I friend of mine on Facebook tagged me in a challenge to name 10 books that have stayed with me. Not necessarily the best 10, or anything like that, but the ones that affected me. Also there’s no comics here, although I’m considering doing one of those separate. These are in no particular order.
1. Men at Arms – Terry Pratchett. My first Pratchett book. Not even close to being my last.
7. The Girl with all the Gifts – Mike Carey. The newest book on the list, but the only book I’ve read this year that I had to take a break from reading for a few days, just to let it all sink in. I think this will stay with me for a long time.
This post has nothing to do with writing. Well, at the moment it doesn’t, maybe toward the end I’ll throw in an anecdote and it’ll be witty and clever, and I’ll look back on this opening and wonder why I didn’t think of it earlier. Or I’ll mention I’m an author and feel good about dropping it in. But at the moment no writing.
It’s about driving.
I’m 34 years old (35 in a few weeks) and a few months ago I took the steps to start driving for the first time. Being 34 and being unable to drive never really felt that weird, I live near a big city, there’s lots of public transport, so I wasn’t too concerned.
But I have 3 kids, and a new career as an author…
Anyway, it’s become evident that I need to learn to drive. So I’ve set about having lessons. I passed my theory a few weeks ago and today I set my practical test for a few months time. It was a nervous moment, knowing I have this test in a few months, but I feel okay. I’m going to to suggest that I’m some sort of genius when I get behind the wheel. Unless you count stalling it, I’m damn fine at that, but for 14 hours of driving time, I feel fairly confident I’m not going to mount the pavement and squash someone who annoyed me. Yet, anyway. We’ll see how much pedestrians keep annoying me.
Seriously people, watch the road, not your damn phone. Also to the people who beep me because I’m not going fast enough. Firstly, I’m obeying the speed limit. Secondly, I’m in a car with a big bloody great ‘L’ on top of it, give me a break. And lastly, you see that gear stick right next to you. Well, you can just shove it up your ass.
Anyway…to be honest, I’m quite enjoying driving (apart from a few other ‘drivers’), something that whenever I mention it to people who have driven for a while their response is either, “it’s awesome, you’ll love it” or “that won’t last.” Apparently the act of driving is incredibly polarising. Who knew?
So, that’s what I’ve been up do. Learning to drive being all grown up and stuff. I guess it took longer than usual, but it’s actually okay.
Oh, yeah, I’ve been editing book 4 too. I promise I’ll have a release date soonish for everyone. Book 5 should have one too. Just to drop that in at the end there.
Have a good week, all. I’ll be back soon.
Right, I figure it’s been too long since my last competition and it’s time for another one.
So, here’s what I’m going to do.
I’m going to send the MP3 of all 3 Hellequin books (Crimes Against Magic, Born of Hatred and With Silent Screams), to 2 lucky people. I’ll sign the boxes of both and the winners will probably get some other stuff put in the bag too.
This is going to be a little different, because to enter I want you to nominate 1 person who you’d like these to go to and tell me why.
That’s right, we’re going to be all altruistic about this and give these to someone you think will enjoy them. It could be your other-half, your parent, child, friend, neighbour or even random dude in the street. That last one is probably a little weird. Just tell me who and why.
Next Friday I’ll get one of my daughters to randomly pick names out of a hat and those two people will get MP3 copies of my books sent to them.
I’ve been an avid gamer for many years. I got my first console, a Megadrive (or Genesis to some) for my 13th birthday nearly 22 years ago and fell in love with the weird blue hedgehog that came with it. I must have played that game a dozen times, and hated that damn water level ever single time.
Over the years, I picked up a Sega Saturn, PS1, PS2, Xbox, Xbox360, Dreamcast, Gamecube and PS3. When the new consoles were released I was initially hesitant. It took me a while to go from Xbox/PS2 to their counterparts too, and I was determined to wait a year for the PS4 to release games I wanted before looking into getting one.
Well I managed nearly 4 mths.
My PS4 and copy of Infamous: Second Son arrived on Friday and I’ve spent the last weekend getting to grips with my new shiny toy. Here are my thoughts.
I quite like it. It looks nice and sleek and it nowhere near as heavy as I’d expected. Also no powerbrick, which considering the power this thing can chuck out is nothing short of amazing.
The controller is lovely. Like, really lovely. It’s a huge leap from the PS3 one and up there with the 360 controller in terms of comfort and use. The touch pad is a bit of an odd inclusion, but it works pretty well on the games I’ve used it for. Also the light bar is pretty cool and I like how it changes colour depending on what game you’re playing/doing with the PS4.
The OS is lovely. It’s very streamlined and looks great. It’s basically one long bar where all of your games go. You can drop down on any game and look at more information about it or change settings, and there are also the same thing for your TV apps and the like. Your PS profile and trophies are all on the same level too, and it’s all very easy to navigate. Although I do have a few concerns about how it’s going to be in a few years time when you’ve got loads of games. Also some of the menus aren’t as logical to find things as you may expect.
Frankly it’s an amazing system and I’m glad I picked on up, but systems are nothing without games, so here are the few I have.
I got his for free because I already own it. I love Flower, it’s relaxing, fun and beautiful to watch. Even more so on the PS4. Also, I can sit there with my kids and play it, something I don’t really get to do with most of the games I pick up. Well worth the time to play.
Zen Pinball 2
I’m awful at pinball games, but I continue to play them. Maybe in the hope that one day I won’t suck quite so badly. Again it’s free for people who have it already. It’s also bloody good fun and looks great.
I played this for half hour, had no idea what the hell I was doing, but loved every second. It’s mad and beautiful and really does show off some pretty impressive graphics. I get the feeling it’s also a bit of a time sink to get any good at it.
I did get a couple of other PS+ games (which is probably the best thing to happen to any console ever), but I haven’t played any of them yet. I did however get a few full-priced games to go along with it.
Being a fan of comics, and also of the last Mortal Kombat game, anything made by the same developer in the DC universe was always going to get a look. It doesn’t exactly show off the power of the PS4, but it doesn’t look awful by any means. It’s a decent fighting game with a huge amount of single-player content, something the likes of Capcom could take note off. So far I’ve played a bit of the story mode, which is madness, but a lot of fun and with some great character moments, and Star Labs, which are sort of mini missions for you to complete. Well worth the money.
Okay, first of all a confession to make. I love the old Thief games. Thief 2 is one of my favourite games of all time and Deadly Shadows has Shalebride Cradle, one of the scariest and best levels of any game ever. What I’m saying is that this game had high expectations. And while the reviews certainly don’t show this as being a great game, there are very good parts to it. Removing all of the player hand-holding crap and playing it like the old Thief games, staying in shadows, watching guards and waiting for the right moment; it feels a lot like the games of old. This is not a game for people who have no patience, and it certainly isn’t a game for everyone, but for those of you who like to hide in the shadows and watch as you plot your next move, this might just be for you. Personally, I really enjoyed the few hours I’ve played.
Infamous: Second Son
The game that came with the PS4. I enjoyed the previous Infamous games quite a bit and was looking forward to this one, and it didn’t disappoint. To start with, it is stunning. In places it’s drop-dead gorgeous, especially when after a few hours you unlock new powers to go alongside your Smoke abilities, as combat starts to get more intense.
It plays great too, the combat and exploration side of things work brilliantly.
Story wise, it’s okay. Some of the characters are more interesting than others, but on the whole it’s not going to worry The Last of Us or anything like that. To be fair, I think in future Sucker Punch need to re-think the morality system, which is just a bit dull. Maybe they should go a more Mass Effect style of being either a full-on good-guy or a bad-ass. The evil route doesn’t really seem to fit with Delsin’s personality, but then I haven’t played that much being the badguy so maybe it gets better.
Also, and this goes for nearly every game developer, stop putting shitty bosses in games. If you have to whittle away a health bar or have some massive difficulty spike, it’s not good game design. In fact I can’t remember the last good boss I played against. Bosses are not meant to be dull or frustrating when the rest of the game is so much fun. Stop doing it.
Over all, it’s great fun, it’s not going to change your mind if you don’t already like the games as a lot of the improvements are small ones (the shards are now fun to find), but if you’re a fan of the franchise or genre, then you’ll love it. Also… pretty.
So, while I wasn’t going to get a PS4 for a while, I’m glad I did. It’s a great console with some good games and the potential to do some amazing things. The next few years should be a very interesting time indeed.
And I’m back, twice in one day. This time I’ve got a top 10 heroes and villains over on A TiffyFit’s Reading Corner.
It was hard figuring out only 5 heroes and 5 villains, so I’m going to post the other half on my blog in a week or so. In the meantime, go check it out. As per usual, click the cover.
To end this week, I’ve got something a bit special. Please welcome author Anne Charnock, who also self-published her work, A Calculated Life, and was picked up by 47North. We had a chat about writing, publishing and who we’d like to see play our lead characters in TV/movies.
Anne: You’re currently working on two books, Steve, and I wondered how you organize your writing schedule – do you flit from one book to the other? And how do you avoid getting confused?
Steve: I write one and do the plot stuff for the other. Sometimes I don’t feel like writing so I work on the book’s plot. So, I’m writing my novella and plotting out book 4. When the novella is done, I’ll write book 4 and plot out either book 5 or my new shiny idea.
I used to use a notebook for each book, but I’ve started (as of yesterday) using index cards and a white board, so we’ll see how that goes for making things easier.
So, how do you juggle ideas for new books while writing?
Anne: I’m juggling lots of ideas for short stories at the moment. I’m writing two – jumping between them on roughly alternate days. They’re quite short so it’s not really a problem. But one thing I find helpful is to write each story in a different font – it instantly shifts my mindset. Last night, when I was dropping off to sleep, I imagined a conversation that would slot into one my short stories so I typed that up before breakfast today and I’ll try to polish the whole story this evening. A second novel is starting to take shape but I’m not forcing it just yet. I’m hoping the short stories will help to crystallize things. My first novel started out as a short story.
I’ve had to do quite a bit of research for these stories, which I’ve loved doing. How about you? What kind of research do you need for your novels?
Steve: A different font? That’s a great idea, I should try that.
I love research, it’s one of the most fun parts of being a writer. I’ve had to research a lot of mythology and monsters/characters that are contained within them. Then there’s weaponry, cars, historical details for cities and countries, clothes and far too many things to remember. I once had to phone the fire department in the UK and ask how to start a fire without making it look like it’s been deliberate. Once I explained to the very nice man that I wasn’t a crazy person, he was quite happy to explain. I did something similar with BMW and how to steal a Z4. Sometimes I think I’m trying to make myself into a master criminal.
So, what’s your favourite piece of research that you’ve done so far? Do you spend a lot of time researching before you get to the book, or do you do it as you go along?
Anne: I can’t tell you my best bit of research, which involved a trip to San Diego, because it would act as a spoiler for the novel!
Steve: Yeah, don’t spoil anything.
Anne: I do love the research element. I launched into writing A Calculated Life on the back of several conversations with neuroscientists. I allowed other research to feed into the story along the way and I’m now an expert (ahem) on stick insects, bee-keeping, growing citrus, even Medieval sculpture. Not as exciting as your research, Steve. But when a bit of research steers my story in a new direction or adds depth, that’s when I jump up and down, alone in my little study. So sad.
Steve: My research wasn’t so much exciting as it was lucky no one decided to send a few coppers round to have a chat.
Anne: Well, at least you’d get some writing done in your quiet police cell.
One thing we have in common, Steve, is that we both self-published our work before we signed contracts with 47North. It was an easy decision for me but I wondered if it was more difficult for you. What difference does it make to you now that you have a publisher?
Steve: Actually it wasn’t a difficult decision at all. Speaking to the people who worked at 47North and seeing their enthusiasm for my work, sort of decided for me. The fact that they were willing to back my writing and help promote it, allowing me more time to actually write, was a pretty big factor too. That’s the big difference between being an Indie or self-published writer and not – you have that backing of something big behind you. There are people who bat for you, who want you to do well. Now, yes, if you do well, they do well, but their desire to see you succeed is a great thing. That said, I can still self-publish or publish other work with someone else, so not much has changed in that respect.
I currently write Urban Fantasy, but I have plans for a steampunk series and I’d like to do some SF and historical stuff. Do you have any plans to change your genre? Do you have a hankering to sink your teeth into something new and shiny?
Anne: Interesting question! How much should I reveal? I’m certainly going to use the short stories to stick my elbows out. My novel is a near-future dystopia set in the corporate world in England. So I’m now playing around with far-future and other-world scenarios. But I’m also looking at how to site historical stories alongside these futurist excursions, and I have a few ideas about that.
In addition… I’m messing about with the form of my stories. Some are very short. I’ve just this morning completed the first draft of a short story that’s written solely as dialogue: a conversation between two sisters walking along a beach. I’m writing several of these ‘conversations’ set in different places, different eras. I like that idea of continuity. In fact, my outline for these short stories is often very simple – a single sentence about the scenario/setting plus a single sentence of dialogue.
Do you have a particular way of bringing an idea into the open, of getting started?
Steve: I couldn’t do that with the short stories and conversations, my brain would just force me to keep going.
I don’t really have one set way. What tends to happen is something will come to me and then my brain will be like a dog with a bone. For example, I had an idea last week for a fantasy/SF/steampunk story. The entity of my idea was humanoid-animals. Within a few days I’d fleshed out the world, a few characters and had a rough idea of the beginning of the story. Once I start, I don’t seem to be able to stop until I’ve done something with it. Which is great when I’m working on what I’m meant to be working on, but when that new shiny idea pops up, it can put a spanner in the works as it demands to be thought about.
It’s probably why when I get round to writing the stories, I have a pretty good idea of characters/world and story. I know how it’ll end and will have a good idea of what I want to happen during the book, although it’s not set in stone.
Do you know what happens in your books before you start writing? Or are you a ‘as you go’ kind of writer?
Anne: Like you, nothing is set in stone. I’m definitely an ‘as you go’ writer. I knew my main character pretty well before I started my novel and I wrote, for my own background purposes, a description of what was going on in the world. Straight away I had an opening scene, and I set off. That opening scene is no longer at the beginning! I knew fairly early how I wanted to end the story but I didn’t map the book, chapter by chapter. I started another short story today – thought I knew where I was heading, and after two paragraphs I found myself veering off. I reckon each sentence is dictated by the previous one.
On another subject… while I was jogging at the weekend I envisaged a complete opening sequence for a movie, based on my novel. I was so excited I actually ran faster than humanly possible. So, to bring this conversation to a close… have you considered who might play the lead role in the movie of your book? Have you seen a movie and thought “That’s the perfect actor?”
Steve: Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever pictured one person as Nate. It changes quite often. Anthony Starr from Banshee is quite Nate-esque, as is Charlie Hunnam from Sons of Anarchy. Also, he’s British, which helps. I think both of those men have done excellent fight scenes and are quite capable of acting as a badass, but can also do the witty/more down-to-earth side of Nate too.
Who would you pick for yours then?
Anne: I can see it – Starr and Hunnam fighting for the role of Nate!
As for my main character Jayna… Hmm, I know the actor needs to portray Jayna’s slow transition from being ‘unknowing’, almost innocent, to a more animated character, without going totally overboard (so maybe we should chose our directors, too). From past films, I liked Audrey Tautou in Amelie (but she’s French) and the cool look of Uma Thurman in Gattaca. But among today’s rising stars, I think Carey Mulligan, if available, could make a good stab at the role (see An Education). And I’m intrigued by a Canadian actor coming to BBC3 soon – Tatiana Maslany in the SF series Orphan Black (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01ftyjj). She plays multiple roles in each episode so she’d cope with anything.
Well, that’s an upbeat note to end on!
Anne Charnock’s writing career began in journalism and her articles appeared in The Guardian and New Scientist. Anne reviews fiction for the online magazine Strange Horizons and contributes book recommendations to The Huffington Post. She splits her time between London and Chester and, whenever possible, she and her husband Garry take off in their little campervan (unless one of their two sons has borrowed it), travelling as far as the Anti-Atlas Mountains in southern Morocco.
A Calculated Life http://www.amazon.com/A-Calculated-Life-ebook/dp/B00DWFCA30
I haven’t really had anything to report the last few weeks. I’ve seen the new cover for Crimes Against Magic, which looks very cool, so hopefully I’ll be able to share that with you all soon. Same goes for the new Born of Hatred cover.
On the writing part of my world, I’ve been plotting out book 4, Prison of Hope, and working on the novella Infamous Reign. The former’s story has changed quite a bit in the last few weeks, although in a good way. It’s got quite a lot of mythology attached, so I get to do research, which is always fun (seriously, a lot of mythology’s are nuts).
I’ll go through more details about the novella in the coming months, but at the moment it’s been quite a fun write. Hopefully that translates to other people enjoying reading it. I’m hoping to have the draft I’m working on finished by the end of July and then it’ll be editing time.
Outside of writing, I’ve just finished The Last of Us, which is probably my GotY, in fact I’d be hard pressed to find too many games this generation that have been better. The story and acting are second to none, and the gameplay is excellent. It’s also got a few genuine moments of horror, something videogames have moved away from this generation, which is a shame. I love my survival horror games, and it’s nice to see a game that embraces the scares and tension that genre brings.
I’m hoping to watch Pacific Rim at some point in the near future as it looks excellent. Guillermo del Toro is an incredible director, and quite frankly it looks like fun. Besides even if it’s not as good as I hope it is, it can’t be worse than most summer blockbusters; transformers movies, I’m looking at you.
I saw Jack the Giant Slayer, Wreck-it-Ralph and Olympus has Fallen at the weekend as it was far too hot to do anything else.
Jack the Giant Slayer was predictable, but fun. I enjoyed it for what it was, although the story itself was incredibly thin. I also would have liked to have seen it be a slightly more violent film and get a higher rating. It was begging for a darker edge that never happened.
Wreck-it-Ralph was enjoyed more by my kids. I liked the video-game references, and the first half hour and last half hour were pretty good. It dragged like crazy in the middle though. Still I laughed a few times, so it was worth a watch.
Olympus has Fallen was great fun. Yes it was silly. Actually it was stupid. But it was also 90 mins of Gerald Butler beating up bad-guys, and that’s always fun (see Jason Statham). This is a bit of spoiler for you, but there’s a scene where the White House is under siege and is being shot at with huge chain guns. These guns are blasting away at the front door of the house. To combat this threat all the Secret Service personal run to attack the bad guys, by running straight out of the front door and getting mowed down. Now, I’m not a tactics expert or anything, but I’d like to think the Secret Service are slightly more intelligent than lemmings and might not run directly into the clearly non-survivable gun fire. So, yes, this is a stupid film. Really, really stupid. But fun. Stuff blows up and Gerald Butler is entertaining in his tough-guy role. Grab a beer, settle back and forget your worries for 90 mins. Then go read something intelligent after.
Speaking of reading (see what I did there). I finished Sarah Pinborough’s novel, Mayhem this week. It’s a great Victorian murder mystery with more than a little dash of supernatural horror, and deals with the very true crimes of the torso murders that took place in London at the same time as Jack the Ripper. It’s nice a nice happy-go-lucky book (it’s pretty grizzly in places), but it’s an excellent read.
I also finished Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga book 1, The Magician. What a book. It was incredible, and I can’t wait to start the other 2 in the first trilogy (although I’m going to take a break for a little while and read something else). I can’t believe it took me so long to discover it.
And lastly, I have a tattoo booked for the 22nd July, for my half-sleeve on my left arm, my right arm already has Harley Quinn on it, so I’d need something a little less involved for that one. It’s my birthday present to myself (which is on the 25th July), as I’m a firm believer that you should always get yourself something nice for your birthday. This process can also be extended to Christmas, Weddings and because it’s Friday, so why not.
Have a good week one and all.
Another small update this week as I’m still neck deep into writing With Silent Screams. I should have more news about it in the next few weeks.
First of all, I finished Tomb Raider. It’s great game and one I can highly recommend. I do have 2 small problems with it. 1. There aren’t enough tombs to actually raid. And 2. There are a few too many enemies, especially toward the end of the game where it can feel like you’re being swarmed. If it weren’t for the fact that the combat is excellent, that would be a much bigger issue.
As it stands though, it’s 10-12 hours of awesome. Personally I can’t wait for the inevitable sequel (as it’s the best selling Tomb Raider game ever, there will be a sequel.)
However, next week it’s Bioshock Infinite. I can’t begin to tell you how much I love the original Bioshock. While Bioshock 2 wasn’t as good, I have a feeling that Infinite is going to be something special. It’s a shame they’re releasing all of these incredible games in such a short space of time. Damn them.
I actually got some reading done last week too, which is a bit of a novelty for me. I finished the first Star Wars –New Jedi Order book: Vector Prime. I haven’t read too many of the expanded universe stuff for Star Wars, but with a new film in the pipeline I figured I’d read some more. Turns out it was excellent.
Slight Spoiler – One of the main characters from the series dies in this book in probably the single best death scene I’ve ever read. It’s just utterly epic stuff, and while it’s a shame they died, it was done well and it appears that they’ll be building on it so it’s not a throwaway.
On the writing front, I’ve realised I’ve sold over 22,000 books of Crimes Against Magic and Born of Hatred.
In fact, if I can get all mathy for a minute, in 2012 I sold:
Crimes Against Magic – 9300
Born of Hatred – 2300
So far (Jan and Feb) in 2013, I’ve managed:
Crimes Against Magic – 5100
Born of Hatred – 5500
It’s a wonderful achievement for me personally, and I can’t thank everyone who supported me or purchased a book enough. But thank you none-the-less.
If anyone is interested in what my magic secret is… well, I wish I knew. Because I’d tell everyone.
So, that’s it for this week. Have a good weekend all.
No real blog today as I’m deep into writing With Silent Screams (about ½ way through now) and trying very hard to not think about making notes for book 4 and 5. Why ideas always pop into my head when I’m meant to be doing something else, I have no idea. Not complaining mind you, it’s just awkward.
On the non writing front, I’m playing the new Tomb Raider. If you own a PS3 or 360 or a PC, buy this game. It’s simply incredible. I’m about 6 hours in and it’s very hard to put down.
It also has a good story, a rarity for a game, which was written by the always good Rhianna Pratchett (who wrote the excellent Mirrors Edge). Very few videogames have a story that’s engaging and well written, but in the last few months there have been several. Ni No Kuni and the Bafta winning Dishonored are the two off the top of my head. Hopefully with Bioshock Infinite out at the end of the month, it’s a trend that’ll continue.
So, that’s my recommendation for anyone wanting to play a videogame: Tomb Raider. Although, both Ni No Kuni and Dishonoured are well worth your time – the latter my favourite game from 2012 and should be played by everyone.
So, that’s it for this week. Short and sweet. Have a good weekend.