Fantasycon Bits and Pieces

Everything the Americans say about Brit convention goers is usually true. Case in point: the Britannia Hotel ordered an extra week’s booze to cope with Fantasycon XXX in Nottingham. It was polished off on the Friday night…

Away from the main hall:

…2000 AD comics writer Simon Spurrier offering to slip the tongue to a dessicated, fried sea bass head. The sea bass turned him down…

…an up-and-coming author loudly berating the oeuvre of a famous writer without realising said writer’s son was sitting a few chairs down.

…Novelist Graham Joyce getting cornered by two extremely drunk middle-aged women in the Trip to Jerusalem pub (oldest one in Britain) and forced to play a medieval game of skill. Which he then lost. And he was sober.

Here’s my very good friend, fantasy author James Barclay, entertaining all and sundry at the bar in his louche tones. James delivered a heartfelt tribute to David Gemmell who died earlier this year. He won’t thank me for saying it, but I reckon James must be in line to follow in Gemmell’s shoes as the new king of UK heroic fantasy. Good bloke, good writer. Check out his books.

There were more pictures on my crappy cameraphone, but either I was too drunk or the subjects were too unpleasant for them to come out…

Radio Silence…

Bloody computers. Motherboard explodes. Processor fizzles out. New PC’s browser crashes every time I try to work in WordPress. Bring back the age of the quill…

Which is by way of explanation for my silence here. But with the help of trusty web expert Ariel I aim to continue posting while I take a large hammer to these bits of machinery to get them working…

Arthur’s Seat scorched and drenched

The BBC reported today that a fire has been burning on Arthur’s Seat – the hill outside Edinburgh – for the past 24 hours, and that fire-fighters are still on-site to ensure that it remains under control.

What the report failed to mention was whether or not the fire was tinged with blue…

[That last paragraph sponsored by the department of Chadbourn in-jokes.]


Ravens Reviewed

John Berlyne has posted his review of Jack of Ravens over at

John writes an insightful overview of the book, identifying the main themes, avoiding spoilers, and most importantly assessing the work purely on its own merits – even whilst Admitting that he hadn’t realised it was a continuation of Mark’s earlier work, which he confesses hadn’t read before – and concludes that Jack of Ravens is “a real bravura display from the author, a very successful attempt to offer readers something truly different from the standard fantasy fare.”

A well-written review, IMHO. But then, Mr Berlyne is rather good at those…


It’s a hard life, being a limp-wristed milque-toast…

Hi all, Ariel here. Mark asked me to keep an eye on the place whilst he’s nipping back and forth in research-mode – do the online equivalent of turning the lights on and off at random intervals, feeding the cat, checking the budgie has enough water, that sort of thing – and I thought Id make myself useful whilst I was here.

On which note, I’d like to point you all in the direction of Mark’s recent piece on the Write Fantastic Blog, which makes for a quite revealing insight into the life and working habits of a full-time professional writer. Just in case any of you were foolish enough to think of pursuing that path yourself…

Yes, That Big Box in the Corner

Writers write.  And sometimes when you’re plumbing the dark depths of your head, you have ideas that won’t be confined to one genre or even one medium.  I’ve written fantasy and SF and horror, I’ve written crime and psychological mysteries and contemporary drama.  I’ve recently published a graphic novel in the US, and I’m about to do more comics.

But what many people don’t know is that I also earn a crust as a screenwriter.  Today I’ve just finished the second episode of a new science fiction series I’m developing with the BBC.  It’s still a long way from appearing on your TV screen, and, in fact, may never do so.  It’s a long, exhausting and arduous task to get a series from idea to commission, with numerous, increasingly higher hurdles to jump over.  And even if you’ve finally shaped the best idea in the world, it can still fall at the last because there’s not a free slot in the schedule.

Yet to a novelist, used to toiling away in a lonely room, it’s a fascinating, invigorating process.  You get to work with other committed, creative individuals who take your idea in a surprising direction, and then you get to do the same with their ideas.  (Whether I would enjoy it so much if I didn’t have the singular visions and sole authorship of my novels to fall back on, is a different matter – you can’t beat being in complete control).

I’ve also got another supernatural series in the early stages of development, and a movie project.  And there’s been some initial movie interest in World’s End.

It’s all wait-and-see, but that’s part of the excitement.  You never know what’s going to be around the corner.

I Have No Title for the Next Book

Titles are a nightmare.  On the bookshelf they always look like they’ve arrived fully-formed, which neatly masks the blood, sweat and tears that sometimes goes into their creation.  They need to be short, powerful, evocative and unique.  You think that’s easy?

I normally sell my books to my publisher on the basis of a synopsis.  For the last six contracted books, none of the titles in the pitch document have ended up on the spine.  The real titles always come during the writing.  The Devil in Green was originally called Slouching Towards Bethlehem for no other reason than I like the quote (besides, Joan Didion got there first).  DiG was the title of the first novel I ever wrote (which has never been seen by anyone and never well), so I cannibalised myself.  But that book has since felt like it could never have been called anything else.

In the pitch document, Jack of Ravens was called The Land of Always Summer, the next book was called The Waste Lands (and then The Great Dominions) and the third and final was Rex Mundi.  The series itself – Kingdom of the Serpent – was The View Across Existence.

I’ve spent all afternoon writing – and baking – in the garden and the title for the next book still hasn’t surfaced from the mire.  When I finally get a hook in it, I’ll let you know.

Fantasy? Okay… but why?

Fantasy is just escapism. A bolt-hole for woolly thinkers unable to live in the modern world. That line of thought pops up as regular as dysentery on an unlicensed Nile cruise. It’s usually either journalists, or science fiction readers (or writers) who like stories about Big Machines with no discernible human dimension.

A history lesson: in the pre-modern world, Plato defined two complementary ways of reaching the truth. Logos – from which we get ‘logic’ – was all about viewing the wider world outside of our bodies. Mythos – from which we get ‘mythology’- was the mapping of the inner world inside our head. SF is the fiction of logos. Fantasy is the fiction of mythos. It was an incisive, neatly-balanced philosophy of everything, that worked perfectly well until the Age of Reason.

In our society, logos is given more weight. Wrongly, I believe. There’s a huge and distasteful arrogance to some of the big voices in science that reminds me of Tory MPs in the eighties when they thought Thatcherism was the only game in town, in perpetuity. Or to flip the political coin, of Arthur Scargill, the old leader of the National Union of Miners who led a self-destructive strike that was instrumental in wrecking the labour movement and damaging leftist politics in the UK for a decade (some would say much, much longer). There was the same look of bafflement on Scargill’s face as the strike imploded that you see on some scientists-spokespeople when they try to comprehend why a big chunk of the world doesn’t buy into the scientific agenda. Scargill – pure ego with a Yorkshire accent – couldn’t understand why a significant proportion of the workforce didn’t follow him when he said jump. He knew the principles of the strike were right, but in his arrogance he thought it unnecessary to win the hearts and minds first before he started trying to march people up and down the hill.

Scientists (and I’m using a useless generic term here) are so secure in the tenets of the Age of Reason and basic scientific principles that they can’t understand why many people don’t buy into it. And so they spit and stamp and flounce, like Richard Dawkins does from time to time, and alienate even more people. And in that arrogance, too many are completely derogatory of the power of mythos even today.

Their position, of course, is in complete defiance of history. (In my more cynical moments, I think this is because history can’t be replicated in a lab. But it seems to me that too many of a scientific bent have a tenuous grasp on, shall we say, the ‘lessons’ of history, as opposed to the nuts and bolts of dates and events.)

For most people, mythos is still just as important as logos. They need to map out their inner world more than they need to know about, say, DNA or how quickly, or not, the universe is expanding. They need to understand their dreams, and those terrible motivations that they can’t control. They need to understand what drives politicians to begin a war that few wanted, or why child abusers do what they do, or why people fall in love, and why that love goes. In short, they need to understand about people.

And for me that’s what fantasy does. It deals with hugely affecting symbols and archetypes that still drive our psyche today. I started writing a fantasy sequence about the return of the Celtic gods to our modern world, because I wanted to see if these archetypes could still affect people today in the same way that they affected our ancestors. Because these gods – these archetypes – are the secret language of our unconscious. Images of them, used in the right way, can move us to tears or laughter or sexual arousal in ways our modern minds can’t grasp because they speak directly to the core programming of our system.

If the mail I get from readers is anything to go by, those archetypes still do affect people just as strongly today – infecting dreams, slipping into the day-to-day world by changing behaviour, and therefore affecting logos. Mythos and logos, then, inextricably linked.

I write fantasy, therefore, because I’m interested in people and how they interact with the world around us, not because I want to run away from that world. But I still can’t get through ten pages of The Silmarillion.