A Science Fiction Season, by Ben Jeapes


Photo by Aideal Hwa on Unsplash


Once upon a time there was a boy who lived and breathed science fiction. Inevitably he became a science fiction writer – until one day he wasn’t one any more.

I’ll assume you’ve already guessed I’m talking about me, so what happened?

Science fiction was almost all I read and I could feel the stories growing inside me. It made perfect sense that I would want to get them out. And I didn’t just read fiction by my favourite authors, I read the articles too - the ones where they went into the mechanics of what they did, and how. Author David Langford had a regular column in 8000 Plus, a magazine for Amstrad PCW owners, and I lapped up every word he had to say. As well as soaking up science fiction, I learned technique and professionalism that apply in any writing genre. I sprayed stories at the editors of various magazines and paid attention to the feedback. I workshopped my stories and showed them to friends, and again listened to what they had to say. I got better.

(As a parenthesis, I will always be grateful for my science fiction upbringing and I would recommend it to anyone. It has a very well developed critical arm, and it is intensely meritocratic. If you’re at a convention and you pass even a big name like George R.R. Martin in the corridor, then you know that once they too were a struggling beginner, and they too stood in line at the registration desk to get in. These are valuable lessons.)

At first it was all short stories, but ideas floating around in my head began to accrete, and when after a few years I tried my hand at novels, I already had a row of them lined up. Which I duly wrote, and sold.

And stopped selling. My last professionally published science fiction novel came out in 2013. Some authors have the apparent ability to keep on turning out the good stuff, and keep getting better. Others just have an ability to keep turning out stuff, and you frankly wish they wouldn’t. I wasn’t in either category. I felt I had told my stories. I had made my mark. I was (and am) part of the body. Honour was satisfied.

Since 2013 I’ve self-published a couple more sf novels, simply because they were knocking around and I wanted to do something with them. I didn’t do the rounds of publishers with them, because 1) it takes forever and 2) if a publisher took them then the publisher would want more, and in both cases I wasn’t sure I had the heart for it.

But I was still writing, and that is the main thing. I went where the work was. Writing work came in from other directions, so I had to adapt. An editor who liked to hire me changed genres, so I did too. I still write. I just don’t – currently – write science fiction. Maybe I will, once again, one day. Who knows?

There’s a season for everything, as I’m sure we all know. I’m rather enjoying the current season. It’s varied, it earns more and I can of course still enjoy science fiction, which will always be my first love.

So, if you’re feeling blocked, thwarted, stymied, stifled – could it be you’re also just harkening after the wrong season?

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 eight novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer. His most recent title is a children’s biography of Ada Lovelace. www.benjeapes.com

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