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I’m a mobile writer, which means I don’t have a dedicated place where I go to work. I always smile at the photography series in the Indie that shows off writer’s spaces. The places they have made for themselves where they can create a masterpiece in comfort. There’s a lot of book-lined studies in there. It’s all very cosy.

If I were ever to have that honour, I’d have to show the photographer onto the 06:56 to London Paddington and get him to take a snap of a window seat. Lord knows, I’d love a place like Roald Dahl’s shed, or Neil Gaiman’s library, but that just don’t suit the way I do things. Maybe I should try a stint of writing in the summerhouse.

Writing on a train is the best way I know of getting some no-distraction work done. I can’t connect to the internet. I deliberately use a small, light netbook that doesn’t have too many fancies, but does have a good keyboard I can happily abuse. There’s power on the train, and access to coffee, which is really all I need to at least get a handle on the writing task of the day. I’m an early bird when it comes to this particular task, which means I can get a half-hours work done at the day’s creative peak.

A mobile writer needs a sturdy bag. It’s the office, essentially. It should be able to withstand all the rigours of a daily commute, while being light and small enough to be easily portable. When I began my rambling life, I carried my 13″ Blackbook in a solid, heavy Redline bookbag that was built to withstand a low-yield nuclear strike, but very nearly twisted my spine out of true whenever I picked it up. That was a lesson learned. Only carry what you really need, not everything you think you might.

If you’re interested in the sort of thing I lug around, allow me to point you at TLC’s new photo blog. She’s taken shots of our two bags, which are strangely accurate portraits, and interesting insights into our inner workings.

The Sky Is Beginning To Bruise, And We Shall Be Forced To Camp

We spent the weekend with TLC’s side of the family, parked in a row of 5 caravans beside a pretty fishing lake in the Warwickshire countryside. It was an excuse to chill, relax, kick back, doze out, laze around, flop about and generally be at one with nature. There were children, dogs and balls to throw at both.

Oh, and we ate and drank like champions, which isn’t too tricky when you have five barbies, assorted gas grills and fridges groaning with beer and wine. As you can see from the map, there’s a brewery just down the way, which due to circumstances beyond our control I didn’t get to visit. I was assured by the sore-headed gentlemen of the group that it was very good, and well worth a visit.

It was as close to idyllic as I’d seen in a while, and yet another example of Britain’s countryside at it’s best. There was no power or facilities other than the ones we brought with us. And yet we had a great time. I didn’t even mind blowing up the air bed with a manual foot pump.

I’d do it again in an instant – although probably not in a tent. That’s a bit too close to nature. But caravans and camper vans are great, and anyone who thinks otherwise, or grumbles at being stuck behind one on the motorway has clearly never had a fun time on a lake. Their loss.

Here’s a short Flickr set of the day.

Not pictured: me, drinking.

Fandom – when obsession becomes passion

My post on fandom a couple of weeks ago was very much coloured by the fact that I’m not part of a fan community. I thought that this would give me an objective outside view of the world. All it really did was provide a barricade behind which I could lob brickbats and snarks without fear of blowback. That’s unfair to a lot of people, and nudges me dangerously close to the kind of snobbish commentary that drives me to fizzing spasms of rage when it’s directed at something I happen to like.

I’ve decided to offer a right to reply to a friend and writer who is deeply involved in fandom. WDW runs a very well respected blog on one of the more interesting A-listers on the scene, Jake Gyllenhaal. She knows the highs and lows of being a fan, and I’m delighted to offer her a slot on X&HT in order to set me straight.

Continue reading Fandom – when obsession becomes passion

Friday Fiction: I’ll be Your Mirror

A little squib that was written and didn’t make the cut for The Campaign For Real Fear. It addresses the way we all spend so much time looking at ourselves these days – and what if one day we look and something else is looking back. It’s a common enough horror meme, I guess, but by mixing it up with ideas of infection, invasion and zombification, hopefully I’ve come up with something fresh.

Note: a horror story. Which is why it’s tucked behind a More tag.

Continue reading Friday Fiction: I’ll be Your Mirror

Endings, beginnings and others.

It’s been an interesting week, filled with activity of all sorts which could make 2010 a very fulfilling year for me creatively.

winner_night_120x240.pngFirst up. I hit page count on Script Frenzy. I made it a couple of days before the deadline, which is always a nice feeling. Not having to race to the line gives you a feeling that you’re ever so slightly more in control of the material, and not just lobbing random words at the screen in the sure and gloomy knowledge that they’re all coming back out when it comes to the second draft.

Writing a comic script is different from anything I’ve ever tried before. I’ve had to be much more aware of the way the story flows from page to page, keeping things moving while leaving little bits of room for the story to breathe, for the characters to come to life. Essentially, I’ve had to write 96 little stories, each with their own cliffhanger. It’s been fun, and a challenge.

The job now is to get an artist on board. I can layout and probably do character design, but I’m fully aware of my shortcomings as an artist. I know I couldn’t do the story in my head justice. Any takers out there that might be interested collaborating in a dose of decent old-fashioned skiffy?

In Straight8 news, Dom and I finally got together with the brilliant Kiki Kendrick for a morning of reshoots on our 2009 film Time Out. It’s been over a year since the initial shoot, and we’ve been trying to merge schedules for the last nine months. Third time turned out to be the charm. In an intense two hour session we nailed five shots in two locations. The film is being processed, and with luck and a fair wind we can drop these shots into our existing cut and have something we can show you in a couple of weeks.

Finally, potentially the biggest news of all. Leading Man Clive and I are collaborating with Simon Aitken, Ben Woodiwiss and Brendan Lornegan, the guys behind Blood + Roses on a feature horror, Habeus Corpus. It’s an anthology movie, and we’ve all contributed a short script. The overarching theme of the film will be “the exploitation of the dead”. Treating the dead as a resource, rather than a threat. Humanity doesn’t come out well in our tales.

We’ll be directing our own segments, apart from Ben, whose opening segment will be helmed by the mighty Paul Davis of Beware The Moon fame. I’m incredibly excited and gut-wrenchingly nervous about this. It’s a massive step up for me, and I really hope I can do it justice. It’s some comfort to do something like this with friends, though. People whose judgement and skill I trust without question.

The script is just about locked and it kicks significant barrelfuls of ass. We’re starting on the long painful task of looking for finance. It’s going to be hard work, and I know blood will be spilled. But at the same time it’s another step up, another barrier to vault.

See? Told ya. Exciting times.

Five Days Of Script Frenzy

Well, so far so good. It should be noted that the first week of Script Frenzy has coincided with a Bank Holiday, and some shift time off. So I’ve been able to get my head down and hack out some serious scriptage.

Let’s do the maths. I’m writing a seven part comics series, each of which is 16 pages long. So far I have 20 pages down. But this equates to 33 actual script pages written, which means that whichever way you look at it I’m ahead of schedule. If I was to be positive, I could declare that I’m a third of the way there.

I wouldn’t say the story is spilling out of me, though. I have to break everything into pages and panels, and make sure that the story flows and works on a page, issue and collection basis. It’s not really a slog, but I’m aware that I can’t just blaze through a word-count in the same manner as Nanowrimo. I’m treading a bit more carefully than normal.

Further, the way Celtx (the scriptwriting software recommended for this adventure – Final Draft but free, thus with less of the bells and whistles but a dedicated comic-writing setup) formats a comic page is a bit, well, ODD. It breaks things down into an A/V script – that is, everything in boxes, description to the right, captions, bubbles and SFX to the left. It makes all kinds of sense, but it’s not something I’m used to. I really hope it’s acceptable for the final page count like that, otherwise I could be in real trouble.

Progress will also be delayed somewhat by an upcoming trip to Amsterdam for to partake in the drugs and ladies of negotiable virtue culture and maybe a small beer or two. I’ll be taking the Dell, but I expect my page rate to drop. Which is why I’m trying to stay as far ahead of schedule as I can now.

So, if you’ll excuse me. These coyote-spiders aren’t going to stalk my hero by themselves.

The Amazing Derek

When I was a teenager, a couple of friends and I used to jump on a train and head over to the bright lights of Clacton-On-Sea if we had a sunny school holiday with nothing better to do. It was a good place to get away from the parental units for a day, and generally misbehave. We’d hit the arcades, egg each other on into buying cheap lagers from the Spar on the esplanade, and try and desperately fail to talk to girls.

One event we always managed to fit into our itinerary was a visit to the Alhambra. This was a shabby cinema/theatre, tucked away in a side street. It had a bit of a reputation for showing obscure horror and sci-fi, and my friends and I made a habit of checking out what was on.

But if we were lucky, we would be in town while the management of the Alhambra made one of their regular attempts to pick up some of the spill-over crowd from whoever was playing at the pier theatre (Bobby Davro normally, if memory serves.)

Now. The management of the Alhambra had some strange ideas as to what constituted good live entertainment. Downright … bizarre ideas. Which was why me and my mates were always enthused when we crossed into Harold Road from the Marine Parade, to see signs up announcing the triumphant return of the Amazing Derek.

The Amazing Derek’s shows were short, sharp, and to the point. They were free to get in (the management made money off the concessions stand. We certainly ate our bodyweight in Revels whenever we pitched up) and lasted no more than ten minutes. It was closer to a sideshow in a fair than any proper theatrical venture. None the less, we scampered up, bought our chocs and settled down in the worn red velvet seating for the show.

The Rocky theme would blare out of rattling speakers, and Derek would stride out on stage. He was a short, wide man with a curious ruff of ginger hair nestling round the base of his skull. He wore a red silk dressing gown. On the back, wonky gold lettering proclaimed “THE AMAZING DEREK NOBODY DOES IT BETTOR”. The crowd, well, the three teenage boys in the front row, went nuts.

His stunning assistant, whose name I never did find out, then stepped daintily onto the stage. As daintily as you could do when you were dragging a heavy wooden sawhorse, anyway. She placed this in front of Derek. Then she dug in a hidden pocket of her costume (way too small and tight for a woman of her effusive dimensions, but she had our undivided attention while she struggled with her bustier) and after much drama and groaning of tortured fabric, produced a blue sateen bag. With much ceremony, she took three walnuts out of this bag and placed them carefully on the sawhorse in a line.

She withdrew. The lights dimmed a little.

Derek slipped his robe off.

I could describe the explosions of ginger hair that blazed over his chest and back. I could describe the taut firmness of a belly that had clearly made good friends with the Hofmeister Bear a long time ago. But really, all anyone was looking at when Derek disrobed was his gigantic penis. He was enormous. I mean, jaw-droppingly huge. His cock was as thick and wide as a police truncheon. It swung gently from side to side as Derek paraded across the stage, making sure the whole audience got a really good look at it.

Inevitably, this was the point where there were walkouts. We always stayed. We knew what was coming.

Derek positioned himself in front of the sawhorse, and grasped his manhood firmly. Then he lifted, and swung. CRACK. The walnut on the left shattered. Derek swung again. CRACK. There went the walnut on the right. CRACK. The walnut in the middle, sending nut-shards all over the delighted teenage boys in the front row. He stood back, to let us admire his feat of strength and dexterity, and then the curtains came across again. We would be on out feet by then, applauding wildly, but he never came out for an encore. We didn’t really need it. The act was perfect just as it was.

Last summer, I was at a loose end on a day off, and quite out of nowhere decided to visit Clacton. Have a wander around, have an ice cream, watch the sea. An aimless, nostalgic kind of a day.

Quite by chance, I found my route led me back along Marine Parade to Harold Road. I smiled, and thought I’d take a look and see if the Alhambra was still there.

It was. Not only that, but a faded banner outside declared “!!!TODAY LIVE IN PERRSON THE AMAZING DEREK!!!”

It couldn’t be, could it? I had to find out. Entrance was 50p, a concession to straitened times. The spotty girl at the concession stand seemed uninterested in my stories of past visits, and had no idea if this was really the same Derek. I slipped into the cool dark interior of the auditorium. The seats were a little more worn, but just as I remembered, and the seat I always took in the front row was free.

As I sat, the Rocky theme crackled out and the curtains opened. The Amazing Derek strode out on stage. He was a little plumper, and the ginger ruff had gone white. But it was clearly the same man I had seen twenty-five years earlier. The assistant, also the same, dragged out the sawhorse. I could hear her costune complaining from the immense strain it was under. But now she ducked back into the wings, bringing out a Tesco carrier bag. Out of this, and with great ceremony, she produced three coconuts, which she placed with the same care on the sawhorse.

She withdrew. the lights dimmed a little.

Derek slipped his robe off.

The ginger explosion had gone white, the belly had a bit of a sag to it. But Derek’s cock was as long and thick as ever. The damn thing could have qualified as an offensive weapon.

He took up position, and grasped his manhood firmly. Then he lifted, and swung. BAM. The coconut on the right exploded in a shower of white flesh and juice. BAM. The one on the left did the same. BAM. The coconut in the middle burst into pieces. I was picking coconut out of my hair all the way home. It was extraordinary. He stepped back, and the curtains fell.

I couldn’t help myself. I snuck backstage, and introduced myself as a lifelong fan. Derek was charming and polite. His voice was Essex gravel, but he was intelligent and erudite, if a little amazed that anyone would have remembered him. His stunning assistant Charmaine, his wife of thirty-seven years, made us all tea.

“I’ve got to ask,” I said eventually. “When I was a kid, it was walnuts. What made you upgrade? I mean, it makes for a better show, but what made you think of it?”

Derek smiled, and dug in the single pocket of his robe, producing a small pair of glasses which he perched on the tip of his nose.

“Thing is,” he said, “my eyesight’s not what it used to be.”


Oh, dear. Lou Charloff tells it better anyway.

Flash Stance


I should write more flash fiction. It’s a great way of keeping up your daily word count, while at the same time not having to commit to a bigger project or challenge. Lord knows, I don’t need the encouragement to get involved in those (hel-looo, Script Frenzy).

The format, for those members of the Readership unaware of the concept, is what I used to call a short short. A short story under 1000 words, frequently coming in at well under that count. I could, if I had the idea, knock out a piece of flashfic on my train ride to work in the morning. It can be a way of writing a quick joke, or to map out a concept, or simply to fire out a character piece. The choice is yours. The only restriction is the word count.

Yesterday I hammered out my first piece of flash fiction in at least a year. I had, for once, a proper reason to do so. I submitted the story to a new incentive, The Campaign For Real Fear. This is a competition jointly created and judged by horror authors Maura McHugh and Christopher Fowler. The aim is to find stories that tap into 21st century terrors, rather than simply rehashing the same old monsters and tropes. The limit is 500 words. As Maura and Chris say in their intro, “If you can’t scare us in 500 words, you won’t manage it in 5,000.” It’s a great idea, and one I’m happy to both participate in and endorse.

Closing date for entries is 16th April. I know there are members of The Readership who would excel at a challenge like this one. Gentlemen, start your engines.

(Flash fiction is a very different deal to slash fiction, which I can’t write. I’ve got no interest in writing about other people’s characters, and I’m no good at sex. Writing sex. Sex scenes. I can’t do sex scenes. Shut up.)
(That’s probably why I’ve never got on with LiveJournal. I keep trying to explore it, and end up mired in some Russian teenager’s Farscape/Stargate mashup. Which turns into an orgy. Topless Robot have a great thread of the worst slash fic on the web, which I applaud and view as a public service. They go there so you don’t have to. It’s a dark mirror to the excesses of the human imagination. The Pokemon abortion fetish story is especially eye-opening.)

(I shudder to think what that last sentence is going to do to my Google stats.)

(image from Flickr user degan’s stream.)

Rabbit, run.

I have a totem. A familiar, if you will. A spirit animal that is with me always, a nurturing friendly presence that helps to define, while at the same time disguising me. In some ways it is akin to the daemons of Philip Pullman, in others closer to a superhero’s secret identity. If you have seen me on the internet at all, you have seen my familiar too. I allow him to represent me out in the world.

I’m talking about the rabbit. More specifically, I’m talking about Frank Kozik’s Smorking Labbit, who in different guises serves as my avatar, my game face.

I have been fascinated by rabbits for a very long time. Mankind has an ambivalent relationship to them. On the one hand we view them as coote widdul bunnies, and keep them as pets, and wail like the world has ended when a fox gets into the hutch and chomps them up. At the same time, they are pests, turning verdant grassland into desert, breeding exponentially, causing massive damage and subsidence as they dig out their runs.

In myth and popular culture the rabbit is seen as both trickster and messenger. I’m thinking of the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, the herald to new and psychedelic experiences. This figure reappears in the Jefferson Airplane song of the same name, and in The Matrix. When Neo is invited to “follow the white rabbit”, you know he’s not going to be led to the nearest McDonalds.

As trickster, of course, the popular embodiment is Bugs Bunny. Ostensibly, his battles with Elmer Fudd are simple hunter/prey stories. Except we know that the end to the story will not be Elmer sitting down to wabbit stew. But there’s a sheer glee to proceedings, and you know that Bugs delights on getting one over on his foe. He’s not looking to get away from Elmer. He’s looking to beat him. Br’er Rabbit’s adventures in the Song Of The South have a similar resonance. In those tales, though, danger is a little closer to the surface. You get the feeling from reading the stories that Br’er Rabbit is really thinking on his feet, surviving on his wits. If he fails, he’s dinner.

Finally, of course, there’s Roger Rabbit. He’s motivated by love of Jessica of course, but also by a creative urge. Witness the point where he and Eddie Valiant are handcuffed together. He can free himself, of course. But only when it’s funny to do so. This speaks very clearly to me as a writer. Going through hoops purely for comedic or dramatic effect – that’s me all over.

All these characters are masters of disguise too. They are fluid, ever-changing, trying on new clothes and faces in a whirl of re-invention. Bugs is especially mercurial, and his penchant for cross-dressing is well-known, and has led to endless internet discussion on his sexuality. I’m not so sure. I think it’s more the case that he’s bursting to constantly try new ideas, new ways of winding up Elmer, and he knows that dressing up as a girl is one way of getting a rise out of his enemy. Erm, figuratively speaking, of course. Although the question should be asked…

Me neither. Jessica Rabbit, now…

Ahem. Yes, well, moving on.

Frank Kozik is an American artist best known for his concert posters, coming out of the underground rock scene of the early eighties. But to me his most enduring creation will always be the Smorking Labbit. It embodies everything I love about their mythic qualities. It can be cute and decidedly not at the same time. And, because of the nature of the drawing, open to reinvention and reinterpretation. This really speaks to me. I love the idea of my disguise being able to wear a disguise. He can be custom fitted for different events and fora.
This here is the classic black labbit, sweet but a bit fierce. My icon of choice, and possibly ink someday.

This little fella is was up until recently my Facebook … face…,
Until I replaced him with this Kent Culotta image, which somehow seemed a bit more me.
And this chappie is ideal for SF and steampunk forums.

This is really just scratching the icing on the metaphor. Do an image search on smorking labbit and you can see how multifarious my little daemon can be.

One last story, which in a way describes where the rabbit idea came from in the first place. When TLC and I first started seeing each other, we were living a five minute walk apart. It was easy for me to spend more and more time at her place, until I had practically moved in. At which point I discovered that her flatmate had coined a nickname for me.

I was “Bobsy Rabbit, the lodger.”

It’s all been downhill from there, really.

A Writer’s Rites

As we’re coming up on another month of writing, I thought you might be interested to know how I go about knocking out 1670 words or four pages of script a day. It’s not as tough as it sounds.

My prime time for writing seems to be the morning. It’s when my brain seems to spark, and the words come out with very little effort on my part. Frequently, the only thing stopping them coming out in one big lump is my typing speed. This at least gives me the chance to think ever so slightly about what I’m slinging onto the page. After about two o’clock, I can feel my mental processes slowing a little, and writing then becomes a bit more of a chore. I’m an early bird, not a night hawk, and I work accordingly. I’ll only work after 8pm if the situation is desperate (which with NanoWrimo, it often is).

I write on the move. Specifically, on the train between Reading and London Paddington, which works for me on a ton of different levels. Firstly, it falls into the right time slot for creative thinking. Secondly, it’s distraction-free. I can’t hop onto the internet, and phone signal goes into a black hole at least twice on the trip. I have become adept at picking the train that will always have a free seat (the 6:56 from Worcester Shrub Hill, if that level of detail interests you) and for the half-hour journey into That London I can successfully immerse myself in the task at hand. A lot of my recent blog posts have come from the train. If I’m using my iPhone and the excellent WordPress app, then they can be written and posted before I get into Paddington. Anyone that bitches about the iPhone keyboard clearly needs to give it a bit more time, because if a fucknuckled gimp like me can knock out three hundred words in a train trip, then anyone can. If I have to work a weekend, which means slower trains, then I can easily get a thousand words done.

I can and do write at home, but then it’s in concentrated half-hour bursts, After that the temptation to hop onto Twitter or browse my Reader feeds becomes just too strong. I read somewhere that concentration on any one task will slip after 45 minutes. It’s slightly less than that for me, or maybe it’s just for the five years that I’ve been using this method I’ve got used to working in half-hour sessions. But really, it’s down to organisation. I find that if I break the word count for the day down into easily manageable chunks, then I’m less likely to give up and fart around on something else. In simple terms, if I have a day at home, three half-hour sprints would get me a day count of Nano. That’s not really such a bind, and if I work through the morning that’s me done before lunch.

My writing tool of choice nowadays is a Dell netbook, the Mini10v. Dirt cheap and simple to use, with a great, full-width clicky keyboard. It’s light and portable, and doesn’t have all my stuff on it, unlike my beloved Blackbook, which is starting to show it’s age after years of being lugged around.

The Dell is running Ubuntu, a version of Linux that I’m starting to really enjoy. It’s like all the good bits of Windows without any of the virusy nonsense. This is intriguing, as one reason for my choice of the Dell was that it was relatively easy to hack into running OSX, a process called Hackintoshing. I don’t plan to do that now. I’m having much more fun playing with an open system, and getting it to work in the way I want.

I’m not leaving The Church, of course. I am and remain a profound and evangelical Machead. However, working with Ubuntu has taught me that I’m actually less platform dependent than I thought. Without really thinking about it, I have been moving away from proprietary software and towards open-source equivalents. I’m a big fan of OpenOffice.org, which has great auto-correct and formatting tools. I haunt the internet using a mix of Firefox and Chrome, depending on mood. Both are pimped. There’s no excuse for anyone running Firefox not to add extensions like Flashgot and Shareaholic. And I rather like Scribefire, a fully featured blogging platform running in the browser.

My email and calender needs have been cloud-based for a while now, and an arcane net of apps ensure that events update to all our devices, both at home and away. Google Docs and the brilliant Dropbox take care of syncing and back up of all my writing.

The key is flexibility and mobility. I’ve learnt to my cost that I have no control over when and where an idea will drop on me. The seed for Pirates Of The Moon came out of a single misheard phrase in a conversation. Sometimes I don’t even get that much of a warning. The point is, I need to be ready. if an idea is not written down, if an appointment is not noted when I make it, then it may as well not exist. I have a small leather satchel (not a man-bag, alright? A satchel. Shut up.) which carries the Dell, chargers, notebooks, et al and means that I’m prepared for anything, anywhere. I carry my writing space with me. Give me a chair and a flat surface, and I’m good to go. Actually, at a push, I can write standing up on the train. But that’s maybe pushing things a little too far. I may be a nomadic writer, but I’m not a masochist.