The Story of Bones

I met Bones at a Vike show at Tonbridge Castle in 1991. One thing led another, and in the way of these things, we fell in love. He came to live with me in Norwich, in the days when five of us shared a post-student house on the now-legendary Sigismund Road. Those were heydays: days of Vikings, and role-playing, and battle practices in the park. Days of innocence and wonder and drinking too much cider round campfires in the darkness.

Bones – Sigismind Road, 1991

They were also the days when we made our lifelong friends, those people who, twenty-five years later, are still family.

Bones was a character, a casualty, a joker and gentleman. He’d been a patched member of a local motorcycle club, still had the ‘FTW’ tattooed on his forearm, but had fallen prey to depression and alcohol. His life in Norwich was a new start for him. He did his level best to quit the Special Brew and to ease back on the booze, and certainty, it seemed to be successful.

Occasionally, inevitably, there were flashes of darkness. Bones had five years on the rest of us, and I always got the impression he’d walked places we hadn’t yet discovered – certainly not in our early twenties.

So – Tintagel. May 1992. A long way from Norwich, but the first show Bones’s group, the Northland Mercenaries, had put on in many years. So, of course we went. Loaded into the back of the van, camping kit and all, we drove overnight and we set up tents in the breaking dawn of the Cornish coast. And it was perfect, exactly the kind of community and brotherhood that welcomed and supported us all. That first evening, as the dusk closed in, we walked down the path to Rocky Valley, looking at the old tin mines and the spiral patterns in the stone – it was a magical place, and we sat in wonder on the edges of the Atlantic. Bones wanted to climb around the rocks, and no-one batted an eyelid – that was just the kind of thing he did.

I remember we joked about it: ‘Don’t fall in that, mate, I’m not coming in after you!’

The second night, Monday 2nd May, a date that will remain with me for the rest of my life, we walked down the path, again. We looked at the tin mines and the spiral, again. We sat by the seething ocean, again, and Bones wanted to climb around the rocks, again. The fact that he was wearing a monks’ habit and pair of army boots didn’t really register. We were at a show, and kit was still worn in the evenings.

After a while, we started to wonder where he’d gone. We waited. We waited some more. Then we got up and started to look for him. Cliffs. Campsite, shops, toilets, pub. No Bones. Not anywhere.

And this is point where my memory gets very blurred…

I remember the darkness falling and the whole camp mobilising for a search party. I remember voices in the dark, I remember the police, and the sound of the coastguard helicopter, and the lights. In all the melee, I remember someone – Graham? Jon? – saying to me, very quietly, ‘I think you should know, they’re looking for a body’. I get chills thinking about it, even now. I remember sitting by the fire, numb, disbelieving. I remember the bad taste jokes – because that was how we dealt with it. I remember people sitting with me, and lots and lots more cider. And I remember waking up in the tent Bones and I had shared, all his stuff scattered round me, and knowing, and hoping…

But they hadn’t found him.

They never did.

Bones was never seen again. No body, no explanation, no nothing. Common sense says that climbing round the edges of the Atlantic, half-pissed and wearing a monks’ habit, was not the brightest move in the world, and that he must have drowned. I remember Graham telling me that he probably hit his head as he went in – hence his lungs filled with water and the body sank…

But we will never know.

Bones had his issues. Did he fall – or did he jump? That kind of depression, it’s not impossible. Or is he, even now, serving tea in the Tintagel Tea Rooms somewhere, and riding out with the local Sons of Cornwall?

He left us with a hole. But he also left us with his sense of humour, and his craziness, and a powerful community that’s lasted two and half decades. He left us with a certain dent in the fuel tank of his old Yamaha, and the archetypal bikers’ denim cut-down that I still have in my wardrobe. For those of you that have read Ecko, Lugan was Bones’s CyberPunk character, complete with roll-ups, +5 Pocket of Eternal Dog-Ends, and the FTW tattoo on his forearm.

But most of all, he left us with a question, unanswered and ever unanswerable…

I like to think that, wherever he ended up, he saw the funny side.

Bones – Rocky Valley, Tintagel, 1992.

Picture courtesy of Graham, and taken about 15 minutes before Bones disappeared. And there’s just something about the faraway look…

Keep Buggering On – or, Writer’s Block Sucks

What’s that episode of Doctor Who where Capaldi beats his way out of the icewall surrounding the castle? (It’s a good’un, as well).

Sometimes, writing feels like that – you’re making progress, but it’s really slow and all the remorseless keyboard-beating just hurts your hands.

Walk, cup of tea, keep buggering on, don’t edit as you go, walk, cup of tea…

But you try to go forwards, and slam! Your hands hit the wall, again.

Walk, cup of tea…

We’ve had two articles in the Guardian recently, one from the woman who wrote two novels and quit, and then the response from David Barnett, about how you’ve got to be tough with this stuff, so deal with it. And speaking as someone who did quit and then took it back up again, I feel deeply for both of them.

This week, quitting would be so easy. And keeping going is so hard.

Walk, cup of tea…

But the mark of a writer is not success. Don’t get me wrong – the accolades are great – but they’re not what makes the woman. The writer is one who writes, because they have to. The images, the characters, the imaginary things in your head – they won’t leave you alone. And yes, you need to be tough – and every time you bruise your knuckles on that icewall, it’s another tiny crack.

Walk, cup of tea…

I keep telling myself that the wall will come down. I just hope it doesn’t take me as long as it took the Doctor.





A Confession

I bought a thing.

It’s a new thing, it’s something I’ve thought about for a very long time. And it’s scary. Why? Because it’s a whole new skill, and it’s right outside my comfortzone. I could well fuck it up.

And it’s the first time in ten or twelve years that I’ve bought a toy. I don’t mean a Pop! Vinyl, I mean something to ease me through my mid-life crisis, something reckless I don’t actually need. It’s something I’ve been promising myself – when I get the book deal, when the first one comes out, when I finish the last one, when the house move is done, when the chaos is finally over…

So, I bought a thing.

It’s a not a large and foolish motorcycle, so I can impress women of twenty-two with my throbbing engine noise… it’s a Canon EOS 1300D, a proper digital SLR. At the moment, it has so many bells and whistles that I expect it to make me tea, but I guess I’ll just have to learn.

I’m nervous, and slightly wide-eyed, and exhilarated at the prospect of a whole new skill. But breaking our of your comfortzone is good for you – right?- so watch this space for clumsy first attempts, and endless pictures of the cat…

My first picture, by Danie, aged 47 3/4.

On Stress, Depression and Creating Art

Children of Artifice, finished.

In the last two years, I’ve sold my house, moved twice, lost my Mum, and fought a Battle of Paperwork that’s been truly overwhelming – at times, I’ve had no idea how I’ve got the end of the day, or the end of the week.

But these are the times my imaginary friends have kept me sane. The amazing thing about art – writing, drawing, music, theatre – is that it gives you somewhere to go. Maybe it’s control, maybe it’s emotional catharsis, maybe it gives you a chance to explore how you feel about all the shit that’s going on. Maybe it’s all of them. Whatever it is, writing Artifice has been absolutely invaluable over the last two years, providing relief, and hope, and escapism, and purpose.

By animerenders

Caph, my prince in his high tower, may be the closest character to ‘me’ that I’ve even written. Gender irrelevant, he’s a younger me, a reckless and unwise me (but hell, we’ve all been there), and he gave me the chance to explore my life choices and dysfunctional relationships, and how I felt after the death of my Mum.

His narrative is very different to Ecko’s (and he swears a lot less), but, as Ecko’s anger was very pertinent at the time the books were written, so Caph has helped me make sense of things.

And so, Artifice is a love story. Not quite a fairy tale, not quite a romance, but a love story nonetheless. It may break boundaries, though that’s not its purpose; it may take you places you don’t expect to go… but hey, what love ever does?



Ten Years on Twitter: Ten Things I’ve Learned

This isn’t ‘How To Max Out Your Followers Click-Bait-Marketing’, these are proper Old School…

1: Talk to people, answer and retweet them. In the words of the age-old saying: Twitter is like a sewer, you’ll get back what you put in.

2: If you’re using twitter in a professional capacity, don’t use txtspk. You look like a twat.

3: Aggressive marketing is not your friend – don’t spam people with endless links. If people like what you’re selling, they’ll come to you.

4: Don’t buy followers. They won’t give a rat’s arse what you’re saying, no matter how cool you think the numbers look.

5: A picture’s worth a thousand characters; use one.

6: Celebrities are not going to notice you, retweet you, or tweet you back. They don’t know you exist. Get used to it.

7: Don’t ping new followers a DM. People <hate> that shit, and no-one clicks the link anyway.

8: Tweets – even deleted ones – can come back and bite your arse. Be careful what you say. If you wouldn’t shout it aloud, don’t tweet it.

9: Politics is a minefield. You’re entitled to yours, but DO navigate the area carefully. And above all…




2016: A Year In Review

2016: what can you say?

A post of no words; they fail me. Despite the humorous tone of the ‘before and after’ memes, I’ve watched this year slide into despair, watched many of my friends cling to hope by a gossamer thread, and taken comfort in the little things because everything else is too much.

Facebook makes the world smaller place. It brings our friends close and the world’s horrors right into our laps. ‘News’ becomes propaganda becomes drama becomes panic – and around it all goes again. What can we do but hang on?

Against this backdrop, 2016 has seen the end of a years-long journey of stress and chaos and uncertainty. We’ve moved house twice, changed school, untangled ourselves from mountains of paperwork… We’re home at last, and the relief is both tangible and slightly unreal, as if we keep glancing over our shoulders for monsters that are no longer there. And in amongst everything else, I’ve finished another book – I never thought I’d write a love story, but, at times, Artifice has been the thing that’s kept me sane.

Caph – artwork by Saera

In a world of darkness, creativity and escapism are critical. You need the release. But it’s a fine line to tread between giving yourself hope and purpose… and burying your head in the sand.

I have a small son who breaks his heart every time we see a homeless person on the street, who parts with his own money to help them or to buy them food. Who worries about them when it’s cold. Who rescues snails so we don’t tread on them. I am so proud of his gentleness, and yet I fear for it. We live in a world where hatred is viciously manifest, where is gives people a righteous sense of power and control, and a world we are willingly destroying.

I’ve had a year that has ended, at last, with me being free and clear, my personal stresses being over. There have been many good people in my path throughout the year, and I wish I could write something more positive.

But somehow, the fear won’t quite go away.

Is Wordcount Bullshit?

bang-head-on-deskScalzi tweeted the other day that he’d typed 700 (or so) words at the beginning of a chapter, just to work out where the chapter began – words that were needing to ground him in the scene, or the characters, or in where he needed the story to go.

I do this all the time, and it drives me nuts. There have been days where my wordcount has been in negative figures because I’m wrestling with something (and losing). And I wondered how many of us do this.

Beginning Artifice was hard; one of its two PoV characters would <not> let me into his head, and I binned SO MUCH fucking work trying to understand his thought patterns. (The other one was easy – no-one said this was an exact science). Plus, the setting was new, and there’s always the Chapter of Doom, the one bit of the book that persistently pisses off in a direction you’re not expecting and you have to fight it into submission to make it do what it’s told…

So, yeah – does that make ‘wordcount’ bullshit? Are you allowed to count the words that don’t make it? We can write 500 words a day, 5,000 words a day – but what about the stuff that winds up on the cutting room floor? Is ‘wordcount’ how many words you write, or how many words you keep?

(Come on, how many of us can actually turn them out more-or-less perfectly in one electric-and-highly-caffeinated stream of consciousness?)

Everything you write is worth it. If you have to piss away 1,000 words getting your chapter, or setting, or PoV character right, then that’s what it takes. And it may be frustrating as fuck, and you may beat your head against the keyboard when you feel like you’re not actually getting anywhere, but it all counts towards the finished product. (I swear, I’m thinking of putting a blooper reel at the end). Research often gets compared to the iceberg – most of the work you do is below the surface – and this is exactly the same. It may not show above the waterline, but the work you’ve put in matters. When a character is right – you’ll know, and so will your readers.

Plus – added bonus points! – you get that AMAZING feeling of writer-high when it finally clicks and you suddenly type like you’re on speed, going ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ and making your neighbours wonder what the fuck you’re up to.

And moments like that make it all worth it!

Nine Worlds – A Second-Hand Blog

Matt BlakstadNine Worlds? Honestly, I didn’t see that much of it.

There was a fun combat panel first thing Friday morning and a sneaky couple of G&Ts in the bar on Saturday night – but I’ve never <ever> been that quiet (or that sober) at a Con before. Maybe age is catching me, who knows. Anyway.

So – this is a second-hand blog. A blog that tells of happy people buying lots of books (and I mean LOTS of books) which always makes the weekend go well. A blog that tells of happy people in every kind of cosplay; a blog that tells of an excellent venue and hotel, where the staff were sincere and helpful (and the bloke behind the bar mixing a Mai Tai (not for me) was an absolute God, a Dionysus for the modern age). Where was I? Yes – happy. From our nailed-by-our knees vantage, everybody had a very happy Con.

Now, that may not seem like a big deal – but getting this shit right is bloody difficult. Over the years, we’ve seen so many events die, or suffer from falling attendance, or become plagued with industry hamster-fighting… but with four years’ experience, Nine Worlds has absolutely got it right. People feel welcome and confident, they can dress in anything the bloody hell they want, they can attend a whole wealth of panels across every kind of format and topic. and learn about every aspect of this ever-expanding business of ours. Props to committee and program organisers for a top effort all round.

NPC Quest GuyMan of the match, though, goes to the Side-Quest Guy, handing out little Quest booklets for people to follow – I didn’t get time to follow mine sadly (missed my Gold, there) but the work and through that had gone into his costume and supporting story were amazing.

Above all, this is a blog to thank all of the lovely people that came to sign for us at our table – and those who also came to have a natter and sign their stock.

We had a bloody fabulous Con. More like this one please!


Nine Worlds – Where I’ll Be

Nine Worlds Nine Worlds this weekend, which means you’ll find me, as ever, nailed by my knees to the trading table with a big piles o’ books, a full schedule of signings and (hopefully) a lot of tea.

I shall be on the Getting Fighting Wrong panel (not advisable, if you’ve ever tried it) alongside a suitable line-up of worthies: James Barclay, Liz de Jager, Sebastien de Castell, Oliver Langmead and Lucy Hounsom. The fur flies (or not) at 11:45am on Friday morning.

I’m also (so I’m told) on the LGBT Characters panel at 10:00am on Sunday morning – so I’d better not overdo it at the Cabaret the night before, I guess…

Signings ScheduleYou’ll also find me in the bar, as ever. And possibly dancing, but that depends upon my intake of gin.

Ah, but I shall miss the Radisson with its mad glass fish and its smell of air fuel and its…erm… character…

TomSka and the Heroes of YouTube

IMG_4826My son is addicted to YouTube – or he would be, if I didn’t ration the little bugger.

It’s a generational thing, I know that, and it mystifies me. Watching someone else play a game for hours at a time… why would you do such a thing? It’s not even like they’re in the room with you and you can share the experience by helping them solve puzzles, or by taking over the controller when they fail to beat the end-of-level Nasty and throw a wobbler.

Nope, seriously – I don’t have a clue.

Joe SuggIn the last year, we’ve had three of the big-name YouTube sensation come into the store – Joe Sugg, Stuart Ashen aka Ashens, and most recently Tom Ridgewell, aka TomSka. Joe’s signing wasn’t public, but without exception, the response to all three of them has been phenomenal.

Last Saturday, TomSka put in a three-hour shift in a somewhat overheated book store (the air-conditioning had broken down). His queue was easily two hundred people, most of them my son’s age. Isaac, of course, was there too, having his first full-on fanboy attack as he met one of his genuine heroes – he spent most of the time glued to his phone showing off to his schoolmates. And hey – he’s allowed. If he can’t nerd out in Forbidden Planet, then I’m in the wrong job. Where was I? Right – two hundred people, maybe more.

Fanboy CubAnd Tom greeted every one of them with a hug, a question, an energy that was absolutely genuine every time. He was inexhaustible, funny, human… and it made me understand something.

Celebrities signing at FP – certainly the actors – don a particular personality when they meet their fans. It’s another role, and while they’re always charming and approachable, you can see the subtle shift from the person who chats in the office to the personality that walks out into the store.

But not Tom. Not Stuart, and I’m guessing Joe would have been the same. Tom was the same person throughout, the same to every fan. Every one of them greeted him like they knew him, and he responded in kind.

One of the Mums in the department (waiting for her small people) absolutely hit the nail on the head. ‘He’s not a personality,’ she said, ‘He’s their friend’.

And, of course, that’s exactly what he is. Perhaps I understand the whole thing a bit better now.