Thursday, 20 October 2011


I'm of an age when I can remember with fondness the last attempt to bring The Three Musketeers to the screen, the 1977 version directed by Richard Lester, so when I saw the trailer of Paul W.S. Anderson's steampunky take of the book I thought, 'that's for me!'.


Let's cut to the chase. For a film to be any good (for me) it has to have a decent plot, decent acting, decent directing and decent cinematography. The cinematography in this new Musketeers film is excellent, the rest is dire.

I'll begin with the plot. Look, the book the film is based on is a classic so it can't be difficult to fashion a halfway decent screenplay. WRONG!  The screenwriters have ditched all of Dumas' characterisation and tension and substituted vacuous pantomime-esque nonsense. The plot holes are HUGE (I think if I tried to explain the worst involving Buckingham and Milady and the Queen's jewels I'd lose the will to live) so I have to imagine that this wasn't just carelessness on their part but sheer indifference. Those involved were just plain contemptuous of their audience's intelligence.

And the acting ... what fucking acting? Third prize goes to Orlando Bloom as Buckingham (there are mitigating factors: no man should be obliged to act while wearing such a stupid quiff) who should be obliged by statute not to play villains, he's about as threatening as blancmange. Second prize goes to Gabriella Wilde who played (played?) Constance: this girl CANNOT ACT ... she is Valium made flesh. But tonight's star prize for worst actor in a Dumas adaptation goes to James Corden who plays the Musketeers' servant Planchet. A word of advice to Mr Corden: you are not funny and even when bird shit is dropping on your face the effect on the audience is to cheer for the bird. Roy Kinnear you most certainly are not.

It was awful. BUT the special effects were great, the designer who dreamt up the air-ships inspired and I am sure that the film will be well received by the many fans of The Pirate of the Caribbean.

Makes you wanna weep. And the worst thing is that the end of the film suggests that there's gonna be a sequel. ARGHHHHHHHH!

Score: 3/10


The VERY efficient Caroline Butler at Quercus has let me have a link to the downloadable first chapter of The Demi-Monde: Spring which is out in the UK on the 5th January. Try:
It's an excellent download with flipping pages and rustling sounds and all that other excellent digital stuff so I hope you enjoy it. Odette Aroca who features is a new heroine and I've come to really like her. When I was writing her the image that kept coing to mind was of film actress Mae West (a remarkable woman!) so for those who are too young to know who she is:

One point: you'll see from the extract that the opening words are:
Beau nichon!
This was the subject of some debate between me and my editors. I had originally wanted
'Nice tit!'
but was persuaded to go with something a tad less crude so the French translation was substituted (the action takes place in the French Sector of the Demi-Monde, the Quartier Chaud). I think in retrospect I should have stuck my heels in!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011


Just heard that a short story of mine 'Alternate Currents' has been selected for inclusion in the Ian Whates edited anthology 'Dark Currents' to be published by NewCon Press. The book will - hopefully - be launched next April at EasterCon 2012.

I'm really chuffed.

Whilst I'm not really a great fan of short stories (they use up ideas at an alarming rate for precious little return) I was happy to write for this anthology because it gave me an opportunity to try out some ideas I had for a new book. It's a stroy that stars Nicola Tesla - the genius inventor and thorough going oddball - and his adventures in defeating an invasion from Mars. I had a blast writing it and the short will give me a terrific platform when I start on the book for real (next month). I'm thinking of calling it 'Tesla vs The Martians' which has a B-movie feel to it that I like.

Anyway Tim Burton has already got dibs on 'Mars Attacks!'

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


In anticipation that I'd need to supply a new blueprint for 'The Demi-Monde: Spring' to feature on the inside covers and which would match the one we used in Winter, I had a long think and suggested to Nigel that he design the Zeppelin V1 Flight Capable Attack Steamer featured right at the end of the book. This is what he came up with:

I'm very pleased though it might have been better (though less authentic) if he'd shown the exhaust steam from the four Polzunov Vectorable Steam Turbines been shown coming out of the V1's backside, but you can't have everything! The squadron emblem (the clenched fist) is excellent too and will get more mileage in 'The Demi-Monde: Fall'. I also like the cut away showing the underlying geodetic structure of the V1 - I pinched this idea from the models I made as a kid of the Vickers Wellington bomber.


One of the problems I've found with being a new writer is that (obviously) I don't have any track record with readers and that means there's a lack of trust in my ability. And this is a particular problem when - as I am - you're writing a four volume saga like The Demi-Monde.

When a reader trusts a writer they believe that he or she won't leave them dangling, that the plot holes and inconsistencies they perceive when reading a book are not mistakes, and that everything will be explained or rationalised in later instalments of the story.

Let me give you a case in point. One of the reviews that has gone up on (by 'silea') has cited a number of 'major plot points' which, in her (I'm presuming 'silea' is a girl, if not, my apologies) view mar the book. Now what we have here is a breakdown in trust: silea doesn't have enough confidence in me as a writer to believe that by the time she gets to the end of 'The Demi-Monde: Fall' everything will be explained (notably how Norma got into the Demi-Monde; why the US military thinks its neoFights are dying; why ABBA is so persnickety about exactly replicating its Dupes etc. etc.). But believe me, silea, all will be made clear ... trust me!

Another example was the English reviewer who chastised me for introducing technology to my world of 2018 which will be beyond our current capabilities. Absolutely correct if the Real World of 2018 was OUR world but (as will be explained in later books) it isn't. You see: he didn't trust me.

Unfortunately this trust issue is a problem I think will be exacerbated by 'The Demi-Monde: Spring'. There are a number of inferences/suggestions/hints strewn in Spring which won't be resolved until the final book. I thought this was me being tantalising until my American editors (quite rightly) suggested that I become just a tad less oblique. God knows what silea will make of Spring but it'll be interesting.

Thursday, 13 October 2011


Got to thinking who is my favourite fictional villain. The candidates are:

Flashman: the great character creation of George MacDonald Fraser. Utterly reprehensible (coward, womaniser, etc.) but don't you just see yourself in him and wish for just a touch of his luck? 

Lockhart Flawse (aka 'The Bastard'): the wonderfully dark and sardonically comic hero of Tom Sharpe's 'The Throwback. better even than Wilt.

Griffin: 'The Invisible Man' ... paranoia personified.

Meursault: the lead in Camus 'L'Etranger' and literature's most compelling psychotic.

Moriarty: Sherlock's bete noir and a villain to admire (tho' not evil enough in my opinion).

Alex: from the masterpiece that is 'A Clockwork Orange' ... brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Funny evil and profound with it. the Droogs' patois is inspired.

O'Brien: the dark presence in '1984', the greatest book I've ever read. The fact that the political treatise Orwell puts in the middle is genius and gives me hope that my own 'Confusionism' tract won't be edited out of 'The Demi-Monde: Summer'.

And the winner is ... Alex! (by a nose ahead of O'Brien).


I was asked who I would ask to a fantasy dinner party, the guests I choose can be living, dead, real, mythological or made up.

Well, to start ... my experience is that you have to invite couples to dinner parties otherwise things become a little unbalanced, so with this in mind, my couples would be:

Josephine Baker (20's jazz singer/dancer) + Richard Burton (the Victorian explorer/linguist/libertine not the overrated actor/husband of Liz Taylor). As they both had a pretty liberated attitude to all things sexual (and were hugely talented) I think they would make a pretty good pairing and add little pizzazz to proceedings. I'd have loved for Dick Burton to have made an appearance in the Demi-Monde but unfortunately Philip Jose Farmer had first dibs on him.

Marilyn Monroe + Cyrano de Bergerac. In my humble Marilyn was the greatest comedy actress of all time and Cyrano was, of course, a freewheeling genius. A match made in heaven.

Jane Austen + H.G. Wells. Jane could explain to me how to write in third-person omniscient (which I don't get) and Herbert could explain to me what it's like to be the greatest SF writer of all time (and maybe give me some plot ideas).

Eleanor de Aquitaine (a real feminist!) + John Henry 'Doc' Holliday: I wanted both of them to feature in the Demi-Monde but in the end they got squeezed out. These are two people in history who I admire because thay had the force of character to be their own people.

Billie Holiday + Charlie Parker. Okay the drugs might be a problem but the jam session after the meal would be unreal. The thought of Kit duetting with Charlie and Nelli harmonising with Billie with Ellie on bass ... far out!

Marguerita Zelle (aka Mata Hari) and Francis Walsingham (Elizabeth I's spymaster). They could sit in a dark corner and exchange encrypted billet doux. Hopefully Marguerita could be persuaded to dance. Now she and Josephine Baker tripping the light fantastic would make for an interesting evening. Zowie!!!!

Top that line up, folks!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011


DRC raised an interesting point about agents (and as my computer doesn't allow me to reply to comments ...) so I thought I'd touch on the subject here.

In this world of self-publishing it's probably tempting to think, fuck it, I'll cut out the middleman (middle-men if you include publishers in that definition), stick my stuff up on Amazon and, eureka, I'll be an over-night sensation. But whilst I'm sure for some people that's a strategy that works, for the vast majority it doesn't and they languish un-read, un-discovered and un-paid in the very crowded e-backwater that is 'self-publishing'.

My own belief is that once you have a book you think worthy of being published then it's worth at least attempting to get yourself an agent. A good agent will have three invaluable abilities: he or she will have an instinct for what will sell; will be able to advise what should be done to your novel to make it sell better; and will know the people who might be persuaded to buy the bloody thing. And to this list should be added that they will be a font of good advice (and believe me you'll need it) and a receptacle of oil to be poured on troubled waters when you get really ticked off with your publisher.

I came to John Jarrold by simply Googling 'Literary Agents + Sci-fi' and then checking out what came up. In the end there were three agents I thought seemed promising, checked out their submission guidelines (please, please do this before you submit and follow them, otherwise it's manuscript interfacing with bin time) and sent my stuff off. John came back and the rest as they say is history. And that history is that whilst I've been a client of John's (three years now I think) I've become a better writer. The whole agent/publisher complex is designed in part to provide friendly criticism for a writer and such criticism is vital if you're to improve (of course, being given money to write also helps!).

Criticism is part and parcel of writing but whereas some of the critics out there have got issues and agendas, your agent will be constructive and honest.

So ... my advice: before abandoning the well-trodden path of getting yourself an agent at least give it a shot.

Saturday, 1 October 2011


'Dark Charismatic' was the book I submitted to John Jarrold some two years ago which persuaded him to become my agent. Unfortunately it never found a publisher and as I'm taking a break from 'The Demi-Monde' I thought this was an ideal time to revisit the book.

DC is my take on the Jekyll and Hyde story, and elements of it serve as a prequel to the Demi-Monde. I've always had a lot of affection for the book but now re-editing it after a couple of years it's easy to understand why it didn't land me a publishing contract.

First off, it's too long (190,000 words) and too slow. One of my aims is to remedy these failings by taking out extraneous scenes and speeding up the action. 150,000 words tops!

Second, the book doesn't know what it is. It's not horror (though there're horrific interludes); it's not fantasy (though there is a fantastic element about the story); it's not alternative history (though I do play fast and loose with some historical events); it's not social commentary (though there are chunks of the story devoted to just that); and it's not sexy (though there is a LOT of sex in it ... a lot more than I remember writing!). Therefore I've decided that I'll remodel it as a Gothic Horror Story.

Third, the central character, Margaret Jekyll, isn't well defined enough. I've got a LOT of work to do on Margaret to bring her into focus and to make her journey (hate that word) from Victorian wife to rebel and to make that journey credible.

Fourth, the bloody thing is sloppily written. I keep switching POVs mid-scene etc. etc. Need to tighten up. I've written 500,000 words since I penned DC and done at least 50 edits so I've doubled my writing experience and it shows.

Fifth and final, I've got to tighten up my Victorian idioms which means MORE research!

BUT and this is important, I've a feeling that inside DC there's a good book struggling to get out. It'll take me a month to make that happen.