Friday, December 31, 2010

A Timely Call From America

Just when I was at my lowest ebb, the phone rang. It was a call from America. The friendly female caller told me I was a finalist in a VERY BIG WRITING CONTEST. Out of the thousands who had applied, my story had reached the final eight. She said that even if my story didn't win one of the three prizes I should know that I'm a great writer. I could've cried.

I've never been a believer in destiny or providence, but I sure as hell needed that phone call last night. The timing was almost supernatural.

Happy New Year people! May 2011 be your year!

Monday, November 08, 2010

A Quick Audit

It's been a while since I've written about my writing projects so I thought I'd have a quick roundup of where things are at.

Novel: Lazarus Island
This is the novel I wrote a few years ago which consumed me completely at the time of writing it. I finished it and then just stuck in my trunk folder. I got it out recently and began reading it and was pleasantly surprised to find it still packed quite a punch. I've vowed to fix the ending and send it out asap.

Novella: The Vanished Race
This is the follow-up to The Hotel Galileo which was published last year by Wolfsinger Press. It needs one more polish and then it's ready for the world.

Novel: The Silver Sea
Can't say too much about this one only to mention how excited I am about it. Again, it needs one last polish before I can send it out.

Novelette: The Man Who Ate Planets
Coming soon in the Permuted Press anthology Best New Tales of the Apocalypse...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Lost and Found by Rhonda Parrish

Lost and Found is the new novel from Rhonda Parrish. Check out the first instalment here:

You can either read online or listen to the first chapter as a podcast. If you like fantasy you'll love this.


Hello you lovely people.

I've been out of the loop for a while. The lack of blog entries is testament to that. But I'm still here. If anything I've been recharging myself. I have several projects about to see the light of day and I have a number of irons in a varied selection of fireplaces. The only one I can confidently talk about is the long-awaited Permuted Press anthology Best New Tales of the Apocalypse edited by Bobbie Metevier and DL Snell. This collection of apocalyptic tales includes my story The Man Who Ate Planets. I can't wait for this anthology to come out. Seriously I cannot wait. It should be released any day now. As for the other projects - I'm hoping to report on them soon. How soon? Real soon....

Watch this space. No not that one. This one.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Once More With Feeling: In Defence of Remakes

There's been a lot of eye-rolling in the entertainment press regarding the glut of remakes dominating Hollywood output these days and I have to admit that, until recently, I've been shaking my head and tutting a fair bit, too. When I heard they were remaking The Omen a couple years back I remember feeling a pang of despair. Richard Donner's Omen is a timeless classic, with still enough power to chill the blood even today. Why remake it? (As an aside, although I haven't seen the 2008 version, I believe it was received with relative apathy from both audiences and critics alike.) Then I heard they were remaking Piranha. Why? The first one was a pulpy riff on the Jaws phenomenon. Did we really need it remade? And then, even more recently, I heard there are plans to remake Total Recall. Again, my cynical movie alter ego (let's call him Norman Barry) piped up with a derogatory sigh and the classic cry, "can't they come up with any new ideas istead of rehashing old ones?"

And then, just for a moment, I stopped being a grumpy thirty-something and began to look at this latest remake/rehash/reboot-fad in the context of movie history and I began to understand. Well, a little anyway.

I'm going to play Devil's Advocate here (btw, a film that really should not be remade, imho).

First and foremost, Hollywood has always done this. Hollywood has been remaking its biggest successes since the earliest days and it's really never stopped. Ben Hur? Before Chuck Heston's 1957 epic Oscar-winning effort, there were two attempts at bringing Lew Wallace's epic tale to the screen (19o7 and 1925). For years I thought John Huston's The Maltese Falcon was the only version of Hammett's classic noir thriller until I discovered the 1931 version starring Ricardo Cortez. Arguably, the later version is far superior, and the same goes for the 1957 Ben Hur. And I think that's part of the answer to all this remake shenanigans.

For all its financial excesses and endless self-promotion, Hollywood movie-making is an imperfect and flawed artistic process. There are, perhaps, a handful of movies made under the Hollywood banner which could be regarded as 'near-perfect' or 'untouchable', where the filmmakers involved were fortuitous or talented enough to catch cinematic lightning in a bottle and end up with a movie that is truly timeless and crying to be left alone. Off the top of my head, I can think of a treasured few: Citizen Kane, Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, The Wizard of Oz. You could probably add some of your own personal choices in there, too. But for the vast majority of films produced each year the results are often imperfect and open to improvement. As Francis Ford Coppolla famously said, "A movie is never finished, it just gets released". This is part of the problem. Under the current movie-making model, the artistic side of movies is constantly compromised by the business side. Movies lose money if they go past production deadlines. These days movies are given a release date before they've even shot a single frame of film. That's the nature of Hollywood film-making. No wonder the results are consistently flawed.

So is it acceptable to keep remaking movies based on this illogical back-to-front process? Well, yes and no. Take the recent spate of horror remakes. These have been aimed largely at a teenage audience. Friday the 13th, Hallowe'en, My Bloody Valentine, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Most of these movies were only made as recently as the Eighties. Can't teenagers today just rent the old DVDs? What's wrong with that? Well, this is my theory. Movies, or at least the perception of movies, has changed in this generation. In a way, movies have become like pop music. In the same way that young people don't want to be listening to their parents' music, they don't want to be watching what they regard as their parents' movies. Young people want what is current, what is 'now'. Hence the proliferation of remakes.

But are they any good? Well, I would imagine that, to anyone who was a fan of the original versions, no. They probably seem completely pointless. But to the uninitiated, yeah, they probably "rock". I've spent a lot of time recently watching a lot of movies and a large proportion have been remakes. Some good, some mediocre, some naff. But that's down to taste I suppose.

I love movies, and in particular, I love GOOD movies. If it takes a couple of goes to get it right, then that's okay. I'm learning to live with the remake thing. How about you?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Never Again - A Weird Fiction Anthology

The anthology, NEVER AGAIN, edited by Allyson Bird and Joel Lane, is now available for pre-order here:

The subtitle for this special collection is 'Weird Fiction Against Racism and Fascism' and the profits will help benefit charities such as the Sophie Lancaster Foundation amongst others.

The anthology contains fiction by some of the most talented writers around, including Nina Allan, Lisa Tuttle, John Howard, Tony Richards, Alison Littlewood, Rosanne Rabinowitz, Rhys Hughes, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Joe R. Lansdale, Kaaron Warren, Steve Duffy, Gary McMahon, Rob Shearman, Carole Johnstone, Ramsey Campbell, Stephen Volk, Andrew Hook, Simon Bestwick and many more. Pre-order a copy today!

I can't wait to read it!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sapphire and Steel

Just finished watching the complete boxset of Sapphire and Steel. This is a show which I only saw once when I was about ten years old and it left such a huge impression on me. I couldn't remember specific things from it (apart from Joanna Lumley's eyes going all blue and twinkly) but it was more of a feeling which stayed with me. Rewatching the series as an adult obviously means much of the magic is lost but, even despite the huge limitations of the budget, the show still stands up as a genre show that was way ahead of its time. I love the interplay between McCallum and Lumley (he is all cold and gruff while she is soft-spoken and all heart) and the ending of the final episode in which our heroes are left stuck in an existential trap - 'Nowhere...forever' - is just fantastic. For me, the shorter assignments (i.e. four episodes) were more successful but, as a whole, the series was a genuine original. I would love to see it brought back but only if they stuck to the show's original formula and didn't try to explain everything as is the vogue nowadays. Still, there are always the Big Finish audio stories which I may sample sometime, but somehow I don't think they'll be quite as satisfying.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Story Goals and the Lost Art of Brevity

TV news just in: US networks have this week cancelled Heroes and Flash Forward. Why? Well, both shows had seen their viewing figures drop significantly. The reasons put forward for their respective slumps were a lack of direction in the former and a lack of brevity in the latter.

I liked Heroes. I watched the boxset of the first season and found it mesmerising. The second season was scrappy, no doubt marred by the writer's strike, and the third season just felt directionless. In any drama or work of fiction viewers need to feel there is a universal end-goal, a sense that the events (and the characters) they are following will reach some satisfying dramatic conclusion. (Soap operas are the only exception to this. They just go on and on and on - which is why I can't watch them - a dramatic phenomena I don't feel capable of explaining or understanding!) Sure, each individual season of any long-running drama has some story arc for viewers to follow, but it's usually just one part of a much longer overarching narrative, which is, of course, the nature of multi-season TV shows. The Fugitive TV series is a classic case: Dr. Richard Kimble is on the run for a murder he didn't commit. Weekly episodes show him dealing with the various dangers of being a fugitive, but the overarching premise is his hunt for the one-armed man who may hold the key to proving his innocence. In the final episode he finds the one-armed man. End of series. When that end-goal is not presented early enough or is too obscure or merely absent, viewers or readers rapidly lose interest.

I believe this is what happened with Flash Forward. Great premise, great opening to the series, but it just didn't get to the point quick enough. An interesting exception to this is Lost, which can also be accused of crimes against brevity. Lost escaped the network axe, although it was close, very close. The makers of Lost avoided the hangman by doing something quite unprecedented in US TV: they promised an ending. They told viewers there would be three more seasons and that it would reach "a shocking and dramatic end". That ending is to be seen tomorrow night (Sunday 23rd May) all around the world, six years after it all began. I remember clearly seeing the first trailer for it back in 2004 and thinking it was going to be a three-part mini-series! How wrong I was! As much as I love Lost, and I really do love it, I truly believe they could have told the story in half as many seasons as they have done. If they had, I believe it wouldn't have experienced the mass exodus of viewers around season three and would have been more widely regarded as a television classic, and not just by the core fans who have seen it through to the bitter end. I can't wait to find out how the whole thing concludes (although I'm not sure if I want to be getting up at 5am on Monday which is the UK time for the finale - I might just wait for the Tuesday night repeat!) but when it is all over and the fat lady has sung, I will still be thinking, "Very good, but they could have told us that in half the time!"

Perhaps the recent cancellation of the shows mentioned above will make programme-makers sit up and take note. There's only so long you can keep your viewers wondering what's going on, before they decide to turn over and watch something else.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lost and the Road Not Taken

As someone who has watched Lost avidly since it first arrived on our screens six years ago, the latest and final season has been a bit lacklustre to say the least. I still enjoy it and I would never miss an episode, but it's almost as if the unveiling of the answers fans have craved for so long has let too much air out of the balloon and now it's just a matter of just seeing it through to the end. I'm hoping I'm wrong and that the finale will be as brilliant and as shocking and unpredictable as the writers have been promising all these years.

Anyway, the most interesting thing to come out of this season is the idea of the parallel reality seen in what the programme-makers are calling 'flash-sideways'. The detonation of the bomb back in 1977 created a different timeline for our main characters, an alternate reality running side by side with the events on the island. I'm not entirely sure where all that is going within the tv show but it got me thinking about alternate realities in our own lives, what Robert Frost called 'the road not taken'. Now I may be going out on a limb here but what the heck - I'm going to chuck the concept out there. For years now, in fact, as long as I can remember, I have had 'strange feelings' about particular places. I remember driving through Salisbury when I was about eleven with my brothers and my dad and feeling this strange sense of 'I've been here, I know this place'. That's the only way I can describe it. Now I'm not talking about 'I've been here before' in the Shirley MacLaine sense. I mean, it felt as if some part of me had lived a life in that place - or should be living a life in that place. This odd feeling has recurred quite regularly in my adult life, especially when I travel to new places. My recent trip to Canada was the weirdest experience of them all, especially as I know for a fact that my parents planned to emigrate there before they had any of us kids. I have never felt more 'at home' than I did during my two weeks in that beautiful country. The sensation I'm talking about is like deja vu only times a hundred. Times a thousand. And I wonder sometimes, could it be that I'm feeling the echoes of a life lived there in some alternate version of my timeline? What if my parents had decided to move to, for example, Salisbury instead of Devon back in 1972? What if they'd emigrated to Canada back in '68? What if?

Food for thought. Or maybe I'm just as mad as a fish and need to see 'somebody'.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Stephen King at the Movies

I love Stephen King.

I love his novels. I love his short stories. Hell, I love pretty much everything he's ever written. Of all the writers I've encountered, his his work has had the greatest influence on me. He's been called "a master storyteller", amongst many things, and I agree with this up to a point. I see him as the closest thing we have to a modern Mark Twain in his ability to capture the essence of small town America in populist fiction while spinning a great yarn.

So why on earth do almost all movie adaptations of his work suck?

Wait, let me just explain myself here.

I'm not saying all, I'm saying "almost all". There are exceptions. I would say (and yes, this is just my humble opinion) that the better movie adaptations are, in no particular order, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Misery, Stand By Me, The Dead Zone and a few others. There are many other movies/tv mini-series such as the original Salem's Lot, which have been "okay", but beyond that it's a pretty poor show for one of the most successful novelists working today. The reason for this post is that I recently bought a boxset of King movies which contained three purported "classics" which for some reason or other I had never seen before: Maximum Overdrive, Silver Bullet and Cat's Eye. Well, I'd seen Cat's Eye on tv many years ago and my memory of it was pretty positive. Of the three movies in this particular collection, it was definitely the best. The other two offerings, however, were woeful to say the least.

First up was Maximum Overdrive. I was incredibly naive in my anticipation: A King movie directed and scripted by the man himself with an AC-DC soundtrack and a pretty funky idea about motor vehicles coming to life. What's not to like? It's often been documented that King was unhappy with many of the film adaptations of his work and so here he had the chance to set the record straight, to show them all how it was done.

Well, all I can say is, what the hell happened?!

I can say, without reservation, that this is one of the worst films I have ever seen. It's not even good in a "so bad it's good" sense. It just didn't work on any level that mattered. It was like a Cannonball Run movie without the laughs with some poorly-executed gore thrown in. What a wasted opportunity. And it started so well.

Silver Bullet was only marginally better. Taking the material a mite more seriously, the film is still horribly dated. The werewolf scenes (with creature design by Carlo Rambaldi no less) were just poor, especially as this film was made after such revolutionary SFX films as American Werewolf in London and The Howling. In Silver Bullet, the poor old lycanthrope was nothing more than a big hairy oaf. So disappointing. And the story itself just limped along to its trite and predictable conclusion. Possibly the longest 90 minutes of my life.

So why does this happen? The examples I've just given have their own reasons for being bad and they are exceptional in their badness. What I'm wondering is why the vast majority of his adaptations just don't make successful movies. I think part of the reason is down to King's plotting. King has said that he likes to create a unique situation, throw in some interesting characters and then let them work it out on the page. This works well for readers, but when it comes to transferring these things to the screen, it's problematic. Horror movies have a certain dynamic, and often adhere to a rigid template, something that King's fiction doesn't always fit into. I believe this often leads to big changes being made to try and shoehorn King's sprawling plots into a form horror movie fans would expect, when really King's books are not just straightforward horrors. That, I think, is where the aforementioned problems occur.

Famously, Frank Darabont has been most successful at adapting King's work for the screen: Shawshank, The Green Mile and The Mist are good, in my opinion, because they respect the source material and don't try to turn them into something they're not. (My only exception here with regard to Darabont's adaptations would be the 'shock' ending he added to The Mist which is a bone of contention for many. The original story had no ending and worked fine without it. For me, Darabont's ending, whilst shocking and disturbing, doesn't follow on from what's gone before. These people risked everything to try and survive...I won't say any more for spoiler reasons.) Anyhow, I would love to see someone like Darabont adapt all of King's work for the screen, because there is so much more to his novels than mere 'horror'. Come on moviemakers! It's been far too long since we had a damn fine King movie in the multiplexes.

Having said all that, there is no excuse for Maximum Overdrive.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Author Threads

No, I'm not talking about a new high street fashion store tailored exclusively for writers. I just wanted to mention that the BFS forum now has a special little place for writers to discuss/promote/explain their various projects and publications. I've got a quiet little corner there myself. Thanks must go to Allyson Bird who has worked very hard to set this up for the BFS. Cheers, Ally! Everyone is welcome to drop in.
The link is here:

Thursday, March 04, 2010

On NOT Writing

Writers write.

That's what they say. It's the first thing they think about when they wake up and the last thing on their minds when they put their head to the pillow. When they're not physically in the act of writing they're thinking through plot points, blocking scenes, inventing new ways to show character, and so on and so forth. And that is exactly what I've been doing for a while now. I haven't waited for the time to write I've made the time and that's worked pretty well so far.

But the past six months have been a kicker. For the first time in a long time there have been entire weeks when I haven't been able to write and I just wanted to talk about the effect that has on the mind and soul. When I say "haven't been able to write" I'm not referring to the great spectre known as writer's block. I'm talking about a situation when life - that is, the day-to-day demands of work and family and everything inbetween - when all that obviously important stuff becomes so all-consuming that you don't have the time or energy to apply oneself to writing, at least writing anything of consequence anyway. I know I become incredibly frustrated when this goes on for any length of time, because the thing is . . . I'm still thinking. Half of a writing is thinking - thinking about story and character and a million other things, especially when working on a novel - the other half is the physical act of putting all that thinky-stuff down on paper. When all you're actually doing, when all you have time for, is thinking, that becomes incredibly frustrating. That's like a Formula One driver using only simulators for months on end without ever parking his butt in a car. Or an actor who is stuck in an endless cycle of rehearsals without ever setting foot on stage.

Having said all that, I'm not overly worried. I've learned, or at least I'm beginning to learn, that 'down-time' is actually a good thing. I think last year, in particular, I reached a kind of 'burn out'. Sometimes it's good for anyone with a passionate past-time to take a step back once in a while, take a breath and look around. Recharge the Duracells. Even if it's an enforced break, try and turn it into a positive. In about two months' time I finish my Lit degree and I feel really positive about getting back at the writing.

How about you?

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Hotel Galileo from Amazon

My alternate history mystery novella THE HOTEL GALILEO is now available to order direct from priced at just over £6. Until now this title was only available through so it's great to be able to offer people in the UK the chance to order it on this side of the Atlantic.

Here's the link:

News on the follow-up: THE VANISHED RACE, Barclay Heath's second mystery, is nearing completion. Editing is almost done and I'm hoping to send it to my first readers in the very near future. I hope to be able to post a few hints about the plot here soon.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Doctor Who: Farewell to The Tenth Doctor

Now that's it's all over and the dust has settled and Gallifrey has been sent "back into hell", I'm finally able to see just where the Tenth Doctor's final adventure fits into the saga since its rebirth in 2005. I've come to wait a while on such things before making any rash judgements as most of the episodes which I now regard as my favourites took a second or third viewing to really help me fully appreciate them. (Although there are two episodes which I hated on first viewing and still hate even now, which I'll mention briefly later on.)

So was The End of Time any good? Was it a fitting send off for David Tennant, voted by readers of Doctor Who Magazine as the Most Popular Doctor in the show's history? Did the final episodes do him justice? Well, yes . . . and no.

To explain: As always, the double episode crammed a fair amount of drama into the two hour running time with some moments swinging wildly from the sublime to the fairly ridiculous. For example, the climax of episode one in which the Master hops into the Immortality Gate and turns every single human being into a replica of himself was a great twist to the plot. Fantastic! The idea was horrible - that we as a race had lost our indentity - even if the reality of seeing that played out, shaky heads and all, erred on the side of 'a bit silly'. The dogfight in episode two was also a great action-packed sequence subsequently ruined by the Doctor's utterly implausible leap from hundreds of feet in the air, miraculously hitting the target and crashing through the glass dome of the building to land on a marble floor - only suffering a few scratches and sore knees. Bloody hell! I know he was told he was going to die but there was no need for him to make it so easy for his enemies! The last few scenes, though, were brilliant - with reservations. Again, it took a second viewing to see how well acted that climactic scene between Wilf and the Doctor was. It was also beautifully poignant that after saving the world from complete oblivion (and surviving), the Doctor ended up giving his life to save 'just one old man'. Bernard Cribbins was absolutely fantastic throughout, but in that scene in the glass chamber he was exceptional. His timing and his reactions to the Doctor's 'rage against the dying of the light' amplified the emotion to such an extent that when he shouted at the Doctor, "No, Doctor, no, don't! Please!" I, for one, had to fight back a tear. (I'm such a softie.)
But then, after that . . . the ending kind of didn't end, for a looooong time. On first viewing I didn't mind, I was caught up in the whole thing so I just went with it, but in retrospect I think allowing the Doctor so many farewells robbed the whole thing of much of its impact. The idea of the Doctor having a little time before his regeneration is an interesting one, it hasn't been done before, but it was overdone and more than a little indulgent on the part of Russell T. The only scene which had any real value was allowing the Doctor to see Rose one last time, and of all the 'visitation' scenes it was the only one I watched and thought, yeah, that's good. For me, if the episode had ended with the Doctor dropping Wilfred off at home and saying he was going to collect his reward and then cut to the Powell Estate and the scene with Rose, it would have been a much more satisfying ending. But that's just my humble opinion.

The Doctor's dramatic final moments staggering to the Tardis to the accompaniment of the Ood Male Voice Choir was well done, and his final line ("I don't want to go") was a poignant coda, especially for a Doctor who loved life so much.

So, in general, I thought The End of Time was great in parts but too uneven to be regarded as brilliant. My three favourite scenes were actually the quieter ones: the scene with Wilf and the Doctor in the cafe in part one; the scene with Wilf on the Vinvocci ship when he tries to give the Doctor the gun ("You're the most wonderful man I've ever met and I don't want you to die..."); and the scene with the Doctor rescuing Wilf from the glass cage. Ah hell, Wilf was just a legend!

Overall, though, I thought it didn't live up to the Season Four finale. Season Four is still my favourite season and saw David Tennant in his element with the most consistent run of good stories so far.

My two least favourite episodes since the show began in 2005 are New Earth (which I dislike for reasons too numerous to go into here as I've rambled on long enough!) and the Christmas 2007 special, Voyage of the Damned - again for many many reasons, but chiefly for the programme makers robbing the episode of any tension it may have built up over the previous hour by having that silly shot of the Queen standing on top of Buck Palace - waving for crying out loud! - as the flying Titanic soars overhead and saying, "Thank you, Doctor!" Worse than Moore-era Bond, that's all I have to say. Shame, such a shame.

David Tennant is a fine actor and made an energetic and engaging Doctor. I think he was right to leave when he did, though, because as Christopher Ecclestone remarked on his departure after one season that the show is basically this crazy guy saving the world every week; for Tennant to do that for three full seasons and still make the whole process interesting and entertaining is a testament to his acting talent and his enthusiasm. You could see how much he loved what he was doing.

Now, Matt Smith, let's see what you can do...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Future

I've been messing about with this blog for a while and the truth is I'm just not entirely happy with it. I have promised myself a 'proper' website in the near future (probably after my degree is completed in May/June) with free content and other lovely stuff. I have exciting plans for a more professional website. Watch this space for changes.

As mentioned I will finish my Literature Degree in June this year. After that it really will be no-holds-barred. The amount of projects I have on the go or 'on-hold' at the moment will ensure that the next twelve months will be a every busy and exciting time.