Category Archives: Stuff

September TV and comics

Super quick update. The new NEW book is ready to go out to publishers. It doesn’t need another edit. YAY! And that’s where it is right now. With them. So I’m just waiting, which is the hardest thing to do, when all you really want to do is refresh your email every 3 seconds. Thankfully I’m pretty busy with some other secret projects so I’m not dwelling. Well, not too much.

The Good

Justified. This is a non-genre show. It’s about Timothy Olyphant playing a US Marshall, and it’s based on a short story by Elmore Leonard. He’s kind of a modern day cowboy who is forced to go back to his home state of Kentucky and he starts rubbing shoulders with old friends, old enemies and members of his family he’d rather not reconnect with. It’s funny, dramatic, heartwarming, disturbing and just a lot of damn good fun. I’m still not sure why I didn’t watch it back in the day when it was on. I think in my mind it was more like The Shield and I wasn’t in the mood for something so brutal and dirty, so I avoided it. It’s also only 13 episodes a season, which I can do. I’d struggle these days with a 20+ commitment on a series. Great fun, awesome twisty worldbuilding, complex characters with fully fleshed out lives, friends, families and enemies and it’s all one weird incestuous tangle where everyone seems to know everyone else’s business in the small community of Harlan county. Great stuff and well worth a watch.

The Bad

Another Life. This is a new SF show on Netflix starring the excellent Katie Sackhoff. The cast has a few familiar faces and they are all pretty good. That’s about all I can say that’s positive about this show. The Nightflyer is basically, and in many ways, the same show. Aliens make contact. We send out a ship to find out what’s going on. Cue wacky adventures, weird dreams, murder and mayhem. That’s both shows. Only this time around there’s a lot more shouting, bitching and acting like horny teenagers rather than, I don’t know, qualified astronauts. Yes, conflict makes drama more interesting but this was so painful to watch I was embarrassed for the actors. If it gets a second season I won’t be watching.

The Comics

52 from DC comics. 52 is an important number at DC comics for a few reasons. At one point it was the number of titles they were putting out in a month when all titles reset to issue 1. I know, right? Anyway, there are also 52 worlds in their multiverse, Earth 1 to 52, with slightly different versions of their heroes and villains. However, on this occasion, 52 refers to the weekly comic book series they published in 2006. Four writers (Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid and Geoff Johns) worked together with a number of artists and editors, to put out one comic book a week for a whole year. That’s one big huge story, featuring lots of characters from across the DC universe, for 52 week straight. It was a massive undertaking that had not been done before and has not been tried since.

It was a nightmare of logistics, there were bumps and mistakes along the way, but ultimately they did it. I didn’t read it at the time because it was too expensive, but today, thanks to the joys of comics deals I picked up the whole thing for a great price. Also, as a digital version, storing the 52 weekly comics is a lot easier. I’m taking my time, soaking it all in, and I’m about halfway through at the moment. It’s a fascinating story and a remarkable experiment that explores some remote corners of the DC universe. They pull all sorts of obscure characters out of the cupboard that we’ve not seen for years and take other known characters in new directions. It’s a big love letter to DC comics and given that I was raised on DC comics and they were my first love, I’m in my happy place.

More news on the book stuff when I can share it. What have you been watching? Anything good?

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Post-birthday blog

Friday was another birthday for me, not a landmark one, so following that and a few other developments, I thought I’d do a bit of a round-up blog for the end of this month.

Today I just received copies of the French version of Battlemage – Mage de Guerre – from my French publisher – Bragelonne. So if you want more info or to get your hands on copy in French, their website is the best place to start. It looks amazing and I love the cover.

Next month Bloodmage comes out and I’ve got a few signing events around the UK. I’m really excited about this book in a different way to Battlemage. It was my début book and this is now a chance to show readers that it wasn’t a fluke, and I can do it again. It’s a very different kind of book, so there’s some anxiety about how it will be received if people are expecting more of the same. In some ways I think it is a more accomplished book, but that’s just me.

I’m also doing a Goodreads giveaway, and this is open to people all around the world. I will sign and post 5 copies to 5 winners. There’s still a week left, so you just need to be a member of Goodreads to enter which is free to join.

I’ve just sent back the proof amends for book 3, title currently not announced, which means that is the last time I will see it before it comes out in print later this year. So, technically in terms of writing for the Age of Darkness trilogy…I’m done.

So that brings me on to the next thing. I’ve made a start, and I have a stack of ideas and have written several thousand words in notes. Character arcs, exciting tentpole moments from the story, ideas for where I see the story going at a top level. Then I start breaking it down into segments and themes and chunks. I’m writing it all down and then I start to sift it into some kind of semblance of order. I’ve not booked to attend any conventions this year until Fantasycon at the end of September in Scarborough. So that gives me a few months clear to knuckle down and focus on this next set of books and getting some words done on the first draft of book 1.

Other things are ticking along in the background, comic book projects are still going and also I’m still doing two podcasts a month with Bags of Action and Comic Book Outsiders. There will be an announcement next month about the podcasts, and an adjustment, but generally not a lot will change. I still love doing it which is why I’m still doing them 8 years on from when we started.

Spring is here so that means it’s time for me to start planting stuff out again in the garden, fruit and veg. I never thought I’d become a bit like Tom and Barbara from The Good Life, but hey, it’s happened. I enjoy it, it keeps me active, and home grown stuff tastes yummy.  That also reminds me, now that I’ve moved to a new area of the country, there are a lot of different local breweries to try. So I might be posting a few more real ale reviews on the website soon.

My reading has been pretty slow lately as it’s been busy with book 3 work, but I’m gradually getting to the end of Assassin’s Quest. I am enjoying it, but the book is very dense and about 800 pages, so it is taking me a while. My to read pile is mocking me, so I’m going to try make more time to read as it becomes a bit quieter for the next few months. Right, time to get back to pondering the next big thing.

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A Black Time

I was going to do a post about writing, about juggling different parts of being a writer and having a day job, but then three pretty big things happened in the last few weeks.

First, Leonard Nimoy died at the age of 83. I’m sure I don’t have to explain who he was to anyone. I was going to try and write something about how important he is  and was. I was going to try and write about how important Star Trek and the principles set out in the universe created by Gene Roddenberry are to me, but I’ve not been able to find the right words. In the end, Scott, my CBO podcast co-host and I, decided to talk about why we loved Trek, why it means so much to us and the impact the various shows had on us both growing up. I’m editing the podcast at the moment and it will be out on Sunday. We wanted to celebrate all of the awesome things about Star Trek and we highlighted some of our favourite moments, as well as how we were first introduced to Trek and what we think will happen to it in the future.

The second big thing that happened this week was a lot more personal. A friend passed away. It wasn’t expected, he wasn’t old and it has hit me like a real gut punch. I was dazed for a few days and felt very listless and just not with it. A few days later and I’m back in the real world, no longer out of phase with everyone else, but that will all change again I’m sure with the upcoming funeral next week.

The third thing that happened was this week Terry Pratchett died aged after a meagre 66 years. That’s not a good run at all. Given how long people are living these days, that’s nothing. I’m not the biggest fan of Pratchett’s work, but I am close to a number of people who are enormous fans of his. They own every single book and have met him a number of times. I’ve read a few of his books over the years and despite them not being my favourites I admired him enormously. He also essentially had his own genre of fiction in bookshops. You could write a satirical and amusing fantasy novel, but if you then tried to submit I doubt many publishers would take it on. In fact I doubt any would. That was his.

Putting his work with Alzheimer’s to one side and focusing purely on the creative, he was an incredibly sharp, witty and a very funny man. I believe he had a very strong moral code and this came through in every book. To an outsider at first glance his books were nothing more than wildly fantastic stories set on a flat world. But if anyone took even five minutes and scratched the surface they would see the many layers in each story. Over the years he developed a huge following of millions around the world because of who he was and his ability as a storyteller. I admired him for his wit, his creativity, his warmth, inclusiveness and sense of humour. Several people close to me have met him several times over the years and on each occasion he was friendly, funny and just a generally lovely man.

On one occasion I met David Gemmell at a talk and book signing before he passed away. I can’t remember where the story came from now, whether it was him telling the crowd or something Stan Nicholls recalled at a convention, but several years ago David and Terry were abroad somewhere (I think it was in Europe – maybe Vienna) on a book tour. Terry thought it was would be fun for them to get to their next appearance (a radio show interview), by themselves and what followed was an adventure that meant they arrived 50 minutes late to what should have been an hour’s interview on the radio. Despite my sketchy remembrance of the details the story by itself speaks to me of a man who enjoyed himself and enjoyed life.

They were remarkable men, doing remarkable things and both of them will be greatly missed.

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Defenders of the Earth

Defenders of the EarthIn the late 1980s, when I was a wee lad (ok, not that little but a bit younger than I am now) there was an awesome cartoon called Defenders of the Earth. It featured a number of very brightly dressed heroes that went out on exciting adventures together to battle the forces of evil, usually led by Ming the Merciless. I was previously aware of Flash Gordon, from the old black and white TV shows and then later from the seminal 1980 film starring Sam Jones, Timothy Dalton and of course the fabulous BRIAN BLESSED! You have to type his name like that in caps, because he is never ever quiet, in any interview. Then there was the Phantom, the Ghost Who Walks, who I knew from the comics created by Lee Falk. Added to that was Mandrake and Lothar, who I didn’t know plus a whole bunch of their kids, and unfortunately a weird fuzzy little alien thing, allegedly for comedy effect.

Anyway, the cartoon itself was pretty awesome, as it mashed all of these characters together on screen. Long before we had The Avengers battling aliens in New York City on the big screen we had the Defenders of the Earth. We had Flash blasting stuff out of the sky with his spaceship. We had Mandrake doing all sorts of clever and cunning things with his magic and generally outwitting the enemy. We had the mysterious and slightly brooding Phantom who was a physical and yet philosophical hero and Lothar, the muscle of the team who could build anything. He kind of reminded me of Panthro from Thundercats. The others would really be lost without him as he was the backbone of the team. Together they destroyed countless armies of ice warriors, saved villages from the evil Ming and a wide array of nasty allies and fought the good fight.

Normally the children in these shows are really annoying. They flap around and don’t do much, but in Defenders they were actually pretty involved, and reasonably competent. The most interesting character among them was Jedda Walker, the Phantom’s daughter. For those not familiar the Phantom is a legacy character, a seemingly eternal and ageless presence, but in fact the mantle is passed on from one generation to the next. In one episode of Defenders, the Phantom goes missing and is believed dead, and so Jedda becomes the Phantom. It might sound trivial but that kind of thing didn’t really happen a lot back then, especially not passing the mantle of a superhero from a man to a woman. I haven’t watched the episode since, and couldn’t tell you any details about it, but I still remember it today which indicates how unique it was at the time. Today we’ve currently got a female Thor at Marvel comics, but this was about 25 years ago and things were very different.

The whole series came out on DVD a couple of years ago and while some of the special effects and stories might not be great by today’s standards, it’s still a fun show to watch and one you can sit down with your kids to watch and not worry about. Partly in honour of the show, and partly because I like creating things and love Lego, I’ve submitted a project to Lego Ideas which you can find out about here. Those Lego Idea that receive enough votes are submitted to Lego for consideration and those they think have legs get made into proper sets. Previously submitted Lego Ideas that have made it into the shops include Back To The Future, Ecto 1 and Ghostbusters, Lego Birds, Research Institute with scientists and an awesome Exo Suit space thing. More info on the successful projects is available here.

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Sweet Tooth

There is a photo of me from when I was three years old stuffing my face with chocolate cake. I have huge brown eyes and curly hair. And before you ask, no, I’m not going to show you the photo, despite being told I look very cute. It was my birthday and my mum had made me an owl shaped cake. I must have been going through a owl thing at the time. It was delicious and I utterly loved it. My mum was brilliant at making creative cakes for birthdays and over the years I had all sorts, cowboy and Indian western style forts, trains, all kinds of stuff. She doesn’t bake as often now, and I don’t get them on my birthday anymore, but back then they were epic cakes.

Most, if not all children, have a sweet tooth. They love the delicious sugary, chocolatey flavours. The fizz of boiled sweets, the juicy tang of jelly sweets, the pop and crackle of sherbet and the crunch of mints and toffee. As a child I was a bit picky about my food but this has since changed and now as an adult I’ll eat almost anything. However, my love of sweet things did not fade and I still have a huge sweet tooth.

A few years ago, during my first job after graduating, I went on a business trip for work. Over dinner my boss at the time remarked on my sweet tooth and the yummy noises I was making over the dessert menu. In a very good natured way he said, ah, well it will change, over time you’ll start to prefer a nice pint of beer or glass of wine instead of something sweet. He was speaking from a place of experience and kindness. But he was also speaking about his own experience. That was his road, not mine.

As it happens I never acquired the taste for wine, and unless they’re side by side I can’t tell a good one bottle from a bad one. I do like real ale now and have done a few reviews on here of some favourites, but my sweet tooth is still there, large as anything.

When I was in high school I had no clue about a lot of things. It’s fair to say I still don’t. But whenever I mentioned that I wanted to be a writer at school I always received an indulgent smile from adults, because in the back of their minds they were thinking that writing isn’t a career. It’s a hobby, something to do in your spare time. What I needed to focus on was getting a real job, that would lead to a real career, something that would pay the bills, and so following their advice I studied business and computing at A-Level and then university.

But like my sweet tooth, the writing never went away. It was always there and I was always working on it. I was always writing, screenplays and comic scripts, TV episodes for competitions and novels. In some ways the need to write grew as other interests waned, because writing gives me something that nothing else can.

A number of my friends now have children and when I hear about their different interests and achievements, this is inevitably followed by comments such as, ‘oh he’ll be a scientist’, or ‘she’ll work with animals’. I sometimes do this myself but it’s a habit I’m trying to break. Some of the predictions may turn out to be true, perhaps coincidentally, but I think most will not simply because the road ahead is always unknown, even to ourselves, never mind anyone else. All sorts of unexpected events, good and bad, send each of us off in different directions, and now I try not to think of it in terms of being blown off course because the future isn’t written down anywhere and no one knows which path we’ll take.

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Adventures in Archery – Part 1

Over the years I’ve tried all sorts of different sports. Some of them I had to do at school, football, hockey, rounders and so on. Others I independently pursued for years because they seemed like a good idea at the time, such as swimming and rugby.

Then there were other activities such as martial arts which I actually enjoyed and it was nice to be part of a club, to make new friends and belong to a special group who were all into the same thing. I did Ren Sei Kan Judo for years as a boy, then Shotokan Karate with a friend from school for years. We did a few competitions, some public demonstrations and we were taught by one of the nicest and the most powerful and naturally strong men I’ve ever met. The kind of guy that could shatter big, heavy, wooden things without much effort. After that it was a couple of years of Kung Fu with a little sensei who could put someone on the floor without even moving and then later I got into Fencing. The kind with the pointy swords, not wooden panels and a hammer. The one thing all of these activities have in common is that they’re competitive and you are always competing against someone else.

I’ve just started an archery beginner’s course and while the sport itself is competitive in the Olympics, and the club has competitions internally and with other clubs, it doesn’t have to be something you do against someone else. It can be about self development and personal achievement. About improving your skills in competition only with yourself. In general I’m sometimes my own worst critic, and with archery if an arrow flies off, I grimace and get annoyed. I am learning why it happens and how to adjust so I focus to improve my posture, or raise my elbow, or pull my arm closer to my cheek. In some ways it’s meditative and relaxing, I can clear my mind and focus only on the target in front of me, and overall I’m really enjoying it.

There is some competition between the beginners, but it is very light hearted and I’m finding it’s nice to belong to another club as it has been quite a while. People of all ages and backgrounds are involved in archery, from little kids who are amazing already, to grey haired grandfathers who are beginners themselves or masters of the sport.

So, when I’ve finished the beginner’s course I’ve already decided that I want to continue with the sport and join the club. You’re not going to see me on TV at Rio with a bow, and I’m not Robin Hood or am I going to be in the national competitions. But that’s ok. That’s not why I’m doing the beginner’s course. I’ve got years of practice to go before I’m halfway decent, and there is still so much to learn, but that’s alright too. I think for me archery is going to be meditative, and a place I can go to relax and just unwind while shooting pointy bits of metal at a straw target.

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