The Music of Writing: The Space in Between the Notes

 

What can music teach you about writing?

Translating the lessons learned from one craft and applying them to another. Is this possible?

Of course it is.

Before I wrote books, I was a musician. I’d been playing guitar since the age of fifteen and switched to bass in my early twenties.

It was fun.

I was a bit of a show off in the early days to be honest, especially on the bass. I took to the instrument quickly. I was a busy player. Playing too many notes. Playing to get noticed by the girls (it worked – I married one of them in the end!)

Compare that to when I started writing. Writing too much. Too many words. Telling, telling, telling. Trying to get noticed by the girls again? Eh, well no.

But there are similarities between the two types of busyness.

In music there was no space in between the notes. No room for the listener to insert something of themselves. Their thoughts and feelings and longings – all the things that a great piece of music can evoke in us. You need a little space for that. This is something that you learn to add in when you mature as a player and it applies to so many other aspects of life, including writing – what you don’t play or write is just as important as what you do play or write. Sometimes what you leave out is more important.

I am of course talking about the space in between the notes. Where the gold is.

Similarly, I left no room for magic in my stories. Too many words. Trying to cram too much in there and that meant I left no room for the reader’s imagination to fill in the gaps. It was tell, tell, tell. Busy, busy, busy. It was all about me and not about you. I was that same little show off in the rehearsal room again, doing it all wrong and thinking that it was great.

Sometimes it sucks to get old.

Not all the time though. A mature author and a mature musician (mature, not old!) learn to go beyond the superficial, eye-catching stuff as they progress in their chosen art. They realise with some certainty that the old saying ‘less is more’ is more than just a good line.

It’s the truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So how does this translate to writing?

Black Storm (Chapter 1 – With Author Notes)

 

 

BLACK STORM

Chapter 1

(With Author Notes)

 

“We gotta run okay? We need to get out of here.”

(Yikes! This is me trying to go for a killer first line. They always say that – write a KILLER first line. So important, so they say! Personally I think the first ten pages are a lot more important than a single line, even if it is the first one. Who gives up on a book after one sentence? This one’s not bad, I don’t know if it’s KILLER though. At the very least, I want to make the reader curious or unsettled enough to read on.) 

Cody MacLeod kneeled in front of his daughter and squeezed her gently on the upper arms. She felt fragile, like a china doll. “Whatever happens, we can’t let the bad woman catch up with us,” he said. “She makes people do bad things. You know that don’t you?”

Silence.

“Do you understand Rachel?” Cody said.

Rachel nodded her head.

“We’ve got to stay one step ahead of her,” Cody said, pushing a few loose strands of blonde hair off Rachel’s face. “Two steps, three steps.” His voice was shaking and he took a deep breath before saying anything else. This wasn’t a good time to lose it and even if he was on the brink, he couldn’t let Rachel see.

(Bad woman. Her. No names given. Who is Cody talking about? This is me trying to be all mysterious and not give too much away. What do they call it – intrigue? Something like that? I’m still trying to reel you in. Thing is, if you’d read the blurb (and most readers would have before buying) you’ll know who/what is being referred to here but if not, great. I’m writing to you people!)

They were in the hallway of their house in Spring Branch, Texas. Cody turned towards the front door where two bulging backpacks were sitting. One of them was plain black and the other featured a rainbow colored sky with two silver ponies grazing in a field of green grass.

(Why Texas? Ehh, why not? It went like this – I had an idea about a burned out actor living a reclusive life far from the mad temptation of Hollywood/Celebrityville. I wanted somewhere that it would be easy to disappear. Texas is big and there’s a lot of room there. It could’ve been Alaska too – that would’ve been cool. Shit, it might have been better. Anyway, I googled for ages before I landed on Spring Branch. It felt right and yet not too far from San Antonio, which I also felt drawn to. Might have been the Alamo thing. By the way, Google Maps is incredible. A writer’s dream.)

“All we gotta do is walk out the door,” Cody said.

“Are we leaving for good?” Rachel said. Cody saw the confusion in his daughter’s indigo blue eyes – the same indigo blue eyes that he’d possessed as a child before the years had dulled them.

He nodded. “Yeah I think so.”

Cody heard the Black Storm blowing outside. The wind was howling and moaning – a crude B-movie sound effect that had escaped from the big screen into the real world. Still it was relatively calm, at least compared to the gale force winds that had been blowing the night before when Cody had made the decision to leave home. It was a decision that would either save their lives or seal their fate.

There was doubt in the little girl’s eyes. Cody could tell that she wasn’t sure he was making the right call and Jesus, who could blame her? He wasn’t sure about it either.

“Geez kid,” Cody said. “Don’t look at me like that. You’re looking at me the way other people used to look at me back in the eighties and nineties. That’s Grandma’s eyes I see in you right now. You don’t trust me? You don’t think we should go?”

Rachel managed a lazy shrug of the shoulders.

“I’m not on drugs honey,” Cody said. “I swear on your Mom’s soul.”

(A note on former child megastars. I chose the name Cody because it’s close to Corey. The character of Cody was conceived as a cross between Corey Haim, River Phoenix and Robert Downey Jnr. Troubled former child/teen stars, all of them. If Black Storm the movie ever gets made you’re up Downey Jnr. The role of Cody is all yours. Unfortunately the other two aren’t around to contest that anymore RIP Corey and River.) 

“I know Dad,” she said. I’m just scared.”

He pulled her closer. She was so beautiful and innocent – the only perfect thing in his life. And she’d remained perfect – thank God for that. Had Cody stayed in Hollywood to try and claw back his career, the industry would have noticed her. It would have sunk its teeth into Rachel and ruined her like it did for her mother, Kate. No chance – that was one of several reasons that Cody and Kate moved to Texas ten years ago. Cody would die before he gave those bigwig assholes in LA the chance to get their hands on his daughter.

He smiled at Rachel.

“I’m scared too,” Cody said. “But we have to go. You’ve watched the reports on TV. You’ve heard it on the radio. You know what people are doing to themselves, to each other out there. You know how dangerous it is and you know how dangerous she is.”

(Still haven’t said who she is…tension and all that. This chapter probably reads better if you haven’t read the blurb. It’s like going into a cinema and knowing nothing about the film you’re about to see.)

Rachel didn’t blink. Despite her saying she was scared, she looked calm –older than her ten years. Sometimes Cody thought, kids did adulthood better than most adults.

“Is it the woman in the long black dress?” she said.

“Yes honey. It’s the woman in the long black dress.”

Rachel nodded.

“I saw her in my room last night,” she said.

Cody’s hands fell off his daughter’s arms. His mouth hung open and the cold air that haunted the MacLeod residence slid down the back of his throat. He looked at Rachel, his eyes racing over her blue denim dungarees and the white long sleeved t-shirt that she was wearing underneath. He ran a finger down her blue and white basketball shoes, not sure what he was looking for. Damage – but what sort of damage?

With cupped hands, he touched her face.

“She was in your room?” Cody said. “Last night? Did she say anything? I mean, did she try and talk to you – to make you do anything? Did she tell you to hurt yourself?”

Rachel shook her head.

“She was just standing at the edge of the bed looking at me,” she said. “Her face is like a mannequin. That’s what they said on TV. She looks like a giant doll with silver lights instead of eyes.”

(Dolls scare the hell out of me. If ever you want to give me the creeps, just show me pictures of dolls. Please don’t ever bring one to my house though. Dolls are my evil clowns…)

“Weren’t you scared?” Cody said. His heart was pounding.

“No,” Rachel said. “Well, not really.”

Cody buried his face in the palm of his hand.

“Jesus Christ,” he said, almost losing his balance and toppling over onto the hardwood floor. “Tell me something kid,” he said. “This is really important. Is that the first time you’ve seen her?”

“Yes.”

“Well then it’s definitely time to go,” Cody said. “She’s starting to pay too much attention to this family for my liking.”

Rachel’s eyes were wide open. “You’ve seen her too?”

Cody nodded. “Yeah.” Several times.

“They’ve been talking about her on the radio Dad,” Rachel said. “People are seeing her everywhere. China, Europe, Australia, Brazil and lots of other places that I’ve never heard of.”

“Yeah I know,” Cody said. He was itching to leave. He wanted to grab Rachel and get her out of the house immediately.

“All the people who see her end up dead,” Rachel said. “That’s what they say, isn’t it?”

(Where did the Black Widow come from? It’s a vague memory to be honest. I read an article online somewhere about a woman in America who’d been spotted walking the streets dressed in old-fashioned mourning clothes. I can’t quite remember the context but the article made it sound like she was almost ghostly – or perhaps that was just my interpretation. It was weird and that’s why sometimes I think it was a dream. I can’t find anything about it on Google and yet it struck me as noteworthy. I can’t remember, honest! Whatever it was, it gave me the idea of this phantom woman walking not just across America, but across the world, dressed in black, punishing us for our wrongdoings. The Black Widow. It developed from there but that’s where this entire trilogy started – with an article that might not have even existed.)

Cody squeezed tight on her hand.

“Not everyone,” he said. “Like I said, I’ve seen her too.”

“In the house?”

“Yeah, in the house. That’s why we need to go.”

Rachel looked thoughtful. Her eyes darted around the living room before returning to him.

“Is she chasing the world? The whole world?”

Cody straightened the collar of his black cotton shirt.

“Yeah honey,” he said. “I think she’s chasing the world. And that includes us – you and me. We’ve got to get away from this house because I’m not going to let anything happen to you. Okay?”

Cody was glad to see that Rachel could still smile.

“Okay,” she said.

Outside the Black Storm grumbled. It sounded like it was an angry giant sitting on the roof of their house, waiting impatiently for them to come out.

Cody tugged gently on Rachel’s arms. She didn’t move.

“Where are we going?” she said.

It was a good question.

Cody nodded. “You remember my friend?” he said. “A big guy called Nick Norton?”

Rachel shook her head.

“Sure you do,” Cody said. “You met him once. He works on Alaska Airlines, flies out of San Antonio all the time. He’s an old school buddy of mine from LA. He was in the movies too when he was a kid, just like your old man.”

(I might have chosen Texas but I managed to get Alaska in there somewhere. On a side note, if I ever lived in America, I’d choose Alaska. Yes it’s cold but it’s so beautiful.)

“I don’t know,” Rachel said.

“Big black guy, all mouth and muscle. He was over here about four years ago. You must remember – it’s not like we have a ton of guests or anything like that.”

“What about him?”

Cody leaned in closer. He felt the need to whisper.

“He’s got a plane,” he said. “It’s a big plane – Boeing 737-800, fully fuelled and ready to go. He’s invited us along – some of the other pilots and their friends and family will be there too. I got a text from Nick about fifteen hours ago – the plane is at the airport right now, waiting for everyone to arrive. You understand? We’re going to drive down to the airport and get on Nick’s plane.”

(Airplane stuff! Having flashbacks to some seriously boring moments looking up info about Boeing 737-800 planes. Capacity, that kind of thing. Some research is fun. This wasn’t. Zzzzz…)

Cody’s face darkened.

“Only problem is I can’t get in touch with Nick anymore,” he said. “My phone keeps jamming up.”

Rachel’s eyes lit up – a mixture of fear and curiosity.

“Because of the Black Storm?”

“Maybe,” Cody said. “But it doesn’t matter, not as long as we get to the airport in good time. He’ll wait for us, I know he will.”

Rachel’s expression was grim.

“We’re going up into the black sky?” she said, pointing to the ceiling. “What’s up there?”

Cody followed her finger towards the ceiling. Kids and their questions, damn it. Who knew what was up there in that black shroud that had wrapped itself over the Earth? Something, maybe nothing. Everything was black these days – even the inside of the MacLeod residence. The curtains were pulled over all the windows, shielding them from the sight of the Black Storm, the mysterious force that had come out of nowhere and robbed the world of sunlight.

(Going back to names for a second, I chose MacLeod as the family surname because…wait for it…I watched Highlander for about the fortieth time just after starting the book. The characters even talk about the film at one point so I was definitely on a Highlander buzz.  What a film. That soundtrack! I miss the 80s so much.)

“It can’t all be bad up there,” Cody said. “We gotta try. Anything’s better than staying down here on the ground while people go mad and do bad things. I’ll bet you it’s safer up there. Yeah?”

Rachel looked down the hall towards her bedroom.

“I want to take Bootsy with me,” she said. “If we’re not coming back.”

(Sticking with names – Bootsy the bear was named after Bootsy Collins, the great funk and soul bass player who worked with James Brown and Parliament. Didn’t that teddy bear just get a little bit cooler?)

Cody sighed. He couldn’t hide his growing frustration any longer. They should have been gone already. He didn’t want to hang around the house one second longer than he had to. He tugged gently on her arm, with more urgency this time.

“You’re too big for that teddy bear,” he said. “You’re ten.”

The look on her face stopped him dead.

“Mom gave him to me,” she said. “Remember?”

Of course he did.

“I’ve packed a ton of photos of Mom in the bag,” he said. “Lots of photos. We’re not going to forget her.”

“I want Bootsy,” Rachel said. Cody almost smiled – it was like Kate all over again. If she wanted something, she was going to have it.

“Alright kid,” he said, letting go of her arm. “Get Bootsy but don’t stay in that bedroom one second longer than you have to. I’ll grab the bags.”

Cody watched her run down the hallway. He felt uneasy watching her go through the bedroom door knowing that the Black Widow had been in there last night. Cody had already seen the ghostly figure several times in the house but there had been no words spoken. That was something to be grateful for at least. And now the Black Widow was coming after Rachel? Any doubts Cody might have been having about leaving had shattered with that revelation.

A few seconds later, Rachel came running back down the hallway with the beat-up teddy bear swinging at her side. She looked content.

“All set?” Cody asked. “Can we go now?” He picked up the two backpacks and flung one over each shoulder.

She nodded. “Just one thing?”

“Oh c’mon Rachel. Let’s get out of here.”

“Who is she Dad?”

The two backpacks slid down Cody’s arm in slow motion. He squatted so that he was almost eye level with Rachel.

“She came out of the Black Storm,” he said. “At least that’s what people say but we don’t know for sure. Everything – the black sky, black rain and the Black Widow – they’re all connected. All these things are part of the Black Storm.”

“And it makes people do bad things?” Rachel said.

Cody nodded. “Very bad things.”

Rachel smiled. It was a great smile – sudden and unexpected.

“We’d better go,” she said.

“Right honey,” Cody said. “Now you’re talking.”

He opened the front door and they stepped outside.

It was dark. A permanent state of dusk hung over the world – a rotten, simmering blackness and it was everywhere. It was unending too. Blue skies and sunlight were a distant memory. The air was thick and muggy and scentless. A stiff wind was blowing and the trees that surrounded the remote two-storey house were swaying.

They walked towards the car in the driveway. Cody’s white 1970 Dodge Challenger was one of only a few references left to his Hollywood past. He was probably the only part-time freelance writer in the world who owned such a vintage car. It was a little much but Cody loved the Challenger with all his heart. It was a perfect replica of the car used in Vanishing Point, one of his top five all time movies. It wasn’t just an ornament either – he kept the Dodge in outstanding driving condition and a good thing too – he was going to need it firing on all cylinders if it was going to get them to the airport.

(I was so happy to finally have found an excuse to put a white 1970 Dodge Challenger in one of my books. It just felt right this time. Have you seen the original Vanishing Point? If I say Kowalski and Super Soul do you know what I’m talking about?)

The surface of the car was covered in a thin layer of dirt. Cody didn’t have time to worry about it – he opened up the trunk and threw the bags in, pushing them all the way to the back. As he did so, Rachel jumped into the back seat taking Bootsy with her.

“Take me somewhere nice!” she called out. She always said the same thing when she got in the car.

“Sure thing Miss Daisy,” he said.

(Hands up if you didn’t get this reference? I’m sorry for you.)

Cody opened up the driver’s door. Before he sat down, he reached a hand underneath the seat, checking that the Glock 19 he’d stashed earlier was still there.

It was. He gave the pistol a quick pat and hoped that he wouldn’t need it.

Cody climbed into the Dodge and turned the key in the ignition. He heard the 426 Hemi engine growling and hell yes it was a satisfying sound, even under the most trying of circumstances. Taking a deep breath, he gripped the wood grain steering wheel and allowed himself one last look at the house where his wife had died, knowing that he’d never see it again.

Move it mister. That’s what Kate would have said.

Cody backed the car down the driveway and onto Rittiman Road. It was a quiet area with houses spaced far apart, but it had never been so desolate as it was now. Was there anyone left around here?

Rachel was quiet in the back – perhaps thinking about her Mom, a woman that she’d barely known and yet someone who had cast a long shadow over her young life. Or maybe Rachel was thinking about the house – it was the only home she’d ever known after all. She was leaving her friends and school behind – but none of those things mattered now. Keeping her alive, that’s what mattered.

The Dodge set off, picking up speed.

Cody looked back at the house in the rear-view mirror. One last look.

That’s when he saw her.

The Black Widow was standing on the narrow road that stretched north behind them. Her porcelain doll-like skin glowed against the surrounding darkness; it was a nightmarish beacon that offered anything but hope to those who had the misfortune to see it. She was tall – at least seven feet and rake thin like a skeleton with a thin layer of flesh wrapped around her bones. Her bright red hair was styled in an old-fashioned Edwardian coiffure. It was a look that went well with the long black Victorian-style mourning dress that trailed behind her.

The Black Widow’s eyes – dazzling silver orbs, devoid of pupils watched them go. She didn’t try to stop them but Cody felt little in the way of relief, even as the phantom faded into the distance behind them.

She was letting them go. At least for now.

(Okay then. I think the first chapter does a decent job of setting up the rest of the story. It’s a race against time. We’ve met the two main characters, we have an idea that something terrible is happening in the world, and that this something terrible has set its sights on our main characters. It’s clear what it is though – it’s a chase thing. Most of all, it’s a post-apocalyptic family story. Father and daughter against the end of the world.)

 

Black Storm (Book 1) and Black Fever (Book 2) are now available to buy on Amazon.

 

 

 

 

Five of the Greatest Siege Movies Ever Made

 

Who doesn’t love a good siege story? They feature an overwhelming underdog (whether that’s a group of people or a single person) trying to survive against insurmountable odds. We can identify with this – we’ve all been the underdog at some point in our lives and perhaps that’s why so many of us find these stories so appealing.

Here are (in my opinion) five of the best siege movies ever made.

 

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

Napoleon Wilson: Still have the gun?

Leigh: Two shots. Should I save them for the two of us?

Napoleon Wilson: Save ’em for the first two assholes who come through that vent.

This was John Carpenter’s first professional full length feature film (His first movie Dark Star was originally a short student film that was expanded to feature length). Assault on Precinct 13 also signalled the start of Carpenter’s golden period – a span of ten years when pretty much everything he touched was electric (including Halloween, The Thing, Escape From New York, and Big Trouble in Little China).

Assault on Precinct 13 is a gritty 1970s thriller about a soon-to-be defunct police precinct that comes under attack from a gang of vengeful street thugs. Defending the station are a handful of police officers, some staff, and a couple of prison inmates (including Napoleon ‘Got a smoke?’ Wilson and Duke from the Rocky movies).

The electronic score is one of Carpenter’s finest and most atmospheric. The dialogue is on point too. There’s so much to love about this film. With its merciless depiction of urban violence, Assault on Precinct 13 is a balls to the wall, fast-paced siege movie, and ninety minutes of non-stop thrills.

 

Zulu (1964)

‘Haven’t you had enough? Both of you! My god, can’t you see it’s all over! Your bloody egos don’t matter anymore. We’re dead!’

From Richard Burton’s opening narration to the exhausting (and entirely fictional) final salute of ‘fellow braves’, Zulu is a tense, exciting and emotional ride of a movie. It’s based on the real-life Battle of Rorke’s Drift in 1879 where 150 British and colonial troops held off an attack on their garrison by approximately 4000 Zulus. This was a ten hour battle at the end of which, 15 soldiers lay dead, two more were mortally wounded, and 350 dead Zulus lay scattered around the garrison.

Zulu was Michael Caine’s first major film role. He plays against type here, cast as Bromhead, a blue-blooded army officer who along with Stanley Baker as Lieutenant John Chard, lead the British soldiers against the Zulu forces.

The film is wide open for interpretation about colonialism. In 1964, the British Empire was crumbling. At first the Brits refer to the Zulus as ‘fuzzies’ and even the Levies on their own side as ‘cowardly blacks’. By the end however, Chard is clearly ashamed at this ‘butcher’s yard’ that he himself has helped to create. Could this be a timely admittance of the horrors of Empire?

Colonial and racial interpretation aside, this is a fun movie. It’s so watchable that it’s a Bank Holiday staple on British television and even if I had other things to do I’d aways end up watching it. It’s also one of the greatest examples of the siege scenario – the underdog coming through against the odds. It’s that bit more poignant because several minor historical inaccuracies aside, it really happened.

 

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

‘I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.’

Long quote I know, but well worth it!

There are many people who’ll tell you that The Two Towers was their favourite instalment of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Battle of Helm’s Deep, which takes place in the latter half of the film, is a big reason for this. It’s an outstanding visual spectacle that never tires with repeat viewings. Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, as well as 300 Helm’s Deep soldiers, 100 Rohan peasants, and about 500 Elves are defending the great stronghold of Rohan against the might of 10,000 Urak-hai.

It’s an epic siege and it blew me away when I first saw in on the big screen. And it’s no exaggeration to say that this is one of the greatest battles ever put on film, both in terms of visual spectacle and emotional engagement.

‘Look to my coming on first light on the fifth day. At dawn, look to the east.’

 

Aliens (1986)

‘They mostly come out at night, mostly.’

Sigourney Weaver was born to play Ellen Ripley. In this second instalment of the Alien movies, the acid-blooded xenomorphs lay siege to Ripley and a squad of cocky Marines who have been sent to exomoon Lv-426 to supposedly wipe the creatures out.

There’s a great supporting cast with the likes of Bill Paxton, Michael Biehn, and a wonderful performance from Carrie Henn as Newt (Carrie’s a teacher in California now –  probably the coolest teacher ever!) And who can forget Paul Reiser’s excellent performance as slimeball Carter Burke.

There are all sorts of potential allegorical interpretations in the movie. I like this kind of thing so indulge me for a paragraph. Imperialism – the jingoistic, hot-headed Marines have been sent by the big corporation to fight the alien race of another planet and to do so for questionable reasons. It’s been suggested that James Cameron used the Vietnam War for inspiration. The Marines are technologically superior – they have the superior firepower but the aliens have a better knowledge of their landscape and know how to use it – not unlike the United States and North Vietnam. It’s interesting, no?

Aliens was made before CGI became as big as it is today. Remember this was 1986. The film was made using rear projection, puppets and miniatures, along with in-camera effects and clever editing tricks. They did a pretty damn good job too. When I see CGI on the big screen today I usually think ‘there’s CGI’. In Alien, I don’t think about special effects. I’m too absorbed in the film.

Aliens also set the bar high when it came to sequels. Unfortunately the Alien franchise has dipped ever since (although I think the third movie is good!) but  Cameron’s example of how to improve upon a great original is a timeless lesson for filmmakers.

 

Seven Samurai (1954)

‘This is the nature of war: By protecting others, you save yourselves. If you only think of yourself, you’ll only destroy yourself.’

‘Who’s your daddy?’ Seven Samurai that’s who. Every other action movie that followed owes this classic a debt of gratitude. It’s in my personal top five films (maybe top three) of all time. It’s that good.

The premise is fairly simple. With marauding bandits set to raid their village and steal their crop, a bunch of farmers hire a small band of samurai to protect them. Simple concept yes, but the best thing about Akira Kurosawa was how he could turn simple concepts into fully-formed, satisfying cinematic experiences. He could make a film come alive and touch you.  Think about Ikiru. It’s such a basic idea – a dying man learns to live and yes that’s what the film is about and yet it’s about so much more.

Seven Samurai was remade several times, most notably by John Sturges as The Magnificent Seven in 1960. It’s hard to overstate its influence in terms of making use of action sequences and characterisation – each of the seven samurai have their own personality and skill-set. They’re clearly individuals. There’s also the key relationship between the samurai and the villagers, adding depth, that unique ingredient that elevates a decent action movie and turns it into something special.

And then there’s the rain in the final battle sequence. Has any other film made you touch your head to see if there’s a leak in the roof?

Seven Samurai is glorious. I understand that many people might balk at the idea of watching an old black and white Japanese film that comes in at a little over three hours. But if that’s you, seriously reconsider.

 

Honourable Mentions:

The Mist

From Dusk till Dawn

Home Alone

Green Room

Dawn of the Dead

Dog Day Afternoon

 

 

Kojiro vs. The Vampire People

Hope that post has got you in the mood! If you’re up for something different, Kojiro vs. The Vampire People is my ‘siege novella’ – as inspired by some of the films above. It’s a fast-paced dystopian/action-adventure/horror tale – a one man against the odds thrill ride set in an alternate London.

It can be read as a stand-alone story or as part of The Future of London series.

Amazon

Other retailers – Kobo, B&N, Apple etc

 

Kojiro vs. The Vampire People

 

Hey everyone! Here is the blurb for a novella that I’m releasing on December 14th. Kojiro vs. The Vampire People can be read as a stand-alone story or as book 4.5 in The Future of London Series. It’s a dystopian/action-adventure/horror tale and I’m launching it at a festive price of 0.99, so grab it early if you’re looking for some escapism this Christmas.

All the best!

Mark

 

Kojiro vs. The Vampire People

Christmas Eve, 2020

A lone swordsman is transporting a precious cargo through the urban wasteland of London – a city that’s been cut off from civilisation for the past nine years.

Zander Kojiro is taking this cargo back to his childhood home, all the while doing his best to keep it hidden from the hungry eyes of the city.

But when he arrives in his old neighbourhood, Kojiro discovers that the territory has been taken over by the Vampire People, a ghoulish, ambitious street gang with a fetish for blood, destruction and loud music.

The Vampire People don’t take kindly to strangers. Even worse, they know what Kojiro’s secret cargo is.

And they’ll stop at nothing to get it.

Kojiro vs. The Vampire People is a John Carpenter-inspired dystopian, action-adventure, horror novella. It can be read either as a stand-alone story or as book 4.5 in The Future of London Series.

The Lone Wolf in Fiction

 

In real life, we’re not sure what to make of loners. The media would have us fear them and if you believe what you read or hear on mainstream news outlets, every mass shooter, murderer and all-round creep is an unhinged loner. Back in 2012, I wrote an Op-Ed article about the media’s misrepresentation of loners (The Loner Myth), which was inspired by a book called Party of One by Anneli Rufus. So I won’t go into all that again here. The quick version – loners choose to be alone and aren’t the angry psychopaths you’re supposed to believe they are.

But fiction is different. We love the lone wolf in fiction. In The Future of London Series that I write, Mack Walker is a classic loner. Elsewhere, almost every character that Steve McQueen ever played was a loner. And remember, he was the king of cool. Mad Max, Dirty Harry, Beatrix Kiddo (aka The Bride), Jack Reacher, James Bond – the list is a long one. All fictional loners, all characters we love (well most of us!)

So in tribute to the fictional lone wolf, here are five examples from books, movies and TV, of some of my favourites. Enjoy.

 

Miyamoto Musashi (Musashi 1935)

Yes, I’m well aware that Miyamoto Musashi existed. He was a real man who lived in the late 16th and early 17th century Japan and was pretty much the most renowned swordsman who ever lived. The reason I include Musashi in this list of fictional loners is because there was a novel based upon his life.

Any excuse to talk about the man, right?

Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa is a great big sprawling read of a thing. This doorstopper-sized novel is loosely based on the real life of Musashi – very loosely. Don’t expect much historical accuracy here. It’s well over nine-hundred pages long and follows Musashi as he travels across Japan, perfecting his skill with the sword and seeking enlightenment. The relationships in Yoshikawa’s novel are there to make it more dramatic for the reader. The real Musashi however, rejected the patterns of conventional life such as marriage, to follow the Way of the Warrior, aspiring to great things not just in swordsmanship but in other arts too such as painting.

A few recommendations: If you’re interested in a biography of the historical Musashi, check out William Scott Wilson’s The Lone Samurai: The Life of Miyamoto Musashi. If you haven’t seen the classic movie trilogy from the 1950s, check out The Samurai Trilogy, starring the great Toshiro Mifune. And of course, there’s Musashi’s own timeless book of strategy – The Book of Five Rings.

 

Rorschach (Watchmen – 1986)

Rorschach is the anti-hero in Watchmen, a landmark graphic novel set in an alternate 1985 and featuring a collection of fallen superheroes. When a law is passed to outlaw masked vigilantes, Rorschach keeps fighting crime anyway and to hell with what anyone else thinks. That’s because the man in the inkblot mask is a loner and one of the typical features of fictional loners that we see time and time again is that they generally don’t give a shit about things like rules.

Meet Rorschach.

He has his own moral code. He’s confident in his abilities to solve problems and he’s fuelled by a hatred of conventional society. He’s a complicated guy, a violent and damaged human being.

In real life we’d stay well away from the likes of Rorschach. Most of us are probably glad that he’s an entirely fictional creation, albeit one with recognisably human flaws. We like him, but from afar. We admire him because whatever his morals are he sticks to them and he doesn’t play politics. These are admirable traits and they’re the foundation of a truly memorable character.  Rorschach is the embodiment of the lone wolf at its most savage. And what a wolf he is.

 

Snake Plissken (Escape From New York – 1981)

I could have added Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China here too. Maybe a few other Carpenter characters? Michael Myers?

We’ll stick with Snake for now.

We don’t know much about Snake. He’s a former US Army Lieutenant who at some point turned to crime. He’s a loner who doesn’t have much time for authority (sound familiar?) During the course of Escape From New York, Snake is forced to work with a colourful collection of characters (RIP Harry Dean Stanton) to help the President of the United States escape from within the walled city prison that is New York.

This is definitely a character that should come again. There are a series of comics – John Carpenter’s Snake Plissken Chronicles. I also remember hearing about a crossover comic featuring Snake and Jack Burton in the same book. Sounds incredible! In terms of film, a remake of Escape From New York is in the works, possibly with Robert Rodriguez directing. Who’s going to play Snake? It’s undecided at the time of writing who’s going to be picking up the eyepatch. I wish them luck.

 

Bartleby (Bartleby, the Scrivener – 1853)

Bartleby the Scrivener is a novelette by Herman Melville. It’s the unusual tale of a clerk hired by a Wall Street lawyer who after a short period of time in this lawyer’s employment, refuses to perform his duties. He does this much to the bewilderment of the man who employed him. Whenever something is required of Bartleby, he says no. In fact, his stock response becomes something of a mantra that’s repeated throughout the story:

“I would prefer not to.”

The story takes place in mid-19th century New York. The Big Apple was by then an increasingly industrial and dehumanised environment. Lots of people, lots of hustle. Amidst all this busyness, Bartleby becomes a passive rebel.

What exactly is going on with Bartleby? Is he clinically depressed? Is he enlightened? Has he seen the futility of performing mundane and repetitive tasks and trying to pass it off as life? Whatever the truth about the character, this is one of the great stories of alienation.

 

Omar (The Wire – 2002-2008)

The greatest TV shows have great characters. When it comes to The Wire, Omar Little is on almost everybody’s shortlist of favouritesWhile so many of the show’s other characters were motivated by greed and power, Omar was like a breath of fresh air – a man with genuine principles who lived by a strict moral code.

Omar is a gunslinger out of the Wild West. He stalked the streets of Baltimore with a sawed off shotgun and his trademark whistle. He ripped off big-time drug dealers like a cult folk hero. He wasn’t afraid to tackle anyone as long as they were in the game (Omar didn’t go after civilians). He was a loner who worked for no man – if anything, Omar was working for a higher cause.

He didn’t swear either. No mean feat in The Wire.

Omar did find love on two occasions but his first boyfriend was brutally killed, which went a long way to fuelling his motivation to go after the Barksdale gang. Late in the show’s run, it looked like he’d gotten out of the game by retiring to Puerto Rico with a new partner. But…(and SPOILER ALERT)…the murder of his father figure and friend Butchie, pulled this lone wolf back into the game. One more time.

Any more loners you want to add to the list? Let me know in the comments below.

 

For some more fictional lone wolves, check out The Future of London Series (Grab the first three books in a handy Box Set, as well as Sleeping Giants – Part 4)

(Click book covers for Amazon links)

Non-Amazon Links – FOL Box Set/Sleeping Giants.

 

The Future of London Box Set (Books 1-3)

Sleeping Giants (Future of London Book 4)

 

 

New L-2011 Cover – Why I Changed It

 

Hi everyone,

Today I’m proud to show off the new cover art for ‘L-2011’.

Why did I change the existing cover? To put it bluntly, the first cover was a mistake – my mistake. That’s nothing whatsoever against the person who designed it for me, who happens to be a very talented designer. That person was only following my instructions, which were vague and flawed. I guess I didn’t really know what I wanted back then and settled for something average.

One of the great things about indie publishing however, is that we can actively learn from our mistakes. And we can update our covers whenever we want (allowing we can afford it of course!)

Just before the publication of Ghosts of London (Future of London #3), I started working with South African artist Vincent Sammy. Vincent’s a talented artist who has a great list of credits to his name, designing artwork for a wide array of science fiction and horror magazine, as well as books – he even worked on a limited edition Stephen King cover recently. Nice addition to the CV that.

And he’s a top bloke!

The main thing is that Vincent creates original art. With recent books, I’ve had specific ideas for covers that could only be translated by an original artist rather than using someone who uses pre-existing web-sourced images. Is it more expensive to hire an original artist? Yes, but I believe it’s worth it. As we all know, the cover is the first point of contact for a potential reader – perhaps more than anything else, it’s the difference between a sale and a no thanks.

While the first L-2011 cover showed a generic London skyline, this features one of the more recognisable characters from the story, Chester George, standing in Piccadilly Circus, where a major scene unfolds near the end of the book. Punk rock plays a part in the story too (it’s the background music to Chester George’s YouTube broadcasts) and that’s something else we’ve used on the cover, specifically in the excerpts from Chester George’s speeches, shown in a punkish font.

You see what I mean? It’s the little things. You can do more with an original artist and by using one I believe it’ll make your cover that little bit more unique and special in the long term. Not to mention marketable too.

Just my thoughts of course.

So here it is, the new cover. I hope you like it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L-2011 (The Future of London #1) is free to download

Amazon

All other retailers

Cannibals in Fiction

 

 

Cannibalism.

For some, it’s the ultimate taboo. It’s something not to be discussed, let alone spoken of by decent people in civilised society. It hasn’t always been like that though. At one point in human history – peaking in the 16th and early 17th centuries – certain methods of cannibalism were considered medicinal and even encouraged by experts as a standard cure for particular ailments. Epilepsy – the ‘falling sickness’ – was often treated by drinking hot blood. Skull was a supposed healer too, crushed into powder form and drunk, occasionally with chocolate, often with alcohol. Human fat – you get the idea.

Now we may groan from a twenty-first century perspective but cannibalism, as well as being considered a healer, has literally been a lifesaver too. Who can forget the thrilling and tragic story of the Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes mountains in 1972, close to the border between Argentina and Chile? 45 people were on that plane when it went down and 27 survived the initial crash. 16 people survived the entire ordeal and they lived through those 72 days on the mountain because they made the decision to eat the flesh of their dead companions.

Cannibalism therefore, is a complicated subject. There’s a little more to it than what you might think. Having said that however, it’s still pretty gruesome especially when we encounter it in the news . So let’s forget the real life stories and instead, turn to fiction. Let’s look at a few characters who’ve dabbled in a bit of human flesh in their time. Fortunately all the people listed below are make-believe.

At least we think they are.

***

 

SAWNEY BEAN

Sawney Bean appeared in Samuel Rutherford Crockett’s 1896 novel, The Grey Man. But that’s not his main claim to fame. Sawney Bean is much more than just a character out of a late 19th century novel. His story is well known in Scotland and dates back to long before The Grey Man was even published. Today, there are people who are still convinced that he was an authentic, historical figure who lived, breathed and ate people.

I was born and bred in Scotland, so this is the earliest cannibal legend I can personally recall hearing about. The story of Alexander ‘Sawney’ Bean is a grisly one and although accounts of when he was supposed to have lived vary, his story is usually set around the turn of the 17th Century.

Sawney Bean was an outsider. He wasn’t interested in living like everyone else and at some point, he made the decision to withdraw from the rest of society. When he met a likeminded woman – Agnes Douglas (sometimes known as Black Agnes) – they got married and set up home in a sea cave, believed to be Bennane Cave, located on the Ayrshire Coast in between Girvan and Ballantrae.

The location of Sawney Bean’s Cave (South Ayrshire, Scotland)

(If you want a ten-minute tour of the cave from the safety of your living-room, click here.)

Not long afterwards, Sawney Bean was robbing travellers on the quiet roads that ran in between the local villages. He didn’t just rob them though, he murdered them because that way they couldn’t talk. And of course, he ate them too, guaranteeing that the bodies were never found by the authorities. This also allowed the Beans to stock up on provisions and eliminated the need for money or to travel into town for supplies.

The Bean family grew larger. Over the years, Sawney and Agnes had 8 sons, 6 daughters, 18 grandsons and 14 granddaughters. Incest was involved much of the time, and all the little Bean children grew up to be every bit as cannibalistic as their parents.

With more mouths to feed, it was getting harder to bury (or swallow) all of the evidence. Human body parts began to wash up on nearby beaches. Some of the disappearances were noticed by the nearby villagers but due to their secret location, the Beans weren’t caught.

Still, they couldn’t evade justice forever. It all went wrong one night when the Beans attacked a couple who were returning from a nearby fair. The man they attacked turned out to be a highly skilled fighter and although his wife was killed by the cannibals, he managed to fight them off until a group of people returning from the fair forced the Beans to flee into the night.

Their existence was made known at last. A huge manhunt was launched, consisting of a party of over 400 men, supposedly led by either King James I or King James VI (depending on the date) with bloodhounds and volunteers from the local area. The Beans were caught and taken to the Old Tolbooth Jail in Edinburgh. There was no trial – such a formality was considered unnecessary given the nature of their foul deeds. The Beans were executed and so gruesome were their deaths that you’d think it was George RR Martin who wrote them. The men had their hands, feet and genitals cut off and were left to bleed to death. The women and children? They were all burned at the stake.

The Old Tolbooth, Edinburgh

There is little documented evidence on the trial or even the existence of Sawney Bean, which leaves most historians believing that it’s just a fictitious tale. Some people have even suggested that the story was written by the English (during the time of the Jacobite Rebellion) as a piece of ‘political propaganda’ designed to ‘demonstrate the savagery and uncivilised nature of the Scots in contrast to the superior qualities of the English nation’.

Those wee English rascals…

True of false, Sawney Bean and his murderous clan have made their mark. Wes Craven’s famous horror movie, The Hills Have Eyes, was inspired by the Sawney Bean story. The novel Off Season, by Jack Ketchum, was similarly inspired. There are others.

 

SWEENEY TODD

Some might say there’s a little nugget of truth in the story of Sweeney Todd. For most historians however, he’s entirely fictional. The Demon Barber of Fleet Street first appeared in a penny dreadful serial (cheap, sensationalist fiction) in 1846-47. The story was called The String of Pearls: A Romance and anyone familiar with the legend of Sweeney Todd will know that it’s all about a barber who murders his customers and with the aid of  Mrs Lovett in the pie shop next door, then deposits the human flesh into pies and feeds them to unsuspecting customers.

Grisly, but it’s certainly possible the story was inspired by real events. In the 18th and 19th centuries, there were often newspaper reports about body snatching, dodgy medical practices and cannibalism. Take a look at this excerpt from the Weekly Journal, or, British Gazetteer, dated Saturday 3rd May, 1718:

‘We have Intelligence from Lincoln, that a man being hanged there the last Assizes, within three days after his execution, a couple of apothecaries contracted with a butcher for a sum of money, to take the body out of the grave, and cut off all the flesh, fit for them to make a skeleton of; which flesh he sold for venison to an inn-keeper; who making it into a pasty, invited many of his neighbours to the eating of it; but sometime after the villainy being detected, the butcher and the two apothecaries were committed to Lincoln Goal [sic].’ 

The above report might be true. It might also be a load of rubbish designed to sell newspapers. But if such stories were going around it’s not hard to see why a Sweeney Todd-like tale would end up in the pages of a penny dreadful. Of course, no one could have foreseen how popular the character would become over the years. The 2007 film, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, is well-known but if you can find it, check out the 2006 TV adaptation starring Ray Winstone.

 

HANNIBAL LECTER

Hannibal Lecter (by Freddy Agurto Parra)

Hannibal Lecter is so charming he can talk you right onto his dinner plate. That’s how good he is. He’s the pop culture cannibal, your favourite Lithuanian-American psychiatrist with a penchant for fava beans and Italian wine. He’s super intelligent and as readers of the books and viewers of the movies and TV show will confirm, somehow we all fall under his spell a little bit – just enough to sort of like him despite the fact that well, he’s a cannibal.

Lecter was first introduced to the public in the 1981 novel, Red Dragon, written by Thomas Harris. Since then he’s featured in four novels, five films and a well received TV series. And as mentioned above, he’s ingrained in society as part of the pop culture fabric, which is kind of impressive for a cannibal when you think about it.

Maybe we like him because he’s the anti-cannibal in some ways. This is no brute or mindless savage. Lecter’s a bonafide bright spark – he’s smarter than the rest of us and being so smart of course, he knows it. You might have noticed if you’ve read the books or watched the films that he revels in getting the better of (and eating) authority figures, such as the poor census taker whose liver he so famously consumed with the fava beans and chianti. Also, who can forget that final scene at the end of The Silence of the Lambs where Anthony Hopkins as Lecter, is casually pursuing Dr. Frederick Chilton, the man who so gleefully oversaw his incarceration in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane?

Remember that? Of course you do.

‘I’m having an old friend for dinner.’

 

OTHER CANNIBALS IN LITERATURE

Cannibal horror in fiction is mostly seen as a bit of gruesome fun. It’s nothing more than a nightmarish fantasy far removed from the reality of our everyday lives. That’s what we like to tell ourselves anyway.

But what you might call ‘serious literature’ delves into the subject occasionally. The ‘heavy’ books, if you know what I mean. For example, there are cannibals in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.  If you’ve read the book, you might recall that cannibals serve as part of Marlow’s crew during his voyage upriver to the Inner Station. There’s no blood and guts horror here, but the novel is instead full of complex ideas that ask interesting questions about civility and savagery. It’s an English Literature student’s wet dream. So many questions and interpretations await the reader. For example, while we might view the African savage as cannibalistic, what about the white European imperialist and his desire to consume? It’s an interesting book and one that makes you think.

There are also cannibals in Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, The Road.  In this story, a father and his young son are travelling across post-apocalyptic America, trying to make their way towards the dream that is the ocean. During this journey, father and son are not only at risk of being captured by people who have resorted to cannibalism, but they’re also trying to resist succumbing to the urge themselves. The Road is a horror novel (and movie!), as well as being an excellent work of post-apocalyptic fiction. It also highlights one of the most fascinating things about post-apocalyptic fiction – what happens to otherwise decent human beings when there’s no longer any food on the supermarket shelves? When there’s no hope and civilisation is gone? What would you do if you and your loved ones were starving and you saw somebody else with a precious slice of bread? When you’re that hungry, what do you see when you look at a stranger? The answer is in The Road, and it’s not a pretty one.

A few other noteworthy examples of cannibals in literature:

Patrick Bateman (American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis)

Charles Burnside (Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub)

Kevin (Sin City by Frank Miller)

Dead River Clan (Off Season by Jack Ketchum)

*

And just to finish off, here are a few of the best (or most infamous) cannibal movies (for those of you who haven’t already seen them):

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – “I just can’t take no pleasure in killing. There’s just some things you gotta do. Don’t mean you have to like it.”

A classic, still disturbing in so many ways. And it has Leatherface in it. Enough said.

Ravenous (1999) – “He’s licking me!”

Ravenous features one of my favourite cannibals – Colonel Ives/F.W Colqhoun (played by the great Robert Carlyle). I love this dark and weird film. It’s a sort of horror and black comedy mix topped off by a great soundtrack by Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman. It’s loosely based on the real-life Donner Party tragedy of 1846/1847 when a bunch of westbound emigrants on their way to California became trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains and were forced to consume the bodies of the dead for food. It’s a great movie – go find if you haven’t seen it.

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) – “I wonder who the real cannibals are.”

Insane, controversial movie. Not easy viewing.

Alive (1993) – “Are we supposed to fly that close to the mountains?”

This is the movie based on the real-life story of the Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes. It’s a brilliant film and one of my earliest memories of a ‘what would you do?’ in this deep shit scenario. Plus it has John Malkovich sitting by a fire, talking more deep shit.

That’s just a few movies. There are lots, lots more cannibal flicks out there to get your teeth into.

 

GHOSTS OF LONDON

And finally, I was inspired to write this post by Ghosts of London. This is the third book in the Future of London series and yeah, there are a few cannibals running around in this one too. Check it out and don’t worry if you haven’t read the first two. It’s never been easier (and cheaper) to climb aboard the Future of London series. You can now get L-2011 (Book 1) for free here. And Mr Apocalypse (Book 2) is down to 0.99.

Thank you and enjoy.

 

Battle Royale Remastered (Review)

Hello everyone!

Just thought I’d share a few thoughts on a book that’s been lingering on my TBR pile for far too long now.

Come to think of it, it’s shocking just how long it’s taken me to actually getting around to reading this dystopian classic by Koushun Takami. I remember seeing the film not long after its release in 2000 and thinking that yeah, I’d better read the book.

Well it only took me seventeen years. But better late than never and I’m glad that I did finally get around to reading it ‘cos it’s bloody good.

Thinking back to the turn of the century when both the book and film were released, I remember the controversy and all the talk of exploitative violence that surrounded them. With that in mind, I watched the film in 2000 but to be honest all I can remember of it is a sort of crazy cartoonish violence that didn’t really feel violent at all – kind of like how Kill Bill did violence. It certainly wasn’t as shocking or as controversial as it was made out to be at the time. It was fun in a sick, twisted sort of way.

Same deal with the book. At least that’s how it read in my opinion – it’s fun and it can either make you think about certain issues if you want to or not. You might just want to enjoy the brilliant storytelling for its own sake and that’s fine too.

So what’s it about? Well, it’s set in the Republic of Greater East Asia, which is a harsh dictatorship that includes among other nations, Japan, where the story takes place. To put it bluntly, a group of teenage schoolchildren are kidnapped by government officials and then dumped on a desert island and instructed to kill each other until there’s only one left.

As you do.

It’s interesting to note the multiple points of view that the story is told from, which highlight the different personalities on display – the cool kid, the sporty kid, the brainy one, the popular bitch – that kind of thing, just like we’d all recognise from our school days. What’s even more impressive is how these scared children slowly turn into desperate killers throughout the course of the novel and how crazy and yet believable it is when they try to bump each other off. I’m trying to contain the English Literature graduate in me and yet I can’t help but notice that the whole authorities-turning-innocence-into-something-savage might be symbolic of something else – perhaps it’s indicative of what the so-called real world does to ruin the innocence of our childhood, perhaps the only time in our life where we can truly be ourselves.

In other words, growing up – as it is given to us in the modern age, sucks.

Battle Royale is often compared with The Hunger Games. In fact, it seems like most reviews of Battle Royale end up mentioning The Hunger Games when it should really be the other way around as the Japanese book was released nine years earlier.  I haven’t read The Hunger Games so I can’t really make a comparison on the books but I did watch the first movie and quite liked it. Then I watched about half of the second one and decided there should never have been a sequel. Don’t know if it’s the same with the books but it immediately felt stretched and lacking in ideas.

I understand that this new remastered edition of Battle Royale – which features an absolutely outstanding cover (see the pic above) –  is a new translation and that it’s been well-received in comparison to the previous English language translation. Certainly the book reads very well and the text flows nicely for the most part. There are a few moments here and there where the dialogue is a tad clunky but I think once again, that’s a translation thing that probably can’t be helped. And it didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment of the story.

So…if you’ve ever thought about reading this book or perhaps you’re a HG fan and want to read the original kids slaughtering other kids classic then I highly recommend picking up the remastered version of Battle Royale. Beware…it’s pretty long at almost seven hundred pages – I was expecting a fast-paced berserker slim-sized novel – but then I’m a slow reader and I approach all of these weapon of mass destruction sized books with a sigh. You might love them. That aside, I don’t think you’ll regret getting around to reading Battle Royale – even if like me, it takes you seventeen years to actually get started.

The Indie Books That Never Were

 

Sometimes I like to bitch and moan about writing. The hours are too long I tell myself, the rewards too few. I’m not the only author who does this I’m sure. Sometimes when we put out a new book it’s like hitting a baseball into outer space in the hope that somebody might catch it. We do it again and again and still, nobody catches.

What’s the point? It’s like nobody cares, right?

Well, yes. Truth is, most people – friends and family included – don’t give a damn about what we’re doing no matter how much we pour our heart and soul into it.

That’s life.

But believe it or not folks – I’m not actually here to moan today. I’m here to reiterate the point that it’s still without a doubt, theeeee cockadoodie best time to be a writer.

Every day I thank my lucky stars that I’m writing in the early twenty-first century. Thank God for the opportunities afforded to us in the digital era where our stories have a real shot of finding the right readers, thank to multiple publishing options. I thank my lucky stars that the age-old oppressive, tedious and unfair submission process to traditional publishers is no longer the only route that authors have towards building a legit career.

We are so lucky to be writing right now. Seriously folks. Think of all the writers in generations past – those poor bastards who weren’t around to experience the digital revolution in all its glory. The hard-working, big-dreaming, imaginative authors who never had the opportunity to see the likes of KDP, Createspace, Kobo and all the other platforms that give us what they never had – a choice!

And this is what bothers me. As well as the plight of the authors, what about all the great stories that were never told? It’s not like these authors didn’t have a good story to tell. We all know that traditional publishers are afraid to take a chance on something risky or unconventional that doesn’t tick the right marketing boxes. These old manuscripts weren’t rejected because they were bad books. They just weren’t the right fit because maybe they were too short, too controversial, too non-formulaic and so on.

And maybe the authors didn’t want to self-publish the old way – paying a fortune for a vanity publishing company to publish their book, then trying to sell their paperbacks out of a pile of boxes gathering dust in the garage.

I feel so sorry for these people. Countless, great and interesting authors who missed the digital revolution.

You’re a writer in 1985 and the publishers won’t give you a break. You don’t have the money or will to vanity publish. So you put your story in a drawer or somewhere else that represents story limbo, believing that it’s no good because enough people said no. And there it lingers, this great story that would have moved, inspired and been devoured by so many of us readers. I have no doubt there are great ones out there that in this era, would have found an audience if the authors had chosen the indie route (and honed their marketing skills just like we have to).

These people were born too soon. What a shame.

I can’t be only one who thinks about this, am I? About the lost pre-indie stories? Possibly, I’m weird that way.

So anyway, let’s not moan about how hard it is. At least not too much. This little post is all about being thankful. I’m thankful that I live in an age where we can send our work directly into the marketplace, irrespective of whether a literary agency or publishing house thinks they’re the right fit. Or that a book can be published via crowdfunding or something like that.

Historically speaking, most authors didn’t have many options. We do.

It is without doubt, a great time to be both an author and a reader. Let’s be thankful and continue to share great stories in honour of those authors and the indie books that never were.

FAB: Revolver – What Is It?

 

Write the book you want to read.  Isn’t that what they say?  In other words, write the book that no one else in the world can possibly make but you.

I might have done that by accident with this latest one.

FAB: Revolver.  What is it?  Well it’s a combination of stuff I like – The Beatles, time travel, the 1960s, science fiction (not the hard stuff, good God no), a few laughs, a bit of action and I hope, a good story.  I didn’t deliberately set out to write the sort of book I’d love to read and it was only in retrospect that I realised what I’d done.  I doubt anybody else would have come up with the material in this book, but then there a lot of authors out there who’d say the same thing about their work.

It just kind of turned out that way.  Influences – I guess they jump into your story whether you like it or not.  If it’s in your head, it’s in your book.

With that in mind, here’s a brief list of the ‘stuff’ that influenced FAB: Revolver.

(I’m excluding The Beatles because that’s a bit obvious.)

 

THE TERMINATOR (1984)

I’m definitely exploiting a love of certain 80s/90s action movies in the book.  I was a child in the 1980s, a teenager in the 1990s – I was exposed to some good stuff.  So why the hell not people?

There’s a clear Terminator vibe going on in FAB: Revolver.  A futuristic cyborg goes back in time to kill someone and change history.  Yes, I’ve pretty much stolen that premise and tossed it into a Beatles flavoured stew.

Hey, everybody steals a little, right?

 

TIMECOP (1994)

And speaking of the 1990s.

Yep.  It’s that Jean-Claude Van Damme movie that’s either terrible or brilliant depending on who you ask.  Sure, this time-travelling adventure received mixed reviews but what’s not to like?  Personally I think it’s a well-written story.  It’s not just JCVD gets in a time machine and kicks some ass.  Okay it’s exactly that, but I still cared about the characters.

Definitely one of JCVD’s better films in my opinion.

So what have I nicked here?  Well, the Time Enforcement Commission I guess.  In FAB: Revolver, I call them Time Travel Detectives, but it’s kind of the same idea – a police force designed to stop people committing crimes in the past.  They don’t feature much in the book, but they do make one very important appearance close to the end…no spoilers here…

 

WESTWORLD (2016 – TV/1973 – Movie)

During one particular scene in the book, I was thinking about HBO’s impressive resurrection of Westworld.  Without spoiling anything, I was trying to write ‘humanity’ into a machine and (no surprise if you’ve seen the TV show) this is the source that came to mind.  Westworld is a fascinating, cerebral show that asks interesting questions of the viewer.  Highly recommended if you haven’t seen it yet.

Having said that, FAB: Revolver is more akin to the spirit of the original movie, which starred Yul Brynner as the robot gone haywire.  This is a great idea.  A theme park with robots acting as entertainment fodder for the paying public.  Then one of them goes crazy on the guests.

Yessss!

In comparison to the TV show, the movie is a bit more fun for fun’s sake.  Something I’m all for.

 

TIMELESS (2016)

And speaking of fun for fun’s sake.  I hope that more than anything, that’s what FAB: Revolver is.  In that sense I’m drawing on the spirit of Timeless – the recent TV show that saw a historian, soldier, and scientist jumping back in time, trying to protect history as we know it.  The great thing about Timeless is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Amen to that.  We don’t need to know the science behind every little thing and Timeless doesn’t give a hoot about the intricate details.  Fun for fun’s sake, remember?

It’s interesting how many bits and pieces have come together to make a whole.  In the case of FAB: Revolver, I was quite conscious of these influences but I was careful not to try and rip anything off (too much). I hope that by tossing The Beatles into the mix, I’ve made something fresh that stands on its own.

Time will tell.

 

Launch Week Deal – If you haven’t tried the FAB Trilogy yet, you might like to know I’m having a deal on the entire series from March 31st to April 7th.  During that time you can grab all three ebooks for less than $4/£3.

Here are the (Amazon) links:

FAB (Free)

FAB: The Fifth Angel ( Down to 0.99)

FAB: Revolver (Special Launch Price – $2.99/£1.99)

Or save yourself multiple clicks by going to my Amazon Author Page, featuring all the books (US page), (UK Page)

 

Thank for your continued support.  I truly appreciate it 🙂

Over and out!