Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 Gratitude List

A lot people on my Twitter stream are giving thanks for the great things that happened in 2012. It would be churlish not to get in on the Feel Good Action, so here’s mine:

Number one with a bullet has to be a three book deal I signed with Gollancz (July) . I’d always hoped to get some fiction published but never dared think I might make a publisher as prestigious as Gollancz. Thanks to Simon Spanton, Gillian Redfearn, Jon Weir and the team for the warmest welcome.

Hot the heels of the book deal came an agent (Sept). Juliet Mushens has since helped  turn my novel The Boy with the Porcelain Ears into something I’m truly proud of. Her structural and line edit notes were great, as is the energy and enthusiasm she brings to the project.

I’d be remiss for not mentioning the test readers for my novel. Round of applause for Matt Rowan, Lizzie Barratt and especially Matt Lyons. Thanks guys.

Being asked to contribute a story to any anthology by Anne Perry and Jared Shurin is always a pleasure. Admittedly it’s usually a pleasure mixed with a certain amount of stage fright. A Town Called Pandemonium boasted some serious talent but I’m pleased to say my story, Red Hot Hate, is one I’m really proud of. I can’t explain why, just that I really like it, which is an odd thing for writer to say about their own work (we’re notoriously self-critical and cagey as a species).

The Fizzy Pop Vampire was unleashed on the world. As if all the other projects weren’t enough I also saw the first of my children’s books released (iPad only so far). A second one is in the works, all thanks to Sarah Langton for art duties and her tireless work getting Fizz off the ground.

Being adopted by the Young Adult writers of London Town – borne largely out of my friendship with Tom Pollock, I’ve gone on to befriend James Dawson, Kim Curran, Tanya Byrne, Liz de Jager and Amy McCulloch. They’ve all been lovely, supportive and encouraging to me. I hope to spend more time with you guys in 2013.

My mum. Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. But my mum (aside from her usual levels of awesomeness) gave me a place to get my head down and do some serious editing during the final stages of writing the War Manuals for Gollancz.

FantasyCon (Sept) – I went to this convention with few to no expectations and had a great time. Thanks to everyone who had a hand in managing this event.

November saw confirmation of French foreign rights for the War Manuals, further reasons to be cheerful. C'est fantastique!

I should probably mention Blackwell’s bookshop on the Charing Cross Road, who let me scale back my hours to four days a week. A very large part of the reason I turned in the aforementioned War Manuals before deadline (Humble brag).

Cool books – Joe Abercrmobie’s ‘Red Country’ and Daniel Polansky’s ‘Tomorrow the Killing’ are my two favourite reads this year. Tom Pollock’s ‘The City’s Son’ has to be one of the most vibrant debuts of recent times. 

Music saw releases from Bat for Lashes – The Haunted Man, Nest – Body Pilot (EP), Holy Other – Held, Brambles – Charcoal, and my favourite film had to be The Artist, which was probably the most charming thing I’ll ever see on a cinema screen.

Lots to be grateful for, and hopefully more to come in 2013. See you on the other side.

Monday, 3 December 2012

A Town Called Pandemonium

It gives me huge pleasure to say that those lovable scamps at Pandemonium Fiction (or Pornokitsch, as they are more widely known) have released yet another one of their fine anthologies.

This time the theme is the Wild West, and it has more than a dash of Weird, so I’m told. I’ve contributed a story, called Red Hot Hate, to the ten tales within. You can acquire a paperback copy of the book from Blackwell on Charing Cross Road, direct from the publishers, also on the Kindle in the UK and US/International.

Other authors in this rootin’ tootin’ tome include: Will Hill, Archie Black, Scott Andrews, Joseph D’Lacey, Jonathan Oliver, Chysanthy Balis, Sam Sykes, Sam Wilson and Osgood Vance.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Where Did November Go?

Where did November go? Have you seen it? There is a large cash reward for any information leading to the safe return of November. If November happens to be reading this please get in touch and let us know that you are safe.

Seriously. Where did November go?

I’ve been hard at work on a structural edit for The Boy With The Porcelain Ears. A structural edit (in my experience) is the work you do after getting feedback in a top down down sense. Not a sentence by sentence by analysis, that comes later.

A major part of the structural edit for me was dividing one chapter into two and filling them out. I also had to create an entirely new chapter from scratch, which was surprisingly fun. I was also told to up my world building, (the information about the world the characters live in). This element of the book was sparse to the point of non-existent, so it was a pleasure to go back and embroider the story with more detail. Most of my editing is done whilst listening to Ambient, Drone of film soundtracks. The album that sums up The Boy With The Porcelain Ears best for me is Retold by Nest. Here’s one of my favourites –

Having completed the edit I immediately plunged into the follow up novel, because I appear to have morphed into a workaholic lately. The follow up (working title Blood) is set eight years after the first book and focuses on a different protagonist. I’m hoping these books work as stand alone stories in the way of Daniel Polansky’s excellent Low Town series.

In other news, my short story Red Hot Hate, a western, is released in A Town Called Pandemonium anthology. The launch event is at the Royal George pub on Charing Cross Road this Thursday, and I’ll be reading an extract along with some of the co-authors. See you there?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Achievement Unlocked – Vive La France

So, I’ve been cleared to share this nugget of information with you by Dark Lord Sir Spanton of Gollancz. Yes, it’s official. I am invading France. I may even rename it when I’m done. The Republic of Den is looking good. Or Doris. I haven’t decided which. All the pain au chocolat are mine incidentally. So no looting before I get there.

What I actually mean is that The War Manuals have been bought by the French company Le Livre do Poche for release next year (2013). These three mighty tomes are due for release in the UK in autumn, which still seems a horribly long way away.

It’s quite a strange feeling to know something you’ve written will be translated into a language you can barely understand (I was top set for French at school, but that was a long time ago). I’m hoping I’ll finally have the opportunity to visit Paris, once the books start selling.

Thanks to everyone at Gollancz who clearly worked very hard at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and also to my agent, Juliet Mushens, for sorting out the fine print.

Allez, allez, allez! (Seriously, that’s all the French I know anymore. Tragic)

Monday, 5 November 2012

Edit Lockdown

I barely have time to eat lately. The fourth draft of The Boy With The Porcelain Ears is over a third of the way through. I seem to be existing on music and coffee.

With that in mind, here's Bat For Lashes, and my favourite track from the new album, The Haunted Man.

Monday, 22 October 2012

The Next Big Thing

I thought it was time I got around to filling this out as the very lovely Kim Curran tagged me in her blog post here. Kim writes Young Adult Fiction for Strange Chemistry, an imprint of Angry Robot. I had the good fortune to meet Kim at the Blackwell YA Day, and have since thrown some shapes with her at the FantasyCon disco.

The following questions all relate to my project for Gollancz, which you can read about here, and here from Dark Lord Sir Simon of Spanton (Note: not actually a Dark Lord, is in fact my editor).

What is the working title of your book?

Well, there are three. The Elven Art of War, The Orc Harrowing: A Verbal Tradition and The Dwarven Field Manual. They are known collectively as ‘The War Manuals.’

Where did the idea come from for the book?

At the bar in a very hot hotel during the Gollancz 50th Birthday party. Simon Spanton and I started kicking the idea around. We met up for a drink a few weeks later in the Phoenix (where else?). I hit upon the idea of introducing a translator character who’d add footnotes and pithy opinions.

What genre does your book fall under?

100% High Fantasy. Elves, dwarves, orcs, magic, heroic destinies, possibly even dragons and shadowy nameless evil, all served with dash of sarcasm and (hopefully) wryly observed wit.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Due to the nature of the manuals there aren’t that many characters. However –

La Darielle Daellen Staern (Elf) – I’d have to go with Katee Sackhoff. She was excellent as Kara Thrace in Battlestar Galactica, and she comes with that recognition of ‘here is a woman who can handle herself’. She also has that slightly maverick vibe that is essential for La Darielle. Plus, you know, Katee Sackhoof with elf ears... excuse me a moment.

Kani Breakspear (Orc) – would have to be Ron Pearlman. He’s well used to prosthetics after Hellboy, so going orc will be no problem for the big guy. Plus he’s superb in Sons of Anarchy. He has that fantastic physicality you’d need for a orc Khagan (leader) and good comic timing too.

Sudnin Hallstøm (Dwarf) –  I’m going to go back to Battlestar Galactica again. Can you imagine Edward James Olmos in a huge beard being surly? It’s working for me. He has the right mix of grizzled veteran and steady-as-you-go charisma that would suit a dwarf down to the ground. Bonus points for rousing speeches (So say we all!).

Sebastian Venghaus – would have to be Johnny Depp. He’s very good at foppish characters (Sleepy Hollow, Pirates of the Caribbean), whilst still retaining an edge. He knows one end from a sword from the other and makes a convincing academic. Perfect really.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War as written by the three major High Fantasy races.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I lost track to be honest. The Elven Art of War came together very quickly, the orc book took a little longer. The dwarves gave me the most trouble. It was a case of staring at the screen until blood started to form on my forehead, to use the old cliché.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

My editor, Simon Spanton initially, but other factors would include:
– All the Dungeons & Dragons I’ve played
– Not forgetting Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
Three years in the trenches for Games Workshop
The Hobbit, it would be criminal not to mention it
The Prose Edda, because you need to go to the source if you’re writing pseudo-Norse Fantasy
– Sun Tzu’s Art of War, much of it is fairly abstract but it did spark some ideas
– The elves borrow ideas from Zen Buddhism, so props to Yamamoto Tsunetomo for Hagakure, and Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki for Zen Mind, Beginners Mind.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The illustrations. Each book is lovingly brought to life by the very talented Andrew James, who I count myself lucky to call a friend. He’s a ferociously gifted chap and kindly agreed to lend his skills to the project. I was delighted to have him aboard.

Over to the next big things:

Tom Pollock – debut author of The City’s Son, steadily working on the rest of the sequence. All round Gentleman, and winner of the Fantasy Con Dance Off

Will Hill – writer of the Department 19 series. I was lucky enough to sit in at Will’s Masterclass on YA at FantasyCon.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Thoughts on FantasyCon 2012

When I was initially told about FantasyCon I was a little dubious. A con made up of professionals with very few fans in attendance? That seemed like putting the cart before the horse to my mind. And my mind was firmly in fan mode. It’s difficult for me to admit that I’m a writer when the books aren’t on the shelves yet; the war manuals I’m writing for Gollancz aren’t out until next Autumn/Fall. This minor detail aside I figured I could go once and see what all the fuss was about. I’m glad I did.

The Friday began with a long overdue catch up with Tom Pollock on the train journey down to Brighton. Tom has been blazing a critically acclaimed trail with his debut The City’s Son.  Impressive. Worth noting: Tom had people queuing in the corridor trying to get into his reading that evening.

Two handsome Gollancz devils at the mass signing.
Joe Abercrombie (L) and James Barclay (R).
Arriving at FantasyCon was a little surreal. You couldn’t turn around without setting eyes on someone familiar, from bloggers to writers and editors too. Naturally I caught up with my favourite Geek culture terrorists Jared Shurin and Anne Perry (from Pornokitsch). Anne was there in her official guise as Editor for Hodder and Stoughton. I also chewed the fat with fellow Pandemonium contributor Glen Mehn.

The Royal Albion Hotel seemed determined to disappoint. Miserable food, surly staff and barely drinkable lager all served as a huge incentive to wander off, which I duly did. Fortunately I wasn’t alone and enjoyed some Japanese food with Jared, Anne Clark (from Orbit) and Jon Courtenay Grimwood. Fellow diners are rarely more interesting, or more charming than these.

Saturday was particularly important for me as I announced my signing with an agent, one Juliet Mushens of Peters, Fraser and Dunlop. You can read more about that here. ‘Announced’ sounds quite formal, suffice to say we goofed around at the bar taking pictures to upload to Twitter, then hung out with my editor Simon Spanton and Ed Wilson, an agent with Johnson and Alcock.

Saturday morning was a markedly fuzzy affair.
Determined not loaf around entirely I made sure I got myself along to a couple of Masterclasses and a panel. ‘Ask The Editor’ kicked off at 11:00am and was hosted by Nicola Budd from Jo Fletcher Books. The panelists were Simon Spanton, Gillian Redfearn (both from Gollancz), Oliver Johnson (from Hodder and Stoughton) and Duncan Proudfoot (from Constable and Robinson). It was a packed and rather hot room, and plenty of useful areas were covered, from trying to jump a trend bandwagon (don’t), to what to expect from structural and lines edits.

My main take away from the panel, and indeed the whole weekend was succinctly put by Oliver Johnson. ‘Everything is advocacy in a publishing office’ – if people aren’t passionate about the manuscript they aren’t going to talk about it, and they aren’t going to champion it at that all important pitch meeting.

It might seem a little redundant for a Gollancz author to go to a Masterclass on the editorial process, but I was determined to spend my time as a newbie with my ears open and my brain switched on. The class was neatly divided into two sections. The first covered the editors role as a project manager, and what that entailed. The second half was  dedicated to the manuscript itself and the intricacies of structural editing, developing characters, and avoiding the cursed info dump.

Will Hill, author of the Department 19 series.
My second Masterclass was with Will Hill, as I was keen to discover if my novel The Boy with the Porcelain Ears fitted the genre parameters for a Young Adult (YA) Novel. This might sound disingenuous, but I didn’t write Porcelain with YA in mind, despite it being a bildungsroman and covering much of the ground one could expect to find in a YA book. It was a pleasure to hear Will talk about his experiences as a YA writer. The take away from this class was that a writer should essentially tell the story they want to tell, rather than try and second guess what the YA market wants, or what would appeal to an editor. The integrity of the story is paramount.

After a quick power nap (absolutely nothing wrong with it) I was taken to dinner with my new agent and was delighted to spend time with Suzanne Mcleod, Kim Curran, Amy McCulloch and Adam Christopher. And then it was time for that disco, which may go down in history for having the most gladiatorial dance off in the history of dance offs. The guilty parties were one Joe Abercrombie and Tom Pollock (yeah, him again). Some of the moves were too fast to see, other perhaps quantum, shapes were thrown.

Sunday was mainly focused on breakfast (at the excellent JB’s Diner on the King’s Road) and saying goodbye to the people I’d met, including Twitter folk such as @mygoditsraining @babelfishwars and @ktscribbles

I’d just like to thank everyone who had a hand in putting FantasyCon together, and look forward to seeing you again at the next one. I’m a convert through and through.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Achievement Unlocked – Peters, Fraser and Dunlop

I had a superb time at FantasyCon this week, which I will cover in another post very soon. The big news is that I finally bagged myself an agent. Or I should say that she bagged me. The tiny, leopard-print tornado that is Juliet Mushens of Peters, Fraser and Dunlop invited me in for a chat. She has an office and everything. I had to pretend to be a grown up, and not some lunatic that enjoys wearing pajamas until noon. 

Juliet is the perfect combination of unrelenting enthusiasm and serious fiction skills. She oversees a dissertation on the Kingston University Creative Writing Course. She was in the Bookseller recently as a ‘Rising Star of Publishing’. So that’s a thing. I sent her the first eight chapters of my novel and she still insisted on being my agent. Peters, Fraser and Dunlop have been causing trouble since 1924, and have a client list made up of politicians, people from the telly, writers of all stripes, and now, me. God help them.

Those of you keeping score will notice that I managed to get a three book deal before I had an agent. Further proof, as if any were needed, that I can’t do anything in the right order. It's a gift.

I am, of course undeniably anxious that my novel The Boy with the Porcelain Ears is double plus not good. My good friend Jared Shurin, over at Pornokitsch, finds my trepidation hilarious. Worth noting he and his good wife Anne published me first in Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse (which goes off sale at the end of October). Anne and Jared kindly invited me to submit another story for their new anthology, A Town Called Pandemonium, released this November. To say I am fiendishly excited about it would be an understatement.

So, thank you to Juliet, thank you to Peters, Fraser and Dunlop, and thanks to Anne and Jared.


Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Monday, 24 September 2012

Holy Other – Tense Past

I am ill this week, so no words for you. The seven of you who drop in. I might have some big news next week. In the meantime I'll leave you with my latest musical craving, Holy Other.  The EP was superb, and the album is full of ghostly, spectral electronica that does nice things to my brain.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Beats and Pieces

'I know I parked my light cycle somewhere near here'.
I recently picked up two albums as an impulse buy in a record store (remember those?). I was challenging myself to listen to some new material.

Squarepusher’s Ufalbum comes across like a Daft Punk album with the caveat that Amon Tobin arranged the drum machine. Less feel-good House, more avant-garde frenetic breakdown. 

The second track on the album, ‘Unreal Square’ is decidedly more relaxed and and a cheeky affair than the initial blitz of the opener, ‘4001’. ‘The Metallurgist’ and ‘303 Scopem Hard’ also match the opening track’s blistering intensity. This is an album that doesn’t allow itself to be easily absorbed; it requires a degree of commitment from the listener. 

'Even the shelves from Ikea failed to cheer the kids up'.
M83’s Hurry We’re Dreaming plays at a decidedly more stately pace. Whilst still firmly wedded to electronics, this album benefits from soaring and soulful vocals. ‘Midnight City’ is a rousing opening, whilst ‘Reunion’ is catchy, guitar-led dream pop. Although the LP is  double album I found it hard to get attached to any of the tracks beyond ‘Claudia Lewis’. Most of the songs oscillate between ethereal and epic but I struggled to understand a single lyric.

Christ, I’ve just turned into my dad. The other problem I have with double albums is that the second disc is usually more of the same (never was this more true than of The Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Stadium Arcadium). This problem (or preconception on my part) seems to haunt Hurry Up We’re Dreaming.

By contrast, a remix I downloaded for free has become a firm fixture on my iPod over the last two months. Bram Gieben, creative mastermind of Weaponizer and Black Lantern Music (and more creative projects than I can honesty keep up with) is the guilty party.

'No, of course I don't do cocaine... oh, dang'.
Los Angeles 2019 takes the dark paranoia of Blade Runner and brings the already majestic score up to date with the inclusion of some excellent electronica. Initially the mix is firmly rooted in the soundtrack, but wanders into the stranger territory of Portishead’s ‘Machine Gun’ as well as Kuedo’s ‘Ant City’. The whole mix plays out at just under an hour and has a dream-like seamless quality to it.

What are you listening to right now? What unseen gems have you uncovered?

Monday, 20 August 2012

Remembering Geoff

I’ve known Jesse since I was four. We sat opposite each other in the first class at primary school and shared a bunch of classes at High School. I’m not exaggerating when I call Jesse my Jedi Master. There’s not many people that can calmly persuade you to see a situation from a different angle, but Jesse is one of those. He got me started on graphic novels, let me read his 2000ADs, and was just a cold stone solid dude.

My family went through various iterations and recreations, occasionally tearing itself apart over the years. It was good to be able to go to Jesse’s place and forget about it. And the more that I think about it, the more I’m convinced there is a kind of magic at Jesse’s house. 

His mum, six feet of Swiss German matriarch, was ever welcoming, with an easy smile and tolerant approach to our teenage antics. It was one of those houses featuring a guitar leaning in the corner; distinctly bohemian compared to my working class, non-musical upbringing. We cried with laughter listing to Victor Borge, played mutant versions of Scrabble in the kitchen, and worshipped at the alter of Jesse’s floor-to-ceiling bookshelf  (where the aforementioned graphic novels appeared in greater and greater numbers).

And of course there was Geoff, Jesse’s dad. He had a good throaty laugh that seemed on the verge of ending up as a coughing fit; unsurprising given the roll-ups he smoked. Geoff was a fine deliverer of jokes, often recounting bits and pieces of Monty Python to the teenagers who sprawled in his lounge drinking tea and talking shit. Politically incorrect just enough to scandalize, but never falling foul of being crude. Well, not much. And not often. He would sup cider and watch late night TV, chipping in small nuggets of wisdom in a voice sandpapered by the passage of years. And those endless roll-ups.

Our little gang of friends went our separate ways, rarely straying far from each other. Even now I write this knowing my oldest friends are in Southampton and Brighton respectively (and knowing this makes me wonder why I don’t see more of them). There were times when we would re-unite, and it was a rare Christmas that passed without a visit to the house. We’d stumble in, beered up, warmed by the buzz of nostalgia and familiarity. Geoff would us bid us sit down on the couch, and we’d quickly slip into the old routine of jokes and one liners of our teenage years. Now in our twenties we traded quips, savouring our long friendship, sharing good times, sharing our victories. And sometimes our defeats too.

Geoff passed away recently. Those god-damn roll-ups got him in the end. I’d not seen him for a few years, and knowing I won’t again is a hard thing to accept. A bright star from my childhood now darkened.

Goodbye Geoff.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Thoughts on Joe Abercrombie

It seemed like a good time to pull this review out of storage,  what with Mr Abercrombie visiting London soon for an event with Myke Cole and Peter V. Brett. Find out about that HERE.

This interview originally appeared at TotalSciFi.Com

Seems like the entire army of the Union is piled into one valley, and Black Dow has assembled the hardest Named Men, the toughest Carls and every boy who can lift a blade to see them off. Outnumbered, plagued by petty rivalries and operating on fear, rather than loyalty, they don’t stand a chance, but those are the times…

Joe Abercrombie performed a rather charming subversion of the classic fantasy tropes with The First Law Trilogy. Since then he’s been writing masterfully crafted standalone stories, which is almost a subversion of the genre itself. The Heroes is refreshing in that it doesn’t need to be told over three (or more) books.

Furthermore it doesn’t matter if you’re already part of the Abercrombie bandwagon, or have just signed up; the book is rewarding to the new and returning reader alike. All high fantasy heroics and moralising go out the window from the start. This is Abercrombie territory, where men who kill don’t do so because they love it, but because they’re not really good at anything else. If you want dashing elves riding unicorns to save virginal princesses from demons, turn back now, this book is not for you.

The Heroes has a stellar cast of troubled, frequently shady or outright unhinged characters that are a joy to read and will have you frantically turning the pages to see if they survive. And survival is about as much as anyone can hope for in this grim tome. Cutting back between the army of the Union and the hordes of the Northmen, we see that petty rivalries, naked ambition and internecine hostility are as much a danger to the soldiers as their enemies on the battlefield.

Far from bringing the nobler aspects of the men to the fore, this battle only serves to put everyone’s motivations under the microscope – the findings are rarely pretty. It’s not all dark, gritty bloodshed though. Abercrombie’s trademark gallows humour elevates this from misery-fest to wryly-observed war story.

VERDICT: 10/10
Once again Abercrombie rewards readers with a novel you will not want to put down. A fast-moving plot, memorable characters and an epic sweep all combine to make The Heroes a fine example of the genre.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Fiction Uncovered Podcast

I was on the radio with Fiction Uncovered a few weeks back. I was a guest along with John Berlyne from the Zeno Agency and Bella Pagan, Senior Commisioning Editor for Tor. Not intimidating at all.  So intimdating in fact I forget to say who I am during the introductions. *Facepalm*.

Check it out here. We're the seventeenth podcast down.

The topic was 'Advice for Aspiring Writers of Sci-Fi', although I was very much there in Bookseller mode, as opposed to my recent incarnation as signed writer.

Note: This was before the announcement of my deal with Gollancz, so I'm not being coy, I was just keeping that particular cat in the bag. No cats were hurt during the recording of this radio program, it was just a figure of speech. I have no idea where I got my accent from if you're wondering. Probably a cereal packet.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Guest Posting

Worth mentioning that I'm guest blogging over at Pornokitsch, which among other things is my favourite blog on the interwebs (bar perhaps ).

Why not head over there and stick around for a bit. They've even got an interview with K.J. Parker, who wrote The Folding Knife, my favourite novel in 2010. And this post by Adam Roberts is pure heaven... so get to it. Go on.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

On Social Media

My Xbox Live alter ego
 is TobiasMourn.
We live in linked in times. Social media is the digital glue that holds the world together. It’s also the platform for endless snark and possible Life Fail. I’m a private person by nature, my dirty laundry stays in the basket, my meltdowns occur in padded rooms. As such I’ve made the decision to make my Facebook account a ‘Close Friends and Family’ affair. 

If you want a 24/7 fill of my wry wisdom I suggest you follow my Twitter account. I will stun you with inane babbling about the spice melange and the Tyrell Corporation. I also surface on Google+ very occasionally. And there is this blog, which serves as my own wee soap box to the world. It has a comments section and I will always reply, although I can’t guarantee how timely the responses will be.

So, in short, don’t be offended if I don’t accept your Friend request on Facebook, it’s nothing personal.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Achievement Unlocked

I first started writing when I was twenty-five. I didn’t have a clue, or a plan, I just started writing. I’d worked at Forbidden Planet in Southampton and was lumbered with the book department because no one else wanted it. It was around that time a guy called China Miéville released a book called Perdido Street Station. You may have heard of him, he’s pretty good.

A few years later I found myself having a cup of tea with said author who asked me if I wrote. I shrugged my shoulders and made a joke about writing ‘bad Blade Runner’ type Science Fiction before giving up. But I did start writing again.

After a brief spell of redundancy I found myself working an admin position in a magazine publisher. I wasted no time and quickly started harassing people to give me freelance work  reviewing books. I wasn’t earning much, so free books and a bit of pocket money were all to the good. After 18 months I persuaded someone to let me hustle over to editorial and was introduced to Andrew James, who was always enthusiastic and helpful.

I then did all those things people in publishing take for granted: I started a blog, wrote short stories (largely inspired by Jon Courtenay Grimwood) and started going to conventions. I even ended up shooting the breeze with Pat Mills, Tony Lee and Brian Talbot on a panel. In 2009 I started and finished a full-length novel for the first time. This after three attempts where I ran out of steam.

Then disaster struck; I was made redundant. I applied for jobs in the mornings and wrote in the afternoons. Finances aside, I was perhaps the happiest I’ve ever been. And then I was lucky enough to be invited to the Gollancz 50th anniversary party.

‘Hello Den, are you writing anything at the moment,’ said Simon Spanton, Deputy Publishing Director of one of my favourite SFF imprints.
‘Well, you’ve caught me at a good time’ I squeaked in my most manly and professional tones, ‘I’ve just finished a short story for Jurassic and I’m coming to the end of a novel.'
‘I’ve got this idea for three books,’ he said. 
‘Sure,’ I replied, nodding as if it were the most natural thing in the world for Simon Spanton to be asking some half-arsed blogger to write three books for him.
And that’s how I found myself writing three volumes on the approaches to warfare by the classic fantasy races. Three tomes of elves, orcs and dwarves, an entire world world to create, histories to write, and battles to evoke.

Needless to say I’m out of my tiny mind with excitement.

A huge thank you to the entire Gollancz team, especially Simon for taking a chance on me.
Yeah, I know. I can’t quite believe it myself.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Lovely Bloodflow – Baths

Sometimes a piece of music comes along that's just unhinged enough to render me completely immobile. Rarely does a piece of music (the same piece of music in this case) have a video that might have been lifted from my sleeping brain. 'Lovely Bloodflow' is precisely that song.

Baths, otherwise known as Will Weisenfeld, released the album Cerulean back in 2010, but I return to this track time and again. Also worthy of note from the same album is the sunshine cuteness of 'Aminals' (not a typo, I assure you) and the more introspective 'Rain Smell'.

I have no idea what the narrative of the video is, which makes it all the more dream-like to my mind. Dying samurai, capricious woodland spirits and lush, verdant visuals are more than enough compensation.

Watch full screen in a quiet, darkened room for the full haunted, stumbling brilliance.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Night Driving

A rare confluence of Dylan Thomas, Richard Burton, and Cliff Martinez (along with a huge marketing budget) produce this wonderful glimpse of the nocturnal.

Stumbling across this video started a long love affair with the Solaris soundtrack for me. It's a curiously minimalist piece of work that builds gently in places. At other times there are dream-like ambient sculptures of sound, rescued from becoming obscure by lush orchestral (yet suitably sombre) strings.

Night music. For the times when sleep doesn't come and all that's left are the introspections of a restless mind.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Are You Seeing This?

Sweet ride, shame about the script


By now the reviews are coming thick and fast for what should have been the cinematic Sci Fi event of the year. I am of course writing about Prometheus, the massively hyped cousin of the Alien franchise. Was it a sidequel, was it a prequel, was an entirely new entity? We paid our money and stumbled into the darkness of the Multiplex (where everyone can hear you scream), and stumbled out with more questions than we went in with.

The whole pretext of the film was to find out who the Space Jockey was, according to Sir Scott, anyway. The Space Jockey is that ossified corpse in the derelict ship from Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic Alien (the fact that you’ve read this far probably means you know this). So why then did Jon Spaihts or Damon Lindlof do anything but address who the Space Jockey was? We found out a lot about what the Engineers do, nothing of their motivations, and absolutely zero regarding why one ended up on Acheron LV426 (the planet in Aliens).

The biggest deal breaker for me, and it’s strange writing this about a science fiction film, was the glaring oversight regarding the emergency caesarean. I’m fairly certain that cutting through all the abdominal muscles impairs a person’s ability to stand, even if they are a proto-Ripley. No amount of staples could hold my suspension of disbelief together.

I got broken by space squid.

'At least I  wasn't in Aliens versus Predator: Requiem.'
The beauty of the Alien films was the life cycle of the alien itself. Egg, Facehugger, Chestburster and finally, everyone’s favourite acid-for-blood, phallic horror (complete with some ‘male fear of penetration’ extending teeth). Aliens upped the ante by showing us where the eggs came from. Common sense prevailed, James Cameron invented smart guns, and teenage boys everywhere couldn’t decide if they had a crush on Vasquez or not.

So what in the name of screaming blue fuckery happened this time out? The opening sequence sets up the ominous black goo as some kind of planet seeding miracle, admittedly with a sacrificial price. The audience thinks they know what to expect next time said black goo arrives on screen, right? Except it does anything but conform; rewiring, mutating, reanimating, creating according to the writers flights of fancy. This basic flaw serves as a metaphor for the whole film; there was an acute lack of consistency.

By the time David pulls Weyland out of cryo I’d stopped caring. Vickers seemed completely redundant through out the film, and Eldris Elba was given a woeful lack of screen time.

It’s tough not to sound bitter, but the more I think about Prometheus the less it makes sense. Perhaps, many centuries now, future generations of humans will unearth a directors cut that bears some coherent narrative. We can only hope. 

Monday, 4 June 2012

Plate Spinning

I’ve been tinkering away at various creative projects for the last few years and now find myself in the unusual spot of seeing them come to fruition. Here’s a quick catch-up:

First and foremost of these is The Fizzy Pop Vampire, which I wrote about Here. I never really intended to be a children’s book author, but I had an idea and ran with it. Then Sarah Anne Langton got hold of the idea and she ran with it too. You can buy it from the Apple Store. And of course there is the obligatory Faceache Page, where you should ‘Like’ it, naturally.

The second project has recently shown the faint stirrings of life after a spell of hibernation. DECONSTRUCTED is a five issue Science Fiction comics series I wrote back in 2010 and the early part of 2011. It follows the fortunes of a salvage crew (and their Engineer Sophie in particular) as they embark on a mission to an icy planet shrouded in mystery.

DECONSTRUCTED has its own blogger site, which is worth checking out for the art. I chunter on about the obvious influences that informed the script in various posts, which allows me to wax lyrical about film too. 
I’m not unusual in being a massive Geek and wanting to write comics. I’m possibly a little different in that I opted for creator owned instead of wanting to write about men in spandex for DC and Marvel. I’ve always preferred my own worlds to the ones other people create.

There’s more sketchy goodness over at the Faceache page too, set up to largely encourage Chris Christon to get scribbling. Shannon Gallant and Andie Tong have also contributed art to the project, along with character designs by Julian Parry.

One plate that seems to be spinning quite nicely all by itself is the ebook edition of Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse. This impressive (digital) tome features great stories from Lauren Beukes, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Tom Pollock, Lou Morgan, Andy Remic and Kim-Laikin Smith (along with a few others, including yours truly).
Pandemonium is available from the Amazon Store.

Anne and Jared (who are my favourite Geek Culture terrorists bar none) edited Pandemonium. If you enjoy their work why not check out other releases from Jurassic Publishing such as Pandemonium: Stories of the Smoke and the Pandemonium Stocking Stuffer 2011.

And then there’s The Boy With The Porcelain Ears, that I’ve been writing, reading, re-reading, tinkering and teasing into shape for over a year now. Porcelain is set within a medieval setting where things are not quite what they seem. There’s a distinct absence of High Fantasy races and magic, think instead Gormenghast with a great deal more sword fights and bad language. You can read a first draft of the first chapter here. Not content with writing one novel set in this world I’ve also started the follow up, which is intensely fun. No agent, publisher or plans for these novels just yet.

Lastly, there is the secret project, which I can’t talk about just yet, but is a total game changer for me. Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that ‘secret project’ has been taking up quite a lot of 2012. What you might not know is how much fun I’ve had whilst writing it. Which is to say, plenty.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Ethics in Deus Ex

'Hmm, does becoming a beast take away the pain of being a transhuman?'
Shooting things (usually people, sometimes aliens or robots, often zombies) makes up the mainstay of a lot of gaming. From the sideways scrolling ‘Shoot ‘em Ups’ of 70s and 80s arcade games, to the slew of FPSs (First Person Shooters) available on various consoles and the PC. And let’s not forget games like House of the Dead, where you actually fire your ‘gun’ at the screen. Shooting things is hardwired into gaming, from Lara Croft to Master Chief. Call of Duty, Halo, Gears of War, Battlefield, Aliens versus Predator, Doom, Unreal and Quake. There really is no end to the number of bad guys who need to eat lead (or plasma, or a frickin’ laser).

'Now this is what I call 'Police Brutality'.'
So, imagine my surprise when I noticed that you earn three to five times the experience points for non-lethal takedowns in Deus Ex. Five times. A takedown, for those blissfully unaware, is rendering an opponent unconscious by application of tranquilizer dart rifle, stun gun (think Taser) or judicious application of fist to face. I first saw the takedown in the superb Arkham Asylum, which stands to reason. Batman never uses guns.

'Kneel before Zod. Sorry, I've wanted to say that for ages.'
The game writers make no bones about this unusual approach to gameplay, going as far to flag up the option to avoid bloodshed in one of the initial conversations. There’s even an Xbox achievement for completing the game without killing any of the rank and file. This small twist really elevates the game to my mind. Killing industrial saboteurs is no biggie, these bad guys have got it coming, right? But do you really want to bump off Joe Security Guard? Maybe he earns minimum wage? Perhaps he doesn’t have life insurance? Think of the children! And why kill anyone if you can sneak past them, or use a gas grenade to knock them out instead?

'Whoa, I know Kung Fu.'
Admittedly, comparing Deus Ex to other FPSs is a little disingenuous. Those games are naturally geared toward lethal solutions (frequently with rocket launchers), which makes sense when ‘humanity is on the brink of extinction’. FPS generally deal with all out war, Deus Ex is about stealth, sabotage and investigation.

This is a game of patience, finesse, strategy and dare I say it... ethics. Who knew not killing bad guys could be so much fun?

Monday, 14 May 2012

Gender in Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Writing about gender in video games seems like an easy target. This post is inspired partly by Pornokitsch’s round up of Hookers, Victims and Doormats that occur in their Monster and Mullets feature (if you’ve not read any of these then shape up, you’ll not regret it).

Deus Ex: Human Revolution, for those of you not in the know, is a near future tech thriller seething with conspiracy and international corporate espionage. It fuses Mass Effect-style role playing elements with infiltration and puzzle solving more commonly found in Metal Gear Solid. It’s available on the Xbox 360 and PC and is well worth the purchase if you’ve got the time to play it. And you will need plenty of time. 

Future Noir
There’s a lot about Deus Ex: Human Revolution that feels like a movie; from the superb opening credits to the lens flare during the cut scenes. This a Future Noir in the best tradition of Blade Runner, Altered Carbon and the grandaddy of all Cyberpunk, Neuromancer.

There Ain’t Nothing Like A...
So what about the dames? What of the femme fatales and other ladies inhabiting the world of 2027? (I should preface this by saying I’ve yet to complete the game, but here goes).

'Having read all the files I can only conclude that I am, indeed, a badass.'
Adam Jensen. He’s definitely not a woman. Not with that gunslinger cool and Eastwood gravel in the vocal chords. So why mention him? In Mass Effect players are given the option to create their own version of Commander Shepard. You can go with the game’s standard Commander (based on Dutch model Mark Vanderloo), or make you’re own. Due to the game’s conceit of only referring to Shepard by his last name in the dialogue, he (or she) is effectively gender neutral – which means you can create a female protagonist.

And lo! There was much rejoicing from female console players across the land.

What a shame then, that Deus Ex couldn’t get in on the gender parity action and make Jensen gender neutral. This is a small gripe, Adam Jensen is great character, but the option to make him Alice Jenson would have shown real foresight.

So, let’s get to the ‘real’ ladies:

The vinyl, Neo-Victorian look had really taken off in Detroit.
Dr. Megan Reed. Ex-girlfriend of one Adam Jensen and scientific mind bar none. She manages to be fairly simpering in the opening sequence. I can't say more for fear of spoiling the game. Label under Victim (at least in this play through).

'And our boss wrote his name on my flight suit, just in case I forget it.'
Faridah Malik. refreshingly non-sexualised pilot of Sarif Industries' ‘chopper’ (effectively Adam’s chauffeur). With her strictly unrevealing flight suit, short, boyish hair and laissez-faire attitude, she’s a nice representation of a competent, confident woman. Not hooker, or doormat then. There is a possibility she becomes a victim of corporate violence later in the game...

'Have you seen Pris anywhere? I need to borrow her airbrush to apply my make up.'
Eliza Cassan. World famous news anchor and persistent thorn in Adam’s side. Label under... tricky. Not a hooker, not a victim but perhaps a doormat in as much as she answers to other, more powerful individuals.

'I've never felt like this before... I think it must be a software glitch.'
Zhao Yun Ru. President of Tai Yong Medical, the main competitor of Sarif industries, whom  Adam works for. Zhao Yun Ru is often depicted as a hard-nosed and heartless business woman, but is she really as bad as she seems? Not a victim, hooker or doormat. Label under femme fatale instead.

Hookers. Yes, one of the side quests is based in a brothel. Noir of any hybrid is always mixed up in the seedier side of life, so I suppose it’s inevitable really. Label under... yeah, you guessed it.

The reason I write about this at all is because I was pleasantly surprised by the anticipation of Mass Effect 3 by some women gamers on my Twitter feed. It makes me wonder if games designers are doing enough to appeal to women gamers in a traditionally male dominated are of entertainment. It stands to reason a relatable protagonist of the same gender is a strong start. Even Halo Reach, a game saturated with machismo,  offered the chance to play as a female Spartan, so when are other games designers going to improve their game?