It's spreading like a virus. A pyramid scheme of ego...
Yes! It's The Next Big Thing!
How it works: an author answers the below ten questions on his blog and then tags five authors to do so the week after. Which presumes said author has been sociable enough in his life to know another five people. And they're all authors. Naturally I'll be tagging my cats, expect shouting about fish and duvets in a week's time.
1) What is the working title of your next book?
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE INFERNAL. It's the first of THE HEAVEN'S GATE CHRONICLES and it's coming out from Solaris.
Originally it was just called HEAVEN'S GATE because I liked the idea of naming a book after one of the most infamous western movies of all time, Michael Cimino's great folly and the picture that bankrupted United Artists. This is because I am silly.
2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
No idea, I honestly can't remember. It's a story I've wanted to tell for a long time. Cheese or gin probably played their part.
I've always been a fan of Spaghetti Westerns, that slightly skewed, beautiful and operatic view of the Wild West.
I also love mash-up western movies such as GRIM PRAIRIE TALES and I may have been the only man alive to actually enjoy WILD WILD WEST.
3) What genre does your book fall under?
Weird western as you've probably guessed. It's also a quest novel, my second after THE WORLD HOUSE. It's a sub-genre I'll be leaving alone for the next few years, I can't keep writing about groups of people hunting for something.
That said, there's a world of difference between the two series. For a start, one contains a great deal more horses.
4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
There are a fair few of them... To scratch the surface:
The book contains an ancient gunslinger With No Name. Naturally Eastwood can play him.
Henry Jones is a blind shootist who runs a band of outlaws from a freak show. Michael Fassbender can take that on because he's wonderful.
Elisabeth Forset is the daughter of a rather dotty peer. She is adventurous, fun and something of a daredevil. She's utterly lovely and Eva Green can play her because so is she.
5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A ghost town holds the doorway to the afterlife but it only exists for twenty-four hours.
Sergio Leone directs Brigadoon.
6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It's published by Solaris Books because sometimes editors drink too.
7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I haven't quite finished it! As with all my books though it's a case of a long time thinking (in this case something like eight or nine years) and then a mad burst of writing.
8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The influences really are more cinematic than literary. There are a few Steampunk elements (though it's far from being a Steampunk novel).
To get the 'ear' for language and tone I turned to that bible of western writing, LONESOME DOVE by Larry McMurtry. Obviously its content is hardly similar (though McMurtry's book is a quest novel itself really) though I play a similar trick in layering the book with stories, fleshing out the characters with glimpses of previous events.
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Sergio Leone, one of the greatest filmmakers of the twentieth century. The fantastical, epic beauty he brought to the western is what made me fall in love with the genre. It may not be historically accurate but who cares? He painted broad, stunning canvases that I never tire of looking at.
Ennio Morricone, for doing to the ears what Leone did to the eyes. Was there ever such a brilliant, powerful and soaring piece of music as this:
10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
It's a big adventure, and the first step in a much longer story. Full of action, theology and freakshows.
And the authors I tag are:
ANNE BILLSON: Film critic, novelist and photographer. Sometimes people have too many skills. Her movie articles in The Guardian were compulsory reading for anyone who loved film (especially the sort of weird films she does) and her novels SUCKERS, STIFF LIPS and THE EX saw Granta name her as one of 1993's "Best Young British Novelists" which has too many qualitative words to do her work justice.
CHRISTOPHER FOWLER Author of the staggeringly wonderful Bryant & May mysteries alongside novels such as HELL TRAIN, PSYCHOVILLE and the frankly blissful CALABASH. Also one of the finest short story writers working today, his last collection RED GLOVES from PS Publishing lifts a mundane shelf to one of distinction and sex appeal that will never have a problem getting laid with other shelves.
STEPHEN GALLAGHER Novelist and screenwriter, Steve is irritatingly accomplished at both. Creator of THE ELEVENTH HOUR he has also written for such diverse shows as BUGS, MURDER ROOMS, SILENT WITNESS and Horticulture Murder Porn ROSEMARY AND THYME. His latest novel is THE KINGDOM OF BONES, a historical detective thriller that reeks of tweed and boxing gloves.
LIESEL SCHWARZ describes herself as "a hopeless romantic... loves Victorians, steampunk, fairies, fantasy monsters, the Fin de siècle, and the correct way to drink absinthe." I can go along with most of that bar the absinthe. The correct way to drink that devil's juice is to first ensure you are sitting in a different building to the bottle. Her debut novel, the first in an Edwardian Steampunk series, is forthcoming from Del Rey UK.
E J SWIFT Ruled by cats, E J Swift was given time away from can-opening and belly rubbing duties to write her first novel, OSIRIS. A dystopian story set in a far future ocean metropolis whose inhabitants believe they live on the last city on earth. It's forthcoming from Night Shade Books in the US and Del Rey UK. Sometimes she can be found on a trapeze, a fact that pleases me beyond words.
Sorry for the silence, things have gone a bit crazy for a couple of weeks. Things should settle down soon so I'll talk more then. In the meantime, here I am at Book Chick City talking about Hammer Books.
So, SHERLOCK's finished and everyone's making a fuss as usual. I remember a time when TV was something you discussed enthusiastically rather than wrote news items about Every Time It Did Something Interesting. If you're one of the few who didn't watch it all you likely know is that it contained nakedness and an ending that made lots of people scrabble around the internet tying themselves in knots. Naturally, this is perfect telly as far as I'm concerned.
Which is good as my next book will be all about it. I'm writing TITLE NOT YET SIGNED OFF for BBC Books which will look at the making of the show as well as play in the fictional world of the six cases we've seen so far. I'll be working closely with the program makers to produce the very best book I can, I'm enjoying myself already so to hell with what you lot think when it comes out later this year!
BUY SHERLOCK SERIES 1 & 2 FROM AMAZON.CO.UK HERE
I am genuinely at a loss as to why I continue to enjoy these movies but enjoy them I do. Everything says I should be heartily sick of their formulaic, predictable nonsense and yet here I am again, waiting impatiently to watch a handful of “characters” die in convoluted and absurd ways. The set-pieces are always impressive, I think that’s what does it, nothing does Death Slapstick quite like a Final Destination movie.
Remember the game we all used to play when watching BBC TV Nurse-Angst-Stew-Soap CASUALTY? Monitoring the movements of each week’s guest cast as they moved inexorably towards a hospital bed and emotionally satisfying cubicle scene with a member of their family? You couldn’t help but try and second guess the impending accident, keeping an eye out for loose ladders or distracted motorists, cluttered top steps or flaky power tools. This is that game played out over ninety minutes, something the makers of the movies know only too well as they have become positively masterful in their misdirection “Will it be the school bus in the background? Or will he trip over that dangling shoelace and impale himself on a fire hydrant? (Close up of fire hydrant looking Menacing) . No! He'll be crushed by a falling mobile phone satellite! Gotcha!
God help me but this was a particularly good entry, too when taken on its own merits (as all movies must be). I am almost ashamed to admit how much I enjoyed such hollow fun.
BUY FINAL DESTINATION 5 FROM AMAZON.CO.UK HERE
I lent this to my mother and her partner before watching it myself. They love movies with a bit of death in them.
‘What did you think?’ I asked.
‘Couldn’t follow it,’ Mother replies, ‘couldn’t understand their strange accents.’
‘It’s a British film,’ I replied with my usual baffled dismissal.
The accents are not what have confused some (though not many, Kill List has had many more favourable words heaped on it than not) rather the resolution. About which I will say nothing, reviewing a film is one thing, spoiling it for others quite another.
Still, I can’t say the ending was unsatisfactory, nor can I agree with the Daily Mail’s review that it left important questions unanswered. But then I can’t imagine I’ll ever agree with the Daily Mail, about anything, purely out of pigheadedness.
I will say that Kill List is not a thriller it’s a horror film. The distinction is often hard to make but Kill List doesn’t set out to offer mysteries and solutions, or edge-of-your-seat excitement, it just wants to unsettle you. That’s the job of a horror movie, and an admirable job too. In this, Kill List completes its task with considerably more professionalism and success than its protagonists.
Buy Kill List in the UK via this link
I've been giving a lot of thought to the site for the last few weeks. I've never been much cop as a regular blogger (I've never been good at small talk and, while the best bloggers never talk small when I try and do it my attempts seem aimless and boring). I often have news of one sort or another of course, but a blog's pretty boring if it just boils down to "sold another book please buy it, the cats need new clothes" once very couple of months.
So, what to talk about? How to break that mental barrier I seem to have with the format?
Most of my time is taken up by work, predictably, and that tends to fill my head to the point that it's a struggle to fit anything else. Still, if there's one other subject I can always be relied upon to discuss ad nauseam it's movies. I watch a lot of them. Always have. They are the decompression chamber after a day dreaming up stories of my own. I have an old projector (thanks to the generosity of James Goss) and a DVD/Blu-ray collection that seems to contain almost everything except proof of good taste.
So, in an attempt to break the habit of a professional lifetime and actually maintain a regularly updated blog you can expect to start seeing a lot of reviews on here. What's the relevance to my working life? Well... if nothing else it might show you a little about the state of my mind and the stories I love. It will also encourage me to vary my viewing a bit more, don't always expect the newest releases, I'll talk about whatever I fancy, but I'll do my best to stretch my own tastes, otherwise things will all become rather predictable (though you may as well accept right now that I'm going to be talking about a LOT of horror movies as they're without doubt my favourite cinematic poison).
There will be other posts too, but I'll try and post at least two or three reviews a week between the rest of the waffle.
Enough of this silly prevarication. Statistics and a public exhibition of how anal I am are all well and good but how was 2011 on a personal level?
Bit of a bloody mixture frankly, I believe that is what they call 'life'.
As far as what the cats laughingly call my 'career', this has been a hectic year. Though not, I'm afraid, a particularly cash rich one (I know we English aren't supposed to talk about money but, to hell with it, fretting about the stuff is a positive constant in my life and I'm sure you're the same, dear impoverished reader). All thoughts of mortgages, bills, food and crack habits aside, this year has seen me write more books than any other.
I started with The Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard Training Manual: As Used by Dad's Army, a fun little project allowing me to write as each of the beloved Dad's Army characters. Working once again with my good pal Lee Thompson as the designer it was -- as always -- harder than I imagined but rewarding for that. When the Telegraph labeled it "arguably funnier than the series itself" I was both smug and slightly embarrassed. After all, this year we also lost David Croft, co-creator and writer (with Jimmy Perry) of the series. I can honestly say that every joke I wrote was only a response to their stunning work. It's child's play to make their characters say funny things as they are such wonderful comic creations in the first place.
From there it was another hectic trip to the world of Torchwood, writing Torchwood: The Men Who Sold The World, a prequel novel for this years Miracle Day series. My brief was interesting: I was to write a Bourne-style CIA thriller featuring new character Rex Matheson. This I did and I was very pleased with it. As, thankfully were BBC Books and the Miracle Day production office. When I finally got to see the show I was relieved to find Rex was exactly as I had imagined him, there's nothing worse than a book like that completely missing the character.
Then I moved on to a series of dream jobs, writing brand new adventures for Sherlock Holmes and novelising Hammer movies. These are the sort of books I'd write for free if I didn't need to keep the roof on. The first Sherlock Holmes book Sherlock Holmes: The Breath of God, was launched in September at FantasyCon, my annual convention and the one time a year I'm guaranteed to catch up with pals that I miss. The response to the book has been amazing and I couldn't be happier. I only hope I manage to keep up the momentum with the second book, Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Doctor Moreau which I'm writing at the moment.
As for Hammer... well, I'm obsessed with Hammer as anyone that's had to share oxygen with me knows so the chance to be involved with the range from Arrow Books is a real dream come true. My first book, Kronos suffers a little in my opinion from having to follow the original film quite slavishly. By which I mean no disrespect to the original, it's a real favourite, but great movies don't necessarily make great books and while I'm chuffed that so many people like it I know in my heart that my second attempt Hands of the Ripper is better. At the encouragement of Arrow, I took the contentious step of setting the book in the present day, easier than one might imagine. Losing all the Edwardian trappings allowed me to concentrate on a story about a bunch of haunted people and I'm incredibly proud of it. Fingers crossed readers agree when it comes out next summer.
My third book for Hammer will be Countess Dracula. Again I'm not being too precious about the original (that will always be there, best to make the best book you can that has the same flavour, an interesting cover version if you like). It will be set in Hollywood in the early thirties.
I also completed my first audio script for Big Finish. Part of their Iris Wildthyme range, Iris Rides Out is a silly riff on Carnacki (having just used in him in the Sherlock Holmes novel I found I had more to say!) and I'm terribly chuffed with it. It makes me laugh so to hell with the rest of you.
Next year should bring some fresh challenges too, which I'll save for later discussion as this is about looking backwards rather than forwards.
So, as far as work is concerned... all is good. As always, it kept me hiding in the office more than I might like, I put in a lot of hours and I often miss the chance to pop out and have fun with the family. Still, I don't get paid to frolic in the sunshine do I?
Unfortunately this year found Debs (the long-suffering Mrs. Adams If Not Neccesarily by Legal Name) diagnosed with Trigeminal Neuralgia, a nerve condition that produces regular, excruciating pain in the side of her face. The medication prescribed can also cause depression, just in case the poor old faceacher wasn't grumpy enough to begin with. This was a real blow of course, though she copes brilliantly with it. Anyone would think she was used to having a repetitive pain in her life.
It also brought the death of one dog and the arrival of another.
Smithers, Debs' Yorkshire Terrier, moved here with us six years ago. He was Not a Proper Dog. But he was nice and we loved him. Then, over the summer he started going mad, wandering off for hours. Then he actually got ill and a trip to the vets brought us the news that he had a damaged liver. He went on medication but never recovered, just got more and more vague went blind and spent his days in pain. In the end I took him to the vets to have him put down. The experience was horrible. I've put down a number of loved pets in the past but somehow this was much worse. For a start the whole business took forty-five minutes of injections, drips and waiting. Secondly it weighed on me that I was making the decision -- the right decision -- to kill him. At any point I could have, and wanted to, say "stop". But I didn't and, as stupid as it may sound, it gave me nightmares and turned Hands of the Ripper into a much gloomier book than it might otherwise have been.
A couple of weeks ago I woke up, stepped out of our bedroom onto the downstairs terrace and there, sat casually in one of the armchairs was A Bloody Dog. An indefinable Something between Labrador and Bull Terrier, he was decidedly pleased to see me and explained that he was moving in. I put him straight on that and asked him to kindly piss off. He refused.
We went about trying to find his owner, advertising in the local papers and radio, contacting the local animal charities and vets (he wasn't microchipped) and putting signs up everywhere. Twice a day I walked him. Twice a day he tried to make friends with me.
It's worked. There are countless impracticalities but we're beginning to accept that he might be staying after all. He's called Nigel (named by Debs after XTC's song Making Plans for Nigel, which is exactly what we were doing). The cats are fucking furious.
The obsessive-compulsive behaviour continues as I look at the books that I read over the year. A fairly bumper crop, 111 books in total (plus twenty random shorts dropped in here or there). 101 of those were novels, with only six collections and five non-fiction books. At some point I must have slept.
But then, when busy I read books more than watch TV or movies. You can always fit a few pages in before falling unconscious can't you? I also listen to a lot of audiobooks (thirty-nine of the novels were heard rather than read). That's a lot of slowly-prepared dinners and washing-up.
This has been the year of Agatha Christie as I began to read (or in some cases re-read) books that I remembered fondly from my childhood. Mum had always read Christie and the bookshelves had been full of grotesque Tom Adams covers that intrigued me almost as much as the tiny, dense print put me off. Coming back to her as an adult has been a revelation and I can honestly say I've adored the vast majority of them. She is witty, clever and a wonderful writer, to hell with the snobs. I will be very sad when I have read them all. Given that this year accounted for fifty two of her books that time will not be long in coming. God... that's almost half of my year's reading!
Other writers who got an honourable look include P.G. Wodehouse, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Charlie Huston, Adam Nevill, Thomas Tryon, Ramsey Campbell, Kim Newman, James Goss and Stephen King (whose 22.11.63 was predictably excellent).
I most enjoyed Christie's The Mysterious Mr. Quin (a haunting, surreal collection that is unjustly overlooked). It's more difficult to pick a book I didn't enjoy (if I don't like a book I put it aside, life's too short to read bad books). I'll pick The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells, a book of timely ideas on publication but no real heart. Watch those words come back to bite me on the arse on the release of my next Sherlock Holmes book for Titan, The Army of Dr. Moreau...
I'm no more capable of avoiding the New Year blog cliches than anyone else, so, expect three posts over the next few days.
I've been keeping track on Facebook of the movies I've watched this year. I know, a man who loves lists as much as I do needs help.
I managed to watch 95 movies, with a fairly dry period in the summer where work and life got in the way.
Thanks to the wonderful James Goss donating his old projector, wishing to see it retire gracefully here in the warmth of Spain rather than stared at by the cat as it loitered under his bed, I expect that number will increase a lot next year. There really is no comparison between watching a DVD on a distant, ancient, pre-widescreen TV set or projected onto your wall in a screen size measurable in feet. Simply: while I have never fallen out of love with movies I had fallen out of love with the method of watching them at my disposal.
Of those 95 movies, 54 were horror pictures. No great surprise there, I do love my horror movies. Sixteen were crime thrillers; nine were comedies; six were sci-fi; four were straight 'dramas' (though I would happily count Life is Beautiful as a comedy right up until the point when it Most Certainly Isn't); three were westerns and two were superhero movies.
I clearly prefer old movies as only twenty of the 95 were made after 1980.
As always, I watch things in batches, having read a lot of books about Hammer this year (and written a couple for that matter) twenty four of the movies watched came from that particular studio with a chunk more that might as well have done, such as a handful of Amicus movies and Lee and Cushing fighting aliens on the Trassiberian express in Horror Express). The first part of 2012 will be the year of American Gothic and Mario Bava as I'm reading Jonathan Rigby's excellent book on early Hollywood horror and Tim Lucas' biography of the Maestro. I'll also keep working my way through the Carry On movies as I was really enjoying them. So shut up.
The movie I most enjoyed was probably the Coen Brother's True Grit while the one I would happily claim an hour and a half back for would be lame Giallo Iguana With a Tongue of Fire.
Talking to Debs yesterday (the unfortunate owner of a Guy Adams) I realised what a chasm of difference there is between those who collect things and those who don't. Expressed at its extreme, to Debs there is really no point in having more than one of anything at any given time. The book you're reading, the film you fancy watching tonight etc. When you've finished that -- Debs is not one to reread or re-watch -- let it go and move on to the next. Whereas I have a room filled with books and DVDs. I don't so much think 'I fancy watching a bit of Italian horror tonight,' as much as 'I think I'll read Tim Lucas' Mario Bava biography, so I must make sure I can gather together everything Bava ever worked on so that I can immerse myself in it.' Until, of course, I suddenly get bored and move on to an obsessive period of watching Carry On movies (I own them all, yes... even Emmanuelle and Columbus).
To Debs it seems like burying yourself beneath heaps and heaps of stuff. To me it's immersing myself in the things I love, constantly hunting for that elusive Hammer B Picture or the copy of Agatha Christie's Lord Edgware Dies with the Tom Adams cover. It's not just the object though (however much it may seem that way to someone who doesn't have an entire wall filled with P. G. Wodehouse paperbacks and Modesty Blaise novels) it is the content, I'm hunting for those things so I can watch them or read them. I know there are many people who collect things simply for the pleasure of collecting a full set of something. They dedicate themselves to, say, signed first editions and -- while they never intend to read a single one -- spend years and fortunes gathering them under their roof. I can relate to that, the fun of hunting things out, the slightly autistic pleasure in presenting them on the shelf. Still, I always want to actually experience the item in question. I enjoy the physical objects, preferring certain editions or artists (I have copies of books I owned as a child for example, that please me simply to look at) but it's the words I'm after. Even -- and I know there are many like me who must admit this to themselves -- if it's unlikely I'll get round to reading them for years. I know there are some who already look at their libraries and experience the depressing realisation that they will die before reading all of the books they own (and still they buy more, because you don't stop your enthusiasm for an author or the story they want to tell simply because you already own a lot of books).
Of course, with movies there is the irritation of the 'new edition', something that swells our shelves (or, in my case, disc wallets, I wouldn't have the space to keep the cases) all too regularly. A friend of mine is very kindly donating his old Blu-Ray player (just as another friend recently posted me his old projector... I have the very best friends in the world). This means a new format... though I am determined that I won't be going down the same route as I did with DVD, buying everything I already owned AGAIN. However, there will be duplications. It's my birthday in a few days and I shall be getting a copy of Optimum Releasing's Quatermass and the Pit on Blu-Ray. This is the third time I've owned the movie (first on VHS, then as part of the massive Hammer DVD box set). But from what I hear the restoration on the movie is amazing and the brand new special features are worth the price of admission alone. And there will be others... Mimic in it's newly released Director's Cut, finally a chance to watch what that movie might have been. The same can be said of The Frighteners. The new edition of Don't Look Now also looks phenomenal...
And again, I am re-watching movies I've already seen. The piles of stuff are increasing.
Is it mad? Certainly to an outsider. Amongst my peers I am only too aware that my collection is minimal but then I do tend to gravitate towards the infected. Many of my friends reading this will be so surrounded by their own books and movies that it will seem a redundant post, like blogging on my enthusiasm for oxygen. Not everyone is like us though. When we first moved out here to Spain we met with the headmaster of the boy's school. On hearing that Joe liked to play guitar he announced. 'Oh! I like music. I have ten CDs, one of them is James Bond themes... I can't remember the rest.' Ten CDs... I thought him subnormal. But then likely he'd say the same about me, while listening to the radio and strolling around his beautifully uncluttered house.
Here's me waffling on about Kronos and other things, thanks to James Whittington.