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

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

Doctor Who: Monster Invasion

Very quick post, mostly photos, and aimed at a couple of people who were interested.

Doctor Who: Monster Invasion is a new partwork tying into the Matt Smith season, based around a collectible card game.

Now, partworks don’t usually launch nationwide off the bat – the publishers test demand with a regional pilot, running the first few issues in one bit of the UK. In the case of DWMI, they’re doing it in the South West of England.

So, for those of you elsewhere, here’s a few pics of the launch issue:

This is a BBC Magazines production, as you can tell from the logo in the top left corner.

(Previous Doctor Who trading card games came from Panini. Feel free to debate the politics of the BBC’s relationship with third party licensees to your hearts content, I ain’t saying nothin’.)

The editor is Annabel Gibson, a familiar name to readers of the BBC’s other tie-in magazine, Doctor Who Adventures.

The general writing and presentation style of DWMI is very similar to DWA: a thin magazine with lots of photos from the series, accompanied by dialogue quotes blown up into a huge font and/or simple descriptive text of the ‘Prisoner Zero chased Amy down the stairs’ variety.

There are a few spot illos though, like this one from Gary Northfield, at the top of a gatefold poster thing:

Sorry to anyone who feels I’ve spoiled the ‘slamdown’ for them.

As I was mainly buying this to see what it was like, then carbon freeze it in case the national run never happens and this becomes a collector’s item, I didn’t really look at the game stuff. Sorry.

Nicest thing in the issue from my skimming, 34 year old non-card-gamer perspective was Jamie Smart’s double page spread of hundreds of Ood, a Doctor Who-themedĀ  spin on his forthcoming Where’s Chaffy? book:

I love Smart’s stuff, and this is no exception – a delightful, cute take on the characters and monsters.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve already got a house (and off-site storage lock-up) heaving with piles of Who related junk, I’d be tempted to buy DWMI regularly just for these and dump all the cards on friends’ kids.

Anyway, that’s Doctor Who: Monster Invasion, coming soon to a newsagent near you, maybe.

Sorry I’m not posting here much, not much to tell right now. If you want proper content, look ye to Shiny Shelf, which is bursting with stuff right now.

Mark

April 15, 2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. 6 comments.

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.

A Public History of Secret Histories (1)

A while ago, I mentioned Secret Histories, the short-story collection I’ve been editing for Big Finish’s Bernice Summerfield range. As the book is out in a few weeks time, and I’ve just finished working through the proofs (cover coming soon, promise, although you can see a little preview of Adrian Salmon’s cover art in issue 8 of BF’s free pdf mag Vortex), now seemed like a good time to talk a bit more about the book, provide some background and do a little sales pitch.

As with all these things, the ideas for Secret Histories came from various places and had been stewing for varying periods of time.

There was an idea for a Benny novel that I’d had since the Virgin New Adventures featuring the character in the late 90s, which I’d dabbled with as a possible audio or novella in the last couple of years but which, in the end, became the framing sequence for this book, a vehicle to tell stories within as well as a story in its own right. As is also typical of my writing, what had started out as a deeply serious idea about deeply serious things ended up turning into something a lot lighter, still with drama but a bit more optimistic and fantastical. So that was my framing sequence and hook for the book, as described in the blurb.

Then there was a bundle of ideas for short stories spread across a period of late 19th/early 20th century history: at one point I was considering whether the whole book should be about Benny and her friends being lost in time, having different adventures in the same year and finally coming together, but that was too restrictive, at least partially because of the next paragraph, and so the visit into time is a mini-arc threaded through a few stories in the book rather than the whole focus. (The macguffin I used for this section came from a Fortean Times article I’d read a while ago, and which had really stayed with me. I also had a couple of very loose images and ideas for stories in this bit which I doled out to writers to take or discard as they wished.)

I wanted to avoid standard SF adventure stories, and encourage the writers to be more creative than doing familiar Doctor Who story types with a female archeologist instead of a Time Lord. Bernice is a character who may fall into adventures, but she isn’t a superhero or detective who saves worlds and solves murders as her bread and butter – she’s a smart, normal person who works for money to feed her kid, and whose line of work just happens to take her to dangerous and odd places around the universe, frequently getting her into trouble. That, to me, is a lot more freeing than the requirement to have epic heroism and massive baddies to take down. There should be action, and drama, and threat, of course, but there could also be weird stuff that pushed the button marked ‘imagination’ rather than ‘action’.

(If that last one sounds like a hark back to the New Adventures and the editorial ethos of those books, then yes, that was entirely deliberate.)

Because I wanted the authors to let their imaginations run a bit, as well as having the space to do the kind of characterisation, travelogue and observational humour that Bernice does best, I wanted longer stories. Initially, the plan was to have six or seven long stories that would have more depth than the usual 4000/5000 word short stories, but not feel like the truncated novels that the novella format can often lead to. (That a smaller list of contributors to wrangle would make the project a bit easier to manage wouldn’t do any harm either.) In the end for various reasons including the time constraints of some contributors, and a wealth of good pitches to choose from, we ended up with nine stories not including the framing sequence.

(As is the way of these things the stories found their own length – some proved to be very tight narratives built around a strong central idea that came in quite compactly written, while others expanded and some hit their wordcount dead on. In the end I got what I wanted – a set of more substantial stories that are long enough to make their mark but are still very much well-formed stories rather than bonzai novels.)

So that was the format. All it needed was authors and stories. I had ideas about that, which I’ll discuss in part 2 tomorrow.

In the meantime, you can pre-order Secret Histories from here, or get it in a bundle with the rest of this year’s Bernice output (including CD plays by a lot of Secret Histories contributors, including myself!) here.

Mark

PS – Bonus content for the day is a little ramble about the dominant art style of 1990s 2000AD.

October 15, 2009. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Life is Grand

Another hit at this year’s BICS was Grandville, at least judging by the fact that when I bought one (dedicated, sketched and signed by the man himself, as the smugly included photo indicates) from Mr Talbot on the Sunday afternoon, he was nearly sold out.

One of the most heartening trends of recent years has been the increase in mainstream book publishers putting out serious, novelistic works. Now, there’s only a select few graphic novelists playing at the top so far – aside from Talbot I can think of Satrapi, Mazzucchelli, Spiegelman, Ewing and very few others – and there’s an argument as to whether there’s any trickle down for graphic novelists working in the earlier stages of their career, but in general I embrace the trend. Yeah, it may be tough to get to that position, but how many literary prose novelists get solid book deals anyway? This could be the price of maturity.

Anyway, I’ve reviewed Grandville here, part of my efforts (alongside the revival of this blog) to push up my daily wordcount and become a better, more productive, writer. So, hopefully there’ll be a review from me every weekday – Grandville was today, and yesterday’s was Stargate Universe. I’ve still got at least one more item from BICS to go, the autumn TV season is getting underway now in the UK, and I’ve got a couple more general posts up my sleeve to come.

If you have anything to add or dispute, please feel free to say so in the comments below.

Mark

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

The grip of insomniac excitement

After a few days of being out and about doing exciting things, and the uncomfortable jolt of then coming home to work and domestic tasks, I finally got around to finishing my latest article for Gamesindustry.biz, which will no doubt go online in the next week or so.

I feel like I’m really getting into the swing of these now, breaking down the articles into super-short paras with the odd caption to pace it even further. I’ve been writing for the web for five years as of the end of this year (five years of Shiny Shelf – scary stuff!), and I’ve learned a lot in that time about making text digestible for reading on-screen. However, these editorials have required a further level of discipline in terms of keeping things simple and clear while maintaining the necessary depth and conveying the complexities of an issue.

Having knocked that one and the head and sent it off past midnight, I should really have done the sensible thing and gone straight to sleep. Instead, I’ve booked a few tickets, including ‘Casino Royale’ on the weekend of release and the Pipettes Christmas Party at Camden’s Roundhouse. Unfortunately, the excitement of having all this to look forward to has woken me up a bit. I suspect the thrills will have long worn off when I wake up tomorrow morning…

Mark

November 8, 2006. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Welcome…

…this is where my blog starts, although I’m editing this in March 2010. The move to wordpress seems a good excuse to clean out some old rubbish along the way.

History is written by the victors. Or, in this case, whoever has editing rights.

Mark

October 30, 2006. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.