Thursday, 13 December 2012

THE NEXT BIG THING

I was invited to do this promo-thingy by Ian Watson, so here it is!

THE NEXT BIG THING

What is the working title of your next book?

‘The Demi-Monde: Summer’ it’s the third title in the Demi-Monde series and it’s out in the UK at the end of December.

The guys at Quercus have just sent me a mock-up of the paperback cover (which won’t be out until mid-2013) and I think they’ve done a terrific job capturing the flavour of the book.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

I designed the Demi-Monde (which is a virtual Victorian-esque dystopia) so that I could have some of my favourite characters from history come out to play. In ‘The Demi-Monde: Summer’ these include Empress Wu (the only female Empress of China), Mao Zedong and Lucrezia Borgia.

What genre does your book fall under?

Difficult to say; it’s a bit of a mash-up of genres with cyber-fiction, steam-punk and even vampires making a house-call. Basically though it’s a science fiction thriller. The Demi-Monde series has been described as ‘Discworld’s savage noir cousin’ which I think is about right.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Toughie this. In a world without temporal boundaries my picks would be:

·         Ella Thomas (feisty African-American): I’m leaning towards Zoe Saldana, though maybe Dorothy Dandridge would be in with a shot.

·         Vanka Maykov (a Russian rascal: utterly immoral and without conscience): it has to be Errol Flynn.

·         Trixie Dashwood (English aristocrat and spoilt brat): Vivien Leigh.

·         Burlesque Bandstand (English low-life, pimp and petty criminal): Oliver Hardy.

Give a one sentence synopsis of the book.

Impossible, so I’ll cheat. ‘Set in 2018 the Demi-Monde is the most advanced computer simulation ever devised, a virtual world locked in eternal civil war – thirty million digital inhabitants living and dying in Victorian cyber-slums and led by some of history’s most vicious tyrants – Reinhard Heydrich, the architect of the Holocaust; Beria, Stalin’s arch executioner; and Aleister Crowley, black magician and ‘the wickedest man in the whole world’ – but something has gone badly wrong and the US President’s daughter has become trapped in this terrible world – it falls to 18-year old Ella Thomas,  black student and sometime jazz-singer, to rescue her – once Ella has entered the Demi-Monde she finds that everything is not as it seems, that its cyber-walls are struggling to contain the evil within and that the Real World is in more danger than anyone realises.

All that and only one full-stop!

 

How long did it take to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I guess I spent a month researching the historical characters I was going to use and then another couple of months reading up on the elements I needed to incorporate into the story: artificial intelligence; the origins and spread of the proto-Indo-European Language; the ironclad battles of the American civil war; the concepts under-pinning radical feminism and so on and so on.

This world-building lark ain’t easy folks!

Once I had all this organised I started to write. I generally aim to average 2,000 words a day, so a 200,000 word first draft will take three months. Then I spend another three months reworking, remodelling, reshaping and getting rid of the crap I’ve written the only purpose of which is to slow the pace of the story. So … from start to finish, nine months, a natural gestation period, methinks.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The trouble I have with this question is that (shamefully) I read very few contemporary novels, but ‘The Demi-Monde’ has been influenced by any number of books – we all stand on the shoulders of giants – so incorporated into the DM’s DNA are:

·         ‘The First Men in the Moon’: in my humble opinion Wells was the greatest SF writer of all time. ‘Etirovac’, which features heavily in ‘The Demi-Monde: Fall’, is the antipode of Wells’s ‘Cavorite’.

·         ‘The Man in the High Castle’: Philip K. Dick’s masterpiece was the first time I encountered a counter-factual story and I guess the idea of bringing disparate historical characters together came from this book.

·         ‘The RiverWorld Series’: Brilliant story and marvellous storytelling, the only regret is that Philip Jose Farmer got to Richard Burton (the Victorian explorer and linguist, not the film actor!) before I did. I’d have loved to have featured him in the Demi-Monde.

Who or what inspired you to write the book?

As an admirer of the writers of Classic SF and fantasy, I have always thought that attempts to update, or, as Tim Burton would have it, to re-imagine these stories have invariably been poor. But the nadir had to be the BBC’s ‘Jekyll’ which managed to eviscerate the story whilst simultaneously making it risible. Worse: it didn’t ‘honour’ the story. Sitting watching that muddled mish-mash I had the same feeling every writer since the dawn of time has had at one time or another: I can do better than that!

What else about the book might pique the readers’ interest in it.

As the books have a Victorian feel to them, for ‘Spring’ I’ve included plate illustrations of the various fashions sported by those living in the five sectors of the DM. Here’s one of them.

This is what the dissolute and erotically-charged citizens of the Quartier Chaud are wearing this season.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

LAWLESS

Kit, Ellie and I decided to take advantage of 'Orange Wednesday' and hit the flicks ... the trouble was, what to see. So, with no great enthusiasm we trailed off to see 'Lawless': I'm no great fan of Shia LaBeouf and I wasn't in the mood for something the trailer suggested was just a gangster movie.

How wrong I was!

Set during the Prohibition Era, in sum the story (screen adaptation by Nick Cave) relates how the three hick Bondurant brothers become the preeminent bootleggers in Franklin County, their position threatened when a Special Detective Rakes (played by a brilliant Guy Pearce) arrives on the scene demanding a cut of the profits. Led by the uncompromisingly thuggish elder brother, Forrest (wonderfully portrayed with monosylabbic intensity by Tom hardy), the three resist which, of course, result in lots and lots of violence.

In the wrong hands this could have degenerated into just an excuse for murder and mayhem, but the script treats the violence almost as an aside, the thrust of the story revolving around the relationship between Forrest and Maggie, the 'girl trying to escape a troubled past'; Forrest and Jack his younger brother and 'the runt of the litter'; and between Jack and the preacher's daughter, Bertha. It is the way these strands intertwine and develop that gives 'Lawless' its power and it's emotional bite.

It's a story helped by some first-class performances but, remarkably, the stand-out is Shia LaBeouf. In a truly remarkable turn he manages to convincingly portray vulnerability, frustration and exasperation. This guy can act!

Not an easy film to watch at times (the throat-cutting scene was particularly gruesome), but certainly the best thing I've seen this year by miles. The girls concur, and these are young ladies not enamoured to shoot-'em-ups.

A very well deserved 8/10.


The Birmingham Independent Book Fair

Went to Birmingham at the weekend to attend The Brimingham Independent Book Fair (and for Kit and Ellie to attend GateCrashers but that was by-the-by). The great thing was that the fair was amazingly well attended, loads and loads of people wandering around sampling the very diverse books on offer (including, inter alia, Jewish-centric arts, LGBT literature, local history and steampunk) and enjoying themselves as they did so.

The nice thing was that a couple of our friends had a stall and it was great to see Peter and Jan making such a success of Alchemy Press.

Jan Edwards (Alchemy Books) on the left and Emma Barnes (SnowBooks) to the right

I'm a fan of independent publishers. They seem to me to be the ideal compromise between the corporate publishers and the self-publishers, giving a whole clutch of authors who ain't able to get a mainstream gig with the support they so often need. Independents provide that oh-so-vital arm's length critque of a book and that oh-so-vital editing which can turn an OK novel into something worth reading. I think any wannabe writer who has Peter and Jan looking after their work can be reassured they're in a safe (and constructive) pair of hands.

I was also impressed by Emma Barnes's 'SnowBooks' imprint. The CARE she takes over the presentation of her books is really quite wonderful ... though not quite wonderful enough to prevent me groaning when I realised that the hero in 'The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man' was Sir Richard Burton. Not again!

A good day and Birmingham was as lively and sparky as ever.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

TOTAL RECALL


TOTAL RECALL

I’ve never been a great fan of Arnie (or of Paul Verhoeven for that matter) so I was kinda indifferent to seeing the remake of their ‘Total Recall’ but Ellie is something of a fan of Colin Farrell (this girl has a worrying taste for rascals) so it was off to the cinema we went, teenage lust trumping old-age indifference.

Not a bad film … but by no means a good one, and what it did do was confirm a worrying trend I’ve noticed in recent Sci-Fi films. Sci-Fi now seems to be a euphemism for ‘shoot-‘em-up’, where plot, dialogue and characterisation are jettisoned in favour of CGI action. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised: with the globalisation of the film business producers are looking for things that will work in a myriad of languages. Action and violence seem to be the lingua franca of world cinema.

And action and violence ‘Total Recall’ has in spades, all Colin Farrell (and after ‘In Bruges’ this man can do no wrong in my eyes, I’ve even forgiven him for ‘Alexander’) is required to do is look permanently bemused, hit people and run around a lot. Now I know he was reprising Arnie’s role but couldn’t the director (Len Wiseman, he of ‘Underworld’ fame) have streeeeetched him just a little. I mean when Colin is on the run from his ‘wife’ Kate Beckinsale (the best thing in the movie) couldn’t he be allowed some surprise when he’s rescued by Jessica Biel (awful throughout). I mean is it too much to ask for a ‘Hello, who are you?’ from the scriptwriters, or even a ‘Do I know you from somewhere?’.

In fact the lack of chemistry/dynamics/rapport between Farrell and Biel was the reason the second half of the film felt so very flat. There was absolutely no connection. Strange.

That’s the word to describe this movie: ‘flat’, as though everyone (with the exception of Beckinsale) was just going through the motions. And a long motion it was: 118 minutes which was at least 38 minutes too long. Shame, because with just a few tweaks it could have been really very good. Maybe the scriptwriters should have paid more attention to the source material: Philip K. Dick would never have allowed something so banal to leave his typewriter.

Score: 5/10

Friday, 13 July 2012

COVER STUFF

Lots of covers coming thru which I thought you might like a peek at.

Quercus are remodelling the Demi-Monde's paperback covers and the first up is 'Spring':



This, I think, is the best cover yet for the DM. Being me I had to suggest a little tinkering - the armoured steamers were refashioned in the style of the blueprint Nigel did for 'Winter's' hardback and the tricoleurs were made more slanting to show that this wasn't the Real World - but overall I think it's terrific.

The Americans by contrast have gone for something much more impactful:



I got to say that I'm not sure here, but they are the experts so I have ot bow to their expertise.

In the UK the hardback of 'Summer' (which I'm currently proof-reading) will look (something) like this:



The yin/yang dragon motif (designed by Nigel and very good it is too! ) will, hopefully be rendered in brass which will better integrate it into the cover as a whole. A good cover!

ROD'S EIGHT RULES OF WRITING


I've been neglecting everything lately (blog, personal hygiene etc.) as I worked to finish 'Tesla vs The Martians', but as I'm due to talk at the  Edge-Lit thingy in Derby tomorrow, I had to think about 'Getting Published'. The result is below.


ROD REES’S EIGHT RULES OF WRITING

Over the last nine months I’ve written the first of a new series of books (‘Tesla vs The Martians’, 123,000 words condensed down from 150,000) the fate of which is now in the lap of the god (aka ‘my Agent’), and with this trauma still fresh in my mind I guess now’s as good time as any to consider what I’ve learned about writing.

I set these rules down with a certain trepidation. I never thought I’d quote Noel Gallagher (Oasis was a shit band), but in an interview he gave to The Independent he said of Mario Balotelli that, ‘He’s like all naturally talented people: he’s not got a clue what he’s doing’. I think I could paraphrase this to read; ‘All published writers haven’t really got a clue what they’re doing’. Of course, the amount of verbiage written on the subject of ‘How to Write’ might appear to give the lie to that particular statement, but having read some of this, often contradictory, advice, I’ve a feeling that I’m right … or should that be write. I’ll give it a shot anyway.

One other thing before I begin: I write SciFi thrillers, which are, by definition, fast-paced and, well, pretty fantastic so if you’re an aspiring Dostoevsky or James Joyce then, perhaps, my rules ain’t for you.

A short preamble. I stumbled into writing. Five years ago I decided, on a whim, to write a book. I had no experience in writing (I’m an accountant by trade), never took a course on ‘How to Write’ and never, really, thought too much about the career I was about to embark on. I chose to write SciFi simply because I’d been a fan of it when I was young (Asimov, Herbert, Farmer, Wells et al) which was a loooooooooooooong time ago.

So it was a writer’s life for me and driven by naïve enthusiasm I hit the computer and wrote for one year. The result was my ‘re-imagining’ of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a story I called ‘Dark Charismatic’, a real beast of a book that weighed in at 220,000 words, which I trimmed back to 190,000. Perfect! So perfect it was rejected by everybody!

Hardly surprising. Consider: in a conversation with my agent (get me: ‘my agent’) he advised me that during his time in the business he’d received something north of six thousand submissions from would-be writers and as he’s currently got a stable (or should that be a pen) of forty-three authors that comes out at a newby having something like one chance in a hundred and fifty of securing an agent. It ain’t easy to get an agent and without an agent getting published is nigh-on impossible.

ROD’S RULE OF WRITING #1: If you ain’t got the hide of a rhinoceros, writing ain’t for you. Rejection and criticism is part and parcel of a writer’s life so if you can’t take it …

In fact my suspicion is that writing is a covert government-sponsored scheme to keep people with ideas off the streets. Better that they’re holed up in their bedroom/office/shed typing nonsense than they’re actually meshing with reality. Which brings me on to my next rule:

ROD’S RULE OF WRITING # 2: Unless you really, really believe you’ve got the talent to write a novel that will knock a reader for six then stop now. Right now! This instant! Do something more productive with your life, like taking up knitting or rat juggling.

Rule # 2 is important. I’ve sat in on numerous writers’ groups and generally found my fellow scribblers to be a rather nice bunch of people and nice people try not to hurt the feelings of others. So you’ll be seduced by expressions like ‘that was interesting’ and ‘I think with a little bit of work that could be really good,’ into believing that you are a talented writer. And if you ain’t, you’re wasting your time ... a lot of time.

Anyway … back to me.

After ‘Dark Charismatic’ I wrote for another year and came up with ‘Invent-10n’. Another 200,000 words. It was crap, so I rejected it (I had my reputation as a failed writer to think about, after all).

I wrote for another year slaving on ‘The Demi-Monde’. It sold! And now with the four books in the Demi-Monde series delivered to my publisher, I have exceeded the one million word mark which Ray Bradbury (RIP) believed was the benchmark for any writer. And being a fully paid-up member of the One Million Word Club I get to dish out advice of which the third instalment is:

ROD’S RULES OF WRITING # 3: If you wanna be a writer … write. Don’t take courses, don’t join writers’ groups, don’t read books – this is all busy work just fucking write. Every day. One thousand words minimum. Anything else is just posing. Real writers write, ersatz writers think about writing.

I try to keep to a schedule where I write an average of 3,000 words per day (21,000 per week), which is then factored down to 1,000 words per day because for every day I spend writing I spend two days editing/reviewing/correcting/despairing.

On this basis, attending a weekend workshop on ‘How to Write’ is an expensive indulgence. A weekend spent talking about writing costs you 6,000 words or 5% of that book you’ve been trying to finish. Think about it, then go home and write.

So, let’s say you’ve convinced yourself that you possess both the drive and the talent to be a writer, the question is what should you write? What I hope isn’t the answer, is a short story. Writing short stories (unless your name happens to be Ernest Hemmingway or Stephen King) is the literary equivalent of jerking off: fast, fun and a totally non-productive. Worse, short stories use up storylines, characters and (most, valuable of all) plot twists at an alarming rate. Ideas are the life essence of any writer so don’t squander them.

Ah, do I hear the protest which says, ‘short stories are a great way to get your name out there!’ Answer: bollocks … nobody reads short stories any more.

More, ‘it’s a great way of learning your craft’. Answer: er, bollocks². The editing of most short stories is cursory in the extreme so the feedback you’re going to get is superficial at best.

Yet more; ‘it’s a great way to earn as I learn’. Answer: bollocks³. I’ve had four shorts published in my brief career as a writer and I’ve earned precisely … £50!

ROD’S RULES OF WRITING # 4: Never, ever be tempted to write short stories. They are the literary world’s equivalent of travelling at speed down a cul-de-sac.

Now ignore Rule # 4, because my belief is that every chapter of your book should be a short story, having:

·         A point: if the old adage ‘make every word count’ is important, then every chapter has to have a purpose. It might be introducing/developing a character, moving the plot forward, adding tension by stirring up a conflict, any number of things. But whatever a chapter’s role in life, it must – in my humble – be self-contained, which, once read, leaves the reader with a feeling of completeness.

·         A killer opening line: there’s been a lot said about how important it is for a book to begin with a ‘the clock struck thirteen’, an oh-my-gosh-that’s-clever opening line, but if a chapter is a book in microcosm, doesn’t it deserve the same treatment?

·         A denouement: just like any story a chapter should have a beginning, middle and an end (though not necessarily in that order) … especially an end. Why an end? Because it’s that which makes the reader eager to move on to the next chapter. Mini-cliff-hangers (hill-hangers?) are good.

·         A zinger of a last line: promoting the ‘wow, I’ve just gotta read what happens next!’ syndrome.

ROD’S RULES OF WRITING # 5: Treat each chapter as a self-contained short story: it’ll discipline your writing and help keep your readers entertained.

Next up are characters. I invest a LOT of time developing/tweaking my characters and I do this for the simple reason that they are actors performing in the theatre of my mind (God, that sounds pompous!). And like all actors they are always jockeying to be in the spotlight. Encourage them … and if this requires a little over-acting on their part so be it: surely it’s better to have your story populated by characters who, though they were bloody annoying/offensive/disagreeable, are at least memorable. The reality is that the best characters transcend the story think Long John Silver, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Flashman – all of these were just a touch OTT.

The true test of Hollywood star power is whether the actor can open a movie, and I believe that the ones who can (and there are only a handful) are touched by the pixie dust that makes them larger than life. Similarly, a great character is one who can get a reader to open a book … and it’s your job as a writer to be continually auditioning for the next fictional superstar.

In this regard, my approach is to develop characters who are flawed. A hero who is saintly, resolute, trustworthy and kind to animals is also bloody boring. It’s the dark psychosis that haunts Batman that makes him such a great character … just as it’s the absence of any inner conflict which has condemned Green Lantern to being an also-ran in the superhero stakes. No one remembers a nice guy.

The other problem with characterisation is what I call ‘character drifting’ … a character drifting through the story who doesn’t impose his or her personality/attitudes on what’s happening. He or she simply observes and makes bland comments. To my mind, it’s no good giving a character a back story unless that character’s actions are influenced by what happened to him/her.

ROD’S RULES OF WRITING # 6: Push your characters, always remembering that it’s their flaws rather than their virtues which will make them stick in the mind.

Okay, enough about characters. Let’s talk about editing … your editing. I generally find that if I’m aiming to write a book of, say, 100,000 words then I’ve got to write around 120,000 words. The reason for this is simple, the pace/rhythm of a book is determined as much by what you leave out as by what you leave in.

A lot of what I write in the first draft of a book isn’t for the reader’s benefit, it’s for mine. I need to know where the action is taking place, what time of day it is, what’s the weather like, that sort of stuff but when it comes to the final edit I realise that most of this is unnecessary verbiage, worse, it’s the descriptive dross that most readers will skip anyway. My policy is to only leave something in the book which, if it isn’t read, will somehow diminish the reader’s understanding of what is or, more often, what will be happening in the story.

Having said that, self-editing is a difficult process BUT, believe me, it’s better (and a damned sight less humiliating) for you to do it than your editor.

ROD’S RULE OF WRITING # 7: If a scene is there simply to describe a situation ask yourself whether it should be binned. With descriptive dross it’s far better that it’s you hitting the ‘delete’ button than for the publisher to hit the ‘reject’ button.

Okay, nearly done. The last thing I always do when I’ve finished a chapter is to read it aloud (preferably when you’re alone otherwise the neighbours start to talk). I pretend that I’m reading it out on the radio (sad really, but writing’s a lonely occupation and you tend to go a little stir crazed). Odd behaviour though this is, it’s also bloody useful in that it accomplishes three things:

·         It’ll help you spot those irritating echoes that will have infected your writing. Use a word like ‘bored’ in one paragraph and the chances are that you’ll have used it in a subsequent paragraph. I also find it useful when deciding if a character’s dialogue stays in, er, character;

·         It’ll give you a feel for the times when the story starts to drag. And if  you’re bored (told you!) reading it, the chances are that your reader will too; and,

·         Reading aloud gives you a sense of the rhythm of your writing (and here I’m gonna get all new-age), telling you whether it flows, man. When you’ve nailed it, Paragraph One will segue naturally and seamlessly into Paragraph Two and so on and son … you won’t notice the joins.

ROD’S RULE OF WRITING # 8: Read what you’ve written aloud. Not only will it tell you an awful lot about how good or bad your work is, but it’s very entertaining for your partner.

Well, that’s it folks. I hope you found this useful. Best of luck with your writing and don’t forget to take the pills … writing is, after all, an addictive disorder.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

SUMMER COVER

Just got a first look at the cover of the third DM book 'The Demi-Monde: Summer'. It's a rough draft but I think it looks pretty good. As a lot of the action takes place in the Coven the Sino-Japanese sector of the DM I asked Nigel to come up with an appropriately yin/yangish emblem (or as the belief system of the Coven is based on the ancient philosophy of Confusionism I suppose that should be yin/yang/ying). The inter-twined dragons (dragons are a passion of Empress Wu who runs the Coven) were his idea and like all things Nigel-sian are terrific. Well done, Nig!



The Demi-Monde: Summer (draft cover)

Saturday, 19 May 2012

GOGOL-ESQUE

One of my characters in the book I’m currently working on (‘Tesla vs The Martians’) uses the expression ‘Gogol-esque’ to describe the feeling of unease he experiences when the Carnivores (don’t ask) are being described to him. The exact phrase is: ‘Images of the Gogol-esque monsters flickered through Denisov’s mind, the devilish creatures that had haunted his childhood dreams’.

Now I submitted the chapter this phrase was in to be critiqued by the Northampton Science Fiction Writers Group and was a little taken aback when one of the group took me to task by saying that as Gogol had only written one horror story – ‘Viy’ – he was better seen as a writer of romances. QED my use of the term was inaccurate.
At the time I was so non-plussed that I didn’t really know what to say so I’ve gone and checked with my Russian friends what their take on Gogol is. It seems to correspond with mine. The words they used to describe his writing were ‘surreal’, ‘grotesque’ and ‘unsettling’ and, of course, Gogol wrote stories other than ‘Viy’ which, whilst not horror per se were at the very least horrific (and here I’d cite ‘A Terrible Vengeance’, ‘A Bewitched Place’, ‘St John’s Eve’, ‘The Nose’ and ‘The Overcoat’).

So having considered the matter more fully I think I’ll leave ‘Gogol-esque’ in!

THE COUNTRY WIFE

The second play I saw this week was the very antithesis of ‘Cowboy Mouth': I switched from punk grunge to Restoration bawdiness when I took in The Univ Players’ take on ‘The Country Wife’. Written in 1675 it was banned until 1924, the lewdness and innuendo being considered too much for a respectable audience to swallow.

There are two interlocking threads to the tale: the adventures of Horner, a young blood, who  feigns impotence in order more easily to seduce women, and Mrs Margery Pinchwife – the eponymous ‘Country Wife’ who has come to London and is determined to sample all the delights the big, bad city has to offer.
I thought it a terrific production tho’ marred by being performed al fresco – it’s hard to concentrate on complex dialogue when you’re worried about incipient frostbite – which didn’t do the acoustic any favours either. Andrew Laithwaite was brilliant as Horner, with just the right amount of devilishness about him. Lazlo Barclay deserves a mention too: his Mr Sparkish was convincingly naïve. Kathryn Smith made a good fist of the tricky role of Mrs Margery Pinchwife tho’ I think she should have emphasised the yoke-lish aspect of the woman more: an actor can’t go too far over-the-top playing this character. Perhaps my favourite performance tho’ was Claire Rammelkamp’s Lady Fidget: she really nailed the ditziness of the woman and communicated better than any of the players an understanding of what it was like to be caught up in the sexual hysteria pervading Restoration London.

Criticisms? This was a play that was banned for almost 250 years … it’s bawdy and salacious but I had a feeling the actors (the girls especially, tho’ I exclude Ms Rammelkamp from this criticism) were much too PC in their approach, much too tentative. Their acting didn’t reflect the dialogue.
Still a commendable 8/10 (even if it was bloody cold!).

COWBOY MOUTH


It has been a week of some cultural involvement. My daughter Kit has been involved as the producer of two plays at her college in Oxford. The first of these was ‘Cowboy Mouth’ the punk play written by Patti Smith and Sam Shephard back in the 70’s.
For those of you unfamiliar with the play it’s a two-hander, with Cavale (a highly-strung and highly disturbed girl who has ambitions of being a rock Diaghilev) and Slim (the rock singer who’s the object of her ambitions). The action takes place in a dismal room of a slummy New York hotel.

I have to admit that I approached the play with a deal of trepidation – I find most of the output of the New York punk scene to be pretty thin and feeble fare and I’ve never been a fan of Patti Smith and, like the Curate’s egg, I found it good in parts. The play is de-constructed and almost impossible to assess regarding plot etc. being rather a device to deliver a collection of monologues and poses, but it has to be said that some of these are quite powerful.
The contrary thing is that these sort of fly-on-the-wall, cinema verite-type pieces of theatre are more demanding of the director and actors than conventional productions … they have to really go for it and if they don’t the thing generally falls flat.

The good thing is that this Ba-Laylah production performed at the Burton Taylor Studio in Oxford almost made it … almost. There was certainly a deal of verve on show and there was no faulting the enthusiasm of the actors. But …
I couldn’t help thinking that the director bottled it a little and couldn’t find a way of communicating the whole psychotic madness the lunacy of the situation Cavale and Slim found themselves in. Sitting watching the play unfold I wondered how much better (and ludicrous) it would have been to have portrayed Slim as a Sid Vicious-esque punk! But all-in-all I thought it well directed.

The three actors were good. Tara Isabella Burton as Cavale did tend to gabble her lines (I’d been hoping for some good, old-fashioned, drug-fuelled slurring) and was, I think, a little too chary of her character’s sexual abandon to really convince. Dylan Holmes as Slim was fine, though a trifle cleaner-cut than I think any grunged-up wanna-be rock god has any right to be. Jonathan Sanders was a terrific Lobster Man.
In sum, a respectable 7/10 … worth seeing, but …

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

WHY THIS WRITER CAN'T BE A READER

I have always been amazed by the number of works of fiction my fellow writers seem to consume. They are always recommending this book and saying how much they enjoyed that book, while I stand in awed - and unread - amazement.

It isn't just a function of time - though that is a factor - but I've always had a suspicion that reading the works of your contemporaries can have a corrupting effect: try as hard as you might there is still a danger that you might begin to ape a style, pinch an idea, or steal a phrase. So it's for these reasons that I've religiously refused to read any novels for ... well, years. Reference works, okay ... that's necessary research but a hot SF bestseller, no way will I open its cover.

Until Monday.

We've recently moved and as some of you might know a move requires a cull of unwanted books. In my case it was a particularly vicious culling and only very few novels made the cut and most of them survived purely on sentimental reasons. I enjoyed them when I was younger and can't bear to be parted from the memories they evoke. Included in the survivors was 'The Lost Regiment' series by William R. Forstchen. These I collected when I was hopping across to the US on a regular basis (this was before Amazon and they were never printed in the UK) and every time I did I'd buy the next in the series to read on the 'plane. I loved 'em: inventive, well researched, good characterisation and exemplary world-building.

So, clearing out a box on Monday I came across #1 'Rally Cry' and couldn't resist: I started reading. BIG MISTAKE. Immediately I started I had my editor's hat on ... he's switched POV ... he should have cut this paragraph ... show don't tell ... on and on and on. I had to stop.

That's it for me and novels, but the question remains - if I reread The Demi-Monde in twenty-odd years time will I be similarly critical?

Monday, 16 April 2012

TESLA VS THE MARTIANS

Okay, been beavering away on a new book, the working title of which is 'Tesla vs The Martians'. It's a stretched version of the short story 'Alternate Currents' included in the recent anthology 'Dark Currents' publish by NewCon Press and deals, as the title suggests, with how Nikola Tesla (the unbergenius who gave us electric power generation) battles it out with some Martian nasties trying to take over the world. I've shifted the action to Russia of 1906, the time of the first Revolution, the Duma, Marxist revolutionaries and enormous social upheavals, so it's a perfect setting for a writer. Meshing history with my SF fantasy was a little tricky, but in the end I only had to take one liberty with the timeline so I'm quite chuffed about that.

All-in-all I'm pretty pleased with it but now comes the difficult bit: polishing it into a readable story. A couple of the characters I've got to make a little more extreme and I want to push up the gore count but Tesla (who was a real wack-a-doodle anyway) sits really well in all this made-up mayhem.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

TITLES

My American publishers are considering using a series title for the Demi-Monde books and using 'The Demi-Monde: Winter' etc as the title that demarks the individual books in the series.

So ... the names I've come up with are ... any suggestions/preferences/comments welcome!:

CounterFate (a play on counterfeit)

Adventures in a CounterFate World
The CounterFate Wars
Must we Die in a CounterFate World?
Adventures in an CounterFate World
Of course you could substitute CounterFate with ReBorn; ReDie

UnderLand (a play in Wonder Land)

Ella’s Adventures in UnderLand
MisAdventures in UnderLand

Shadows
The Shadow Wars
The War of Shadows
ShadowLand Wars
Beware the Shadow Stalkers
Those Inspired by Jose Farmer and Philip K. Dick
Who Will Dry My cyberTears
Prey … for I am made dust.
Swathe me in Shadows
Adventures in a ParaHell Universe

Into the Vortex I Freely Tumble
Rise of the Dark Charismatics

And then there's the simply random

Abandon Hope
The CyberBloc Wars
CyberBloc Girls
The Girls in the CyberBloc
Confliction

CyberDeath

CyberKnell
DieVille

Dupes

NeverEverLand
TerrorVille

Ella vs The Singularities
Soul Cage

Split Infinities
The Ghosts in the Machine

ReDie

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

CALLING ALL MARXIST-LENINISTS

Well into the first of the post Demi-Monde books. Most of the action will take place in St Petersburg of 1906 and those history buffs amongst you will remember that this is when things really began to kick-off in Russia. 1905/1906 has been called 'the dress-rehearsal' for the revolution of 1917.

In the scene I'm currently writing my hero (called Samuel) and heroine (called Jemilah) are attending a meeting of the Social Democrats (revolutionary socialists) where one Comrade Lenin is orating. Therefore I needed to concoct a speech that was suitably 'Lenin-esque'. Now never having had much time for politics (or politicians) this is new territory for me so any of you who have expertise in this area, please feel free to critique it as hard as you like. All comments welcome! Here it is ...

The admiration in Samuel’s voice made Jemilah a little uncomfortable: she had a natural suspicion of ‘great men’ and their motives. They edged closer and now she could make out what Lenin was saying.

‘… told that terrorism is not a legitimate means of class struggle. We are told that we must eschew robbery as a means of financing the revolution. We are told that anarchism demoralises the workers, alienates wide swathes of the population and injures the revolution. We are told we must remain quiescent. This is wrong! We must not expect the triumph of the proletariat to be served to us on a plate. In the whole of history there is not one example of the class struggle being resolved without violence. When violence is exercised by the working people, by the mass of the exploited against the exploiters – then we, the Bolsheviks, are for it.’

There were cheers around the hall, cheers which also provoked boos. This Lenin, it seemed, was something of a divisive figure in revolutionary circles. But he was a powerful speaker; that much Jemilah had to admit. She glanced towards Samuel who seemed to be quite entranced by the man.

When the room had quietened Lenin resumed his oration. ‘That is what the struggle of our brave Comrades in Moscow taught us when they manned the barricades and took control of the streets: that as the revolution progresses it will stimulate a strong and united counter-revolution. The criminal Tsar will be compelled to resort to more and more extreme measures to defend his illegal and immoral regime: has he not been forced to declare martial law over much of the country, has he not had to mobilise regiments of fresh troops, has he not connived in the despicable pogroms perpetrated by the Black Hundred and has he not used military courts to execute protestors without a fair trial?

More cheers; anti-Tsar rhetoric was obviously popular. ‘We socialists must recognise this mass terror and we must resist it. And that will necessitate the embracing of violence. It is inevitable that the Russian proletariat will have to resort to the same method of struggle as was used in the Paris Commune – civil war. We would be deceiving both ourselves and the people if we concealed the fact that the overthrow of the bourgeoisie will necessitate a desperate, bloody war of extermination. Those of you who are opposed to it, those of you who do not prepare for it, are traitors to the proletariat, are traitors to the revolution.’

Provocative little bastard, decided Jemilah, and obviously a born rabble-rouser.

‘We must show no mercy to these enemies of the people, the enemies of socialism, the enemies of the working people. War to the death against the rich and their hangers-on, the bourgeois intellectuals!’

Lenin’s appetite for blood and slaughter was obviously contagious. The crowd began to shout and yell its support.

‘Only by violent disorganisation will we seize the attention of the downtrodden, giving them hope whilst simultaneously creating fear in the heart of the oppressors.’

‘Terrorism is wrong!’ shouted a doubter from the side of the room. ‘Anarchy is wrong!

‘No, Comrade,’ Lenin shouted back, ‘it is you who is wrong! The armed struggle to secure the victory of the proletariat legitimises the assassination of the leaders of the bourgeoisie and the confiscation of funds by robbery. It is not these guerrilla actions which disorganises the revolutionary movement but rather it is the weakness of a Party which is incapable of taking such actions under its control. It is not guerrilla war which demoralises but unorganised, irregular, non-party guerrilla acts. The very act of violent political disorganisation imbues it with ideological credence. It is time we all accepted that nothing can be done in this country except by putsches. We are revolutionaries who have dedicated our lives to the cause of socialism and the freeing of the proletariat and the peasants from bondage so we must stand ready to sacrifice our lives for the cause: to triumph we must kill and, if necessary, die!’

‘What about the Duma?’ This, to Jemilah’s surprise, was a question shouted by Samuel.

‘Ah … the Duma … the very fact that you have asked the question, Comrade, shows how our revolutionary certainty has been obscured by the debate regarding the Duma, how successful this ploy of the Tsar has been in confusing and distracting the revolutionary energies of the people.’ He paused for a moment in sad reflection. ‘We are told by the liberals that the success of the political struggle against the government can only be secured by the consolidation and expansion of the rights of the Duma. What nonsense! We all know that the Duma is a miserable travesty of popular representation. This fraud must be exposed and this we can do only by boycotting the Duma … but it must be an active boycott … a boycott accompanied by intense agitation in order to provoke an intense political crisis.’

For several long seconds Lenin stood silent on the stage. Then, ‘It is time, Comrades, to grasp the nettle. It is time we recognise that only by a campaign of brutal and ferocious disorganisation and an espousal of agitational pragmatism will we free the people of the autocracy lauded over by that embodiment of despotism, Tsar Nicholas II.’ Again he paused, ‘Comrades, we are met at a cross-roads of history: do we take the fork signalled by the Kadets and signposted ‘Passivity and Submission’ or the fork signalled by the Bolsheviks and signposted ‘Action and Terror’? Are we to remain supine in the face of judicial murder or are we to smash and pulverise our opponents into submission? I say to you: down with the Dumtsy!’

Calling the Duma representatives by the diminutive ‘dumtsy’ raised a laugh.

‘Down with this new police fraud! Honour the memory of the fallen heroes of the Moscow barricades by making fresh preparations for an armed uprising! Long live the revolution!’

There was wild cheering and as though carried away by the audience’s enthusiasm Lenin began to pace the stage. ‘And let us all hope, Comrades, that by such acts of selflessness and sacrifice we will create the longed for popular rising of the people. It is my hope that from such a rising will emerge an ambitious man of genius, a Caesar, a demigod, who will lead our benighted country out of the darkness of autocracy and to whom all men and women will bow their heads as equals.’

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

VIRGINMEDIA IS SHIT


Do NOT use VirginMedia … this is my sorry saga.

I moved house on the 28th February and decided (foolishly) to ditch BT and go to Virgin as my telephone and broadband supplier. They arrived on the 8th March and connected me. On the 9th I ‘phoned to enquire if they did a special rate deal for calls to Russia (Nelli my wife is Russian and likes to chat with relatives and friends). They did – for £2.00 a month they would take my call rate down from £1.00 per minute to 10p per minute. Yippee!

So all was well until yesterday evening when at 6.30 p.m. I get a call from Virgin (I didn’t take the girl’s name) who informed me that in the past week I’d spent £250 on international calls. Now at 10p per minute that works out at a little under 42 hours worth of calls and whilst Nelli might like talking to Russia but she doesn’t talk that much. I suggested to Miss X that the preferential call rate hadn’t been put through. ‘Oh yes,’ she said, ‘but to put the changes thru you’ll have to speak to the ‘Debt Collection Department’ (Debt Collection?). I’ll put you thru.’

TIME SPENT ON THE ‘PHONE TO MISS X:                37 MINUTES

Eventually I get thru to ‘Daniel’ who seems to know nothing and who eventually admits that he’ll have to refer my problem to his manager ‘Kirsty Aitchison’ who will ‘phone me ‘definitely before 9.00 p.m.’ to resolve the situation.

TIME SPENT ON THE ‘PHONE TO DANIEL:               35 MINUTES

‘Kirsty Aitchison’ doesn’t call.

At 8.30 a.m. I call VirginMedia and am put thru to ‘Joanne’. After a lot of toing and froing we establish that maybe, perhaps I have been credited with the overcharges made. But when I ask for a statement this induces meltdown.

TIME SPENT ON THE ‘PHONE TO JOANNE:             40 MINUTES

I am transferred to ‘Andrew’ in Technical Support who explains to me that VirginMedia is so cutting edge that they don’t do statements, they do ‘on-screen billing information’. With Andre’s help I go to the VirginMedia website. I have difficulty logging on because no one seems to know the e-mail address my log-on details demand. Eventually I penetrate and am faced by an announcement that ‘no billing information is available’. Andrew scratches his head and says he will flag a problem and will get back to me.

TIME SPENT ON THE ‘PHONE TO ANDREW:           28 MINUTES

I ask to be transferred to someone who can tell me how to cancel my VirginMedia account. I eventually speak to ‘Rachel’. After much huffing and puffing – and Rachel gets very exasperated that I don’t understand Virgin-speak – I understand that:

·         I can’t see my billing information because it is only posted monthly, and,

·         It will cost me £45 to leave Virgin.

TIME ONE THE ‘PHONE TO RACHEL:                          25 MINUTES

I receive 3 identical text messages from Virgin telling me everything will be sorted in ’48 hours’.
In sum I spent nearly 3 hours (3-fucking-hours!) on the ‘phone sorting out something which WASN’T MY FAULT. Virgin screwed up and I had to waste my time unscrewing it. I’m shifting to BT!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

SUMMER END PAGES

The final sstep before 'The Demi-Monde: SUmmer' is put to bed is to provide the artwork for the endpages - that's the inside of the covers. Those of you familiar with the hardbacks of Spring and Summer might recall that these showed blueprints of, respectively, a steamer and a Zeppelin, but as most of the action of Summer takes place in the Coven - the Sino-Japanese sector of the DM - Nigel Robinson (who does the DM artwork) came up with a WarJunk, the 'blueprint' done Chinese style.



This is a representation of the ship that the Coven use to fight the ForthRight's Monitors, the inspiration being the Battle of Hampton Roads during the Covil War in America when the USS Monitor fought the CSS Virginia. Unfortunately I become TOO focussed on this and I missed a trick: in the book I refer to the Coven's ships as IronClads - the name that Nigel came up with, 'WarJunk', is so much better. Ah me.

MOVING HOUSE

I've been very delinquent regarding my blog during February and the reason is that Nelli and I have been looking for a new house. We only came to Derby so that Kit and Ellie could take up the scholarships they won at Repton and we've never really settled here. So when the kids went off to university we decided to decamp to somewhere within better striking distance of Oxford and London. After a few false-starts we've plumped for a house in Daventry which is only 70 miles from London. It's a small town but with good amenities so I think we'll be fine there. The house we've chosen is pretty unprepossessing from the outside - bunkeresque - but inside it's really very nice indeed all open plan and split level.

Chez Rees

All-in-all I'm looking forward to the move - especially as there seems to be a very active writers group in the area!

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

REMINDS ME OF DECO IN THE COMMITMENTS

Considering that the last week has been pretty hellish (pounding around the Midlands looking for a new house and being reminded that most houses are awful) it was quite nice to open up the internet today and find two great reviews of 'Winter' waiting for me.

The first was from 'The Trades' (http://www.the-trades.com/article.php?id=12880) written by R.J.Carter who describes Winter as 'part political satire, part steampunk, part cyberpunk and all parts downhill slalom race ... a ripper of a novel'. A great way to start the day.

The second was from the Lexinton Examiner (http://www.examiner.com/literature-in-lexington/demi-monde-winter-picks-up-where-michael-crichton-left-off-review) written by Jesse Coffey who gave a glowing review but then went a little further by suggesting that I might be the man to fill Michael Crichton's shoes! A trifle embarrassing. Crichton was a brilliant, brilliant writer who came up with some utterly amazing scenarios and storylines ... if I ever get half that inventive I'll be bloody delighted.

But reading Jesse's review reminded me of the great line from 'The Commitments' (a masterpiece of a film by Alan Parker) when Deco (the singer in the band) is told that he'll be jamming with Wilson Pickett. The line goes: 'Deco Cuffe and Wilson Pickett ... together at last!'

Trouble is that Deco and Wilson never did get together ... but I suppose I can dream.

PARADIGM LOGO

In The Demi-Monde series, the virtual world that is the Demi-Monde was created by a rather secretive and unpleasant company called ParaDigm CyberResearch. Although it's rather a peripheral presence in the first three books it comes more to the fore in the last book: Fall. This being the case I decided that paraDigm needed both a logo and a motto. The logo had to incorporate a clenched fist on the basis that:

The clenched fist symbol of ParaDigm Global, adopted by the organisation when it was formed in 1906, symbolises that five elements are necessary to forge a successful team. These elements – as defined by the founder of Paradigm, Beowulf Bole – are Vision, Leadership, Intelligence, Resolve and Courage. Individually they are of little worth but when brought together in the manner of fingers in a fist, they have a strength that is irresistible.

As for the motto, I finally settled on the latin tag: fortes modo tempus mutare possunt.
This done I let Nigel loose and he came up with three designs:
ParaDigm Logo 1:

I really liked this, especially the mirror-image of the name which signals the duplicious nature of the company. Unfortunately it was a little too complicated for what I had in mind.

Next up was ParaDigm Logo 2:
Very good, so it was a toss-up between this and ParaDigm Logo 3:


This is the one which got the final nod and will grace the cover of 'The Demi-Monde:Fall'!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

SALE TIME IN THE DEMI-MONDE

I understand that 'The Demi-Monde: Winter' (US edition) is now on sale for the next week at a price of $1.99. What a bargain!

Monday, 23 January 2012

BITS AND PIECES

It's been an odd couple of weeks. Nelli and I are house hunting so I've had to fit my writing around trips to various properties. But still I've managed to do quite a lot.

First up I've submitted the last of the Demi-Monde books, 'The Demi-Monde: Fall'. After a bit of last minute tweaking it came in at just under 190,000 words which was my target and all-in-all I ain't that displeased with it. It'll be interesting to get reaction back especially regarding the carnage that accompanies the end of the first half of the book.

I also got the edit of 'The Demi-Monde: Summer' back from Merlin so I've been going thru that polishing and tweaking. It was subject to a pretty major overhaul after the first round of edits so reading it again gave me a chance to see how these sat and I'm not displeased. I swapped two chapters around and added and subtracted bits here and there but nothing mega. I've briefed Nigel regarding the artwork (a couple of PigeonGrams but nothing major) and given him some options for the blueprint that'll grace the endpages of the British edition.

Last week I was also interviewed by Rege Behe of The Pittsburg Tribune (amazing ... Pittsburg!). It seemed to go Okay. You can read it on http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/ae/books/s_777493.html.

Right now I'm working on a piece regarding the history of Lilith and the Lilithi for the website - good fun but difficult!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

THE JAZZY DEMI-MONDE

I was asked to comment on the jazz aspect of the Demi-Monde. This is what I wrote:

Consider this quote from Duke Ellington: ‘By and large, jazz has always been the kind of man you wouldn’t want your daughter to associate with’. Now substitute ‘science fiction’ for ‘jazz’ … see, it still works! And the reason for this is simple: SF has never been able to shake of the reputation it gained in the days of pulp SF that it was somewhat inferior … the genre has always been seen by the literary establishment as a little infra dig.

I guess it was this somewhat disreputable image that drew me to writing SF. That and the fact that SF (good SF) has the ability to transcend rules and regulations and to boldly go where other genres are too nervous to explore. I’ve never been big on rules and regulations given that they’re a simply a substitute for common sense.

I love jazz (some jazz; ragtime I can live without) and having a jazz singer as a wife I’ve become steeped in the stuff so it was natural that when I sat down to write my book I looked to jazz for inspiration. From my experience of sitting through numerous gigs I believe that the key to jazz is the ensemble: musicians being able to play together but also having the confidence in each other to solo. At its best the jazz combo is the perfect amalgam of the group and the individual. And from the word go I wanted the Demi-Monde to be an ensemble piece, with multiple characters having their time in the spotlight but then having to cede their place in the story … and all the while the story arc is maintained and driven forward.

But it isn’t just the style of the book that apes jazz music, there are more overt references too. As the opening book in the Demi-Monde series – Winter is set a virtual dystopia populated by twelve million Dupes (digital simulacra of living people) and ruled by Reinhard Heydrich (the monster who gave us the Holocaust) I needed a lead character who would be able to handle the perverse racialism and bigotry she would meet there. Making her a young black jazz singer was a snap: if Duke, Dizzy, Miles and Ella could survive and flourish in the face of so much racial hostility, then so could a tough cookie like my Ella Thomas.

But having drawn the character of Ella the temptation to go further was irresistible. I augmented the evil Singularities (recreated doppelgängers of historical personages) I feature in the book with a few good guys and the one I had to include was Josephine Baker. For a black girl from St Louis to conquer 1920’s Europe armed only with a skirt made from bananas, a beaming smile and a bucketful of talent showed just what formidable character she really was. I had a lot of fun seeding her into the Demi-Monde. Other jazzers are referenced in later books: Cab Calloway is responsible for the ‘ReBop’ jive talk used by NoirVillians featured in ‘The Demi-Monde: Fall’ and I also managed to sneak in a reference to the great Miles Davis.

So I guess you could say that ‘The Demi-Monde: Winter’ is a jazzy sort of book and that being the case I’ll leave you in bebop fashion: plant you now and dig you later.