Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Matters of Taste

Who determines these things?

Because things become things, and that shit happens fast.

I was having a conversation with the dort the other day about the so-called camel toe. It suddenly crossed my mind that this is a modern phenomenon. Women have been wearing trousers for a century for practical purposes, and certainly for fifty years for everyday wear, and yet it’s only in the past decade that this expression has become common. It’s only in the past few years that the camel toe has been a cause for ridicule or embarrassment. Apparently, the proportions of the labia majora are now a subject of discussion. Apparently, it’s a question of taste or fashion... or something.

Because, frankly, women don’t have enough to worry about!

Who on Earth determines what proportions our labia should be for crying out loud? Isn’t it bad enough that we should all be five feet seven and a size 8? Isn’t it hard enough to conform to the ideals of feminine beauty as determined by whoever it is that determines those things? Who are these people? Fashion designers? Casting agents for movies? Whoever it is, it is surely Them and not Us.

Symmetrical faces, glossy hair, pouting lips, pert breasts, peachy bottoms, legs that go on for miles... Do we really have to add neat labia majora to an already impossible list? Or should we just stop wearing the skinny jeans that are so fashionable? Or the hot-pants? Or the leggings that seem so comfortable and practical? We wouldn’t want to be subjects of ridicule, would we?

If there isn’t a cosmetic procedure for reducing the size of one’s labia I’d be surprised. I know for a fact that there are products that are inserted into knickers to mask the labia and create a smooth finish under trousers... I looked them up, because, you know, that’s what the internet’s for. There are padded knickers too.

It’s the nipple all over again.

When did we start to need nipple covers? (I’m sorry but I can’t bring myself to call them petals). OK, maybe under very sheer things if we’re very daring and choose not to wear a bra, but just because we might get cold? There’s no shame, surely, in feeling a chill once in a while.

Whoever is telling us that we need to be embarrassed by our bodies and how they respond to our environment really ought to stop it. We’re already paranoid about our bodies. We already compare them to all the other bodies. From the pimples of puberty to the wrinkles of middle age, from the sweats of adolescence to the flushes of menopause, from every bulge and tickle of erectile tissue to every whiff of a scent of a secretion, we’re doomed to some humiliation or another.

The debate over this fleshy cleft might be the straw that breaks this camel’s back. I might just be done with all of it. I might stop plucking and shaving and bleaching and moisturising, and I might just give up on deodorant and perfume and make-up, and I might just burn my bras and flaunt my goddamned camel toe, because, yes, as it happens, I’m one of those women. Shock horror! I’ve said it.

But here’s the thing. I won’t be buying pads to stuff in my knickers... I might decide not to wear any knickers. I might be a maverick, and if They don’t like it, They’ll just have to be disgusted. My genitalia: my business.
Curtesy of

Oh... and there’s this splendid tattoo of a camel on a toe

I can snark as much as I like, but I do love women who can find a way to have a good laugh at themselves and their bodies, but most of all at Them.

Monday 29 September 2014

The Sunday Papers

Quite often on Mondays, I write a blog about something that has caught my eye in the Sunday papers. I would do that today, except that I didn’t really read the papers yesterday, and I haven’t looked at them this morning, either.

We were away for the weekend. We were at a large(ish) three day party for a friend’s fiftieth birthday in a big house in deepest Dorset. It was lovely, thank you very much.

Rob hurtled off on Saturday and Sunday mornings to find a newsagent’s and buy the papers. It’s the sort of thing someone who worked for the foreign office might do. Frankly, it was the sort of thing that any of us might have done, but it was Rob who got to the task first. He returned with arms full of papers both days, everything from the New York Times (no International Herald Tribune, sadly - always my favourite crossword) to the Sun, and every broadsheet, berliner and tabloid in between. There were a couple of dozen of us, so it made sense to supply us with lots of reading matter.

We generally take several weekend papers when we’re at home, and for many years we did include a tabloid in the pile, generally the Mail on Sunday.

I remember the older dort returning home from school one day and telling us about a class she’d sat in where she was asked which papers her parents read. She reeled off the list, ending with the Mail. The teacher was surprised and said so, asking why we read the tabloid. The dort answered that she thought it was because I liked to have something to argue with.

She wasn’t far off the mark. More accurately, it was because I liked to be aware of the sort of nonsense that was being peddled to the anxious and unsuspecting, feeding their fears and ramping up their prejudices.

I honestly have no idea when last I saw the Sun.
You can subscribe to the Sun online here
should you find yourself so inclined

Before I go on, I’m just going to say this. I’m going to say it loudly and firmly, and I’m going to tell you that I believe in what I’m saying, because what comes next will suggest that I don’t believe it for a moment. Here goes... I think that censorship is always ill-advised, detrimental to any democratic society and almost certainly harmful and even dangerous. Freedom of the press is essential to an open society where all subjects can be debated and where no one need feel persecuted for his political views, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender alignment or anything else.

I didn’t read the Sun, but other people at the table we were all gathered around did dip into it, and read bits out, or held up the paper and pointed out pictures or headlines, so I got the gist of what’s going on in its pages. 

I understand, and I got this information second or third hand, that the Sun is making some sort of effort to become a family friendly newspaper. Well OK then. I haven’t seen the Sun for... I don’t know, probably decades... but I do remember page 3, and the topless girl that always appeared on it. It was often Samantha Fox or Linda Lusardi when I was exposed to the tabloid. I assumed that the page three girl would be a thing of the past in a family friendly newspaper, in any newspaper in the 21st century. Porn and papers don’t seem like a happy marriage to me in this new age of feminism. Apparently I was wrong. The girl was wearing a bra, but she was still right there, taking up about half of the page. Oh good grief! We really haven’t got past this yet?

There was a story about a girl singer on the X-Factor, accompanied by a picture of her in her knickers and a fur coat, for crying out loud.

There was also a reprise of the story of the woman who had a third breast implanted in order to become famous. I believe it postulated that it might have been a hoax... A-duh.

And, just for good measure, the story on the crisis in the Conservative party, after MPs were caught ‘sexting’ in a sting operation by one of the tabloids used the word WILLY in a sub-head... Not penis or even cock. I wouldn’t have minded so much if the sub-head had referred to one MPs major cock-up in texting porn selfies!  for example, but WILLY... Really?

I’m not convinced the Sun was ever my idea of a newspaper, and I’m not sure it was ever what I might consider to be relevant in any society, and yet it continues to outsell every other newspaper on the stands: about 2.2 million copies a day this year.

Words fail me... OK, not quite, because here comes a bit more invective.

From my second-hand reading of this rag, as it was passed around our Sunday breakfast table yesterday, its agenda on sexual politics appears to be that women are for objectifying and ridiculing, and if the Sun can do both at once, that’s all to the good. If it can use women to ridicule and undermine the men it doesn’t like and give them rotten coverage in the press, the paper will find a way to do that, too.

It’s all rather grubby, isn’t it?

I’m not going to tell you what to read, and I know that Rob bought the Sun both because he’s professionally interested, and ironically, and I suppose it’s fine for liberal intellectuals to find it funny, but I’m guessing that more than 2 million of the 2.2 million people who buy the paper every day don’t get the joke.

So... What about them?

Sunday 28 September 2014

From Deepest Dorset

So, we're in the country this fine Saturday morning. Look! There it is! 

We're here for a fiftieth birthday (how the hell did that happen?) with twenty-odd people, most of whom I've never met, and the remainder of whom I haven't seen for the better part of three decades. Everyone looks EXACTLY the same! How the hell did that happen?

When am I going to stop asking, 'How the hell did that happen?' Not any time soon today, I'm afraid.

Did you read my blog on the passing of time? It's a funny thing, time. Nearly thirty years apart and ten minutes back together and all that time simply disappeared; it was as if we'd all been together yesterday, or last week... Except that then we were kids, concerned only with writing the latest essay and finding enough cash for beans and beer. Now we've got enough kids between us to fill a classroom, and mortgages and some of us have got real, grown-up jobs; one of us has retired for crying out loud!

None of that stopped us talking, laughing, eating and drinking long into the night, cementing old relationships and starting new ones.

Time's a funny thing, but people don't change very much, and I can't help celebrating that... What's more we'll be celebrating it all the way into tomorrow.

Here's hoping you're having as good a weekend as we are!

Sunday night update.

So, we're home, safe and sound, after a wonderful weekend, in good company with great food, plenty of wine and the odd glass of whiskey, too. There was nothing but good cheer, bonhomie and great good humour. OK I know that's three ways of saying essentially the same thing, but I can't say it enough. What a lovely party with utterly charming people.

You can tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps, and Sean, who was celebrating his birthday must be a hell of a man to have such friends. Liz sparkled, Jacky charmed, Alice was fabulous, Ro was endlessly warm, Sarah was funny and Jacqui was the consummate hostess. Claire was easy and elegant,  and Ros glowed, and that's just the women! There wasn't a dull moment, but there were many fascinating and funny ones.

Back to work tomorrow morning, but right now, we feel tired, satisfied, stimulated and, perhaps more than anything else, content. How lovely is that?

Friday 26 September 2014

Dangerous Games

A few months ago, I was delighted to be invited to write a short story for Jonathan Oliver. He’s a lovely man and a fine editor, so, obviously, I jumped at the chance.

I was in the middle of writing Tomb Raider: Ten Thousand Immortals (out in October) at the time, and deadlines were tight, but as soon as I saw the brief an idea came into my mind, and so with Jonathan’s good graces I was able to take up his offer.

I’m so glad I did.

I had a lot of fun with the story.

Oddly, the initial idea didn’t come to fruition. That happens sometimes, but not often with me. One thing did lead very neatly to another, however, and very quickly things began to slot into place.

The story turned out very nicely, thank you very much.

Frankly, I’m much more interested in the other stories in the anthology, and I can’t help thinking that you should be too. I urge you all to invest in a copy of Dangerous Games from Solaris when it's released in December to experience their stories and see what can be achieved with the wealth of talent and writing skills these authors bring to the horror short story.

I’m in very good, extremely experienced and even prize winning company on this project. Heaven only knows how I slipped in under the wire

A little while ago, I wrote about sorting out my schedule, taking stock and thinking about what I’d like to do next.

As it happens, events have overtaken me a little in one or two areas, so my schedule for 2015 and 16 is beginning to be blocked in. I am saving time each month to write a short story, though.

I enjoyed this experience very much, and I particularly enjoyed writing something with a remit, but without an IP attached to it. There has to be time for that, too, right? So, I certainly hope that I’ll be invited to contribute short stories to projects, but I’ll be writing them anyway, and submitting them all over the place. I’ll let you know how that pans out.

Wish me luck.

Thursday 25 September 2014

Having a Pop at the Red-Tops

So, all my wonderful women friends, semen is good for you.

That’s what this latest article finds.

OK then.

The husband and I laughed over this for several reasons, not least because I have been depressed. I have been in this state for a while now. You all know about this, because I talk about it freely. Fortunately, I’m sensible enough to know that sex is good for me, and I also remember that I like it and that I adore the husband, so we’re doing OK.

Modern journalism sometimes, dare I say, often leaves a great deal to be desired. Some of us rail against it, particularly the worst of it, examples of which are easy enough to find in the red-tops. We rail against the half-arsed, slapdash way that opinions are reported as facts, and we rail against sloppy fact-checking and political bias.

The husband recently appeared at our local comic convention. It’s a lovely event, held twice a year in a small shopping complex. It’s well attended and a lot of fun. A photographer for the local paper was in attendance and photographed lots of fans who’d turned up in costume, and he took the husband’s photograph, too, once prompted. He didn’t take pictures of any of the other guests, who included the incomparable Clint Langley. There was a double page spread report in the paper the following Friday. All good, you might think. 

Not so much. Despite having given the photographer details, and despite the Kent Messenger having run stories on the husband before, the text reported him  as a comic book legend (OK then), who was doing drawings for his fans. Well, obviously he wasn’t, because the husband is a writer, not an artist! Anyone can type Dan Abnett into google, and someone should have. Of course they could have checked their own archive, because, did I mention that the people at the KM have written stories about the husband before?

Right, back to semen.

Someone, somewhere worked out that semen is full of chemicals, some of which are known to elevate mood and some of which are also components of some antidepressants. This information was the basis of a study to discover whether women who are exposed to semen are happier than women who aren’t.

Obviously my first thought was ‘Oh good grief!’

When I discovered that the study was conducted using college students, presumably most of whom were under twenty-two years old, my next thought was, ‘What the hell are kids doing having unprotected sex, for crying out loud?”

Let’s put that on one side and look at the study. It comprised of 293 women all from one campus. Now forgive me for thinking that this probably isn’t a representative cross-section of womanhood, or a useful number for a significant study. This is someone playing, having a bit of fun and hoping to get a headline out of it. 

OK, let’s think about the kind of 18 to 22 year old women who might always (because that was the condition of the survey) have unprotected sex. I’m not judging anyone. Heaven forfend. But I’m guessing they might be at the carefree, happy-go-lucky end of the spectrum when it comes to personality types. They might also be most likely to be in the most fulfilling longterm relationships, something else that might factor in their happy quotient. Of course, I could be wrong.

This survey said that those women exposed to semen were happier than those who always (the criterion again) used condoms. This survey said that their results showed that semen makes women happy. Because post hoc ergo proctor hoc... Not.
Here's the original article, should you want to read it

This piece of nonsense was reported by the Daily Mail, and you and I know that what it’s really about is telling women that what we’re mostly good for is performing more oral sex. Go on, love, it’ll cheer you up!

I read somewhere else that the happiest women in the World are nuns.

Go figure.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Advice for Struggling Bloggers

I’ve been asked more than once how to run a successful blog.
Yes, you've seen this picture of me before,
but James K Barnett did a great job
and I like it.

Yesterday, Noah asked me to write something about the subject on my blog.

Honestly, I don’t know what to tell you.

I don’t consider myself to be a successful blogger.

To be successful takes time, effort, energy, intent and a great deal of bloody hard work, and that’s just for starters. It’s also true of any pursuit. I don’t suppose that blogging is any different.

I suspect that the people who ask me how to become a successful blogger are simply people who like this blog and visit it regularly. That makes the blog successful in their frame of reference, because it draws them in and holds their attention. It makes them believe that the blog has some kind of universal appeal, and, therefore that lots of people must be reading it.

Lots of people aren’t reading my blog.

OK, quite a few people are, but I don’t attract lots of people, and many of my visitors come to look at the blog because of my other activities in the World.

Success is relative, I suppose. 

I consider the blog a success if I manage to put my thoughts into the World on a fairly regular basis. The blog is a form of journal for me and a way to exercise my writing muscles, as much as it’s an interface with others. I have no interest in the numbers of visitors or hits that the blog gets, and I don’t monetise it.

Do I like it when people respond to the blog? Of course I do. Do I like it when people comment or share the blog? I love it. It’s a form of conversation from my computer and I like reaching out. Does it make me feel popular or validated? I suppose sometimes it does, but I’m also aware that I expose myself a good deal in the blog, because I don’t self-censor, so I’m just as likely to get negative feedback as positive.

What I’m saying is that if you want to be a successful blogger, you might not want to follow my example. 

My blog is very simple and very honest. It is all about one cubic foot of real estate. It is about the unfiltered drivel in my head. The cult of personality won’t get most people very far. It doesn’t get me very far. Let’s face it, you’d have to be pretty damned interesting for it to get you very far.

I might also add that it would be pretty difficult to use me as an example for blogging, because I’ve come to learn that I’m unlike other people in the levels of honesty that I’m able to bring to situations. I speak my mind and I speak it freely. People struggle with that and it makes me unpopular, but it appears to be part of my personality; I just can’t help it. Most of you won’t want to test that water. It can be a sad and lonely place to live.

If you want to blog and you want to do it well, I suggest you work at it like you work at anything. Have a plan. Decide what your blog is going to be about so that people with the same interests can identify with it and rely on its content. Don’t confuse your readers.

Blog regularly, and research your material. Try not to be repetitive, but do reiterate your position regularly. Don’t take for granted that your readers read every blog.

Keep your blogs fairly short and lively. Too Long Didn’t Read will send people running for the hills and they won’t come back.

Only try to be funny if you’re actually funny.

Keep the page simple. Dark type on a pale page is best, and a readable typeface, please. Times New Roman and Helvetica are ubiquitous for a reason.

Use pictures, but do beware of copyright. We’ve all got smartphones, so taking your own pics is simple and saves confusion. Links are fine, but don’t overdo it, and don’t rely on them to explain the context of your blog, because not everyone is going to take the time to refer to them.

Here’s the big stuff. You’ve got to get your blog seen.

Check out hashtags for bloggers on Twitter and use them. There are plenty of blogging groups, and if your blog is any good other bloggers will share it. Be generous about sharing blogs. These communities are often very supportive.

If you’re brave enough, ask people to share your blog. I always post my blog on FaceBook and Twitter, and I shamelessly use the husband by posting on our joint Twitter account and his FaceBook pages. I wouldn’t do it if he minded, of course, but he’s generous like that.

Use descriptive headlines for your blogs and don’t be too obtuse or too clever. My most visited blogs have titles like, “For Native English Writers Wherever You May Be”, “Everyone’s Talking About Angelina Jolie’s Tits” and “The Blog in which I Eulogise Peter Ustinov”. The same applies to labels. Use them and keep them simple.

I didn’t do it on purpose, but my blog also appears first whenever my name is typed into Google. I gather it’s possible to make this happen deliberately, but I have no idea how. I guess I got lucky, because there’s only one person in the World with my name. Go figure.

There are, of course, lots of sites on the web that school bloggers in being better and more successful at it, so don’t trust this blog to help you with your struggles, and please, please don’t hold me up as an example of a successful blogger, or a successful anything.

Trust me when I tell you that there’s every likelihood your time will come long before mine does.

Now off you go and design a splendid blog, and then write on it. Do it. You know you want to.

Friday 19 September 2014

The Scottish Question… A Political Answer

The referendum is over. The votes have been cast, and we remain one great, united, dysfunctional family.

I’m not surprised.

I have a great affinity with Scotland.

My mother’s family is Scottish, and I spent four years studying in Scotland. I love the place and its people.

I love and admire them for asking the question.

My feeling was that they would say Yes loudly and long in public, but that when it came to the privacy of the polling booths they would vote No.

I used to sing “Flower of Scotland” with them. I used to feel like one of them. I was one of them.

That’s one of the many wonderful things about the Scots: they are an inclusive people.

Yes, I’m going to generalise... so sue me.

With my haughty English accent and my decadent English ways, even back in the Thatcherite 80s, even when The Socialist Worker was the number 1 newspaper on campus, I was welcome and I was included. I was teased, of course I was, but I was also one of them, because I was there, sharing the experience, and they took me at face value. The Scottish students soon saw past the accent and listened to the words I was speaking, and they judged me on the content of my character and not on the things that mattered less.

The Scots are pragmatic too. They have their history. It is there, and it isn’t going anywhere. The Act of Union was three hundred years old in 2007, and three centuries haven’t prevented Scotland remaining Scottish or its people retaining their character or their traditions.

Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon
Wiki's page on the Referendum
I am glad Scotland asked the question. It was their right so to do. I’m glad they asked the question for themselves, and I’m glad they asked it for the Union.

This is about politics, about all of us, and it’s about the coalition. It’s about the government that nobody voted for.

David Cameron has been the Prime Minister that nobody voted into power. I rather wish that the system was different. I rather wish that we had all gone home after the last election and come back to the polls six weeks later after further public debates, and cast a second round of votes. Six weeks more of Gordon Brown’s last government couldn’t have been the end of the World. The political parties and the electorate would have had a clear picture of the state of play, and those who hadn’t voted might have seen just how important it was to turn up.

The Scottish turned up for the referendum with more than 85 percent of them voting, rising to more than 90 percent in some areas. There is no question that the outcome reflects the opinion of the majority of the electorate, and there was no fumbling of the ball.

Let this be a lesson to us all.

The next general election is only a matter of months away. If we could all get as interested in that as the Scottish have been in the fate of their nation and in the Union, at the very least we will have a government that the majority of the electorate is agreed upon. Who knows? We might see a clear majority in the house of commons and a single party with a mandate to govern effectively.

The political wrangling of the past five years has been grubby and demoralising for all of us. It was caused by politicians to some degree, but it was instigated by the indecisiveness of the voters who turned up and by the apathy of those who didn’t. The 2010 general election saw one of the lowest turnouts for a general election since 1945.

The Scottish have shown us all how it can be done, and I hope they’ve reignited our interest in politics and in the deficiencies in this compromise, coalition government. If a coalition was a good idea, perhaps there should have been room on the ballot paper to vote for it.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Body Image

I’ve been meaning to talk about body image on this blog for quite a while, but I’ve been unsure about how I’d do it.

I thought I might just stick a picture of myself up here in my undies and say, There you go! I look like this, and it’s all down to genetics. And you look the way you look for precisely the same reasons.

I discussed this approach with another woman, a rather beautiful woman, as it happens, and she advised me against doing it. So I haven’t.

It is the truth, though. There’s really bugger all any of us can do about our bodies. We can control our weight (although for many of us that's a big problem), but as for shape, height and proportions, we’re pretty well stuck with what our parents gave us. It’s all in the genes.

That is also true of the women we see all over the media, advertising everything from shampoo to knickers, to cars and dvd players, for crying out loud. That is also true for the bodies we see plastered all over everywhere that remind us 24/7 that we are sexual beings and we’d damned well better be attractive so that we can compete with everyone else who happens to share a gender with us and find a mate.

Well, I’m sorry, but it’s all just so much rot. Kate Moss’s body is a result of genetics just as much as yours or mine is, and just as much as Marilyn Monroe’s was. Cindy Crawford can put out as many fitness videos as she likes, but she can't tell me that if I do what she does I can look like her, because it's nonsense. I can’t change my height, or the fact that my limbs are disproportionately short, and I sure as hell can’t alter the passing of the years. Not for nothing, Ms Crawford's love life has had its ups and downs, as has Ms Moss's, and I sure as hell wouldn’t want to replicate Ms Monroe’s sad string of love affairs.

Can we please stop putting ourselves through the agony of being forever concerned about our bodies and how they compare to other bodies? We’re not enriching our lives or our relationships with this stuff.

Experience tells me that it is rarely the most physically attractive person in the room that gets most of the attention, and certainly not the best kind of attention. The next opportunity you get, when you’re in a room with, say, more than a dozen people, just watch what happens. See who people are drawn to. You might just be surprised.
Talking of clever and funny:
The Husband, as painted by the dort,
one of the most attractive women I know.

Me? When it comes to men, I’m always attracted to clever and funny. I never care what they look like. If you lined up the men I’ve dated, you’d quickly see that, physically, they have very little in common and their age range spans three decades. If you lined up their IQ test results or their professional qualifications, or you listened to them talking you’d probably find they have all kinds of things in common.

We’re really talking about women though, aren’t we?

I’m going to let you in on a secret. Here goes, girls. Are you ready for this?

Straight men like women!  

There... I’ve said it. It’s out there. Men like women, and, what’s more, they’re generous. Most men will find something to like, something to find attractive about almost any woman. They home in on the good things and ignore the flaws. I kid you not. If you’ve got pretty eyes, a nice smile or glossy hair, that’s what a man will see. He won’t see that your nose is a little crooked or that your legs are a little short or your breasts are on the small side. You’ve got BREASTS! for heaven’s sake.

Sit in that room with those dozen or so people and watch the woman who gets the good attention. She probably won’t be the prettiest woman in the room, but I can guarantee that she will be the most confident. I can guarantee that she will smile more than other women, that she will appear less self-conscious and more open, that she'll be enjoying herself more than anyone else.

The most attractive woman in the room won’t be the prettiest, she’ll be the one least concerned about the way she looks and most interested in the way other people think and feel, and how she thinks and feels in relation to them.

You’ll like her, and so would I.

I want to be that person, but then I honestly believe that we should all want to be more like that woman, including all you wonderful men.

There are better things to concentrate on in our lives than the perfect body, which probably isn’t identifiable, because these things are endlessly subjective, and which is utterly unattainable. One of those things is a keener awareness of others and how we relate to them. 

We all lack confidence, but we can all pretend we have an ounce or two more than we actually have. The effort of pretending might make us forget our wobbly thighs for just long enough to meet someone new and make a good impression. And if jumping that hurdle doesn’t give us a shot of real confidence, I don’t know what will.

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Whose Work Is It Anyway? part ii

Yesterday, in this post, I talked a bit about writing tie-in fiction, and more particularly about the husband’s contribution to the Guardians of the Galaxy for Marvel, and whether or not I should be proud of him.

Of course, I am.

I’m proud of him for all sorts of other things, though, too.

This week, I’m particularly proud of the response that Wild’s End has received.

I’m rather luckier than the husband, or just more bullish, or maybe it’s because I’m infinitely less successful than him, or much less in the public eye. There are myriad reasons. Whatever they are, the truth is that I have the time to do some of the things that I really want to do. Ok... the truth is that the husband loves working in existing worlds and universes. He revels in it. He’s been doing it for a long time and he’s very, very good at it.

I struggle with it somewhat. There’s sometimes a little bit of me that wants to break out of the constraints that he enjoys so much. I’ve always got projects of my own simmering away on an endless bank of back-burners that I want to get back to. He is more patient than I am.

This year, I was very lucky to be involved in two novels that I became utterly absorbed in, that were so right up my alley that I couldn’t have been happier writing them. Fiefdom from Abaddon books is set in the Kingdom universe. It began as a comic strip for 2000AD, and it’s one of my favourite things the husband writes (there’ll be more of it very soon). I’ve always loved the comic, and I’ve always wanted to write in that particular universe, so I was very active in pursuing the opportunity to do this book, and in writing it. The second novel is Tomb Raider: Ten Thousand Immortals from Brady Games, due out in October. What can I say? Strong female characters? Check. Real world settings? Check. History? Check. Archaeology? Check. Thrills and spills? Check. This was a thoroughgoing romp, and a helluva lot of fun.

I’ve also played in Black Library’s toy box this year, and you can read the results of my efforts in the autumn. I’ve got a very special relationship with the Black Library. It published some of my first work. I will admit that I have to pick and choose my projects carefully, though, because I find some of the big stuff daunting, and tough to write. I love it, but it can be hard work to get right, and I feel a huge loyalty to the fans and a great responsibility.

The biggest surprise of the year for me was being invited to write a story for an anthology. I was asked to be myself, to produce something of my own with no tie-in element whatsoever, and only the lightest of briefs. I rubbed my hands in glee, and set to it with a song in my heart. The Dangerous Games anthology is published by Solaris in December.

My response sounds ridiculous now that I read it back, but it’s still true.

I write for myself about a third of the time. I talk about some of those books, here. I’ve talked about Naming Names repeatedly. There are other books, too. I’ve written four novels that languish in files on my computer, unpublished. And there’s the rub.

I can work all day everyday writing, but I’m just like everyone else when it comes to getting that break. 

Back to Wild’s End.

The husband has written dozens of novels and thousands of comics. He’s written audiobooks and dramas, and he’s written computer games; hell, he’s even written a movie. Almost all of what he’s written has been tie-in fiction. He’s published two independent novels with Angry Robot Books. Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero is a swashbuckling, alternate history romp. It was very well-received, and more than one reviewer compared the writing style to Terry Pratchett’s. Embedded is a combat SF novel with a twist, which also has stuff to say about war and the news media. It was also widely appreciated.

There is room in comics for new stories, too.

People who don’t read comics tend to think of the superhero stuff, and that’s natural enough, because those comics account for a large proportion of the industry. Superheroes also dominate the crossover of comic books into movies and merchandising. Let’s not forget what I was talking about yesterday in this very blog.

What comic book readers know that some of the rest of us don’t is that there are a lot of independent comic books out there, often referred to as ‘creator owned’ in which comics creators come up with new concepts and stories that don’t tie-in to the stuff we’re all familiar with.

The husband has been dipping his toe into new waters with the artist INJ (Ian) Culbard.

In March 2012 the first issue of The New Deadwardians from Vertigo went on sale. It was the start of something that has been growing ever since. The comic, set at the turn of the 20th century in England, brought Zombies and Vampires together for an old-fashioned class war. It was very clever and it struck a cord with critics and readers. It ran for twelve issues and showed up on several round-up of the year and favourites lists.

This year, the husband and Ian have struck out with two new creator owned projects. Dark Ages for Dark Horse is a four part series and it’s medieval SF. It’s Apocalyptic!

Wild's End
issue #1
Wild’s End from Boom! Studios was out last week. The second issue of six is due in shops today. The elevator pitch is Wind in the Willows meets the War of the Worlds.

I love this book, and, not for nothing, so does everyone else.

I’ve never seen our Twitter feed so filled with mentions and congratulations for a project, and I’ve never seen so many rave reviews.

The husband built a toy box, filled it with toys and played out an extraordinary game. But here’s the thing: It’s his toy box and they are his toys, and Ian Culbard’s of course, because the art is absolutely gorgeous; you’re all going to love the anthropomorphic characters this team put on paper. It’s the husband’s toy box, and they’re his toys, and no one had ever played with them before. What’s more, if and when he decides to take them out to play with them again, they’ll be as fresh as the day he tucked them safely away. No one else is going to come along and reboot or reinvent or change anything in his absence. The husband doesn’t have to sit on the sidelines and watch other kids play with the same toys. He doesn’t have to worry about destroying toys or losing them, or even leaving them in the box for this particular game. He has only himself to please.

Who knows, maybe, one day Wild’s End or something else that the husband creates might even find its way into the hands of a movie maker. I know he’s never going to direct a film, but I also know that he’s a damned fine writer, and he’d sure as hell want a shot at writing the script... He’d do a bloody good job, too.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Whose Work Is It Anyway?

That’s one question. Another question is, just how proud am I allowed to be?

Because I’m terribly proud.

The husband often delights me with his work. I happen to think he’s talented. He works a lot and he produces some pretty good stuff. Some of that stuff has earned him an accolade or two along the way. He has a stack of 5 star reviews to his name, probably more than I can count, and he’s been on the New York Times bestsellers list more than half-a-dozen times in four separate categories.

I can feel my chest swelling, even as I type.

I was proud when he was approached to write the Dr Who christmas novel The Silent Stars Go By the year after Michael Moorcock wrote his, because, let’s face it, that’s keeping some pretty decent company; and I was proud when his name appeared beside Audrey Niffenegger’s on the cover of the short story anthology Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane.

I was more than a little bit chuffed when I saw the husband’s name on-screen when the credits rolled for The Guardians of the Galaxy movie, too. And this is where it begins to get complicated.

Six years ago, the husband wrote the comic book that James Gunn based his movie on, hence the screen credit. The tone, flavour and sense of humour of the husband’s comic are all there. It was lovely that Mr Gunn made this kind of acknowledgement. But it was also deserved, because it was the husband’s team up on that screen, his dynamics, his relationships portrayed.

Writing is a funny business, and tie-in writing is a funnier business still. It’s like playing in a communal toy box. The toys don’t belong to the writers. We’re allowed to play with them, but it’s for a limited time, and we have to return them to the box at the end of playtime, in the same condition that we found them. 

When kids visit places with communal toy boxes they don’t sit on the sidelines and watch other kids play with the toys while they wait for their turn, and they don’t then have to sit on the sidelines and watch other kids come along and play with the toys that they learned to love for a while. But that’s exactly what happens to tie-in writers.

Yesterday I read this status update from James Gunn on his FaceBook page:

The article the accompanied James Gunn'sstatus update
As of yesterday, we became the first movie of the year to gross more than 300 million domestically. And we also grossed more then (sic) 300 internationally to have over 600 million worldwide (luckily I had a calculator handy to figure that out). We just opened in Japan, and are yet to open in China or Italy, so we still have a little bit to go. But I guess it's time for my Saturday morning THANK YOU!

This made me enormously proud, and I wanted to celebrate.

It’s a kind of nonsense, of course. The husband put the toys back in the toy box after he’d finished playing with them. James Gunn took them out of the toy box for his turn. He’d watched the husband play, and he’d been influenced by the husband’s games. Nevertheless, it’s James Gunn’s script and it’s James Gunn’s direction that have earned the movie those bums on those seats.

I wonder if I’m enjoying this moment vicariously. I wonder whether I’m entitled to the pride I feel. I wonder whether I’m justified in feeling that warm glow that goes with the husband being part of something big and shiny and successful. Perhaps I am, perhaps not. It’s an odd feeling. I want to enjoy it, and I do, but then I remember everyone who had a part in the making of The Guardians of the Galaxy movie and I wonder whether my pride in the husband is misplaced. Honestly, I know how hard he works and I know how talented he is, because I share a life with him... and an office for that matter, and I watched him play with the toys in that toy box, too.

If you haven’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy yet, go see it. It’s clever and funny, and big and shiny, and it has a heart too, and some of that comes from James Gunn and the cast and crew, but a little bit of it comes straight from the time the husband spent writing the comic books. 

Come to think of it, if you like comic books, you can buy the husband’s version as a trade collection. You’ll also soon be able to buy a new comic called Guardians 3000, in which the husband gets to play with the toys in Marvel’s cosmic toy box once more. He’s about to take the original 1968 Guardians team out for a new adventure, and I wonder where in the cosmos that might lead to.

Monday 15 September 2014

Absence makes the heart grow fonder or Out of sight, out of mind

Looking happier than I feel
So, how long has it been since I last wrote a blog? 

Yep, it’s been a fortnight.

I know that I’ve done things in the last fortnight. I’ve been pretty busy. I also know that it has all been a bit of a trial.

I don’t know whether absence makes the heart grow fonder, or whether out of sight is out of mind. It’s probably a little of each, depending on who you are as a consumer of this blog.

I feel as if I should apologise to those of you who connect to this, who read it as part of your routine, who look forward to it, whether it’s because you agree with me on a regular basis, or because you like to come here looking for something to laugh at or fight with. To you, I’m sorry for my absence.

This latest depression has been an utter embuggerance. I am embattled. It has been four years since my last high, and nine months since things got really bad. I have been particularly flat these past couple of weeks, and the motivation to blog has been one of the things that has been lacking. I haven’t even been keeping a list of blog topics.

In the general run of things, at least once a day I’ll turn to the husband and say, I feel a blog coming on, or that’d make a good blog, or there has to be a more reasonable response to that. I usually make notes on those things. If I feel sufficiently exercised on a subject, I might even sit down, then and there, and write a blog. That hasn’t happened in the last couple of weeks, and the list of topics that pre-dates this last low patch seems stale and dated.

So, here I sit with nothing to say. It’s not like me. It makes me uncomfortable. I’ve always got an opinion. I’ve always got something to talk about.

On the upside, I have cleared the decks. 

I have no scheduled work right now.

I have decided to give myself a breathing space. I think I need one.

That is not to say that I will not work, because of course I will. The difference is that now I have an opportunity to collate my ideas and organise my time. I have the chance to prioritise. I’m going to talk to some people and make some decisions.

The creative life is an extraordinary one. It is a gift. Like all the most wonderful things, it comes at a price. For me, that price is living with the depression. The price had better be worth it, so my creative choices had better be good ones.

The work I do, the stories I tell and the people I work with will be some of the things I think about over the next days and weeks. What genres do I want to concentrate on? Do I want to write more longform fiction or short stories? Do I want comic books to be part of my working day? How much do I want to work with the husband? What tie-in work do I want to pursue? Where will I find the balance? Are all questions that I want to consider.

There are other things, too. There is the maxim that I refer to over and over again, the phrase that I quote back to writers every chance I get. I said it yesterday to a young woman who talked about her reluctance to share her work. It is this, “The point of the writer is the reader”. So, I shall be liaising with my agent for her input on what projects I can usefully be turning my creative energies to. There are publishers, too and other creators and friends that I trust.

This is my time for taking stock.

It might have been a bad year for my depression, but it’s been a good year creatively. I can celebrate my work. This year I have produced two books that I am proud of. Fiefdom from Abaddon books is out now, and Tomb Raider: Ten Thousand Immortals from Brady Games is due out next month. A new Warhammer 40K short story will be released in November, and I’ve also got a short story in the Dangerous Games anthology from Solaris, edited by Jonathan Oliver and available in December, which I’m hugely excited about. 

It is September, and, because I’ve got kids, the year has begun in September for me for a very long time. Perhaps it’s only natural that this should be happening for me now.

Today, I’m going to try to engage a little, and if I do turn to the husband with one of those comments about something being blog-worthy, perhaps I’ll remember to make a note, and perhaps I’ll sit down tomorrow morning, as I have so many mornings over the past couple of years, and actually write something. I do hope so.