Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The "Next Big Thing" Blog Meme


As part of the ongoing Next Big Thing blog meme, I've been tagged by my excellent brother, Julian Sedgwick, whose first novel, The Black Dragon, comes out July 2013 from Hodder Children's Books.
I've got a few things on the go at the moment but I wanted to honour my brother by talking about a graphic novel we've written together. And at that point I must immediately talk about our superb illustrator: John Higgins

For John to be illustrating our work is more than a dream come true: Julian and I grew up reading 2000AD and the like, so we're beyond pleased to have this legendary artist bringing our thoughts to life.

What is the title of your next book?
Dark Satanic Mills

Where did the idea come from for the book?
The title may be familiar to some readers; it's a line from the verses now known as "Jerusalem" by William Blake. And was Jerusalem builded here, among these dark satanic mills.

But the real origin of the book lies in our wanting to say something about the perils of belief.
I have to pick my words carefully here: we're not saying it's wrong to believe in God, or Allah, or UFOs for that matter. We're saying it's a dangerous thing when you believe so devoutly in your chosen god that you allow the possibility of no others, that you are at risk of enforcing others to think the same way as you do.

We absolutely want to champion those who believe in a fair and free way, and often these people are those who do not follow orthodox religion, but find their own route to understanding.

And this brings us back to William Blake, because although his religion was nominally a Christian one, he made his own very unorthodox approach to it. People often mistake the "dark satanic mills" of those lines of his from the introduction to his edition of Milton as referring to the woollen mills of the industrial revolution. But he actually used the term to refer to the church. The orthodox church, which he saw as imprisoning our true nature and spirituality.

What genre does your book fall under?
It's a graphic novel, about a dystopian future. Elements of sci-fi.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
For Christy, our heroine, I'd like someone young and interesting looking, like Bella Heathcote. She has to be believable on a motorbike though. For Thomas, her co-protagonist, we need someone with an honest face, and determined. Ewan McGregor'll do nicely.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
V for Vendetta meets The Wizard of Oz, with a side-order of William Blake.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Our agent is the diligent Kirsty McLachlan at David Godwin Associates. It will be published by Walker Books in 2013.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I have absolutely no idea. Writing a book is a strange process that goes through many stages, some of them less obvious than others, but all of them critical. How do you know how much of your time you've actually spent getting ready to put virtual pen to paper? I think we worked on it on and off for about a year, but that's a total guess.

What other books of the same genre would you compare yours with?
As I mentioned above, V for Vendetta would be a good comparison. And I also think it bears some similarity to certain serials from 2000AD.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I think I've covered that above, but it might be worth adding that having had those ideas about religion, it was necessary to find a world to place it in. The thought of a collapsing England, shrouded in darkness in a time of unrest and ecological disaster was too good to ignore. It's been done before, but then, what hasn't? And it seemed right and true to our concept, so that's they way we went.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The titles of each of the seven chapters are the "last seven words of Christ": his utterances from the cross. There's elements of A Clockwork Orange and Quadrophenia. There's the coolest Citroen DS ever. And did I mention that the illustrations are coming from the pen of John Higgins??

I hereby tag the following awesome writers:
Jacqui Brocker
Kevin Jackson
Annabel Pitcher
Philip Womack

Their answers should appear on Wednesday next week.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Being James Joyce

That's a snap of me in profile being James Joyce last Sunday. My dear friend Kevin Jackson was making a short promo video for his forthcoming and most excellent book: Constellation of Genius, which is a history of the year 1922.

This was especially timely since I'd spent the previous three days in Dun Laoghaire, in sight of the Martello tower where Joyce spent six nights once upon a long time ago. The tower is a museum to this great Irish writer now.

I was in Dun Laoghaire (a name, as my co-host @tomdonegan pointed out, that is not conducive to auto-correct) for the superb Mountains to Sea book festival, six days of wonder and fun curated by lovely Tom and equally lovely @sarahwebbishere.

I did a couple of Raven Mysteries events, which I end with a little play performed by myself (as Edgar the raven) and five volunteers from the audience. It's almost always a complete shambles, and more fun because of that, and I'm glad to say that the plays were as smooth as always ;-) I was chortling so much I forgot my lines :-)

Tom and I took a stroll to the end of the harbour wall in DL, a spot which according to Mr Donegan proved the turning point for Samuel Beckett, who taking a similar jaunt in a force eight gale decided to move to Paris instead and leave Ireland behind him. We were blessed with extraordinary weather however and on the way back witnessed this cloud formation, sometimes mistaken for a flying saucer. (it's the one dead centre) Neither of us could recall its proper name, anyone know? Answers on a postcard please.

The following morning I just had time to witness a superb double act from @jabberworks and @philipreeve1 and then it was time to whizz home to prepare to be James Joyce.

Constellation of Genius is launched October 4th I believe. And then the next film Kevin and I work on together will be an extract of My Swordhand is Singing, shot on location in the Alps!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

My Swordhand is Singing @ Pop Up

Here's a bunch of photos from the Swordhand play we put on at the Pop Up festival on Saturday, including one of my favourite moments: Agnes leans in to kiss something she now knows ISN'T her boyfriend...

It was a creepy moment, made all the more creepy by the wonderful music from Eamonn O'Dwyer and the clever shadow puppet work of the cast.

I was really delighted with this first, miniature outing for the book as a play, and I think it shows what we're trying to do for the whole piece, as and when we can pull that off. The text and music collided really well and the atmosphere was spot on, and I want to thank Alex Sutton, our amazing director, as well as the whole cast: Alex Beck, Noa Bodner, Freddie Hutchins, Ruth Leavesly, Anne Leone, Gemma Sandzer and Rhys Saunders, as well as our sound and lighting team: Mitch Peters and Chris Withers.

The creepy bits were certainly a highlight but maybe the best bit of all was watching happy faces streaming out of the tent afterwards :-)

Oh, the cross at the end? That was put up by some workmen on a site opposite our tent...

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Building a forest...

There's something fundamentally weird about making trees from wood...

Anyway, be that as it may, this is how the set for our Swordhand event at the Pop Up festival is coming along...

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Writing for teens..?

There’s a big difference between writing Teen fiction, and writing for teens.
I’m only saying this as a preamble to what comes next, which is not meant to be provocative; simply that in the simple distinction above lies, for me, the absolute crux of good writing and bad writing.
Yes, I write teen fiction. But I do not write for teens. I write books that get published and are marketed at teens, but I do not write the books for them, or aimed at them, or with them in mind.
In every ‘dinner party’ situation I find myself in, when people find out what I do and want to know a bit more, I’m asked questions that go something like this; “But how do you get into the head of a modern teenager?” or “Who are your books aimed at?” And these are fair questions, but having been asked them enough times, and stumbling out some answers I didn’t really believe myself, I came to the realisation that I do not attempt to get inside the head of a modern teenager, nor do I aim my books at anyone. Anyone at all.
What I’m going to say next might sound arrogant, but I promise it isn’t: I don’t write for anyone else, I write for me. Why isn’t that arrogant? Because I believe that precisely the reverse is true – the arrogant thing would be for me, a 44 year old to assume that I know what a modern British 14 year old boy wants to read, or how an Australian 12 year girl thinks, or a German teen or a Brazilian or… You get the point. How could I possibly know those things? And this is really part of a much broader point – whenever anyone writes anything at all, teen, adult, horror, romance, sci-fi, they should be writing it for themselves, because to assume that any of us know what is desired in another’s head is an act of extreme arrogance.
So I write for me, and if there’s something youthful about my writing, it’s because, I believe, that those of use who write for children or teens are still deeply in touch with that part of their lives, in some part of their brain at least, and are seeking to understand it. At the most, then, I concede I might be writing for a part of me, one that is still thinking as I thought aged 16 or so.
Now, as it happens, it seems that my books work well for teens, or so I’ve been told, and I’m also often told that I don’t seem to patronise, or talk down to teens, and if that’s true, then you can guess why I believe that is – because to try and guess the mind of anyone else, adult or teen, is to patronise them.
That being said, I am realistic enough to know that what I’ve put in a first draft might need to be edited a bit, adjusted, changed – but I promise you that in all the edits I’ve ever made to a book, none of them, not one, was because I was thinking of my readers as young people, not adults – every change I’ve ever made in a redraft is towards one goal only – to make it a better book, no matter who reads it.
You should write the book you want to write, and do it as well as you can, with as much truth and passion and energy as you can. And when you’ve done that, you can then hope that something in it will be something that someone else might want to read, but at least you’ve been true to one person – yourself. And with that start, you might just have something.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Closed graves...

Sorry not to have tweeted much (i.e. at all) on the second day of Open Graves, Open Minds, the Bram Stoker Centenary Symposium held at Keat's House - it was a busy day, which kicked off with a tour of the house and then moved on to the sessions proper, starting with a double act from your humble blogger and my friend Kevin Jackson.

I did a 45 minute slot on the folklore of the vampire, and how it differs from the vampire we have come to know from fiction and films. In this I was aided by my friend Thomas over at That Elusive Line, who drew me the handsome vampire you see here.

Then Kevin spoke about various vampirical things, and showed his 10 minute vampire film, Pavane for a Vampire Queen. Take a look if you haven't seen it - it's beautiful :-) And for the eagle-eyed features a cameo by, well, me.

The whole day was a great success, I thought, but the highlight for me was the closing talk, by Sir Christopher Frayling, a man whose books and TV programmes I have admired since I was young. He spoke about pictorial representations of the Gothic in art and film, and it was flawless and fascinating. It was based in part on material first considered in his show Gothic Nightmares from 2006 at Tate Britain, still available in the show catalogue. It was a total fan-boy moment for me, as we traded folkloric aspects of the undead.

Then came vampire themed canapés; black pudding on coffin shaped blinis, stakes through steak etc, and we all went home very happy, and much more enlightened about vampires in general. I'd like to thank Dr Sam George of the University of Hertfordshire for inviting me, and for organising the weekend.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

My first published writing...

Here for your delectation I am going to put up a small piece of writing - the first thing I ever had published, as a teenager, which I recently re-discovered when at my mother's house.

Back in the late Dark Ages (1985, I think) I entered a 500 word maximum horror story competition run by the fanzine of my favourite band at the time; Siouxsie and the Banshees. I will embarrass myself by telling you that I won, however, having just re-read the second place entry, I suspect these may have been the only submissions...

Nevertheless, I guess at the back of my mind, it may have planted the seed that it was actually possible to get your writing published, though at the time I was more pleased with winning a tour jacket.

The one thing is does show however, is that I've always been a gruesome little oik, and I present it here just as I wrote it, with a few spelling mistakes corrected, because it's never too late to get your homework right.

The other thing it shows is that I was always destined to be spare with my writing - the limit was 500 words and I coasted in at 325. Such parsimony!

It's called Just a Joke, and it goes like this:


The coffin of nurse Amy West had been exhumed, and now the crude box lay before me. As head surgeon of the city morgue it was my duty to perform an autopsy; demanded by the Police; only now after her burial. She had apparently died of fright. I opened it; my assistant choked as he gazed in; ‘oh Lord.’ My eyes fell to the lid’s interior. The cheap wood was scratched as if by wild animal’s claws, and was stained dull red in places. Then my view sank to the girl, to her fingers; a bloody mess, to her ripped nails, to the huge splinters piercing the once sensitive flesh, exposing bone, to her bloodied dress, and finally to her dry eyes, staring from a face frozen in fear… ‘She wasn’t dead.’
So what had happened..?

As a student nurse she had initially been squeamish, like all the other students, except one girl who never spoke to the other nurses, except to make cynical remarks about their lack of guts. Naturally the other girls hated her, but when they observed an amputation for the first time, they saw her smiling, and they decided to get even for her callousness. Amy was supposed to take the amputated arm to be incinerated, but this is not what she did. That night the nurse took the arm, daubed it with green fluorescent paint and hung it in the strange girl’s room, so that it reached towards the door. They waited next door in Amy’s room for their victim to come off nightshift. Eventually footsteps stopped at her door and went in, then, nothing… Two minutes of silence, then Amy nervously went next door. Seconds later a chilling shriek caused the others to scramble out after Amy, just in time to catch her she turned from the open door and fell, her face writing with confusion; and why…? Behind her, on the bed, the girl crouched, eating the arm…

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Open Graves...

Well, next Friday and Saturday I'll be attending and speaking at OPEN GRAVES, OPEN MINDS; the Bram Stoker Centenary Symposium being held at Keat's House, London. I'm delighted to be going along and honoured to be speaking in the company of some wonderful academics and other writers including Sir Christopher Frayling and my good friend Dr Kevin Jackson.

The conference literature says "Delegates will investigate the most famous vampire narrative of all, Dracula, on the centenary of Bram Stoker's death and interrogate its relationship to new developments in interdisciplinary research, drawing on nineteenth-century vampire archetypes. Dracula, of course, is the seminal vampire novel (though it has its antecedents); a gripping narrative that dramatises anxieties over sexuality, new technologies, foreignness, and modernity. Invited speakers will debate the evolution of Dracula from novel to theatre, film to comic book."

At the time of his death, Stoker was better known as a minor personality in Victorian London, as the theatre manager of Sir Henry Irving, who'd been Britain's greatest actor. His obituary did mention that he'd written a certain book called Dracula, but actually his death was overshadowed by the fact that that large boat had sunk in the Atlantic five days before, and the papers were full of Titanic news.

So at the conference we'll be paying due deference to his Stokerness, leaving no (grave) stone unturned, or indeed pun to rest in peace, as we investigate various aspects of the great man.

My talk is going to focus on how the folkloric vampire differs so markedly from the one we've come to know, largely though not exclusively as a result of Stoker's book, and is entitled The Elusive Vampire. It's derived from a chapter I've written for the forthcoming book; Open Graves, Open Minds: Vampires and the Undead in Modern Culture, edited by Dr Sam George.

All in all it should be good fun, and I'll be tweeting from the event next weekend.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Some early writing...

Herewith the first piece of writing of mine that I still have. Unearthed at Easter. And in case you're wondering, I was five :-)

"Guy Fawkes was a man and he wanted to blow up the houses of parliament and one of Guy Fawkes’ friends had a brother. And he was going be in a meet and the King sent out guards and the guards caught Guy Fawkes. And they got his powder."

No wonder my books are on the brief side...

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Short stories

Oops! It's the middle of March and it's my first blog of the year. I have to say that I have some sympathy with the views of my good friend Mr Taylor  over at THAT ELUSIVE LINE on the subject of blogging. Everything I want to write does indeed seem either to be bragging or boring. So the end result is that I don't, and yet as Thomas rightly points out, we are supposed to be doing this digital thing. 

In the end, I think it's best to write only when you want to (that goes for all types of writing), and I wanted to say a few things about short stories, so, ahem....

I've recently written a short story for a project in association with The Guardian and Sony called futurescapes: (Life in 2025 if you want to read it) and as a result of that was asked to be a judge for a short story competition. There were some great entries, but it made me think about the art of short fiction.

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to edit an anthology of short stories for Walker Books. I approached all sorts of friends and acquaintances in the writing world, and was surprised to discover that at least half of the authors I spoke to don't like short stories, or at least don't like writing them. I won't name names of course, but a few people told me they just hated them, didn't understand them, or didn't know how to write them, which was refreshingly honest. I've always liked short stories, because it's a chance to let your hair down a bit, do something different from what you usually do, experiment, take risks, but without the investment required to write a whole book. And some ideas just lend themselves better to short fiction.

I suppose the truth of the matter is that writing, of whatever sort, has to have a point. I don't mean a message per se, but there has to be a reason to do it; because it's beautiful, conveys emotion, makes you think etc etc etc. And the challenge in short fiction is how to do that in say, 4,000 words. It's a tricky art form therefore, and I see why some writers don't like it. But that's also why they can be so satisfying, to do something that 'has a point' in so few words is a great feeling. When you get it right...