The Beast of Times – The Year in Review

It was the beast of times, it was the worst of times. It was timeless, yet it’s gone on forever. How do you describe 2020?

Ernie’s Beach, the South Bank

Walking out of the FP office for the last time, laptop under my arm so I could work from home, waving breezily at my colleagues as we all thought this would be over in a couple of weeks… walking the empty South Bank and then across a silent Victoria station with the virus warning echoing from the tannoy. 2020, suitably enough, was the year our dystopian future finally broke through from fiction, and manifest as full reality.

The Dark Future

I confess, though: at the beginning, I was enjoying it. My life was utterly hectic – working commuting, writing, raising a teen – and the sudden slowing of pace let me see how tired I really was, gave me space to expand and think. The creatives of Twitter rallied round to make stuff up and share it out; we all shaved our heads and became bakers overnight. We clapped the NHS, meaning every strike of it, admiring those key workers who put their lives on the front line.

Pixie

But the year congealed. The monochrome fingers of ‘come down’ began to keep in.The FP van came to get the laptop; the dread and isolation began to grow. The clapping became empty, farcial in the face of Government hypocrisy and incompetence; I lost my job, and crashed and burned.

Handiwork Office, photo by Jon Hodgson

Against a backdrop of increasing darkness, though, I’ve been fortunate. With huge thanks to Andrew Girdwood, and to Jon at the team at Handiwork, I had another job within a week (and counted my blessings, seriously). I’ve written more wordcount in a single year, this year, than I’ve done… well, probably since I finished Ecko Burning and that must be eight or nine years ago. And I’ve just finished the longest single MS I’ve written since I completed Artifice in 2016.

Funny – FP, the store, South Bank… now, they seem like another world.

Sophie Aldred

I’ve ended the year with (what looks like) a physical injury that’s making focusing difficult – but still counting my blessings, y’know? However we’ve got through this, whatever we achieved – even if it’s only to keep our heads down and reach the year’s end it’s enough. And to all those who have been on the front lines, who have lost family, or struggled through the disease themselves, or who’s been plagued by the dog (you know the one), my heart goes out to you.

Books – Sanity in a Crazy World

I’d wish everyone a better 2021, but I fear the darkness is going to get worse before it gets better. So spoil yourselves, love those close, appreciate the good things, take escapism where you can, and remember to look round at beauty. And cuddle your pets, because now more than ever, it’s the little things that matter. 

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The Rose In Anger

The Rose In Anger

Been a couple of people asking, so…

The Rose in Anger is the third part of the Sister Augusta story, following on from The Bloodied Rose and Wreck and Ruin. (You can probably count Mercy as the prologue).

Every time I’ve written an Augusta story, I’ve tried to make it different – a different context, or different bad guys, or a different mission parameter and brief. And this one sees the mini-trilogy ending with our trusty Sisters rolling out the Rhinos and fucking shit up.

It was an interesting thing to write, and probably the hardest of the three (learned a LOT about tanks); having been in both the Cadets and TA, squad-level military tactics are something I know very well, but this was a whole new experience.

I am rather fond of the Big Nasty, though – it might well be my favourite Boss of the lot.

Novella Series Three

Find the full run of novellas on the Black Library website, and, while I’m very sorry there will be no Weekender this year for the series to be loosed properly into the wild, I hope you enjoy the read, come November!

🌹

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New Beginnings

One dice fumbles, another rolls a hit…

And this dice brings me a brand new marketing position at Handiwork Games, a company offering a gleeful assortment of tabletop goodies, including games, mats, maps, cards, dice and dragons. The last one not literally.

Beowulf, Age of Heroes

It’s step away from FP, honing my focus to a much more specialist product range. And Handiwork’s stuff is gorgeous, giving me the chance to flex my marketing and social media muscles for something really pretty, and in an arena I know well. Seriously, this is the true heart of my personal geek journey, the place where I grew up – from my Uni days in the Eighties, all the way through those long, long years of CyberPunk and D&D, then White Wolf, right the way up to our current #ChickenCormyr campaign…

Jon Hodgson Map Tiles

With thanks to Andrew Girdwood of GeekNative and Handiwork’s Jon Hodgson for the opportunity, I’m looking forward to new horizons!

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Redundant

As you may have seen, after seventeen years at Forbidden Planet, the company has made me redundant.

It’s completely knocked the wind out of me, bowled me absolutely flat. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been done by the book – they’ve been two weeks considering my position, my length of service, my marketing skill base and all of the things – but, at the end of the day, my role no longer exists. So there we are.

It could be one hell of a lot worse – I have a solid redundancy package and no need to immediately panic – but seventeen years is one HELL of a long time. After that long, as some of you have already commented, it isn’t ‘just a job’ any more. I was there at the launch of the London Megastore, and of forbiddenplanet.com. I built the company’s social media Identity from the ground up (though the Insta-genius, isn’t me, sadly!). I’ve run the company blog and its client advertising locations. And I’ve set up and run hundreds, probably thousands, of store events. Big ones, little ones, group ones, solo ones, authors, artists, creators, directors, celebrities, personalities, film crews… it’s all been one hell of a ride. And even those events that I didn’t or couldn’t attend, I was always there in the wings, making them happen.

When you’re a single parent, you don’t get much of a social life. And those events, plus the dozens of conventions where you’ve seen me at the FP stall… they’ve always made up for that. They’ve been my outlet, my family, my community. And giving that up, I think will be the single hardest thing about all of this.

And my son – he’s known the company since before he was born. When he was a four-month bump, he attended a signing with Pegg and Frost, who were trying to make name my unborn child ‘Simon Nick’ or ‘Nick Simon’. He’s met his greatest YouTube and Doctor Who heroes, got to share MCM and all the big stuff… He’s absolutely devastated, bless him.

Now, there are advantages, obviously. Not commuting anymore is going to be a huge relief – trying to endlessly spin the plates of job and events and commute and child and school and publishers’ deadlines has all been incredibly stressful. (I hadn’t realised quite how much until lockdown started). I’m looking forward to getting some serious writing done (though I will have to find other work, obviously), and to not being so utterly frantic.

But – and forgive the marketing speak – I’ve been Brand champion for FP for a very long time. It’s a company that represents everything I’ve been passionate about, all my life. Being there to watching it grow, to watch it crest and ride that huge wave that’s brought geekdom into the mainstream, being a part of that wave… that’s been amazing.

I know this isn’t their fault. It’s only Covid, and it’s only numbers, and my redundancy is fair, and they’ve been nothing but supportive through the whole process…

But right now, I feel kinda lost.

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Voice Twitter – First Impressions

Oh I like this, I like this a LOT.

So much potential for impact, reach out, promotional opportunities, and to really get back to the real fun, personal stuff that Twitter was about in the beginning. For writers and publicists, this is flash-marketing in a nutshell, brilliant.

So: Tweets are 140 seconds (any longer, and Twitter will thread your content), which allows you to read 120 – 150 words aloud. As yet, as pointed out by Adam Christopher, it’s not close-captioned, but you can write the actual Tweet before you send the audio-file, which gives you the chance to explain, tag, hashtag, your content – even if you won’t have space to put an entire reading (just for example). Your Tweets’ attached pictures will just be your avatar, against a suitably-toned plain background. You can also see that the avatar has a movable surround which indicates the audio file.

Trying a reading aloud – it’s actually got more space than you think it has. And, from a user rather than a techie PoV, it’s wonderfully simple and clear – just tap the icon at the bottom left-hand corner of your iPhone screen. (Only on iOS atm, sadly, but we can hope…).

Tweet Example

For author/creator events, this has massive potential for flash readings and/or mini-interviews – it’s the literary equivalent of the ‘hi-speed comics sketch’ that I’ve posted so many times. Very good for creators of words, rather than creators of images, to sample their own work to their fans!

Celebrity events are a bit trickier, because you have to play them by ear and you may or may not have the time – but again, this has so much potential. The idea of some of our celebrity guests delivering classic movie one-liners is just too cool for words.

The best thing, though: this really feels like a return to the earliest days of Twitter when things were still fun. When it was all about experimentation and discovery, and not suffocated by too much formality, or by too many trolls or grandstanders – yeah, you know what I mean.

Well done, Twitter, looking forward to using this in the field!

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The Benefits of Character Generation

There’s always talk about how much role-playing affects writing and creation – world-building, storylines, motivations, whathaveyou. And it’s pretty-much a given that any RPG background is a fantastic way to learn how to (convincingly) create, visualise and share the things that live in your head.

And nothing more strongly than character development.

Fairly obviously, there are a multitude of systems that all handle this differently. Your basic D&D (‘fessing here that I’ve only ever played up to third edition), offers you feats and abilities, a selection of (weapons) skills that allow you to frame your character in slightly more detail than just their ‘to hit’ roll and/or how difficult it is to listen at a door. I love D&D, always have, but its characters can be quite flat – and there are many more ways to add dimensions to your favourite kobold-masher. 

D&D shows you only what they can do, not really who they are – they leave that very much up to you.

CyberPunk brings us the lifepath generator, now online for CyberPunk 2077. It’s adaptable to any system – or any fiction – and it’s a wonderful way to flesh out those past years, not only with skills, but with possibilities. Contacts, enemies and lovers gain names and backgrounds and gangs and grudges; they spawn scenarios in their own right. And they add depth and timbre to a character, and to their surroundings, that’ll come in handy over and over again. Generated contacts can also gain gravitas in their own right – those enemies or lovers can keep cropping up. If you cross-reference the lifepath with the much-beloved random encounter table, you can have hours of gaming fun.

A step beyond that, we find World of Darkness – Vampire, Werewolf, Kindred of the East, etc. And if you then fold in the basic ‘archetype’ concepts of Nature and Demeanour, and have a look at the Merits and Flaws list, you can add a good ol’ sprinkling of needs, weaknesses and distinctive traits that extend the character still further.

Going back to the D&D, WoD shows you who they are, as well as what they can do.

Any which way, character creation is a wonderful thing, and adding layers like these can bring us right out beyond ourselves (and beyond our favourite tropes!) and really make things striking. It can help us past blocks, give us chunks of history, or let us know how a character would react in any given situation. I’ve spent my morning rolling two lifepaths for the two central characters of the current WIP, finding out what they’ve been up to in the 25 years since the ending of the previous story. And, not only has it thrown up some fascinating results, it has helped me build the history of the setting and the intervening narrative.

One final word – about names. (I’m very fond of saying how Ecko (originally called Oxy) had to have a new name when I started Rising for real and how Caph kept his shortened family name as a nod to his essentially ‘public school’ background). We know that names are critical for our characters, but you can create a whole NPC from just the right name. So, all those lifepath contacts – name them. Look something up, give them a label. Call them ‘Gravel’ or ‘Lavish’ or ‘Dances-in Moonlight’ or ‘Vomit-Face Rick’ or something with an apostrophe. Whatever you chose to name them, it immediately brings them to life.

If you like, you can pick something from here – hands-down the single best N/PC name generator I’ve ever found.

But whatever you do – enjoy it!

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An Admission…

Prior to lockdown, I was in panic mode, first thing every morning, because I had half-an-hour FLAT do my daily wordcount. Only 500 words, but I barely had time to even read it through. I (literally) had to sit down and plug myself straight back in.

When I came to sort out the edit, it was a bit of a mess. (I’d actually managed to write the same scene in two different places in the book – work that one out!)

Fortunately, I’ve had the time to sort it and was happy with it when I sent it in. Booyah.

When lockdown started, I was over the moon with all the time – I would be able to write all of the things that I wanted to write, and not have to panic…

But, of course, it’s not worked out that way.

Too much time, I’ve discovered, is much of a problem as too little. Yes, I can still write 2,500 words a day, with a full head of steam… but I have space to let in the doubts. When I have time to sprawl, I’m forever second guessing things, unpicking things, undermining my own plotlines, going back to earlier scenes in the MS because something else will work better, and then rewriting everything… honestly, I’ve been driving myself up the wall.

And (ironically) producing less total wordcount that I did on half an hour every morning.

I’ve also been hopping from project to project, which is crazy, and really hasn’t helped.

So, I’m having to bite some bullets, make some admissions. Schedules and structures really matter. Daily wordcount having to be a Thing, after all. Annoyingly, it’s not something I’ve ever previously believed in because, in a former life, I’ve ended up writing any old thing to just make the target…

Previous post: http://danieware.com/3148/is-wordcount-bullshit/

But, in the long run, it works!

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Book Marketing and the Lockdown – How Things Can Change

Yesterday, an article in the Observer talked about lockdown heralding a brand new start for the book trade. It tells us a great deal about stats and sales, and is very informative, as one would expect. But it got me thinking about events, about other marketing incentives, and about how books can learn from other disciplines.

In the of the virus and the lockdown, the landscape for book sales is shifting – we know this. Bookstores will need social distancing measures, festivals are unlikely to happen, and your basic signing event will need to change.

In part, this is always an organic process. The days of author-and-pen have been fading steadily for some time, replaced instead by panels and talks. More authors at a single event means more fans, more cross-pollination, more sales. People come to see one author and discover two more (the maths are pretty simple), and everybody wins. Obviously, there are still creators who sign and tour alone, but the rest of us mere mortals are better with wing-people.

And with the current climate, it’s inevitable this will change again. Without events, bookstore websites need to become the destination. Smaller and/or debut authors will be promoted more online – which means less expense and less stress for publicists. The ‘blog tour’ concept is already opening its arms to virtual conventions, and that means more authors, more placements, more content, and more reach out. Zoom panels are a thing, and bookshops or bloggers or both can host these – the possibilities are as wide as your imagination.

But we also know that this climate is difficult for smaller bookshops, and we’ve seen how they’re banding together to fight back against the Amazonian juggernaut. But – and hear me out – what if this cross-pollination can be taken a step further?

In my job, I overlap several different disciplines who all approach marketing in their own way. And there’s a quite frustrating tendency to think that comics people are separate from books people who separate from games people… but, here a thought: what if they’re not? What if your common-or-bookshop geek likes more than one thing at a time? What if they like comics and games as well? And what if book marketing has something to learn?

Amazon is a nasty, soulless giant, with no personal reachout. And this is what we need to exploit if we want to chase it away. We (as much as we ever can) need to offer that things that it can’t – not only the ‘indie bookstore’ personal touch of digital events and signings and involvement, but also the pretty, individual things that we all love to collect, that we can show off across our own social channels, and that make us happy under lockdown. The treasures that you’d only find in your corner store. Books can have collectible variants, like comics. They can have unique artwork, and signed, mini-print editions. They can have steelbook covers, like games, or they can come with figures, if the budget will stretch enough. And why stop there? Why can’t they come in locked boxes, in embossed leather bindings? Why can’t they come with special, exclusive ‘from-the-author’ content that varies from bookshop to bookshop?

(And suddenly, I’m having a wacky idea of a book published in bits, each bit to a different shop, but that might be an extreme case… hell of a trick to do once, though!)

Now, I get that lot of this is a money thing – badges and bookmarks and cakes (on my) are inexpensive, compared to a limited edition run of a hundred numbered steel jackets. But, as the move to (more) digital would seem to be a given, it would be fantastic if publishers and bookstores could find way to back that up!

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The Wisdom of Bob

Since I’ve had a couple of people ask me about this…

Bob. Bobobobobob. Who is Bob?

When I got thrown into writing the Judge Anderson novella, a couple of years ago, my knowledge of the 2000AD universe was kinda rusty. I was never allowed to read it, as a kid (I got ‘Whizzer and Chips’ as a little’un and ‘Bunty’ as I got older), so I used to borrow the graphic novels from friends.

Being thrown back into it at almost fifty conjured a lot of mental imagery – particularly from our old roleplaying days – but little in the way of a remembered lexicon. And, with very little time to write, it was a pain in the arse to stop every bloody five minutes and look up something else – the big stuff was obvious, but it was the little things. Does she wear socks? What does she use as a toothbrush? How does she start her bike?

And then, going from that to the VAST mythology of WarHammer 40k… well, that was kinda daunting.

So, I started calling things bob. When I needed a noun that I didn’t know yet, and didn’t want to interrupt my flow to keep looking things up, it was bob. Augusta spent a lot of Bloodied Rose pulling out the bob and aiming at the bob and running along the bob. In Wreck and Ruin, there was at least one bob that sneaked past the final read-though and got picked up by the editor. And in the current WIP (working title ‘Bastion’ after the Keep in Diablo III), there are still bobs all over the shop.

I do keep an Excel spreadsheet of WH40k terms – a writers’ guide, such as it is – which gets longer with every book both read and written. But even then, there’s a galactic bloody fucktonne of terminology to remember, and to get right. 

Hence – bob. Bob is everywhere. Trust in the Bob. Believe in the Bob. 

Bob is your friend, and he will be there for you, even in the dark times. 

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Goodbye, South Bank

When I first started working for FP, in 2003, I was overwhelmed by the fact that the office was on the South Bank, right by Blackfriars Bridge and the Tate Modern. I’d been In London for less than three years, at that point, and it was all still new to me – and wonderfully exciting.

In the intervening time, the South Bank has become as much home as anywhere else. There’s always something happening, from Christmas Markets to sand-pits in the summer, from the skate park to the London Eye, from mud-larking at low tide to the Waterloo Book Market and the tourist-crowds at the end of Westminster Bridge… it’s a wonderful place to work.

In 2004, I broke my shoulder, and (because I was pregnant) I had to sit at home, absolutely still, with my arm in strapping for six WEEKS (honestly, isolation doesn’t seem to bad), and the first thing I did, when the strapping came off, was walk down the South bank from Blackfriars to Victoria – an expression of pure freedom.  

And two years ago, when the hideous heat-wave finally ended, I was beside the OXO tower as the first rain came hissing out the sky. Everyone cheered and ran for cover, except me and one other person, standing with our arms upraised and getting happily drenched.

It’s a place of so many good memories – layers and layers of times and people and conversations. There had been occasions when, in a more whimsical mood, I’ve wondered what it will look like in a hundred years from now, or a thousand, when the people are all gone…

And yesterday, that question was answered. Walking the emptiness was magical, strange. I heard the bells of St. Paul’s roll out across the water, and could almost imagine the Martian War Machine stamping upriver and bringing down the bridges – if it hadn’t stopped for a bit, to enjoy the sun and the quiet. 

There have been many jokes across Social Media about what we all thought the End of the World would look like, and what is really happening. And if this really is the Apocalypse, then it’s truly full of beauty.

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