Once upon a time there was a young man with the twin ambitions, not incompatible, of making it big in publishing and becoming a successful writer. How did he do?
Well, the publishing happened, for a good few years. It didn’t take him long to discover that the bits he enjoyed most were editorial work and hands-on production. The bits that are actually more necessary from a business point of view – acquisitions, marketing, royalties, accounts in general, strategy – tended to leave him cold. His ambition to grease his way up any of those particular poles was therefore limited from the start, which led to a career of middling editorial sort of work – books, journals, more books, more journals, more books and oh, a magazine –culminating in the creation and liquidation of his own company.
After that he rather felt he had had his fun in publishing and looked around for something with a compatible skillset requirement. Thus he found himself working in communications and marketing for a large computer network, accidentally becoming a technical writer in the process. His job was meant to be waiting for technical experts to write something, whereupon he would edit and publish it, but it soon turned out that everyone was happier if he talked to the technical experts, wrote it up on their behalf and then edited and published it. When redundancy struck he moved less happily on to a firm that manufactures scientific instruments, who had said they wanted someone creative, but were actually after a tame word monkey who would produce maybe 100-200 words a month that perfectly, via some process of telepathy, matched what the MD wanted that day. Any actual creativity very quickly got slapped down. It was not a happy arrangement, but it paid the bills.
But, meanwhile, the writing! What happened there?
To his great surprise, it came to the rescue. Eventually.
It all went swimmingly at first. The writing was very specifically science fiction – okay, and fantasy if pushed, but sf most of all. Stories were sprayed at Interzone – and other outlets, but mostly Interzone – until a few stuck. An agent was acquired, novels were written and even sold. Four in total. And then?
Well, that company that I, I mean he … I … he … oh, okay, I (you’d guessed, hadn’t you?) founded? It published science fiction. What else was this life-long sf fan going to publish? And it broke the subject. I’ve never been able to work out why. Maybe I looked too closely at what goes on behind the scenes – I saw the wooden supports that hold up the sets and suddenly could no longer suspend the disbelief. I can still read it but the drive to write it had just gone.
There again it’s possible I had just told all the stories that were bubbling inside me. I wrote a few more pieces, using up the last of the ideas bubbling away in the background. One of them (Phoenicia’s Worlds) [http://www.benjeapes.com/index.php/phoenicias-worlds/] actually got published, but most of it has just dwindled onto the backburner of my hard drive.
Meanwhile, while I was flailing around for income in the early years of this century, I encountered Working Partners and became Sebastian Rook, writing the first three of the Vampire Plagues series – Mayan vampires in Victorian London, for readers aged <=12. That was fun, and I could use my genre experience to deliver that little extra to the plots (though I say it myself). The plot for book 1 came ready made, but I could make some suggestions that were retrofitted into the series background; I was consulted heavily on the plot for book 2; and for book 3 we all sat down in a room together and hacked the plot out from scratch.
My editor then changed jobs, inherited an adventure series in the name of a Real Life TV Celebrity, and offered me the chance to ghostwrite it. Not genre at all – at least, not my usual genre. But genre of a sort, and nicely paying too. Then, rather like a series of H-bomb tests causing something ancient and terrible beneath the Pacific to stir, this caught the attention of my agent, who had not had a lot to do with my career in the intervening years but whose attention I badly needed to catch.
At his suggestion I started working on a series of historical adventures, and fingers are crossed as to its success. No luck yet, but … I have come to the conclusion that every historical writer should be an sf writer first. No one knows they are living in the past. As a rule, everyone lives in the most present and up to date world they have ever known, even if it has standards and mores that are utterly alien to cultures that actually come later. For them this is normality and it must be presented as such, with all the important differences signalled to the reader via means other than an “As you know, Bob” speech every couple of pages. A 32-gun frigate may seem quaint to us but it’s as exciting as a starship to a young man from the late eighteenth century.
And while all that was going on in the background, the ghostwriting suddenly took off, with me not being paid just to write but also to plot and plan and develop the series. Which, when translated into pounds, = enough to live off, which is all you can really ask for, isn’t it?
And so that is where I am. By a series of utterly logical steps I am a publisher and science fiction writer who is not currently working in publishing or writing science fiction, and has a lurking suspicion that this is How It Is Meant to Be. At least for now. And really quite happy about it.
Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of 7 novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer. His first Milford was at Margate in 1991, which shows (a) how far Milford has come in the past 26 years and (b) qualifies him as a Great Old One, in Milford terms at least. www.benjeapes.com