genre stuff


Dune Concept Art


I’m reading Dune at the moment. Yes, last to the party, I know – but I’m enjoying it immensely and I can’t remember being so immersed in a story, certainly not since being a novelist. I’ll maybe post some thoughts afterwards, but in the meantime I came across a couple of galleries of Dune concept art. The first I spotted over at io9, and collates concept art by Mark Molnar. You can follow his Dune blog updates, which are fascinating. The second gallery is from comic book artist, Jock (full gallery over on his site), which were for an abandoned movie from Paramount.




Invisible Cities Panel

I was at Foyles in London on Saturday night for a panel called Invisible Cities. It was a discussion on cities and the fantastic, with Tom Pollock and Kate Griffin (with Tom Hunter as moderator), and which was hosted by The Kitschies and Kraken Rum.

I haven’t enjoyed a panel discussion so much in ages. Tom and Kat were on superb form, and we had some proper debate going on, whilst being thoroughly grounded in genre sensibilities. We covered all sorts of subjects about how we each approach writing cities, our relationship with urban spaces, cities as inspiration, what cities can represent, how they’re great at presenting a wide cast of potential characters, tensions, plots and so on. As you can see – a pretty wide-ranging talk. My slant was, pretty much, trying to prove that cities didn’t really exist on one level (I’m not sure whether or not I got away with it) as well as championing the non-city. And right at the start, Tom Hunter very kindly revealed my dislike of London to the audience made up largely of Londoners, but I think I smoothed that over…

There were some really interesting questions that the audience brought up, one of which I never felt got answered properly, so I’m highlighting it here. One man asked about working class characters in fantasy fiction, and why they were notably absent. What I think he was actually getting at was – and this is probably with regards to real world cities – why there is little interest in genuine social realism. To a large extent, I do agree with him – there is a particular M. John Harrison-esque kitchen-sink grunge fantasy that doesn’t really get done all that much these days, especially one that engages with social issues. I didn’t really have a satisfactory answer to that. Perhaps it’s a niche within a niche, or perhaps class is very different these days in Britain. Maybe it’s done in short fiction? Anyway, my lack of a satisfactory answer niggled me.

Other than that, great to see new faces, as well as more familiar ones – and lovely to have a panel like this outside of a convention. Thanks to all who came.


Zombies, Run

If you’re a runner (even in the broadest sense of the word), I don’t know about you, but it can get really dull. Running isn’t too bad in the summer, when it’s warm and there are plenty of distractions, but as winter approaches, it’s dreary, and hard to motivate yourself to go outside.

So to spice things up, I recently downloaded Zombies, Run:

We immerse you in an action-packed game and story mixed with your own music, whether you’re jogging in a park, running along a trail, walking to work, or even running on treadmills.

The first mission basically introduced me to the world in loose terms, and gave me a mission of returning to a base-camp, going via a hospital, and picking things up along the way. You get bursts of audio drama in between songs on your playlist, as well as updates as to what you’ve picked up, and how far away the zombies are. It helps to have an epic soundtrack of sorts (or you could just have Lady Gaga or whatever). The app also measures your distance and time, too, which is pretty useful.

And you know what? It’s pretty good. You have to throw yourself into it, and not take it too seriously, but you feel as though you’re a part of something – even if that’s the zombie apocalypse. I’ve only tried out the one mission so far, and I ran a much quicker 4-miles than I’ve done for a long time. It’s not that I’m scared of zombies (though, when the time comes, I probably wouldn’t be a fan of them), but suddenly I’m running with a purpose, which makes things fun.

Anyway, give it a shot. If you hate exercise, this might be what you need to get you outside.


Third to First

Person, that is, not bases or gears. I’m not going to talk about what you should use third or first person voice for – you make your own rules on that. These are just a few thoughts on why I decided to change from third person to first for the new Drakenfeld series, which will be out next Summer.

I spent four books (and the stuff before that) writing in third person. Most of my writerly life was spent doing that, jumping around from character to character, giving a different perspective of things. I made the switch for a few reasons. It was not to create a hard-boiled or noir style – I think those are among the most incorrectly used words to describe a certain post-Hemingway style, but that’s not my issue today. I chose first person because:

1) I wanted a sense of intimacy that I’ve not used before. I’m writing about a character who is sensitive, who would rather preserve a life than remove one without a second thought, and who views the world in a way that would be best expressed through such intimacy with the reader.

2) A challenge. I was well aware that I’d filled previous novels up with characters, perhaps too many, and I wanted to restrict myself utterly to one point of view. If you choose first person, there’s no escaping that.

3) I can express my ideas in a much more subtle way in a first person narrative. Ideas become rather blunt in the third person format, but they can be approached far more gently and deceptively in first person. (Writing’s largely about deception, right?)

4) First person worked better with respect to the locked-room mystery. The character could never be aware of the full orchestration of the murder and, therefore, neither could the reader. If I was writing in third person, there would always be the chance that I could reveal something to the reader that I hadn’t to the character. Where’s the fun in that?

5) Reinvention. I wanted to start afresh – pretty self-expanitory, since it’s a new series and a chance to reach to a new audience.

The thing that surprised me more than anything was how much I preferred to write in first person. I mean, I had to settle into the style – I rewrote the start several times because I wasn’t happy with it (in fact, I scrapped the original first chapters and started afresh twice) – but I found that it was far more rewarding, far more interesting, and far more immersive. Hopefully readers will think the same.


Treasures of Ancient Rome – BBC4

There’s a bit of a myth that the Romans didn’t really do art. At least, that’s what Alastair Sooke claims, in BBC4’s new series Treasures of Ancient Rome. The idea is that the Romans pinched what they could while taking over most of the known world, and basically rehashed what went before. They were good at blowing their own trumpet when it came to war and politics, but not so much art. Having read a few books on the subject, and visited exhibitions in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the British Museum, I’m not all that sure the myth does exist. Even so, if you had no idea about the subject, at the end of this program you would at least have the understanding that the Romans were, in fact, pretty damn good at art. In fact, they revolutionised it – and that’s the more important point.

In his first programme, Sooke generally focusses on republican era art, from Capitoline Wolf, which turns out not to have come from that era at all, through to the development of portrait sculpture, reliefs from the age, and mosaics from Pompeii, all of which was spliced with scenes of Sooke scooting around Rome in a Fiat Cinquecento and generally being in awe of what he was looking at.

Seeing Roman art being recreated was incredible: bronze statues emerging from wax, paintings recreated from Pompeii, and a remarkable marble bust being chiselled in a studio. One of the things you never really get a sense for, when staring at pieces in galleries, is the sheer amount of effort, time, love, dedication and passion involved in their creation.

Much of this was to support Sooke’s views on how Romans changed the world of art, and he needed to show us the level of skill involved, and the technology developed to help drive art in new ways. Sooke explained that such changes brought us realism – on statues, that includes things like the detailing on beards, wrinkles, jowls, which all lead to a much rawer and honest portrayal of human emotion. That was a marked difference to what came before, and a true legacy of Roman art.

Sooke’s presentation style was different. It wasn’t as though he seemed awkward – I think he’s just a genuinely interesting chap, and not a cookie-cutter presenter who’s been wheeled out in front of a camera. His enthusiasm occasionally overwhelmed the subject, but that was brilliant to see. Roman art deserves such passion on the telly; it’s infectious. Sooke’s style worked for me because he was addressing the uninitiated, of course, and getting them excited; but it wasn’t patronising at all to those who have some understanding of the context. I think he’s honest: when confronted with a recreation of his own bust in bronze, he seemed genuinely humbled, unable to mask his emotions: not at the likeness of the piece, but more that he felt bronze heads were usually of more mature, and very dead, men.

I’ll look forward to the following shows, but for those of you who can’t access it, you can read Sooke’s article in the Telegraph discussing what he’s up to with this series.