Tuesday, November 20, 2012


The Next Big Thing is a series of networked blogs in which writers showcase and promote their latest works. I was very happy to be nominated by the wonderfully talented Carole Johnstone.

Here goes...

1) What is the working title of your next book?

For a long time, the working title for this book was The Silver Sea but I changed it last year to The Door in the Sky (for a number of reasons too numerous to go into here). I love both titles, but have decided to stick with the original one, The Silver Sea. I think as this is primarily a mystery novel it certainly lends the book an air of intrigue.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

My first published book, The Hotel Galileo, was a whodunit in the tradition of Agatha Christie - except that it was set in space. Around the same time I imagined a Victorian detective thriller where the main character finds himself trapped in an alternate reality. I saw it as a steampunk adventure but with a dark, supernatural bent. I also knew that it would be a three-or-four book series with an over-arching story.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

I don’t like to make things easy. I would describe this book as predominantly a detective mystery with a large dash of H.P Lovecraft and H.G. Wells thrown in. There’s horror, romance, science fiction, action and suspense. All you could want from a novel, really. It’s a genre mash-up!

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

When I was younger I was always imagining different actors or actresses playing my characters but reading this question now has made me realise that I don’t do it anymore. Not sure why.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A brilliant detective finds himself trapped in another world far from home, and the only man who can help him find his way back is the killer he is trying to stop . . .

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

Steve Upham of Screaming Dreams has already produced some amazing cover artwork for this book. If things work out, I am hoping to publish this book independently.

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

The first draft took around four or five months and it almost wrote itself! This story had been alive in my head for so long that putting it down on paper was like an act of auto-writing. It’s gone through some revisions since but the main plot of the first draft is still there. This truly is a labour of love. I hope readers enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it!

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

George Mann’s "Newbury and Hobbes" series.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

H.G. Well is my main inspiration. I love all of his works. I remember reading his short stories years ago and, despite their age, they really fired my imagination. Part of my thrust for writing this book was asking the question, “What kind of story would Wells have written about alternate realities?”

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest

The Silver Sea is the first volume in a three-part series entitled "The Darknoll Chronicles". Each volume is a standalone adventure, but the over-arching story is about one man’s attempts to find his way home, back to the woman he loves. Volume Two, City of Illusion, is well under way and I cannot wait to write Volume Three, The Oblivion Gate. I know exactly how it all ends and I hope readers will find it exciting, thrilling and ultimately a bit of a heart-breaker. In a good way.

For next week (Wednesday 28th Nov), I nominate the following writers:

Bob Lock

Sarah Dobbs

Thank you for reading.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy: An Appreciation

Part 1: Batman Begins (2005)

Before I was a movie fan I was a comic fan.

There's a geek moment in my life I recall even to this day with utter clarity. It's a Wednesday morning, about 7.30 AM. I'm sitting on the steps outside my friendly neighbourhood newsagents. Said newsagent, Mr Chidlow, comes around the corner and on seeing me does a little double-take. "Blimey, you're up early, lad," he says. Yes, I am up early. And the reason I'm there at such an ungodly hour on his doorstep? It's Wednesday morning and that means the new issue of Spider-Man is out. I can't wait a minute longer. I have to know what happens next.

Looking back as a man of forty, it's hard to reconcile myself with that 10 year-old kid, an age when you could love something as simple as a comic book with the same passion you might reserve for a religion and no one thought you were strange in doing so. Okay, maybe they thought you were a little strange. In the intervening years life has taken me by the lapels and shaken most of that passion from me. But as I grew older and found a new love in my life - movies - I always yearned for the cinema to deliver a movie version of my favourite superheroes that would do justice to the grand milieu created by both the Marvel and DC stables. Many years passed before I saw anything even close. There was a 1980s TV series of Spider-Man which I loved because I wanted it to be good but looking back it was pretty underwhelming. The technology just wasn't in place to portray these characters the way I always imagined. Yes, Spider-Man was (and still is) my favourite superhero - I'm a Marvelite, so sue me - but  of all the DC heroes I always had a special leaning towards Batman. The 60s TV series of Batman only appealed to me as a kid in a take-it-or-leave-it pop-culture way but left no lasting impression, and as much as I enjoyed the Tim Burton movie versions, they never really captured quite the right tone for me and I always felt a huge emotional void at their centre. By the time Joel Schumacher took over the directorial reins for Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, I just didn't care. It was the 60s TV series all over again. Only less so. Empty, camp and, for the most part, just stupid.

Like most people, I resigned myself to the fact that I would never see the Batman I imagined portrayed on film. Then I heard reports about a new movie version - Batman Begins. My initial reactions weren't incredibly positive. "What a terrible title!" was my first thought. And then, "Hm, the suit looks very similar to Val Kilmer's suit in Batman Forever." This is going to be just more of the same. Yawn. Then I saw the teaser trailer [watch it here] and it was the tone that intrigued me. Enough to go see it with my big brother, anyway. Well, I can happily say that I walked out of that cinema speechless. "What the hell did we just see in there?" Can't remember if either of us actually said that, but that was the feeling anyway.

Christopher Nolan had taken a comic book hero (not a superhero as he has no special powers, just tons of money) and made it work in the 'real world'. He had treated the source material with reverence, the tone was serious but with occasionally moments of playfulness, and he had done this with a stellar cast of some of the most accomplished and talented actors working today. With repeated viewings Batman Begins gets better each time. Unlike when I was in my youth, I very rarely watch films more than once these days mainly due to a lack of time (and energy). But Batman Begins is a film I often come back to and it improves on each viewing and, more importantly, the story of Batman's formation is still thrilling. Why? For a number of reasons. Firstly, because the story of Bruce Wayne / Batman deals with so many deep-rooted human (and primal) emotions: losing your parents, revenge, justice, fear, power. If you've lived even a little, these themes evoke strong feelings and cannot fail to stir your emotions. We all watch the news and find ourselves becoming angry over stories of terrible injustice, of terrible tragedy, and also - rarely, it seems - great heroism. Nolan makes these themes sing by making us care about the characters. These are not just comic book cut-outs. In Nolan's version of Gotham City, these people are real. If that means the first hour of Begins is a slow-burn (compared to the previous action-oriented Batman movies) as we watch an emotionally-wounded man formulating an ideal that could change his home town, then so be it - it only serves to give the second half of the movie greater impact. After the woeful pantomime of Batman and Robin, the movie iteration of the dark knight needed his integrity back. Nolan delivered that in spa

Bruce, why do we fall?

So that we can learn to pick ourselves up again.

This exchange resonates throughout Batman Begins and for me it's the emotional core of the movie. Life throws hardships at us when we least expect it - sometimes terrible hardships that can seem insurmountable. How can we get ourselves back on our feet after something so terrible has befallen us? A petty criminal killed Bruce Wayne's parents when he was just a child. And for what? A few dollars and some jewellery. How does one overcome that level of grief? Do you let it consume you? Or do you find a way to channel it, to harness it even, try to make sense of the loss by turning it into something good? People who lose loved ones often create a foundation in their child's name which serves to help the community. [One such example is The Sophie Lancaster Foundation] Bruce Wayne does something similar, proving that one man can make a difference - but as he so rightly observes, not as a man, but as a symbol.

Fall and redemption.
Law and chaos
Justice and revenge.

These themes lie at the heart of Batman Begins and they also lie at the heart of the human experience. Until the 21st Century it was impossible to imagine a "superhero film" dealing with such heavy and important subjects. This is Oscar-worthy stuff we're talking about here. But Batman? Seriously?

Yes, seriously. There has been a seismic shift in recent years in movie audience expectation. The Old Guard of Hollywood are giving way to a new era. Films which operate outside the realm of cinematic "reality" are garnering a new following, a new respect. And one of the main reasons for this is the talent behind the camera. I salute Christopher Nolan and his collaborators. They have not only delivered a cinematic version of Batman that raises the bar for all superhero-related movies but all movies in general. I don't envy the filmmakers burdened with following up Nolan's vision. Anything which follows is going to have to aim very VERY high.

At the end of Batman Begins, Gordon (Gary Oldman) alerts Batman to a new threat: The Joker. "I'll look into it," our hero says.


I can't wait a minute longer. 

I have to know what happens next.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Why I Loved John Carter

It's been well publicised that Disney's John Carter movie adaptation has not been the big success they had hoped for. It's still done impressive business nonetheless, bringing in so far about $179m worldwide against the reported (exaggerated?) budget of $250m. This doesn't take into account the future DVD sales and rental profits which are sure to match, if not exceed, the theatrical takings. I don't see John Carter as a flop by any standards. And, if I'm honest, I think it's fared better than I could ever have hoped. And I'm a huuuuge fan.

Let me explain.

Flash back twenty-four years. I'm sitting reading a paperback edition of George Lucas's original Star Wars scripts. Every so often the footnotes mention Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter books. These books, the footnotes tell me, were a huge influence on Lucas. Edgar Rice Burroughs? The chap who wrote Tarzan? Really? At that time I often frequented a local second-hand bookstore, so, intrigued by the notion of sacred texts which had been a major inspiration to one of the most influencial movie series ever made, I made a special trip down there to see if there was anything by Burroughs. By a stroke of luck, I came back with a New English Library paperback edition of A Princess of Mars, first in the Barsoom adventures.

And I loved it.

I loved it so much I went back to that old bookshop every week until I had every book of the series (as well as a copy of Carson of Venus, the 'spin-off' series) and I read every single one of them, one after the other. It was Star Wars, but more. It was Flash Gordon, but grittier. It was a glorious mix of swords and airship battles and lost kingdoms and mad scientists and beautiful, intelligent, courageous princesses; action, adventure and pure escapism all grounded in an alien setting so vivid and so compelling I can still see it clearly in my mind's eye to this day. I can remember thinking back then, I would love them to make movies of these books, but that's NEVER gonna happen. EVER. And even if they did they'd never be able to really do them justice.

How wrong I was.

For me, Andrew Stanton's movie captured all of this better than I could ever have dreamed.

I have the DVD pre-ordered on Amazon. If they never make another John Carter movie I will still have this one. I've always been of the opinion that favourite movies, the ones I truly cherish and revisit time and again are movies that feel as though they were made just for me. That's the feeling I have about John Carter. When I first heard that Disney was actually making a movie of the John Carter books I couldn't believe it. I didn't believe it. I watched with a sceptical eye as big name actors like Willem Dafoe and Cairan Hinds joined the cast and just thought, the production's gonna fold any day now. Bound to. Then came the teaser trailer with that amazing Peter Gabriel track and the first glimpse - the first real promise of how amazing this film could be, followed some time later by the full trailer which was just . . .  fantastic. But even then I couldn't believe that a major Hollywood studio had spent massive amounts of money creating something so insanely . . . I don't know, the only word I can think of right now is retro - and quite possibly uncommerical. [Ryan Lambie over at Den of Geek summed up this strange phenomenon in this recent article about Hollywood blockbusters.]

Is Disney's John Carter, the movie, uncommerical? Did it ever stand a chance of being a box office smash? I don't know. I would love, more than anything, to see a sequel - heck, multiple sequels, or at the very least the initial trilogy comprising Gods of Mars and Warlord of Mars - but I just don't think it's going to happen. And why? It is the grandaddy of all science fiction/fantasy adventures after all. And I think Andrew Stanton and screenwriters Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon (another hero of mine) could not have done a grander job of making it work for today's cinema audiences. But unfortunately its source material is one step removed from 'the modern moviegoing experience'. By this I mean that modern successes like Star Wars and Avatar and other science-fiction/fantasy smashes - which all took their inspiration from Burroughs' Baroomian tales - did so with a much more direct route to modern moviegoing audiences. These ultra- modern movies are complete in themselves. That is, there are no century-old texts to wrangle with to better understand the universe presented on-screen. But maybe I'm wrong. I mean The Lord of the Rings managed it without too much trouble.

No matter what the future holds, the arrival of this movie has made me believe in small miracles - that sometimes the impossible, or at the very least the improbable, can sometimes happen. It's as though Andrew Stanton convinced Disney to spend over $200 million on an arthouse movie. And that's a pretty amazing achievement right there. And for that, I want to salute Andrew Stanton and all the other people that made this movie event possible. You are my heroes!

(Now, to make my life really complete, someone hurry up and make The Dark Tower books into a movie series. Pleeeeeease?)

Sunday, April 01, 2012

George Lucas to Remake the Star Wars Saga From Scratch

From Press Association, London:

In an announcement that is sure to upset millions of Star Wars fans and baffle many others, George Lucas has put forward his plans to remake the entire Star Wars saga from scratch, retelling the story of the Skywalker family using the same digital animation technology developed on his hit Clone Wars TV show.

'This was always what George was working towards,' a Lucasfilm spokesperson told us. 'He never felt that live-action film, even with the huge amount of CGI employed in the prequel trilogy, was able to do justice to his vision. Now, though, there are no technical limits in presenting his universe.'

The other big news is that there will only be five movies in the proposed retelling, starting with events surrounding the start of the Clone Wars as depicted in Attack of the Clones. Why the ommission of The Phantom Menace? 'Let's face it,' the spokesman said, 'The Phantom Menace is very much unloved by a lot of fans. And George recently admitted that as far as the storytelling goes it was mostly just padding. And, of course, there's Jar Jar...'

Having announced his retirement from directing, Lucas is handing over the entire project to his prequel producer, Rick McCallum.



Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Guardian - A Short Story

(The following story first appeared in From the Asylum, July 2006)


Jim Hughes had just opened the front door to put out the trash when he saw the Ferrier kid. He was standing in a spot of moonlight at the bottom of the garden path, staring up at the house. The sight of him almost made Hughes drop the can.

“Hey!” he called. “Who is that?”

The boy didn’t reply, but Hughes quickly realised who it was. He recognised Ferrier from the descriptions he’d overheard from the local kids. Painfully thin and impossibly tall, his face a mass of acne scars. His clothes were also several sizes too small, which gave him a scarecrow-like appearance. But what confirmed it for Hughes were his eyes. They were huge. Great white cue balls they were, with the tiniest pupils you ever saw. It was those eyes which freaked people out the most. Girls mostly; it always seemed to be clusters of girls running away from him. The high school kids said the Ferrier boy—the weird kid from the special school in Brighton—could see right into your soul.

Hughes followed the boy’s gaze, which led him to the bedroom window of his step-daughter, Stephanie. He could see her silhouette moving about behind the curtains, getting ready for bed.

Hughes started down the path. “Have you got a problem, buddy? Are you a pervert? That it?”

Those huge white eyes met Hughes’ own as he reached the end of the path. Hughes, a fearless soldier who had seen combat in the Gulf War, felt a finger of dread creep up his spine.

“Get out of here,” he said, his voice lacking its usual punch, “or I’ll break your head.”

The kid stared at him a while longer. Then he opened his sore-encrusted lips and spoke only two words.

“No more.”

“What?” Hughes barked. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

But the boy didn’t answer.

Hughes watched him walk off down Cedar Road until he was just a shadow amongst the trees. When he raised his clenched fist, he found he was shaking uncontrollably.


He found it hard to sleep that night. The encounter with the Ferrier kid had deeply unsettled him. Lying next to his snoring wife, Hughes turned those two simple words over and over in his head until the early hours.

No more.

What had he meant by that? No more what? Was the kid vowing that he wouldn’t peep at girls’ bedroom windows anymore? Or did he mean something else entirely? Whatever it was, he’d seen the little creep off.

He got up and shuffled out to the bathroom. Relieving his bladder, Hughes listened to the silence of the house, broken only by the incessant drone of his wife’s nasal music. Marie was so fat she couldn’t sleep without snoring anymore, it seemed. Just another nail in the coffin of their sex life.

He was crossing the landing when he felt that familiar urge againthe one that always came in the darkest hoursand he changed direction. He placed his ear against his step-daughter’s bedroom door, listened intently for a moment, then went in.

Stephanie was sprawled across her bed like most teenagers in deep sleep. Caught in a sliver of moonlight, her face looked as beautiful and fragile as porcelain, the image of Marie when she had been her age.

His heart beating a little faster, Hughes sat down on the bed beside her, gingerly brushing the backs of his fingers along the silk of her nightdress, along the curve of her thigh.

“Stephanie?” he whispered. “Daddy’s here.”

She didn’t stir, didn’t even open her eyes, but two words escaped from her lips. A sudden gust of wind from the gap in the window obliterated what she’d said.

“What, honey?” he said, leaning close.

“No more.”

“What?” he said, his mind reeling. But before he could say any more, he felt a white-hot pain explode in his brain and his vision filled with fire . . . then absolute darkness.


The week after her father was buried in Brighton cemetery, Stephanie Hughes found the courage to tell her mother what he’d done to her, what he’d been doing to her for months. Her mother refused to believe her; she was too lost in grief for her husband, the war hero. But Stephanie didn’t mind. Before her father dropped dead of an aneurysm in her bedroom, she’d been on the brink of suicide. By his death, she’d been savedjust in time. It was almost as if a guardian angel had been looking after her.

Coming home from high school one afternoon, she saw the Ferrier kid standing on the pavement a few houses away. He was staring at her with those big, uncanny eyes. She shivered and rushed into the house, trying to shake the mental image of him from her mind. She never saw the contented smile which momentarily broke his acne-scarred features as he turned and continued on his way.


Sunday, January 08, 2012

Two Kindle Novels and a Short Story Collection - Free for Monday

For today only (Monday 9th Jan) three of my Kindle ebooks will be free on Amazon:

Lazarus Island
The Vanished Race
The Midnight Men and Other Stories

(Please spread the word!)