… kind of fun. First time I’d been to one of these ‘pop culture’ shows that are sprouting up all over the place now, mixing celebs from film/TV/Sports with bits of toys, comics, all sorts of odds and ends. First time Newcastle had had one too, I think, and the level of interest seemed to have caught the organisers a bit by surprise, so there were biiig queues (at least on the Saturday, I gather it was all more or less under control by the time Sunday came around).
Anyway, I had a good time. Was great to meet Alberto Ponticelli in the flesh and spend a pleasant few hours hanging out with him. Talked to a few folks about Rogue Trooper, signed a lot of copies of the first issue. Got my own, unique copy as a souvenir, signed by me, Alberto and Courtney, the very nice lady from the convention crew who patiently sat with us for the whole day:
All the usual sort of stuff was going on …
… but a few personal highlights/impressions:
seeing a Rorschach cosplayer wandering around all day holding a can of baked beans (you’d have to have read Watchmen to get that …)
having lunch in the secret guests’ facilities while sitting next to Frank Bruno (you’d have to be a Brit of a certain age, or a serious boxing fan, to get that), and realising he really is as big as he always looked, and he really does have the deeeepest voice ever heard on the surface of the planet
watching (and filming, but that didn’t work) Alberto do a Rogue Trooper sketch in three minutes flat – which he then gave to me, because he’s nice like that:
being Judged (inexplicably, I was released without charge) …
realising I have never, not once in my life, been as much of a fan of any piece of entertainment, or brand, or celebrity, as many of the attendees were. Not being sure whether that was a good thing or bad; but knowing I didn’t regret it for one second.
coming out of the ‘celeb’ toilets just as Teal’c from Stargate SG-1 was going in, and thinking ‘Huh. Isn’t it funny how life turns out?’
being generally very struck by how extremely pleasant and patient and accommodating all the celebs were in dealing with their fans, no matter how big or small their celebritude was (and then overhearing one of them – who shall remain nameless – at the train station after the show telling someone it had been a ‘terrible, terrible madhouse’, and feeling some sympathy. Can’t be that easy, doing what they do at these shows and smiling, being utterly professional, all the way through it.)
giving Alberto a sustained and detailed introduction to the correct use of the word ‘Cheers’ in colloquial English (I think he got the hang of it, since he’s using it in his e-mails to me now …)
But you know what the best bit of the whole day was? It was the most striking, most obvious example of something that happened several times: people deriving enormous pleasure from their experience of being at the show. And even though this instance only involved me somewhat indirectly, it was immensely enjoyable to sit there and watch it happen.
A guy came wandering past, saw me and Alberto sitting there and came over to see what was what. He was after a copy of Rogue Trooper, but then he discovered Alberto’s small portfolio of original art pages for sale, and I could see his eyes lighting up in something approaching disbelief. To cut a long story short, this guy eventually (after queueing at a cash machine for about half an hour, spending another fifteen minutes trying to decide) bought a page of original Ponticelli comic art, and he was as happy as a happy person could be.
He said something along the lines of ‘You’ve made my day, I never in my life thought I’d own something like this’, and he absolutely meant it, and he was absolutely delighted. It was great. And it was kind of the point of the whole show, really. Whyever they came, whoever they wanted to see, I guess pretty much everyone who was there was just looking for that moment when they’d think to themselves ‘This is awesome. I never imagined …’
And although, on some really quite profound level I don’t get, can’t share in and indeed find a little dispiriting this whole celebrity culture, this idolisation of actors and characters and shows and films and fictions, this longing to be part of something, there’s no denying the happiness that was abroad in Newcastle on Saturday. And there’s no denying it was infectious.
If The Godin says it, it must be true, right? Well, could be. His is one of three posts linked to from this round-up, all of which are worth a read and all of which, I think, are fundamentally saying not so much that books are dying, as that the infrastructure and systems in place to publish, distribute and sell them as physical objects are dying, or at the very least heading towards a radically different and very probably much diminished future. Which seems kind of plausible, if nothing else. Difficult to be confident that the ink-and-paper book business faces anything other than ‘interesting times’.
Despite that, I’m evidently still writing books. I know this because look: someone’s somehow got their hands on a book cover. And discovered an Amazon UK link. Cool.
Hold your horses, though. I can certainly vouch for the fact that my novel The Free should indeed be published next year, because I’m in the late stages of battering it into publication-ready form at this very moment (I was until I broke off to write this post, anyway). That cover, though? If you’d read the book, you’d know that the ‘Cover Not Final’ tag appearing on the artwork is … well, highly likely to be accurate. That rather fine image of knightly chaps looking mean and moody is kind of cool, but it’s not what you’d call a ruthlessly accurate representation of the text.
Mean and moody’s fair enough, mind you, so who knows what’ll be adorning the book when it does eventually hit the shelves next year? Anyway, I’m aware I’ve not said much about my writing endeavours here of late, but with The Free nearing something that approximates to a presentable state, that’ll be changing a bit. I’ve got some stuff to say about the perils and pleasures of rewriting and revising, I think, which’ll be along in due course …
Hi. My name is Brian and I’m … still here. Blogging break over, back to business. Starting with a quick update on various book-related matters.
My copies of the French edition of Winterbirth -Un Hiver de Sang – arrived in the mail not so long ago, and they are really rather lovely. A very nice, chunky edition by Eclipse. Good job.
Because I have nothing better to do with my time, and am easily interested by things others would not expend any mental energy upon, I note something that’s been on my mind ever since the first translations of my books started to appear: UK and Dutch books generally seem to have the title running vertically down the spine so that you read from top to bottom; German and French have the title running up the spine. It always looks odd to me, whenever I notice it. Just what you’re used to, I guess.
And while we’re on the subject of translations, thanks to Martin for sending me the Czech cover to Fall of Thanes recently. Fantom continue their tradition of using gorgeous, if rather unrelated, art to cover my books!
And on the Edinburgh Dead front, what news to report? Well, there’s an August publication date on bothsides of the Atlantic. Don’t know about anyone else, but I’ll be glad to finally see this one hit the shelves. The proofs – the final pre-printing paperwork that lets you see how the whole text is going to look once bound in book form – have been cluttering up my desk for a while now, so here, by way of tiny teaser is a snapshot (very poor quality, for which apologies; I hope your eyes are up to the task) of the quote that prefaces the book:
‘dens and holes to which the Genius of Iniquity has fled, and become envenomed with newer and more malignant inspirations.’ That’s good stuff, that is. Mr. Thomas Ireland Jnr had a way with sensationalist words.
Feels surprisingly satisfying to be blogging again, so you can expect to hear quite a bit more from me in the coming weeks. Coming this Friday: the return of Moving Pictures on a Friday. I know. How exciting is that? Be still your beating heart and all that.
So, this has shown up here and there on the internet in the last week or so. Figure it’s only fair it should show up here too. One slight word of caution: this might be the final cover for The Edinburgh Dead. Or it might not quite be. If it isn’t, though, the final version won’t be massively different. For what it’s worth (and the opinion of authors on their own covers is not always worth as much as you might imagine) I like it. I’ll be delighted to have my book wear such a skin.
Publication date? 2011. A more precise predicition should be available before too long …
So, as mentioned a few posts back, I’ve got a story in Speculative Horizons, an upcoming anthology from Subterranean Press. It’s edited by Patrick ‘Fantasy Hotlist‘ St Denis, and he’s using it in part to raise some funds for the American Cancer Society. Which is A Good Thing.
Sub Press are donating 10% of the cover price of all pre-orders to the ACS, and they’ve now extended the period for which that condition applies until the end of June 11th, i.e. if you place a pre-ordervia this link before close of play Friday, you’ll get not only the book but also the warm glow of supporting a good cause. And behold, there’s some good stuff in there, as the blurb makes clear:
Speculative fiction is wide in scope and styles, and Speculative Horizons showcases the talent and storytelling skills of five of the genre’s most imaginative voices:
In C. S. Friedman’s “Soul Mate,” it’s love at first sight for Josie at the arts and crafts festival when she meets the handsome Stephan Mayeaux. It all sounds too good to be true until her newfound boyfriend starts to act strangely and unexplained occurrences begin to take place around her.
In Tobias S. Buckell’s “The Eve of the Fall of Habesh,” contragnartii Jazim must carry out one final assignment before the armies of the Sea People lay waste to the city he loves.
L. E. Modesitt, Jr. returns to the universe of his bestselling Recluce saga in “The Stranger.” A young herder’s existence will be forever changed by the unexpected arrival of the black-clad man recounting tales of angels living on the summit of the Roof of the World.
In “Flint,” Brian Ruckley introduces us to a young and inexperienced shaman who must venture into the spirit world to discover the source of the sickness which afflicts his tribe before they are all wiped out.
Talk to any cop working for Homicide, Narcotics, or Vice, and they’ll tell you that they get the worst cases imaginable. But in Hal Duncan’s “The Death of a Love,” you realize that they have nothing on Erocide
Well, yes. Three weeks since the last post, and even longer since the rest of the site got refreshed (the links page is in need of some serious housekeeping, for instance) and I’m sure … well, I guess maybe there’s someone somewhere who noticed, and maybe cared just a little bit.
But there is a reason – aka an excuse. (Aside from me being busy writing and stuff, obviously, which is my standard justification for anything and everything I don’t do). Significant changes are in the pipeline for brianruckley.com, so I figured I’d hold off until v2.0 emerges. So it’s good news, really: a brand spanking new brianruckley.com is en route! But the pipeline in which it currently resides has been of slightly indeterminate length, hence the drop-off in activity while those involved awaited a measuring tape. I can now report that the end of said pipe is within sight and my virtual facelift will occur in the not too distant future (which is still not exactly a precise prediction, I know, but we’re talking weeks rather than months, assuming no disastrous interventions by the gods of chance).
So things will remain subdued around these parts until then.
In the meantime, look: pretty picture. Specifically, the cover to the recently released Czech edition of Bloodheir (thanks to Martin for sending me the image).
So, everyone: welcome to 2010. (A week late, I know, but it’s the thought that counts, right?) I hope you enjoy it, and that it delivers at the very least a respectable portion of all that you hope for.
Starting a new year with a new experience can’t be a bad thing, I reckon, so you won’t hear any complaints from me about the wintry onslaught that has subjugated the British Isles. There’s been no sign of the grass on the lawn outside my window for over three weeks now, buried as it is beneath a gleaming white blanket of snow. Nothing remarkable for many of you, of course, including those living at the same latitude as Edinburgh (approaching 56 deg N, for the record – roughly the same as Moscow and the Aleutian Islands), but it’s exceptionally unusual round here, where the peculiarities of climates both macro- and micro- mean most winters are all but snow-free. In fact, I don’t remember seeing anything quite like it in my life.
I’m a big fan of the big freeze. Everything looks just that little bit unfamiliar and exotic. It feels like we’ve all travelled to some other place – one quieter, more beautiful and imbued with a faint, cold magic – without having to move. The sound of deep snow crunching underfoot seems to me vaguely romantic and wild and fantastical.
A new computer arrived in my house. I didn’t really want one, but the old one was accumulating software glitches and idiosyncracies that nothing seemed to rid it of, and to be fair it was a few years old, so I bit the bullet and went shopping. Turns out PCs have got a whole lot better since I last bought one. Who knew? I mean, have you seen these flat screen things? They’re all … flat and stuff. Amazing.
Anyway, one consequence has been a big clean out and reorganising of my feeds, which gives me an excuse to flag up some new, newish or not new at all podcasts that might be of interest:
1. Tor.com has added a new podcast – the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy – to complement their existing audio fiction one. Both can be found here. The G’s G to the G promises to cover a wide spectrum of geeky interests, so should be worth following. (First episode doesn’t do much for me, since it’s mostly about Left 4 Dead 2, and my gaming days are more or less behind me, sadly, but I’m not letting that put me off).
2. The iFanboy Pick of the Week podcast is my graphic novels and comics-related listening of choice. For any of you out there with a liking for that medium, it gets a great big thumbs up from me. (As does their video podcast, if you’re a visually oriented sort).
3.Naked Archaeologyoffers monthly news and views on archaeological research and discoveries. Quite interesting, if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s a spin-off from the very well known and jolly good Naked Scientistspodcast, as is the newer and potentially interesting (but I haven’t actually listened to it yet, so don’t blame me if it’s rubbish) Naked Astronomy.
And lo, the new year brings a new look for Fall of Thanes. This is the cover for the US mass market paperback edition, due out very soon. And it is, IMHO, a thing of beauty. Possibly my favourite ‘look’ for any of the trilogy so far. And that’s saying something, since all the way through, I’ve really been jolly well taken care of by the Orbit folks responsible for prettying up my books.
The new year also brings free pdfs of books. Free pdfs of 11,000 books to be precise, including quite a lot of famous ones (and a great many not very famous at all ones, I suspect). They’re available at The Book Depository. Now, personally I can’t read novel-length stuff in pdf form. Can just about manage a short story, but that’s about my limit in that format (and even then, I’ll be hoping it’s a short short story). But you might be different, so go knock yourself out. It doesn’t look that easy to actually find some of the freebies, admittedly, but even right there on the front page, there’s links to free Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling and others.
Enough of this Autumnal blogging inactivity. Got to take baby steps back into the habit for fear of straining my moribund blogging muscles, of course, so just a couple of quick notes to start with:
Czech edition of Winterbirth emerges blinking (and perhaps even bawling?) into the world, under the title ZROZENI ZIMY. It sports a distinctly striking cover – not sure who, if anyone, the specific characters are supposed to be, but they definitely look … alarming. Tempted to think of them as some heavily-armoured version of Wain and Kanin, but who knows? Thanks to reader Martin for sending me a useable jpg of the cover.
My parents were awesome. A completely and unreservedly true statement, of course. In fact, they still are awesome, but that’s not the point. The point is this: the My Parents Were Awesome blog. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I find it an extraordinarily affecting, interesting, hypnotic, moving, evocative etc etc site, given that it is such a simple idea: reader-submitted photos of their parents, mostly as young(ish) adults, offered without commentary, without location or context or anything but the most simple identification. Page after page of them, and as I work my way through them it feels like I’m looking into lives, into stories, into the past, into other worlds almost; and I invariably find myself thinking ‘Why, yes. What obviously awesome people. Just look at them. They look wise, and fun, and kind, and thoughtful. Awesome.’
It’s a silent, restrained archive of childrens’ love and respect for their parents, an acknowledgement that those parents lived lives as rich and strange and individual as anything their children have managed. Fantastic stuff.
About time we had something a bit different around here, I figure.Couple of weeks ago, someone got in touch with me via Facebook (the Winterbirth fan page, to be precise), and I thought the story they had to tell was so interesting that … well, here it comes. Meet Richard Alvarez, a real live knight in shining armour. Some of you, it turns out, know exactly what he looks like already. He’ll introduce himself, and then I’ll pitch him a few questions. Hope at least some folks find this as interesting as I did!
(Note, the photos appearing are, in order of appearance, by and copyright Cat Connor, Ron Koberer and Linda Alvarez. No use without permission, please).
RA: I’ve always been fascinated by the renaissance and medieval eras. In college I studied fencing, and went on to pursue teaching as a Classical Fencing Master. Simultaneously, I’ve pursued my interests in media production, theatre and film. This parallel track led me to performing at the first Renaissance Festival I ever attended in Houston Texas, back in the early seventies. A friend and I formed a Dueling Team we called “Triomphe”.
We performed as “Triomphe” for eleven years at the Texas Renaissance Festival. In the early eighties, I met four young men who had been hired to perform the joust. A few years later, they invited me to joust with them at a show in Chicago that summer. ‘I can’t ride,’ I told them. ‘That’s okay, we’ll teach you.’ So in the summer of 1984 I started my career as a professional jouster. A few years later, I was asked to take over the managing duties of the company, and I formed “International Action Theatre”. We had three companies of men, with four to six horses each – touring the country all year long. In addition to renaissance festivals, we did Wild West shows and stunt work for films and theme parks.
In 1994, I officially retired from the renaissance festival circuit. I have focused on my filmmaking and screenwriting endeavors for the most part since then, though I did manage to merge my two interests in 2005, when I produced my award winning documentary American Jouster.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting at home when I got a text from a friend. It was a jpg, and I couldn’t quite make out the image. I handed my phone to my son, and he squinted at it saying, ‘It looks like YOU! Yeah, I think it is you, on a poster or maybe a book cover … Fall of Thrones? No, the Fall of THANES?’
I downloaded a larger image from your website, and couldn’t for the life of me remember where the photo came from. I know I didn’t pose specifically FOR the cover, so the photo had to be an old one. I began to scour my hard drives, trying to match the shot on the cover with something I might have on hand.
Bingo! In 2005, I responded to a call from a student filmmaker, John Joynert, who was working on his senior thesis film. It was called Pro Meus Rex – and the story centered on two live chess pieces who meet in a fantasy forest setting to battle it out. I played The Black Knight and another actor played The White Pawn. During that shoot, unit photographer Ron Koeberer took a number of still photos (Ron does amazing work, and you can view some of his shots at www.koberfoto.com). It turns out that Ron had listed a few shots from Pro Meus Rex with stock photo companies online. Apparently whoever did the layout for the cover of Fall of Thanes licensed the image through one of the stock agencies.
And that is how I wound up on the cover of Fall of Thanes.
BR: Given that you started out as a classically trained fencer, to an outsider like me it looks like a pretty radical shift in weaponry and fighting style when you get into the medieval end of things: possibly in my ignorance, I imagine much less finesse and much more brute force being involved. To what extent are skills or instincts or techniques transferable between the fencing and the medieval side of things?
RA: “Mixed Martial Arts” is a very popular form of sport entertainment right now. You see fighters combining different skill sets from different martial arts training against competitors with other skill sets. This is possible, primarily because the main component is the same for all martial arts – The Human Body.
In terms of using a blade – the target is the same regardless of era – the weapon has a point and/or edge. The human body moves the same regardless of era. What changes are the tactical applications of point and edge – especially in response to terrain and armor. So it really was just a matter of understanding what the weapon was designed for, and what the target area was supposed to be. Probably the most difficult of the medieval weapons to master (for me personally) was the flail – damned unpredictable rebound. And of course, getting used to wearing armor and the limited visibility of a helm.
BR:I’m fascinated by the practicalities of this whole business. The horses in the jousts, for instance. How much specialised training is needed to get a horse to do what you need it to do? Can any horse be suitable, or only those with particular physical or mental attributes?
RA: We have always selected horses primarily for their temperment. They have to be sound of course, and capable of supporting the armored rider. (Rule of thumb – a sound working horse can carry/work with one third of it’s own body weight … this is a ‘rule of thumb’ – not a hard and fast law). Breed was not as important as temperment. We ‘auditioned’ horses by asking them to do a specific set of drills. Such things as passing another horse, riding with flags, riding close to/at a man on the ground. The horse didn’t have to perform well, it just had to show an aptitiude to be trainable. We didn’t always have the luxury of time in training horses.
BR: There must be risks involved, no matter how skilled and practised someone is. Have you ever been injured yourself or – and I suspect this might be even more alarming – inadvertently injured someone else?
RA: Bumps and bruises happen every time you fall off a horse, and we did scheduled falls in every show – so sure, people got bumps, bruises, scrapes and the occasional dislocation or break. In stage combat – you can generally expect to get the odd scraped knuckle and bruise from your partner – but you really do train hard for safety’s sake.
I’ve probably given my share of knicked fingers, and clipped hands – but I don’t keep track of those any more than I keep track of the ones I’ve recieved. It’s part of the game. My own worst personal injury came fom a ‘knee to knee’ collision in a cantering pass with another rider. We were NOT armored – this is the same sort of injury one typically gets in playing polo.
BR: I know you played a specific character during your jousting career – Sir Richard, Early of Greyhame. Is this name just an identifying badge, or did you have personalities (good guys and bad guys!), plots and backstories developed for the characters you all played? I guess I’m interested in how much of this is theatre – complete with fictional narrative – and how much is demonstration, stunt show, sport etc.
RA: The character I portrayed “Sir Richard – The Earl of Greyhame” was usually a bad guy. Tall dark and bearded – yeah, I looked the part. And lets face it, it’s more fun to be the bad guy! Our shows were carefully choreographed, and scripted. There was always room to ad-lib lines with the court and each other, but we all knew where we were going, and what was supposed to happen on the field.
In the jousting business you will sometimes hear the distinction made that a particular company does ‘Theatrical Jousting’ while another company does ‘Sport Jousting’. What this usually comes down to is whether or not the hits delivered during the joust passes are choreographed or spontaneous.
In a theatrical joust the hits are planned, usually a specific number of hits, with a ‘dismount’ at the end. This is a running, full speed fall. The fall is followed with horse to ground combat – and another dismount – followed by ground combat and possibly a bloody ‘kill’. (Depending on the philosophy of the company and/or the faire regarding kills and blood).
In a ‘full contact’ or ‘sport joust’ show the jousters are trying to unhorse each other. Again, there is usually a prescribed number of passes. They may or may not succeed in unhorsing their opponent. They may hit, or miss. There may or may not be a fall. After which, they will usually give a demonstration of combat that may or may not be choreographed.
Understand, the EXACT SAME SKILLS are needed in either version of the show. You MUST be able to controll your lance to hit a target, and control your horse. You must have an excellent seat to maintain or deliver a hit. THE HORSES DON’T KNOW if the combat is real, or ‘choreographed’. They are being asked to perform the same tasks either way.
BR:Given your professional involvement in film and media, have you got any particular favourite movies set in the medieval or renaissance eras, either in terms of entertainment value or the vividness or accuracy with which they capture those eras? How about books, fiction or non-fiction?
RA: My favorite fight choreographer has got to be William Hobbs. (A Brit as it happens). His best films in no particular order – Robin and Marion – the end fight between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw as the aging Robin and Sherriff is a classic (One of my all time favorite films too). The Three and Four Musketeers – Dick Lester’s version – shot as one film but released as two, starring Michael York as D’Artagnan and Oliver Reed as Athos. Still some of the best rapier work on film. The Duellists – Ridley Scott’s first feature film – and the film that turned me into a Napoleonic Era buff. Excellent smaill sword and sabre work – and the best film ever for capturing the gut-wrenching terror of personal conflict. All these films are William Hobbs work. (He also did Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet and the latest Count of Monte Christo and Man in the Iron Mask – so yeah, if his name’s on it, I’ll watch it).
Best written description of the mindset and action of a duel … for my money, is the final duel between Oscar and The Eater of Souls in R. A. Heinlein’s Glory Road. Of course, Heinlein was a sabre fencer – and it shows.
For just plain fun, and insider’s reference – The Princess Bride – the book and the film, with their reference to actual period fencing masters and books. The fight in the film is also extremely well done – in the classic Old School Hollywood tradition.
As for recommended reading – one should read the actual period fencing manuals. Many are now available on-line. (Back in my day, you had to got to a real library, and check out the books IF you could find them).
BR: Thanks, Richard. I’m very grateful to you for taking the time to satisfy my curiosity! And to round things off, a nice clip of Richard talking about his film American Jouster, and the life of a touring knight: