The Next Big Thing

They got me! Many thanks to both Adam Nevill and Liz de Jager for tagging me with The Next Big Thing meme… and a chance to share a little information about the next book!

What is the working title of your next book?

Opening with the big question, the shocker – the working title of the book is Ecko II. I’d go into the reasoning, but, y’know, that’s a tough one to break down…

Where did the idea come from for the book?

From a decade of shared creativity and story-telling, from friends with imagination and humour, from having too much time on our hands and the energy to dream whatever we wanted, limitless and occasionally ludicrous. Some people to use their youth and fire to change worlds – we made our own.

And then we broke them.
And then we made some more.

From the concepts initially explored in the first novel, this one takes Ecko’s fundamental culture-shock and savage denial to a different level, but also moves in new directions, looking at a more politically involved storyline and dipping a curious toe into the concept of a fantasy dystopia. Can such a thing exist – or do you need urban/modernisation before you can add the decay?

What genre does your book fall under?

Apparently, I’ve committed the cardinal sin, written the unthinkable – though I wasn’t aware of this when I started. The Ecko books are science fiction and fantasy fused, they’re a hard-edged SF character in an essentially fantasy world – a mix that can result in hard violence, sharp insight and dark humour, and often in all three combined.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

That’s always a tough one. Andy Serkis was one of our first ever guests at the FP Megastore – and watching him do Gollum for real was both transfixing and terrifying. In some ways, he has the capability to craft a perfect Ecko, but my inspiration (one of them anyway) has always been Michael Keeton’s Beetlejuice.

You know he’d do a good job!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The strapline for the first one was ‘a unique and stunning debut novel’. Marketeer I may be, by writing my own publicity defeats me!

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m represented by Sally Harding at The Cooke Agency, and Ecko II will be published by Titan Books next September.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

And here we come to the old joke – twenty years to write the first one, I want the second one in six months…

In fact, like ‘Rising’, this book was originally written in the 1990’s, though has been revised and re-drafted in keeping with the changes to the overall story, the requirements of characters and editors, and (not to put too fine a point on it) that fact that I’m now in my forties and have a slightly different take on the world/s around me…

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Is this a trick question? ‘Rising’ was compared to everything from Game of Thrones to Neuromancer to Thomas Covenant to Michael Marshall Smith. Go figure!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

In the first instance, my friends. Coming back to the story after an eight-year break from writing? Um, that would kind of be my friends.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Ecko is difficult, dissonant, foul-mouthed and chaotic – in the first book, he was an explosion looking for somewhere to happen.

In this book, he finds it.

For next week’s NEXT BIG THING I nominate some of my fellow debut authors from 2012 –  and very proud to be in such capable company…

Hereby tagging – Samit Basu, Adam Christopher, Paul Cornell, Lou Morgan and Tom Pollock.

The Pigeon’s Feet

In a time when the greatest cities are still young and their grey boundaries have not yet stretched from coast to coast across the broken world, Pigeon goes to see Rat.

Her feathers are rich and brown, her beak gleams. ‘But I am weary,’ she says. ‘These growing cities are like the hungriest of predators. My lands diminish; my children are hunted and killed and eaten. I wish to make my peace with them, so my children may thrive. Tell me, what must I do?’

Rat sees Pigeon’s distress. His nose twitches and his black eyes shine. He thinks.

‘You must go to the Guardian of Creatures’, he says. ‘And you must offer him that which is most precious. If you do, he will grant you one desire. But make sure you voice it well, for the Guardian is wily, and he is more than he seems. He must say to you, ‘I Promise’ and then your wish is sure.’

‘Where is the Guardian?’ asks Pigeon.

‘Fly’, Rat tells her, ‘Fly far, fly into the sunset until the cities are behind you and the horizon is beyond the edge of the world. And there you will find him’.

So, as the sun lowers towards the horizon, Pigeon beats her brown wings and rises into the darkening sky.

She flies west, towards the failing light. As the great sun swells and sinks, as it turns blood-red and floods the lands with its own death, so Pigeon sees the lights of the new cities glittering. They call to her and she is afraid of them, of what will become of her family. Pigeon flies until she can fly no more, until she is sure that she must have reached beyond the very end of the world – and then she sinks, her wings failing, her chest pulling with pain.

There is a creature there, a creature of all forms and of none. Its eyes are brilliant with energy, but she cannot see it clearly – she knows not whether it has two feet or four, wings or paws, fur or feathers. ‘Welcome,’ it says to her, in a voice like the sky. ‘You have flown long and bravely. Tell me, what did you bring to the edge of the world?’

Pigeon has no doubt that this is the Guardian of Creatures, and she remembers what Rat has told her. She says, ‘I carry nothing, only the love of my children. But if I offer you my egg, will you give me your promise? Will you guard them down through the generations, as these cities swell and grow? Will you make us safe? Will you let us live in peace with the greatest of predators?

The Guardian of all creatures has eyes of many colours. Their pupils shift – now narrow like Cat’s, now long like Goat’s, now round, like those of Man. He regards Pigeon’s single, precious egg and he says, ‘I Promise’.

But the egg is cold inside; her flight has rendered it lifeless. The Guardian says, ‘You have tried to deceive me, Pigeon.’

Pigeon cries out and flaps her wings. She says, ‘You gave me your promise!’

‘So I did,’ the Guardian tells her. ‘And I will keep it.’

As it speaks, so it stands taller – on two rear limbs with its eyes like the light of the red setting sun. It says, ‘I promised you would live in peace with the greatest of predators. And so you shall. The greatest predator is not the city, Pigeon – it is the Man within, it is Man that swells the cities. And you will go there, and you will dwell alongside him. And you will be mangled and reviled and dirty; your feathers will be grey, your feet will be broken and you will eat your own kind as they lay dead upon the filth. But you will multiply, and your children will be safe.”

As he speaks, so Pigeon’s wings darken and her feet curl into toeless broken stubs. She can no longer walk – but she can still fly. She can fly away, fly back beyond the edge of the world, she can find Rat, make him tell her how to undo this horror…

But as the red eyes of the Guardian fade into the darkness, she understands too late how Rat himself has known the truth of the Guardian’s guile and promise.

Rat has already made his own bargain. And she will be seeing him again, down among the dirt heaps of the greatest of predators.

(The illustration is by Susan Seddon Boulet. Though you probably knew that!)

FantasyCon 2011

The best place to be in a heatwave? Brighton seafront.

Yeah, you’d think.

Bless the Royal Albion Hotel, shambling sprawl of saggy Victoriana in which no self-respecting Steampunker would ever set boot – there’s something both familiar and comedic about it. But the names and faces of UK SF/F publishing have weathered the chalets of the SFX weekender and know no fear.

Brighton in the shimmering heat was ghastly – the heaving, sweating masses of sunburned and lagered up public massing outside, seething along the promenade and the beach. They cheered the endless mass of VW campers on Saturday morning, and dropped so much litter that the army of roadsweepers woke us all up at 6am on Sunday… when I went for a walk along the beachfront in the early and the cool, the garbage resembled nothing so much as post Fatboy Slim in 2002.

Seriously. How can people do these things?

Inside the hotel though, it was cooler and calmer than the sweating town of Brighton.

There were lots of questions about my forthcoming book – thanks particularly to Kari Sperring for her empathy, and to Mike Carey for extending a wonderfully unexpected hand of support. Thanks also to Tony Lee for spoiling my son, and to the legendary Brian Aldiss who, while signing in our room, joined Stephen Jones to serenade us with the chorus of ‘When You’re Smiling’ – a memory that will be making me smile for a long time to come.

We worked a long day, but a good one – Alex discovered a truly glorious cake shop, we indulged in fish’n’chips on the pier and free wine from multiple book events including those of our own Titan, the irrepressible Christopher Paolini and the new brand new Jo Fletcher Books.

A good time, as they say, was had by all.

My mother asked me recently, in fun, are you a ‘Geek’ then, Dan?’ with an intonation on the word that spoke volumes from the Daily Mail. My answer is now as always – ‘Yes, of course I am’. And all I have to do to understand my choice is to look at Brighton seafront on a sweating Saturday afternoon.

Long shift or no, I would rather be where I was than outside frying myself on the hot stones.

And, hell, as I passed Mister Rankin on my way back into the Albion, I guess I was wrong about the Steampunkers. Maybe it’s the perfect place for a little far-fetched fiction!

The Doctor Who Experience

When I was a kid, Doctor Who teetered on a line, the one between fear and exhilaration. It’s the line between your fingers as you peep, thrilled, through them; it’s the line of excitement that has you poised on the edge of your seat..

…it’s line of the crack that runs down the screen as the Doctor Who Experience opens.

But it’s not a crack, it’s part of the event. As it parts to reveal the Experience itself, it has parents laughing and kids open-mouthed – it’s your very own space-time doorway, opening to a mini-story that has you racing to save the Universe, with none other than the Doctor himself as your guide.

The Experience is sensational to the point of being overwhelming, enhanced by Matt Smith’s relentless, almost slapstick dialogue. You’re surrounded by props, yet your eyes are on the main event – you race through the tale almost too fast. Here is the inside of the TARDIS, a wonder to adults and kids alike. Here are the Daleks, right over you and bloody terrifying. Here are the Weeping Angels, lurking the darkness at the edges of your vision. Here is the Pandorica, opening before your eyes.

Walking the Experience with my son, seven, made me remember the thrill of ‘Who’ when I was that age – perhaps one of the secrets to the new Who’s success. He was absolutely testing his limits; other than exclamations of wonder, his only comment was that it was all too fast. I found the same thing – I wanted to linger, and remember, and renew.

Yet as the experience itself races to its 3D ending, you emerge into a hall of props and beasties and costumes and you can wander, and wonder, to yours heart’s content. Here the generations are spanned, and my son can see Who though my eyes, as well as the other way around. The evolution of the Daleks was particularly fine – and made me view the most modern incarnation with new eyes. We have an old one in the lift at FP Southampton… and the new ones are huge!

Of all the things, though, that we saw during the Experience – from driving the TARDIS to watching the invading Dalek spaceships blowing the snot out of everything – one thing has made today magical.

And that’s the expression on the face of my son.

*Pictures in this post are courtesy of The Doctor Who Experience, used with permission and thanks to Susannah Martin.

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New Tricks!

There are (ironically really) a thousand and one different websites that will tell you how a short story differs from a novel.

In keeping with the theme, it can be distilled down to one word: –

Focus.

Narrative format, single incident, character that reveals itself at a critical point in the storyline… I’m sure we’ve all studied this stuff.

The point is: this is where your close analysis kicks in – you don’t have room to fuck about. All that artsy scenic description and character motivation and exploration and development and yadda yadda… sod all of that, get to the point.

So – I will.

The guys at GeekPlanet have been kind enough to host my short story, ‘Valkyrie’, here.

This is completely new – not only the story itself, but the fact that it’s read aloud – a creative venture that’s been fun to undertake. It’s a very short short story, hearkening back to my wannabe-warrior-maiden days in the Vike… and hence seemed to lend itself to an oral (aural?) tradition.

Music is courtesy of Thumpermonkey and my despicably talented friend Mike Woodman – check out the full album here.

Oh – and forgive (enjoy?) the polished public school tones…

…some things you just never grow out of.

An Anti-Vamp Rant


I used to like watching Buffy – I own it on… actually on VHS… and I’ve watched it to absolute Undeath.

But by every Mother of God am I sick of fucking vampires!

It was with a huge cheer, then, that I read Neil Gaiman’s comments in the Independent this morning – kicking back against genre and marketing saturation, and against the de-fanged and de-balled castrato-vamp that we’ve all learned to loathe. He’s right, they’re like cockroaches, they’re everywhere – and we’ve had enough.

And not only Gaiman, bless him. He’s backed up by Sam Stone and Graham Marks… and even Ms. Meyer herself has had enough. Could it be – finally – that the public backlash is finding its teeth?

I get marketing trends – hell, I’m supposed to, I have to follow and ride them for a living. But when does a trend become a dictation? When does it stop being something the audience want – and become something they’re told they must like? Working where I do, I’ve been on ground level with marketing a motherlode of Vampire merchandise… and you can guarantee that, for every Twilight-Sparkly-Box-Souvenir that we’ve promoted through our Social Media net, we’ll get a kick-back of customers who’ve all reached their own saturation limit.

And so I ask: have we now reached the point where our media consumption is being utterly dictated by its buying trends – and where those very trends are set by a nation of proto-teen consumers? Just who is in fucking charge here anyway?!

Please – enough with the ‘safe sales’, already, and enough with the sheep-herding; enough with the force-feeding of pulp and enough with having our consumption controlled.

Let’s give the Vampire back his teeth… while we open out, and embrace the full scope of our genre.


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Adapt or Die? SF and New Media

So why, for the love of whatever God you choose, is the science fiction community so reluctant to embrace new forms of expression?

While the comics industry surges off the page and onto the iphone, the science fiction profession has progressed as far as the Real Ale bar. Steeped in the traditional – novels, short stories, radio, television – they reluctantly protest that they like books, they like to have paper under their hands, something they can read without getting glare-ache from the screen.

And yes, I guess there’s a bit of that in all of us.

But.

It’s a strong time for Geek Chic – literary uber-agent John Jarrold quoted that sf and fantasy count for up to 11% of total UK book sales… and that figure would be impressive had I not walked past Zavvi this morning. The rise in new ways to access non-format literature, music and film is driving major labels out of business. Adapt or die. That ‘11%’ is a lot less convincing when the overall total starts to plummet.

Dave Hutchinson rather wisely said that it isn’t ‘a future of literature, more a future of delivery’. Writers need to move into new mediums, adapt their skills to different platforms. They’re at last appearing on twitter; they’re venturing into audiocasting or writing plots for major game releases. Maybe it’s time to add a new award to the Hugo and Nebula – one for innovation, for successfully breaking new ground.

And why stop with the professionals. From the letters page of the fanzine to today’s LiveJournal, fans won’t just be told what they can read. They like to take control of the characters they love and put them in new situations. Fan-fiction, both on the web and off, has become huge and very successful, writers gaining sizeable credibility in their own right. In the greater world of social media, the potential for author/reader collaboration is blown wide-open – why tell a story when you can create a world?

Who writer Paul Cornell stood to champion sf and new media. Arguing my beliefs for me, he talked about web visibility, versatility, mass appeal and the importance of viral marketing. He gets a round of applause for the immortal line, “There will always be the novel, but that novel may not always be a book.”

For the moment, then, the new and the old complement each other – a presence on the web will boost visibility of a book – and vice versa. But in ten years? When the CosPlayers, the X-Box generation, are in their thirties, are they going to be sitting in a corner with a pint of Theakstons and a paperback?

I don’t think so.

My thanks to the NewCon panel for the inspiration. Entitled ‘Does the Future of SF lie in Media other than Traditional Literature’, it featured Uma McCormack, John Jarrold, Steve Longworth, Dave Hutchinson and Paul Cornell.
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