TV Work

Generally I don’t talk about all the TV work I’m doing. When you’re creating new series, there are usually long periods of ditch-digging with the team, sweating, bouncing ideas around and drafting and re-drafting pilot scripts as conceptions change. And even then it doesn’t always come together.

But, as several people have asked, I’m currently in development with seven returning series for UK and international streaming broadcasters, across a range of genres.

More when I’m contractually allowed to speak about any of them.

There’s A Dark Age Coming

Copies of the paperback edition of Dark Age just arrived from my editor. Looks great. The team has done a fantastic job with all the covers for the current series.

It’s in shops shortly, or you can order it online here.

The blurb says:

Bridging the gap between ‘Game of Thrones’ and Bernard Cornwell comes the second chapter in James Wilde’s epic adventure of betrayal, battle and bloodshed . . .

It is AD 367, and Roman Britain has fallen to the vast barbarian horde which has invaded from the north. Towns burn, the land is ravaged and the few survivors flee. The army of Rome – once the most effective fighting force in the world – has been broken, its spirit lost and its remaining troops shattered.

Yet for all the darkness, there is hope. And it rests with one man. His name is Lucanus who they call the Wolf. He is a warrior, and he wears the ancient crown of the great war leader, Pendragon, and he wields a sword bestowed upon him by the druids. With a small band of trusted followers, Lucanus ventures south to Londinium where he hopes to bring together an army and make a defiant stand against the invader.

But within the walls of that great city there are others waiting on his arrival – hidden enemies who want more than anything to possess the great secret that has been entrusted to his care. To seize it would give them power beyond imagining. To protect it will require bravery and sacrifice beyond measure. And to lose it would mean the end of everything worth fighting for. 

Before Camelot. Before Excalibur. Before all you know of King Arthur. Here is the beginning of that legend . . .

Buy Pendragon Super-Cheap

…but you have to be quick. Pendragon is available now as Kindle Monthly Deal, for just 99p. It’s a great chance to sample this series from my pseudonym James Wilde, which Amazon describes as ‘bridging the gap between Game of Thrones and Bernard Cornwell.” You can find it here.

The second book Dark Age is already out. And the third, The Bear King, will be published this summer.

Here’s the blurb…

Here is the beginning of a legend. Long before Camelot rose, a hundred years before the myth of King Arthur was half-formed, at the start of the Red Century, the world was slipping into a Dark Age…

It is AD 367. In a frozen forest beyond Hadrian’s Wall, six scouts of the Roman army are found murdered. For Lucanus, known as the Wolf and leader of elite unit called the Arcani, this chilling ritual killing is a sign of a greater threat.

But to the Wolf the far north is a foreign land, a place where daemons and witches and the old gods live on. Only when the child of a friend is snatched will he venture alone into this treacherous world – a territory ruled over by a barbarian horde – in order to bring the boy back home. What he finds there beyond the wall will echo down the years.

A secret game with hidden factions is unfolding in the shadows: cabals from the edge of Empire to the eternal city of Rome itself, from the great pagan monument of Stonehenge to the warrior kingdoms of Gaul will go to any length to find and possess what is believed to be a source of great power, signified by the mark of the Dragon. 

A soldier and a thief, a cut-throat, courtesan and a druid, even the Emperor Valentinian himself – each of these has a part to play in the beginnings of this legend…the rise of the House of Pendragon.

Into The Wilds

The Dionysian Mysteries were a ritual of ancient Greece and Rome which sometimes used intoxicants and other trance-inducing techniques (like dance and music) to remove inhibitions and social constraints, liberating the individual to return to a natural state.

We all need to return to that natural state from time to time – if not, too much sanity will drive us mad.  It’s particularly important for creative people.  This is how you tap into the unconscious where stories and art and music are borne.

It won’t happen naturally.  How you do it is down to you – I have many ways that work for me.  One is to make sure I get away into the wilds a few times a year.  Trek across wind-swept moors where there’s not a soul around for miles.  Sleep under the stars.  Dive into the ocean and let the swell carry you.  The Wild forces the front-brain to switch off.

And when you do, you start to see strands of myth all around you – like the installation above. And myth is the way the Wild communicates directly with the unconscious – the real – you.

I took this photo at the Eden Project (Motto: Transformation: it’s in our nature) on a recent journey through Cornwall, one of my favourite places.  If you want to see more of what I do in my life, make sure you follow me on Instagram.

#TwinPeaks – What Does It All Mean?

“We’re like the dreamer who dreams and lives inside the dream. But who is the dreamer?” we are asked in David Lynch and Mark Frost’s TV masterpiece, Twin Peaks The Return. And waking from that mesmerizing, baffling, inspiring, terrifying, amusing, irritating dream of a series, we understand that is the key question. For the series. For life.

When the finale aired, in the US on Sunday and in the UK on Monday, the internet was awash with outrage and bewilderment: “He didn’t explain ANYTHING.” I think Lynch and Frost gave us plenty to find understanding, and I’m going to put down some of my thoughts here. It shouldn’t need to be said that there are SPOILERS aplenty beyond, not just for Twin Peaks but many other things too.

The lazy analysis of most of Lynch’s works is that his films “are like dreams”, with the unspoken opinion that they make no sense and are not supposed to make sense, a swirl of symbolism that you can only give yourself up to. But like all great art – and Twin Peaks The Return is art, make no mistake, just like the anguished paintings and sketches and sculptures Lynch labours over in his LA studio, and bearing much of a resemblance to them – his work makes perfect sense. All you need is The Key.

In past works, Lynch has always placed something – a line of dialogue, an image or collection of images – that unlocks the whole puzzle of his art and reveals meaning and structure and the hidden narrative.

At its heart, Twin Peaks – and nearly all Lynch’s work – has been about trauma. How it shapes and breaks lives. How it infects the world around us. If there is any hope for redemption, personal or societal. The devastating sexual abuse of Laura Palmer by her father, and her subsequent murder at his hand, rippled out to alter an entire town and the lives of everyone who lived there. It’s there in his very first theatre-released movie, Eraserhead, in Lost Highway, in Mulholland Drive. Lynch makes the claim time and again that how we deal with trauma is a fundamental part of living.

The key to unlocking Twin Peaks The Return is his Oscar-nominated movie Mulholland Drive. That film is a part of the Twin Peaks “universe” – it was originally designed as a TV spinoff featuring Audrey Horne’s adventures in LA – as is Lost Highway, and Eraserhead.

Mulholland Drive seems to tell one story, but in the last few scenes we learn it’s telling another story entirely, that of an actress who committed a terrible crime that has destroyed her, and that all that has gone before is her attempt – her dream – to make it right.

And so with Twin Peaks. There is ample evidence – in dialogue, in the timelessness of the town, indeed in the time loops which show the normal rules don’t apply, in the characters themselves – that Twin Peaks is not of this world.

Another film you might like to consider in relation to these thoughts is this:

The abiding mythology that Lynch has constructed across many of his works is of a place of, perhaps, collective unconscious that we visit in dreams and where idealized versions of ourselves try to work through our traumas and the problems we face in our waking world.

The primary way in which we make sense of the world, and ourselves, is Story. A problem is established, obstacles stand in the way, and a solution is found. That applies to a murder mystery and to how we cope with the abuses of the real world. And so our dreamers enter the dream-world of Twin Peaks and find the story that is pertinent to them.

In Twin Peaks The Return, Audrey Horne is terrified of being forced into the story titled The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane. Because that is the name of Laura Palmer’s (or rather Carrie Page’s) story, and we all know what happens in that one.

In the same way that Dom Cobb tries to resolve his trauma in Christopher Nolan’s Inception, through various forms of the real world, which may all in fact be dreams.

In the same way that Christopher Hadley “Pincher” Martin tries to make sense of his life’s traumas with his dying dream in William Golding’s brilliant third novel, Pincher Martin.

At the very end of Twin Peaks The Return, Kyle MacLachlan’s character wakes in a motel that we haven’t seen before, with a car we don’t recognize, with a new name – Richard – and in a world that has the gritty, mundane appearance of our own, far, far removed from the wonders and terrors of Twin Peaks. In Judy’s Diner, in miserable Odessa, he takes down three rednecks, not as the bright-eyed Coop we know, or the brutalist Mr C, but as some amalgam of the two, the real-world coming together of his fragmented dream personas.

There is no Coop, that idealized, Buddhist, decent-hearted knight. There is no Mr C, that epitome of evil. There is only Richard, who dreams a dream to solve the mystery of his own trauma and through it, hopefully, find some redemption. Does this trauma involve Linda, or Diane, as we know her from the Twin Peaks collective unconscious? Possibly. And we could dig into the story Cooper is involved in in that dream to find those real-world origins.

And in a fantastic piece of Meta imagining by Lynch, we are told that this end sequence is our own world because the woman who answers the door at the Palmer house, is the person who really owns that home in Washington State: Mary Reber.

And what of poor, bewildered Audrey Horne? We never got a resolution to her story, the internet cried as one. But we did. After her dreamy dance at the Roadhouse was interrupted by a brawl, Audrey runs to her partner-tormentor and cries, “Get me out of here!” Cue: jump cut to the person we know as Audrey staring into a mirror in a white room, perhaps a hospital.

She woke up.

Who is the dreamer? In this story, it’s mainly Richard. Lynch lets us know by superimposing Kyle MacLachlan’s face over the final part of the meeting in the Twin Peaks Sheriffs’ Department. It’s also all those we see manifesting in that collective unconscious.

But in the end, it’s all of us. We go into our fictions – our Twin Peaks, our books – to make sense of the horrors of our world, and through them find some way to survive.

Lynch layers his worlds, and his themes, to make his point. In the first season, the characters who exist in Twin Peaks are obsessed with a soap opera, Invitation to Love. They are drawn to that story filled with the characters’ trials, triumphs and torments as a way to make sense of their own lives. Just as their real selves are doing with that dream. Just as we do with our own stories.

There’s still so much more to glean from this tremendous work. So much to turn over and debate and sift for meaning. The original series changed the landscape of TV by showing us what was possible from that medium, and through that helped prepare the ground for the golden age of TV we’re living through now.

And with Twin Peaks The Return, Lynch and Frost have done it all over again.

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Why We Need Camelot

Arthurian lore is stitched deeply into my new book, Pendragon, published in just a few short days.  This is a story-telling tradition that may well go back one thousand five hundred years.  Perhaps even longer, if – as some think – Arthur was not a real, historical figure but based on a mythic hero arising out of tales of Annwn, the Welsh Otherworld of gods and magical beings.

Arthur matches the promise embedded in T H White’s title, The Once and Future King, by returning time and again in fireside tales, books, films, radio dramas, comics, and in every one slightly reinvented to speak to the concerns of the time in which the story is being told.  That’s because Arthur’s true importance is as a symbol, rather than as an historical figure.

And it’s a consideration of this element which lies at the heart of my telling: why do we need the myth of King Arthur so much that we keep bringing him back in new forms?

Pendragon is set one hundred years before Arthur was supposed to have lived and looks at how the man, the legend, both entwined, might have arisen out of historical events.  It’s decidedly and defiantly different from the Arthurian fiction you may be used to – no re-telling of oft-told tales.  All the familiar elements are there, but we come at them from oblique angles in the hope that the reader might see them in a new light.  In that way it’s a meditation on the meaning of King Arthur, as much as being about Arthur himself.

Or as the review from Parmenion Books says:

Pendragon…. the name just screams Arthur, Genevieve, Lancelot and all that goes with it. Well take that preconception and throw it out the window. Not since Bernard Cornwall took on the Arthur myth has any writer provided such a new and innovative view of the Arthurian story.

This constant reinvention of Arthur is a turbulent process, but the anchors remain the same to hold the idea fast – Excalibur, Camelot, the Round Table and the rest.  And they too are symbols, more powerful than their mundane appearance suggests.

Folklore speaks to why we keep calling Arthur back into our world.  He is the hero who sleeps beneath the hill with his loyal band of followers, waiting to be summoned in the hour of England’s – or the world’s – greatest need.  The saviour.  The ideal.  The non-religious symbol of something greater than ourselves that speaks to the highest callings – of service, of sacrifice, of the values, the striving for goodness, that bind us all together.

There are times when we need Camelot more than ever.

This is one of them, I think.

The UK has never been more divided.  The US too.  Divided socially, politically, geographically, financially, divided in how we see ourselves, in our purpose.  It’s important to look to greater principles to find those ties that bind, if divisions are ever to be overcome.

And lest we forget, symbols are more powerful than words, more powerful indeed than the men and women who purport to lead us.  Countries which marshall their national symbols thrive.  Those which don’t, struggle.  The USA, a country built on symbols, now almost wholly communicates with them.  From images of an eagle, or stars and stripes, or the gunslinger standing alone in desolate landscape, we understand very complex, multi-faceted ideas about the philosophy of that nation.  And that communication is more powerful than anything when the USA is selling itself across the world.

King Arthur is also a symbol of Britain.  He sells a layered but powerful idea of who we are as a nation.  As we edge out into an uncertain world, we need that too.

Winter Stories

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Winter is a time for imagination.  For reflection.  For stories.  We bolt the door and huddle around the fire, listening to the voices whispering in the chimney.  Ghosts, of the past year, of the family members we’ve lost, of ancient ancestors.  Ghosts as metaphor, ghosts as memory, ghosts as the very essence of all we fear, and sometimes all we desire.

Tuesday December 22 is the Winter Solstice, when the sunlight hours are barely there and the night reaches on and on.  It’s a time I value.  The traditions.  Crouching next to the warmth and mulling on things gone, and things yet to come.

Today the last deep coal mine in Britain closed.  Soon there will be ghosts of entire industries.  King Coal used to rule round these parts.  I remember my grandfather telling me of the ghosts of dead miners that haunted the long, lonely tunnels.  When they were working alone, sometimes the men would hear these spirits knocking, or calling out, urging the living to join them in the dark.  The tales weren’t peculiar to this area.  As far as I can tell, they existed all over the country, and in tin mines as well as coal mines.  Nobody will hear the dead miners any more.  But they will echo on in the stories, as they do in this one I tell you, which will live on in your head, and, perhaps, be passed on by your tongue.  The stories never die.

We’ve been thinking about this for a long time.  The primary axis of Stonehenge is aligned to the winter solstice sunrise, as is the entrance tunnel to the neolithic monument at Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland.  This moment has always been important to us.

Here in the old Kingdom of Mercia, ghosts flicker in the forest that presses tight around my house.  Along the old Roman road that curves around my boundary hedge.  I listen to what they say, and I learn.

Proof Of Heaven – Book Review

Proof

Near Death Experiences (NDEs) are a fascinating topic. They affect people regardless of cultural background or religious belief, or lack of it, and they’ve been recorded from the earliest days of civilisation. For years science has suggested explanations for the tunnel, the white light, the dead relatives waiting to greet you, and all the other familiar markers of an NDE. But whether dumps of DMT from the pineal gland, primitive brainstem programs or toxic overstimulation of cortical neurons, those theories have all been found wanting as we have discovered more about what really happens to the brain under the threat of death.

If you had to suggest what would make the best case study of an NDE, it would involve: a skeptical patient, someone who was an expert in neuroscience, and a situation where there were extremely detailed records of what was happening to brain chemistry at the point of death. By the laws of chance, that is never going to happen…

Except here it did. Eben Alexander is a leading neurosurgeon with a well-documented career of writing and teaching about neuroscience in leading institutions. He was also a confirmed materialist and a skeptic of anything spiritual – even of the notion that consciousness existed beyond a mechanical construct of the brain’s processing of experience and memory.

And then Alexander was struck down by a rare and seemingly incurable form of bacterial meningitis that threw him into a coma. The doctors at the hospital where he worked gave him less than a ten per cent chance of survival, and even if he did pull through he was expected to be irretrievably brain-damaged. Finally they advised his family to turn off life support.

Yet against all the odds, Alexander did wake up, and with all his faculties intact. And he came back with a staggering account of an NDE that is all the more powerful because it could not…should not…be. His detailed medical records show that there was no activity in his brain that could possibly have accounted for what he experienced – in effect, the human, thinking part of him was dead.

The unique case study alone is worth the four stars – it’s an important account in the study of NDEs. The book itself, for me, probably deserves three. It’s easy reading – no doubt because Alexander wanted to convey his experiences to the widest possible audience – but I would have preferred some more analytical writing and less visceral or emotional.

Having said that, Proof of Heaven is worth reading because of the confluence of Alexander’s scientific background and the life-changing experience he underwent, one which kicked away all the props of the intellectual life he’d built over his years in science.