Friday, 26 May 2017

Zombies on the Streets of London...

Coming Soon: Apocalypse Barnes
Can you believe at one point last year I was updating this blog twice a month?

Anyway.

Apocalypse Barnes is now available for pre-order from Amazon at $0.99 or £0.99, depending where you are. That's a discounted price that will increase shortly after the official publication date of 17 July.

This 30,000 word novella is a story I began writing over four years ago, when it was based on the end of a dream I'd had (I hate even the thought of writing anything inspired by dreams, and almost everything I half-remember from that fevered night's imaginings has fallen by the wayside during the creative process). Zombies roaming the streets of Barnes, that affluent suburb of South West London just over the river from Hammersmith and Chiswick.

I've not spent the last four years working on this book. It's spent whole calendar years undisturbed and gathering dust on my hard drive while I worked on things like Story Of My Escape, or Of Mice And Men And Sausages. But it's been the idea that just won't quite go away. It was enormous fun writing about the area where I live. Really looking at places I visit every week, to see where a zombie might pop up, and how they might be avoided.

But it's a balancing act as well. Barnes residents will recognise almost every location used in the novella. But it also has to make sense to readers who've never visited the area. So I made a very early resolution to resist the temptation to write friends and family into the narrative; writers who do that sort of thing not only risk damaging their personal relationships, but it also gets pretty boring to read a book full of someone else's private jokes. So apart from one or two people's quirks who were just too hilarious to resist - and zombie Roger McGough - the classic disclaimer is true. Any resemblance to persons living or dead (or in this case both) is purely coincidental...

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Andrew's Big Fat Blog Of The Year

2016 is careering towards its inevitable, and many would say, long overdue conclusion. The proverbial goose is getting decidedly podgy, and the senior citizen's headwear is inviting generous contributions. So, what the world really needs to know is what I got up to throughout the last twelve months, in one lengthy but easy to read blog post, arranged by month.

So here goes.

January
Who does anything much in January? I was mostly rehearsing for some stuff that we'll go into later, to the extent that I even had to give up writing for a bit. Luckily, I had something in the pipeline to make the month seem a bit more productive.

Chantecoq and the Aubry Affair is my translation of Coeur de Francaise, the first Chantecoq adventure. This book had never been translated into English before, and I self-published after a proposed venture didn't work out.

It's a rip-roaring adventure story of spies and cars and daring escapes, set just before the First World War in 1912. The sales have been... look, it's one of my "quieter" books. But I'm very proud of it.






February
The first of many crazy months. Midway through rehearsals for a thing in March, my director and playwright chum Naomi Westerman asked if I'd be in her brilliant play Tortoise again for a rehearsed reading (having appeared in excerpts from the play at N16 and at the Criterion Theatre towards the end of 2015). I played various male roles in the otherwise female and feminist play, and I still can't decide whether this makes me the Carol Cleveland to this play's Monty Python, or the Dave Lamb to its Goodness Gracious Me. As always, I suspect I was Ringo. Anyway, I was on stage with some brilliant actresses who've been on telly and everything, and they didn't twig that I was a lowly amateur until we let it slip at the cast party. Achievement unlocked.

A long-awaited book was also finally published. Grimm and Grimmer: Volume 4 was originally slated for August 2013, along with my updated SF fairytale, The Frag Prince - which I consider to be among the best things I've ever written. I was hopelessly awestruck to be in the same book as Sarah Pinborough, who provided the foreword. Mad props to editor Colin Fisher, for stepping in to salvage this series. Just don't ask him if the promised Volume 5 will ever actually happen.

March
Back to the stage in March, with Black Comedy, directed by Naomi Westerman. This charity production sold out across all six performances, and gave me the opportunity to act opposite my lovely wife Mel, who played Carol Melkett to my Brindsley Miller. Chaotic hi-jinks ensued, and we raised a whole bunch of cash for local causes.

I then got my head down and started writing stuff for a whole bunch of anthologies and charity collections. Spring 2016 was probably the most productive period for my writing that I can remember in a long time. Not all of that stuff has yet come to light, however...




April
As the weather began to pick up a bit, Mel and I took our adorable cocker spaniel Eccleston ever further afield. Richmond Park is a particular favourite for the fluffy nutter, but you have a very narrow window between the weather being pleasant enough to enjoy a long walk, and ten thousand picnics sprouting from the bowels of the Earth. If there's one thing our dog loves, it's charging into a picnic and stealing the cake.

When we weren't walking the dog, I was going all out on short story writing. A couple of the books I contributed to around this time were secret projects with some excellent writer friends. I'm not about to spill the beans, but the end results were so much fun that I hope one day they might see a wider release.

May
May, not quite officially Summer, but near enough that you can wear a t-shirt outdoors. What better month to release a Christmas-themed short story as a standalone thing on Kindle? Pantocrime: A Theatrical Christmas Adventure was originally part of Sanity Clause is Coming...: A second twisted Christmas anthology, but the rights had reverted to me, so I thought I'd stick it out there.

After quite a long period of other people designing the covers to my books, I decided to have a crack at this one, and ended up using just about every effect I could find. My finished effort is slapdash, garish and absurd. I love it.

This story, which is free on most platforms (except, oddly, Amazon UK), is a bit of a white elephant. I've never particularly liked it, and I think it will be retired quietly in the New Year. I've always thought the world of amateur dramatics has potential for great fiction, but I've revisited it in another short story which will be published in early 2017, and which I think does the job much better, and much more kindly.

June
There were baby coots in the pond just behind our flat in June, and I did my best to see them every day, while walking Eccleston.

June also saw the publication of Flash Fear - an anthology featuring a very silly short story I wrote way back in 2012. Stuffed with horror writers of every stripe, it was a lively and diverse little book, and it seemed to find a good audience.











July
The first of the year's charity anthologies. A collection of Doctor Who short stories to raise funds for Tommy Donbavand's cancer treatment. Tommy's a great writer and an all-round nice guy, and it was brilliant to see the fan community rally around and give their best work to this book, with its stunningly colourful design. My own story was Time War Cutaway, a short adventure set during the Time War and featuring Paul McGann's Doctor - essentially a reworked excerpt from my much longer fan fiction attempt to chronicle the Time War (only with more silliness than you'll see in the TV episodes...).

I'm happy to say both that the book did the business, and that Tommy is on the road to recovery, after some terrifyingly hairy moments. The book is no longer available for sale, so if you have a copy, take very good care of it. I have something of a fascination with the amounts that some of these charity books can sell for later on, but I can tell you that the numbers can get very big. If you do the eBay thing, please promise me you'll at least kick a few quid of your ill-gotten gains to a cancer charity.

August
It's been an amazing year for me on every level except, you know, every time I watched the news. Writing success, acting success, and great nights with good friends. And in August, after far too many years of near misses, my friends and I finally won the pub quiz in our local boozer. £100 bar tab, which we drank into oblivion about a month later.

While all this was going on, though, one of my short stories won an award! Bushimi: The Cat That Wanted To Be An Art Critic was originally written for children, in an anthology that was scrapped mid-development. I put the story in Something Nicer , my second short story collection, and it always stood out by virtue of actually being nice. Anyway, it won Best Short Story at 2016 eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook Awards. Something Nicer was also on the shortlist for Best Short Story Collection.

September
I'm cheating a bit here, as my first stab at the superhero genre Of Mice And Men And Sausages only went up for pre-order in September, and actually only went live a few days ago in December. But... there's a few links coming for books, so I thought I'd space things out a bit. This novelette is a superhero retelling of The Mouse, The Bird and The Sausage as told by the Brothers Grimm.

With a fabulous cover illustration from the talented Gina Allnatt, I'm excited about this book, and it's my first serious attempt to write a series - though we'll see how long Ocean Spray takes to be written.

Also in September, one of my oldest original short stories was published in a free to download collection of flash fiction. Bite-Sized Stories has had a simply terrifying number of downloads on both sides of the Atlantic.

And finally, on my first wedding anniversary, Mel and I had another outing on the professional stage together, in Naomi Westerman's short play Puppy, a full-length version of which will be playing at the Vault Festival in Feb-Mar 2017.

October
Well, yes, that is a colourful shirt, and I'm not at all surprised this rehearsal pic was put into black and white. The Ladykillers was my first outing with Chiswick-based am dram group St Michael's Players. I played the supporting role of Constable MacDonald, so it was one of those where I got a few solid scenes, and a lot of time "relaxing" in the dressing room. It was probably the most purely enjoyable show I've ever done, and I'm quietly chuffed that it was an absolute sell-out as well.

October was otherwise marked by panto rehearsals, and by the odd decision to go Sober for October. Mel and I raised just over £100 for Macmillan, which was nice.

November
The release of A Time Lord For Change was a cause for celebration - partly because it coincided with Doctor Who's 53rd birthday, but also because I wrote my two drabbles for it back in November 2014. Between me writing 200 words in the pub, and the finished book hitting Amazon, a lot happened. Celebrity contributors rocked up in their droves, so I'm now in a book with Joanne Harris, Colin Baker, Katy Manning, Jane Sherwin, Paul Magrs, Rob Shearman, and I'll stop there because every time I list the authors, I miss out someone awesome and lovely by mistake. It's that sort of book.

By this point, we were well into the pantomime rehearsals, and my writing had slowed to a crawl. This has been a bit of a frustration throughout the last few months, but plans are in place to make sure I have a lot more writing time throughout 2017!




December
The pantomime was Cinderella, and it ran from 6-10 December. I played Ugly Sister Grizelda, in a cast which included my wife Mel playing Dandini, the Prince's valet. We rehearsed a lot, and thank goodness we were both in the show so we could do it together.

Again, we had several sold-out shows, and the audiences were brilliant. It was my first time playing a Dame (we're not counting that time I played an Ugly Sister aged 10, we're just not), and I was going for a sort of Tim Brooke-Taylor Lady Constance voice, which I toned down throughout the week as my throat began to rebel against all the warbling and trilling and filthy chuckling.

As soon as the panto was over, though, one of my older books had a new lease of life. My Casanova translation The Story of my Escapewas promoted through Bookbub, and I sold a terrifying number of books in a single week. For a dizzying moment I was the 5th highest selling author in Canada. For a few brief days, I felt like one of the world's biggest writers. And that was pretty cool. It's all died away now, and my book is plummeting back through the ratings, but it was a crazy time and I'm convinced that some day... I'll be back. I just need to write a great deal more.

Next year, I'm still waiting on one short story to be published, in a very exciting collection indeed. I'm also going to be in one play, at the Vault Festival. Other than that, it's going to be writing all the way. I have a lot of projects to finish, and it's my New Year's Resolution that I will simply have to find the time, one way or another.

So while all sorts of dreadful things have happened in 2016, I've often been able to find the silver lining. In addition to the highlights above, I've cooked a lot of tasty curry, spent a lot of lovely time with the wonderful Mel, seen some incredible theatre and, oh yes, even taken part in a Royal Shakespeare Company workshop or two.

And finally, Summer's End, an anthology of end of the world fiction from Alternative Realities. Edited by Stewart Hotston, this was a book I wanted to be in, as soon as I saw the call for submissions. I then hated every single moment of writing my story, only to be pretty pleased with it when I finally read it back at the editing stage. When I heard that I'd been accepted, I may even have done a happy dance. This book was released just a couple of weeks ago, and has been doing incredibly well. It's a brilliant book containing many writers I admire hugely.









In conclusion
I've had a great year, and I hope next year will be bigger and better in all sorts of unexpected ways. Have a brilliant Christmas, an awesome New Year, and see you in 2017

Happy times and places
Andrew

Thursday, 20 October 2016

A Time Lord For Change

An exciting adventure with drabbles
All the anticipation for "A Time Lord For Change" is getting terribly exciting! It must be about two years now since I heard that actor, writer and all-round good egg Cliff Chapman​ was putting together a book with one drabble (100-word short story) for every single televised episode of Doctor Who.

In 2014, Cliff and I both spent a fair amount of time posting drabbles on www.drablr.com, a flash-fiction site, so I was keen to be involved. I got in early, bagged Caves of Androzani and Survival (as the two stories I'd seen most recently), and retired to the pub with my pen and a notebook.

It goes without saying that 100 words is not a lot. By the time I'd had two pints, I'd written what I thought were two extremely short scenes, only to find out when I typed them up later that they were both almost double the required length. Editing drabbles is an exercise in wild ruthlessness, where you find yourself having to prune away not just the fluff, but genuinely good stuff, in an attempt to reach the bare bones of your story.

When I first read over my two edited drabbles, I wept for lost gags and description. Then the second time, I chuckled at both of them. So I submitted them to Cliff, along with a bio, and waited.

And waited.

I 'm used to small press books taking a while to come out. Three years is my record, for a FW book, and not one I'm particularly happy about. It's almost always the cover that's to blame. But in this case the delay was down to... mission creep. The list of authors grew ever more world-class. As if condensing 50 years of TV into 100 word chunks wasn't ambitious enough, Cliff expanded the brief to take in many of the spin-off media. He found the perfect publisher, Chinbeard Books. And then the celebs began to show up.

Andrew Cartmel, Sylvester McCoy's script editor. Terry Molloy, aka 80s Davros. I approached my friend Jane Sherwin, who memorably played Lady Jennifer Buckingham in The War Games in 1969. Finally, Colin Baker, the 6th Doctor himself, was announced as participating. I don't know how Cliff pulled off some of these contributions. I don't know how many drabbles there are in the finished book. Really, I don't know much at all, except that Cliff masterminded an insane logistical exercise, pulling together many dozens of writers, and hundreds of stories, in what must surely be the most ambitious Doctor Who short story collection of all time.

It's been a long road to publication, and there have even been surprises this year, such as Jo Grant / Iris Wildthyme actress Katy Manning joining the fold. In a year when we've had no televised Doctor Who to keep us out of mischief, I think A Time Lord For Change is going to raise an awful lot of money for charity, and I'm incredibly proud to have played my own small part in it.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Bite-Sized Stories: Never Throw Anything Away

Another anthology. I used to drink in a
 bar called The Anthologist. Just saying.
Bite-Sized Stories is the first in a proposed series of flash fiction anthologies from George Donnelly. It's now free to download on Amazon Kindle, as well as from most other major e-book vendors.

With twenty-five authors contributing stories across a wide range of genres, from horror and science-fiction to romance and literary, there's something for most readers in this collection.

My own story, The Poet In The Park, was first written in late 1999, or early 2000. It was definitely written while I was studying Philosophy in Bordeaux, and the park in the story was inspired by Bordeaux's Town Hall gardens (Les Jardins de la Mairie), where I'd sit with a good book and a chocolate milkshake whenever I needed to shake a hangover. Which, being 21 and living in the wine capital of the world, was pretty frequently, if I'm being completely honest.

It's a story which I think is pretty clearly written by a hungover 21 year old studying Philosophy in Bordeaux, but people who have read the copy in my top drawer over the past sixteen years have tended to like it, so I was more than happy to rework the old tale for this collection. It's a story about all of us, really, about the way we see ourselves as the hero in the stories of our own lives, and how others perceive us. There's a crumb of philosophy from post-structuralist Jacques Derrida in there, who believed that all communication took place in the fundamental absence of the recipient.

I've become a lot more interested in snarky cat detectives, superhero fairy tales and haunted photocopiers since those days.

33 Flash Fiction Stories for Life's Stolen Moments

From a creepypasta horror farm to a bullish love tale and from the bloody metal deck of the ESSArclight to superhero octopus food trucks, you can transform your shortest stolen moments into utter delights with this diverse collection of 33 flash fiction stories.

Commuting to work? Grabbing a quick coffee? Each story tells a complete tale in but a few short minutes with the added promise of a lifelong introduction to new indie writers.

You never know, you might just find your next favorite author.

This collection, the first in the Flash Flood series, is a special selection of master works with a variety of genres and voices guaranteed to keep you engaged. Sign up now (see inside the book) for future flash fiction anthologies themed for Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, May the 4th and Independence Day.


If this tickles your interest, get clicking on this link: Bite-Sized Stories.

There are at least three more anthologies with my stuff still to come out this year. Next up will be either A Time Lord For Change or Summer's End. Watch this space!

Monday, 19 September 2016

You Will Believe A Sausage Can Fly...

Coming soon to a Kindle near you...
My superhero fairy tale adaptation Of Mice And Men And Sausages is now available to pre-order at just £0.99 / $0.99, ahead of its release on December 15th.

Corwin City needs a hero. Unfortunately, it's spoiled for choice. 

Raptor yearns to be the winged hero that Corwin City needs, to rise above the narcissistic body builders, lycra fetishists and weird science experiments who claim to fight for justice. 

Teaming up with super-strong rodent hybrid Musculus, and the frail telepath Saumagen seems like a great way to bring order to a desperate city. But though their powers complement each other perfectly, perhaps their values aren't quite aligned...

This 13,000 word modern retelling of classic Grimm fairytale The Mouse, The Bird, And The Sausage is full of superhero action, but can it really lead to a happy ever after?


Superheroes and fairy tales gel nicely, and having tested the concept with the most obscure folk story you could think of (the original is barely 300 words long), I will be returning to Corwin City with a sequel, focusing on a more widely-known Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale.

Thanks to illustrator Gina Allnatt for a cracking cover image!

Of Mice And Men And Sausages (The Lifehack Heroes Book 1)

Friday, 2 September 2016

Long ago in an English Kindle.

Dead good book
I was on a Virgin Train the other day, and managed to get a seat. In fact the train was nearly empty, which didn't stop just about everyone I saw from making some sort of joke at Jeremy Corbyn or Richard Branson's expense. What a tiresome non-story.

So to flee from the non-story, I read a real story, on my Kindle. Neat segue, right? Paul Cornell's novella Witches of Lychford is a great little book. The small village of Lychford, deep in the English countryside, is divided over the arrival of a new supermarket. Local ladies Judith, Lizzie and Autumn, each with a very different outlook on life, band together to protect their community from both corporate intrusion and... something more.

Paul Cornell has been writing stories about strange goings-on in English villages since the early 90s, when he parked Cheldon Boniface's parish church on the moon during Timewyrm: Revelation. He's created more Anglican vicars than your average bishop. So while he's doing great work with his Severed Streets series, the countryside feels like his natural habitat.

As Judith draws estranged friends Lizzie and Autumn into new worlds, the atmosphere is subdued and wonderfully evocative as Cornell lines up a cast of characters who are fundamentally decent people, brought down by life's burdens. Bereavement, the strain of caring for elderly relatives, the trauma of an abusive relationship. Only one character is entirely beyond redemption here.

Witches of Lychford was published in 2015, almost exactly a year ago. That's the state of my reading list right now. But reading it in post-EU Referendum Britain is to add an almost painful note of contemporary relevance to the book. Images of a society divided against itself, with evil forces seeking to sway a public vote through lies about jobs and economic prosperity... well, it resonates pretty damn hard, I can tell you.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

"People like Coldplay and voted for the Nazis. You can't trust people, Jeremy."

Not included: context, accuracy
A short line from seminal Channel 4 sitcom, Peep Show, in which Super Hans warns Jez against the risks of populism. It's a nice little line that gets a good laugh as it absurdly conflates people who like a popular but uninspiring band with supporters of history's most notoriously murderous political regime, but unfortunately it's one of those that's been picked up, turned into a GIF, and used in a million online arguments about popularity v artistic integrity, until all trace of its original context has been long forgotten. Without googling, can you remember the episode, or even the season, in which that line was used? I could guess, but I'm pretty sure I'd be wrong.

The GIF has popped up again in the last few days, as a pithy C4 response to the dreary show Mrs Brown's Boys being voted the best sitcom of the 21st Century (so far). And so people are retweeting and sharing and liking and LOLing at this quote without bearing in mind two important facts.

1) The character delivering the line is consistently portrayed as a pompous moron throughout the series (in the very first episode, he tells a barmaid not to doodle a shamrock in the head of his pint of Guinness, as he considers it corporate branding - you probably won't see that quoted in future editions of No Logo).

2) Continuing from the first point, really, the statement is wrong in one very important detail. "People" didn't vote for the Nazis.

The Nazis never polled higher than 43.9% of the vote in the days of the Weimar Republic, and even that was only after Hitler had been appointed Chancellor (after having lost a Presidential election to Hindenburg) and the Nazis had already effectively seized power following the Reichstag Fire in early 1933. Seriously, the Nazis never secured an electoral majority. Go and google it if you don't believe me.

Why is this important? In the context of an argument about British comedy, it probably isn't. Screw Mrs Brown's Boys. But the fact is that the NASDAP's rise to power through Weimar's system of Proportional Representation is a comparatively recent phenomenon and must be properly remembered and understood, particularly at a time when many in the UK are talking seriously about electoral reform along the lines of a PR system. There are serious lessons from history to be learned here, and it's no coincidence that Nazi-lite party UKIP are among the biggest voices in the UK in favour of PR. The lessons that Weimar taught us aren't going to be heeded if we allow idiots to perpetuate the crass assumption that one morning in the early 1930s everyone in Germany suddenly woke up evil.

For the record, I'm not necessarily opposed to PR. I do think the UK needs a measure of electoral reform, and PR has by and large worked across large swathes of Europe since 1945. I do however think people should read a bit more recent history before they decide which political model to pursue.

The extent that this crass assumption is already poisoning our system was revealed only too clearly in April 2016 when political dinosaur Ken Livingstone made a career-ending headline grab and said the following:

"Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews."(Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labour-anti-semitism-row-full-transcript-of-ken-livingstones-interviews-a7005311.html)

Red Ken, who to be fair is probably not a Peep Show fan, has since backtracked and contradicted and obfuscated over this really rather transparent statement, and has since acknowledged that Hitler did not in fact win the 1932 election, and that Hitler was not a Zionist (or "supporting Zionism"). But "people" don't read the frantic equivocations in subsequent interviews, they read the wildly inaccurate headlines. And when major political figures are getting such basic facts so horribly, and dangerously, wrong, we have a problem.

So, yes, every time I see that Super Hans quote used to suggest anything more than the fact that the character is a delusional, pompous, drug-fried music snob, I will very probably correct whoever posted it. Sometimes pedantry is important.