2019: My Year-in-Review

So, 2020. The year of boosted reflexes and black trenchcoats and mirror shades. In the early 90s, 2020 was the year of our own Dark Future – in our heads, we’d be street samurai, and we’d kick some serious booty.

Guess I hadn’t twigged that I’d be in my fifties (seriously, how the hell did that happen?), juggling a teenager and a writing schedule and a job that’s taken me to some weird and wonderful places. And I certainly hadn’t realised that I’d have given my black leather longcoat to my son.

But, as we cross into the future, 2019 has been a good year. Work has been amazing – securing the Dark Crystal puppets in the store windows was a personal highlight, plus meeting a wonderful assortment of celebrities, including James Murray, David Harbour, and Kevin Smith. Isaac got meet Dan Nerd Cubed and Ashens, and we were both bowled over by the presence of the wonderful Tom Baker.

I’ve made a point of finding time to read, taking a journey through some of my teen favourites and find that some of them really held up to the intervening years – reading them as an adult opened out whole new depths and facets that I’d never seen before – and some of them, sadly, didn’t. But hey, I guess that’s all a part of bring fifty and not fifteen.

I set myself the target of walking 5000km, and am coming in at just under the intended total. I’ve been veggie all year, and developed a taste for (who am I and what did I do with me?) green tea. I’ve cut out the booze almost entirely, and likewise cut right back on white flour carbs – bread and pasta.

I’ve fulfilled a bucket list ambition and gone to see the Bard at the Globe, plus done a round of conventions and exhibitions and presentations – including delivering my first actual proper talk at Edge-Lit, which was a tough call, but successful.

Honestly, isn’t getting old wonderful.

Seriously, though, the worst – and the best – thing about this year has been my age. No, really. I’ve been batting the menopausal brain-fog, and and off, for the last three (?) years – parts of Artifice took me months to get right because I just couldn’t think clearly, and some of my Augusta content has been the same. When I have so little writing time anyway, it’s incredibly frustrating when I do get a moment, and my head is full of porridge.

But – fabjous day! – it seems to finally be clearing. Not sure if it’s the diet, or the tumeric supplements, or I’ve just come out the other side, but I’m finally feeling like myself again, and I’d honestly forgotten what it was like. I wrote two 5k stories in three weeks flat and than sat back blinking, wondering where the hell all that wordcount had come from. I’m still slightly reluctant to trust my own clarity – like I’ll wake up one morning and it will all have gone again – but hey, if my head stays clear for 2020, I have LOTS that I want to do.

With or without boosted reflexes!

Black Library Weekender

Very happy to be going back to the Black Library Weekender, this weekend!

Had a fantastic time last year, met lots of wonderful people, and had the opportunity to see the BL authors I usually see at FP… all in their natural element. Which was a whole new perspective…!

This year, I’ll be there from Saturday early evening, so please do come and find me (probably in the bar). Or you can come and throw things at me on the Sunday, where I’ll be talking about my newest Sisters of Battle novella, Wreck and Ruin, and then signing from 12:30.

Wreck and Ruin will be available at the Weekender as part of the BL’s second novella series – plus there’s more Sisters goodness in the Event anthology. And you can always find more tales of Augusta and her intrepid squad on the Black Library website!

Cover Art by Nemanja Stankovic

Look forward to seeing you there!

MCM – and Doing It Before It Was Cool

So – MCM.

Fun, hectic, rammed with more people and costumes that I’ve ever seen and always a great opportunity to catch up with the lovely people from across the greater industries of geekdom – books, comics, toys, the whole kittencaboodle.

During the weekend, though, one of my work-mates commented, ‘Why didn’t we have stuff like this when we were young?’ He’s of similar age to me, and he completely understands that we grew up in a time when being a geek was something to be hidden. If you liked comics, or science fiction, or fantasy, or gaming, or wargaming, of dressing up, it was something to which you didn’t admit (only to your circle of geeky mates). Hell, my own mother was ashamed of my loves and hobbies. 

But we were geeks, and unashamedly so. I used to do cosplay, such as it was at the time – I still own the ubiquitous thighboots, and the chainmail bikini that my friend made for me (though I would NOT wear it in public now!). I’ve been to Cons in ludicrous dress-up, and before such things were cool, before anime brought us credibility and bright wigs and fabulous, outrageous weaponry. 

We were the generation that played dungeons and dragons before it arrived on our computer screens, before your humble adventuring party was celebrated by vlog and podcast and graphic novel. We did LARP and re-enactment before such things were ever popular – and long before Kathryn Winnick ever donned mascara, and kicked some serious booty. 

Don’t get me wrong – in some ways I’m glad there’s so little record of the fun we had (cough!), and I’m over the moon that it’s acceptable today, that the geekcred of such things is as massive as it’s become – the acceptance and the reassurance and the sheer celebration of this huge community.

Watching the Watchwomen

But in others, I feel we almost missed out. 

When is a Review not a Review?

Over on Twitter for the last week or so, there’s been a lot of talk about reviews. Good ones, bad ones, funny ones, ones that may or may not be justified.

Now, the general consensus goes that an author must never respond to a bad review. They’re a fact of life (whatever kind of creative you are, if you put your stuff out there, someone is going to hate it), and you’ve just got to deal with them. We don’t all like the same stuff, get over it, etc.

You so know there’s a ‘but’ coming.

These days, fan entitlement has become a Thing – we’ve all seen it. And it’s aimed at everything, from the biggest blockbuster movies all the way down to us humble mortals. If the offered creative doesn’t match exactly the individual’s politics, or headcanon, or expectations, then the kickback can be scathing and horrifically vindictive.

And there’s a fine line between a review and an attack.

You may not like an author’s book, or politics, or style, or swearwords, or their use of a pronoun with which you don’t agree. You may think their work is so godawful that it had no right to be published at all. You may read scenes that are not to your liking, or that create an adverse emotional reaction. These things are your right and prerogative. You’re perfectly entitled to hate a book, to give it a bad review and one star – that’s all fine.

But you DON’T verbally assault, judge and bully someone because of it. You don’t call their personality, their professionalism, their integrity, their sexuality, or anything else, into question because of it. Please, remember, whether you liked the book or not, a great deal of effort went into its creation – author, agent, editors, cover artists, publicists. Please, remember that an author is not necessarily what they write – we’re actors, we present characters on paper, facets of humanity (and otherwise) that may not be ourselves. Please, remember that we are people too…

A personal attack is a personal attack.

It is not a review.

Mental Health and Writing

Some thoughts, following on from World Mental Health Day, and from a conversation that sparked up, quite spontaneously, with a fellow author a few weeks ago…

Children of Artifice was written over one of the worst times of my life. I was struggling to sell my house, and having a nightmare with the associated paperwork. I was unsure where Isaac and I were going to go, and had (quite genuinely) no idea if we have enough money to actually put a roof over our heads, or whether we would have to resort to Social housing (what there is left of it), or leave London completely. At the same time, I was dealing with the long illness and then the death of my Mother, and then with another horrific mess of tangled paperwork.

At times, the whole thing felt like some bloody Quest – and I looked forwards to the day I defeated the Final Boss, and could be in my very own kitchen, safe and free from worry.

That day finally happened three years ago, but the journey really threw something into the light.

Artifice – Caph and Proteus and their unfolding – kept me sane. It was where I went to escape, to pull the covers of another reality over my head, and to escape the darkness of the world around me. Much of my relationship with my Mother, and how I felt about her death, poured itself into the book – I think it’s one of the reasons why it’s as emotional, and as intense, as it is. And when it was done, I was absolutely drained – my tanks were empty and I had no creativity left.

But it was there for me. All the way through.

And Ecko – particularly the first two books – were very much the same thing. Ecko’s savagery and rage were a reflection of the helplessness I was feeling at the time, and how angry it made me. It was an outlet, a release – not only the place I could bury my head and leave everything else behind, but it was hugely cathartic and I can’t describe how much it helped.

It’s not just about being an author. You may be an artist, or an actor. You may pour yourself into your crafting, or your music. And it doesn’t matter if you make the thing for yourself, for your friends, or for a worldwide audience – it’s still your panacea. Whatever that chosen form of expression, it’s the release valve we all need – the thing that will be there for us, that can take all of the darkness that we loose into it, and turn it into something miraculous.

When it comes to your art, it’s good to let the madness loose.

And that’s pretty cool!

Buffy Watch-With-Teen

You may already know that we’ve been watching Buffy/Angel, from the beginning. It took me some persuasion to get my son to start, but after the first episode, he was hooked. Yay, Geek Mom validation!

But it’s thrown up a curious thought.

Both series have dated really well. The special effects are very much of their time, of course, and Isaac’s been vastly amused by Willow’s computer equipment and skills, and by the absence of cellphones – all the technology that he grew up with and takes for granted, and that my generation remembers being without. But the characters and their roles, how they interact and fit together – outcasts and bullies, principals and princesses, social awkwardness and crushes and family tensions – they’re absolutely timeless, and they haven’t changed.

The thing that struck me, though, was his impatience. In any episode, he would keep asking me, ‘why’s that there, why does this happen, that doesn’t make sense’. And I would keep telling him: watch the story. Trust the narrative, relax into it and let it lead you. No writer – be they novel, script, comic – puts down a thread without picking it up again, it’s all part of the weave, and it’s all there for a reason.

Maybe it’s a generational thing – a good narrative is about creating tension, about building questions and answering them, and about finally making all those threads come together at the end. And, as our technology has changed, then so has our expectation – my son’s fifteen and perhaps he’s just so used to instant gratification that he feels adrift when its not there.

Rewatching them, though, has been magical – and seeing them through new eyes was like rediscovering all my favourite characters all over again. Isaac liked Spike (and will be attending MCM in suitable cosplay), and Faith; for me, it’s always been Wesley, as his character arc is just so fabulously extreme. It’s a tough call, though – as they’re all so good. Still!

On Gatekeepers

As you may have seen on Twitter this week, some of our stores are putting in a display of genuine Dark Crystal puppets, straight from Thra and from the BFI. And, having taken Isaac to see the BFI display over the summer holidays and been suitably struck with wonder and magic, it got me thinking… 

Skeksis Banquet, BFI

The Dark Crystal was one of those movies that introduced me to everything I loved. I was still in my teens, and I fell head over heels, transfixed by its beauty and by the sheer skill and artistry that had gone into putting it together. Thirty (cough) years later, being able to interact with it for real, and help to bring it to others… it’s everything I could ever have dreamed of doing.

On Twitter, @jaygooby then commented that he knew of many people in film and sfx who’d been introduced to their careers because of their love of the movie.

And so, I was thinking about gatekeepers.

Baffi the Fizzgig

What starts you on the path of loving genre? Which images, books, comics, films, characters, experiences opened that door for the first time? Maybe it was Discworld, or Harry Potter. Maybe it was Terminator, or The Matrix. When I was ten, my cousin lent me The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, (and I spent a whole summer lost in the sodding maze). And I know so many men and women, who not only loved the book as kids, but who are now introducing their own kids, in turn, to the same experience. 

Whatever those keys may be, they remain special. And much as some part of me is exasperated by the constant remakes that plague our every news outlet, somewhere, there’s still that teen who sat in the cinema – and who shivered when the urRu lifted their chant. 

Friday Night FireFight

King’s Drive, Eastbourne, 1991. My brother-from-another-mother Alan had been playing this new ‘CyberPunk’ game with his local mates. And, in as much as any GM has a single system in which they feel at home, a world and a set of rules that suit them, then this was his system. And, even then, it already had a huge backstory – elite characters, lists of guns and cybernetics and crime families that were not out of the books. I was 22 when I statted my first character – a dark-skinned, heavy-duty, ex-military sergeant-type solo, totally and shamlessly based on Apone, and (very creatively) called ‘Panther’.

CyberPunk 2020

And from there, everything spiralled.

That CyberPunk campaign has spanned three counties, some thirty (?) players (not all at the same time), and it still goes (I believe) to this day. It’s been one world, one storyline, one massive META-gaming brainstorm that we’ve all shared, and that’s been overturned, like an anthill, every so often, to give it a new lease of life. I played for ten years before my responsibilities caught me, and some part of me still misses it – though it inevitably veered towards too much intensity, at times.

I guess it was why I wrote Ecko. 

Here’s Johnny….

Seriously, though – CyberPunk 2077. This is my youthful aphantsia come to life, all the images given form, and movement, and a backdrop of neon. It’s our past, our creativity, realised in another format. It’s all the characters we drew, all the lists we made up. It’s all the movies we all loved. It’s all those core texts that we had to read – Altered Carbon and Snow Crash and Neuromancer.  

It’s been almost thirty years since Panther first took to the streets of Night City, almost twenty since I played the game myself. 

But I’m really looking forward to seeing what it’s become. 

Legends 3 for The David Gemmell Award


Very pleased to be a part of this one!

As the company has been working through it archives, many pictures of fascinating old events have come to the surface – among them, signings with David Gemmell. And while I was never fortunate enough to meet him, he always cuts a very striking figure.

I do remember reading Legend, though – as a teenager, long before I joined the Vike. And it’s a huge read, powerful and vibrant and full of the songs of war.

And – thanks, Ian! – very proud to be a part of this anthology.

Full line up: –

Introduction by Stan Nicholls
Blood Debt – Gail Z. Martin
A God’s Mercy – Richard Webb
Berserker Captain – Neal Asher
The Price of Passage – Keris McDonald
Summoner – Danie Ware
Pelicos the Brave and the Princess of Kalakhadze
The Timekeeper’s Tarot – Den Patrick
Her Grail – Ben North
Piercing the Mist – Shona Kinsella
Chosen of the Slain – K. T. Davies
The Dying Land – Nick Watkinson
A Hero of her People – Anna Smith Spark

Cover Art by Dominic Harman

More details on the Newcon Press website, or available on Kindle from Amazon!

Award Post – You Know How This Works!

Children of Artifice is about falling in love with someone you shouldn’t.


It’s about identity, and finding out who you are, and knowing who you want to be.

It’s about harsh parents, and their expectations. It’s about facing your family’s judgements, and winning.

It’s about being man, and facing an abusive relationship. It’s about being devoid of emotion, yet falling in love anyway.


It’s raw, and molten, and sensual. It’s an urban fantasy, a fairy tale, a metallurgical, magical love story.

It’s also between two young men – but that kind of wasn’t the point.

And it’s eligible for a Hugo.

Go on, you know you want to… —