Eight months later…

About ten days after my last post, a little something arrived. A little something that has since evolved into a fully functioning prodigy, solving quadratic equations and reciting the works of Shakespeare in Urdu, from her own translation. This child genius is called Georgina Joan Halliday and now looks like this:

OK, genius may not be quite the right word.I may have exaggerated the extents of her talents.

Anyway, as anyone with children know, life gets busy when they arrive, and something has to give. With more pressing online commitments and other writing to do (see below) it ended up being the blog that ground to a halt.

However, as we approach the end of the wife‘s maternity leave we’re beginning to re-establish some kind of normality, and I’ve got some ongoing and upcoming things worth mentioning, so I’m back. Kind of.

Let’s see if I can manage, oooh, one post a week for the next couple of months. FINGERS CROSSED!

Anyway, what I’ve been up to:

Shiny Shelf, for which I write and edit, continues to grow nicely. A lot of articles in the last year have gone down really well and picked up interest all over the place, and with new things like Eddie’s webstrip Asterix & Obelix we’ll hopefully continue to grow. If you’ve not visited the site in a while, please pop over and take a look. You’ll find new items pop up in the column to the right —->

Over at Game People I’m still writing my weekly Story Gamer column (also on the right —>), which continues to be a really fun gig, albeit with some unintended side effects. Writing a weekly review column means there’s a constant churn of new titles to deal with (I know, I know, it’s a hard knock life) so perfectly good games find themselves neglected after the deadline has been hit. It can be difficult to find time to go back to games that I want to persevere with and finish, because there’s always something new to get on with, especially with titles which are good, fun, but not triple A epic.

For example, I got back to Assassin’s Creed 2 and completed it because it’s an absolutely stunning game, but smaller fry, perfectly good but not spectacular gamesĀ  like War for Cybertron and Splatterhouse sit around neglected, the poor things.

I’m doing one or two longer Story Gamer reviews a month at the moment for titles that warrant the attention, the first being Dead Space 2 and the next one going live this Monday, and those allow me to go into a bit more depth. In between those longer pieces I will continue to have pithier reviews where I kick various bits of half-arsed shovelware in the face, so there’s no need to worry if you prefer me spitting bile.

So those are my ongoing web commitments. In print, following my story in Fear the Alien (as mentioned here) I’ve been doing more Warhammer 40,000 work for Black Library, with one book already written and a second proposal under discussion with the editors. It’s been a really enjoyable process so far: Black Library’s editors have been enthusiastic, friendly and very tolerant of my non-hobbyist 40K rookie mistakes. They also work well ahead of schedule: I started writing my first novel for them in spring 2010, and it’s still not got a publication date! In some ways this is odd compared to the, hmmm, more hectic deadlines I’ve dealt with in the past, but it’s given us plenty of time to polish the book.

If I don’t give a title for that first book, it’s not me being coy but rather the fact that it still doesn’t have one. At Microcon (see further below) I jokily ascribed this to an ongoing argument with BL’s marketing, but that’s entirely unfair: it’s been a long and polite process of me suggesting titles which were too weak, or became irrelevant as the book evolved. After being relatively successful with titles in the past, I’m finding coming up with suitably bold, 40K-appropriate titles, with even Sanctified (the FtA story) having a couple of previous titles before settling on that. Hopefully we’ll agree something soon.

I’ll update the Bibliography with the 40K book, and the new Bernice Summerfield story I wrote last year, in due course.

Finally, I’m starting to get out of the house a bit and attend events, some of which have been kind enough to let me speak. I’ve been attending Exeter university’s Microcon on and off for the last few years, and they kindly invited me to be a guest this year. I’ll put up the full text of my talk as the next post.

Mark

Advertisements

March 13, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

The Emperor… and me.

So, a friendly book reviewer DM’d me the other day to say that he was surprised to see my name in a preview copy of the Warhammer 40,000 short story collection Fear the Alien (right).

I slipped the cover up on to the blog when it was released, and various online listings included me in the list of authors way back, but I decided I wasn’t going to bother talking about this until closer to publication, partially because there’s nothing duller than someone hyping their own stuff for months in advance, and partially because it was a bit of a long story.

Well, I guess the time for that long story is now.

It started one week last summer. I was having a fairly bad week, and I spent part of a dull weekday afternoon browsing through the cheap bins in WH Smith. Now, I love nothing more than wading through stacks of cheap paperbacks, as the bulging shelves of our house will attest.

Amongst those cardboard trays of cheap books I found a fat paperback Omnibus, The Vampire Genevieve by Jack Yeovil.

And that took me back, way back, to reading an extract from the first book in that Omnibus, Drachenfels, in White Dwarf way back in 1989, when it was one of the first three full-length novels to be published based on Games Workshop’s Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 worlds.

At the time I’d not bought the book – I remember it was hugely expensive for my 13-year old’s pocket-money budget, certainly compared to most of the kids books I’d been reading – but the extract had stayed with me, the description of the necromancer Drachenfels in his castle.

I had gone through a White Dwarf/Warhammer/Games Workshop phase as a teen, so I was not unfamiliar with the Warhammer Fantasy setting in general, and had a lingering fondness for both that and its far-future counterpart, Warhammer 40,000. I’d gone halves with a friend on the Warhammer 40,000 rulebook, and I remember him having the amazing painting of the Emperor from that book on his wall, an image which has stuck with me for two decades since.

In spite of really enjoying the background, painting Space Marines (badly) and so forth, I was never much of a wargamer, not really having the disciplined mindset required for such things – I distinctly remember a friend looking at my Space Marines laid out over an old Metroplex toy and pointing out that I didn’t really wargame, I just played with my marines, which stung at the time but was totally true – but I always really, really liked the worldbuilding of those universes.

Anyway, with those fond memories, the fact that I was in the mood for some pulpy reading, and the fact that I knew Yeovil was a pseudonym for Kim Newman and therefore a pretty good guarantee that the book would be worth reading, how could I not throw down a quid to buy a fat book like that?

It was fairly obvious within pages of starting Drachenfels that not only was this the sort of book I like to read, it was also the kind of book I would love to write.

So I went to have a look at the website of the publisher, the Black Library, and read a few extracts from more recent books. Now, as a jobbing hack I had of course been aware of BL and their output for a while, but I’d never dug deep. Now I did, and I liked what I read.

As no doubt many long term BL readers are thinking at this point, Drachenfels was a very early example of Warhammer-related fiction, and the line and the lore has changed a lot since then, through a couple of publishing false-starts before the hugely successful Black Library took off. Indeed it has, but I found that a lot of what I liked about the early book was present and correct in more recent publications, that these were action-based pulp fantasy and SF stories without most of the elements of those genres that I disliked.

There was also a contest running to get a story into a forthcoming book called Fear the Alien. I’d missed most of the contest and there was only a week or two ’til the deadline, but the initial stage of the contest only required a short synopsis and a short prose extract, so it wasn’t a colossal slab of work to get done in the time, providing I could think of an idea.

It was Warhammer 40,000 (40K from here) rather than Warhammer Fantasy (WHF), so even Drachenfels wasn’t helpful research and I had a lot of catching up to do.

But it sounded like a fun challenge. I threw myself into it, coming up with a basic premise that I constantly needed to correct against every bit of lore that I bumped into as I read up on the range, scoured various online reference works and generally tried to get myself up to speed with a complex, ever-changing fictional universe that I’d not thought about much since I was fourteen. I read the official site, wikis, FAQs, forum posts, as well as bits of relevant books in the series.

I enjoyed it. A lot. Writing can be slow, boring work, while this was fast and furious, a bit sleep depriving and hairy. Good fun.

I got my entry in on time, and waited.

A couple of weeks later, I got a very nice email back from editor Christian Dunn saying I was through to the next stage of the contest, and could I write up my story in full over the next month?

Of course, I said yes, that would be no problem.

I was editing a short story book myself (Secret Histories, still available to buy here), in the last few weeks of my full-time job and preparing to relocate from London to Exeter but goddammit this was a contest and I wanted to win it.

It was around this time, incidentally, that I discovered that as a previously published author I could have just contacted BL via email without going through the contest at all, a detail that had totally slipped me by in my excitement at the whole contest business. But by this stage it was a bit late to bring that up, I knew from a couple of forum posts that I wasn’t the only entrant who had been published before, and yes, I was really enjoying the whole contest aspect of the process with rounds to go through and so forth.

I mention this because I know that fan writers sometimes consider previously published authors to be unfair competition. To a certain extent this is fair enough, and it’s why a lot of these contests (e.g. the recent Pratchett-related novel contest) exclude previously published authors. On the other hand, if you want to be a published writer then guess what, you’ll be competing with published writers to get published. That’s the nature of the business. Unless you’ve reached that blessed stage where publishers come knocking on your door, elbowing each other out of the way to get your next project, it’s a constant hustle for the next job. Opportunities need to be seized, whether you’ve been published before or not.

Anyway, I submitted the full story, left my job, moved house (and city!), finished some other writing gigs, and then moved on to the next stage, which involved notes from Christian and the rest of the editorial team. I worked through those, re-submitted the story, and had another bit of a wait before getting confirmation that yes, the story had been accepted for Fear the Alien.

A flurry of paperwork later, and I was a fully signed-up Black Library author, albeit with one short story to my name.

I’m very pleased with the story, I really enjoyed working on it, and I hope the vast BL fanbase enjoy it too. This post is, more than anything, for their benefit – having seen on the blogs and forum threads the passion with which they bring to the books, the games and the hobby as a whole, I thought it would be worth explaining, as a newbie BL author, my history with these universes and how I came to end up writing in it.

From my childhood, reading about Drachenfels in White Dwarf, to adulthood, on the verge of being published in the vast line of books that those three advertised books eventually created. And all it took was twenty one years.

So there you go.

Mark

Fear the Alien is published in September 2010 by Black Library.

You can read a bit more about the book in its entry on the Black Library site, or pre-order it now from either Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

July 14, 2010. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Review

Can’t be bothered with a pun for the header, here’s a nice review of Secret Histories over at the Obverse Books blog.

Ta, Stuart!

Mark

April 21, 2010. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Reviews!

While there’s been some nice chat on various fora about Secret Histories, here’s the first full-length review of the book I’ve seen so far. Please don’t read my comment at the bottom of the review until you’ve read the book… it’s got some implicit spoilers in there, of sorts.

And here’s another review, not about Secret Histories but by me (everything is about me, in the end) in which I talk a bit about a recent Wolverine one-shot and the first couple of issues of SWORD, and get ridiculously excited about Death’s Head.

I love Death’s Head. As you’ll quickly gather.

Mark

December 17, 2009. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Further recommendations: Mr Whicher and the Hornet’s Nest

OK, aside from the obvious Secret Histories and Panda Book of Horror (OUT NOW BUY BUY BUY), a couple more recommendations for things I’ve enjoyed recently:

Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House is a factual account of a brutal murder in mid-19th century England, told with the pace and verve of a novel.

Summerscale’s book captures a relatively brief moment between the creation of professional policing and the development of forensic science where real detectives and fictional detective work were not totally unrelated, where, without the analytical science now available, crimes were solved by a combination of intuition and reasoning. While there’s an intellectual romance about this form of crime fighting that appeals, the book doesn’t stint on how unreliable a method this was, of how dependent on the guilty party’s confession a conviction could be.

It’s interesting to compare Mr Whicher to the sections of Jonathan Stapleton’s original book on the Road Hill case quoted within. Stapleton expands out the known details – and as a first hand witness to the investigation and a friend of the victim’s father, he had access to more than most – with florid prose. Summerscale takes a different approach, one more consistent with current non-fiction, never hesitating to expand on any social or historical detail raised in the course of the story. It’s a fascinating series of digressions, ones which show that, in spite of great social change, how the behaviour of the public in regards to shocking crimes has always been insensitive, obsessive, fickle and crass.

Next up, a Doctor Who story (or stories). With Who dominating the airwaves over Christmas, any more might seem excessive, but Hornet’s Nest, a series of five CDs from BBC Audiobooks, is distinctly different from the all-ages bombast of the current TV show.

Thankfully, in spite of marking Tom Baker’s first proper return to the role after only brief appearances in telethons and theme nights, Hornet’s Nest isn’t a direct return to a version of the character and the show that played itself out over the actor’s long initial run and has been strip-mined in novels, short stories and comic strips ever since.

Paul Magrs story/stories – the five CDs are linked into one narrative, but are each distinct – is/are closer to being an imaginary BBC4 Who spin-off to sit alongside the ones on BBC3 and CBBC, a version of that universe aimed at an older audience that remembers Ghost Stories for Christmas with fondness, shot on a low budget and aiming for slow burning chills. It’s essentially a series of fireside tales exchanged between Baker’s Doctor and retired soldier Mike Yates, two old men sharing scary stories and going on one last big adventure.

The insistence on drawing a seventies period Tom on the covers, and placing it within that continuity in the dialogue, seems unnecessary and intrusive, a handwavy sop to obsessives and the BBC licensing department, who doubtless frown upon spin-offs chucking a brick through such continuity staples as which-Doctor-regenerated-when. This is an older Tom different to the one who descended into boggle-eyed tedium on-screen, and a different type of Who story tailored to its leads current tastes, a story full of the macabre and weird, as well as cottages, wolfhounds and whiskey.

Magrs makes a virtue of writing for his star’s tastes, and goes full-tilt with a story that’s genuinely creepy in places, and even manages to make that repetitive staple of early Tom stories, possession by aliens, work in a new and interesting way. The acting is fantastic, Tom being better here than a lot of his TV appearances, maybe better than he’s ever been and Richard Franklin’s older Captain Yates is certainly more interesting than the uncomfortable romantic lead he was cast as in the 70s. While a couple of the supporting cast hit the button marked ‘northern whimsy’ with a repetitive frenzy I could have lived without, there are great turns by the likes of Michael Maloney and Stephen Thorne – and in what other medium than radio could the towering Thorne play an Italian midget, hmm?

Hornet’s Nest is an entertaining, spooky new take on Who, and well worth investing in, an atmospheric treat for the cold winter months.

Mark

December 17, 2009. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. 6 comments.

Your Christmas Wishlist

Just a quick reminder to anyone with gifts to buy or Christmas money to spend of two books out this month:

Firstly, Bernice Summerfield: Secret Histories, which I edited and wrote the framing sequence for is OUT NOW, and you can order it straight from Big Finish here.

Secondly, The Panda Book of Horror has just gone to press over at Obverse Books. It features my short story Channel 666, and is due out on the twelfth of this month. You can pre-order it here.

That’s your lot,

Mark

December 8, 2009. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Personal updates

Just a quick note to say that I’ve updated the bibliography on Shiny Shelf, to which you can find a link in the column to your right, under ‘MarkStuff’ —>.

Click through and you’ll find purchase/pre-order links to all my recent and upcoming projects.

Also, should anyone wish to hire me, or is desperate to read my life story as a series of CV bullet points, I now have a profile on LinkedIn.

Oh, and here’s my latest Shiny review, of Tozo: The Public Servant. Creator David O’Connell broke some kind of speed record for finding out about the review, mentioning it on his site within about twelve hours of me posting. Impressive!

Mark

November 30, 2009. Tags: , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Cover Story

I’m about to go up North for a few days, to visit family and go to Thought Bubble in Leeds, so for now here’s a couple of images. This first one you know about:

Secret Histories is out in December! You can pre-order it by clicking here.

I was amused to find, flicking through a copy of Simon Guerrier’s comprehensive Inside Story book on Bernice, that the premise of the framing sequence of Secret Histories is mentioned when I’m talking about books I’d have proposed if Virgin had kept the New Adventures going. Well, I got to it eventually – it only took ten years.

So, Secret Histories: A Decade In The Making. Surely worth an investment on that basis alone?

The next one will be new to virtually everyone, is for a collection I’ve just been told I’m contributing to, and I’ll explain it a bit more in a later post. For now, I’ll just let it stand for itself:

WAAARRRRGGGGHHH!

Mark

November 18, 2009. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Pandamonium

Stuart Douglas of Obverse Books has posted the list of authors for their next Iris Wildthyme short story collection, The Panda Book of Horror (actual cover art not shown on the left*)…

… and there’s my name, sandwiched between Dr Magrs and Mr Michalowski (no tittering at the back, you lot) at the top of the list.

It’s a pleasure to be there (stop it). With Iris Wildthyme and the Celestial Omnibus, Obverse put out a highly professional and entertaining first book, one which allowed authors familiar from, ahem, other time-and-space travel related franchises to cut loose creatively, presenting a diverse selection of stories, each with a distinct authorial voice, brought together by Iris Wildthyme’s genre-defying escapades.

Oh, and my wife wrote one of the stories. So you should definitely go back and buy it if you haven’t already.

I can’t remember who told me that the second Iris book was going to be the Panda Book of Horror, but after they had the idea of a collection of horror stories in the Obverse then sat at the back of my mind for a few days, lingering. The horror, the horror, the horror…

Then, while walking back from work one day (and bear in mind I lived ten minutes from the office at the time so it wasn’t exactly a long walk), an idea came to me, or rather a couple of ideas and how they would fit together within the sensibility of the Iris stories: a horror sub-genre with distinct conventions, which I gleefully considered to be so far outside of the usual scope of the Iris stories as to be positively perverse; and the plot device and setting which would give it the appropriate British, whimsical twist.

I’m pleased with how smoothly the idea assembled itself in my head, and the story as written is pretty much scene-for-scene what I first envisaged. It’s my first horror story, and it does feel like I managed to dredge a lot of unpleasant imagery fully-formed, from the depths of my psyche straight to the page.

Should I be proud of that? Hmmm.

Anyway, you can judge my psyche when The Panda Book of Horror comes out this November. If you somehow missed the links at the top of this entry, then you can pre-order the book here.

Mark

* Image brazenly stolen from here, by the way. Follow the link to read the whole terrifying comic strip!

October 21, 2009. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

A Public History of Secret Histories (2)

Yesterday I wrote, in maddeningly-opaque-spoiler-free fashion, about the general ideas behind Secret Histories and what kind of book I wanted it to be. Today, a little bit about how, knowing what book I wanted, I arrived at the stories and authors in the book.

Putting together a book is like bringing together a team to do any big job – even though the authors wouldn’t be working with each other, they bring different contributions to the whole.

Firstly, I knew there were a list of people who, should I ask and should they accept, would deliver good stories to length and deadline and to whatever specifications I tossed their way, who were also popular, critically acclaimed authors of Who and related stuff in their own right who could write Benny and co in character and continuity without any real guidance. Basically, the absolute pros. They would provide the core of the book, and allow me to take a few risks on my other commissions, knowing that I had a handful of good stories in the bank that would need limited editorial input.

Having been around the Who writing block for a decade, I was in the useful (albeit frankly tragic) position of having a social circle rammed with writers for the Who books, Benny range etc. As this was my first book as editor, I also had the newbie’s luxury of pulling in a few favours, knowing that my friends would want to help me out on my first collection. However, I didn’t want to press gang in anyone who genuinely didn’t want to do the book, so my invite was pretty open and clear that I was happy to be turned down – you don’t get good stories out of people who aren’t creatively inspired by what they’re doing, after all.

In the end, a few people did turn me down politely, mainly on the grounds that they didn’t feel they had anything to say with the Bennyverse, or were concentrating on other creative avenues.

However, I did get a good stable of great writers with good track records to provide the spine of the book – Lance Parkin, who has been a friend of mine since around the time he was pitching Just War and whose vision of Benny overlaps with mine almost totally; Eddie Robson, at that time producer of the range and a fan of the character since the late 90s; Mark Michalowski, whose first Doctor Who book came out the same month as my first solo novel, Hope; and Nick Wallace, who had written two excellent Bernice Summerfield scripts in recent years as well as editing a well-reviewed short story collection, Collected Works.

With all four on board, that was more than half of the book in the bank. More, if you counted the framing sequence I was planning to write. That still left a substantial chunk of words still to commission.

I talked in the previous post about the New Adventures editorial ethos, and one of the best remembered parts of that was the commitment to new or less well-established writers. I knew from the start any short story collection I did was going to include writers that were perhaps less well-known than the names above, but who deserved wider exposure. A couple sprang to mind relatively early:

I’ve known Jim Smith since we were both at university in Central London, had flat-shared with him for absolutely ages, and (along with the aforementioned Eddie Robson and my Twilight of the Gods co-writer Jon de Burgh Miller) co-founded Shiny Shelf with him. Jim had recently penned The Adventure of the Diogenes Damsel, an audio where Bernice had teamed up with Mycroft Holmes (played by David Warner in full effect), and it had received a rapturous critical response from the fans. I’d liked it a lot, with the minor caveat that the plot didn’t have room for us to actually see (or rather hear) Mycroft and Benny solve a mystery. I’d been reading a lot of Case Closed at the time, and so was very keen on the classic locked room mystery story.

So, in one of those cases where self interest (both in terms of what I wanted to read, and adding a good selling point to Secret Histories that would attract fan attention) and altruism (in terms of giving Jim a stage to show what he could do as a prose fiction writer) collide perfectly, I was determined to get Jim to write a new Mycroft and Benny story, the only stipulation being that they should solve a mystery. I’m glad to say that my hunch was right, and interest in this story so far has been high – interest which will be rewarded, as the final story is great.

Another writer I wanted to work with was Richard Freeman, who I’d met at one of Exeter University’s Microcons, where he would give fascinating presentations on his career as a Fortean zoologist, travelling the world hunting for monsters. Richard has a voice and concerns that are different to the average Doctor Who fan writer – he’s highly knowledgeable in regards to myths from around the world, and has a fine grasp of anthropological detail. Richard’s contribution is completely different to most Bernice stories, and provides a fascinating insight into a long lost culture. It’s also a tense adventure story, packed with vivid imagery. Richard is also, to the best of my knowledge, the only author in the book whose fee went into paying for an expedition to Sumatra.

Paul Farnsworth is one of my absolute favourite writers of Who fan fiction, from back when ‘fan fiction’ just meant stories written by fans, rather than outpourings of adolescent romantic fantasies. His contributions to zines like Matrix, Circus, Silver Carrier and others were smart, well-written, endlessly inventive and often laugh-out-loud funny. When I approached Paul, who I’ve never known personally, Secret Histories was high on historical and war stories, and low on punchy, funny, weird SF stuff. That was what I asked Paul to bring to the book. I wasn’t to be disappointed.

Finally, I’d heard rumours on the grape vine that Stuart Douglas and Paul Magrs, who were editing Iris Wildthyme and the Celestial Omnibus, had found someone great in their slush pile, a writer who had instantly stood out from the other submissions as a funny, clever new voice. As the Omnibus had yet to be published at the time, I shamelessly asked Stuart if I could take a look at this story as I was very interested in finding new, preferably slightly crazed voices for Secret Histories. Stuart kindly agreed, sending me Cody Schell’s story of masked wrestling superheroes and killer pinatas, and I realised this was exactly the kind of bloody lunatic I wanted, a writer whose ideas were big, but who also wrote with charm and character.

While he was at it, Stuart also put me in touch with Jonathan Dennis, a writer who I had been aware of but whose work I’d never read. Having seen Jonathan’s story for the Omnibus, I also approached him. My brief for both Cody and Jonathan was the same as it was for Paul – I wanted weird, alien shit. Cody and Jonathan both delivered stories that portray distinct alien cultures, each with a high concept that has character consequences for Benny. They’re both very funny as well.

With that, the writing crew for Secret Histories was complete. I think it’s a good mix – some familiar, popular contributors to the Bernice Summerfield range (all of whom who have also written acclaimed Doctor Who stories, which doesn’t do any harm), and some distinct, newer voices who the Benny readership may not have heard of.

There’s some war stories, some history, some anthropology, and a mystery. There’s Earth, a weird part of deep space, and a few odd alien planets with their own interesting cultures.

There are adventures not just for Bernice, but for Adrian and Peter (one of my favourite characters in the range, by the way) too.

There’s young Benny, Braxiatel Collection-era Benny, and some material that’s set right between Secret Origins and whatever comes next.

(Although I hasten to add that you need to know absolutely no continuity to enjoy the book – all relationships and references are fully explained for the complete newbie, and both the book and individual stories stand alone.)

So please buy Secret Histories, either on its own or as part of the 2009 deal. The book is out in December this year, just in time for Christmas.

Ta!

Mark

October 16, 2009. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

« Previous PageNext Page »