in and collapsed on myself because I had NO IDEA WHERE IT WAS GOING.
Fast-forward to 2007: I diagrammed. I drew maps. I wrote about 150k in one month; worked on one chapter for a year; wrote another huge chunk and finished the first draft. Somewhere in this time, a whole other version of what was at the time the near-future – and is now the increasingly distant past – came into shape.
This has been the book which received the most enthusiastic response from readers as it was written, the most intense fannishness, and I can understand in some regards why that is: it’s fleshy, organic, something which lives and breathes as its own world, with mechanisms that function and characters whose lives – as I’d dreamed – didn’t revolve around making them accessories to the plot, but rather continued with their own preoccupations and problems while the plot – the “parcel” – passed between them, in some cases almost unnoticed, in others a little more catastrophically.
I threw ideas into a pot and distilled them into an alterna-London, drawing on personal experience (intimate relationships with certain sections of the unhygienic club scene and the particular joy of living right at the poverty line in a large city) and wild imagination (having a job that pays a rent, robotic lobsters, Android rights, wayfinding technology that actually works), and the logical human responses to living in a world where they’re not the only intelligent species, or even form of sentience. I wanted something big, bright, and dirty – real, down to the tiles on the kitchen floor and the thumping hangovers, but hallucinogenically Other at the same time.
More than anything, Pass the Parcel was about the physical and emotional feeling of being in place; the way that events boil up out of seeming nowhere, but also how the world you live in reacts with your body and mind. I think it remains one of the most solidly-grounded of the books I’ve written.
It is also, in a very real way, about bathos.