Hello and welcome to my blog.
I'll be voicing my thoughts and opinions on the creative process as well as other random topics that enter my mind. I can't promise to be entertaining or informative, but if you like genre fiction, movies, TV or comics then there should be something to interest you.
Any errors and foul language are my own.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Doctor In The House

Ever since I can remember, Doctor Who has been part of my life. Back then, Tom Baker was doing the honours and, despite the show’s success, there was comparatively little in the way of spin-off material. There was a Genesis of the Daleks soundtrack LP that was played to death in my house, but it was the Target novelisations kept me going when the show wasn’t on TV, books that often proved my young imagination to be better than the 1970’s BBC Special Effects department.

Yet, despite those clunky effects, the spaceships you could have made at home with an eggbox and a few loo rolls, Doctor Who always retained its charm, carried by great characters and superb storylines. Julian Glover pulling off his false head to reveal Scaroth of the Jagaroth underneath looks a bit ropey now, but it remains a chilling moment that has remained with me for nigh on thirty years now. Even now, even with that rubber head, it still packs a punch.

It’s safe to say that Doctor Who is now a phenomenally successful show, pride of place on BBC1’s Saturday night schedule, rather than sandwiched between Jim’ll Fix It and Bob’s Full House. So why do I find it so disappointing lately? Major Spoilers ahoy, shipmates!

The last five episodes were all high concept, ‘mini films’ told in the space of fifty minutes. The show’s suffered for it, I think, but I may be being bitter as I’ve missed the old-fashioned cliffhanger endings more than words can say. So, without further preamble, here are a few of my complaints.

Episode One saw the Doctor summoned by Daleks (weren’t they supposed to have forgotten about him, along with the rest of the universe?) to beam down to a planet of crazy Daleks and do something; less than two months later, I can’t remember what it was. It turns out a girl he’s been speaking to is a Dalek herself, although somehow it’s her human voice that comes through the tannoy system. Oh, and at the end the Daleks forget the Doctor exists, like they were meant to have in the beginning. I think.

Episode Two was bonkers, disjointed and utterly charming in places. Great dialogue – some funny, some dark – and moving performances made this the best of the bunch for me. The Doctor sending someone off to his death, though? Rumours abound he’ll pay for it later, but why would he do something so out of character in the first place?

Episode Three. “Ooh, lets film in America!” They did, and made a sci-fi western. The ‘bad guy’ reminded me of a cyborg from a 1990’s Red Dwarf episode, while Amy and Rory (this is their final series, remember?) are criminally underused. I say underused, but they don’t actually do anything at all. Shameful.

In Episode Four, some black boxes turn up on Earth, essentially doing nothing for a year or so, before transmitting information to a spaceship. But don’t worry, the Doctor will fix it all with the sonic screwdriver in the end. This is another episode that had some great moments – moving conversations and the suggestion of a new, improved UNIT – but fell flat plot-wise. I’d like to see a UNIT spin-off series, but it would probably just end up like Torchwood. And you don’t want to get me started on that…

Finally, we saw the end of Amy and Rory. They left to be together, it was moving, and a fitting end for the two characters. Job done. River Song returned, as did the Weeping Angels, one of which turns out to be the Statue of Liberty. This suggests that, in the city that never sleeps, there was a point where no eyes were on this world-famous landmark, and that nobody noticed it had gone. Also, why did the Angels keep a battery farm if they only feed on each victim once? I also think they missed a trick by not setting this in LA, the City Of Angels. Ah well.

Ok, so those are five flippant, slapdash reviews. To me, that reflects the content of the show. I’ve enjoyed them – of course I have, it’s Doctor Who! – but I’ve been disappointed too. I know how good the show can be; it can make me cheer, laugh out loud and cry like a baby (sometimes all three within seconds of each other), but I’ve taken nothing memorable from these five episodes, other than the thought that they could have, should have, been better. They’re chances wasted, inconsistent and – at times – sloppy.

Doctor Who is fifty years old in 2013. I hope they do better for his birthday.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Why, It's Been A While...

What follows is the start of a blog I was going to post in June, entitled Prequels, Sequels and Threequels.

Ok, the last word is made up, but I have seen it in print, in a magazine before. That counts, right? Don’t worry, I will never use the word ‘chillax’ - apart from just there, of course, but at least Word has the decency to underline it in red to let me know its bollocks. Bollocks, incidentally, isn’t.

There’s been much chatter about Prometheus, the might be/might not be prequel to Alien. Well, now it’s on release, the consensus seems to be that it is a sort-of prequel, just not a very good one. It isn’t the negative reviews that have put me off going to see the film (although they have contributed), rather the apparent need to ‘explain where the Space Jockey came from’. That and the fact the technology looks more advanced than it was in Alien, despite being set some years before; everything looks shiny and perfect, rather than being the dirty technology of the first film. All that from a trailer, I know, but isn’t that what they’re for? I suppose what I’m wondering is do we really need to know where the Space Jockey is from? Isn’t that element of mystery one of the talking points that has kept Alien in our minds over the years?

All this reminds me of when the three Star Wars prequels were announced. Finally, we would see the origins of Darth Vader. We knew them, having read everything about Star Wars, but we would now bear witness on the big screen. Awesome. Except it wasn’t, not really. That fight between Anakin and Obi Wan? I read about that when I was eight-years-old, and it was better in my childish imagination that it was on film. My abiding image of those prequels remains Owen Lars looking to the stars, just as Luke did in 1977, only for Obi Wan to turn up with a baby Skywalker and shatter his dreams. No wonder the two didn’t get on.

Other prequels out lately are in the comics world. Before Watchmen tells the tale of the Watchmen characters before they teamed up. Again, they’re something I’ve not seen, so I can’t comment on their quality. Many have, though, and this is before anything was published in print. I don’t see them as an ‘outrage’, it’s just I’m struggling to see the point. Watchmen is self-contained. We know all we need to about the characters, so why delve deeper? That’s just me, of course; others many want to know more, in which case that’s fine, we’re all allowed to be different. Who knows, these prequels may even turn out to be classics of their own right in years to come, and I’ll have tomato sauce with my words when I eat them.

The same could be said of adaptations. Back to Watchmen again; a visually stunning movie, but entertaining to anyone who hasn’t read the comics? Saying that, I found the Jaws movie to be so much better than the book. I’m not against prequels and sequels (Empire Strikes Back is arguably the best crafted of the Star Wars films) but often they strike me as unnecessary.

And that’s as far as I got. A day later, I found out a friend of mine was going into hospital to have cancerous tumours removed from his bladder. Suddenly, it didn’t seem so important anymore that Ewoks got on my tits; such things felt entirely trivial.

Weeks (months) have passed since then, my friend’s been given the all clear, and I’ve been doing a lot of pondering. So, it’s time for some (extremely) amateur philosophy.

See, I’ve been thinking that my opinion about Ewoks is important, because it’s something that matters to me. What are our lives if we don’t care about anything, if we just sit and stagnate? That’s not living, that’s just existing, going through the motions. Animals in a field do that, and we’re better than them (apart, maybe from dolphins; I have a drunken theory that they and whales may be the co-rulers of the world, buy me a pint and I’ll tell you all about it. Another pint, and I’ll share my thoughts on Velma from Scooby-Doo). I care about books and comics and films, the way others care about sport and celebrities and talent shows. I can’t see why people are bothered about who’s done what to/with whom, but I understand that everyone should have their passions. If we didn’t like different things, the world would be a pretty dull place. (What am I saying? A world of sci-fi and fantasy fans would be great! All that unfettered imagination – we’d be driving to work in those flying cars from Blade Runner by now.)

I’ve never made any apologies for what I like – never felt like I’ve had to – as they’re part and parcel of who I am. Always have been, and I’m pretty sure they always will be. In the same way a football fan will be gutted if their team loses, I’m gutted if a book/film/comic fails to meet my expectations. It may be trivial to some, the way other things are trivial to me, but it’s something I invest my time and money in, so I want it to be the best it can be. I don’t want to spend hours watching or reading, only to feel disappointment at the end. I want to be entertained viscerally and emotionally, made to laugh or cry – I want to feel alive!

Will my opinions change the world, make a difference to society? I don’t think so, but – like everyone – I’m entitled to have them, and I’d certainly like to share them. The world’s a tough place, and a good book or film has pulled me through some very dark times. So, if we care about them, they’re important. Here endeth.

As for the prequels and sequels, perhaps they’ve turned out to be decent after all – if they’ve got people interested in the originals, that can’t be a bad thing.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Of Mice & Tharg

Saturday saw a dilemma. Not only was it my cousin's wedding day, but it was also FREE COMIC BOOK DAY at my local comic-book store (the marvellous Travelling Man in Newcastle). As my cousin was getting married at 11am, it was always going to be touch and go.

Then came the announcement; TM would open at 8.30am. Perfect. I'd get up, shower, shave, throw on jeans and a t-shirt, get myself into town. I'd get there on time - if not earlier - dawdle around the store and chat to the staff while I tucked into my free coffee and doughnut.

I did well, into town by 8.20, parked in a bay round the corner from the shop. Early, I stayed in the car for five minutes, then got out and walked round that corner. I'd expected to be first, but there were at least fifty people snaking down the street from the from door. Panic gripped my belly; would I be able to pick up a copy of Mouse Guard?

I did, of course. But where I'd expected to gain one free comic, I came away with thirteen different free titles. I bought a further two - it felt wrong to walk out with a full bag and not give anything back - including 2000AD (more on that later). As it was, the shop was packed, and I had to forego my coffee and doughnut as I was in a rush. I've no more cousins left to get married, so next year I should be a lot more relaxed (and be able to have a proper browse through all those 50p back issues...)

Much impressed me about that half hour, not just the hard-working staff. There was such a sense of community, "comic fans of the North-East unite!", a feeling of belonging to a group of like-minded individuals. Reading is something that's done in isolation, more often than not, and it's sometimes easy to forget that others do the same. Saturday, I was reminded that I belong to a group. There's no membership card, no badge (at least, not that I know of), just that love of imaginative ideas.

If you've read this blog before, you'll know I used to be into comics in a big way. That was twenty years ago, and Saturday reminded me of those times. It's good to know that, with all the technology that's come along in those two decades, the comic-book format still exists. My main interest back then was DC, specifically Batman; there was a film due out (Michael Keaton is Bruce Wayne??) and he was the superhero of choice following on from the legendary Dark Knight Returns. There was Watchmen, too - comics had grown up. But, as time passed, it felt like they grew up too much. It beacme about the art rather than the story (the two, of course, have to compliment each other), men and women drawn with disproportionate muscles, tits and ass. Too much for 'mature' me; I gave it up, to spend the money more wisely on nights out.

Before DC and Marvel, my comic of choice was 2000AD featuring Judge Dredd. It went through many incarnations in the late seventies and early eighties, combining with less successful titles such as Tornado and Starlord. It still thrives today, despite being twelve years beyond what used to be such a futuristic-sounding year; we'd all have flying cars by then, right? One of my free issues was 2000AD, and it contained a Ro-Busters story featuring Bax the Burner. Thirty years on, and I recalled it like it was yesterday. An Alan Moore story combined with Steve Dillon artwork, it's a classic (at least in my eyes), one that had me yearning for more. But guess what? The new stuff is good too. While the free issue showed accessible snippets, the latest issue is part-way through its stories. It doesn't matter; each one hooked me, and Judges Fire, Fear and Mortis are back.

I've grown up, but 2000AD has too. Creative, mature, intelligent, it's going to become a regular buy; my mum's going to pick it up for me when she does her big shop, just like all those years ago. It's the circle of life.

Oh, and my cousin's wedding was good, too.

Sunday, 18 March 2012


Last time (longer ago than I intended) I mentioned I was reading William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer. Well, not content with that, I followed with the sequels Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive.

I first read all three a shade over twenty years ago. They were futuristic then, and remain so today. The world of the ‘sprawl trilogy’ is one that still feels like it could happen a few decades into our future; frighteningly realistic, all Gibson didn’t predict is the expansion of the mobile phone (although one could argue that a deck is just that but on a larger scale, a sci-fi laptop) and the constant need for continual updates, one of which is probably running in the background as I write or you read.

Back then, Cyberpunk was my genre of choice, although it could be argued that its heyday was over by the early 90’s. Not only the novels, but there were also the role-playing games, such as Cyberpunk itself and Shadowrun. The latter combined cyberpunk and fantasy with brilliant effect (although the matrix was strangely dull, a conflict of colours and numbers that never truly gripped). Many Sunday afternoons were spent playing Shadowrun, and it remains my favourite RPG to this day.

A friend once said role-playing was a natural extension of reading, one where you could be the hero, affect the plot in a multitude of ways. Many nights in the pub have been spent reminiscing about the old times, talking about how we took on orc hordes, or had a bar fight with troll. Role-playing was a major part of my teens and early twenties, and would later be a reason to get all the lads together for a special occasion (my 40th birthday is one I’ll never forget).

Books do the same. When I began Count Zero, I could remember where I was when I first read it; I could even recall one Saturday night when I ordered a pizza, and I’m sure I could smell it as I read. Very nostalgic. Not only that, but this re-read revealed more depths to the story than I’d originally thought; after all these years, it felt like a sharper read, the story lean and focused, so much more than just a variety of good ideas strung together.

That’s why I like books. Not only can they take you away from somewhere, but they can also take you back. People recall where they were when the Berlin Wall came down, I can tell you exactly where I was when I first read David Gemmell's Legend (loaned from the library one Tuesday afternoon in 1987, it went with me on a school trip the next day).

Writing’s the same. Although I’m less specific about dates, when it goes well, it feels brilliant. If it’s not going so good, it becomes a struggle, but once that’s bettered, it feels brilliant. So far this year, I’ve wrote every day, whether it be a line or a page, and the sense of achievement is great. It’s not just a case of putting pen to paper, or finger to key; the hardest thing is putting my backside in the chair to do either of those. With all of life’s distractions, it’s easy to put it off until tomorrow; I once read somewhere that ‘it’s easier not to write’, and that’s absolutely true. I might still have many episodes of recorded TV to watch, but I’ve finished editing my book and drafted two short stories. Guess what? It feels brilliant. Writers write, end of story.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Apologies For The Delay

If this blog was a physical book, I’d be taking it from the shelf, blowing dust from the cover and creaking the spine to get to the page for this entry. I’d like to picture it as a leather-clad, vellum filled tome, but at the moment it’s more like a cheap exercise book with a few doodles on the cover.

Three months since my last entry? That’s bad, I know, and I hang my head in shame, disappointed with myself. In my defence, though, I’ve been busy.

Last time, I said ‘watch this space’ as if there was some impending news. Now, three months on, approximately two months after the event, I can reveal that my short story The King Is Dead… was published in the British Fantasy Society’s Christmas 2011 Journal. My words. Printed. On real paper. I’ve not physically clapped eyes on it yet (it’s not the first thing to have been mislaid in the post), but hope to soon.

In the time since now and then, I’ve also finished my edit on Book 1 of Requiem for the Grey Man, so it’s now ready to tout into the world. The search for an agent begins very soon. I’m also almost done on my entry for Fantasy Faction’s short story competition, the winners of which will be published in an anthology alongside some of fantasy’s newest luminaries (check the website to find out who). What began as the twinkle of an idea I had months ago has morphed into something completely different; it kind of ran away with itself, but I’m pleased with the end result. Another read through, a few more tweaks and it should be ready. Fantasy Faction is a great site, one that’s come on leaps and bounds in the last year, and I’m honoured to be part of it.

Same goes for Starburst Magazine, which sees its first revamped print issue in just a couple of day’s time. Editor Jordan Royce is doing a great job, nursing the project from its infancy, to this and beyond. He’s got a great group of writers on staff, superb columns, reviews and great ideas. Pick up a copy at your comic shop or newsagent, maybe even subscribe, safe in the knowledge that you’re supporting a magazine that voices true and honest opinions of all things sci-fi. Hurrah!

That’s it for now, then. Sorry it’s been brief (better short than nothing), sincere apologies for the delay (now I sound like a train announcer), and I’ll endeavour to update on a more regular basis.

One last thing. I recently re-read William Gibson’s Neuromancer for the first time this century, and it’s still a book I’d recommend. It stunned me twenty years ago when I first read it, and has done ever since. The story, the writing, everything about it is brilliant. Just brilliant.