Tag Archives: Strange Chemistry

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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Filed under Comics, General, podcast, Writing

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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My experiences at Eastercon 2012

I’ve made the title of this post specific to me on purpose as not everyone had as enjoyable time at Eastercon 2012. I missed out on some of the controversy as I was elsewhere attending other panels or I was out to dinner at one point, but I’m sure other people will go into detail about the bad. In general though the feedback has been very good and the event was a huge success as it sold out for the first time in many years. Given that the good outweighed the bad from my point of view, I’ll start with the bad and then end on a much more positive note.

For me there were a few problems with one or two of the panelists and some of the audience members. Being specific, no matter the nature of the panel and the tagline, they were determined to make the panel about something else entirely. They sometimes asked very leading questions or irrelevant questions in an attempt to get the panel to discuss the topic they wanted. This ruined a few panels for me. The moderators valiantly tried to steer the discussion back on topic and they were successful on some occasions, but not always. One of the positives this year was the variety of panels over the four days, so there were plenty of opportunities to discuss many subjects. The organisers provided a daily opportunity for feedback and there were also opportunities before the event to submit ideas and suggestions for panels. I appreciate the programme was not posted until two weeks before the event, but even so it was still being tweaked up to the last minute. So if there was a gap they should have raised it with the organisers instead of trying to derail other panels. I found it really annoying and disrespectful that some people were so incredibly selfish and I was very disappointed by a couple of panelists for the same reason.

Moving on to the good. I managed to meet several authors whose work I admire in person and I chatted to them about all sorts of stuff from writing to archery to role playing to all sorts of nonsense. These included, Mike Shevdon, Elspeth Cooper, Suzanne McLeod (again! – *wave*), Anne Lyle and I met a bunch of shiny and new authors whose books are due out imminently. These are authors with Strange Chemistry, the YA Imprint of Angry Robot Books. I had a lovely dinner one evening with Kim Curran, Laura Lam, Natasha from Voyager, Amanda from Strange Chemistry and my mate Adrian Faulkner.

Over the course of the weekend we also invented several harmless games to keep ourselves amused including Author Cosplay and Author Wave. Adrian has all of the details about the games over on his blog here, as well as a third game Pitch! which we discussed but didn’t dare try in person. I think I was ahead by the end on Author Wave as one of the guests of honour, George RR Martin, himself waved at me. I also received confused and puzzled waves from a few other people but didn’t get any points. It was just interesting to test their memory or their eyesight to see if they were able to read my badge and then work out if they knew me after all or not.

I went to a lot more panels this year than last and even though there were some I was not interested in, I’m sure they were to some who enjoyed them, so we all had a piece of the pie. Despite contracting flu during the latter part of the event (I blame being very tired and run down, plus late nights and early mornings) I came away with a renewed sense of purpose. I said this in my previous post, some days I wake up and think every word I’ve written is awful and other days I don’t think it’s half bad. Eastercon was good for many things but it rekindled the fire in my belly and turned up the hungry dial from 9 to 10. As I said before, the final decision is not in my hands, but being knocked back isn’t going to stop me and it hasn’t stopped me this far. I should point out that my current novel is not my first, or second, or even third or fourth novel. I don’t know if you need to have written 10,000 words or a 100,000 words of crap before you get to the good. Some people make it on the first book, some after 13 years of submitting like Ian McDonald, and as John Jarrold pointed out he’s not a ‘bad little writer’. I almost didn’t go to the panel on how to get published but the new faces on the panel won me over and I was glad I did. I made copious notes, some of which I already knew, but it’s good for reinforcement and there were some interesting comments. The short version is, it’s a long-shot, it’s a crap shoot. If they don’t say wow in the first few pages they (the agent then the publisher) will say no. One audience member was struggling with his story which really kicked off in chapter 8 and the short answer again was, page 1 doesn’t have to be a murder, a car crash, an explosion. It can start slow, but it needs to be your voice, have you written all over it, be distinct and special, and it can be poetic and beautiful or blunt and visceral but it can’t just be run of the mill. Revise and revise and then revise again. Then get other people to look at it. Then give it to someone who hates you and listen to their feedback. Then revise it some more. Ok, perhaps not someone who hates you, but I’m sure you can see why. My mum will always say she likes it and is proud of me (probably) but this isn’t a competition where everyone gets an award for taking part (and what is that about! Don’t get me started) you only get one for first place.

The only person who can let you down, is you, be it because of bad grammar, punctuation, not reading the submission guidelines, printing it on red paper, or writing it by hand. They are looking for a reason to put it down, not because they are evil but simply because every day they get 30 or 50 and have to get through them because tomorrow there will be 30 more. That sounds harsh and cruel and cut-throat, but if you get all of the basics right, and they actually sit down to read your double spaced (lines not between words!) submission, then the full weight rests on your story and your style, which is what it should rest on. Also, read the genre guidelines. If they say no romance and you submit it to an agent who only does SFF, don’t think they will give you a chance because your book is special. They won’t. They don’t have time. Revise. Read. Do your research. You’ll never be 100% happy with it but be as close to 100% as you can be and don’t think, oh well cleaning it up is for the agent and the publisher to do, my job is to create Art and I don’t deal with the small details! That’s someone else’s job! Wrong. It is your job.

Anyway, coming back to the event in more general terms I had a great time. I think George RR Martin helped sell out the event, I met some great authors and had a number of very interesting discussions over drinks and dinner, and I was able to spend some time and socialise with some friends that I don’t seem more than once a year. I also met several new and interesting people. I’m not sure if I will be attending next year, it depends on so many factors, but it is closer to where I live, which does make it appealing. I’ll decide closer to the time as I did this year but I believe that despite some issues and controversy, Eastercon 2012 was a big success. I’ve definitely forgotten to mention some stuff, but it’s the end of a busy first week in a new job and I’m still brain addled with the flu, so apologies to anyone I missed. Don’t forget to wave at your author!

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Coming of Age

Last week SFF publisher Angry Robot announced they are setting up a YA imprint, Strange Chemistry, and Amanda Rutter, has been appointed as the editor. I am totally thrilled and delighted for Amanda because for as long as I’ve known her she has always been extremely enthusiastic and vocal about the joys of YA fiction. They could not have picked a better person for the job. This, combined with reading my first YA book, Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan, made me think back to when I was the right age for YA books and what was available.
 
When I was in primary school the only SFF books available were those to help you read which contained lots of colourful pictures and not many words. After that I jumped to books of Myths and Legends which often had beautiful paintings and sketches of the monsters like Grendal or the Green Knight from the story about Sir Gawain. After that I had to jump to borrowing my brother’s books, which were the Belgariad by David Eddings, The Lord of the Rings, the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis and there’s another series I’ve completely forgotten but will come back to me later. LOTR was a bit beyond me and at that age I quickly grew bored and was bogged down with it, but the Belgariad was probably closer to what we might call YA today. No such segment existed back then, there was just one small and quite repetitive SFF segment in my local bookshop for SFF and it was dominated by the likes of Stephen King (too old and weird for me back then), Clive Barker (far too scary) with the occasional Terry Brooks or Eddings thrown in. Once I had exhausted the Belgariad, and the Mallorian was not yet in print, I went through all of Brooks’ Shannara books.
 
The first time I read the Belgariad series I was probably ten or eleven as I distinctly remember sitting on a bench at lunch times in Middle School reading Pawn of Prophecy while other boys ran around playing football. This could explain why I never got into football and don’t support a football team. Anyway, I picked up most of the content in the Belgariad, probably missed some of the nuances but that was all right, I absorbed enough to know what was going on and who all of the characters were. I was already in love with the genre by that point and without knowing it, this was my first brush with a coming of age story which I would later read over and over again. The story was about a boy named Garion who grew up to discover he had a destiny that could not be avoided and like Luke Skywalker, and a host of other orphans, farm boys, scullions and stable hands, he discovered the kindly old man with the white beard who was always so nice to him was actually a powerful Sorcerer.
 
I’ve gone back and read the Belgariad since and on subsequent readings it has had far less of an impact. I can see what is going to happen next, I know the main character will always do the right thing and that in the end the heroes will always win. It’s a comfortable read and without meaning to sound patronising, it’s a much simpler book than I remember.

So some of that was in the back of my mind when earlier this year I read Glow, my first proper YA book and to my relief it was a totally different animal. Some adult issues were referred to in passing, or they took place off the page, so perhaps that is one of the minor differences between YA and other fiction, but apart from that I didn’t notice anything in particular. It was a SF story and like the SF I enjoy the most, it focused more on the characters and it used the SF elements as background and structure, the technology did not become the whole story. As someone in his thirties I know it was not written for me and therefore there were certain elements I felt were missing, but it didn’t prevent it from being an enjoyable read.

I was recently listening to an episode of the SF Signal podcast where they had a panel discussion on YA. One of the panellists said in their experience there are typically two types of YA. The stories that can be read and enjoyed by anyone of any age, and the teen focused stories which centre around particular issues they might be struggling with, such as eating disorders, image issues and personal confidence, social conformity and so on. They’re never spelled out that overtly, but at their core that’s what the stories are about. I haven’t read much YA so I can’t comment on that so I will defer to her knowledge.

I think an adult could read and enjoy a novel in the latter category, but personally I would probably want the heart of the story to be focused on something else. My angst days are a long time ago. Glow probably straddled the two categories but I can definitely see it appealing more to a YA audience as it is all about searching for answers and searching for yourself. I think it was about the main characters believing they would grow up to be one thing and then events didn’t go as they had anticipated and they had to adapt in order to survive. By the end of the book they were totally different people and they looked back on their younger selves as naïve. It was never patronising, there were no easy answers and unlike the Belgariad the characters didn’t always do the right thing. There were plenty of grey in Glow and at the end of the book it was not all tied up neatly in a little bow. I would definitely read another YA book, but right now there are so many other books I desperately want to read and don’t have enough time, so perhaps I will revisit YA when my to read pile is more manageable.

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