Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Computers are like air conditioners...

They stop working when you open windows.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Behind the Scenes: Howl of the Werewolf - The Glass Knight

One of the 'creatures' you can fall foul of during the course of Howl of the Werewolf is the Glass Knight. Animated by evil magic, the image of a warrior from a stained glass window comes to life and battles you, attempting to chop you into little pieces with its razor-sharp glass sword.
The idea of the Glass Knight was one that I had been hoping to use in a gamebook for quite some time, but I cannot claim that it was an original one. The encounter was wholly inspired by a memorable scene from the 1985 cinematic feature Young Sherlock Holmes.

During the course of the movie, an old priest is hit by a poisoned dart shot from a blowpipe. As a result, hallucinates that he is being menaced by a stained glass knight. Considering the film was made over 20 years ago, the effects are, on the whole, excellent, especially the creation of the knight which took Industrial, Light and Magic artists four months to create. It was brought to life through computer animation, helped along by John Lasseter of a little known company, at the time, called Pixar.

If you've not seen the film before, it's worth tracking down for a look. It's better than you might have been led to believe. And if you have seen the film, you'll know that already, in which case, perhaps it's time you revisited that particular moment of escapism from your childhood.

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Ever thought of yourself as a budding J R R Tolkien?

Do you secretly harbour the desire to write your own fantasy epic? Do you re-read The Lord of the Rings every year in the hope that one day you will be able to create your own best-selling trilogy that then gets turned into a blockbuster film franchise? Do you have a folder full of scribbled maps depicting your own (but entirely different) Middle Earth?

If you do (or even if you just feel that you've read one derivative Hobbit rip-off too many) then you have to take The Fantasy Novelist's Exam.

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50 greatest villains in literature

The Telegraph has recently published a list of what its contributors consider to be the 50 greatest villains in literature.

Apparently the task was harder than they were expecting because 'the nature of grown-up literature is that it doesn't all that often have villains, in the sense of coal-black embodiments of the principle of evil. And even when it does, it's not always so easy to tell who they are. Is God the baddie, or Satan? Ahab, or the white whale?'

Well, they've obviously not read any of my novels lately! I'm just putting the finishing touches to my ninth novel (yes nine, count 'em!) and it's got a doozy of a villain in it... but to say anymore would spoil the surprise.

Some of my fellow Black Library writers have also been musing on the subject of villainy lately, namely Nick Kyme and C L Werner.

If we're honest, we all love a good villain, don't we? It is the villain, after all, who provides the dramatic drive for a thriller - like the kind of stories I write - which, in turn, gives our hero the chance to shine. Where would Batman be without the Joker, or Sherlock Holmes without Professor Moriarty?

If you can judge the quality of a man by his friends then, equally, you can judge a hero by the quality of his enemies.

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The Batman meets his ultimate nemesis

Sunday, September 28, 2008

More news from Abaddon

Abaddon editor and all round top bloke Jonathan Oliver has posted a comprehensive missive about the part he played in the recent Fantasycon and Abaddon's plans for the Twilight of Kerberos series. So, if you want to find out what red wine, red faces, Operation Motherland and a quartet of trilogies have in common, then click here.

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What is Myrrh Anyway? Out this week!

Hark, for I am the bearer of glad tidings to you and all your kin. For lo, What is Myrrh Anyway? is out this week!

So that's all your Christmas shopping needs sorted, in one easy to read, easy to wrap book, that's the ideal size to fit inside your Christmas stocking!

What is Myrrh Anyway? hits the shops this Thursday, but you can already order it online at Amazon.

Ho, ho, ho.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Not with a bang, with a whimper...

On Wednesday it was reported that the Large Hadron Collider - the £3.6bn machine that's supposed to re-create the effects of the Big Bang - has broken down. Apparently a large amount of helium leaked into the tunnel on Friday, forcing the particle accelerator to be shut down, and, as a result, the LHC will be out of action until next year. So, it looks like we can all breathe a sigh of relief. There aren't going to be any Black Holes appearing under the Swiss Alps anytime soon.

What I want to knew is, did James Bond (or somebody like him) discover that the LHC was actually part of some insane megalomaniac billionaire's plan for world domination and shut it down falling some dramatic, and improbable, battle underground. I think the truth should be told!

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
—T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men (1925)

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mood Music

I used to buy a lot of music. Every week or so I would pick up a new album or a classic CD to enjoy. However, I found that the music I listened to when I was writing had a big impact on how well I worked, and how effectively I stayed focused. Basically, classical music was the way to go - music without lyrics - film soundtracks.

These days, as I spend four days a week (plus evenings and weekends) writing, practically the only music I now buy is film soundtracks. The right piece of music helps to create the right mood in which to write.

Whilst writing the dramatic, action-packed chapters that lead up to the climax of my latest novel, Human Nature, I have been mostly listening to The Dark Knight, Beowulf and Casino Royale (specifically track 8, Miami International).

Of course, I have various other soundtracks in my collection, but I would be interested to hear what other people would recommend. Post your suggestions here.

And talking of the Miami International music, check out this remix of the train scene in Spiderman 2 set to the same piece from Casino Royale. It's amazing how much the dramatic highs and lows of the scene match David Arnold's music so well!

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Novel Approach

They say that everyone has one novel inside them, and, in most cases, it should stay there.

As I come to the close of writing my ninth novel (Human Nature, out this December from Abaddon Books) I have been reading up on how Simon Spurrier is getting on with his latest magnum opus. You can read about his experience here, but be warned - it is described as only Si can, and so involves a fair bit of the vernacular. If you're under eighteen or of a sensitive disposition, best give it a miss. Okay?

"A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author." —G. K. Chesterton

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I found a more recent review of Howl of the Werewolf online the other day. Over to R Paterson of Hertfordshire:

When I was younger I loved the Fighting Fantasy books, so it was a shame that they were out of print for most of the Noughties. Now reprints of the originals are available along with some new tomes, this one among them. And what a thrill it was that the central theme was werewolves, creatures that have always scared me even though I love them to bits.

In this book a lot of the normal FF rules apply; you use skill, stamina and luck scores to determine how you fare in various situations and in combat with other people or various creatures. Other factors determine how you fare too, and not just possessions you pick up. You can also pick up certain codewords through being in specific situations or gaining facets of knowledge. This can affect what route you take further on through the book. There is also the fact you are carrying the eponymous curse and your Change score determines how lycanthropic you are. How this affects things is quite complex, but pick up the book and you'll see!

Most of the action takes place in a land called Lupravia, which is much like the Transylvannia of Universal and Hammer horror movies, with a fantastical spin on it. There are other werewolves there, along with other were-creatures, vampires, ghosts, mutated versions of various animals and magical creatures. You will certainly have some fun spotting nods to various other stories; The Wolfman, Frankenstein, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and The Hound of the Baskervilles. Take particular routes and there are even times you might be tempted to think of Van Helsing, or Metz's Judderman commercial!

Punctuating the text are brilliant illustrations, as always. Some of them are bound to bring shudders - the illustration for paragraph 172 is positively stomach-churning. Going back to references, the illustration for paragraph 442 will give Dr Who fans a laugh.

What's best about this book is that you can complete your quest successfully (as I have) and then play the quest all over again and find a whole new route to take. A must for any gaming or horror nuts.

Amazon had the book ranked at 26,264. I wonder how many sales that equates to...

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Behind the Scenes: Howl of the Werewolf - The Water Wyrd

I can't really give today's 'Behind the Scenes' too much of a context, otherwise it would rather give the game away for anyone who is still to read Howl of the Werewolf, so I'm just going to tell you about my inspiration for the encounter.

BUT BE WARNED, the following would still count as a SPOILER in my book.

Got that?

Still want to read more?
Well, you have been warned...
For anyone who has encountered the slippery, fish-eyed old Water Wyrd and the Daughters of the Drowned in Howl of the Werewolf, one source of inspiration may be pretty clear - Jenny Greenteeth. For those not already in the know, Jenny Greenteeth is a character from English folklore. She was essentially a river hag, and would pull children, or even the elderly into rivers and quiet pools to drown them, before consuming their flesh.

She was often described as green-skinned, with long, unkempt hair, and sharp pike-like teeth. She was known as Jinny Greenteeth in Lancashire, whereas in Cheshire and Shropshire she was called Ginny Greenteeth, Wicked Jenny, or even Peg o' Nell.

In reality, if you like, she was the folkloric personification of a very real danger for people who couldn't swim. The name Jenny Greenteeth is also sometimes used to describe pond weed or duckweed, which can form a continuous mat over the surface of a small body of water, making it misleading and potentially treacherous, especially to unwary children.

However, there was another source of inspiration behind the encounter as it appears in Howl of the Werewolf, especially in relation to the eeriely alluring Daughters of the Drowned. It was an episode of Jim Henson's The Storyteller (starring John Hurt), first broadcast in the late 80s, called Fearnot. In this story, a young man goes on an expedition to explore the source of fear, accompanied by a devious tinker. The young man overcomes various obstacles without learning what fear is, and one of these is a run-in with a Terrible Thing that lives at the bottom of a still, green pool along with the Sisters of the Deep.
Coincidentally, at about the time that I was writing Howl of the Werewolf, the character of Jenny Greenteeth appeared in the 2000AD comic strip London Falling, by Si Spurrier and Lee Garbett (as seen in the illustration below).

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Angry Robot

Publishers Harper Collins have announced that they have appointed Marc Gascoigne (one-time collaborator, editor and publisher of mine) to run a new SF & Fantasy imprint. This new business venture - with the wonderful name Angry Robot - is being set up to provide the global science fiction/fantasy community with new content both in physical and digital form.

To read more about this exciting development in the world of publishing, click here. In the meantime I'd like to wish Marc all the best with his latest publishing venture.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Games Day 2008

Doesn't time fly? It doesn't seem like 12 months have passed since I put up an early post on this blog about Games Day 2007, and here I am about to commence with my write-up of Games Day 2008...

So, anyway, to get to the point... Yesterday I headed up to Birmingham for a couple of hours to immerse myself in all things Warhammer and Warhammer 40K, catch up with old friends, make a few new ones and even talk a bit of business.

Games Day was bigger than ever, now occupying the NEC's Hall One, as well as the Arena and Pavilion. There were the usual participation games, pre-release models, opportunities to find out more about how Games Workshop's games are created, brand new computer games to test run, and, of course, the latest Black Library products available a good month or more before they'll be out on your local high street.

It was in the BL's signing area that I spent most of my time. BL's top authors - Dan Abnett and Graham McNeill - had their own signing tables with queues that had to be seen to be believed. They were there all day as well, with only a few minutes off for lunch for good behaviour.

But how was it for me? Well I caught up with BL editors Lindsey Priestley and Nick Kyme, talked Doctor Who with top scribe (and all round ace bloke) James Swallow, waved nonchalantly at Graham McNeill, didn't even attempt to chat to Dan Abnett, but instead spoke to his wife and editor Nik Vincent about grammar and style (and our respective kids), got excited about all things steampunk with BL head honcho George Mann, reminisced about the good ol' days with Paul Sawyer (one time White Dwarf editor and now of Warlord Games), got up to speed with what artist extraordinaire Karl Kopinski is doing now and met Rob Clark - who recognised me from my blog and with whom I discussed both the past, and the possible future, of Fighting Fantasy.

So, all in all, a good day.

And to end, here are some snaps from the day...

James Swallow - good times!

The must-see GD 08 centrepiece modelling masterpiece - the Dwarf port of Barak Varr

A life-size Blood Ravens Rhino APC!

Karl Kopinski - talented artist and all round top bloke

Dan Abnett - a very busy man

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Friday, September 12, 2008

What is Myrrh Anyway?

Much excitement in the Green househould this morning, as my author copies of What is Myrrh Anyway? have arrived. And for what started out as a relatively short stocking filler of a book, it's actually turned out to be quite a weighty little book on the subject of Christmas and its traditions.So if you've always wondered why Christmas Day falls on 25 December (and not the 15 Augcember, for anyone who's seen the new series of Harry and Paul on BBC1), or can't understand why Brussels sprouts are always on the menu for Christmas dinner, then this little Christmas cracker of a book is the one for you.

The book isn't officially published by Icon Books until 2 October, but it is available to pre-order over on Amazon. And you can discover more fun and fascinating facts about the festive season over on the dedicated What is Myrrh Anyway? blog.

Ho, ho, ho.

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A partnership that works

I spent a very enjoyable day yesterday at the offices of Working Partners in London taking part in a writers' workshop. From a writer's point of view it's a different way of producing a book. Rather than being a publisher, Working Partners is a book packager that develops series fiction for all the major publishers. They work alongside writers to create whole ranges of books that will appeal to boys or girls aged from 4 to 12+. Some of their recent successes include Beast Quest, Rainbow Magic and Dinosaur Cove.

The idea of the workshop wasn't to tell already published writers how to write, but to guide them through the process of how books are developed by Working Partners, and very interesting it was too. That said, a great deal of sense was spoken during the day and some excellent advice was passed on. Much of it was along the lines of tricks and tips that many of us had used already but without having a label for that particular writer's tool. By making it so explicit, the editors who spoke at the workshop provided me personally with new ways at looking at characterisation and those all important opening lines. I can also see some of their advice coming in handy on those days where the creative flow just isn't flowing like it should.

As I say, I was just one of a group of up and coming writers who attended the workshop, and you should definitely check all what everyone is up to. So take a bow Dave Gatward, Kate Scott, Maureen Oakeley, Benjamin Scott, Thea Bennett, Tara Button, Margaret Carey, Susan Sandercock, Addy Farmer and Gemma Dunn. Keep an eye out for them in the future - these are the names to watch!

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Big Bang: Take 2

This morning, scientists on the Franco-Swiss border will flip the switch on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) - a.k.a. The Big Bang Machine - a 12 storey high, 17-mile long underground ring, built at a cost of £5b, buried more than 300ft under the Alpine foothills, where subatomic particles will be accelerated to astonishing speeds and then smashed into each other.

The LHC will blast protons - one of the building blocks of atoms - at a velocity close to the speed of light, generating temperatures of more than a trillion degrees centigrade. Each proton beam will pack as much energy as a Eurostar train travelling at 150 kilometres per hour. The resulting collisions will hopefully replicate conditions found in the moments following the Big Bang - or the beginning of the universe - and scientists will study the fallout. Let's just hope nothing goes wrong!

And if you're worried that man's meddling is going to create a black hole under the Alps which will suck the Earth into it, then have a look at this to help calm your nerves.

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Monday, September 8, 2008

Match Wits at the Science Museum

I was at London's Science Museum on Sunday and popped into the branch of Waterstone's that they have there - an occupational hazard when you're a writer. I was very pleased to see that they had The Horror of Howling Hill (my Doctor Who adventure) there among the other DW merchandise, but also Match Wits with the Kids.

There's plenty in the Science section of Match Wits that you can tie to exhibits at the Science Museum, which has many practical models to help demonstrate how things work. There are even links to the History section with the development of the Industrial Revolution.

From the shelves of the museum bookshop it was quite clear that there has been a recent explosion in books about school and schooling aimed at adults, everything from Homework for Grown-Ups to England: 1000 Things You Need to Know.

But if you want one all-encompassing book that takes the subject seriously (whilst presenting it in a light-hearted way), that keeps it up to date and relevant for the modern generation of school-goers as well, then you can't beat Match Wits with the Kids.

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Go, Go Crazy For Those Bones! Out this week

My latest book (the revised and updated version of one I wrote 12 years ago) is out this Thursday. Go, Go Crazy For Those Bones! is all about the latest craze to hit homes and playgrounds across the country (and they say lightning never strikes twice).

And despite the fact that the book is not officially out until Thursday, it's already almost sold out on Amazon, so you'd better get over there quickly if you want to nab yourself a copy.

Go on, get go-going! You know you want to!

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Friday, September 5, 2008

A triumph of hope over logistics

Anyone who's ever seriously wanted to make a living - any kind of living - as a writer will have heard of the slush pile. It's that collection of unsolicited manuscripts either sent directly to the publisher by authors, or sent through an agent not known to the publisher. It collects dusk at the corner of an office until, teetering under its own weight, some poor unpaid assistant or junior editor is given the task of trawling through it, trying to separate the wheat from the chaff - and there's a lot of chaff.

Many publishers publicise on their websites that they do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. However, there is always the secret hope that a trawl through the slush pile will result in the discovery of the Next Big Thing. (A case in point would be J K Rowling at the first Harry Potter book.)

There’s an interesting article on the Guardian website about publishers’ slush piles. My experience of the slush pile is this: the only time I think I probably came close to it was when I sent my initial proposal for a Fighting Fantasy gamebook to Marc Gascoigne, the FF consultant editor at the time. The difference with this arrangement was that Marc's job was to go through every unsolicited submission and give feedback as appropriate. Thanks to his nurturing efforts, eventually my second proposal - Spellbreaker - made it all the way through to publication. Since then, everything else I have written has come off the back of that first book, either directly through contacts I had made or as a result of being able to say to other publishers, 'Look, I've already been published' which has been enough to at least get them to look at anything I've sent them.

Of course many people try to get an agent before trying to submit anything to a publisher. I don't have an agent yet (but any agent reading this should feel free to get in touch) but I have plenty of writer friends who do.

My suggestion to anyone wanting to become published is to know the market you're writing for and, if you are going to pitch to an agent or publisher, follow their guidelines for doing just that to the letter. With them receiving so many manuscripts week in week out, you don't want to give them any excuse to throw yours out before they've even read it. And, of course, you want to appear professional. Writing for a living is a profession after all.

I have never submitted a complete manuscript without it having been commissioned first, which has inevitably save a lot of heartache, not to mention time, along the way.

(Thanks to Alex Milway over at The Mousehunter Blog for alerting me to the piece from The Guardian.)

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

New Who Novels

The first of the new Doctor Who novels featuring Donna Noble as the time-traveller's companion have now been beamed down into bookshops all over the country. They are:

Ghosts of India - by Mark Morris

Shining Darkness - by Mark Michalowski


The Doctor Trap - by Simon Messingham (not a 'Mark' this time)

Now, it is this last one which sounds like the sort of Doctor Who novel I'd like to write:

Sebastiene was perhaps once human. He might look like a nineteenth-century nobleman, but in truth he is a ruthless hunter. He likes nothing more than luring difficult opposition to a planet, then hunting them down for sport. And now he's caught them all - from Zargregs to Moogs, and even the odd Eternal...In fact, Sebastiene is after only one more prize. For this trophy, he knows he is going to need help. He's brought together the finest hunters in the universe to play the most dangerous game for the deadliest quarry of them all. They are hunting for the last of the Time Lords - the Doctor.


Monday, September 1, 2008

World Body-Painting Festival Takes Place In South Korea

How random is this?

I particularly like this tentacle-headed woman. Reminds me of one of my books, for some reason.


Reviewers beware!

If you've ever written something that has then been subsequently torn to shreds by somebody else's rapier insight, or if you've ever fancied yourself as a reviewer of other people's work - or even if you've ever just read a review and strongly agreed or disagreed with the reviewer (or just thought what a load of codswallop it was) - then you have to read this.

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