… 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.

Tags: , , ,

I’ve got a post up at SF Signal, about the experience of switching (temporarily! – I do still have a new novel coming out this October, after all!) from prose to comics writing: What Happens When A Novelist Tries To Write A Comic?. Do go check it out if you’re interested.

Enough about what I think about things, though. It occurred to me I’ve got a chance here to do something I’ve not done in a looong time, so for nostalgic reasons as much as anything, here comes … A Review Round-Up!

What some folks have made of Rogue Trooper #1:

‘Rogue Trooper is off to a killer start and I can’t wait for more.’ IGN

‘This comic nails the atmosphere of the world and the voice of the title character.’ Adventures in Poor Taste

‘Checks all the first issue boxes while still giving you a great story.’ Comic Book Therapy

‘We have a winner here.’ Comic Bastards

‘This is an impressive opening issue for the series.’ Unleash the Fanboy

‘Well worth adding to your pull list. Final score: 8 out of 10.’ Rhymes With Geek

‘A great piece of apocalyptic pulp.’ Flickering Myth

All of which is very nice. If you haven’t already, there’s still time to pick up the first issue at your local comic shop ( if you have one), or at comixology if you don’t (where I’ve just noticed, in the course of finding that link, that it appears to be piling up 5 star reviews, which is also very nice).

Thanks to anyone and everyone who’s said nice things about this first issue, wherever they’ve said them.

Now I must go and do some preparation for my first trip to a convention in a while: Me and the Rogue Trooper artist, Alberto Ponticelli, will be at Newcastle Film and Comic Con tomorrow, Saturday 8th March, where I believe we may both be doing such things as signing stuff and talking about stuff. If by any chance you’re there, do say hello. Neither me nor Alberto will bite. Probably.

Tags: , , , ,

There’s no shortage of things different about writing a comic compared to writing a novel. Heaps of them. One is that Wednesday suddenly becomes the most important day of the week. Comics fans already know this, of course. For everyone else, I should perhaps explain that Wednesday is … New Comics Day!

Yes, by ancient and noble tradition, comics show up in shops and online in highly regimented fashion, every Wednesday. This particular Wednesday is the one on which my first attempt at writing a comic reaches places the public can get it. Rogue Trooper #1 has been released into the wild.

Available now (today!) in your local comic shop, online at Comixology and probably elsewhere in the digital universe (but when I buy digital comics, I get them from comixology, so to be honest I don’t really know how it works elsewhere).

I may only be a novice at this comics writing thing but Alberto Ponticelli and Steve Downer, the artist and colourist, know exactly what they’re doing in this medium, and they’ve created a very good-looking book imho. Can’t beat having experienced collaborators to keep you afloat as you learn to swim.

You’d be doing me a solid (is that what the kids say nowadays? Or was that years ago?) if you gave Rogue Trooper #1 a try …

Tags: , , , ,

I Grew A Beard

Hard to say why, exactly. Impulse. Because I can. Idle curiosity.

It is, I fear, not a very convincing beard. Insufficient density. Lack of uniformity. Needs tending in some way, obviously, but I’m not sure I was signing on for tending when I began this experiment. Certainly not for the nurturing that looks to be required if a pleasing effect is going to be produced.

Funny how I’ve got a pair of discrete white/grey chin tufts showing through, though. The whole thing’s a subtly different colour than my head hair, too.

So, a possibly failed experiment (though kind of fun). What do we think? Beard good, beard bad? You decide! Actually, no: I decide. My face, my responsibility to take the weighty decision.

Made me wonder, though: should every man for whom such a thing is an option grow their beard out a bit at least once in their life? Just on principle? It’s there, waiting to be expressed, a part of you. If you never let it come out to play, not even once, there’s an aspect of you that you’ll never see or know.

Maybe not. It’s just a scrappy strew of hair, after all.

Tags: ,

Newcastle Film and Comic Con runs Sat 8th and Sun 9th March. I’ll be there on the Saturday, in my capacity as writer of Rogue Trooper – issue #1 of which will, I think, be out in the world (in comic shops and digital sales-places) this very Wednesday. I believe signing and panelling may be involved during my day-trip to Newcastle, so do say hello if you happen to be there.

A probably rather greater incentive to say hello is that my rather talented collaborator on the comic, the artist Alberto Ponticelli, will be at the con on both days, signing Rogue Trooper #1. He’s created a rather splendid variant cover for the first issue, specifically for this and other Showmasters shows in the UK. Obviously, since he’s the interior artist, of all the covers so far done for the series, this is the one that most closely replicates the look and vibe of what lurks within.

Got to say, I’m kind of looking forward to the show. Partly because it’s my first chance to actually meet Alberto in the flesh; partly because I’ve never previously been – in any capacity – to one of these big ‘pop culture’ conventions that have kind of taken off around the world in the last few years. I’m curious, you know? I’ll take my camera, report back here on my impressions.

Incidentally, you can get a sneak peek at Rogue Trooper #1 – the first seven pages – over at comicbookresources right now.

Tags: , , , , ,

My podcast listening is spiralling out of control. I spend so much time with stuff plugged into my ears I’m worried it might just kind of merge with my flesh and become a permanent fixture. It occurred to me the other day that if I added together all the time I spend reading, watching TV/film and internetting, it would fall some way short of the time I spend with someone podcasting into my ear. Thus, podcasts have officially become my primary source of entertainment and information. Weird.

As some might remember, I’m mystified why everyone in the world isn’t similarly addicted, and every so often do my best here to provide gateway drugs for those who haven’t yet acquired the podcast habit.

As I’m about to become a published comics writer (next week, I believe!), I thought it was about time I spread some love around one of my favourite categories of listening: comics podcasts! (And by ‘comics’, I mean word and pictures combining to tell stories, obviously; not people telling jokes and being funny).

I listen to too much comics stuff to get into it all here, so I offer just a sample: seven of the podcasts I regularly consume. With my ears.

ifanboy. Gets listed first because it was the first I really latched on to, years ago. Every week, like clockwork, there’s a ‘Pick of the Week’ episode in which the three hosts talk about a selection of the week’s new comics, answer reader questions etc. It’s tight, structured, pacy, with fairly high production values. Pretty polished as podcasts go, and I do appreciate a bit of polish now and again. Tends to be focused on the biggest publishers and relatively ‘mainstream’ comics, but the hosts have pretty diverse tastes and open minds so all kinds of stuff turns up over time.

House to Astonish. A British podcast (Scottish, in fact!) Yay, go us! Anyway, I like the Britishness of it, which heavily colours the tone and references and humour even though the subject matter is American comics. Another very structured offering, with a consistent format covering comics-related news, discussion of forthcoming comics, reviews of current comics etc. Accessible and fun, imho.

Wait, What?. Now we’re getting into the slightly more deep cut, idiosyncratic realm of comics podcasting, and with it possibly my favourite on this list. Every fortnight (approximately, theoretically), Jeff Lester and Graeme McMillan deliver 2hrs+ of digressive, detailed comics-related talk that covers a very wide territory: superheroes, small press, manga, movies, beards, waffles, the weather … and so on. There are occasional rants and conspiracy theories about what’s going on in the industry or inside creator’s heads, nostalgic love-ins for old comics, technical snafus, all sorts of stuff. As with many of the best podcasts, the magic ingredient is the natural chemistry between the hosts which – again, as with many of the best podcasts – you only really come to fully appreciate and recognise after you’ve listened to a few episodes.

11 O’clock Comics. This one took me longer than most to get my head around, get onto the right wavelength etc. Four guys talking about comics and comics-related stuff for at least two hours once a week, every week. They drink, the conversation wanders around, they sometimes stray into rather NSFW territory. The range of comics discussed is pretty enormous, and quite a bit of what gets talked about doesn’t particularly interest me, but it’s talked about with such enthusiasm I stay thoroughly engaged. These guys read a lot of comics, like a lot of comics and like each other, and it shows.

Let’s Talk Comics. (That link is a horrendously slow loader, by the way, but it’ll get there in the end if you give it time – or you could just google the name or whatever). A newish kid on the podcasting block, and I’m already utterly hooked. Unlike the previous listings, this is an interview show, but it’s the kind of interview show you can absolutely only get in podcasts: extended, detailed, conversational. Some of the biggest names in the US comics industry (mostly writers and artists) talk at length and frankly about how they got into the business, how they do what they do, why they do what they do. It’s fascinating, and illuminating. Mostly has the form of what I’d call ‘narrative interview’, in that the talk is largely structured around the progress of the interviewee’s career.

Stuff Said. Another interview show. Another fascinating listen. The discussions tend to be a little bit more wide-ranging, a little less ‘narrative’ driven. Sometimes gets into such minute detail about aspects of the comics-making craft, the history of the industry, the thinking of the interviewee that I wonder if I must be far more of a comics nerd than I realised to enjoy it as much as I do. The truth is, though – and this is kind of the key to my whole podcast addiction – I find it endlessly interesting and enjoyable to listen to articulate people talk in detail about a subject, almost any subject, they care about and know inside out.

Decompressed. An irregular podcast that’s another interview show, but this time it’s a comics writer (Kieron Gillen) interviewing other comics professionals – often writers, occasionally artists – and most of the episodes focus on a single issue of a comic, trying to unpick what’s being done, and why, from a craft point of view. Always interesting to hear two professionals talking about what they do, don’t you think? Well, I suppose it depends on the professionals, but in this case lots of interesting stuff comes up.

Conclusion from all this? I listen to too many podcasts. There’s no getting away from it. It’s possible I need help.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

A long while back, I highlighted the lovely film A Day in the Life of a Fire Lookout by Gary Yost in a Moving Pictures on a Friday post. You never know who’s watching when you do internet stuff, of course, but in this case it turned out the film-maker himself was. So recently he dropped me a line to point me at a new film of his, which I’m happy to offer up for your consideration. It’s a collaboration between Yost and various other folks, including the actor Peter Coyote (whose fine voice you might recognise doing the narration).

Why am I happy to put it up here? Well, it’s a nice film, with some of the gorgeous and rather clever time-lapse stuff going on that made A Day in the Life of a Fire Lookout so pleasing to the eye. It’s got an environmental slant, which pleases me since that’s the kind of stuff I’ve spent much of my life involved with for both career and pleasure. It’s got a history and culture angle, too, which also pleases me since what happens when the natural world and human history and culture rub up against one another is one of my more lasting interests.

And it’s just plain interesting, if you ask me. The world is so complicated, so full of stories, that you could pick any piece of it, any time slice, any angle, and unravel a story encompassing huge bits of history, Nature, human experience. This is just one of those stories, I guess. And the views are gorgeous. Never been to Marin County (or California at all, for that matter), but it does look nice.

The Invisible Peak from Gary Yost on Vimeo.

More on Mount Tamalpais here, and more on Gary Yost here (give it a moment to load, and you’ll be rewarded with some nice phosots and films).

Tags: , , , ,

A good while back, I did a post here pontificating about how the question ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ was not a particularly good query to fire at a writer.

This is the sequel to that post, in which I answer the question in question. Just thought it’d be fun. Might also help to illustrate my case that ideas are the easy bit, coming as they do from everywhere, all the time, unpredictably.

So, here’s where the idea for every piece of fiction I’ve sold came from, in chronological order of publication.

Farm Animal, my first published story, appeared in the UK’s venerable sf magazine Interzone a long, long time ago. It has a unique, and unusually simple, origin in the context of my fiction output: it’s loosely based on a dream I had. It was a kind of creepy, not very nice, dream so we won’t go into any more details except to say it involved a human-pig hybrid. The hard bit, as ever, was turning that seed into a narrative of some sort, and in the process the story became about the transformation of a human into a pig. (Sidenote: I remember being quite pleased with myself, at that presumptuous age, for coming up with a title that reverses Animal Farm, in which pigs transform into humans, just as my story reverses that transformation. Doesn’t seem quite so clever now.)

Gibbons, my second published story, appeared in another UK magazine: The Third Alternative – still going, under the new title Black Static. Its origin is also unique in this list, in that it comes from my own direct, personal experience. In my early twenties I spent three months in Borneo, finding, following and sound-recording gibbons in a remote part of the rainforest. In hindsight, as you might expect, it was a powerful, rather formative experience in various ways (including career-wise, since it would later result in me getting a job that sent me to many other unusual, out of the way bits of the world), though at the time – as with many such experiences – I didn’t fully appreciate its significance. What did imprint itself on my mind even then, though, was the potent atmosphere and character of the place. It took years for the story that gave voice to my impressions of the Bornean rainforest to take shape, but Gibbons was the eventual result.

Winterbirth, and the Godless World trilogy of which it is the first part, has a messy kind of idea-origin. I knew I wanted to try writing novels, and I was instinctively interested in the possibility of a fantasy trilogy. I needed an imaginative nudge of some sort to get the process of world, character and story development going, and it came from the TV, in a way. This was way back when the Balkans, and the former Yugoslavia in particular, were in post-Communist meltdown and filling our TV screens and newspapers with stories and images of horrendous and cruel violence. Because I was even then a history nerd, I knew a lot of what was happening was the indirect fruit of bitter rivalries, enmities and events that went back many, many hundreds of years, and I was struck by the thought that it might be interesting to write about a fantasy world similarly torn apart by long-suppressed, half-hidden enmities that were somehow allowed to re-emerge.

Now, that initial idea got considerably complicated and diluted by the aforementioned process of world, character and story development. It provided the impetus for the process, but was itself changed and elaborated by it. Such things happen, once you get into the flow of turning a small spark into a fully fledged fire. But that’s what ideas are for really: they start the process, but unlike a chemical catalyst, they don’t have to survive that process unchanged.

Beyond the Reach of His Gods is a short story that appeared in the anthology Rage of the Behemoth, from Rogue Blades Entertainment. Much to my delight, it’s since been reprinted in the excellent online magazine Lightspeed, so you can read the whole thing for free over there if you like. This was the first time I’d been invited/commissioned to write a story for an anthology, and the brief was highly specific: heroic fantasy involving a giant monster set in one of several specific environments. I had no pre-existing ideas that fitted the bill (hardly surprising!), so the idea for this story had to be kind of ‘forced’. Except it came to me very easily, very quickly and very completely. I’ve no idea how that happens, but now and again it does: I just looked at the brief, thought about it for a bit, and the setting, characters, monster and the basic skeleton of the plot just turned up in my head. Very nice, and forunate really, since I would probably have turned down the invitation had things not bubbled up so easily, and had the story they suggested not struck me as being fun to write.

Flint was another short story for an anthology – Speculative Horizons, from Subterranean Press, edited by Patrick St-Denis. Again, I was asked if I would contribute, but this time there were no prescriptions regarding subject matter or even specific genre. So I pulled out a partially developed idea I’d been keeping on a mental shelf for ages, and used this as the opportunity to turn it into an actual story. That idea had its roots in my non-fiction reading: books like The Golden Bough, After The Ice and Shamanism. In learning and thinking about early magical beliefs, hunter-gatherer societies and the deep, deep past of human society and imagination, it struck me that a Stone-Age shaman would make an interesting central character for some kind of story. I knew very early on that his name would be Flint, but much of the detail of his adventures only got filled in when Patrick asked me if I fancied writing a story for his anthology …

The Edinburgh Dead has a very clear and fairly simple idea-origin. Having grown up in Edinburgh, and living there again now after a good few years away, I know a lot about its history and geography. Mind you, even people who’ve never been here have heard of Burke & Hare, the infamous baddies who murdered a lot of people so that they could sell their corpses to lecturers for dissection in anatomy classes in the early 19th century. For whatever reason, one day while musing on Edinburgh’s rich and complicated history, I just asked myself: ‘What if there were other people around back then, who wanted corpses for a different kind of experiment?’. From that question, after a good deal of research and the addition of a good many other influences, the whole novel emerged. And, inevitably, Burke and Hare stayed in the mix as characters in the story.

Rogue Trooper, the comic I’m writing for IDW (first issue in comic shops and on Comixology on Feb 26th!), is a different kettle of fish, idea-wise. This is a pre-existing character and milieu that I was asked to re-imagine. So the ideas required are of a different kind: what games can I play, what details can I add or subtract, what themes can I develop, with this already-established character? Those kind of ideas just come from looking at what’s there already, thinking back or re-visiting all the previous Rogue Trooper stories I read as a youth, applying my personal instincts as a writer to the property. To be honest, lots and lots of possibilities presented themselves to me as soon as I became aware of the opportunity, so it wasn’t too difficult. When someone else has done the hard work of creating a strong character, setting and framework, riffing on it is pretty straightforward (at least in terms of ideas, if not execution; believe me, I can now say from personal experience that writing comics is not straightforward or effortless!).

The Free will be published this October by Orbit, and it’s kind of fitting that it comes last on this list because in one sense it’s an extreme example on the original idea front. This book, alone of all the fictions on this list, has shed its originating idea like a snake shedding a skin. Literally no trace of the idea to which it can trace its roots remains in the novel that will be published. Weird, huh? Anyway, one day – or night, I think perhaps I was trying to go to sleep – a scene just popped into my head. In an underground cavern, someone discovers a prisoner, trapped in a huge cage. That was it. This was way back when I was still writing the Godless World trilogy. I had half a notion I might try writing another trilogy after I was finished with that one (a notion I soon thought better of!), and that single, unformed scene became the seed from which I gradually grew the outline of a whole plot, world, magic system, characters – I didn’t have a full trilogy worked out in detail, but I had a lot of stuff churning around in my head.

Except, I wrote The Edinburgh Dead instead. But the story-stuff that had sprung from that single imagined scene kept stewing in my thinking parts, and kept changing. In the plot I’d loosely imagined, there were a set of secondary characters – mercenaries – who struck me as interesting. To cut a long story short, I ended up pitching an idea focused upon them to the publisher as a stand-alone novel. The Free. The world in which they operate is not the one I dreamed up for that trilogy; the magic system is utterly different; there’s not a single character who has survived from my earlier musings into the text of the The Free; at no point does anyone even go underground, let alone discover a subterranean chamber with a caged prisoner in it. (But who’s to say what might happen, should I ever write any more stories about The Free?)

So there you are. I get my ideas from dreams, from personal experiences, from current affairs, from history, from commissions, from non-fiction books, from other people’s creations, from random scenes popping into my head. And I could add, in respect of fictions I’ve thought about or am currently pondering, which may or may not ever see the light of day: I also get them from idle reflections on the under-use of particular mythical creatures in fiction, consciously setting myself the challenge of coming up with an idea for a TV/radio series, writing tasks based on a single word set by tutors on a short course I did many years ago, looking at maps, etc. etc.

All seems clear enough. Question answered.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

A smart chap called Valerio Amaro combined his two passions – Lord of the Rings and advertising – into a nice little tumblr in which phrases from LotR are used as advertising slogans. I like them all, and you should check them all out here, but here’s a couple of favourites:

Tags: , ,

… recent developments in Edinburgh connect to stuff that happens in that book.

Someone who gets quite a bit of mention in The Edinburgh Dead – even though he’s long dead at the time of the story – is Major Weir, Edinburgh’s most infamous, notorious warlock. The book’s hero, Adam Quire, even ventures into Weir’s derelict, haunted former residence. I had to improvise a bit for that scene, since Weir’s actual house isn’t there any more. People who tried to stay there after his execution reported all manner of distressing manifestations and supernatural goings-on, and it was eventually demolished.

Or was it? Someone thinks it survived, and they reckon they’ve identified it. So perhaps Edinburgh’s most famously haunted and creepily-historied building is, in fact, still here. Amongst us. Watching us. It was apparently absorbed into the building pictured on the right.

I’m instinctively a bit sceptical, to be honest, but who knows? Anyway, if true, it amuses me that Weir’s house was apparently incorporated into a chapel building, which is now the Quaker Meeting House. I confess, that building’s not quite where I chose to put Weir’s house for The Edinburgh Dead, but I was only off by about fifty yards, which isn’t too bad I reckon.

The tale of Major Thomas Weir is, by the way, crazy and creepy – worth a read if you’ve not heard of him – and also perhaps kind of sad, since it seems more than a little likely he was, like many people in the past, unpleasantly executed basically for being mad.

Slightly more tenuously connected to The Edinburgh Dead, but included here because it’s pretty: there’s been an exhibition of Chinese lanterns in the University’s Old College this week.

The Edinburgh Dead‘s based on the true history of grave-robbing and the illicit trade in corpses for medical dissection, and quite a few of those corpses ended up in Old College. Indeed, in one of fate’s most wry and satisfying twists, William Burke – who was one half of the Burke & Hare duo who murdered to meet the demand for corpses, and who appears in The Edinburgh Dead – ended up on a dissection slab in Old College. After he was hung, his corpse was publicly dissected there. There was such demand to witness the butchering of his body that there was a near-riot when audience space proved inadequate.

Anyway, nice lanterns don’t you think? Based on the famous terracotta army, of course.

Check out the Edinburgh Dead photo-trailer for lots more visuals and history that connect to the book.

Tags: , , , , , ,

« Older entries § Newer entries »