Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, humans and other, on behalf of Captain Michael Gilmore RSF and the crew of HMSS Ark Royal may I wish you all a happy tenth anniversary of the publication of His Majesty’s Starship.
Or, more succinctly, YAY!
Its star sign was Sagittarius, its birthstone was Blue Topaz or Turquoise and it was born in the Chinese year of the Tiger. The no. 1 song in the charts was Cher with “Believe”.
Yes, it was 11 December 1998 that His Majesty’s Starship hit the bookshelves with the force of a reticent snowflake. And what a ten years it’s been. Three more novels have followed it, and that’s just under my own name, and don’t get me started on other projects started and sometimes finished. The little boys to whom it was dedicated, aged 3 and 1, are now 13 and 11 respectively. Who’d have thought it? I’ve been fired, set up my own company, gone broke, been gainfully re-employed, got married and acquired a teenage stepson. All once, though not all at once.
Back then we had no Weakest Link or Big Brother or I’m An Idiot, Get Me On TV. I had a personal website but had never heard of blogs. All HTML coding was manual.
I still have and even occasionally use the laptop I bought with the proceeds. It were an IBM Thinkpad, it were.
I used to get up in the morning at ten o’clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed, type out an entire trilogy on a typewriter with no keys that were always sticking, eat the paper for breakfast and pay an editor to reject it. And I was lucky.
I continue to believe that publication constituted 50% fulfilment of a prophecy.
It would have been interesting to have written down a list of hopes for the next ten years back then so that I could compare and contrast. Obviously, I hoped the book would take the world by storm and herald the arrival of a new hard SF writer on the scene. It didn’t, which is really just as well because in the intervening decade I’ve managed to go quite off hard SF. I don’t even especially consider myself a science fiction writer anymore, just a writer whose oeuvre can most accurately be described – for the time being – as science fiction. That may seem a very picky difference but it’s an important one, to me at least. What it means is that I enjoy writing stuff that is mostly science fiction, and I make no bones about it, but am quietly resigned to being officially a young adult writer virtually unheard of within the science fiction field. I don’t complain because that gives me much more room to manoeuvre than if I was best known for one kind of thing. If I felt inclined to write it then I could probably turn in a novel about fluffy bunnies and elves to my usual editor and still have a chance at publication. Charlie Stross or Alastair Reynolds probably couldn’t.
Back to HMSS. I got a very short-lived thrill when Blackwells got in touch to say it was selling like hot cakes, they’d ordered in a couple of boxfuls and did I want to come in and sign them? Well, I could make a window in my busy schedule … Turned out to be my housegroup leader buying up a single load as Christmas presents for friends and family. But I still went and signed the couple of boxfuls and I presume they sold too. I certainly hope so, because Blackwells couldn’t have returned them after some idiot went and scribbled in them.
My author copies didn’t arrive until just before Christmas; I wasn’t in, the couriers left a card, and to make sure I got the copies before Christmas I had to drive to the depot to collect them. On the way back home Classic FM played the third movement of Vaughan Williams’ English Folk Song Suite, which includes a triumphant trumpet fanfare (around 1m26s on the video below), and then the news announced that Peter Mandelson had resigned (only for the first time but we weren’t to know that then). And it was Christmas and I was officially on holiday. That was a good day.