Friday 28 August 2009

MISC REVIEW: Comic Value Annual 2009 - Alex G Malloy


With box office hits like "Spider-Man", "Superman", "X-Men", "Hulk", the "Fantastic Four" and many others ushering in new comic book fans, and renewing interest among former collectors, comprehensive price guides are a must have. This edition gives a brief overview of the industry, a grading guide, and features an interview with a comic book industry insider. Unlike other price guides, "Comics Values Annual 2009" lists titles alphabetically by MAJOR publisher beginning with "DC" and then continuing with "Marvel", "Image", "Dark Horse", "Classics Illustrated", and then tossing in miscellaneous "Golden Age" titles, black and white titles, colour titles from modern publishers like Valiant, Gold Key, Gladstone, Malibu, etc. "Marvel" and "DC" dominate the collectable comic book world. "Comics Values Annual 2009" recognises that fact. Why should collectors have to rummage through a lot of junk that other publishers list to get to the good stuff they collect?


A book that does what it says on the tin, it gives the reader an easy to check reference guide so that they know that they’re not either over paying for that wanted comic or to make sure that they have adequate insurance should the worst happen, its comprehensive organised alphabetically by publisher and is an easy guide to utilise. A great thing to have to be honest and one that I’ve already had borrowed by a few friends who wanted to make sure that they’re fully covered with one saving a fortune on a much wanted release.

GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: Batman: Mad Love - Paul Dini, Bruce Timm


Gotham City is plagued with crime and corruption in places high and low, but one man has taken a stand against evil of all forms: the dark avenger known as Batman. The Dark Knight's skills are taxed to their limits by his nemesis, the Joker; add the Joker's would-be girlfriend, Harley Quinn into the mix, and it might just be too much for the Batman to handle! Now, the Eisner Award-winning tale of how Harley captured the Batman - plus many more - are collected in this handsome hardback volume. Written by "Batman: The Animated Series" mastermind Paul Dini (Countdown), with art by award-winning B: TAS character designer Bruce Timm, this is a must-have collection for fans of the "Dark Knight" in all his many incarnations!


OK, I’m a fan of the Batman Animated series so here in this graphic novel offering I get the excitement of Dini’s writing with the artistic talents of Timm. It’s a cracking offering and one that will readily appeal to fans of the Dark Knight especially those with a puncheon for Joker and Harley Quinn. Add to the mix that the titles within are award winning and you’ve got a pot of gold to readily enjoy. A great offering from Titan and one that I heartily recommend.

Thursday 27 August 2009

URBAN FANTASY REVIEW: Redemption Alley - Lilith Saintcrow


Some cases are unusual - even for Jill Kismet.

When her police contact asks her to look into a "suicide", she suddenly finds herself in a labyrinth of deception, drugs, murder -- and all-too-human corruption. The cops are her allies, except for the ones who want her dead. The hellbreed are her targets, except for the ones who might know what's going on. Her city is in danger, time is running out, and each lead only draws her deeper.

How far will a hunter go when her city -- and her friends -- are on the line?

Just far enough.


As a long time fan of Lili’s writing I really can’t wait for the latest offering to land. What has surprised me is that her UK publisher hasn’t even issued a release date yet let alone put the book out there for fans to purchase. Luckily enough the US Publisher was kind enough to send a copy through so I could keep up with my regular fix of Lili’s work.

What happens in the latest Kismet novel is a real tale of death, political intrigue, double dealing and of course murder, all of which she does well blending apparent unconnected cases together to make one giant mess that the protagonista has to fight her way out of besides being shot, stabbed and KO’d a multitude of times. A cracking novel and one that is going to make the wait for the next release even harder. If you haven’t tried her yet then give it a go. UK fans can get their fix from either known stockists of American releases such as Forbidden Planet or Murder One and numerous online booksellers. Kismet really is the all action girl with attitude. Traders look out.

URBAN FANTASY REVIEW: You Suck - Christopher Moore


Being undead sucks. Literally. Just ask C. Thomas Flood. Waking up after a fantastic night unlike anything he's ever experienced, he discovers that his girlfriend, Jody, is a vampire. And surprise! Now he's one, too. For some couples, the whole biting-and-blood thing would have been a deal breaker. But Tommy and Jody are in love, and they vow to work through their issues. But word has it that the vampire who initially nibbled on Jody wasn't supposed to be recruiting. Even worse, Tommy's erstwhile turkey-bowling pals are out to get him, at the urging of a blue-dyed Las Vegas call girl named (duh) Blue. And that really sucks.


I’ve loved Chris’ offering since I was first presented with The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove. His previous books have wit and don’t take themselves too seriously as they firmly poke the tongue out at conventional fiction. However, I’ve never read a book that so aptly described my feelings in the title. This book, did indeed Suck.

Had I paid for this novel I’d have felt extremely cheated given that I’d have bought it due to knowing the quality I’ve come to expect from this author, after all its not a first offering or even a third. The characters didn’t seem to gel, they had quirks that made them rather annoying and others seemed to be added just to pad the novel out instead of doing what this novel was crying out for and turn it into a reasonable novella rather than a full story. It was disjointed, the writing pretty sloppy and to be honest an ending that was just there to tie it up quickly rather than have a showdown like I’d have expected from this type of novel. I just hope that this was a one off as if the next book is as weak as this I’ll have serious problems about moving him up my TBR pile if not to just plainly ignore him.

Wednesday 26 August 2009

NEWS: Chelsea Cain New Release

Hail Mighty Readers,
Our friends at Zeitghostmedia have asked us to let our readers know about the forthcoming novel by Chelsea Cain.

With reviews by authors such as Steven King, we think that she's going to be a name to follow in the UK. So whilst this is currently a US release, we look forward to bringing you the review of this scary novel in the near future.

Evil at Heart Book Trailer
Chelsea Cain's Website

Book Blurb:
Since serial killer Gretchen Lowell went on the run, following Detective Archie Sheridan's latest near-fatal encounter with her, the city of Portland has descended into Beauty Killer hysteria. Even fan sites have sprung up online, where admirers of Gretchen can congregate to discuss their heroine. When a spleen is discovered at a local rest stop, Detective Henry Sobol is at first sceptical it is Gretchen's work. It is only when he sees the rest stop's wall - covered in hundreds of tiny red hearts that Henry realises its time to contact Archie ...Archie Sheridan has spent the last few month's in the city's psychiatric hospital, battling with his addiction to painkillers and his strange obsession with the woman who tortured him. But soon he, along with the Beauty Killer taskforce and journalist Susan Ward, find themselves investigating a new spate of killings - when bodies start to turn up at local beauty spots, their eye-balls removed. Could this be the work of a copy-cat? Or has Gretchen really returned? One thing is certain, whoever is behind these brutal murders, they will do whatever it takes to get to Archie.

YOUNG ADULT REVIEW: Skinned - Robin Wasserman


Lia Kahn is beautiful, popular and destined for success...until the horrific accident that nearly kills her. Lia wakes up in a body that is not a body. It's a machine, designed to look and feel human, and her memories have been 'downloaded'. Lia will never age. She need never feel pain again. And, as long as she is vigilant about backing up her memories, she need never die. Struggling to come to terms with what has happened, Lia tries to return to her own life. But nothing is the same...She's one of the "mechanicals" or "mechs" now. Her friends and boyfriend turn their backs on her, shutting her out. Even her own family can't seem to understand that underneath it all, she's still the same person. Or is she? Drawn to a seemingly reckless circle of "mechs", Lia starts to see the limitless options of her new "body" - after all, there isn't anything they can't do! But there are some who would like to see the new technology vanish, and these strange mechanical beings along with it. Can you really be human without a body? And is it technically murder to "kill" a machine...? In the tradition of Scott Westerfeld comes a riveting and edgy science fiction novel which raises questions of mortality, technology and morality.


What makes this tale fascinating is the authors willingness to discover what makes us human, are we just a bag of meat and bones or is it more of an intellectual process that could be transferred into a robotic shell?

Beautifully written and wonderfully creative, Robin really does generate a book that will make the reader think as the character undergoes her metamorphosis and learns to cope with how her life has changed. A solid book but one for the older readers in the household.

YOUNG ADULT REVIEW: The Troll - Julia Donaldson, David Roberts


The Troll longs for a goat - but has to make do with fish for supper instead. Meanwhile, Hank Chief and his pirate crew are digging for treasure - but it seems they've sailed to the wrong island. Again. Watch the fun unfold as these two worlds collide in a richly inventive, gloriously comic tale from the creators of the highly acclaimed "Tyrannosaurus Drip".


When it comes to books for a young reader you have to find something special that they can get to grips with and love time and again. The Troll, brings the key ingredients to the fore by blending a number of elements together to give the child an adventure as well as a tale to enjoy fully. Its well drawn the characterisation will make them laugh and above all it has a sense of purpose for the principle protagonist in order for him to find his place in the world. Good fun and a book that my nephew loved to hear as well as pointing at the accompanying images to increase his pleasure. Good stuff.

Tuesday 25 August 2009

NEWS: 25th Anniversary of Legend by David Gemmell

Hail Mighty Readers,
Orbit are proud to announce the publication of the 25th Anniversary Edition of Legend, the title that brought David Gemmell to the reading public.

Whilst the title isn't going to be a hardback which a number of fans wanted, the PB works out better as it keeps the celebratory feel of David's writing, well within the fan's pockets so many can get to relive that first adventure with Druss, Regnak, Virae and the Thirty as they battle against the Nadir Horde of Ulric.

Originally written "while waiting for cancer tests. I did not expect the story ever to be published, and literally chose the name Drenai because it sounded similar to Dorsai, which came from a series of books by Gordon R Dickson. These were splendid sci fi novels about a warrior race." said David and when asked why a large number of fans have always picked this as thier favourite he had to think for a while before letting us know his answer.

"Hard to say. It is my favourite. It is certainly the most romantic of all my novels, both in central love story, and the high heroism of the contenders. I guess it was written by a young man, full of ideals and beliefs, who approached the craft of story telling with a wild, barbaric gusto. I look back on that young man with great fondness."

So now's your chance to get this special edition. Join us on October 1st, raise a glass to David and enjoy this epic tale in its new edition.

Remember that the David Gemmell Legend Award is in its second year so please join the fun and vote for your fan favourites as well as joining the discussions.

(Quotes taken from interviews conducted by myself which appear on Wolfshead, a David Gemmell fansite.)

SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW: Warhammer 40K - Horus Heresy: Fallen Angels - Mike Lee


As news of Horus’s treachery spreads, the Great Crusade grinds to a halt as the primarchs and their Legions decide where their loyalty lies – with the Emperor, or the rebel Warmaster Horus. In this sequel to Descent of Angels, the Dark Angels too face a time of testing, both in the stars, and on their home world, Caliban.

Arriving in the Gehinnom system, Lion El’Jonson and a force of Dark Angels set about subjugating the system’s core worlds which are key to the Warmaster’s plans to overthrow the Emperor.

Meanwhile, on Caliban, Luther and the rest of the Legion feel abandoned by their primarch. Civil war erupts as the planet strives to break from Imperial rule, and the Dark Angels are thrown into a deadly conflict where all that they know and trust is thrown into doubt."


Fans of the Warhammer 40k World will more than be aware of the darkest part of mankinds history, that of the Horus Heresy where brother turned against brother and the bright Empire took a devastating hit from which its still recovering. Famed for many years as the cataclysmic event to end all others its only been in recent years that the Black Library has sought to release tales from the time period to enthral the readers with something new as well as previously unseen within the genre.

Following on from Descent of Angels (although set 50 years later), this tale allows the reader to glimpse how some of the Emperors chosen son’s fell to the dark path of Chaos thought the use of masterful storytelling. Explaining the characters fates in such a way that its never clear cut who will fully convert to the raw stuff of Dark Gods and who will triumph to aid the Emperor in his time of need as both roles appear to be pretty interchangeable. Well written, great outline and a part of the heresy that will live on long in the readers imagination. A great offering from Mike Lee



Collected together here for the first time are twelve stories by the incomparable Greg Egan, one of the most exciting writers of science fiction working today. In these dozen glimpses into the future Egan continues to explore the essence of what it is to be human, and the nature of what - and who - we are, in stories that range from parables of contemporary human conflict and ambition to far-future tales of our immortal descendants. Return to the universe of the meta-civilisation known as the Amalgam, which Egan explored in his critically acclaimed novel Incandescence: 'Riding the Crocodile', which recounts an epic endeavour a million years from now to bridge the divide between the Amalgam and the reclusive Aloof; 'Glory', set in the same future, in which two archaeologists strive to decipher the artefacts of an ancient civilisation, and 'Hot Rock', where an obscure, sunless world conceals mind-spinning technological marvels, bitter factional struggles, and a many-layered secret history. This superb collection also includes the title story, the Hugo Award-winning 'Oceanic': a boy is inducted into a religion that becomes the centre of his life, but as an adult he must face evidence that casts a new light on his faith.


With people always rushing around there are times when you’re on a journey and only short story fiction will hit the spot and allow you to carry on. Presented here for the first time in one novel (although they have been presented in various magazines) are twelve short stories by Greg that will amaze, enthral and confound the reader each in different measures as he demonstrates various tricks, twists and above all masterful storytelling to the captivated audience. Well written as well as beautifully executed there’s a tale in this novel for fans of virtually all subgenres of Science Fiction. A great book to own and something to give you those bite sized chunks that will help your breaks pass amazingly fast.

Monday 24 August 2009

INTERVIEW: Robert Holdstock

Authors are said to be like a fine wine. The older they get, the better the experience of a journey in thier company. Recently Gollancz released Roberts new novel, Avilion which harks back to perhaps his most famous novel Mythago Wood so we took time to chase the author (whose book was described by Moorcock as "the outstanding fantasy book of the 80's" just to see who he was, find out a little about him and to find out about his weaknesses in regard to the ancient tales told around the campfires...

Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?

Robert Holdstock: Well, I don't feel afflicted by it; and I would never dream of claiming to have writing as a 'gift', though I am certainly pleased that some or my writing has 'hit the mark', so to speak. Writing fiction is both a joy and a challenge. I started when I was about six, daft little stories, inspired by a grandfather who could tell a fantastic tale (ghosts, war, murder, wonderful stuff.) I would certainly die a great deal inside if I could never write again, for whatever reason. So yes, it's something I have to do. I'm fortunate, though, in having a wonderful partner in Sarah, and I'm sure she would help find me a new direction.

FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?

RH: In 1974. It seemed the absolute right thing to do. I had so many ideas, so much sense of wonder, that what I'd been doing until then seemed to fade away. I submitted a novel to Faber and Faber, and on its acceptance, became a full-time writer. But I'd been writing for many years before that, as I said. It was my passion, though 90 percent of what I was producing was apprentice work.

FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?

RH: I don't think it's true. A short story is a different shaping of words; so is a poem. A short story often ends up in a novel; a novel is often not much more than an over-elaborated short story. I've written in all three forms, but short stories are the most difficult.

FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?

RH: I've done this, though with tongue firmly in cheek: "That's a good book, but this one's better. You'll never forget the characters. And the sense of wonder...!"

FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?

RH: "This book has myth new and old; you'll never forget the characters! And the sense of wonder..? Had me gasping."

FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?

RH: Tennyson, Yeats, Hughes. Brewers Phrase and Fable. The Collins dictionary. The Mabinogion; The Tain; anything and everything by Homer. Certain books by certain writers that I read to remind me how good writing can be: the spur to my own efforts. But NOTHING in the world would find me waiting for a bookshop to open. I'll go when the crowds depart.

FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?

RH: Everything grows. I have an idea, I have some characters in my head, and when I get an idea of what it is I want to say, I start going for it. I do, I'm not afraid to say, write out of chaos. If a story begins as an unknown world to me, then there can be (I hope) that same sense of expectation and surprise for the reader.

FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?

RH: I go out with mates, I play music, I cycle, I walk the hills, I travel, I talk. All very relaxing. I'm reading Stephen Baxter, Alistair Reynolds and China Mieville, and revisiting Tennyson. Let me recommend The Reader; and film-wise: Moon. If there's no novelisation of Moon, I'm up for it.

FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

RH: I have several guilty pleasures, and everyone I know knows about them.

FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)

RH: I have always loved cats. My last cat was a half Siamese. Brilliant animal. Extremely relaxed, and helped relax me when he curled up on my desk, and vaguely paid attention to my writing. Never demanding, just liking good company. The family dog is an exuberant Collie and I take care of her a lot. It's a mutual exercise thing. At the end of the day we sit quietly together, and I think about how the wolf became the friend of humankind. The connection, and the faithfulness, is intriguing. But people who think pets have human traits are just plain bonkers. So, no. I don't use them in any anthropomorphic way.

FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?

RH: The word 'fun' doesn't come into it. I was most engaged with Yssobel. If she were real I’d be passionate about her I felt heartbroken for Odysseus. Jack intrigues me. I very much missed being able to bring Guiwenneth back into her truly lovely form from Mythago Wood, but Yssobel has occupied that space. Fun doesn't come into writing about imaginary people. Emotion and dedication to their unreal, yet very real lives, is everything.

FT: How similar to your principle protagonist are you?

RH: I'm a dark-haired, dark-eyed, late-middle-aged bloke, living happily with a woman from the Shires. My main protagonist is a copper haired, green-eyed woman of twenty years of age, in love with a Greek hero. A little different, then. What we have in common probably comes down to determination, and never giving up when there is something we need or want or must find. I'm closer, in many ways, to the character of Merlin (not the Arthurian Merlin) in my three books of The Merlin Codex.

FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?

RH: I'm into archeology. That certainly influences my work. And I love film, the 60s films especially. Spaghetti Westerns especially! I imagine I'm influenced. But to be truthful, I'm not a hobby man. No time. I only have one stamp in my collection, and I will soon have to use it, even though it's second class.

FT: Where do you get your idea's from?

RH: I was born, I suppose, with the capacity to find them. It's all I can think to say. People helped me along the way. Memory of other generations, and reading of times past, is a wonderful way to think of new situations for what has been common life for many thousands of years. And will continue to be so.

FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?

RH: Writer's pause. Not block. The world is there, but sometimes the words aren't. I don't try to overcome it. When it happens, I trust to the kindness of strangers. And I talk a lot. And I trust to my own self-confidence that it always comes back.

FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?

RH: I write at civilised and uncivilised times, according to how I feel, and Sarah tolerates it, but gets concerned about me, because when I'm writing at four o'clock in the morning, I'm either producing heavy or humerous poetry (check out Avilion for the former) or prose shyte (always abandoned, but often an indicator of a direction I need to take when the hour is civilised.) I work best in the afternoon and at night.

FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?

RH: Far too much musical influence to go into here: Vaughan Williams, Mozart, Neil Young, Omnia, K.T.Tunstall, Dire Straits, The Stones, Bruckner, Sibelius.... I could go on for ages. Sometimes I play when I'm writing -- Vaughan Williams was always with me through Mythago Wood, Tunstall and Omnia in the middle of Avilion -- and sometimes I play to inspire me to write, and then silence rules. Depends on the mood. Give in to the impulse and see where it leads. Don't get into a pattern.

FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?

RH: I didn't. It was exciting. When the ideas are rampant you don't have time to worry about details.

FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?

RH: I think it's on the same menu! Though in my own case, certainly not as the vegetarian option.

FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?

RH: It's the story of the two children of Guiwenneth of the Green, from Mythago Wood. Because the father is human and Guiwenneth is 'wildwood', the children are a mix of blood and sap. And as adults they are torn, both apart from each other, and within themselves. It's a tale of loss, and of love. It ends in Avalon (or Avilion). And there are good special effects!

FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?

RH: A Car Hire firm; Paul McAuley; my own; Maura McHugh (my website genius); Easyjet. Well: you did ask.

FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.

RH: Writing classes?? Are you kidding? Reading glasses, yes. But writing classes?? Who needs them? I forget who it was -- maybe Gore Vidal, or John Updike -- who was asked to teach a writing class. He sat down in front of the students and said, "Hands up who wants to be a writer." Everyone put up their hands. "Then fuck off and write, and don't waste my time." And he got up and left.

I've done workshops (not teaching), but more for socialising than anything else, though there is one exception, which I've often written about.

FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?

RH: I pasted all rejection notes on my wall, as a reminder that not everything works. I threw them all away, eventually, except for a note from Ed Ferman, at Fantasy&Science Fiction, who wrote, as he rejected a story (1967): "Almost made it. Try Mike Moorcock at New Worlds." So I did. And Mike wrote back, "Not bad. Try Ed Ferman at Fantasy& Science Fiction." It was then that I grasped that writing is the task, and representing it widely is the game.

FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?

RH: The same thing. The world you enter with delight; and the world you have to leave. And the comfort and loss of some of the people who have stepped into the dream.

FANTASY REVIEW: Avilion - Robert Holdstock


At the heart of Ryhope Wood, Steven and the mythago Guiwenneth live in the ruins of a Roman villa close to a haunted fortress from the Iron Age, from which Guiwenneth's myth arose. She is comfortable here, almost tied to the place, and Steven has long since abandoned all thought of returning to his own world. They have animals, protection and crops. They also have two children, a combination of human and mythago. Jack is like his father, an active boy keen to know all about the outer world'; Yssobel takes after her mother, even to her long auburn hair. But this idyll cannot last. The hunters who protected Guiwenneth as a child have come to warn her she is in danger. Yssobel is dreaming increasingly of her Uncle Christian, Steven's brother, who disappeared into Lavondyss, and Jack wants to see 'the outer world' more than anything. Events are about to overtake them.


If there is one thing that can be said about authors it’s that the older they get from their original release the more mature a tale is presented. What makes Holdstock (who incidentally has a very Jeremy Irons look) such essential reading is the way in which he is beautifully blended British myth with his own style of storytelling. Whilst its been a few years since his original Mythago Woods novel was released you can tell from the way that it ended there was always more to follow but that he was saving it for a time he thought that he could present something special for the reader. That is exactly what happens within this offering.

Wonderfully creative, we return to the original protagonist for a brief stint to take up his theme through his children with the Mythago Huntress, Guiwenneth as they come to terms with their heritage and seek to find their own place within the world. It’s ideal fantasy fare and whilst some would argue to read it on its own I underwent a full Holdstock series reread just to check that my expectations would be met. A cracking offering from the author and I suspect a tale that will get nominated for a good few awards. Great stuff Robert.

FANTASY REVIEW: Codex Alera: Cursor's Fury, Captain's Fury - Jim Butcher


Power-hungry Kalare has rebelled against Alera's aging First Lord, Gaius Sextus. Ill-equipped to face this attack, Gaius must seek support - even from the combative High Lord of Aquitaine. Kalare has also seized valuable hostages that could mean the difference between victory and failure. And Amara, the First Lord's Cursor, has been tasked with their rescue. She has earned this trust but are her allies as worthy - or does the Lady Aquitaine see the time as ripe for betrayal? Treachery is rife elsewhere, as young Tavi of Calderon will find. Posted away from the war, Tavi joins a legion anyway, under an assumed name. Then Kalare does the unthinkable - uniting with the brutish Canim. When treason wipes out the army's command structure, Tavi finds himself leading an inexperienced legion against the might of the Canim horde - the very last resort of a war-torn realm.


After the difficulty I had getting behind the original novel, I decided to persevere with the series at least for another couple of books. What unfurled has done a lot to restore my faith with Jims writing although it’s still not on par with Harry from my own POV.

Many will just wax lyrical about whatever Jim writes but I have to be impressed heavily by an author with an established reputation as I won’t forgive what I perceive as newbie errors. He has learned as the series has gone on and added to the mythos with accrued world-building. It’s interesting and it’s a series that has numerous twists to keep the readers glued but for me its still standard fantasy fare that’s a tad too predictable although that said his character building is working better and with each successive tale increasing the readers pleasure at the result. With a few more books I think its going to be something special but for me, its been a very slow fuse of a start.


Tavi of Calderon, now captain of his own Legion, has been fighting a bitter war for two years. Then he dis
covers the invading Canim warriors are harbingers of a far greater threat. The Canim are being hunted in their turn by a savage race that forced them from their homeland - and which has pursued them to the Aleran borders. With options fast running out, Tavi proposes an alliance with the Canim. But the Senate's new military commander wishes only to wipe out the Canim 'scourge', and would also kill Aleran slaves that have sought freedom with these aggressors. Tavi must reconcile Aleran and Canim, slavemaster and slave, Citizen and Proletarian, if an alliance is to be forced. And he must lead his Legion in defiance of the law, against both friend and enemy - before the greatest army of all launches its assault.


In this latest release of Jim’s Codex series that some are comparing to a modern Tolkien interpretation. Personally I prefer his Dresden Files over this one, however that said since I treated these as something completely different and started to get behind it on its own merits. Its acceptable but nothing new and definitely owes more than a tip of the hat to Tolkiens world, however, it also goes on to expand into its own through the use of a mythical battle where the forces of good and evil are struggling for the upper hand.

It is well written and with the sheer scope available for Jim to explore it’s a series that should have legs for a good number more tales. It will be interesting to see what Jim does next and with the growth available between each book it’s a series that might yet win me round.

Friday 21 August 2009

HISTORICAL FICTION: The Gladiator - Simon Scarrow


While centurions Macro and Cato are returning to Rome from a harrowing campaign against the Parthians, their transport ship is almost capsized by a tidal wave. They barely make it to the port of Matala in Crete where they are stunned to find a devastated town. An earthquake has struck the island, destroying its cities and killing thousands. In the chaotic aftermath, large bands of the island's slaves begin to revolt and the local bandits, taking advantage of the slave rebellion, urge the Cretans to overthrow the Roman administration. When the local governor of the province hears that Macro and Cato have arrived on the island, he summons them at once. With many of the island's troops either killed or wounded during the earthquake, the governor calls on these experienced Roman officers for help. Can Macro and Cato move swiftly enough to counter the rebellion before it sweeps the Romans from the island?


In the Historical Fiction genre, there’s a select few authors whose names means that their titles are put to the top of the my TBR pile. Of those, Simon Scarrow is definitely one of the few who makes it an absolute must have and will be grabbed straight away. So when this latest offering landed you can pretty much guarantee what happened.

What I received for my devotion (and not in the original Roman sense of the word) was an adventure that brought old enemies of Rome’s Centurion duo back to the fore as well as tossing them into a catastrophic scenario the likes of which they’ve never faced before. It’s a solid offering from Simon, however, to be honest I really don’t like Cato’s love interest, she seems forced, she seems to be there just to add the obligatory screaming girl and to throw them into situation that felt forced and unnatural. I’m hoping that something’s done to rectify this in future novels or to make her more likeable at least, perhaps even giving her some rudimentary combat training so she can do something in case the situation arises again. At least the next novel so far promises to be back to Simon’s winning formula and will give the reader exactly what they want with no compromises.

WRITING ADVICE REVIEW: Breathing Life into your Characters - Rachel Balloon


How do you write about characters who are nothing like you? If you haven't experienced what your characters have experienced, if you don't think the way they think, how do you successfully get inside their heads and portray them as real people whom readers would want to know? "Breathing Life Into Your Characters" has the answers to these questions. Author and psychotherapist Rachel Ballon shows you how to mine your characters' backstories; use transactional analysis for more complex characters; understand the correlation between needs, motivation and emotions; create characters different from yourself; understand a character's internal and external struggles; provide your character with an emotional transformation; understand the influence of a dysfunctional family dynamic; unravel natural defensive mechanisms; and, much, much more.


This title is one that I’ve had to take a lot of time to review. As an amateur writer I look to find ways in which I can improve my writing and as such saw this title as a good way to get to know my characters a bit better. One of the reasons its taken so long for me to get this review done was the fact that I wanted to complete each of the exercises within and as such have found that I do have a clearer understanding as well as backstory for the vast majority. It’s a great exercise so when I come to write the full tale (which I can now expand to a series now) I feel that I’ll have something that is not only realistic in certain ways but fully rounded characters for the reader to love or hate. It takes a lot of time to establish this but when you get the hang the files that you end up with really do make them something special and more tangible. Definitely a writing book that I’m going to recommend to others even if its just to complete one or two parts so that they can find that inner voice.

Thursday 20 August 2009

WRITING TIPS: Something Birthed this way comes - Christopher Ransom

Hail Mighty Readers,
As many visitors to the blog tend to be authors-in-waiting, we like every so often to bring you things such reviews on help books to aid you get that better deal, along with interviewing authors about thier work to see if that one little glimmer that they found matches the one that you've got safely stashed in that secret nook or cranny that your just waiting for that special time to unveil.

Here our friends at St Martins Press and Zeitghost wanted us to let you see how Christopher Ransom went about it and kindly passed on, in his own words, how he was influenced and set about his first novel. He'd also like to hear about your own Supernatural Happenings and Ghost Stories at his blog here. So for you delectation we proudly present Chris's Something Birthed This Way Comes, in his own unedited words...

Sometime around 1979, my father announced to my older brother Mike and me that he had installed a PIRATE ANTENNAE, so we could now watch HBO for free! ‘But don't tell anybody,’ he warned us. ‘It's sort of illegal. And your mom will probably give me hell about it.’ In an effort to get the most out of his purloined ‘cable’ service, Dad's policy on what the kids were allowed to watch was, shall we say, lax.

Following this domestic technology revolution, we Ransom boys were exposed to Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, Alien, Urban Cowboy, My Bodyguard, Jaws, The Blue Lagoon, Kramer Vs. Kramer, Convoy, Hooper, Alice, Sweet Alice, The Elephant Man, and Dressed To Kill among many others.

Fighting. Drinking. Cussing. Cars and stunts. Guns and knives and blood. Monsters and human monsters, aka crazy people, and, when you were really lucky, naked breasts. I remember looking at my brother in the dark, our eyes this wide, sending each other the same message – Can you believe Dad's letting us watch this? and, Don't you dare tell Mom, you little shit!

There were a lot of pirated movies. But the one that really stands out for me is, of course, The Shining. I don't remember much about that Saturday night. Just that there was very little talking going on while we watched.

The little boy running in the snow in that maze. And the cackling woman in the bathtub. And the twin girls in the hallway. And the axe landing in that man's chest, and the geysers of maroon-black blood that flowed from the elevator.

This was 1981 or so.

I was nine.

Then came Cujo, on the eve of my 6th grade year. I saw that little summer surprise in the movie theater. Twice. A few months later I was strolling through the book fair being held in our elementary school cafeteria when I stumbled across a little paperback. Had the same cover art as the movie poster. Ominous farmhouse in the background, the white picket fence with Cujo spelled out in dripping bloody letters.

‘Now There’s a New Name for Terror’ it said, and there was, but it wasn't Cujo.

The name was . . . well, you all know the name, don't you? A light went off in my eleven-year-old brain. I'd seen the movie. Now I could read the book and do it all over again, everyday for optional reading time!

Okay. My parents were divorced. They were not wealthy. Their friends were contractors, teachers, barbers, realtors, lawyers, and gas station men. Some of these people had problems that even an eleven-year-old could see. In short, I knew people like the Trentons and the Cambers, the white and blue-collar families in Cujo. I recognized them. I knew my parents loved me very much, like the Trentons loved their boy Tad. But sometimes life throws you a rabid dog. We had been through rough times, but we'd been lucky so far. I hadn't been trapped in a car for three days, dying of thirst while under attack by man's best friend.

Not long after cracking the opening chapters of Cujo, my 6th grade teacher Mrs. Schrag, a good teacher who could go from motherly sweet to drill sergeant stern in about half a second, interrupted optional reading time and called me to her desk. I went to her, holding Cujo in my hand.

‘Christopher,’ she said, her brow hunching steeply. ‘That book you're reading.’


‘That's a Stephen King book.’ A new name for terror, indeed. ‘Are you really reading that?’

‘Whattya mean?’

‘Do you . . . ah . . . understand it?’

‘Cujo? Oh, yeah, sure,’ I lied. ‘Uhm. Most of it. I think.’ Better.

‘I see.’ Mrs. Schrag had a hard eye for liars, and she was pressing me with it full force. ‘Do your parents know you're reading that?’

‘Oh, yeah! My mom bought it for me.’ This was true. ‘And it's okay, I saw the
movie. Twice! It was awesome!’

Mrs. Schrag’s eyes darted around the classroom to be sure no one was listening. She leaned over her desk, grabbed my arm and whispered, ‘I know. I saw it too! Wasn't it great? I just love all of his books!’

Mrs. Schrag and I understood each other after that. Later in the year she recommended Pet Sematary to me. I read all of the King books, then Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, Robert McCammon, Dan Simmons, and so many others.

There are many reasons that I was never really a good student after the age of thirteen, but dark literature and scary movies sure ain't one of them. I found trouble enough as a teen, but I shudder to think what kinds of trouble I would have found for myself without the books.

I dropped out high school at age seventeen. I took some college courses, earned a few As in my writing classes. But in addition to majoring in Beer Guzzling, I kept finding myself staying up late with my nose in some horror novel or another, unable to focus on the ‘serious literature’ I was being prescribed by my professors. Oh, if only they had been offering course titled ‘Ghosts, Pimps, Cops and Ho's: Genre Fiction in America’!

I read a lot – just not textbooks. I had no interest in college, and so I made myself a deal. I agreed to let myself fail, again. On one condition. I vowed to become a professional author. I would become real writer – even if it took a decade, twenty years, a lifetime. Because in writing, the only failure is to quit.
I filled journals, I penned sappy poems, I labored over a couple dozen short stories. I moved to New York. I worked lots of jobs. I wrote millions of words. I moved to Los Angeles. I got married. I wrote eight screenplays, including romantic comedies, neo-noir thrillers, and two sort-of-horror scripts.
I amassed some four hundred rejection letters and sold not a single story.
I was failing, again.
But why? What had I been doing wrong?
The answer is, I no longer loved writing. Working on screenplays, I had fallen into a creative coma. I wasn’t following my heart. I had always loved novels more than movies. I had always loved dark fantasy and thrillers and horror fiction more than romantic comedy and pretty much everything else I’d detoured to write.
So I wrote my first novel, a psychological horror-thriller called The Birthing House. It took three years, working seven days per week, nights and weekends when I was not working at (and commuting an hour each way to) my full-time job as a copywriter for Famous Footwear.
Two bestselling authors read early drafts and provided unsolicited quotes in support. I landed a passionate, gun-slinging agent named Scott Miller. He sold the novel almost exactly fifteen years after I made that promise to myself.
But why? Why now, and more to the point – if I had found that which moved me above all others when I was a teenager, why did I not begin my first horror novel until age thirty-two?

The quick answer is, I wasn't ready. I hadn't experienced anything worthy of a novel, and I didn't have the emotional stamina and discipline to spend three years writing one. But the other answer is probably the most-fitting answer: fear. I was afraid to attempt what my heroes did year-in and year-out, which is delve deep into themselves and write about what scared them most.
But here I must give credit to the house itself, because she played a role . . . and then some.
In 2003, my wife and I decided to leave the Big City life behind. While knocking around Wisconsin we discovered Mineral Point, a charming town of approximately three thousand souls, located some fifty miles southwest of Madison. Art galleries, historic buildings, and an honest-to-God Ben Franklin five-and-dime. Old trees and old houses, many of them Victorians at prices that, compared to Los Angeles, seemed astonishingly low. We toured a few of these charming homes, found one on a half-acre lot, with a small library on the second floor, and bought it (relative to Los Angeles) for a song.
Only after we had moved in did I realize that our lives had taken on the trajectory of the first hundred pages of a horror novel. You know how it goes – young couple moves from the city to a small town in rural America to start a new life, only to discover that their new neighbors are the offspring of a centuries-old satanic cult that’s just decided to bring back the annual tradition of roasting the new City Boy and His Purty Wife over the communal Halloween bonfire.
Alas, our new neighbors turned out to be some of the kindest and most genuine people we have ever known. But we did discover something odd about our new residence. Shortly after we finished unpacking, the former owners showed us a hundred-year-old, sepia-toned photo of a group of women standing on our porch. Dark dresses and pale countenances. Some were wearing aprons, others were wearing nurse caps. None were smiling. This did not appear to be a family gathering.
Our hundred-and-forty-year-old home was once a birthing house, we were told. A what? Yeah, a birthing house. You know. Doctor’s quarters. Midwives. Wet nurses. A birthing house. Neat, I guess. I forgot about the photo a week later.
So my wife and I began the first year in Wisconsin doing what you do to ‘start a new life’. Look for jobs, find the good restaurants, make new friends. We also began to talk about having children in ways we never had before. Neither of us were in a hurry, but I kept asking myself, what are we doing out here in the sticks, in a four-bedroom house? Besides enjoying a slower pace and the clean air? Did we come here to have children?
Time to quit dallying and write that novel. They say one should write the book one would love to read but can’t find in a bookstore. Well, I hadn’t read a good haunted house story in a long time. I mean the kind that grips your throat while you’re in it.
I also knew that I wanted to do something scary and full of sexual tension. I’d been reading a lot of Colin Harrison – Afterburn and The Havana Room are two of my very favorite novels, not least because of how deftly Harrison weaves sex and food and money and race and class and more sex into his characters’ lives, their motivations, and the larger dynamics of the urban noir. Because come on, isn’t that what drives us, so much of the time? Our appetites?

I certainly thought so. Because during those years of living in New York and Los Angeles, I experienced – and witnessed my friends engaged in – an almost constant tug-of-war with temptation. Jobs for more money. Drugs for more fun. New partners for more sex. New choices for a whole new lifestyle. It seemed as if everywhere I turned someone I knew was up to something your parents warned you to avoid. And for a short period it almost seemed . . . normal. At least until the hangover set in and your dreams, or your family, had gone up in smoke.

It was perhaps too easy to imagine taking the big job, experimenting with the next drug, and falling into some stranger’s bed. But if those alternative paths were easy to imagine, then so were the consequences. And no vision frightened me more than the prospect of losing my wife, my best friend, the woman I had been writing for all along. The pain I would inflict and the hell my life would become if I gave into that temptation, were so ugly and disturbing to contemplate that I never crossed the line.

Instead, I told myself to get back to work. I wrote about crossing the line.

Isn’t that what readers want from authors of the dark? Our gravest fears playing out on the page? The Shining is, after all, not only about a haunted hotel and a psychic little boy. It’s about alcoholism and the legacy of family violence. It’s about a boy who foresees his parents’ divorce, and worse, their approaching REDRUM. Cujo is not only about a rabid Saint Bernard. It’s about how the career demands that separate man and wife can lead to infidelity and become a rabid dog that kills your kids.

The human sex drive. It’s partly responsible for the continuation of the species, but it can, when left unchecked, also give birth to a monster. So here were my ingredients: a childless couple with a history of deceit, a house built for birth, and several ghosts of women past. Things going bump in the night, things going bump in the writer’s mind.

I felt the first contractions. Ready or not, something was about to be born. Then one night I had a real humdinger of a nightmare. One that did not end when I woke up. And I’m not making this part up, folks. Trust me.

In the nightmare I was with one of my ex-girlfriends and we were close to . . . becoming intimate, is the polite way of saying it. I was reaching out to her, this shadowy beauty from my past, but something was holding me back, forbidding me. In the dream I was aware that I was in a bed, and there was a great weight pressing down on my body, ethereal but strong, like a force field of smoke crushing me into the mattress.

Then my ex-girlfriend was gone and I began to wake up, sort of stranded between the dream and the part where you wake up screaming, and I could not see it – this force – but I sure as hell felt it, and then knew somehow that it wasn’t an ‘it’ at all, but a her.

The woman hovering over me was not my ex-girlfriend, and she was certainly not my wife, who lay sleeping soundly next to me. I was on my side facing my wife, almost flat on my stomach, so I could not look up or behind me to the side of the bed. But I felt a curtain of black hair tickling my shoulders as she leaned over the bed and whispered in my ear.

‘Stay . . . stay down.’

It was at that time I experienced a sublime terror. I woke all the way up and the pressure lifted. I rolled onto my back and pulled covers up and blinked into the pitch-blackness of our bedroom, trying to see her. To see if she was still in there with me. And then I remembered the sepia-toned photo of the women standing on the porch of our house a century ago.

Midwives, wet nurses, maids. Mothers gone astray.

And I thought, What if one of them is still here? What if she suffered a loss . . . and wants compensation?
So, after spending the rest of the night in a delirium of cold sweat, I had my novel. Well, not my novel. But I had what better writers than I have called the hard, unshakable center, that seed from which all else would spiral out.

One can never know, but I suspect that this may be the last time in my life I am handed the gift of a premise for a novel by way of a real estate transaction and a nightmare. Was it really the house that gave me the novel? Or one of the women? Go ahead and laugh, but I have wondered.
All I know for certain is that the birthing house and The Birthing House taught me to love writing again. Wherever I go from here, I hope I don’t have to move halfway across the country to find my next book. I’ve come to love this old girl, her warm hearth, her cozy little library. And since writing a novel inspired by her and the women who once ushered in new life under her roof, she lets me sleep soundly.

Most nights.


Author Website
The Birthing House Book Trailer
FT Review of The Birthing House

YOUNG ADULT REVIEW: The Undrowned Child - Michelle Lovic


It's the beginning of the 20th century; the age of scientific progress. But for Venice the future looks bleak. A conference of scientists assembles to address the problems, among whose delegates are the parents of twelve-year-old Teodora. Within days of her arrival, she is subsumed into the secret life of Venice: a world in which salty-tongued mermaids run subversive printing presses, ghosts good and bad patrol the streets and librarians turn fluidly into cats. A battle against forces determined to destroy the city once and for all quickly ensues. Only Teo, the undrowned child who survived a tragic accident as a baby, can go 'between the linings' to subvert evil and restore order.


If I was asked to sum up this novel in a short sentence it would be: “Perhaps the quirkiest young adult novel I’ve ever read.” That is by no means a bad thing. The sheer attention to detail is mind boggling and when you add to the bowl the urban fantasy elements and its something that you’re either going to love or hate. What did keep getting me was the timeline of the tale, I’d personally have preferred it had it been a modern telling rather than the setting of the past. Purely as I think that the protagonista speaks more to modern sensibilities over that of the time to which she inhabits.

Personally I had a lot of fun with this novel but I get the feeling that its going to be one that either you love or hate. I’ll definitely be watching out for more from Michelle in the future.

YOUNG ADULT REVIEW: Tender Morsels - Margo Lanagan


Liga endures unspeakable cruelties at the hands of her father, before being magically granted her own personal heaven, a safe haven from the real world. She raises her two daughters in this alternate reality, and they grow up protected from the violence that once harmed their mother. But the real world cannot be denied forever ...Magicked men and wild bears break down the borders of Liga's refuge. Now, having known Heaven, how will these three women survive in a world where beauty and brutality lie side by side?


For a teen book the content is pretty dark yet through the veil of the otherside it’s a story of empowerment that will inspire others. What Margo does extremely well is bring the characters to life within the book that will speak to many about the message of hope against the darkness of mankinds souls. Well written, inspirational and a tale that whilst I’d only pass on to the older end of the teen market due to content is definitely something that should be read by all.

Wednesday 19 August 2009

URBAN FANTASY REVIEW: Circle of Fire - Keri Arthur


Sixteen teenagers taken from their homes. Eleven bodies recovered, each completely drained of blood. Some believe vampires are responsible. Jon Barnett knows its something far worse, and while in Taurin Bay to stop the killers, he quickly becomes enmeshed in a web of black magic. He needs help but fate gives him only one choice.

Madeline Smith has retreated to an isolated farmhouse, afraid of the abilities she cannot control - abilities that have killed. But when a ‘ghost’ brings a warning of danger and her nephew goes missing, Maddie has to leave her haven and learn to control the abilities she fears.

As Maddie and Jon’s search for the teenagers becomes a race against time, the greatest danger to them both could be the feelings they refuse to acknowledge.


If we’re going for honesty here I haven’t read Keri’s work before but I was intrigued by the cover blurb. What transpired between the pages was what happens when a character really doesn’t want to get involved. Yes she had some supernatural ability but she isn’t a combat machine like so many of the Heroes/Heroines within the majority of Urban Fantasy novels. Its smarts that get her places and along with the characters insecurities its something that really will appeal to the reader as you can’t help but like Maddie. The tale is well written and with enough plot to keep you fascinated as well as twisting its way towards it conclusion. It’s a tale that has made me take notice of Keri and if the other novels in the series are half as good as this, I’ll become a firm fan of her work.

URBAN FANTASY REVIEW: Living with the Dead - Kelley Armstrong


Robyn Peltier has always lived a normal life. So when her boss is murdered and she is named prime suspect, she is way out of her depth. As the bodies pile up only her friend Hope, and Hope’s somewhat spooky boyfriend Karl, are on her side.

Hope, meanwhile, has a few secrets of her own. Namely that she is half-demon, and her ‘spooky’ boyfriend is actually a werewolf. Hope also knows that Robyn has accidentally stumbled into a bloody supernatural turf war. And the only way she can keep her friend alive is by letting her enter a world she’s safer knowing nothing about . . .


As a long standing fan of Kelley's work I always love it when a new book lands. For this reason I tend to get to it fairly quick. Yet to be honest after the wonder of Personal Demon I felt that this one was a little half hearted. Why?

Well for a book we followed a "normal" human about and it really did feel like it dragged, the suspense for me was missing, the principle protagonist uninteresting and whilst the cast from the previous novel made an appearance it really didn't do enough to save the book. Especially when there’s a precog that takes a lot of the mystery and hunting skills out of the equation. Its a great shame to be honest and I just hope that with two other series on the go that Kelley isn't taking up too much of her time and limiting how long she has for each project to their detriment.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

SCIENCE-FICTION REVIEW: Wireless - Charles Stoss


It has been said that the natural state of science fiction is the short story. If that is so, you won't find a better exploration of that state than Charles Stross's new collection. Centred around an original and previously unpublished novella, 'Palimpsest', WIRELESS is a showcase of some of the best short SF of the 21st century. With an introduction from the author and containing hitherto uncollected works such as 'Missile Gap', 'Trunk and Disorderly' and 'Rogue Farm', and some gems previously available only in small press publications, such as 'A Colder War' and 'Antibodies', WIRELESS will illustrate perfectly why award-winning editor and anthologist, Gardner Dozois, once declared: 'Where Charles Stross goes today, the rest of science fiction will follow tomorrow.'


A selection of a number of Stoss’ best short stories written over a number of years allowing you to see why this author has become a firm fan favourite over the years. Thought of as some as the Morrissey of Sci-Fi (well lets face it a lot of his tales are pretty depressing,) you can’t help but appreciate the pure genius of his writing within each tale. Even the collaborations of the tales within have his fingerprints all over and demonstrate how he not only honed his skill but brought fans back to the Hard Sci-Fi fold as he re-energised it with this offering. Classic offering and something that has easy bite sized chunks for those short breaks or even long journeys. A great offering.

SCIENCE-FICTION REVIEW: Saturn's Children - Charles Stoss


Freya Nakamachi-47 has some major existential issues. She's the perfect concubine, designed to please her human masters - hardwired to become aroused at the mere sight of a human male. There's just one problem: she came off the production line a year after the human species went extinct. Whatever else she may be, Freya Nakamachi-47 is gloriously obsolete. What's more, the rigid social hierarchy that has risen in the 200 years since the last human died, places beings such as Freya very near the bottom. So when she has a run-in on Venus with a murderous aristocrat, she needs passage off-world in a hurry - and can't be too fussy about how she pays her way. But if Venus was a frying pan, Mercury is the fire - and soon she's going to be running for her life. Because the job she's taken as a courier has drawn her to the attention of powerful and dangerous people, and they don't just want the package she's carrying. They want her soul ...


To be honest not the best work ever released by Charles. Unfortunately, it seems to try to explore way too many themes without delivering on many of the promises within, sadly letting the reader down as it appears to be more a book that’s either expected to sell by the authors name or just to hit deadline so that the author gets paid.

A great shame to be honest as this sort of novel is something to which Charles normally excels. The characters are confusing, the plot convoluted and seems to borrow heavily from books and films of the last thirty years bringing nothing new to the fore. It really will make me question my placing of this authors books in my TBR list and he’ll have to do something special in his next book to make up for this offering.

Monday 17 August 2009

INTERVIEW: Alan Campbell

After studing Computer Science at Edinburgh University, Alan went on to work for a number of well known game companys from DMA Design to Visual Sciences and finally onto Rockstar where he developed numerous games for the mass consumer (including Grand Theft Auto), leaving after finishing ViCe City in order to persue a career in photography and writing. Now with his third book in the Deepgate Codex released (much to the clamour of his fans) we thought it was about time that we caught up with him to see how he'd sell his work, how he copes with a fake beard and finally on to his idea of bliss...

Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?

Alan Campbell: To say writing is an affliction sounds vaguely pretentious to me, and a bit arrogant. When someone says that, what they're really saying is "I am prepared to suffer to get my art out there" which implies that they have rather a high opinion of their work. Sure, writing can be difficult and stressful, and it's hard work, but at the end of the day you're sitting down in a comfy room, typing away at a keyboard. It's hardly coal mining.

FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?

Ever since I was a kid. At school I wrote this story called "Mission Impossible" (thinking it was a cool title and my English teacher would never know I'd nicked it) about a secret agent trying to infiltrate an enemy base. It was crap, but I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment after I'd finished it. Then I wrote a story for my English O Level preliminary about some friends who went camping and tried to kill a stag, but Miss Porteous, who marked it, gave it 9% because she said it was about real events and therefore wasn't fiction. I remember getting really riled because I'd made the story up. And maybe I've been trying to make up for it since then. She probably did me a huge favour.

I'm sure everyone who enjoys reading, will want to write eventually. It's all about getting your head down and doing it.

FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?

Well, I can write a short story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, but I can't write decent poetry. My brain isn't wired that way.

FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?

I would hang around the SFF shelves, pretending to be a customer. When someone came up I'd say, "Have you read this? It's brilliant." And they'd say, "Why are you wearing a false beard?" And then they'd complain to the shop assistants and I'd have to make a quick exit. That's what normally happens, anyway.

FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?

Have you read this? It's brilliant. What? No, this is a real beard, honest.

FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?

Cormac McCarthy and M John Harrison.

FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?

I have an idea in my head, but the story normally veers away to places I didn't expect. I keep a mental profile of each character, but I dislike dumping lists of character information on the reader. I don't particularly want to know which school they went to and for how long, and that they have two aunts and three cousins in Swindon and so on. I prefer getting to know characters gradually, by the way they behave.

FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?

To relax I like to get out into the wilds, away from television, computers and especially mobile phones. I'm lucky because I live in Scotland – I can head north, pitch my tent beside a loch, and sit back with a beer. Bliss.

Recently I've been reading a lot of vampire fiction – Anne Rice, Poppy Z Brite, and Tanith Lee.

FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

Britain's Got Talent.

FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)

I don't have a pet, but my partner's parents have a collie named Tess, who is an absolute joy. She's very gentle and extremely clever. And she knows everyone's name. You can tell her to go and play with such-and-such, and she'll grab a toy and go bouncing over to that person. Currently my friend's eighteen month old daughter is trying to teach the dog how to speak, so we'll see how that goes.

FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?

In this book I think Carnival was the most fun to write. I just like writing about bad-ass demigods.

FT: How similar to your principle protagonist are you?

Rachel is the protagonist in this story. She's the sensible, resourceful one, so we're not very similar.

FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?

I like snowboarding and motorbikes, but I haven't yet figured out a way to get them into a fantasy novel. Actually, I always say snowboarding and motorbikes, but the truth is I haven't had time to muck about on either for ages. The board is rusting under my bed and the bike is rusting in the garage. I like to play poker too.

FT: Where do you get your idea's from?

I'm going to quote Neil Gaiman here, because he nailed the truth of it. "I make them up in my head."

FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?

Sometimes. I generally get round it by doing this:

Stare at the screen.

Stare at the screen some more.

Do something else.

Come back and stare at the screen again.

Think, oh my god, what am I going to do? If I don't get this done I'll miss my deadline and then how am I going to pay the mortgage?

Start writing.

FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?

I do work late into the night sometimes, and of course my partner would get annoyed if I woke her up at 5am. When that happens I crash in the spare room.

FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?

Silence for me. But I listen to music in the car, when I'm thinking.

FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?

I didn't have any conceptions at all. I went into the industry like a startled rabbit.

FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?

Writing is setting down words for other people to read. Not as poetic as Shakespeare, I admit, but it's true (banal, but true). I suppose writing a book is just trying to mess with the reader's mind in a deliberate way. So it's like making drugs for the publishers to peddle.

FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?

It's the first of a planned trilogy, set in a Deepgate-related world. There will be monsters, magic, war, violence, sex, love, betrayal, adventure, and so on. Some fishing in there too, for all you angling fans out there.

FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?

BBC News. (Michael Jackson has just died!)
Google. (I googled "Falcata Times")
The Falcata Times website.

FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.

I read a lot of books on the subject: "The Elements of Style," by Strunk and White; "Stein on Writing," by Sol Stein; "On Writing,"by Stephen King, among others. And I joined a writers' group, which was a huge help.

FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?

Criticism from other writers can be extremely helpful at the writing stage. But once a book is finished, I don't read reviews. I can be woefully lacking in self confidence about my work. If someone doesn't like something I've written, there's a danger I'll try to change direction in the next book. And if I do that, you can bet I'll get umpteen complaints from the people who liked the original work. We're all different. The worst thing to do would be to try to please everyone. If you put a thousand different shades of paint on display and asked people to critique each of them, you'd have a millions of different, and equally valid, critiques. But if you then combined all the, er, paint, you'd have something that looks a bit like mud. I suppose. Does that make any sense? Sorry, I thought that answer was going to be a lot more profound than it actually was.

FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?

Best: You can work anywhere at any time.

Worst: Someone, somewhere hates you.