Thursday, December 28, 2006

Oink, oink!

Now that my previous post has everyone convinced that I'm a complete psycho I'd just like to point out that I saw Babe for the first time the other day and found it utterly charming.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Little ray of sunshine

Read The Punisher: The Slavers the other day. 'Nam vet and full-time vigilante Frank Castle takes on a group of East European slave traders. Shootouts and graphic torture ensue. Not to mention rape, racism, homophobia, murdered babies, police corruption, as well as the failure of either liberalism or hardcore vigilantism to solve the problem of the sex trade. Bleakest thing I've read in a long time.

Worryingly, it actually cheered me up. Goes to show how much I'm enjoying Christmas this year.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Bah! Humbug!

I'm not feeling particularly festive right now but on the offchance that visitors to this blog are enjoying the season of good will I'll wish you all a Merry Christmas.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Finally seeing the light of day

Here's a short piece of text I was asked to write a couple of years back for a book on how to write comics. Although the book saw print my contribution wasn't included. This despite the book using pages from strips I'd written. As far as I can make out this was because that way the publishers only had to pay the artist (Bob Covington) instead of the both of us. Sigh.

Sometimes I think that a writer’s motto should be “Hurry up and wait.” You rush to meet a deadline then wait, biting your fingernails, to see if the finished product ever sees the light of day. Comics are even worse than prose in that respect because you never know how long it will take for the art and lettering to get done.

Michael Moorcock told me that he often recycles his prose stories as comics and vice versa, doubling the potential exposure the story will eventually receive. I’ve followed his example with a few of my own stories.

Comics are a more collaborative medium than prose. When working with Bob Covington he suggested ways to visually enhance my scripts and I sketched breakdowns for a page he had trouble designing. And when I wrote the samurai fantasy Seppuku for Engine Comics Barry Renshaw made suggestions for improvements then happily accepted the reasons I gave for why some of them wouldn’t work. Of course some of his suggestions were right on the money so I cheerfully incorporated them into the script. (After all, I need someone else to blame if nobody likes the comic …)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bruce Timm

Bruce Timm was the producer of the Batman, Superman and Justice League animated shows. He's also a pretty nifty artist in the 'Jack Kirby meets Wally Wood' mould. View galleries of his work here.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Try This

Just nicked this from Gary's blog:

1.Grab the nearest book.

2.Open the book to page 123.

3.Find the fifth sentence.

4.Post the text of the next 4 sentences on your blog along with these instructions.

5.Don't you dare dig for that 'cool' or 'intellectual' book in your closet! I know what you are thinking! Just pick up whatever is closest.

So I get this from John Connolly's 'The Black Angel':

Junkies were unpredictable, and just the look of them could put the johns off. But this one, she had something, ain't nobody could deny that. She was just on the verge. The drugs had taken some of the fat off her, leaving her with a body that was just about perfect and a face that gave her the look of one of those Ethiopian bitches, the ones that the modelling agencies liked on account of their features didn't look so Negro, what with their slim noses and their coffee complexions.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

James Herbert and Alan Moore

Katy rang me up Monday evening. "James Herbert is doing a signing in London tomorrow! We have to go!"

Now I've never read James Herbert but Katy is a huge fan so I said, fine, we'll go.

Only problem was I wasn't sure if I could get into London in time for the signing so I thought it might be better if Katy met me at the signing rather than at Holborn as she originally suggested. But Katy didn't know how to get to Borders where the signing was being held. So, as is the tradition in these cases, I gave her a needlessly complicated set of directions which would probably result in her ending up in the furthest reaches of Outer Mongolia.

Fortunately not only did I manage to catch a train as soon as I entered the station I also caught the fast train which shaves twenty minutes off the journey. Consequently I phoned Katy and told her I could meet her at Holborn after all. Even better since I was now arriving early I had time to pop into Forbidden Planet and peruse the comics.

As I entered the shop I spotted Paul Kane and Marie O'Regan. Turned out they were down in London to visit Marie's son. As we chatted I mentioned the James Herbert signing and their faces fell. "We think it's been cancelled. We were supposed to be interviewing him today and he cancelled due to illness. So presumably the signing is off too."

It was too late to phone Katy and tell her not to bother making the journey so I set off to Holborn to meet her.

When she arrived I told her the bad news and then stepped out of range. Fortunately she was in stoic mode. "Well, the shop's only round the corner. We'll have a look, see if it is still on."

We got to Borders and searched for posters indicating whether the event was still going ahead. There were none to be seen.

Finally we spotted a poster. JAMES HERBERT SIGNING. We breathed sighs of relief.

And then the man standing in front of the poster moved to one side, revealing the rest of the text. HAS BEEN CANCELLED.

So we went down the pub instead.

A few days later I went to an interview with Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie. The interview was being conducted by comedian Stewart Lee. I was particularly keen to go as I had ordered tickets for Moore's previous interview with Lee two years ago only for the tickets to arrive two days after the interview took place.

This time I was picking my ticket up on the door. Although given my previous experience and the James Herbert cancellation I was a tad apprehensive. Fortunately the ticket was there this time.

The interview was a witty, intelligent affair followed by perceptive questions from the audience. Even better there was a signing. The queue stretched halfway across London but I decided to persevere. I might never have this chance again. Melinda signed a Cobweb strip for me and I asked Mr Moore to sign a Swamp Thing graphic novel. I then sheepishly mentioned my British Fantasy Award and gave him a copy of Mask.

I headed home, reading and rereading the autographs on my comics. It wasn't until got into bed that I realised that not once in the entire journey home had my feet touched the ground.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

John Connolly Ghost Stories

Totally forgot to mention this in the original John Connolly post -- you can sample some of his ghost stories over at his website.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

FantasyCon stuff

Okay, I keep forgetting to mention this so I'll bung it down quick.

HUGE thanks to Mark Samuels for his help with Mask. Not only did he write the introduction he did so whilst on his sickbed. Actually this probably explains why he said such nice things about the book, he was delirious. Cheers, Mark!

Also, at FantasyCon I got to meet John Connolly. Really nice bloke. He signed my copy of The Book of Lost Things, gave me a CD and we chatted about genre restrictions, Joe Lansdale and the addictive effects of coke (the soft drink not the drug). Yay!

Of course Katy had to spoil it all. As John walked off she gazed after him, dreamily. "He's really trim. Do you think he works out?"

I pulled in my stomach. "Dunno."

Katy continued staring after him, sighing. "He had really vivid blue eyes."

I was particularly upset about her infatuation as I had been stupendously brave on her behalf on the Friday night.

Here's the story:

We stayed in the back-up hotel, the Rutland Square hotel. Nice place but our room was right next to two connecting doors in the corridor. Every time someone walked through the doors they crashed shut making it sound like someone was trying to break into our room.

This wasn't so bad during the day but when people kept going through the doors at two in the morning it became a bit of a pain.

Every time we started to drift off to sleep ... BANG!

We both lay there for hours not only trying to get to sleep but also trying to remember that the noise was from the doors in the corridor, it wasn't someone trying to break into our room no matter how much it sounded like it.

Finally, at some ungodly hour I finally felt myself becoming drowsy and started to slip off into sleep ...

Just as someone really did burst into our room.

A huge bloke crashed through the door, thumping the light switch, flooding the room with blinding light, scowling as though he was ready to kill someone.

At this point Katy will tell you that I screamed like a girl but it was in fact a fierce battlecry designed to startle the intruder long enough for me to leap out of bed and face him on more equal terms. Not that the terms would be that equal as I was tired, out of shape and (those of a sensitive disposition look away now) naked. Still, standing I might have a chance in a fight, laying down I was a dead man. At the very least I could put myself between the intruder and Katy, giving her a chance to cry for help, call the police on her mobile, or, more likely, mumble at me to keep the noise down as she was trying to sleep.

So, facing the intruder, I yelled at him as loud as I could, forcing my voicebox into overdrive.

Next thing I know I'm sitting bolt upright in bed in the classic 'I've just woken up from a nightmare' pose to find Katy staring at me with a worried look on her face. Turned out she'd got up to use the toilet and the door had banged just as she had turned on the light. My drowsy brain had transformed this sensory input into a dream about an intruder.

Katy stood framed in the bathroom door, the light blazing behind her turning her to a near silhouette. "Are you all right, baby?"

I sat there for a couple more seconds just in case there really was an intruder then I lay down and went back to sleep.

In the morning, when I explained to Katy what I had happened, she took the piss out of me mercilessly. "I can't believe you did that! You frightened the life out of me yelling like that, you idiot!"

"But I was trying to protect you."

"I didn't need protecting!"

"I didn't know that ... Anyway, you should be flattered that even when I'm asleep I'm willing to leap to your defence."

She didn't look convinced. "Idiot."

Of course come Monday morning she had to take it all back. "There was a man hiding behind the curtains."

I blinked the sleep out of my eyes. "Eh?"

"Last night. There was a man hiding behind the curtains."

"What are you going on about?"

She looked embarrassed. "The light was streaming through the curtains this morning and it turned into a little man. He had a face and everything."

"Okayyy ..."

"And then he started marching towards the bed. I had to get up and check behind the curtains to make sure he wasn't real."

"Remind me -- exactly how much did you have to drink last night?"

"It's not funny. At first I was too scared to even put my glasses on to see if there was really someone there. If he was real I didn't want to be able to see him."

"If he had been real you not putting on your glasses wouldn't have made any difference."

"Yeah, but at least I wouldn't have to see anything when he killed me."

I didn't even bother trying to argue with that one. "If you were convinced there was someone in the room intent on killing us both then why didn't you wake me?"

"Oh," she said, "I didn't want to disturb you."

I shook my head in disbelief.

"Anyway," she continued, "after a while I realised that he wasn't going to hurt us."

My eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Hang on. You saw a man? And he was walking towards you as you lay in bed? You've been fantasising about John Connolly again haven't you?"

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Fucking Hell!

The title of this post quickly became my catchphrase on Sunday because that was the reply I gave every time someone asked me how I felt about winning the British Fantasy Award for Best Novella.

That's right -- I won!

No, I don't know how it happened either. Presumably a whole bunch of people forgot to vote for the other nominees and are now kicking themselves.

The whole thing was a total shock. Leading up to the awards people kept asking me if I was getting nervous and I kept saying, "There's no point me getting nervous, I know I don't stand a chance of winning."

Even as the envelope containing the winner's name was torn open I was thinking, "Thank God, I haven't won because now I don't have to give a speech and make a twat of myself."

And then I won. And had to ad-lib a speech. In front of a couple of hundred people. Whilst being filmed.

Which pretty much explains why the speech started like this:




"Well, that's the skilful way with words that allowed me to write this novella..."

The speech kind of went downhill from there.

Anyway, I was planning to write about FantasyCon in more detail but I have pretty much bugger all free time this week so I'll take the lazy option and point you towards Chris Teague's FantasyCon report instead.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Vroom, vroom!

Katy passed her driving test today! Yay!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Book Meme

Following on from Matt Cardin's Book Meme post on his blog I'm going to answer the 10 point questionaire. Bear in mind that these aren't definitive answers, I've merely done my best to reply with the first books that popped into my head.

1. One book that changed my life. Cosmic Trigger by Robert Anton Wilson.

2. One book I've read more than once. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

3. One book I'd want on a desert island. Dune by Frank Herbert.

4. One book that made me laugh. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

5. One book that made me cry. Hmm, tough one. I don't cry over books. The only time I can remember it happening was with a comic called A Moment of Silence which told (mainly) wordless stories of 9/11.

6. One book I wish had been written. The exploits of Stephen Hunter's action hero Earl Swagger in the US Marine Corps prior to WWII. You never know, Hunter may yet write this.

7. One book I wish had never been written. Okay, I'm changing this to 'One book I wish I'd never read' 'cos there may well be other people out there who loved it. Anyway, Dixie Chicken by Frank Ronan.

8. One book I'm currently reading. I'm browsing various books for story research. I'll pick the Dictionary of Beliefs and Religions 'cos it's right next to my computer.

9. One book I've been meaning to read. The Face of Twilight by Mark Samuels. (Sorry, Mark!)

10. One book I'd like to write. A SF/Fantasy/Horror/Noir/War/Comedy/Romance/Western/Musical/Philosophical/Theological/Sociological/Surreal/Realist masterpiece. But I'll probably just hack something out like I ususally do.

Now let's see if Quentin, Gary, Chris and Elizabeth want to rise to this challenge. Plus anyone else who wants to join in.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Law and Jake Wade

There's an old Western that gets shown on the telly every now and again called The Law and Jake Wade. Reformed outlaw gets kidnapped by his old partner and forced to show where he hid the loot from the last job they pulled together. Just to make things difficult the ex-partner not only has a whole gang of thugs backing him up but has also kidnapped Wade's girlfriend and is threatening to do nasty things to her if Wade doesn't co-operate.

Lots of twists and turns as Wade and his ex-partner battle to outwit each other. Dialogue's pretty sharp too from what I remember. Robert Taylor as Wade. Richard Widmark as the ex-partner. And Dr McCoy from Star Trek as one of the thugs.

Only problem is I always miss the beginning. Never seen the film all the way through.

It was on yesterday. Got all excited when the opening credits began to roll. Then about five minutes into it I got called away and by the time I got back the film had finished.

Maybe next time ...

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

John Connolly

Just noticed that John Connolly is on the attendance list of FantasyCon. Dead excited as I first read his Charlie Parker PI novels while I was writing Mask. Helped me with finding the novella's voice (God, that sounds pretentious). Anyway, I really want to meet him.

Knowing my luck it'll turn out to be a different John Connolly.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Wa-hey! It worked! Cheers, Gary.

Testing, testing

Okay, Gary Greenwood has taken pity on my total inability to understand anything to do with computers and has sent me instructions on how to get the comments working on my blog. So I'm about to post a comment to myself to see if it works.

Fingers crossed that I don't delete the internet.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Pub Philosophy

Went for a drink with friends the other day. Somehow or other the conversation turned to quantum physics. Well, it nearly always does when you go down the pub, doesn't it? Many's the punch-up I've seen down my local when tempers have flared over whether the Copenhagen interpretation is better than the transactional interpretation. Or whether Schrodinger's cat is dead or alive; a question made particularly tricky by the fact that, as a cat, it would have nine lives anyway. So although it may be scampering around the lab playing with a ball of superstrings it could well have left one of its lives behind in the box.

Anyway, this particular conversation led to me making a fumbling attempt to explain the basis of quantum physics through a description of the Double Slit experiment. This led into the problem of quantum physics being irreconciable with Einstein's Theory of Relativity. From there we ended up discussing the problem of what existed before the Big Bang. That is, something that existed outside of time and space. If we could solve such a riddle we would have the answer to the greatest mystery in the universe!

Needless to say we failed. We nearly had an answer but then we got distracted by trying to remember whose turn it was to buy the drinks.

So, stumped, we turned to an easier topic. Evolution. At least it would be an easier topic if I actually knew anything about it. So I just bandied around some knowledgeable sounding phrases such as natural selection.

"But," asked Katy, "why does nature select things that aren't useful? Look at pigeons -- they're just rats with wings."

"So are bats," I replied. "And they are useful because they inspired Batman to fight crime. So pigeons could do the same thing. Bruce Wayne could've become Pigeon Man -- 'Criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot. I must strike fear in their hearts by flying over them and crapping on their heads.'"

At this point someone pointed out that nature doesn't actually choose which species will survive. It's all a matter of chance, like a huge lottery. Which seems a bit unfair as most animals don't have opposable thumbs and therefore can't use their scratchcards.

It was also pointed out that survival of the fittest didn't refer to athletic ability. So, contrary to my fears for humanity's future, joggers will not end up running the world. Well, I suppose as joggers they will be running the world. But they won't be ruling it.

That job is far more likely to fall to unhealthy types who spend far too much time in the pub, such as myself and my friends. Which, I'm sure you'll agree, is a reassuring thought. We are, after all, highly intelligent people.

You can tell by our level of conversation.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

No Comment

Apparently a few of you have tried leaving comments only to find my blog refuses to post them. Sorry about that.

I spoke to Katy and she said that when she set up the blog for me she had to use the word verification thingie 'cos otherwise the comments section was filled with more spam than a Monty Python sketch. Unfortunately it seems the spam filter is now refusing to allow any comments to get through regardless of whether they're spam or not.

Being the techno-dunce that I am I'm not sure how to fix this offhand. So until this is cleared up anyone who wants to contact me should either use my email or my message boards at Whispers of Wickedness or The Third Alternative.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

BFS Shortlists 2006

Just in case anyone's interested here's the shortlists for the BFS Awards. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order and when there's more than five nominees you know at least two of the runners-up have received an equal number of votes.

Best Novel
Ramsey Campbell, SECRET STORIES
Neil Gaiman, ANANSI BOYS
George R. R. Martin, A FEAST FOR CROWS

Best Novella

Best Anthology
Peter Crowther, FOURBODINGS

Best Collection

Best Short Fiction
Ramsey Campbell, JUST BEHIND YOU
Marie O’Regan, CAN YOU SEE ME?

Best Artist
Clive Barker
Randy Broecker
Les Edwards
Dominic Harman
Richard Marchand
Robert Sammelin

Best Small Press
Peter Crowther, PS PUBLISHING
Christopher Teague, PENDRAGON PRESS

Monday, August 21, 2006

Somebody Pinch Me

God knows how this has happened but somehow I've managed to make the shortlist for two categories in the British Fantasy Awards. I'm up for Best Novella and Best Collection. Both nominations are for works entitled The Mask Behind the Face.

I think I need a lie-down.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Occasionally when a story is "good but not quite what I'm looking for" an editor will say that they will accept the story providing I'm willing to make one or two changes.

This actually happened with my very first acceptance, a story called 'Standing Tall.' The story revolved around macho ideas of heroism, the way bravery in one situation doesn't automatically guarantee bravery in another situation, and the way that even when we achieve a victory we still have to taste all the other defeats life throws at us. The editor didn't like the downbeat ending as he felt the protagonist didn't learn anything from his experience. This pissed me off as not only was the protagonist obviously aware of the story's moral but ultimately it didn't matter if he learned anything or not, the important thing was whether the reader learned anything. The reader is a real live human being, the protagonist is just a fictional character, someone who only exists on the page. So the character doesn't have to understand anything so long as he communicates ideas to the reader.

Not only that but by making me change my story the editor was actually a living embodiment of the story's theme about the way life grinds you down by forcing you to compromise about things you care for. Irony can be a real pain sometimes.

Still, I was desperate to be published and the editor obviously wasn't going to publish the story unless I changed the ending. So I wrestled long and hard with my conscience for all of two seconds and then I sat down and started to make the changes.

Meanwhile another one of my stories got accepted by another editor without me having to make any changes. This story, Daddy's Little Girl, actually saw print before 'Standing Tall' and so is my first "real" acceptance.

Since then I've had other editors ask me to make changes. Some have been very helpful and I've been grateful for the editors' input. Others have been plain stupid.

On one occasion an editor said he would accept a story if I made changes but then neglected to tell me what it was he wanted changed. Another editor told me an acceptance was a dead cert provided I made changes to a key scene. I made the changes; he read it and promptly rejected the story.

A common occurrence is for an editor to ask for a minor change, "If you just change that one line ... " But when I see which line they want changed I realise its removal will render the rest of the nonsensical. "But that's the bit where the detective reveals who the murderer is!" The flip side of this is when an editor deems an entire story unworkable because of such-and-such a scene, completely ignoring the fact that on this occasion the problem really can be solved by just snipping a single line.

Even big name writers run into this problem. Alfred Bester used to complain how his editor made him add an extra couple of paragraphs to the end of his short stories in order to spell out exactly what happened at the climax. Left to his own devices Bester would have trusted the readers to be intelligent enough to figure this out for themselves.

Although, as I said earlier, sometimes the editor's input can be beneficial. In Danse Macabre Stephen King mentions how his editor asked him to cut a scene from Salem's Lot. King decided this was a good idea as the scene was too similar to one he had already used in one of his short stories.

Deciding whether to fight an editor over changes in a story is something that each individual writer has to decide for themselves. And the decision may well vary under different circumstances e.g. depending on how much you want the sale. I'm a lot less likely to argue over a story that's going to appear in high paying, high profile mass market anthology than a story that's going in a small press mag with a readership that doesn't even make it into double figures.

Another thing to remember is that even if you do make changes that you're not happy with there's always a chance of getting the story reprinted in its original format at a later date.

There's even the chance that by the time the story sees print you'll find yourself agreeing with your editor after all. In which case you'll have to apologise for shovelling all that horse manure through his letterbox.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

It's Good But ...

Horrible as rejections are sometimes they can do you a favour. The editor may point out a flaw in the story which you can correct and which helps you sell the story elsewhere.

This is why writers live in dread of form rejections. They tell you nothing beyond the fact that your story has been rejected. There is no clue as to why. Unfortunately form rejections are a fact of life. Many editors, particularly those of professional markets, don't have the time to comment on each individual story. They're so swamped with submissions it's a miracle that they even have time to respond at all, let alone offer even the most cursory of critiques.

So I'm always pleased when an editor tells me why they rejected one of my stories. Not as pleased as if they'd accepted it but at least it stops me reaching for the sleeping pills.

Of course even that small amount of pleasure can evaporate when I see some of the reasons editors give for rejection.

I had one story rejected because the editor didn't like stories that featured teenagers.

Another time an editor rejected a story because he was worried it might offend Christians. Excuse me? I could understand if he thought it might offend Muslims but Christians? "Oh no, we've offended Christians! They've got us surrounded! They're going to -- Oh God no! They're going to turn the other cheek!"

The classic reason for rejection is "The story's good but it's not what I'm looking for." So they're looking for bad stories?

Unfortunately, although this comment is next to useless as constructive feedback it may well be the only valid comment that a person can make on any given story. Personally I've read tons of stories that are slickly written, well structured and contain profound truths about the human condition -- and which I enjoyed reading slightly less than having one of my testicles removed. It doesn't matter how "good" a story is, if it doesn't float the boat of the person reading it then, as far as that person is concerned, it might as well be complete hackwork. Sad but true.

I recently bumped into an editor friend of mine after he rejected one of my stories. I politely asked him what it was he hadn't liked about the story so I could decide if it was something that needed fixing before I submitted it elsewhere. "Oh," he replied, "the supernatural element was too strong. That wasn't what I was looking for in this anthology." This confused me slightly as not only had I underplayed the supernatural element but all the authors he had mentioned in the anthology's guidelines as an indication of the sort of thing he was looking for were Science Fiction/Horror/Fantasy authors.

Presumably there was something else about the story he didn't like. Maybe the pacing was off. Maybe the characters came across as caricatures. Maybe the jokes weren't funny enough. But for some reason (I'm guessing politeness) he decided to go with the supernatural excuse. But politeness doesn't give me anything to work with, anything I can fix.

Of course it may be that it really was the supernatural element that made him reject the story. What to me came across as a MacGuffin to kickstart the plot came across to him as something out of Rentaghost. So although the story was competently written this one matter of taste stopped him enjoying it.

In other words it was good but not what he was looking for.

Damn, I really need to start writing some bad stories.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Coping With Rejection

At some point all writers receive a rejection letter. There is only one way to deal with this. Take a voodoo doll of the editor who rejected the story and stab it repeatedly in the crotch. It's very therapeutic. And you never know, one day the voodoo might just work.

But on a more practical level ...

One way to lessen the pain of rejection is to submit as many different stories to as many different markets as possible. It's a lot less distressing to have a story rejected if you know you've still got another dozen stories that could still be accepted elsewhere.

And as soon as a story gets rejected submit it to someone else. Many's the time I've had a story deemed unpublishable by one magazine only to immediately sell it to another magazine where it receives rave reviews.

Unfortunately I'm leaning more towards novellas and novelettes in my current writing. Not only do these tend to take longer to write, meaning I have less stories to submit, but the market for stories of that length is a little more limited. So I'm having trouble following my own advice.

Which means it's back to the voodoo doll.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Had a story rejected yesterday. Kind of put a crimp in my day, especially as I wasn't exactly feeling on top of the world anyway.

I've noticed this before. My mood when I receive a rejection often influences my reaction to the rejection. If I'm having a good day and I receive a rejection telling me that I'm a talentless hack who has no business even attempting to write a story and I would do humanity a huge favour if I just killed myself I'll just shrug my shoulders and say, "Well, everyone's entitled to their opinion."

Other times I'm having a bad day and I'll receive a rejection telling me that although my story got bounced the editor has read all my books and loved them, thinks I'm one of the best writers around and that I may well even be the reincarnation of William Shakespeare and yet I'll still go on a murderous, axe-wielding rampage.

So if anyone's ever tempted to give me feedback on my stories you might want to check what kind of day I'm having first.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Broken Lance

Watched Broken Lance yesterday. Western starring Spencer Tracy as the patriarchal cattle baron, Robert Wagner as the loyal youngest son and Richard Widmark as the resentful eldest son. When the set in his ways Tracy attempts to employ frontier justice in an increasingly civilized West the family tensions come to a head and tragedy beckons.

Tracy fills his role with charm, mule-headedness and righteous indignation. Widmark doesn't get many set-pieces but still manages to give his character a drawling amorality. And Wagner, well, he's better than in Hart to Hart.

Often compared to King Lear by film critics Broken Lance is an impressive drama with complex characters wrestling with conflicting emotions. On top of this it was pretty progressive for its day (1954). Tracy is in a loving marriage to an Indian, the clean-cut Wagner is a half-breed and Wagner's love interest is an intelligent, independent young woman who stands up to Tracy better than his own sons.

Yes, the film is a little dated and it sacrifices some of its complexity in its climax but it features a tight script and top notch acting. Worth watching if you get the chance.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Star Trekkin'

Caught a few minutes of an early episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation yesterday. It had not aged well. Fake-looking sets, unconvincing SFX, stilted dialogue -- it looked as corny as the original Star Trek must have looked when TNG first aired. Except without the novelty of being the first series to boldy go where no one has gone before.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Salem's Lot

Watched Salem's Lot the other day -- the David Soul version. Bit disappointed. The main plot takes forever to get going and even when it does the old school vampirism looks pretty corny these days. Plus, I thought the town ended up overrun with vamps but in this version there's only about half a dozen of the fangy fiends.

On the plus side James Mason as Straker is classy as ever.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Cardin and Ligotti

Horror writer Matt Cardin has conducted an interview with modern weird fiction maestro Thomas Ligotti over at Matt's blog.

Blackwood on the Beeb

Dunno if anyone's interested but starting tonight BBC Radio 4 are broadcasting nightly readings of Algernon Blackwood's ghost stories. Programme starts at 10.45pm.

Identity Crisis

Only just realised that writer/artist Mark Schultz shares his name with an Olympic wrestler and Ultimate Fighting Champion.

So if for some reason you decide to insult Mark Schutlz make sure you pick the right one :-)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

More Schultz

I was speaking to Quentin S Crisp the other day about Schultz's commitment to the environment. Before getting into comics Schultz worked as a a commercial illustrator but eventually quit his job, partly 'cos he wanted to produce Xenozoic Tales and partly 'cos he didn't feel comfortable helping to sell a load of environmentally unfriendly junk. The evironmentally-themed Xenozoic Tales went on to win Schultz a bunch of awards and cemented his professional reputation as a writer and artist. Nice to see someone standing up for their principles and have it all work out for them.

You can see more Schultz art here and here and here and here

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Mark Schultz

Been looking at Mark Schultz's work recently. Wonderful black and white illustrations that recall Wally Wood, Al Williamson, Will Eisner, Alex Raymond and other comics greats.

His ecologically based SF/adventure comic book Xenozoic Tales is on indefinite hold while he works on other projects(including scripting the Prince Valiant newspaper strips) but I'm hoping he gets around to finishing it one day.

In the meantime take a peek at the online gallery of his work here

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Who Da Man?

Just for a laugh I thought I'd compare my three current fave literary action heroes.

From the pen of Stephen Hunter comes Earl Swagger. A WWII marine sergeant and State Highway Trooper.

Also from Hunter comes Earl's son, Bob Lee Swagger. A USMC sniper during 'Nam.

And from Lee Child comes Jack Reacher. A former major in the military police who spent the first thirty odd years of his life overseas and is now just drifting around America, trying to get a feel for what is supposed to be his home country.

I'll admit this isn't a fair test as I've read all the Swagger books but only three of the Reacher books (so far). Plus, I'm going from memory so I may forget things that could effect the final scores. But like I said, it's only for a laugh.

Anyway, here we go:

Investigative skills

Reacher is an ex-investigator for the MPs. And a bloody good one. So top marks. 5

Bob did some work for the CIA during 'Nam and some investigating of his own when he became enmeshed in various conspiracy theories in the '90s. So not his main area of expertise but he shows some flair for it. 4

Earl never had any real investigative training and his adventures tend not to call for it much anyway. 3

Unarmed combat

Earl is a near-pro level boxer with lightning fast hands. Plus he's had some training in judo and (I think) ju-jitsu. Plus whatever else WWII-era marines got taught (some of the Fairbairn and Applegate stuff maybe?) So it doesn't matter if you fight sport style or street style, either way he'll kick your arse. 5

Reacher is 6 foot five and 220 pounds of bone and muscle. Plus he's been trained to fight dirty. Might even manage to beat Earl if he gets in a solid suckerpunch at the start of the fight. 4

Bob doesn't tend to have so many fistfights as the other two (not that I can remember anyway) but he can still hold his own. When a burly FBI agent with a black belt in judo tries to handcuff him Bob effortlessly reverses the hold and flips the Fed on his back. Probably can fight as well as Reacher but without the Arnie-esque physique to back it up. 3

Close Quarter Combat

Earl won the Medal of Honor for taking on a bunch of Japanese troops in CBQ. Plus he's a crack shot and lightning fast draw with a Colt .45. He's damn handy with a Tommygun too.5

Bob took on a truck and two cars full of battle-hardened mercenaries armed with automatic weapons. Bob's only weapons -- a rifle and a pistol. His only back-up -- a civilian who'd never been in a firefight before. The mercenaries didn't stand a chance. Plus Bob took on VC troops in 'Nam. 4

Reacher seems to have much softer opposition. Usually dumb henchmen with only their boss having any real guts or combat skills. 3


Bob took on an entire platoon of NVA troops that was marching on an undefended special forces camp. With only his spotter, Donny Fen, as back-up Bob spent 72 hours playing hide and seek, picking off officers and NCOs. By the time he finished he had halted the NVAs' advance and killed over 30 of their number. "Cocksucker can shoot a little." 5

Reacher is the only non-marine to win the USMC sniper trophy. But so far I've not seen him shoot sniper style in all-out combat conditions. 4

Earl is a great shot but didn't receive sniper training until late in his career and then it was just a crash course. 3

Pulling power

A tie here. Earl was a bit of a hellraiser in his younger days but then settled down after he got married. Women continue to throw themselves at him but he remains practically oblivious to it. It takes something very special to make him even think of straying. Meanwhile Reacher gets more women but he's actively pursuing them. But with his mixture of toughness and sensitivity (not to mention his bulging muscles) he'd probably get them even if he ignored them. 5

Bob spent over a decade as a recluse so that seriously cut down on the amount of women he could've had. And as soon as he stopped being a recluse he got married. Still, he had a previous marriage plus some unspecified conquests from his younger days. And while he might not get the ladies throwing themselves at him quite as much as Earl did they still send him admiring glances. They'd probably send him more than that but there's an air of danger about Bob -- as a former sniper people tend to view him as a stone cold killer rather than as a war hero as they do with Earl. This probably means that women prefer to lust after him from afar rather than actually get involved with him. 4

Final score

So it's a tie with Earl and Reacher both finishing with 21 points and Bob with 20.

Of course this isn't definitive. On another day I might've rated the heroes differently.

Friday, June 30, 2006


Was having a bit of a tidy up and found a couple of notebooks containing old stories. As far as I can recall the first notebook covers stories written when I was between 10 and 12. The second contains comic scripts from when I was in my early teens.

The short stories are a mishmash of my favourite authors of the time. Some of them are post-WWI Biggles stories transplanted to an SF setting. So instead of a trio of pilot pals swanning around in biplanes and flying boats getting into adventures in Africa, South America and other exotic locales you get a trio of space pilots swanning around in a spaceship and getting into adventures on other planets.

Another set of stories took the original WWI Biggles stories and moved them to a WWII setting. So I had Flying Officer 'Tommy' Thompson learning the ropes of aerial combat during the Battle of Britain. I was surprised by how much detail I had on how the planes worked, I'd forgotten most of this stuff. But at the time I was devouring biographies of two of the top RAF aces -- Robert Stanford Tuck and 'Ginger' Lacey. Not to mention H.R. Allen's exploits in the RAF. And Full Circle, 'Johnnie' Johnson's history of aerial combat. I also browsed through Reach for the Sky , in fact I probably read pretty much the whole thing, just not in the right order.

Then there was Dan Rogers, an attempt at a modern day Sherlock Holmes. Embarassing to read now as I had absolutely no idea how police procedure works. I had the police actually calling in this private detective to solve the crimes for them! Anyway, if I remember rightly Dan Rogers was named after Dan Robinson from Terrance Dicks' Baker Street Irregular series (itself an homage to Holmes) and Roger Hunt from Willard Price's Adventure series.

I also found an outline for a Doctor Who adventure. Don't think I ever got as far as attempting a script.

The comics scripts just featured my favourite Marvel characters such as Captain America and The Avengers. The stories are hideously bad. I didn't even know how to lay out a script so most of them are written in prose.

Rather humbling to see just how clumsy my early stories were. But I cheered up when I remembered that I'm now a literary genius :-)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Long shot

I've been recommended for British Fantasy Awards in three different categories.

Best Novella - 'The Mask Behind the Face'

Best Collection - The Mask Behind the Face

Best Short Story - 'Mr Nice Guy'

The chances of me making the shortlist, let alone winning, are pretty slim but you never know. Maybe the entire membership of the British Fantasy Society will accidently fill in the wrong name on the voting form.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Woman in Black

Forgot to mention that I went to see The Woman in Black on Friday. Spooky ghost story with only two actors and limited stage props.

Good fun even if the outcome is pretty obvious after the first fifteen minutes or so, the rest of the play being a case of crossing the ts and dotting the is. Impressive use of atmosphere and suspense though. And its weird the way that even though I saw most of the shocks coming and knew I was only watching actors on a stage anyway my skin still tingled when other members of the audience screamed. Because the audience reaction wasn't scripted I wasn't so prepared for it (even cinema audiences don't seem to respond to what's on the screen the way they used to when I was a kid, no one laughs at the jokes or screams at the scary bits anymore). So, being caught offguard, there was some small part of me that responded to the screams as though they were real, a shiver rippling through my body. Weird.

Anyway, Katy got kind of pissed off as the bloke sitting in front of her kept fidgeting, blocking her view of the stage. I swapped seats with her after the interval and of course then the bloke didn't move an inch. Why he couldn't have done that through the first half God only knows.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Rapid Fire

Rapid Fire is not a great film. It's not even Brandon Lee's best film (I'd give that honour to The Crow). To modern eyes, used to the acrobatics of The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it's not even a great martial arts film.

But ...

Back in 1992 Brandon Lee was being hailed as "The action star of the nineties." Admittedly this was by his publicist but even so it sounded good. Not everyone was impressed by this title however, I remember one film journalist claiming that Lee was actually kind of useless and only received his grandiose tag through being the son of a genuine action hero, the late, great Bruce Lee. Whilst it's true that at this point Lee hadn't really done much to justify his publicist's enthusiasm it should be pointed out that the other action stars of the period were Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. Van Damme's fight scenes consisted almost entirely of fancy kicks filmed in slow motion and lame punches which were filmed from various angles and then edited together quickly in a vain attempt to con people into thinking that he was doing something dynamic rather than just sticking his arm out and waiting for the stuntman to fall down. Still, at least he used to get hit during his fight scenes. Seagal was invincible, destroying his opponents with bone-crunching wristlocks whilst never getting his hair mussed. Both Van Damme's and Seagal's schticks quickly became dull and repetitive. They set the standard for early 90s Hollywood fight scenes. Limited repetoire, limited entertainment.

Then Lee came along.

His fights in Rapid Fire displayed a wider range of techniques than Van Damme and Seagal combined had shown in their entire films up that date. And with a flair that completely surpassed the other two action stars.

Here's why.

Due to his famous father Lee had a love/hate relationship with martial arts. He wanted to define himself by his own standards rather than become a pale imitation of his father. But eventually he returned to the martial arts with a genuine desire to learn. He studied with Dan Inosanto, one of his father's closest friends and one of the most highly respected martial artists in the world. Inosanto taught him Jun Fan, the style of kung fu Bruce Lee developed. (The terminology actually gets a little tricky here. People normally refer to Bruce Lee's style as Jeet Kune Do but in some respects that was more the ideal state of martial arts perfection that he sought to attain. Although JKD is the more commonly used term most instructors I'm aware of refer to the specific art as Jun Fan. Furthermore they will break it down into Jun Fan Gung Fu (kung fu) and Jun Fan kickboxing.)

Inosanto also taught Lee Filipino martial arts utilising fists, elbows, kicks, locks, throws, sticks, knives and pretty much anything else you can think of. Lee also studied Muay Thai (Thai boxing), gaining an instructor's certificate. He also trained in kung fu with the instructor he met on the set of Kung Fu: The Movie. (Ironically Kung Fu was based on a concept created by Bruce Lee for a series called The Warrior. Lee Sr never got to make the series as the TV networks felt audiences wouldn't accept an Asian hero.)

Brandon Lee got to demonstrate his martial skills in real life when he disturbed a burglar who was robbing his apartment. The burglar grabbed a knife from Lee's kitchen and tried to stab him. Lee took the knife off him and restrained him until police arrived. The encounter left him with a scar on the web of his thumb.

Lee was also a fan of Jackie Chan films. This gave him a different outlook to the pseudo-realism of Van Damme and Seagal. He wanted his fights to be entertaining. This was enhanced by the acrobatics he performed in Showdown in Little Tokyo in which he starred alongside Dolph Lundgren. Lundgren was a real life full contact karate champion so his style was based on power whereas the lanky Lee pulled off the gymnastics required by fight choreographer Pat Johnson. (For all you chop socky nerds Johnson appeared in Enter the Dragon as the leader of the henchmen that menace John Saxon on the golf course -- "You take advantage, Roper." He was also the fight choreographer and Pat Morita's stunt double on The Karate Kid.')

On top of this Lee actually trained to be an actor, appearing in theatre and auditioning for screen roles outside of the action genre. Whilst I'm not convinced that he was a great actor (although obviously we'll never know what he could have gone on to achieve) he had an expressive face and his lithe physique meant that he wouldn't look out of place playing Everyman characters in the way that Arnie and Stallone did whenever they tried to broaden their range.

All this meant that in Rapid Fire Lee had a wide array of talents and experiences to draw upon.

He punched, he kicked. He used knife defences and staffs. He used his environment -- kicking doors shut in his opponents' faces, swinging open freezer doors to catch people in the jaw, sliding across the floor to kick a coffee table up into a gunman's face, running people down with a motorcycle, smacking a foe around with a clothes rack (these last two stolen from Jackie Chan's Police Story). He demonstrated Jun Fan trapping techniques against veteran stuntman Al Leong. He performed a backward somersault (albeit after a boost from Judo Gene LeBell, the man who taught Bruce Lee how to grapple.) He twisted foes' arms into painful wristlocks, he smashed through bannisters with a Thai round kick.

And then there's the small stuff for the Bruce Lee connoisseurs. Like when he is centre of the screen, his hands a blur as opponents crumple in agony on the edge of the frame as they did before his father's fists in Enter the Dragon. The Powers Boothe line, "Why don't you take your fists of fury outside?" The prolonged emoting after dispatching a foe. And the beautiful use of the Bruce Lee concept of longest weapon to the nearest target where he blasts a lead leg kick into his opponent's knee, using the motion to bring him into range to snap a lead hand punch into his face.

All this combined to make Rapid Fire the best Hollywood martial arts film of the early nineties. Of course by the end of the decade The Matrix made Lee's effort look less than brilliant.

But just remember what else passed for brilliant martial arts in the early nineties. If it's between Rapid Fire and Van Damme and Seagal's efforts I'll go for Rapid Fire every time.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Old King Coll

I picked up a cheap copy of Joseph Clement Coll: A Legacy in Line the other day. Abolutely amazing examples of his illustrations for Sax Rhomer, Talbot Mundy, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle etc.

The book's publisher has on online gallery of Coll's work here

If you like old-style illustration you'll love it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


I've been listening to Johnny Cash's American Recordings CDs for the first time in a while. I'd forgotten how good they are. Okay, yeah, some of the tracks are a bit corny and some of them bring out the allergic reaction to Country and Western music that I've had ever since my dad used to play his 100 Greatest Country and Western Hits tape whenever we went on holiday but the majority of the tracks are damn good.

Songs of regret and redemption. Of defiance and damnation. Of sweetness and sorrow. All delivered with Cash's gravelly I-ain't-just-singing-about-this-shit-I-actually-lived-through-it vocals.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Who Cares?

I'm not entirely sure I can explain what it is about the new Dr Who that irritates me so much. Still, I'll have a stab at it.

1) First Christopher Eccleston and now David Tennant play The Doctor in an annoying "I'm mad, me!" fashion.

2) Billie Piper's acting ranged seems limited to either smiling at inappropriate moments or else crying whenever she thinks her mum/dad/Mickey are dead or are about to leave her.

3) The attempt to sex up the series by having nearly all the female characters fancy The Doctor feels forced. And his relationship with Rose feels kind of creepy.

4) Trying to make The Doctor cool by making him a fan of the Sex Pistols and dressing him in designer clothes is just plain embarrassing.

5) The incidental music is always completely OTT in a desperate attempt to convince the viewer that what they're watching is really dramatic, honest.

6) Every damn story is set on Earth. Even Jon Pertwee's Earth-imprisoned Doctor got to travel the cosmos more than this.

7) The emotional climax at the end of each episode drags on forever. Nearly every week the threat has been dealt with, all that's left is for Rose and The Doctor to hop in the TARDIS and the end credits to roll. Instead you get five or ten minutes of soap opera style hand-wringing. "Oh, I'm really upset that so-and-so died! Sob!" "Oh, I'm going to have to leave behind the person I love. Sniff!' Emotional payoffs should either be tied into the dramatic climax of the main plot or else handled quickly in a brief epilogue before Rose and The Doctor go traipsing off around the universe once more.

8) By trying to round out the supporting characters (a good thing) the writers reduce The Doctor to a deus ex machina (a bad thing). Often he only seems to be there to supply info-dumps and to wave his sonic screwdriver about whenever Russell T Davies has written himself into a corner. Otherwise I get the impression that Rose would be saving the universe by herself each week. Even when The Doctor does get something to do it tends to either be a badly choreagraphed action scene or else an embarrassing emotional scene.

9) The humour is too broad. Even when the basic jokes are funny the execution lacks wit and sparkle.

10) Most of the stories have plot-holes you could drive a truck through.

I could go on but I've probably already got every Dr Who fan in the UK baying for my blood. I suppose if I had to sum up my problems with the new Dr Who it's that too often it feels like a soap opera -- Eastenders with a couple of sci-fi flourishes added on.

Obviously I'm not saying the old Dr Who was flawless. I could probably make a list of its faults that would be just as long as the one above. (Actually it would probably be rather easy to stick the boot in to the old series as about 80% of my childhood nostalgia for Dr Who comes from reading the Target novelizations rather than watching the TV series.)

And the new version is obviously very popular, pulling in loads of viewers and even convincing the BBC that maybe they should make other sci-fi series. Hell, even I find myself enjoying bits of it. But as the new version is so popular -- winning BAFTAs and everyone saying how wonderful it is -- I felt it was worth pointing out that in certain respects it's actually pretty crappy.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Words Don't Come Easy

After years of struggling with a pocket dictionary and looking up spellings at dubious online dictionaries I've finally broken down and bought myself a proper dictionary.

It's a huge monster of a thing. You need a crane to lift it and it's full of words that no one could possibly ever need to know about unless they wanted to appear in Spellbound 2: Attack of the Adjectives.

The temptation now is to do an H.P. Lovecraft and use all these exotic words for no reason other than to show off.

Don't worry, I'll do my best to remain true to my cat-sat-on-the-mat writing style :-)

Saturday, May 06, 2006

More Books!

Attended Mark Samuels's book launch for The Face of Twilight last night. Mark got all embarrassed when he was forced into giving a reading. Especially when, halfway through the reading, he realised that he had inadvertently started one of the rudest scenes in the book.

And Katy got all upset that she couldn't have any of the free booze that was on offer as she had a driving lesson booked for early the following morning.

As for me I wandered round a couple of comics shops before the launch and ended up spending virtually all the money I had on me. The first shop had a sale on, so I bought a load of stuff. Then just as I was about to leave I spotted more sale items tucked away in the corner of the shop. So I went onto the next shop expecting merely to windowshop only to discover they had a sale on too. And then Mark's book launch took place in the Fantasy Centre and they had a book on comic book artists that I had read as a teenager but hadn't seen since so obviously I had to buy that too. By the time I left the shop I needed a skip to carry all the books I'd bought.

For anyone who's interested (both of you) the items I purchased were:

Xenozoic Tales Volume 1 & 2
Eyes of Light: Fantasy Drawings of Frank Brunner
Jack Staff Volume 1 & 2
Legend of Grimjack Volume 3
Dynamic Anatomy
Liberty Meadows Volume 4
Hal Foster: Prince of Illustrators, Father of the Adventure Strip
Masters of Comic Book Art
Civil War: Opening Shot sketchbook (Although that was a promotional freebie so it doesn't really count.)

So loads of reading for me with all these new books that I shall love and treasure for years to come.

Oh yeah, and I bought Mark's book too :-)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Too Many Books!

My backlog of books to be read is growing steadily larger. Here's a brief rundown of some of the more pressing titles.

There's a pile of Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels about an ex-Military Policeman who keeps finding himself in the middle of guns, murder and intrigue. The first novel Killing Floor was great but I still haven't had a chance to read the rest of the series yet. Despite this I keep buying the latest books in the series whenever I see them on sale. I have no willpower.

John Connolly's latest private eye with supernatural overtones novel The Black Angel also sits upon the shelf waiting to be read.

Then there's a pile of Dennis Lehane's Kenzie and Genarro private eye series. And the Raymond Chandler novels. And the Dashiel Hammett short stories.

I want to reread Stephen Hunter's Dirty White Boys as it's a brilliant thriller with great characterization. Plus it's the first thing I ever read by him so it holds a special place in my heart.

I've not read any science fiction for ages so there's a stack of books by Nick Sagan, Neal Asher, Alistair Reynolds and others. Not to mention a Philip K Dick short story collection that's the size of a housebrick. And Amazon couldn't find me a copy of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers so I need to get a copy from a bricks and mortar bookstore.

T.E.D. Klein's The Ceremonies also needs to be started as I really enjoyed his Dark Gods collection of novellas. And I recently picked up a copy of Fritz Leiber's The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich. Which reminds me I've still got a bunch of Leiber short stories to work my way through. And I still haven't read any of the classic Lovecraft stuff such as 'The Call of Cthulhu'.

On the Fantasy front I want to reread some of Jonathan Carroll's earlier novels. Plus I should really read the more recent ones that are sitting gathering dust. I'd also like to reread Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos novels about a wisecracking sword and sorcery assassin.

And there's a whole bunch of books on mysticism and spirituality by authors such as Ken Wilber, Jeff Meyerhoff, Huston Smith, R. A. Gilbert, Stephen Batchelor, Robert Forman, Gary Lachman, Nevill Drury, Eckhart Tolle, Clifford A Pickover and Christian deQuincey.

And last but not least Mark Samuels's new novel The Face of Twilight has just been released by PS Publishing so that's getting added to the list as well. Damn you, Mark!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Bob and Dave

Speaking of art, I forgot to mention that Spare Parts contains six interior illustrations, three each by British Fantasy Award winning artist Bob Covington and British Fantasy nominated artist Dave Bezzina.

Dave's website can be found at (For some reason the blog is refusing to let me link to his site.) And one of his illustrations from Spare Parts can be viewed here

Monday, March 13, 2006

I May Not Know Much About Art ...

I went to the Gothic Nightmares exhibition at the Tate Britain recently. The focus was on John Henry Fuseli (specifically his painting The Nightmare), William Blake and James Gillray.

The exhibition was fascinating, depicting scenes from classical mythology, Shakespeare, Milton etc. This got me thinking about how art works its way into the public consciousness. These days people often equate a book's success by whether it gets made into a successful film. Obviously the books have to be popular to be made into a film in the first place but a good film adaptation can often ensure longevity in a way that surpasses the original books. Take James Bond. People would still quite possibly be reading the original Ian Fleming novels even if it hadn't been for the success of the films but the number of people who would have heard of 007 would be significantly slashed. The Lord of the Rings finally made it to the big screen due to Peter Jackson's love of the source material and Tolkien fanboys the world over waited, ready to rip him to pieces if he dropped the ball. But thousands upon thousands of people who have never read the book now have a whole new fantasy playground to frolic in.

Back in Shakespeare's day the chances of getting a movie option were obviously pretty slim but the Bard had the next best thing. Plays. The public didn't have to sit through an A level in English Literature to appreciate Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet. They just watched the plays being performed. Even if they didn't always appreciate the poetry of Shakespeare's dialogue they could always laugh at Will Kemp delivering a fart joke. Plays were the films of their day, ensuring Shakespeare's fame in a way that the written word alone couldn't.

And the paintings by the likes of Fuseli no doubt helped too. When Fuseli wanted to paint a dramatic scene he would turn to Macbeth and the three witches, or good and evil angels battling over a man's soul in Dante's Purgatory, or Siegfried slaying Fafnir in The Nibelungenlied. These stories would have been well-known before Fuseli painted them but his work would point even more people towards the source material. Art lovers would be pointed towards literature and literature lovers would be pointed towards art in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Another thing that struck me about the paintings and sculptures on display at the
exhibit was the dynamism, both of composition and of anatomy. What little art (with a capital A) I had seen in the past often seemed rather stiff and lifeless but this was bursting with energy. Fuseli's depiction of battling angels had the vim and vigour of a Hawkman comic panel. And his painting of Thor wrestling the Midgard serpent put me in mind of Frank Frazetta.

Even Blake, whose work often felt rather childlike to me, showed a vitality I had not previously witnessed in his work. His portrayal of two angels -- one good, one evil -- battling over a baby reminded me of Gil Kane's rendition of Green Lantern.
In fact one series of paintings in the exhibit had been titled by the organisers as 'Superheroes.'

This was brought home to me when, a few days later, I popped into my local Burger King to find it decorated with poster-sized prints from various comics. Covers and splash pages by Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Jerry Robinson and John Byrne. Wonderful stuff. Kirby's crude but kinetically charged work bursting from the frame, Buscema's lovingly rendered anatomy.

Sigh. I wish I could draw.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Spare Parts

Been meaning to mention this for ages. My first short story collection, Spare Parts, has sold out from its publisher, Rainfall Books. Offhand the only place you can get a copy now would be at Shocklines . The Shocklines copies are signed by my own fair hand and so are quite possibly now collectables on par with the works of Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci. Despite this Shocklines are still selling the books at their original price.

And just to prove that people other than myself think the book is worthy of your time here are some comments by various reviewers and acclaimed authors. (Some of whom I didn't even have to blackmail.)

"Stuart Young not only writes stories, he gives them life." -- Tim Lebbon

"Stuart Young excels in his portrayal of emotional pain." -- Matt Cardin

"Produces a deep sense of grief and desolation such as only great writers are capable of evoking." -- The Alien Online

"Stuart Young writes like Roald Dahl with a freshly sharpened butcher knife, effortlessly cutting straight to the heart." -- Mark McLaughlin

"The entire book will entertain, intrigue and, ultimately, haunt you for a very long time. Superb." -- Sue Phillips

And there's a review of the book up at Whispers of Wickedness .

Friday, March 10, 2006

Name Game

No idea why this has just popped into my head but it has. A year or two back I was chatting with one of my friends about whether Peter Cushing was still alive. Neither of us could remember so my mate looked him up on the Internet but was puzzled that no search results came up. When I looked at the screen it turned out that he'd typed in Peter Cushion.

God knows what other furniture related celebrities he's tried looking up: Marti Pillow, Peter O'Stool, Sonny and Chair, Bed Norton, Sofa Loren.

Couple of weeks later he did the same thing. We were talking about the Star Wars prequels and he mentioned the Samuel L Jackson character Mace Window. Which of course led to me suggesting he did an Internet search for Ceiling Dion and Babe Roof.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Empires of the Imagination

I've interviewed Alec Worley about his book on the history of Fantasy cinema, Empires of the Imagination, over at The Alien Online

It's worth a look. He's a funny chap that Alec.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Selling My Soul

Forget the Oscars, there's only one set of awards British SF/F/H writers are interested in and that's the British Fantasy Awards. (But that's because we're very sad.)

After all these years of laughing at other people desperately promoting their work come awards time I've finally given in and decided to whore my work. I'm not proud of this but I was getting a little tired of my stories getting recommended for the BFS awards five years after they were actually eligible. (Hopefully this means my stories are so cutting edge that it takes everyone else five years to catch up with me. More likely it means that people read reprints of my old stories and didn't think to check the original publication date.)

I haven't quite got to the stage where I'm emailing everyone I've ever met just to browbeat them into voting for me but I'm sure as awards fever tightens its grip on me I'll stoop to whole new lows. So as we wait for the last remnants of my dignity to unravel here's a list of my fiction which is eligible for this year's awards.

'The Mask Behind the Face'

The Mask Behind the Face

'Mr Nice Guy'(From The Mask Behind the Face)
'Field Trip' (From Here & Now #7)

So vote now. Help make me a superstar! You know you want to!

God, I feel dirty.

Monday, February 27, 2006


Speaking about quotes I dug out this entry from my old blog:

Been discussing what quotes to put on the cover of The Mask Behind the Face.

First up is the quote from British Fantasy Award and Bram Stoker Award winning novelist Tim Lebbon. "Stuart Young not only writes stories, he gives them life."

Then there's the quote from British Fantasy Award winning novelist Mark Chadbourn. "No one can accuse Stuart Young of avoiding the big issues - with insight and verve, he tackles head on the existence of God, the mystery of human consciousness and the transformative effects of psychedelic drugs. Recommended."

And the third quote will be from Bram Stoker Award winning novelist Brian Keene. "In The Mask Behind the Face, Stuart Young deftly weaves a chilling, atmospheric tale, packed with sharp, biting prose, haunting imagery, and healthy doses of paranoia and wry humor. Don't make any plans for the weekend, because you'll read this in one sitting. Emotional, brilliant and scary as hell."

My publisher, Chris Teague, says that he'll probably abbreviate the Mark Chadbourn and Brian Keene quotes so they'll fit on to the back cover a little more easily. Although this makes sense I'd really like to see the full quotes used so I can milk every last drop of praise out of them :-)

There was originally going to be a fourth quote from Mark Samuels (whose short story collection The White Hands and Other Weird Tales narrowly missed out on winning the British Fantasy Award this year). But as Mark has very kindly agreed to write a foreword for the book Chris decided that using his cover quote as well would be overkill. For anyone who's interested Mark's original quote went like this: "Builds up with impressive skill to an explosive ending and is full of all kinds of fascinating mysticism."

Anyway, thanks to Tim, Mark C, Brian and Mark S for supplying the quotes.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Pretty Pictures

I should have done this ages ago but Ben Baldwin, who supplied the cover artwork for The Mask Behind the Face, has an online gallery. You can check out his book designs here.

Obviously the only cover you'll be interested in is the one for Mask but you can look at the others if you want :-)

Actually, I just realised that Ben's using an early version of the Mask cover design in his gallery. Quotation marks round the tagline and an abbreviated quote from Mark Chadbourn that misses out the bit where he specifically recommends buying the book. If a best-selling author recommends one of my books I want people to know about it damn it!

The artwork still looks great though.

Friday, February 24, 2006


Of course one way to justify lengthy story research is to use my findings in more than one story. In researching Seppuku (a comic book that has been accepted by a publisher but is still awaiting an artist to draw the damn thing) I did some reading on Zen and came across a phenomenon called makyo that sometimes occurs during meditation. When shortly afterwards I wrote my novella The Mask Behind the Face which also featured meditation I again made mention of makyo. Two bits of research for the price of one!

However I didn't merely repeat the same bit of information. In Seppuku I emphasised the meditator's sense of bodily distortion whereas in Mask I emphasised the possibility of them encountering "deities" during their meditation.

I don't often get that kind of carry-over with my research but it's nice when it does happen.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Lost In Translation

Just found a review of my zombie story from the German zombie antho Albions Alptraume. Unfortunately the review is also in German and the webpage's translation leaves a lot to be desired. But I think the reviewer's saying they enjoyed the story.

"Stuart Youngs Protagonistin sees "the face at the window" and is only once more than frightened over it. Which comes then however - it is left to the interested one to make itself from it its picture. In any case one very humorously and not again an impact against the today's society. My second highlight in these Anthologie."

Anyone who wants to attempt a more intelligble translation can find the original review here.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Better Late Than Never

I've only just found this out but apparently the interview I did with Alec Worley to promote his book on the history of Fantasy cinema, Empires of Imagination, appeared in the November/December 2005 issue of Vector the British Science Fiction association magazine.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Some Days The Magic Works, Some Days It Doesn't

Unfortunately sometimes I have to put my nose to the grindstone and do the research. Even if it doesn't really show up in the finished story.

'Swamp 'Gator Blues' was inspired by watching Southern Comfort. So just by watching that film I had a vague idea of what the Louisiana swamps would look like. Unfortunately the film was set in the 70s and I needed to know about modern-day Louisiana. This being in the days before I had an Internet connection there now followed a search for any scrap of information that might help me out.

I read novels by James Lee Burke and Daniel Woodrell that were set in Louisiana and featured cajun characters. I devoured the sections of a New Orleans travel guide that related to swamp trips, local cuisine and voodoo. I pored over an old issue of Guns and Ammo that discussed the respective merits of 30.06 rifles over 30-30 rifles in an attempt to work out what hardware the hunters should be carrying. I suffered through an extremely boring travel book about the Southern states which ended up being a waste of time as the British author couldn't even be bothered to report things accurately, e.g. using "coon-arse" instead of "coonass". And I think it must have been about this time I watched The Big Easy as I vaguely recall naming Remy after the Dennis Quaid character. I even watched Jean-Claude Van Damme's Hard Target for the bayou scenes.

Probably the thing I worried about most was how to portray the cajun accent in print. I knew that cajun syntax could sometimes be a little strange but I couldn't find any real guidelines for how they phrased sentences so eventually I decided to just use standard syntax. Then there was the matter of how they pronounced words. In The Uncanny X-Men Chris Claremont always used to have the cajun X-Man Gambit say things like, "You gonna need a hand wit' dat." And of course Gambit had to drop in the occasional bit of French; "mes amis", "homme" etc.

Meanwhile an article on swamp music in Mojo suggested that gon' might be a more authentic pronounciation than going or gonna. And then there was the word "hunh" which I picked up from either Burke or Woodrell, I forget which.

I lost count of the times I rewrote the entire dialogue for the story trying to take into account all these different influences. In the end I went for a generic Southern accent with the odd bit of French thrown in.

All that work and there's still research-related aspects of that story that make me cringe when I read it. But hopefully I did enough work to fool the readers.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Me am clever

Here's a quick example of using minimal research to make myself look cleverer than I really am.

My story 'Frights In Light Latin' came about from watching an Eddie Izzard routine in which he pointed out that as latin was a dead language no one actually knew how it should sound when spoken. This made me see the idea of latin being a dead language in a whole new light. Grabbing a dictionary that contained a list of various latin phrases I jotted down all the ones I thought I might be able to use in the story that was starting to form in my head. Then I streamlined the list down from an entire A4 page to half a dozen or so phrases and -- voila! -- the two main characters in the story now gave the impression of being fluent in latin.

Now someone with a full working knowledge of latin could probably have introduced all kinds of clever nuances into the story that were totally beyond me and my cheat-sheet research. But becoming fluent in latin purely so I could write a 3,000 word story seemed above and beyond the call of duty. I think I made the right choice in my research method.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Worth A Look

While I'm thinking about it my friend Adriana Diaz Enciso, a Mexican novelist/poet/translator living in London, has a webpage here

Monday, February 06, 2006

Much Hairdo About Nothing

I need a haircut.

For ages I was too lazy to get my hair trimmed and then Katy said she liked my hair with a bit more length on it so I decided to deliberately let it grow. After all, my fringe is gradually getting wispier and wispier so I figured if I'm going to grow my hair I'd best do it now while I still have a fringe.

So now my hair reaches down to my collar and I'm entering that tricky zone where I'm in danger of developing a mullet. But despite its new length my hairstyle is still dictated by two main factors:

1) How badly it got messed up by being crushed between my skull and my pillow during the course of the previous night.

2) Which direction the wind is blowing.

Although this means my hair is often a total mess some people have actually told me they like the new look. Of course they may just have been taking the piss.

Still, I never usually get complimented on my hair. And my flowing locks have been much better received than my attempt at growing a goatee back in the 90s.

So on a good day I kid myself that I've cultivated a Persuaders-era Roger Moore look. And on the days when I'm being honest I think I look like Graeme Garden in his Goodies heyday.

Katy still thinks my hair looks better with a bit of length to it and she enjoys laughing at the way my sideburns have turned ginger but she's started dropping hints that she plans to give me a haircut. Little things like waving around a pair of scissors. Buying a cut-throat razor. And watching DVDs of Sweeney Todd.

At least I hope it's a haircut she's planning.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Story Research

What's the right amount of research for a story?

There have been times when I've read entire textbooks in order to write a
single short story. Other times I've based stories around a single piece of
trivia that I stumbled upon purely by accident.

How do I decide which approach to take? Well, obviously a big factor is my own laziness but there are other considerations.

Some stories need to be grounded in facts. The reader will expect me to prove that I know what I'm talking about. Other times I'll take a chance and skimp on detail because I'm dealing with such a well-known topic that it's pretty much guaranteed that the reader will already possess all the background info they need. Well, that's the theory anyway.

Of course even if technical details do need to be used in a story it's usually
best to use a light touch. I try not to overwhelm the reader with jargon but I still try to use the terms as accurately as possible. Hopefully readers who don't understand the technical terms will thank me for not making them sit through huge chunks of techno-babble whilst readers who know a little about the subject will recognise that I've used the terms in the correct context and will use their own knowledge to fill in the gaps.

Unfortunately it's not always possible to reserch a topic as thoroughly as I would like. Sometimes I just can't find the information I'm looking for. And even when research material is readily available that still doesn't mean I necessarily get the chance to fully appreciate it. After all, any given subject -- be it quantum physics, politics, philosophy or whatever -- is too vast to be fully understood by any one person. There are so many tiny wrinkles, seemingly inconsequential details that turn out to have a bearing on fundamental issues, that even the most intensive research will still only cover a tiny fraction of the chosen topic. Consequently I often feel after conducting research that I only learned enough about a subject to realise that I really don't know anything about it.

Story length is another big factor. If I'm writing a 3,000 word story I can't afford to spend 2,500 words explaining how a jet engine works or detailing the intricacies of the human genome.

Impending deadlines also dictate the amount of research I do. If a story needs to be handed in by the following morning then finding out if the heroine's hairstyle is historically authentic tends to go out the window.

And finally, this may sound obvious but to me the point of a story is to be a story. If the research is getting in the way then it's usually best if I cut it out. If I absolutely have to prove to the world that I've done the research I'm probably better off writing a non-fiction piece instead.

So basically the right amount of research is the amount that makes the story work.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Beware the Experts

One of the big problems I have with research is finding books that I can actually understand. The amount of times I've bought popular science books whose cover quotes promised me the text was perfect for the layperson only to belatedly realise that the quote was written by a genius-level scientist who probably considers someone with an A-level in physics to be mentally subnormal. Consequently the books are filled with equations and all kinds of technical gobbledygook that might as well be written in Klingon for all the sense I can make of them.

Alternatively, when I do manage to find a science book that's easily understandable I find that they've often played fast and loose with the facts in order to make it easier to digest. For example, whilst flicking through one book I noticed the author state with great authority that quantum decoherence is the reason that quantum weirdness is confined to the sub-atomic level and doesn't permeate the everyday world. I'm no genius but even I know that decoherence is only one of a number of theories that might explain this phenomenon. When I know more than the "expert" I start to worry. Needless to say the book went straight back on the bookstore shelf.

Even when the author knows what they're talking about they sometimes twist things to fit their own pet theories or are forced to exclude certain facts due to space limitations. So it's unwise to rely on a single book . Unfortunately, to really understand a subject takes lots of time and effort. I'm talking years of reading and studying and researching.

Which is why I normally fake it.

Just toss in a few facts in an attempt to dazzle the reader with my seemingly vast knowledge and then move the story along quickly before they have a chance to start asking awkward questions.

After all, as the saying goes, "An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less."

Of course I could find out who came up with that impressive sounding quotation but that would mean looking it up :-)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Field Trip

My humorous SF story, 'Field Trip', appears in Here & Now #7 available from

And thinking about it my story about a feisty female cat burglar, 'One for Sorrow, Two for Joy', is still available in Here & Now #3.

Unfortunately Here & Now #5/6, which contains the interview Pam Creais conducted with me, is sold out. Now, now, dry those tears, there may still be copies available at

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Faking It

Writers make stuff up.

For years that has been my unspoken motto. Research is boring and time-consuming but fortunately I write fiction so I don't need to worry about little details like facts. Especially as a lot of my stories fall into the SF/F/H bracket. If I'm writing about elves or demons or little green men then obviously I'm making it up and so obviously there's no need for me to do research.

But ...

Even if my stories contain elements of the fantastic they tend to have mundane, everyday settings. Settings that people will recognise and will know if I've got wrong. So some research is called for after all.

Plus, I always hate it whenever I spot a writer making a stupid mistake, often to the extent that it will spoil my enjoyment of the rest of the story. Unless I want to run the risk of alienating my readers in the same way I need to avoid mistakes. And that means research.

Also, I enjoy it when a writer manages to educate me on an obscure topic whilst simultaneously entertaining me with a well-crafted story. A lot of the knowledge that I used to impress my teachers when I was a kid was gleaned from reading well-researched fiction. There's a part of me that wants to write that kind of story so other kids can impress their teachers. Which means that, yes, I spend my time reading textbooks, trawling the Internet and picking the brains of people far more knowledgeable than myself.

Hopefully this means my stories are more rounded, with a greater sense of depth and veracity. They feel more real. And it's all thanks to research.

I still hate doing it though.

Monday, January 30, 2006


My story, 'Face at the Window', is featured in Albions Alpträume: Zombies , an anthology co-edited by Paul Kane and Walter Diociaiuti. Features an inroduction by Simon Clark and stories by Christopher Fowler, John B. Ford, Tony Richards, Paul Finch, Maynard and Sims, Derek M. Fox, Mark West, Simon Bestwick, Tim Lebbon and ME!!!!!!

Now I've got you all excited I'm going to spoil it all by admitting that the entire book is in German.

Fortunately there are plans to do an English language edition at some point so hopefully you won't have to enrol at evening classes in order to read the stories ;-)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

To Blog Or Not To Blog

I'm not sure about this.

I tried a blog before and I was terrible about updating the entries. Personally I don't think that my every thought needs to be logged on a website for all and sundry to see. Terribly old-fashioned viewpoint for this day and age I know but that's just the way I feel.

Still, my girlfriend has kindly set up this blog for me to try and promote my short stories and novellas so I suppose I should at least try to make use of it. Particularly if I want her to ever have sex with me again.