Category Archives: General

The Good Life

If you’re of a certain age then you will remember a day when there were only three TV channels in the UK, then a miracle happened and they introduced a fourth channel. Many years later, a new and exciting (and to begin with slightly dodgy) channel 5 was beamed into our homes. Now there are hundreds of TV channels, and more decent TV programmes than I can keep up with. But back then, when choice was limited, there were only a handful of shows I actually enjoyed. But I watched all sorts because there was literally nothing else on. Of course I did other things, play, read, see friends, whatever, but when I wanted to watch TV, there wasn’t much on.

goodOne of the TV shows was called The Good Life. It featured the late, great, Richard Briers, who a more modern audience may recognise as that old mad bloke from Monarch of the Glen, or very recently, the granddad with a zimmer frame spying on women with his binoculars in Cockneys versus Zombies. Anyway, for those who have no idea and never saw it, here’s a link to the Wiki page for the show. Very simply put, Tom and Barbara give up the rat race to become totally self sufficient, growing their own food, raising animals, making their own clothes and so on. It was silly fun and their neighbours, the posh Jerry and Margo, were often horrified by their green fingered grubby antics. I rather enjoyed the comedy and the laughs were genuine, but I never really took much away from it. Or so I thought.

Roll on twenty years or so and although I’m not Tom, I’ve started to find that I’m inching my way towards his point of view. I like the idea of being self sufficient, living green, looking after the environment and the planet. I don’t make my own clothes, or generate my own power with methane from my farm animals, but I’m more willing now to explore new ideas around housing, generating power, growing food and trying to reuse stuff rather than keep making more and more. Recycling is pretty much par for the course now, whether it’s water, glass, paper, plastic, all sorts of stuff. Some people don’t bother, but every week I see local recycling centres are busy. We still get the occasional rag and bone out coming around for scrap metal, but most people do it themselves now. Also most places have several bins now, whereas when I was young, you dumped everything in one and the bin man took it away and someone else sorted it out. Landfills still exist of course, but lots of work is being done to do more with what we all throw away.

Recently I’ve also started to dabble in growing some of my own veg, although at this stage it is only a hobby. I definitely don’t have a green thumb, maybe a green finger nail at best. Even so, I’m finding there is something immensely satisfying about planting seeds or tiny plants, and seeing them grow and flourish into edible produce. Over the last ten years or so I’ve also started trying to buy more local produce, support local businesses over the big names and therefore support the local economy. The old Tom Peters business adage was always ‘think global act local’. More and more people are now aware of the global landscape (due to the 24 media news cycle and social media), but they are more becoming interested again in local issues, local businesses, local events and dare I say it (or perhaps I’m just wishing it) a slow return to a local community mentality.

The other thing is, the whole planet is becoming a bit more like Tom from the Good Life. Fossil fuels are no longer seen as a long-term sustainable way of generating power and there are thousands of wind turbines dotting the landscape. Bio-fuels and other techniques are being explored. Electric cars are no longer a radical idea and saying ‘you should be lowering your carbon footprint mate’ in public will not get you a dirty or quizzical look. Water conservation and also water storage is becoming more important in many western countries, particularly in places like the US and very hot countries like Australia. Supermarkets are sourcing more products locally, dairy and free range eggs and better treatment of animals is now something people expect. Paper is coming from renewable sources, fair trade tea, coffee and other products are common in supermarkets and no longer a rarity. My grandparents are of the generation where you could only buy certain produce at certain times of the year, and they never ate or saw certain fruit until they were much older, as it wasn’t imported in the large quantities that we have today.

Where I’m going with this? I’m not completely sure, other than to say the Good Life ran on TV from 1975 to 1978, and since then it has been repeated many times over the years. The thing I wonder about is, why has it taken us so long to get to this place? And why are some people still totally unwilling to believe that we’re having an impact on the environment, climate change and the planet? Some of them are the same people who don’t believe we landed on the Moon, so I don’t pay much attention to them.

How we respond to change, big and small, is something I think about. How we’re quick to embrace some things, and yet it takes us decades before something else becomes part of our everyday landscape. How we are constantly looking to the future and yet we seem slow to learn some of the lessons of the past. Why it often seems to take something really shocking to happen before people look a little more closely at the environment, or how international business drills for oil in their back yard. I don’t know what the answer is, I don’t think there is one definitive answer, but for me it means taking stock every now and then, looking at how I live my life and making changes.

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My Thirty Year Sporting Tradition

In general, I don’t like sport. For anyone that knows me, that statement doesn’t come as a surprise. Using the word sport in conversation (outside of the Olympics every 4 years) is a rare thing for me. I don’t follow any of what I would call the popular sports, football, rugby, cricket, golf, Formula One etc. I don’t support any teams and I don’t have a clue, nor care about player transfers, football managers being fired and hired, and so on. This excludes me from certain conversations, but that’s fine with me. I’m happy not to know and don’t want to. There are plenty of other things I’d rather spend my time, money and effort focusing on. So, what’s the sporting tradition then? And why today, the first day of the new year?

geoffWhen I about five or six years old, there was a local strongman event in my home town in the UK. I watched enormous men throw huge weights around, carry cars and pull trucks like they were toys. I’ve been a fan of strongman events ever since, and in particular the World’s Strongest Man event. Thirty of the strongest men in the world, whittled down to just ten, and then one. When I was very little I remember seeing Geoff Capes in person at such an event and he was a monster of a man, but also very nice with it.

Every Christmas, through the holidays and leading up to new year and final, WSM has been shown on TV. This year marks the 35th year of the World’s Strongest Man event. I watched it with my dad and brother when I was growing up, I watched it when I came home from university during the holidays, and I’ve continued to watch it every year now that I’m in my own home. There aren’t many traditions that I’ve followed that religiously but this is an important one to me.

logo2I avidly watch the heats, cheer and shout at the television, and probably do all of the other things fans of other sports do on a weekly basis sitting in the stands at a match or game. I can quote stats, tell you about past performances and I’ve followed certain athletes for many years. Despite all of that, I’m probably a fairly moderate fan, as I don’t study it to the degree of some sports fans who know everything about their team, players and its history right back to the day it was started. There are WSM fans like that out, and good for them and their passion I say, but I am certainly passionate about it and hope to see it get more widespread attention.

giantsLast year (well it’s only a few months ago now, but in the summer of 2012) I attended a live strongman event in Leeds. It was to find out who was Europe’s Strongest Man and it was a qualifying event for the big one. Ten of the strongest men in the world competed in front of a sell out crowd of five thousand and it was an amazing day. Afterwards I was also lucky to be able to meet some of my favourite athletes in person, shake their hand and have a quick chat. An amazing day, I’m booked up for next year in Leeds already, and there are other qualifying events all over the world ahead of World’s Strongest Man 2013 in Poland, Quebec, Finland, London, Melbourne, India and several other places. So if you’re looking for something new in 2013 check out Giants Live. I might see you there.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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!

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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.


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So there have been a few changes here in the last few weeks. On the day job front I said good bye to one job and a group of people that I really enjoyed working with. Like any job it had its challenges and low points, but overall I’ve come away feeling fairly positive about the experience and working there led me to my new job. It’s a new role in a small company where I’ve met most of the people and I know what kind of work they expect me to do, so I’m not going in blind at all. I’m nervous of course, but that’s just normal new-job nerves, not anything else. But before then I have some time off to rest, recuperate and relax. Sounds easy, but it’s becoming increasingly hard for me to do which sounds weird.

I was pushing myself quite hard towards the end of my last job, burning the candle at both ends as they say, which is probably why I then got sick and was knocked on my arse for a week with bad flu. I’m almost over it now but am still coughing a fair bit. It was also my birthday in the middle of all this. For the last few years I’ve not looked forward to my birthday. On the one hand it’s always nice, people spoil me, I get to feel special for a day and I am the centre of attention, which I loathe for the other 364 days of the year. On the other hand it’s another nail in the coffin, another milestone on the road and so on. I’m 35 now and like some people with burning ambitions a birthday becomes a day where I look back at the year and think about what I’ve accomplished, or not as the case may be, and what I wish I had done differently with that time.

I’ve moved beyond childish goals of – I want to be doing this by the time I’m 30, and this by the time I’m 40 years old – because life isn’t like that, you can’t make those kind of plans and life itself will get in the way. Achieving any ambition requires sacrifices of one kind or another and I’m making them, such as sleep, or time I’d rather spend doing fun stuff I enjoy like reading books, comics, watching TV, or playing computer games. There are some amazing games out at the moment like Skyrim, or Star Wars the Old Republic, the newest MMORPG. It would be so easy for me to buy one of those and sink a hundred hours or more into it. I’d love every minute, I’d enjoy myself and I would not think about how much time I was clocking up until the game loses its shine and I stop playing or my birthday rolls around again. Then I would regret those 100 hours and wish I had spent them writing or planning, or making notes or something. But equally it can’t be me sat at a desk writing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week because I need to earn a living to pay the bills, spend time with my family, eat, sleep, and relax a little, because you need some of that too for the creative process. Finding the right balance is the thing and I guess I’m still struggling with it, hence the getting ill from doing too much.

I’m not going to claim that this is going to be my year, because no matter how good I think my stuff is, and it might be great or awful, that decision is ultimately not one I get to decide. But, I am feeling much better and stronger than I have in a few years. I’ve matured, I’ve become more comfortable with myself and and am settled with my life. I’ve found someone that makes me happy and who ultimately understands me and my weird ambitions to write stories and keep writing long into the night.

I’ve also moved beyond the idea of just writing and seeing where it goes and have found what works for me after years of experimentation. Everyone is different and everyone has their own ideas about writing, where it should be done, how it should be done (gardners vs architects), how often it should be done, but no matter how many books and articles you read, or lectures and classes you attend, the only way to know is to actually do it. Put your bum in the chair and write. Some people I know can get up at 4am or 5am and write before work. Some people tell me their best hours are from 10am to midnight. Others write at lunch time. Others write in short chunks and some can write for hours at a time. Then there are all the posts about daily word counts and targets and so on. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, you need to find what works for you. By all means you should read those articles to understand what other people are doing and what you might want to try if you haven’t found ‘it’ yet, but at some point reading them just becomes another delay tactic. So, I guess that’s a long way of me saying that I’ve found my right place and right time for writing. I’m not going to shun all advice from now on and cut myself off from new ideas, but I’ve found what works for me at this point in my life.

So I’ve no idea if any of the projects I’m currently working on will bear fruit this year but I believe that they will succeed and I’m hopeful and that is a very good thing. Hope is normally a candle easily snuffed out and tomorrow I might fall into a fit of depression and believe everything I’ve written is crap, but right now, today, the candle is going to be one of those irritating trick ones that just won’t blow out.

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Geek News Radio

Last year I came up with a cunning plan. Well, it seemed like a cunning plan a the time. I’ve been podcasting for four and a half years and since I started the number of podcasts has doubled and then probably tripled again. On the one hand it’s great, as there is a lot of free and interesting content out there to prevent me from going mad whilst driving two hours every day to and from work. On the other hand it can be very difficult to find good shows and quite often you have to wade through lots of dull shows to find the good ones. So how do you find good shows? The answer is often with great difficulty. I wanted to create a place where people could listen to a range of good podcasts across a wide range of subjects connected to geek culture.

I should say I know there are people out there with longer commutes than me, and people who have to work in tedious jobs where mercifully they can listen to music during the day to stop them going insane, so I’m not hosting a pity party for myself about my two hours of driving every day.

So my plan was to bring together a group of podcasts and form the equivalent of a radio station, but one completely devoted to geek news and reviews. The only thing I wanted to do was make sure all of the shows brought something different to the table, so it didn’t end up being twelve podcasts about TV, or Marvel comics. There is always going to be some overlap, and that’s fine, but I wanted there to be a range of shows covering a broad spectrum of material from independent comics, to movies, to TV, to mainstream comics, to SFF publishing, to dark fiction, to geek discussions, to computer and videos games.

Last night we launched Geek News Radio with a series of live podcasts. It ran from 4pm (UK time) to 11pm and several of the 12 podcasts that initially form GNR took part in the live event. Overall it was a huge success, everyone who did a live podcast got a real buzz from broadcasting live and getting instant feedback from listeners. It had been incredibly difficult to organise and pin people down to a specific date and then a time slot, but in the end I think it was worth it.

In the future I am sure we will add more podcasts to GNR, but there again I want to add shows with their own edge, so that if someone were crazy enough to listen to all of the latest episodes from all podcasts on the network back to back, they would not have 12 hours of different people digesting and discussing the same material.

So, what next? Well, GNR is up and running, it’s being broadcast 24x7x365 on Stitcher. The website for the lastest episodes from everyone is all set up here and it lists all twelve of the podcasts that initially make up GNR. I think we’ll do some more live podcasts in the future, definitely individually and perhaps as a group at a later date, perhaps when we add some new podcasts to GNR.

On that last point, if anyone out there reading this has their own podcast and they would like to see it added to GNR, then get in touch. The only rules are that the podcast has to be something that is produced fairly regularly and consistently, and the show should not focus on a topic already covered by one or more of the current line up.

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Things and stuff

I haven’t posted in a while because not a lot has really changed. Work is still incredibly busy and I’m secure in my current role until the end of March, however, things are happening that I can’t talk about yet, but on the whole 2012 is starting out well in that respect.

Creatively, I’m just snowed under too. Working hard and grinding away on the work for hire project. It’s exciting and I can’t wait to start talking about it in more than vague generalisations. It’s a fantastic opportunity, and I am enjoying it, but it is difficult to fit it in around work at the moment with it being so busy. I’m making progress though, chipping away at the mountain of ice and it’s gradually starting to resemble a story. I’m also hopeful that this project might open some other doors in the future but I guess it’s another wait and see depening on how this one goes.

Comics wise, my co-writing project with Pete went through a few bumps, we had one stumbling block in the story which I cracked with a real eureka moment while sat on the floor of my office stroking a cat like Blofeld from the Bond movies. Of course at the time I couldn’t leap up and shout it as my legs were numb from sitting on the carpet in one position for too long, and I didn’t want to wake the dozing kitten, but still, it was a breakthrough. We’ve hit another speedbump but there again I’m not worried and I think between the two of us we’ve cracked it already. This co-writing business is proving to be a lot of fun. It’s great to have someone to sanity check your wacky brainstorms, to bounce ideas off and get an immediate knee-jerk reaction.

This Christmas I asked for a lot more comic books instead of novels I can read them faster and in small chunks, plus my to read pile is still hideous. So, since Christmas I’ve read some great comics and made slow progress on my current book which I am enjoying but it’s hard to sit down and dedicate an hour to it at the moment. Some interesting comic book reads recently – Morning Glories Vol 2, Locke and Key Vols 2 & 3, The Sixth Gun Vol 2, The Walking Dead vol 15 (yes 15!!), Ex Machina Vol 10 which wraps it up, Chew Vol 4, Essex County, Batman The Black Mirror. Still got a few great comics to read and at some point I might do a few brief reviews, although I’m more likely to discuss them on the podcast. We’re still doing that too, although with both Scott and myself so busy we’ve moved to a fortnightly schedule. No one has complained so we’ll stick to that for the time being until things quieten down, if they ever do.

So, a bit of a rambly post, can’t say too much yet, but when I know more about the job situation and the work for hire project I will write about and then soon after people will be sick of hearing about it.

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