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In a comment to the previous post, the famous non-posting, non-befriending Randeroo ( asks me to remind him of the name of a particular forum to which we both used to belong, and of whatever happened to it.

The forum in question was called Blue Ear, and its eventual demise was the cause of much weeping and wailing not just in the Barnett household (well, to be honest, Pam seemed curiously unaffected) but all around the world. It was a political (and to a lesser extent arts and other topics) forum whose members were enjoined to refrain from partisan bickering but instead to confine themselves either (a) to actual reportage or (b) to genuine attempts to reason out political matters. For the most part, members heeded these requests. One of the great pleasures of life became switching on the computer each morning to discover a new packet of Blue Ear discussion, argument, revelation ...

It is because of Blue Ear that, when I'm not supporting England, it's often the Bangladeshi cricket team I cheer for. Thank you, Sylvia.

In due course the visionary guy who'd founded and was running it, Ethan Casey, ran out of money and the necessary impetus to keep it going: he'd always assumed the site would eventually at least break even and, preferably, start earning him something (which he richly deserved for all the work he put into keeping it going). For a while some of his colleagues kept a sort of Son of Blue Ear going, using marginally different principles and procedures, but to the best of my knowledge that too is now defunct.

Such a shame, for without a doubt Blue Ear was the best of its kind. And I still correspond on occasion with e-friends made through the forum.

Several of those friends (including Randeroo, but he was, for my sins, a buddy already) featured in the serial novel Ethan Casey commissioned me to write for Blue Ear, a political satire called The Dragons of Manhattan. This was a task I took on with a song in my heart; it became an experience which, although lots of fun, I may not choose to repeat. For something like three months (I think I took a short break at some point) I was producing three episodes a week, the episodes varying from a few hundred words up to a few thousand.

Clearly, under the circumstances, speed was more important than care. The astonishing thing was that, after the whole exercise was over and I'd spent a week or two recuperating, when I read the completed novel I found very little that I wanted to change. Oh, sure, there were plenty of clumsy sentences and the like, plenty of woffly passages that profited from trimming ... but no more than if I'd been writing the novel in the conventional way.

And, overall, I thought it was among the best things I'd done.

My agent started trying to sell the print rights ... and ran slap into the wall of the US publishing industry's extraordinary and truly shameful reluctance to risk upsetting the Bush Administration -- at least in fiction. Somehow it's okay to publish nonfiction books detailing the lies, immorality, crimes and general reprehensibilities of this ghastly junta, but fiction is another matter.

My guess is that the nonfiction can be dismissed as "topical" -- effectively just so many magazine issues released between hard covers, to be forgotten about within weeks or months of publication -- whereas novels have a habit of lingering embarrassingly longer, for years and perhaps decades: the granddaddies of modern political novels, like George Orwell's 1984 (1949) and Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here (1935), are still being widely read, are still relevant, and are still embarrassing to those whose trade is the corruption of democracy. As examples, think of the Clear Skies Initiative, which reduces anti-pollution standards, and No Child Left Behind, which leaves behind more children than ever before, and then think of the single adjective that first comes to mind in considering the names of those abhorrent moves.

And that's before we even start to think about how long Gulliver's Travels has been around as a mosquito biting the rears of those in power ...

Anyway, The Dragons of Manhattan eventually found a print home, or so we thought: the magazine Argosy planned to serialize it as three single-volume, novella-sized adjuncts to the magazine proper. (The part of this that might shame many more familiar publishers is that the guy who bought it was, if only marginally, a Bush supporter: why am I reminded of the Dems in Congress?) Argosy's editor/proprietor was highly excited about the whole prospect, and keen to publish the complete novel as a hardback after the serialization was done. Unfortunately, after the first of the three parts had appeared (and been paid healthily for!), the magazine went into a hiatus that now seems permanent.

Finally it was a UK publisher who took the book on -- the new but very exciting small press Screaming Dreams. As you'll guess from the press's name, SD is primarily a publisher of horror/dark fantasy. However, their excellent Steve Upham fell in love with The Dragons of Manhattan from the very first page (he told me so over a curry in Nottingham, UK, a few weeks ago), and his enthusiasm was sufficiently infectious that it wasn't just easy to agree the sale but a delight.

You can find out more about Steve's plans for publishing the book (at present only a little more, because things are developing by the day) at -- click for "Paperback Books", then scroll down until you see the book's title at bottom left and click again.

In addition -- and this is the **FREEEEEEEE!!!!** bit I mentioned at the top -- Steve has posted the first one-third of his draft layout as a downloadable PDF at

The book itself will be published next Spring. I have no news yet about any US edition -- i.e., the US rights are still up for grabs -- and no confirmed news about the cover artwork, although I should have soon.

It has been a long and at times infinitely dispiriting haul (one could say much the same, I guess, about this essay, which when I started it I intended to be just a squib), but it looks as if at last one of the many, many acorns that Blue Ear scattered is finally becoming a tall oak tree ...

March 2013

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