Sunday, 1 July 2012

Green Children Are Go

Note for the readers - as well renowned as a rambling man that I am, it would be remiss not to mention the review of this book which can be read at Mandy's website: Ghostly Aspects!

"Duncan is convinced tonight will go down in history, from some of the ideas that got bandied about. And this man, a man of multiple books, editorships and over 50 years experience, has instincts second to none. So if he thinks so, I trust him. Even if I'm not sure how. But then, who likes knowing the future in advance."

Me in 2008. I can date the year because in the same article, I referenced Edwin Morgans then recent 88th birthday.

I finished the first draft of Vamp in 2009. Sooner than later, I am meeting with a lovely young proofreader named Kate who is going to smooth out some of my errors to make it presentable to other people. In a few centuries, it might even be publishable.


This is small potatoes. It took Tolkien around sixteen year to finish Lord of the Rings. And a lifetime for Chaucer to get a quarter of the way through the Canterbury Tales. The long game of writing is one that needs patience, perseverance and a nature of a foisonous sort.

foisonous: something which is full of life. See, Alan Coren might be dead, but his ability to improve ones vocabulary lives on...

This brings me to Duncan Lunan: friend, mentor and writer. For all the time I've known him, and Mandy too (for she has known him twice as long as I have), he has had a book on his hands. Well, several, actually, but one specifically. A history/Fortean study of The Green Children, a lesser known phenomena from the 12th Century England. It had been sitting, waiting patiently for a home, among his plethora of manuscripts collected, published and collated over a writing career that has spanned over forty years.

And a prolific career at that. I have a copy of his writing CV (a list of credits) dating from 2006, which stretches to 27 pages!

For nearly nineteen years, The Green Children sat, a book in search of a publication date.

Duncan Lunan: writer, astronomer, lecturer, racounteur, scientist, public speaker, and possible polymath. Heh.

People in Woolpit were as helpful as they could be, but they kept saying, “You’d have to go to the County Records Office for that.” So I went to Bury St. Edmunds, joined the County Archive Research Network, and five hours later, exhausted, starving and dehydrated, I reeled out with the conviction that I was on to a best seller. The answers to the questions were there, and the deeper I went into it from then on, the more fascinating the story became. 

Duncan in 2010.

It had even reached a sort of semi-mythical quality, until I finally bit the bullet one day and asked Duncan about this book people mentioned. The subject matter is not one I have a formed opinion on either way - it sits roughly five hundred years before my history knowledge starts! - but I respect a care bordering on the forensic to put forward a theory which has seen Duncan travel the length of the country to hunt down clues.

Then, last year, things suddenly moved forward. Well, first I should point out the arrival on the scene of Duncan's wife, Linda, who is as lovely a lady as you'd like to meet, but also a first rate champion of her husbands career. The two of them make a team which is hard to beat.

So, yes, last year. And out of the blue, we hear that The Green Children may have found a publisher. It was Mark Harding's fault really. At the launch for his music anthology (where you can find work from Neil Williamson, Vincent Lauzon and Jim Steel), Duncan met the man who would become his publisher, Sean.

The contract discussions went very well, largely, I hear, because Duncan didn't realise they were contract discussions till the deal was practically sealed!  And so the book was published this May.

I was right not to stop believing in it. I feel that way about the Green Children book at the moment: it’s hard to sell because it combines speculation with serious historical research, but I think it will go well when it does find a sympathetic publisher. 

Duncan in 2010

There were a few moments in the way still, and it would be remiss of me not to mention the most tragic: the death of one of Duncan's oldest friends and most long term champion, John Braithwaite, this past February. Like my grandfathers at our wedding, he was missing from the final furlongs of the publication chase, but as Duncan himself said, he and the similarly late and lamented Chris Boyce were both there in spirit, and no doubt cheering on their peer.

"Put it this way - if it's not Contact with Other Intelligence, you've got the political thriller of all time." 
John Braithwaite

The 13th Note was host to the book launch. I'd never been at a book launch before. Actually, that's a lie. I was briefly at the launch for Hal Duncan's Ink, for about five minutes with a massive migraine, before Neil Williamson took one look at me and almost ordered me home! Which was a while ago: a university degree, breakdown, marriage and three flats ago even! Long enough for me to forget the jist of them. (Yes, I was wary of a third sentence ending with an exclamation mark there too. Phew!     Oh damn.)

It was also an unexpectedly eventful night for me, as it was my first out of the house in a month, due to asthmatic reasons and other medical ones you can find elsewhere on the blog. As such, the natural element of doing things was a wee bit knackering. But so it goes.  I got a friendly reaction from most of the writers, some of whom I hadn't seen in years. Most of them went:

"My god, Michael, you're not dead!"

Neil Williamson, stunned to see yours truly out and about. Mandy, even more stunned to see me laughing at something. Me, as stunned someone left a seat free, which I was about to dive into. I think we were discussing the Euros, Neil being possibly the only writer I know who loves football more than I do.

I know, it even surprised myself. But the good thing about a get together is the amount of people who are together. So there was hellos to Marco Piva (an Italian translator) and his wife; Chris O'Kane, astronomer extraordinaire; and many others. Jim Steel even popped in briefly, but couldn't chat for reasons of having kids that needed looked after. Then there was Neil, who I hadn't seen since my wedding (that'll be the Michael S Collins method to being a great pal there), Gary Gibson and his wife Emma also. Apparently Gary was in fine form at a recent Q&A on the rather hackle raising subject of "Is Genre Fiction Necessary?" or words to that effect, which Neil was on the panel for. And Bloody Hal Duncan! I hadn't seen him in... something scarily near four or five years. He hasn't changed a bit. He had us in stitches explaining an idea he was writing which, in the best way to put it, was a pure 100% Hal Duncan story. Watch that space, so to speak.

The star of the night was Duncan, however. And his book. The star wasn't the sound system at the 13th Note, which was non existent, so Duncan had to speak sans microphone. He could be heard by little ol' deaf me, but the acoustics in the place aren't the best even with a mic at times. Unless, of course, you are Phil Raines, and you can project your voice to Mars if need be. Another fine writer, Phil.

The sound I believe curtailed lengthy readings of the text which sold the night, but the book was soon sold out anyhow. Fifty copies bought within a few hours, a success by any definitions.

Duncan and his editor Sean.

I don't like to dish out praise like candy at an American Hallowe'en. It needs to be earned, not frivolous. So take my view for what its worth, that of all the people I know, and there are many hundred writers in that category, that few are as deserving for this success as Duncan is. I know of few writers as willing to help others writers, be they successful authors or wannabe newbies, who keeps a word schedule to make the hardest academic wince even at an age many would be calling it quits.

I said to Duncan once, years ago, that if he lived to 95, he could have two renaissances in that time period. With this book, another on the cards, and other exciting projects I can't speak on here on the horizon, he's officially Mr Renaissance. Which is lovely.

If this new found success will finally get Wikipedia to change his Home town though, is another matter. The interview I did with Duncan last year at Winterwind - now incredibly out of date in places - has been cited on Wikipedia, and discussed in the talk section as evidence of an "atrocious source". I'm so proud.

But not as half as proud as I am of Duncan. Here's to a success more than earned.

And here's to the next fifty!

You can find more at Duncan's website here.