Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Things that were good in 2010

Oh come on, everyone else is doing one of these! Lists for this and that and everything inbetween. Right, this is mine. I make no apologies and if I forgot someone, sorry!

1. Madmen. OMG. Where to begin on it's sheer awesomeness. Slow burn storytelling, mysteries abound, Roger Sterling's wit and Joan's, well, Joan-iness. The most rediculously good-lookin' cast of human beings imaginable and it made me go out at buy my first suit (I work in my pajamas, why oh why do I need a suit?). It made smoking cool again. (BTW kids, smoking is BAD). I've ploughed through series 1-3 and just waiting for that series 4. I love the way all the characters intertwine and the layers of story seems ocean deep. Now that's writing. Impeccable settings, story and characters and the Carousel speech is arguably TV's 'To be or not to be,' a piece of dialogue that all others will be measured against. Pure brilliance.
2. The Chainsaw Gang. I'm rather proud of this one. It started with a vague conversation about getting a bunch of authors together and since Sept we've had five events already. There's more lined up in the New Year and hopefully we'll be setting up a website soon-ish. Considering we're basically a bunch of strangers sitting in the lifeboat in the sea of books, it's great to have some company!
3. Orlando trip. I can't thank Hyperion enough for giving me the chance to come over and meet the movers and shakers of the US YA world. Made a lot of great new friends and the 'Kiss Me, Kill Me' blog series is the result of this. Plus it's always nice to stay in a safari park.
4. Movies. In no particular order: Inception, Scott Pilgrim v. the World, The Other Guys, Solomon Kane, Kick Ass.
5. Books. Blood Meridian, Shiver (I know, paranorm romance, who would have believed it?), The Doubled-Edged Sword, The Forest of Hands and Teeth.
6. Family. 'Nuff said. Now more than ever.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Kiss Me, Kill Me Blog Tour

It wasn't that long ago when I sat up and a meeting and suddenly realised "OMG, I'm in the paranormal (non) romance genre!"
There's a feeling at times I'm here all by myself but as my dear old mum said to me as she pushed me through the school gates on that first day "Go and make friends and don't bite anyone!" before she hurried off across the road to the hairdressers.
The best thing about the conference last month was the mixing and mingling with the lights of the YA world. You could not hope to meet a smarter, better-dressed and well-mannered bunch. There were moments (quite a few, actually) when I really did wonder if they'd got me mixed up with someone else and any second now security would grapple me to the ground, get excessive with the pepper spray and shove me on the next flight outtta DisneyTown.
Look, there's Darren Shan! Holly Black! Melissa de la Cruz! Ally Carter! Maggie Steifvater! Carrie Ryan! OMG, what is she doing? Is that legal here? Well I suppose it's possible with medical training, but seriously, using just a spoon? It doen't look hygienic...
Hold on, there was a point to this blog. Ah yes. Making friends and influencing people. So, after hanging out with said superstars and basking in their light I was pushed onto a plane to leave the cloudless skies of Orlando far, far behind (hey, did I tell you I got upgraded when I gave a flight attendant a copy of my books? True!). But, I have taken a little fistful of ideas with me, back to the snow-bound wastes of South London.
I'd like to announce the 'Kiss Me, Kill Me' blog tour!
Cool title, don't you think? Well, I like it so that's what we're going to call it. Sigh. Some people.
Starting in Jan and running for as long as I can manage, I'll be inviting the great and the good and glamorous and gruesome of the YA paranormal world here, to review and interview them about what shakes their tree and gets their cold, vampiric blood flowing.
With a title like 'Kiss Me, Kill Me' I'll be starting with the female of the species. Quite the most deadly collection of authors, I think you'll agree. I've got Maggie Stievater, Cindy Pon, Rachel Hawkins and Carrie Ryan and that's just to start with. There will be vampires, zombies and werewolves, Oh My!
So, have a merry old Christmas, don't worry about the snow and I'll catch you later.
Kiss Me, Kill Me. Well I think it's a cool title.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Ode to the Chainsaw

It's a statement weapon. It says 'Hey, I'm loud, noisy,brutal and when this is over, there'll be blood on the carpet and dismembered limbs in the kitchen'.
It reminds us that quantity has a quality of its own.
Suitable for most social ocassions. Be it zombies or lost teens, the chainsaw is the answer.
It's not subtle, true, but it announces itself. You know when somebody starts up a chainsaw.
We're half-way through the Chainsaw Gang's 12 Deaths of Christmas and while I'm disappointed we're not heading for that Xmas No.1 slot in the charts, in all other aspects the tour has been a success!
Thank you for joining it, one and all.
Below is the full list of the bloggers who've been involved. Each has posed us a curious question (who would you be in yoru favourite horror movie? What's the spookiest place you've ever visited? Books for Xmas and so on) and we've all given them our answers, which range widly! Plus there has been singing.
Thurs 9th Wondrous Reads
Fri 10th BookZone
Sat 11th and Sun 12th Book Gazing
Mon 13th BookZone
Tues 14th Wondrous Reads
Thurs 16th Enchanted Books
Remember, each comment entered gets a chance to win the Chainsaw Library, a signed copy from each member of the Chainsaw Gang. That would be your 2011 reading list sorted in one go, wouldn't it? Alas, only UK residents, this time.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

My Vampire Romance

Been there, done that. Now even the most casual reader of my blog will know my apprehension over vampires. They may even think I have some garlic-like aversion to the bloodsuckers.
That couldn't be further from the truth!
"No, Sarwat! Tell me it's not true! You've not gone all Team Edward on us! Is that a poster of RPatz up beside the bed? Oh woe is us! Who will deliver the throat-ripping, blood drenched fiends we crave now Sarwat's started drawing little hearts in his elegant note book and calling himself 'Sarwat, the lost Cullen'.
Fear not, my companions of slaughter, I have not fallen to the dark side.
Well, not yet though there are those moments when Jacob takes of his teeshirt (like every five minutes but frankly with abs like those, who wouldn't want to expose them to the world constantly although you've have to hack through a thick forest of chest hair to see anything like that on me not that I have had abs like those since, well ever, though there was a period in my late teens when I was doing karate a lot, before I had my teeth knocked out but that's another story where was I? Oh yes, anyway there was that time when I did have the vaguest outline of a six-pack but all too briefly. Sigh.)
Which brings me somewhat shambolically to Anne Rice, the godmother of vampires. Oh, gosh, where to begin? We had the gloriously ammoral Lestat, melancholic Louis, the petite but lethal Claudia and then we had Akasha, Queen of the Damned.
Oh, yes, now that's what I call a vampire.
Interview with a Vampire. The Vampire Lestat and the Queen of the Damned were the first three and the best vampire books I've ever read. After those, all others are, well, anaemic. It started a love affair with the blood-sucking fiends that, truth be told, has never ended. It amazes me how it's gone on and on, we never tire of them, we love them in all their angsty palid beauty (and none were as angst-ridden as Louis, I tell you).
Gloriously violent, devestatingly glamorous and painfully beautiful, the vampires of Anne Rice novels were the very pinnacle of the genre. If you're looking for the 'real thing', dash over to Amazon and order them now.
BTW, am I the only one that enjoyed the movies? I thought Queen ofthe Damned was great, I even bought the soundtrack. Check out the music videos on the dvd special features. Lestat is a vampire's vampire.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

So Darren, why don't your vampires sparkle?

One of the GREAT things about the writing business is hanging out with your heroes. I'd like to take a small step back in time. Mind the kerb.
You know when you decide to do something new and there's the old saying If you want to build a better mouse trap, see how the original one works'. Or something. The point is there's no point in reinventing the wheel.
Jeez, that was a crap sentence, but you know what I mean?
So, I want to be a writer. How best to go about it?
I'm not talking just about writing words and sentences (like, duh) but making it into a career.
Here are the vague steps I followed:
1. Decide I want a career, not a hobby that pays. That means acting like you want to (say) retrain as a teacher, or accountant, or astronaut. That means study, putting in the hours and using your time efficiently (especially as writing is probably the most inefficient job possible. I don't know anything that generates so much discarded effort, except perhaps being president). Way, way too many people want their books on shelves,and frankly there's not enough room as it is. Not only are you competing against everyone writing now, but pretty much everyone who's written ever. That's over 2,000 years worth of writing from the best in history. Imagine wanting to be an interior decorator but having Michealangelo to compete with. Somehow your neat, pastel-coloured ceiling doesn't look quite so amazing, does it? That's what writing can feel like. Actually, I always feel a bit depressed when I think about it like that. Moving swiftly on...
2. Whose career do you want? Now it's nice to think "J.K Rowling's", and okay, yes, we all think that briefly, but in my choice I prefered those that have had a few more ups and downs, and still made it. It's character building and will offer greater inspiration in the long run. I picked Clive Cussler, Bernard Cornwell and Darren Shan. Cool heroes with historical mysteries, action and horror. These are the three aspects that appealed to me and helped me to decide the route to follow.
3. Why Darren? Firstly, his success is down to HARD WORK. Yes, he's amazingly talented but we can't all have that level of talent. But we can reproduce his effort. The guy churns out great books like some book-churning-out machine. He does tours, school visits, blogs in great depth and clearly has a mad passion for his job. I saw him do a presentation to a couple of hundred kids and decided that was how I was going to do it. Get them involved. Acting out scenes. Whip up a frenzy. His fans are mental for his stuff. Now that's the sort of enthusiasm you want for your writing, isn't it?
He doesn't sit on his butt when counting the money and tapping away. He gets out and about even now when, surely, his success would mean he doesn't need to do it anymore.
So it was a rare honour to finally meet him at Orlando. We had a bit of a chat and talked about my favourite book of his (The Thin Executioner) and how he was in Oman during the Gulf War when he was researching it. That Middle-Eastern atmosphere is the best thing about it and shows you how much stories are improved by real experience.
So, yes, if you are planning to crack the author mystery, you could do a lot worse than check out Darren.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Christmas singalong

Obviously I've way too much time on my hands but I've decided to branch out into music-writing. I'm not talking about a nine-hour opera or even a West-End type musical with dancing and cabaret (though that would be fun, wouldn't it?) but something Christmasy. If it's good enough for Cliff Richard* then it's good enough for me.
It's something I've been working on with my fellow Chainsaw Gangsters and some of the wise and beautiful of the blogging world. I'd like to present:
The 12 Deaths of Christmas Blog Tour and Sing-a-long!
Starting on Monday, and over the next 12 days, we'll be releasing a verse a day, which a major brainstorming of the members of the Chainsaw Gang. The idea is that each blogger asked whatever they wanted, and we gave them the answers as best we could.
It'll be a chance to delve into the twisted minds of Alex Bell, Alex Gordon Smith, David Gatward, Sam Enthoven, Me (obviously), Steve Feasey, Jon Mayhew, Stephen Deas and Sarah Silverwood. The questions range widely from writing techniques to personal hygiene habits!
It kicks off tomorrow at My Favourite Books and will then be infesting the blogsphere like the bubonic plague!
Tues is at the talented Mr Ripley.
Wedsneday will be Narratively Speaking.
Friday at BookZone.
Saturday is BookGazing.
Then I'll update you with the others as we get closer.
Need I mention there will be prizes? Well, there will be!

Friday, 3 December 2010

Me and my library

This is buzzing around the blogosphere and there are far wiser and more erudite writers explaining why the closure of 250 libraries in the UK is a BAD IDEA. All I can do is give my perspective on this and leave the politicians the opportunity to do the right thing. For once!
As you know, I'm into my history. While most of it does involve swordfighting and gladiators, sometimes it does stray into the big ideas of civilization.
You know what? Libraries define civilization. Not reality tv, not banks, not the bread and circuses.
The great library of Alexandria. It pushed Eygpt to the centre of the world and it's loss is still being felt today, 2000 years later. There were scientists and thinkers operating out of its walls who invented the steam engine. Imagine where we'd be now if the industrial revolution had happened in the first century AD rather than the 18th? That's were science, philosophy and cultures met, learnt from one another and made the world a wiser, more tolerant place. You get rid of libraries, you get rid of wisdom, you might as well just chuck thsoe books on a bon-fire. Like they did in Germany in the 1930s. And we know that turned out well.
"Oh yes, Sarwat, but it's all electronic now. Paper is passe. Wouldn't it be so much easier if people could download it. Problem solved."
Sorry, but that's the arguement of someone who's never been in a library in like the last ten years. Last time I looked our library had classes for pensioners (like teaching them how to use the computer and surf), story-telling groups for toddlers, language classes, author meetings, writing classes, book groups and the opportunity to do something else than spend the day inside your house ALONE. It's a chance for people to get out, meet, exchange ideas, learn something from others. Someone mentioned wanting to create the 'Big Society'. Oh yes, it was the Prime Minister. Well, the first brick in building that society is the library.
I didn't have a lot of books in the house. Not everyone can afford it because books are a luxury item and if you're not so well off you want food on the table first. The library was where I learnt about the world. I read about Ceasar crossing the Rubicon, the battle of Hattin, the witchtrials. I learnt that Afghanistan has been more trouble than it's worth for over two millenia. Even Alexander the Great thought it best just to get on the hell out of there as quickly as possible. Frankly, if one or two politicans had visited their own libraries before commiting to war, a lot of lives would have been saved. It opened the world to me and made me realise how marvellous it all is. We are retreating into parochial mindsets already, shutting down libraries will only speed that process up and all our news and knowledge will become the unfiltered rants of the loud and empty voices.
The library has been the mark of a civilization. Always has, always will be. Those that tear them down will be judged badly by history.