British Fiction Focus

Battling the Embuggerance

Welcome back to the British Genre Fiction Focus,’s regular round-up of book news from the United Kingdom’s thriving speculative fiction industry.

Sometimes the news is good. In addition to informing folks about facts, it can inspire, entertain and engage us. Equally, of course, it can cause frustration, anger, sadness and so on. This week in the British Genre Fiction Focus, we walk the line—between an inescapably upsetting story about Sir Terry Pratchett’s early-onset Alzheimer’s and several exciting items, not least news of Adam Nevill’s imminent next novel and a new Harry Potter short by J. K. Rowling.

Battling the Embuggerance

“The Discworld Convention is a four-day celebration of Sir Terry Pratchett and his glorious astrochelonian-riding pachyderm-borne creation” that has been held in the United Kingdom every even-numbered year since 1996. The guest of honour? Take a wild guess, guys.

The aforementioned author has attended every single such celebration of his stories so far, despite having suffered from a rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s since 2007. Till now, it hasn’t seemed to slow him down in the slightest: he’s been as prolific as ever in the years since coming to terms with his condition. Alas, last week, Pratchett admitted that he’d have to sit out the International Discworld Convention for the first time:

I have been putting off writing this announcement for quite some time and on good days thought I wouldn’t have to write it at all. However, it is with great reluctance that I have to tell you all that I will not be able to attend the upcoming Discworld Convention in Manchester. I am very sorry about this, but I have been dodging the effects of [posterior cortical atrophy] and have been able to write for much longer than any of us ever thought possible, but now The Embuggerance is finally catching up with me, along with other age-related ailments. I know people will have already made plans far in advance and some will be travelling a long way, but this is the first time ever that I have been unable to attend a UK convention and I really am very sorry. They say time marches on, and it does, even though I have been running very fast to keep one step ahead of it. I really was looking forward to seeing your smiley, happy faces. Have fun everyone. Yes, on this occasion, have lots of fun.

Con chairman John Hicks—also the organiser of The Ankh-Morpork Grand Exhibition, “a four-day celebration of the culture, technology and industry of the great city of Ankh-Morpork, which is coincidentally being held at the same place and time” as DWCon, don’t you know—Hicks, in any case, had this to say to the thousands of fans who had hoped to see the great creator:

While it is not going to be the same without Sir Terry, we wish him all the best. Rob Wilkins, his Business Manager, will be bringing The Black Hat to the Convention to represent Terry in absentia and we will, of course, welcome it with all due honours. We have also been told that Terry is arranging a very special gift for all those who attend the Convention in person and we are very excited to see what this is!

Despite Terry not being able to come, we do have the power of technology and so have arranged a special Question and Answer session for the Saturday afternoon. In this we will see Terry on video answer some questions put to him by you, the Convention attendees, as well as the Guests and other Discworld names. […]

For those of you worried about how Sir Terry’s absence will affect our programme, rest assured we have a full timetable of exciting events to keep you occupied and many other Guests still coming for your education and delight. These include Rob Wilkins (who will be representing The Hat for the whole Convention), Bernard Pearson (the Cunning Artificer), Colin Smythe (Terry’s long-time agent), Stephen Briggs, Ian Mitchell, Reb Voyce, Jacqueline Simpson, Jack Cohen, Ian Stewart, Daniel Knight (from Snowgum Films) and Ben Aaranovitch. Sadly, Stephen Baxter is no longer able to attend but sends us his best wishes for the Convention and will be donating some special items for our Charity Auction instead.

In other words: the Con goes on! As it surely should.

All the same, it’s such a sad day. I don’t know about Discworld, but I’ve always admired Terry Pratchett—for his sense of humour, his honesty and generosity, not to mention his mettle—so to hear that he’s having a hard time makes me more than a little miserable.

But we must move on.

Cover Art Corner: No One Gets Out Alive

Further to the first look it was my pleasure to present to you six months or so ago, at long last, a proper synopsis for Adam Nevill’s new novel:

Cash-strapped, working for temping agencies and living in shared accommodation, Stephanie Booth feels she can fall no further. So when she takes a new room at the right price, she believes her luck has finally turned. But 82 Edgehill Road is not what it appears to be.

It’s not only the eerie atmosphere of the vast, neglected house, or the disturbing attitude of her new landlord, Knacker McGuire, that makes her uneasy – it’s the whispers behind the fireplace, the scratching beneath floors, the footsteps in the dark, and the young women weeping in neighbouring rooms. When Knacker’s menacing cousin Fergal arrives, the danger exceeds her darkest imaginings.

But this is merely a beginning, a gateway to horrors beyond Stephanie’s worst nightmares. And in a house where no one listens to the screams, will she ever get out alive?

Though I find myself quite liking the new cover look of Nevill’s back catalogue, No One Gets Out Alive’s art is, at best, underwhelming.

First and foremost, it has no focal point, like the cracked china doll adorning House of Small Shadows, or the runes of The Ritual. A lady in a window with a shape hovering over her shoulder is cool conceptually, and given the author’s comments, it sounds fitting, for sure, so why not make more of it? Why not develop the image’s bland background with broken-down brickwork or something similar?

That’s my two pence, in any event. Still, aside some superficial similarities with the subject matter of Apartment 16, the book itself appears promising, with Nevill noting on his blog that this is his “longest” and “grimmest story to date.” Interestingly, “it is also [his] first true ghost story.”

Roll on October…

Odds and Sods

  • Dumbledore’s Army finally reunited yesterday, the better to celebrate the last match of the Quidditch World Cup. Reporting on the surprise reappearance of Harry, Ron, and Hermione—now in their 30s—was the Daily Prophet’s gossip columnist Rita Skeeter, who saw fit to speculate about the source of the Chosen One’s brand new scar. For serious, folks: J. K. Rowling has written an original Harry Potter short. Head on over to Pottermore to read the rest.
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban JK Rowling Johnny DuddleOn your right, relatedly, you should see the recently-revealed Johnny Duddle cover ready, set, go to grace the third of Bloomsbury’s new UK editions of the Harry Potter novels this September.
  • Half a year or so ago, I practically fantasised in the Focus about the potentially speculative elements of David Mitchell’s new novel. Well… this week, whilst announcing the launch event in London, The Guardian confirmed said suspicions, calling The Bone Clocks “a dazzling mix of realism and fantasy exploring the nature of mortality and survival.” Why can’t it be September already?
  • This Saturday, as part of the London Film & Comic Con, a threesome of new novelists from Gollancz’s ever-expanding stable—introducing Den Patrick, Jon Wallace and Edward Cox—will be participating in a free panel focused on Breaking the Sci-Fi Industry, moderated by publishing director Gillian Redfearn.
  • This past week, it was my pleasure to welcome Joanna Briscoe to The Speculative Scotsman to talk about how all her novels are haunted, whether they be of the genre or not. Days later, she stopped off at The Guardian to wonder what audiences want from the ghost story in “an era conversant with extreme horror and […] console games that scatter images of blood on the screen.” The answer? Atmosphere, apparently.
  • Jeff VanderMeer is to tour the UK in support of his exquisite Southern Reach series in August, with events scheduled in Glasgow, London, Dublin, Bristol and Bath in addition to his appearance alongside The Oversight’s Charlie Fletcher at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
  • Lost’s Evangeline Lilly may be “best known for her work as an actress, but her foremost passion has always been writing,” reads the press release announcing The Squickerwonkers, an “eccentric” all-ages cautionary tale illustrated by Johnny Fraser-Allen. Titan Books plan to publish Lilly’s debut in time for Christmas, complete with a foreword by her partners in fantasy: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens.
  • On his blog, Damien Walter considers John Connolly’s comment that “something has gone very wrong if we’ll pay $5 for a greeting card, $3 for gift wrap, but resent paying more than $2.99 for a book,” before concluding that “books have been so effectively repackaged as consumer goods that consumers now can’t see the qualitative difference between them and a venti cappuccino.” It’s a really interesting read.
  • To precisely no one’s surprise, Amazon looks to be bringing the dastardly tactics brought to light by its ongoing standoff with the Hachette Book Group to Great Britain, as new contracts include clauses stating “that should a book be out of stock from the publisher, Amazon would be entitled to supply its own copies to customers via its print-on-demand facilities,” leading to panic from some publishers. Quite rightly, mind.

Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative Scotsman, Strange Horizons, and He’s been known to tweet, twoo.


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