My First EasterCon – My Writing Diary Ten Years On – Easter Sunday, 8th April 2007

Ten years ago I enjoyed/suffered/endured my first ever Eastercon as part of the Gollancz team. Looking back at my diary it’s interesting just how little of the actual conference I chronicled — mostly because I was away filming authors — but I must have liked it, as I’ve been back for more several times since, even getting to attend as an author a couple of years ago! It’s generally a slicker affair these days, but some of that ramshackle charm remains. I won’t be going this year, but I’ll always have Chester…

Easter Sunday, 8th April 2007

I’ve spent the last couple of days in Chester for Eastercon – the British science fiction convention. There were engineering works on the trains all weekend, so I decided to drive the 240-odd miles to Chester. Points of interest along the way included a sign directing tourists to a Secret Bunker, and a pub called The Headless Woman.

I arrived at around half-six and made contact with the rest of the Gollancz gang. We had dinner at an Italian place called Piccolino’s. The author Roger Levy was there with his wife Tina. Roger is a very pleasant guy, quiet-spoken, but with a quick wit. Also with us was Dave Bradley, editor of SFX.

On Saturday morning I was up fairly early for a stroll around Chester to film its more interesting bits (I had come along to film our authors in conversation, and I thought I might need some links). Chester is completely charming. It has wonderful two-tiered shopping arcades with plenty of independent shops. Even the chains look more interesting, although once you get inside they reveal their usual indentikit selves. One highlight was an evangelist busker who played a five-string bass guitar while singing Amazing Grace at the top of his voice. He was joined by a man with a harmonica, another with an acoustic guitar and a woman in her seventies with a mandolin. They looked like the worst Led Zeppelin tribute band ever.

(Gollancz publicist) Jon Weir grew up in Chester and gave Gillian Redfearn, Sara Mulryan, myself and Marcus Gipps (lovely guy from Blackwells… looks like Paul McCartney circa Let It Be) the grand tour. We saw the ancient walls, the excavations at the amphitheatre and had lunch by the River Dee, which looks a lot like Putney and Richmond, but less crowded.

In the afternoon I filmed Richard Morgan in conversation with Ian McDonald, followed by Roger Levy and Jon Courtney Grimwood. All were great and very pleasant to work with. I like that they didn’t shamelessly plug their books, but instead discussed the issues that inspired their writing.

In the evening we had a Chinese meal at a restaurant called Raffles which had French airship murals on the walls, so we figured it hand’t been Chinese for very long. There was a heated debate between Richard Morgan, Jo Fletcher and Ian Drury on the historical accuracy of the film 300. I was way out of my depth and just listened, learning an awful lot about ancient Greece and Persia.

We followed the meal by attending the British Science Fiction Awards. It was a fairly ramshackle affair, with more in common with a village fete raffle than a glitzy awards ceremony, but that seems to be how the hardcore SF fans like it.

Today we ended the conference with a trip to Jodrell Bank. A very pleasant way to spend an hour or so. We took a 3D trip to Mars, then stood and stared at the mighty dish.

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From L-R: Me, Sara Mulryan, Jon Weir, Bragelonne’s Stephane Marsan, and Gillian Redfearn

I drove with Jon Weir back to London. We discovered a mutual love for John Williams’ movies scores and sang along with Muppets and Disney show tunes. In all the weekend was less a conference and more of a weekend break. Chester is a lovely place, though, and I’d love to go back one day.

Getting a poster signed is harder than you think.

Please note: this competition is now closed!

As part of Gollancz’s wonderful advent calendar giveaway for Christmas 2015, I am delighted to be able to offer a very special prize of a Robot Overlords quad poster signed by myself, director Jon Wright, and some of our lovely cast including Craig Garner (Mediator 452), James Tarpey (Nathan), Ella Hunt (Alex) and Gillian bleedin’ blinkin’ flippin’ Anderson!

Getting these signatures was no easy task. Jon, Ella and I attended the MCM Comic Con in Birmingham in March, and we signed a few for punters then, but they were all gone before I  could grab a spare.

And this was the first I had seen of the posters, which meant that when I was in the company of living legend Sir Ben Kingsley the previous week for his publicity stint, I didn’t have one for him to sign!

I did get manage to get some for EasterCon in April, and clung on to the three I had left over with a cunning plan to get as many of the Robot Overlords stars to sign them over the coming year of cons and festivals.

Next up was the London MCM in May, and this was when I hit Robo-star paydirt. We were interviewing some of the actors for DVD extras, and I was lucky enough to nab Craig and James in between shooting and they were gracious enough to sign my posters. Next up was Gillian Anderson, but her schedule was so incredibly tight that there was no guarantee she would have the time to sign. Indeed, the very second after she arrived, she was swept away for a series of interviews, such is the nature of these high-pressure press days: everything is timed to the minute, and I would have to choose my moment carefully if I was to crash in. Next she had a panel with Jon, where she received fan-love, chocolates, and a proposal from James…

And then after that she was swept away for an interview with James for the DVD. By now, her car had its engine running (she was about to fly off to make something called The X-Files… you may have heard of it), and my window of opportunity was rapidly closing.

Luckily, our publicist Marek came to the rescue and somehow found a gap of 76.5 seconds in the schedule. We threw the posters on the floor, threw a bunch of silver Sharpies at Gillian and while I held the posters flat she kneeled down and scribbled her autograph on them. There was even time for a fanboy pic…

I haven't washed since...
I haven’t washed since…
… and then she was gone!

I carefully rolled the posters into their tube… But I wanted more!!

My other targets were Ella, Callan McAuliffe (Sean) and Milo Parker (Connor). But they were all off making other movies: Callan’s made five films since Robots, Milo was away with Gandalf making Mr. Holmes, and Ella had a big costume drama lined-up… But then it got bumped to next year! Her delay was my good fortune, and she kindly popped into the Gollancz offices where we put the world to rights over tea and brownies, and she signed the posters.

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So there you have it, fair reader. If you are the lucky winner of this poster, please bear in mind all the times I had to lug a poster tube on the underground, all the miles and miles of Sharpie ink, and all the nerves and tension wondering if I would get those rare signatures. Frame it, prostate yourself before it every morning, give it a dust every now and then, and then flog it when you’re old and grey and I’ve won all those Oscars.

Click here to go to the Gollancz blog to enter (UK-only, I’m afraid, but I’m sure you overseas folk have friends in the UK who can enter on your behalf, and if they win they can pop it in the post after they’ve first gazed upon its awesomeness, yes?)

Good luck!

 

The GollanczFest is a go-go!

gollanczfest

Gollancz Fest 2015: 16th-17th October – Manchester and London, events tbc

Not sure what I’ll be doing yet, but there will be an awesome line-up of talent (and me!), so you’d have to be some sort of weird anti-geek to miss out…

Last year tickets were sold out in three weeks, so to get yours click here.

My EasterCon 2015 schedule

If you’re coming along to Dysprosium 2015 (EasterCon to the rest of us!), then here’s what I’ll be up to on the Saturday and the Sunday.

Saturday 4th April:

10-11am Build your awesome robot – Wright room

Described in the brochure thusly…

Build Your Awesome Robot: Child-friendly activity. Priority is given to children 17 and under. Children under 16 must be accompanied by a responsible adult. Using cardboard boxes, egg boxes, toilet rolls, metal food trays, cereal boxes etc, plus some coloured card, tape, and glue, you can build your own ready-to-wear robot. Zandy has an incredible book that gives suggestions on things you can put on your robot. We’ll make sure to copy the relevant bits and people can draw their own signs on card. Zandy Hemsley, Mark Stay.

Yup, Zandy and me will be helping kids build their own robots. What could possibly go wrong?! Assuming that we haven’t all been enslaved by the children’s automations you can always come to…

12.30-1.30 Author reading (following Jaine Fenn) – Johnson room

This hardly seems fair: I have to follow the awesome Jaine Fenn! She’s a proper science fiction writer with a garret and everything! I’ll do my best and maybe read the bit from the novelisation with the exploding head.

Sunday:

10-11am Robot Overlords from script to screen – Bleriot room

This will be great fun. Myself and Paddy Eason (VFX supervisor on Robot Overlords) will take you on a journey from a page of script right through to a finished scene from the film. It’s also a great way to show just how an indie Brit sci-fi film gets made these days (with great difficulty, as it happens). This will be a multimedia tour de force with never-before-seen concept art and behind-the-scenes material.

11.15-12.15 Gollancz Room party

This will be where all the cool kids will be hanging out. So be there, or be a giant robot cube…

Robot Overlords Cube concept art by Paul Caitling
Robot Overlords Cube concept art by Paul Caitling

A Goodreads Robot Overlords book giveaway – ends 1st March

Those lovely people at Goodreads, in association with those equally lovely Geeks at Gollancz, are giving away – yes! Giving away! – ten copies of the Robot Overlords novelisation.

Ten copies! That’s (taps calculator)… lots of money I won’t ever see because of their insane generosity. It’s called “marketing” or something.

“But how do I stand a chance of winning?” you ask. Simple, just click here and then click on the ‘Enter to win’ button. Yes, it’s really that straightforward: two clicks… You’d be insane not to give it a try.

But hurry, it ends on the 1st of March!

9781473204867
This thing of beauty for no pennies!

PS. Be sure to check the Ts&Cs, as this offer is only available in Great Britain.

Robot Overlords – The Book of the Film!

Hurrah and huzzah, now that the PR gods have finally announced it from on high – for we must all wait upon such things in these times of heightened, super-whizzy media – I can now talk about the film tie-in novel of ROBOT OVERLORDS wot I wrote.

First of all, let us gaze upon the awesomeness of the cover art…

It's a robot... a big one!
It’s a robot… a big one!

The Sentry robot was kindly donated and posed by the good folk at Nvizible (laser weapon, model’s own), and the rest was co-ordinated and designed by Nick May of the Orion art department and the wizards at Blacksheep Design, who’ve won awards for all sorts of cool covers, not least Adam Roberts’ JACK GLASS, one of my favourites of last year.

The book has been huge fun to write and, in the tradition of my favourite tie-in novels, will expand on scenes and characters from the film, as well having plenty of new material completely original to the book. My hope is that the book and film will complement one another, so if there’s a moment in the film that leaves you wanting to know more, you’ll find it in the book.

Tie-in novels are usually a late addition to a publishers’ schedule, often written in a rush by an outside writer. So I am very grateful that Gollancz took a punt early on in the process, and gave the go-ahead to this while we were still shooting the film. It’s given me the time to write the book I wanted to and, thanks to the brilliant editing of Gillian Redfearn and the copy-editing skills of Lisa Rogers, it’s become a much better book than I could have hoped for.

It’ll be available in paperback and eBook, and there might even be an audio edition. The publication date will be as per the release of the film. We’re saying February 2015 at the moment, but that will almost certainly change. There might even be a special edition with some top secret added extras. I’ll be sure to update here with any news as soon as I get it, and be sure to follow @Robot_Overlords on Twitter for news about the film.

 

Elite is back! A guide for the uninitiated…

A version of this first appeared over at the Gollancz Blog.

I was delighted to hear that classic game ELITE was making a comeback this year, and even more delighted when I learned that Gollancz would be publishing a trio of tie-in novels. But what is thing you call ELITE, you cry? You mean you don’t know?!

Well, I had a similar reaction from some of m’learned (or not) sales colleagues at Orion Publishing, so I put together the following to help them sell it in…

 

Morning all,

It has come to my attention that some of you are struggling to get your heads around the Elite books, so here’s a quick guide for you norms…

Elite was a space trading game launched in 1984. The player could pootle around the universe, going from space station to space station, buying and selling goods. Of course, after a while this got boring and the player would be tempted to sell weapons and narcotics to make more money to buy cool stuff like docking computers (docking was really bloody hard), but this would usually get you blown up by the space fuzz.

It was massively addictive, and I, like many others my age, spent hours hunched over my BBC B computer staring at simple graphics like this…

 

That triangle thing is a spaceship, the dodecahedron thingy with the letterbox is a space station.
That triangle thing is a spaceship, the dodecahedron thingy with the letterbox is a space station.

 

It was a huge influence on gaming, and for years afterwards men (mostly) of a certain age would talk whimsically of Elite and the hours of pleasure it gave them (this was years before internet porn).

Well, of course, nothing stays dead forever these days and now Elite is coming back. Only now it looks like this (click to enlarge for the full cor blimey experience)…

Holy crap! Explosions!
Holy crap! Explosions!
Big space stations! Space ships!
Big space stations! Space ships!
More explosions! More spaceships! Where do I sign??
More explosions! More spaceships! Where do I sign??

The new game has been brought to life via Kickstarter – that is, paid for by fans who will get first dibs at the game.Gollancz saw this and, as part of the Kickstarter, bought the rights to the books. The books are all set in the Elite universe and are quite different:

Elite: Wanted by Gavin Smith and Stephen Deas (writing together as Gavin Deas) is the action-packed one:

9781473201293
Action. Packed in like a contortionist in a steamer trunk.

Elite: Nemorensis by Simon Spurrier is the sexy, violent one:

9781473201279
I don’t know what word means, but it sounds cool!

Elite: Docking is difficult by Gideon Defoe is the funny one:

He wrote the brilliant Pirates in an adventure with... books. And he's not wrong about docking.
Gideon wrote the brilliant Pirates in an adventure with… books. And he’s not wrong about docking.

The current plan is to release the eBooks on 15th May and the three HBs on October 16th.

I hope this all helps and let me know if you need any further info.

All the best,

Mark

 

 

In defence of the Ewok nation on #starwarsday

For the full debate on this important issue, head over to the Gollancz Blog…

Here’s my side of the argument:

At a recent Gollancz marketing meeting (yes, we plan this stuff) it was suggested that someone write a blog entry about the divisive and controversial subject of Ewoks. What followed was like a scene from a Western, where chairs are scraped across the floor, tables thrown to one side, as gunslingers reach for their sidearms.

Divisive doesn’t even begin to describe the hot passions on display.

The arguments against the Ewok peoples are slim, getting old, and, let’s be honest, racist.

1. They’re too cute

Naysayers will argue that they’re “too cute”, as if Lucas hadn’t done cute already…

Aww... look at that widdle poonum!
Aww… look at that widdle poonum!

But they’re far from cute. When they go into battle, they hit the Stormtroopers in their blind spot, smashing them on the back of the head with socking great lumps of wood. The vicious little buggers really lay into the Emperor’s most elite legion, using fight techniques surely honed in the nightclubs of Blackpool, “Glass him Teebo! Cut his face!” (there’s a reason the Ewoks don’t get subtitles – they’re uncouth, sweary, little mofos…)

And we can’t say that we didn’t see this coming. After all, their first reaction to finding armed outsiders was to try and spitroast Luke, Han and Chewie (I’ll let that image settle for a moment).

Cute?! Do me a favour…

This little hoodlum has already swiped your wallet and keyed your landspeeder.
This little hoodlum has already swiped your wallet and keyed your landspeeder.

2. They’re dumb

Dumb, eh? Well I would point m’learned friend to their keen sense of strategy. When it all kicks off, the Ewoks are smart enough to draw the Empire’s forces away from the safety of their bunker and into the woods, into the Ewoks’ own territory. This gives them the upper hand, using the forest itself against the invaders. Pity the poor crew of the AT-ST smashed between two logs. They didn’t stand a chance against these cunning little warriors.

Film fans will know that Lucas very nearly made Apocalypse Now. In the battle for Endor, Lucas finally gets that out of his system – this was his chance to do Vietnam, he just chose to do it with short, hairy football hooligans.

3. They’re only in the movie to sell toys!

There are those who suggest the Ewoks were a toy marketing ploy… because up till then Lucasfilm hadn’t even thought of releasing any toys from the film. Oh, waitasec…

Got, got, got, NEED!
Got, got, got, NEED!

Oh, and these are kids’ films, you big galoot! What kid wouldn’t love a movie featuring teddy bears beating the crap out the bad guys? The Ewoks tap into a huge childhood fantasy: if you’re small and repressed, you’re going to love these guys. Anyone who doesn’t, must be the Empire!

4. Self loathing.

There may be a scientific explanation for the irrational hatred of the Ewok nation: one’s age. As brilliantly explained in an episode of How I Met Your Mother, it could simply be down to when you were born:

Science!
Science!

You may have been young enough to enjoy Star Wars, but too much of a cynical teenager to fully appreciate the Ewoks. Yes, if you hate Ewoks, you had lost your innocence by 1983 and that’s heartbreaking.

So there you have it. The Ewoks are awesome, and anyone who says otherwise is a cynical, old racist. The defence rests…

Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country is bloody… (spoiler free review)

I remember getting an email from my colleague Simon Spanton some years ago. It was a simple message, ‘You’ll like this.’ Attached to the email was a file with the first few chapters of a book he wanted to buy for Gollancz called The Blade Itself. I opened the attachment and started to read.

He wasn’t wrong; the combination of black humour, violence and dental torture appealed to me very much. I wanted to read more and I’m happy to say that when we published The Blade Itself it was something of a hit (that was a golden summer for Gollancz debuts, also published were The Lies of Locke Lamora and Stormcaller – all belters).

I’m also happy to say that I’ve got to know Joe Abercrombie a bit over the years and should declare that before ploughing into this review of this latest THE RED COUNTRY. I’ll also do my best to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but if you’d rather go in cold, then come back when you’ve read the book.

When Joe announced that his next book would be a Western, but still set in the same world as his previous books, I was excited and slightly worried. The Western genre is incredibly tricky to pull off, especially in literature. Even in the movies, you could count the really good Westerns of the last 20 years on one hand (Unforgiven, Assassination of Jesse James… and… er… that might be it).

But what Joe understands is that Westerns aren’t about Sheriffs, or shootouts, or John bloody Wayne, they’re about the frontier. The farthest reaches of civilisation where lawlessness is the norm, where the regular rules don’t apply and death is ever-present. And what he’s done is take some of his most interesting and complex characters, drop them at the very edge of his world, and let the chaos unfold.

There are some new characters; Shy is a woman with an outlaw past trying to reform her life on a farm. She’s one part Calamity Jane (the Deadwood version) and one part Marion Ravenwood (the Raiders version).

Temple is a classic Abercrombie coward; he wants to be a good man, he promises that next time he’ll make a stand, but every time he caves in and takes the easy option.

Lamb is Shy’s stepfather – described as ‘some kind of coward’, he too steps away from any kind of confrontation, and would rather be alone working in the fields than raise his fists.

And there are some old favourites, not least Nicomo Cosca, here playing a combination of Richard Harris in Unforgiven and General Custer. He even has his own biographer, scribbling his every utterance for posterity.

Oh, and of you watch the book’s teaser trailer you might just see something significant…

Did you see it? The fingers? Count ’em… Nine!

Shy’s little brother and sister are stolen and she and Lamb follow their trail to get them back. And as they’re led further and further west, you realise that this will be no breakneck chase. This story unfolds like The Searchers and their quest will continue through blistering desert heat, driving rain and deep snow. They will encounter so much bloody violence that Joe gives Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian a run for its money for gallons of claret spilt. And, as always with Joe’s books, villains reveal themselves to complex individuals, the heroes of their own stories, and our heroes will make choices that are questionable at best.

Joe has clearly been watching a lot of Deadwood, a lot of classic Spaghetti Westerns, a lot of Eastwood, and he’s been reading a lot of Elmore Leonard’s Western stories. This could have been a mess and, if you read Joe’s blog, you’ll know that this has been hard work for him. But it’s a terrific read, a picaresque journey through a dying wasteland and a world about to change. The action is intense, but you never get lost in the mayhem, the story is complex, but it’s a joy to read, and the ending will leave you wanting more.

Saddle-up and enjoy the ride.

Mitch Benn’s Terra

It’s a perk, nay privilege, of working for a publisher that I often get to see manuscripts of books long before anyone else. So you may well see a few posts like this where I’ll start eulogising about a book that you won’t be able to read for months if not longer.

But I finished this one on the train home today and I’m still fizzing about it and I like to wax lyrical about stuff I like while it’s still fresh. I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers, but if you’re the kind of person who thinks a spoiler is hearing anything at all to do with the story (and there are people out there like that), then adios and I’ll see you next time, amigo.

There’s a great story behind how Simon Spanton at Gollancz acquired this book, and being a fan of Mitch Benn’s songs on the Now Show I was definitely intrigued if maybe a tad doubtful. ‘Celebrity’ authors’ books (though I doubt Mitch would cast himself as your typical sleb) are usually an exercise in stunt publishing and a quick buck for all concerned*, but by the end of the first page I was totally convinced that this was something special.

I won’t say too much other than TERRA begins with an alien from a distant planet abducting a human baby on Earth. The story starts like a Roald Dahl classic with the worst parents in the world, and then becomes a love letter to Douglas Adams, and then becomes its own thing entirely; truly wonderful, laugh out loud funny and genuinely moving, wearing its heart on its sleeve and daring you not to blub near the end. If there’s one criticism, it’s that it has that old SF trope ‘silly name syndrome’ – all consonants and no vowels – but even that seems to be a tip of the hat to Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles and you soon get into the groove.

The only downside is that it’s not out till 2013, but it’s going to be a key book for Gollancz and I’m sure you won’t be able to miss it. In the meantime, here’s Mitch’s finest 5m 27s…

*Yes, I hate to break it to you, but I don’t think Katie Price writes every word of her bestselling novels. Anne Widdecombe does write all her own stuff however, so you takes your choice…