Projects Update

So as it’s three weeks until the New York Comic Con (11-14th October) and there is some related comic news of a sort, I thought it was time for a bit of an all round projects update. Apologies for being vague in some places, but this is because of contracts and NDA’s, not me being petty.

As has been mentioned a few times, I’m currently working on a 4 issue comic book mini-series with artists Adam Bolton and Ryan Taylor. Adam has a new graphic novel coming out from Archaia Entertainment, written by Ian Thomas. It will be released on September 26th in comic shops and October 1st everywhere else. Adam will be attending New York Comic Con this year, and here is a link to a recent interview he did with Ian about their book ‘Where’s My Shoggoth?’ At the end of the interview Adam mentions what he is working on next and I get a brief mention. Without giving away too much, we’ve got a good chunk of the art completed for issue 1 and I’m sure Adam will have some in his portfolio when he is at NYCC. We’re hoping to pitch Empyre to a publisher very soon.

The graphic novel is ticking along, I’m working with a third party to pair me up with an artist. We will then create a submission pack and start sending that out to publishers. The other mini series I’m co-writing with Pete Rogers and with art by Maysam Barza, is also approaching the critical point where we will have enough material to submit to comic book publishers and I’m very excited by the idea and story.

Project Alpaca, is a games project where my contribution is done, and now lots of other people are busy working very hard to make it the best possible version before they release it out into the world. There is not a fixed release date, but realistically I would not expect to see it before 2013.

I have also just finished the first draft of my fantasy novel. I was then swept along by two very busy weeks at work, and since I intended to have a two week break anyway, it worked out well. I now have a little bit of distance and there is an initial list of 50 things I need to fix, both big and small, before I start re-reading it and editing it over the next few months. It will be ready to submit to an agent at some point in 2013. There again I’m not willing to put a date on it, because I will only get one chance to make a good first impression and I want to make it the best version of this book and be 99% happy with it before I show it to any professionals.

Looking back at all of the above, it looks as if I must never sleep as everything is happening at the same time, but of course that’s just how it has worked out as some of these projects have been cooking for a few years. I think 2013 will be a busier year whatever happens, and hopefully a positive year for me creatively.



I Know Kung Fu

Earlier this week I was one of the hosts on a new podcast I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Bags of Action. I love action movies, so every month a group of people get together and talk about an action movie and then everyone gives it a score. In the first episode we talked about Blind Fury and in the second episode we discussed the 2011 film, Haywire, which stars Gina Carano in the lead. You can find Bags of Action of iTunes if you want to listen, but in short we had a number of issues with the film. However, we all agreed that Gina Carano was the best thing in it.

What came out of that discussion, and a couple of other places, was that with the runaway success of The Expendables and its sequel, and they have already announced plans to make a third Expendables film with Nicolas Cage coming on board, who would you cast in an all female equivalent of The Expendables?

Below are a list of names which are either suggestions from Kim Curran, who I chatted to about this over Twitter, or my own ideas. With each new Expendables film they’ve increased the number of stars in the cast, so let’s pretend there is no limit to how many we could have. So who would you cast in such a film and why?

Gina Carano – We all agreed on Bags of Action that she was amazing in Haywire. You knew that she was doing most (if not all) of her own stunts and every fight scene was her and not someone else. You completely believed that her character Mallory was someone who was very capable of looking after themselves in any situation. No doubt it comes from her own physicality, because of her MMA background and even her time on American Gladiators. Cheesy as the TV show might be, as was the British equivalent, all of the gladiators were fit and athletic people.

Cynthia Rothrock – She is a veteran of dozens of martial arts films and undoubtedly would fill the Sly Stallone role in The Expendables, perhaps pairing up with Gina Carano, as Sly pairs with The Stathem. Although she officially retired from action movies, many of her contemporaries (Norris, Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Van Damme) have recently returned to major action roles after many years away. So perhaps someone could persuade her to come back if such a film were ever made.

Linda Hamilton – Unashamedly I’m a big fan of the Beauty and Beast TV series from the late 1980s starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman. It was must see TV for me growing up, and I then saw her next in The Terminator. It was only after seeing her in T2 that I had to completely reassess my view of her as an actress. Gone was the gentle, softly spoken, curvy, kind and caring person and in it’s place was this tough, stringy, cigarette smoking, gun-toting, driven and determined soldier. I like T2, despite being very silly in places, but if you look at her role in T2 in isolation, it’s powerful, disturbing and believable as someone who has been locked up because of her delusions about killer robots from the future.

Sigourney Weaver – There’s not much I have to write about her really other than Alien franchise. She’s done it all. She is an incredibly talented actress who has played a wide variety of characters and continues to do so (I’m really looking forward to seeing her in Red Lights), but never was she more terrifying than Ellen Ripley.

Milla Jovovich – Again, I only need to write two words – Resident Evil. I’ve actually never seen any of those films as they don’t appeal, but after seeing her in other films, such as Joan of Ark and The Fifth Element, she should definitely be in the film in an action role.

Ali Larter – This is one of my choices and there again she started off with a couple of roles where she was often running and screaming in front of the camera (Final Destination) but since then she’s portrayed a wider variety of characters. From Resident Evil, to international fame in Heroes as a fairly dark character, to a femme fatale in Obsessed. I think she would be a great addition to the action team.

Gina Torres – I only need one word this time. Firefly. If you’ve not seen the TV show, then go out and rent or buy the DVD, then watch the film Serenity. Then tell me you don’t believe that her character used to be a tough space marine and I will call you a liar. She can play big, strong, tough and intimidating, but she’s also very good at funny, sensitive and caring. A powerful on screen presence and definitely not someone you would want to upset.

Michelle Rodriguez – Just about every film role I’ve seen she has been playing someone tough and usually a cop, marine, a pilot, space marine or similar. I’m sure she is capable of playing another type of character, but in this fantasy action film of my devising, we’re after actresses who are convincing as tough characters, so she is ideally suited for this sort of film.

Two others I would be remiss if I didn’t mention are Cobie Smulders, who did a great turn as Maria Hill in a little film called The Avengers, and Scarlett Johansson who was also very good as Natasha Romanoff. Cobie Smulders is an interesting actress as previously when Joss Whedon was briefly attached to write and/ or direct a Wonder Woman film for DC comics, I believe his choice for Wonder Woman was Cobie Smulders. She’s extremely accomplished as a comedic actor, as her body of work in ‘How I Met Your Mother’ shows, but in The Avengers we get to see a tougher character in a position of authority.

Other names suggested include Lucy Lawless, Wei Zhao, Zhang Ziyi, Nicola Adams, Michelle Yeoh, Anne Parillaud, Zoe Saldana and Chloe Grace Moretz, although I think the latter might be a little young despite her role in Kick Ass.

So, who would you cast, and also, for a bonus point, what would be the title of the film franchise?

EDIT – It turns out this is actually happening. An all female Expendables type film is being made, as was recently reported in Variety, and Gina Carano will be in the film and most likely in the lead role. I wonder how many others listed above will appear.

Pace yourself

Not long before we started the Bags of Action podcast I compiled a list of action films I’d missed seeing at the cinema. I then expanded the list into films in general I would really like to see, at least once, but not necessarily own. In about ten minutes I had a list of over 40 films. It really wasn’t that difficult because I don’t have as much free time as I used to. Making a trip to the cinema can no longer be a spur of the moment thing. I’ve said for years that at some point I will join a film club and just start renting movies every week, so that’s what I’ve finally done.

I’m now striking a healthier balance between time spent working and relaxing. And by working I mean writing. Now that I’m not podcasting as much I have a bit more spare time, but rather than immediately fill that time up with other responsibilities (and I’ve turned down a couple, such as book reviews or a column for SFF websites) or more time at the keyboard, I’m using it to relax. That means time spent reading one of the many books on my to read pile, catching up on the slightly smaller stack of comics and watching films.

I’m not writing to a publisher’s deadline so the only pressure is the self-imposed one. Also I think this is slightly healthier than smacking my head on a keyboard night after night after night when the words are not coming. When the words are flowing and I’m in the zone then I will sit down and just write until it’s all there on the page, but it’s not always like that. There may come a point when I am writing to deadline, and from speaking to published authors I know they sometimes have to do it, grind the story out, one word at a time. But I’m not there yet. Now I’m also finding that when I sit down to write, maybe five nights out of seven, I’m enjoying it more. Also, ideas have started to bubble up from other places for other stories and I’m also tying things together better in my head for the current novel. Even in my down time when I’m relaxing, something is working in the background like a screensaver or a virus scan, joining the dots or weaving a huge web that I’m not consciously aware of, well not immediately. It’s a cliché but I’m now able to see the wood for the trees.

It’s easy to fall into a routine and have it actually turn out to be an unhealthy rut without realising. I know what the little voice at the back of my head is saying. Oh, you’re obviously not dedicated. You obviously don’t want this as badly as some who do sit there seven nights a week. Well, if you can work five (or more) days a week in a busy job, for eight to ten hours a day, and then come home and produce something that is excellent, then good for you. I have a lot of other things crowding in my head these days, duties, responsibilities and concerns, and while previously it was easier for me to write every night, I can’t anymore.

The irony is that I’m also hungrier than I’ve ever been, but I’m also a lot more aware that when I do send something to an agent it can’t just be good, it has to be amazing. In fact it has to be excellent. Someone else has to read it and immediately want to pick up the phone, email someone or tell a friend about it. Something in the story has to pop and it has to inspire them, because the right agent will be your champion. I’m also very aware that writing the story is only part of a writer’s job nowadays and there are many related tasks, but your agent has to inspire an editor at a publisher to give you a chance. They then have to be able to convince a number of other people in various departments that it is worth taking a risk on you. All of that begins with you words. I understand the concept of never being 100% happy with something, but when you are ready to let it out into the world it should have been polished (by many hands and seen by many eyes) to within an inch of its life.

I’m also going to stop imposing deadlines for myself because I think they can be unhelpful. Deadlines such as I’m going to get this edited by the end of this month and then send it off the month after. Well, what if you’re not happy with it by the end of the first month? What if deep down you know it’s just not yet ready? Deadlines can be useful and if the novel is published then that will change too, because they become fixed and rigid things that cannot move. The book must be done by this date, so it can be edited by this date, printed by this date and so on, but right now it’s extra pressure I don’t need that I’m heaping on myself.

I’ll never claim to be an artist, and if you ever hear me say that in public you have my permission to slap me across the face, but I do think that writing needs time to breathe. If you write something then put it in a drawer and then don’t look at it for three months, when you next read it the story will feel slightly alien and you may even have forgotten certain parts. This has happened to me and I’ve been both pleasantly surprised and horrified by some old material. Also the book should have been read by several people who have given you their honest opinions. The book starts with you but by the end of it, even though your name is the only one on the cover, dozens of other people are responsible for its success.

So, what does all of this mean? Well, for me, it means I’m in a better place in my head. It means when I sit down to write it is no longer a chore. It’s still a job to me, not a hobby, and I feel that time away from the keyboard is actually helping me write better. The other key factor, of course, is sleep. I’m not short changing myself anymore and writing until I fall asleep at the keyboard. I’m sleeping a bit more for many for the same reasons mentioned above. When I’m asleep my brain is sorting the pieces of the jigsaw, finding the edges and starting to see patterns. I’m less tired for my day job and therefore less tired when I do sit down to write. It means less time at the keyboard some nights, but if all I produce in four hours is 300 words and 200 of those are crap, what was the point? I’d rather have two productive hours and produce something that I don’t have to throw away and start afresh.

A healthy balance is definitely the way forward for me.

What comes next

Last night my co-host, Scott, and I recorded the last episode of our podcast Comic Book Outsiders. We broadcast and recorded it live and some listeners joined in with questions and we even had a guest listener on the show. Unfortunately for him he’d only just discovered the podcast, but at least there is a back catalogue of episodes for him to listen to and lots of interesting comics to discover.

During the show Scott also played a small portion of episode one, where we outlined why we were doing the podcast. Our goal at the time was to promote comics outside the spotlight, those that didn’t get as much attention in the press and comics press, but are equally as fascinating, thought provoking and of equal quality in terms of the writing and art. Over the five years we talked to, and even met, many creative people all around the world making great comics and I hope we managed to open a few eyes and widen a few horizons.

So, what next? Well, I’m not getting out of the podcasting game, but I am easing off on the throttle and I will be doing less. I’ve always been a big SFF reader and as part of the podcast we started The Book Club about 3 years ago. Every 6-8 weeks we talk about a novel, alternating between a classic work of fiction and more modern novel. There are no hard and rigid rules, but we tend to term modern as anything from the last fifteen years or so. We’ve covered a wide range of books from I Am Legend, Caves of Steel, Slaughterhouse 5, Fahrenheit 451, The Handmaid’s Tale to more contemporary work such as The City and The City, Empire in Black and Gold, Hull Zero Three and Zoo City. We’ve even been lucky to get some of the authors on the podcast, among them Adrian Tchaikovsky, China Mieville and Lauren Beukes, and pose questions from listeners. For me this podcast is great because it forces me to read some of those novels I’ve always talked about getting around to but never quite managed, both classic and modern. It also forces me to try new stuff and get me out of my usual comfort zone which can make me a bit of a lazy reader. I always have a massive To Read Pile, but the deadline makes me get it done. Another part of the book club I enjoy is receiving feedback from listeners, as they often pick up on things I’ve missed and we always get a wide spectrum of opinions on the book.

There is a Good Reads group here, where you can post comments on the current book club selection and make recommendations for future book club selections if you want to take part.

Every month, but something I’m only taking part in every now and then, is a new podcast called Bags of Action. It mirrors the Book Club in a way, as every month a bunch of people will watch an action movie and then talk about it. We had lots of fun talking about our favourite action heroes on a recent episode of CBO and this is where the seed of the idea came from. There are about seven hosts, and we’ll have guest hosts too, so it will be a rotating cast of people talking about classic and recent action movies. It will be fun and silly and I am really looking forward to taking part. I enjoy movies that make me think and have something to say, but I also like the crazy action-hero popcorn movies. I don’t want to say CBO has not been fun, because it has, but there is an element of work that goesBags of Action into every episode, preparation for interviews, gathering news etc, and then the post-show work, editing, uploading and distributing. The only thing I need to do for this podcast is watch a movie. We’re recording the first episode later this week, so it will be out in another week or so. You can follow Bags of Action on Twitter here and there is also a Facebook group here if you want to talk about action movies, action heroes and all related geek and sundry. Also if you want to recommend action movies we have to watch, then post it on the Facebook group.

The last podcast I’m doing is a new writing focused podcast called Head Space. At the moment it’s monthly but we’ll see if I stick to that schedule. Episode 1 is already out and it is focused on the craft of writing. Every month I will chat to a writer about their process and how they create characters, story, worlds, their influences and where relevant, their experiences with the editing and publishing process. This is not intended to be a teaching podcast or a How To, it’s just a discussion about writing and how that particular personHead Space Podcast approaches it. I enjoy talking to other writers and finding out how they create and hopefully this podcast will provide interesting food for thought for myself and other writers out there. In episode 1 I spoke with Lou Morgan and you can visit the Head Space blog here (it will soon be available on iTunes under its own name if you want to subscribe there), to download the podcast. We talk about her debut book, Blood and Feathers from Solaris Books, which is released on August 2nd 2012 and her approach to writing. The book is being launched this Thursday at Forbidden Planet in London where Lou will be reading from the book and signing. Next month on the podcast, I’ll be speaking to Kim Curran and there will be more info on the Head Space blog closer to the time.

The last podcast on the new CBO network is called the Outsider Files and this is Scott’s new solo venture. I’m not sure about the schedule but every episode he will have a guest host on the show and talk to them about all of the stuff that they’re currently enjoying – comics, books, movies, TV etc and just have a nice chat.

That probably sounds like I’m doing more podcasts than before and committing myself to even more, but it’s actually less. We used to do CBO 3 weeks out of four every month and then moved it to a fortnightly schedule. I am always reading something, so The Book Club just makes me read certain books to a deadline, and 6-8 weeks is not tough. I’m not going to be on Bags of Action every episode, so that’s an every now and then thing, maybe every other month or one in three. And while Head Space is monthly, it might drift and become less often, but I’m not worried as I want to enjoy all of the podcasts I’m involved with and not punish myself if it runs late.

One of the questions we received towards the end of the live podcast last night was, am I still excited about comics? In all honesty, I am more excited now than I was five years ago. There are more independent comics now than five years ago and more importantly, many of them are receiving more widespread attention. Of course it’s still a struggle to get noticed in this crowded market, but some great independent comics are now enjoying remarkable sales and widespread attention because of adaptations on TV, animation and even films. Even a rumour of a TV or movie adaptation can cause a massive spike in sales as some properties are bought and then sit in development hell for years. But that’s fine, as long as it helps the creators, increases sales and gets the name of the comic out there into the wider market. So CBO is done, but I’m still very passionate about comics and am now creating some of my own. I hope to have some news about those projects next year but we’ll see how things go.

Man of Steel

This week I saw The Dark Knight Rises on the second day it opened in the UK and absolutely loved it. I think it was a great finish to the Nolan/ Goyer trilogy. One of the more interesting rumours was that there would be a Man of Steel preview trailer before the film for the Superman movie which comes out next year. And there was one, but it was unlike any Superman trailer I’ve seen before.

When the WB and DC logos first came up I thought I had made a mistake and that this was for a different film, for something I didn’t know about, but I was right the first time. Now, pretty much all of what I’ll mention below is speculation, based on a very short trailer, but I believe I’m on the right lines based on the tone and approach.

There has already been some negativity towards this trailer saying that it looks as if the new Superman film is going to be boring, but I completely disagree for several reasons. Going back a few steps, Bryan Singer, acclaimed film director, rebooted the Superman franchise with Superman Returns and unfortunately it didn’t work. There is a lot I like about Superman Returns, and overall I think it’s a good movie, but it followed in the shadow of the Reeve / Donner juggernaut and rather than try to go in a different direction, Singer’s movie felt like a me-too product and it owed too much to them. It did move the story forward in some ways, which I won’t spoil here for those who haven’t seen it, but it didn’t sit right with a modern audience.

Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer worked on all three of the Christopher Nolan directed Batman movies and as a result they made WB a lot of money because they are all damn good movies. Some might disagree but a lot more agree which is why The Dark Knight made somewhere in the region of half a billion dollars at the box office. So to their credit, WB asked Nolan and the others if they would be involved in rebooting the Superman franchise, who is DC comics other flagship character. Christopher Nolan declined to direct, but he is producing the movie and the screenplay for Man of Steel is written by David Goyer. So behind the scenes you have a lot of the right people already, people that not only have done well in the recent past, but in the case of Goyer here is someone who is a huge comic book fan. Most people forget he brought Blade to the big screen, a character no one outside of comics had ever heard of before and it spawned 3 films and a short lived TV series. Goyer has even written comics himself, so he knows his comics. Zack Synder is directing the movie, and there again, whether you like his movies or not, he knows how to direct action (Watchmen, Sucker Punch, 300).

Looking at the content and the character, Superman is a character I’ve always liked and always admired for what he represents and the ideals he upholds, but in my spare moments I always thought even if given the rare chance to write a Superman story for DC comics, I don’t know that I could. Batman is someone I think I understand, someone I can get behind and I think I could write a Batman story and do it reasonable justice. But Superman always bothered me and part of it is because here is a being that has the power of a God and yet he chooses to use his powers to help people. Why? Why help people? Why not set himself up as a God and rule the planet and live a life of utterly luxury? There are weapons that could harm him and it’s possible human beings would eventually find a way to kill him, but why did he make the choice to inspire, to create hope where none sometimes exists and to set an example that others will hopefully follow?

We’ve seen his origin story a couple of times now in the films, the crashed spacecraft, the cornfields, the childless couple who take him in and raise him as a normal boy until the moment when they can’t anymore. But the movies have always then jumped to him as an adult, coming to Metropolis, joining the Daily Planet, becoming the bumbling reporter Clark Kent. The first Donner movie did touch on some of what went on in between those moments, and the TV series Smallville explored the whole period in school, but sticking to the original material in the comics, we know Clark travelled before coming to Metropolis. Those few years, that time exploring the world is what it looks as if part of Man of Steel will focus on.

I think this is a Superman Begins movie, if you will, in a similar mould to Batman Begins. The boy leaves home and goes on a quest to find himself and a purpose that he will pursue for the rest of his life. An ideal that he will dedicate himself to until either he succeeds or dies trying. The difference here being that Batman works from the shadows, he starts as an urban myth, something to scare criminals and inspire fear in the lawless before becoming a legend. Superman is the other side of the coin. He lives in the sunlight and works in the day, he saves people and he inspires them to greatness. He is also so much more powerful in many ways than Batman, but in order to want to protect humanity, he must also believe in them and see something worth saving. Hence the quest and the quiet, thoughtful moments we’ve seen in the new trailer. I’m sure there will be lots of fighting and flying and punching things, but I’m 35 years old now and I need more than epic fights to keep me entertained. I realise the film has to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, so there will be moments that the 8 year old will find amazing and other parts they find dull with too much talking, but that’s ok, because those are the moments I will probably enjoy the most.

The two short Man of Steel trailers (links below) focus on this quest element. In one Clark’s father, Jonathan Kent, lays it all out for him and tells him that it is up to him to decide who he wants to be and whatever he chooses will affect the entire world. In some ways that’s a terrible thing to say to a child, but Clark is not an ordinary boy, no matter how he might want to be. And to answer my earlier question as to why, why choose to do the right thing with his power? Part of it comes from his parents, Jonathan and Martha, and part of it is because of what he finds when he goes on this epic quest. The Kents raised him to respect life, to treat people fairly and with kindness, regardless of their skin colour, religion, sexuality, etc. There have been countless What If Superman stories where Clark was raised by someone else, and in those stories he chose differently and became the dictator or world leader that ruled through fear, but we are all more like the original than those darker stories, which is why they’re fun, but ultimately don’t resonate.

In the comics Lex Luthor sees himself as the hero and saviour of humanity and in his mind Superman is an alien invader and a ticking time bomb. He knows that it is only a matter of time before Superman decides to change his mind and rule us instead of hiding among us and saving people. What he doesn’t understand and doesn’t know, because his own upbringing was such a mess, is that Clark’s moral core is pretty unshakable because of how he was raised. As much as they could Jonathan and Martha raised their son like any other boy, but there was always the extra aspect to any lesson where they had to tell him just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Clark could have run faster than any other boy and won every medal and award. He could easily punch out the school bully and be adored, but they never told him that might was right.

Coming back to the trailers again, Jonathan knows that despite everything he and Martha taught their son (because to me they are his parents) it is ultimately his choice. Just like any other person on the cusp of becoming an adult and taking those first solo steps into the wider world, Clark must decide who he wants to be and what path he will take. The difference is the impact of his decision is one that will change the entire world, for good or bad. He could do nothing, live as a human, never use his powers overtly and just be a reporter or farmer or fisherman, but beneath his impregnable skin is a human heart, one that doesn’t like to see people suffering and in pain. If you saw a plane falling out of the sky and you had the power to stop it happening, would you really let it fall or would you stop it?

I think in the Man of Steel we’ll see flashbacks to his childhood or a short section focused on it, and thereafter it will be Clark’s quest to understand humanity, to live among them as an anonymous traveller, to find his place in the world before he ultimately puts on the suit. I have no idea if he will even reach Metropolis and become a reporter or not, but that’s actually not that important. What is important is that when a terrible and powerful creature, one equally as powerful as him, finds its way to Earth and decides to take the darker road and rule, he steps forward from the crowd to stop them.

The other trailer focuses on Jor-El, and his view of what Clark will achieve as a figure to inspire humanity to greatness. Clark looks completely human so most people simply assume that Superman is one of them, a man who can fly, a man who can accomplish great and powerful and wonderful things and that the power to do the same is in them. Ok, that’s actually built on a white lie, as Clark is an alien who just happens to look human, but the message is true and although humans may never have his powers, there are many paths to greatness and he represents an ideal to which everyone can aspire. Greatness can be achieved in art, science, mathematics, medicine, music, diplomacy, politics, law and a thousand other ways. A law to ban slavery, an injection to prevent a plague that killed thousands, a formula that allows men to walk on the moon, a law that brings peace and prosperity to a worn-torn nation.

My favourite part of the trailers is not actually what happens at the end, but the other part where he is just an anonymous John Doe, a regular guy trying to find work, to find a purpose, to find something to which he can dedicate his life. I guess that’s because it’s a moment which many of us have faced, or are about to face, or are even facing now as we contemplate the future and the years we have left.

The other great thing about this trailer is that it is different and hopefully it means the movie will be different and approach the source material in a different way. They’ve tried to do a copy of what came before and it didn’t work, so something new is definitely good and overdue. Overall I’m excited, inspired and hopeful about the Man of Steel movie. So, all I have to do now is try to avoid any major spoilers for the next year and hold onto this feeling until the film comes out.



When I was very young there didn’t seem to be many novels being published in the genres I was most interested in; science fiction and fantasy. I read all of the classics and new books that I could find and then sat on my hands and waited months for another book to arrive by one of my favourites author (at that time) because obviously there was nothing else to read out there! At some point, instead of staring at the wall and trying to make time go faster with the power of my mind, I eventually went elsewhere, read the entire myths and legends section of the school library and then read books from outside the SFF genre.A Wizard of Earthsea 

Nowadays, I could set myself a challenge to read one new science fiction or fantasy book every week of the year and I would never run out. In fact I could probably do that for several years, possibly forever. There are only a couple of problems with that challenge. Firstly I couldn’t read a book in a week (I’m not that fast at reading) and secondly it would bankrupt me. But apart from that, you get my point.

There are just so many new and amazing SFF books being published these days it makes it difficult for me to keep up. It can also create a bit of a blind spot as sometimes a friend will mention a particular novel or author, and I just haven’t heard of them, despite reading news about the genre. I’m peripherally aware of some authors, and I vaguely know what sort of fantasy and SF books they write, but beyond the taglines or bullet points, I know nothing else about them. There are some I have completely no clue about even though I hear their name being thrown about. Patrick Rothfuss had been published for a year before I paid any attention and I think it was another 2 or 3 years after that before I read The Name of the Wind.

All of this in turn led me to think about rereading and how often I have actually reread a book or had the inclination to do so. With so many amazing new stories coming out, why go back and read something again for a second or even a third time? When you know what is going to happen, why read it?

Having thought on this a bit more, I’ve come up with a shortlist of two books that I have read in the last 5 years that I really want to read again. Before I mention them, I should say there are some long running series that I really enjoy and I do intend to re-read them again, but that’s a much bigger hill to climb than the odd book here and there.

Anyway, the first I am going to re-read was my favourite book which was published in 2010 – The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell. It’s a post apocalytic story about a teenage girl called Temple who was born into the world after the disaster and it follows her on a journey across America. Straight away there are a couple of things that really interest me. First, the main character is not someone lookingThe Reapers are the Angels back on the good old days, trying to get back to her old life, and second, this is by an author I’d never heard of before reading Reapers. So I came to this project fairly blind and was utterly blown away. It’s an amazing and remarkable story about loss, love, bravery, family, friendship and a thousand other things. I should also point out that this is a post apocalyptic novel with zombies, but it’s really about Temple and not the undead. They feature in the story, but this is Temple’s story and even though it is set in a horror framework, I wouldn’t classify it as horror in the traditional sense. I’m also not really a horror fan, books or films, so this was a remarkably anomoly. The prose is deceptively simple, bleak and so easy to read and I found myself quickly being drawn into the world. Fans of the Walking Dead show should definitely check it out. Also it’s a fairly slender novel in comparison to some of a similar ilk (The Passage) and in my opinion, far far superior.

The other book I am going to reread could not be more different to Reapers. It is a fairly meaty read that has beautiful prose and yet it is also something that is easy to read. Some fantasy novels are huge doorsteps and that can be intimidating to a new reader, it raises concerns about padding, that it is going to take them months to read, or that it features dozens of point of view which means nothing will be resolved in the first book. Thankfully The Name of the Wind doesn’t suffer from any of those issues. I came to it late but thenThe Name of the Wind found it was a book that I didn’t want to put down.

I’m also not someone who is particularly drawn to well crafted prose. For me, it’s about the ideas, the story and the characters. Simple and straight forward prose is fine and is actually what I prefer. Too much florid prose can choke a story, can feel like padding and make it difficult to connect and relate to the characters because by the time you get to the end of the sentence you’ve forgotten what was happening at the beginning. The Name of the Wind is jam-packed with lots of amazing ideas, it’s very well written and now that I have a copy of the sequel I want to read the first one again. The stylish prose by Rothfuss enriched my reading experience and didn’t create a barrier.

So, being completely honest, what books are you actually going to reread in the next year or two? What is so special about those books that warrants them getting a reread instead of something new?

Living Things by Linkin Park

Living Things by Linkin ParkI was going back and forth about whether or not to buy this album, but after previewing all of the tracks I took a gamble. The last two albums, for me, have been a let down, and no, I’m not including the rap mix revision with Jay-Z which I did not touch with a barge pole. Despite one or two tracks that were great on Minutes to Midnight and A Thousand Suns, I found the rest to be a real let down or they made me grind my teeth.

Linkin Park’s first two albums were amazing. Every single song on Hybrid Theory is excellent. In particular the instrumental track, Cure for the Itch fascinates me and I’m still convinced the latter part would make an amazing theme tune for something like a remake of The Equalizer on TV, as it seems to perfectly capture the mood and darker aspects of that show. Some people claim that debut albums are the best and thereafter the music goes downhill as people ‘sell out’ or their egos get too big and they believe their own hype, or a billion other reasons for not getting more of the same the second time around. I’m not someone who believes or buys into that wobbly theory. Meteora, LP’s second album, proved that theory to be wholly untrue. Sure, it was different, but they’d grown up a bit, their style had evolved and there were some amazing mixes and blending of different sounds, styles and voices. Numb is still one of my favourite LP tracks and I don’t think there is a weak song on the album.

Enough dancing around. Living Things starts out very strongly and for the first half I was delighted to hear a mix of new and old. Some songs feature the familiar, with Chester and Mike doing their usual rap and shouty blend of musical mayhem that is one of their signatures. So maybe they didn’t invent it, but it’s a sound I associate primarily with them. There are even a couple of soHybrid Theory by Linkin Parkngs where Chester’s voice is kept at an even 8 out of 10 on the Richter scale and he doesn’t shout once. You can hear him almost getting there at the start of I’ll Be Gone but he manages to hold back and the song is better for it. Castle of Glass that follows it is excellent and at this point I was feeling very happy with my purchase and for taking a risk.

So, imagine my surprise after two great, but more gentle tracks in a row than you might associate with the band, to have my ears blasted by what can only be described as a vicious musical interlude for 1m 46s called Victimized. To me it felt as if it was nothing more than an excuse for Chester to shout. A lot. Over and over again to the point where I was worried about his health. It’s almost as if they thought they were at risk of losing their audience because the last few tracks had not featured their hallmark sound. Or maybe they were scared of having a more thoughtful and quieter album and they felt the need to remind everyone that they are still a nu-metal or rock band and full of angst and are angry and grrrrr, look at me!

For every evolution in the tracks up to that point, Victimized felt like a complete devolution. It felt like version 0 of Linkin Park, something they did on their demo album before Hybrid Theory where someone said, yeah it’s a good sound, but it needs to be more than Chester shouting which then led into their break out album.

There was one song, Until It Breaks, that I just loathe. Linkin Park are known for experimenting and mixing sounds and styles, but this is a hideous mish-mash. It starts as one thing, jumps to something else, then something else, then a bit of a chorus, then something else, and it just doesn’t gel together. At all. The second half of the album is definitely weaker, but if you can get past the saccharin nature of Roads Untravelled, and Meteora by Linkin Parkyou skip the next musical interlude Tin Foil, which seems kind of pointless, and make it to Powerless then it’s not bad. One last thing before I end on more of a positive note. In this mp3, single track download era, where people pick and choose songs and discard the rest, I’m still a traditionalist. I listen to an album as an entity, and I think Linkin Park share that approach as their tracks blend into one another with no long pauses in between songs but as a whole this album is erratic and inconsistent, especially when compared to the others.

So overall I’d give it a 7/10 but there are some great tracks on there that make this album worth buying. And even if I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first two, it was worth the gamble and I’m glad I bought it.

This time last year…

A bit of a good news post today. This time last year I was at Eastercon where I met a few new people, one of whom had submitted her book to a publisher and was hoping for some good news. Fast forward a year and Lou Morgan’s first novel, Blood and Feathers, is being published by Solaris and released on August 2nd. The book is being launched in London at Forbidden Planet. Click here for more information if you are able to attend or alternatively show your support for an exciting new author by preordering a copy.

A couple of months back at Eastercon this year I met a couple of shiny and brand new authors who have books coming out in the next few months from Strange Chemistry, the new YA imprint. The first is Shift by Kim Curran which is being released on September 4th in the UK and below is a brief synopsis but you can find more information here.

When your average, 16-year old loser, Scott Tyler, meets the beautiful and mysterious Aubrey Jones, he learns he’s not so average after all. He’s a ‘Shifter’. And that means he has the power to undo any decision he’s ever made. At first, he thinks the power to shift is pretty cool. But as his world quickly starts to unravel around him he realises that each time he uses his power, it has consequences; terrible unforeseen consequences. Shifting is going to get him killed. In a world where everything can change with a thought, Scott has to decide where he stands.

Another new author I met at the convention was Laura Lam’s and her first book Pantomime is being released in February 2013 and below is a brief synopsis and more information can be found here.

R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass – remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone – are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimeras is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.

Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star. But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.

If you want something new and interesting now and can’t wait for these books, then I recommend Anne Lyle’s book The Alchemist of Souls which is already out from Angry Robot. Anne was also at Eastercon this year where she appeared on several panels including one alongside a little author you might know about called George, to his friends, who is writing a series of books called A Song of Ice and Fire.

It’s an exciting time to be a reader of science fiction, fantasy, horror and all of the flavours in between. For me it is in fact the very best of times as there are so many books and so many exciting new voices out there. So, stop reading this and go and read a book!

Ok, but what is it about?

This has been bugging me for a while. That’s probably not the best way to start a post, but there it is. It’s not something new, and it’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, but it was recently brought to the front of my brain again by the big changes in comics, namely DC comics reboot/relaunch of their new 52.

Overall, I’m a big fan of what they’ve done. It was the right thing to do, rather than a piecemeal approach which they’ve tried in the past, and it has reinvigorated their sales and the interest in their characters. Some of the new comics didn’t succeed, which was bound to happen as they launched 52 ongoing titles, and those that didn’t connect with an audience have been cancelled and replaced with new titles. We’re currently onto the 3rd or 4th wave of titles being cancelled and replaced and there are some new titles very due, but I think only one of them appeals to me. There again, that is not a dig at them. Not all of the comics are meant for me. I’m not the target audience for every title and therefore won’t enjoy all of them. There is something about the latest wave that made me question some of the decisions made, but I’ll come back to that. I’m highlighting DC because they’re at the front of my mind at the moment but this is actually a more general question for all forms of creative writing.

Ok, but what is it about? This is a question I’ve asked a thousand times before about films, TV shows, books and more recently comics. There’s often the tag line, or blurb on the back of a book, or listing and preview on a website, which gives you the highlights, it might even give you the story, but my next question is always, ok so what is it about?

I should preface the rest of this post by saying not everything has to have a deeper meaning and be a rich tapesty that is speaking to you on multiple levels. Sometimes it’s just about scaring people or blowing things up. Sometimes it’s just there to make people laugh or to entertain them. Sometimes you just want something light after a heavy or busy day at work, a screensaver for the mind is a phrase I recently heard that comes to mind. I should also point out that I’m a big fan of action movies. I loved The Expendables and I’m a huge fan of Stallone and Arnie movies. That being said, when I read something, I usually (not always) want there to be more than the tag line. I want it to have meaning, or purpose, or at least to be about something with engaging characters. The back of a book tells you something about what to expect. The inciting incident, the characters, the world, and it might offer you a few clues as to the what, but most often that comes in the reading, which for me is part of the enjoyment.

Also, the what can be different things to different people. Readers see beyond what the author intended and the printed word. They read between the lines or they see something that sits on a parallel to what was presented and it reflects something in their own life creating a special connection to the material. Maybe it reaches them on some emotional level and they feel something. There are many books that are just good rip-roaring adventures with clever characters outwitting the villains, but my favourites, the ones that stick with me, are those where the characters feel so real I wouldn’t be surprised to see them walk past me in the street.

This brings me back to DC’s newest wave of comics. Rob Liefeld is a well known figure in the comics industry, mostly for his art and for being one of the founders of Image comics, but also for being a very outspoken individual. I respect him for his accomplishments, but more recently I really like the way he asked DC difficult questions about some of their new titles. They asked him to take over and reinvigorate some of their flagging titles and he basically asked them – ok, so what is this character about? All of the characters he was asked to look at had been around for decades but the characters, their stories and their purpose were not clear.

Because of the age of many comic book characters their back stories are often complex and muddled, but with the best of them you can still pinpoint the why. Batman’s is a story about vengeance and justice. Righting wrongs and protecting the innocent. Stopping tragedies from occuring like the very incident that created him. Superman is about hope, inspiration, the human spirit and (to me at least) a message that we’re all the same regardless of our skin colour, religion, gender etc. Equally I can point at specific titles from the 52 and I know what they’re about once you strip away the costumes, the fighting and the gadgets. The latest incarnation of Batman and Robin is really a story about fathers and sons, about bettering yourself, about living up to expectations, about absent parents, and so on. Most of those points are from Damian’s point of view and there is also the other side, with Bruce trying to reform his son and prove to him that people are worth saving, rather than destroying, as his grandfather would have him believe. It’s a fascinating and quite unique dynamic, and that is what would make me come back rather than a new Batmobile or to see them fighting the Penguin or the Riddler.

Comics that feature teams, where several well known characters work together, are sometimes less complicated and more about entertainment and facing bigger enemies, but they can be about family, duty, honour, responsibility and so on. The problem, for me, comes when there are five or six or seven team books from the same publisher and they all start to look the same. Some DC comics team titles are very distinct. Suicide Squad is a disturbing and dark team book. They’re lifers, people who will never be released from prison, getting a chance to make some small amends. The stories are about redemption and very grey, where they go on missions the heroes wouldn’t be able to stomach. Justice League (or JLA) is the blockbuster movie of team comics. It includes the biggest heroes and they go after the biggest villains, and so on with a couple of the other team comics.

One team book was recently cancelled (Justice League International) and in the latest wave of replacements comics, another team comic is taking its place (The Ravagers). Even more recently another team book was announced (Team Seven). In both instances I asked the question and didn’t know the answer. Even from reading the blurb, looking at the characters and knowing quite a bit about their background (because I’m a DC fan of old) I kept asking, so what is it about? And I don’t think they really know. I’m happy to admit that I could be proven wrong and will say so in public. I’m also willing to admit I don’t know everything about the new books and all of this is from an outsiders perspective, but at the moment I just don’t see the appeal of these new titles. And by that I specifically mean, as a fan and potential reader, I’m trying to find a reason to pick up these new titles and am not motivated to because I dont know what they’re really about. I like some of the characters involved, but that’s not enough for me.

DC are trying lots of new things, they’re experimenting, they’re taking risks and throwing characters together that don’t normally interact to see what happens. All of these things are great and to be commended, but for something to have any kind of longevity, I don’t think that’s enough, especially when there are lots of other team comics out there. And that’s not even taking into account titles published by other companies and then all of the other titles in different genres. Rob Liefield asked DC similar questions about the titles he was asked to work on (Hawkman, Grifter, Deathstroke) and he is now trying to give a definitive answer in each case. Whether or not he succeeds, and whether or not the stories are good, is irrelevant. Someone is asking the right questions and is trying to give a clear answer and provide a reason to make you interested and pick up the comic.

I’ve ended up focusing more on comics than I anticipated, but that’s only because I have more info about it than other areas but it’s all still relevant. All of this made me look more closely at my own work and think about the dreaded synopsis. I actually think it’s the worst part of writing a novel. After spending months (or possibly years) of working on something, of immersing yourself in a world and breathing life into the characters, it feels like a hideous betrayal of all that invested time and effort to then condense it down into a sentence, soundbyte or a couple of paragraphs. But you have to do it. You have to scrape away the top layer, and dig below the surface and then keep digging until you can answer the question. I’ve yet to see a publisher or agent’s submission guidelines that want a one line hook, so it doesn’t quite need to be Ocean’s Eleven meets The Godfather, or whatever, but you do have to pare it down. And that doesn’t mean just a list of the main plot points because that list should bring you back to the original question.

Am I closer to writing the synopsis to my novel? Well, a little bit, but I am now thinking about the project in these terms and once the first draft is finished (and I’ve revised it a lot thereafter) I’m going to sit back and see if the actual novel that I ended up with is the same as the one I started out planning to write.

The end of CBO…well, sort of.

Five years ago this July I started podcasting with a friend. This is back in 2007 when there weren’t that many podcasts. That sounds like a crazy thing to say, but ten years ago there weren’t any smart phones either, not really. The first one might have just come out, but it was nothing like the powerful machines we all carry around in our pockets these days. Machines with more memory than a hundred or even a thousand of my first PCs. But I digress. The point was, when I started doing podcasting on a regular basis, it was at a time when I had a sign on my table at a comics convention that read, ask me about podcasts. Almost every hour during that weekend one or two people came up and asked me ‘So what is a podcast?’

We weren’t one of the first, not by a long shot, but we were fairly unique at the time in that we only focused on comics outside the mainstream publishers of Marvel and DC. By that time the majority of the comics I was reading came from other publishers and other podcasts had coverage of the Big2 all sewn up. It seemed like a good fit. I was a life long comic book reader and I wanted to talk about some great comics people might not be aware of. My co-host was someone recently returned to comics and he was looking for some original material.

Five years on and we’re bringing the podcast to a close. During that time the show evolved in a number of different ways with new segments and we expanded our remit into covering hidden gems from the world of independent comics, movies, films and television. We also added a book club and I’m very proud of it and grateful to our listeners for taking part and getting involved. I’m also very pleased that we started it because it forced me to read some books I would probably never have picked up otherwise, it filled in some gaps in my classic SF and genre reading, and it introduced me and the listeners to some fantastic authors. Over the years we were lucky enough to get some great authors to take part in the podcast and interview them about their work including Arthur C. Clarke Award winners such as China Mieville (The City & The City) and Lauren Beukes (Zoo City).

We’ve also interviewed a number of independent filmmakers, and people I struggle to classify even now, but ultimately they were all extremely creative individuals trying something new, such as Jason Neulander, the creator of The Intergalactic Nemesis, a live stage show with a graphic novel projected behind the actors. He and the show were recently on Conan doing a mini performance with Conan taking part. Since 2007 we have also spoken to a number of comic book writers and artists, people I greatly admire and respect and whose work I still eagerly follow.

At times life or other commitments got in the way and the frequency of the podcast changed, or sometimes one of us wasn’t available and guest hosts stepped into the breach bringing fresh eyes, but we kept going. We always said we make the podcast because we enjoy talking about comics and so on, and best of all I like introducing people to new material they might not have heard about because it’s not local, or their comic shop doesn’t stock it, or they just weren’t aware that it even existed.

I had attended several comic book conventions before we started the podcast, but thereafter I was occasionally on a panel talking about podcasting and other forms of new media and where podcasting sits in the new wave of social media that has become increasingly important in the last eight years or so. It was very interesting to be on the other side of the table and to be sat facing a crowd of people. I actually dislike public speaking and don’t like being the centre of attention, but thankfully I wasn’t on the panels by myself and through the podcast community and the conventions I made a lot of new friends.

It’s also worth mentioning that what started out as a hobby, something that I did for fun, became something that I was able to use in my day job. Over those five years our skills at recording, editing, producing and even speaking on a chosen subject improved dramatically. We didn’t rehearse but we learned the rhythms of the other and we stopped saying um, and er, all the time. It also meant that the amount of time we spent editing was greatly reduced. A couple of jobs back, in the wake of the rise of social media and the growing importance it plays in business, the company I was working for at the time wanted to start an internal podcast for their staff who are spread out across the globe. A few weeks later I was training other people and passing on some of my podcast skills. A very weird but quire rewarding twist indeed.

I still enjoy doing the podcast but after five years I think we’ve sort of run our natural course. There are now thousands, if not tens of thousands, of podcasts, and many of them cover some or all of the same material as us. Some specialise in segments we touched on occasionally and others are equally as broad in their remit, so there is a lot more choice nowadays compared to when we started. I have a list of almost two dozen podcasts I regularly listen to during my daily commutes and, regardless of the subject, all of them are producing by passionate fans.

So, what happens next? Well, Comic Book Outsiders in its current form will cease to exist at some point in July. Thereafter the book club is going to continue so I will still be speaking to my co-host Scott on a regular basis and I’m starting a new (probably monthly) podcast. This will be something equally personal and something else I’m very passionate about. I say probably monthly because a lot of work goes into producing a podcast and I am trying very hard to focus on my writing and not commit myself to any new projects. The time spent on the new podcast should actually be less than CBO. Well, that’s theory anyway. I also think this new podcast will help me. Hopefully it will fuel my writing, give me something to think about and drive me (and hopefully other writers) forward. More info will be announced closer to the end of CBO. Also Scott is going to be doing a new podcast too and again there will be more info towards the end of CBO. So it is an ending, it’s just not the end.

We started out with good intentions – introducing people to comics (and later movies, books, TV and films) outside the spotlight, and overall I think we succeeded.