I don’t like the world we’re in now. I’m sick of the confrontational political discourse. I’m disgusted with both sides making out that it’s disaster if you don’t agree with them. There are people out there who are tinder-dry and only need the faintest spark to set them ablaze. This isn’t confined to the UK. I want better leaders. I want better politicians. And right now, I really, really want them to shut up.
In 2016, I’ll be opening a branch in the capital (there is only one, of course).
I lived in London when I was young, drunk and stupid. In the first instance, above a kebab shop in the Queenstown Road in Battersea. My office was the Beaufoy Arms around the corner (known affectionately as the Beefy Arms), run by a Jamaican couple who served me jerk pork and Red Stripe while I attempted to make a living scribbling words for the big newspapers. I was surrounded by – possibly clinically insane – people, some of whom have remained friends to this day. Some of whom hold positions of power and would prefer me to keep my mouth shut.
After that, I lived in Clapham, a stone’s throw from the common. Frankly, it’s a bit of a blur, but life was lived to the full.
I’ll be honest. The universe has been kind to me in recent times. I work hard, in lots of different areas, and I really can’t complain. I’ve never been someone who’s been interested in money – if I was I would have stayed as a national newspaper journalist or become a banker, instead of crafting myself as an itinerant ne’er-do-well. But I’ve always enjoyed experience.
I spend so much time in the city these days, pitching work to TV companies, and film producers, and publishers, it seemed only right to get back there. I’ll still be spending time in my beloved Kingdom of Mercia, but for the most, I’ll be doing the Lambeth Walk and taking the piss out of Cockneys.
I’m still two of the three.
Coal dust covered the land of my youth. I grew up among the mining villages in the old Kingdom of Mercia, where everyone knew someone who worked in the deep dark. My grandfather had missing fingers and a crumbling spine from the days he spent up to his neck in deep water after a tunnel collapse. The doctor took out his eyes to wash the coal dust from behind them.
It was a place secretly ruled by women, but where the men pretended to be kings and the women let them do it. Men in pubs, swilling beer and laughing till they cried. Men taunting other men because humour was the only way to combat death always standing at your shoulder.
My mother gave me books. She ensured I was the only one in my class who could already read when I rolled up for my first day of school. My father…well, I knew he read vast amounts. We were one of the few houses in the street with a wall filled with well-thumbed books. But he was one of the men of that area, who laughed a lot but kept a huge part of themselves hidden away in the dark. Still, he taught me a lot. To work hard. To look after the people around you. And always to put the women first.
He left the mine when I was still young, at my mother’s urging, and landed a job as an engineer, working away from home for the entire week. Distant though he sometimes seemed, it still broke my heart when I saw him packing his case on a Sunday night. And after a while, he worked away for months at a time, in Spain, Belgium, the Middle East.
But when he returned home it was always a celebration. One day he brought me back the first of Stephen Donaldson’s fantasy novels about Thomas Covenant and urged me to read it. That stunned me. Firstly, that he was giving me a book to read. Secondly, that he loved a fantasy novel – it seemed so at odds with the down-to-earth man he presented to the world. That was when I started to realise there were deep tunnels inside him, ones that I had never explored.
In 1990, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. I still recollect my shock when I saw the headlines. That was where my father was working. For days, there was no news. Hope that the British embassy might have helped him get to safely slowly ebbed.
The Iraqi forces took him prisoner at gunpoint and sent him to a concentration camp in northern Iraq. He became one of Saddam’s human shields, westerners sent to strategic sites in a desperate attempt to stop the US and Britain bombing them.
Eventually we were allowed an exchange of letters. My father asked for a book – he was bored with nothing to read. I sent him a fantasy novel: Samuel Delaney’s Tales of Neveryon. When he was released, he confided in me, in a way that he rarely did, how much of a comfort that book was.
That event threw life off-kilter. It was a time of worry, desperation, never knowing if we would hear the news that my father had been executed. My mother came down to my flat in London where I was working, and slept on a camp bed. Every morning we sat before the TV news, hoping. My family had always been close. I had an idyllic childhood, and though we rarely had much, times always seemed good.
Still in her fifties, my mother died shortly after my father was freed. The strain of those long weeks…months…proved too much for her health. I returned to the Midlands to help my father through the hard time of grieving, and never went back. In the years that followed, I got to know him better than I ever had. He liked a good tale, did my father. A fantastical story with heroes and bad guys and overwhelming supernatural force.
A few years later, he too died, after a rapid descent into dementia. The doctors believed it had been caused by inhaling the toxins from the oil fields Saddam had set alight during his period of imprisonment.
And yet most of all I remember the gift of white gold magic that my father had given me. What it said about the hidden parts of a man, and what it illuminated, to me, in someone so close, and yet so distant. I think about the power of imaginative stories in the real world. I think about how we all need them so much; and why.
Movies viewed this year so far, in no particular order:
Shutter Island, Inception (x2), Toy Story 3, 2012, The Wrestler, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Sherlock Holmes, Shrek Forever After, The Age of Stupid, The Reader, The Taking of Pelham 123 (new version), Duplicity, The Boat That Rocked, Zombieland, The Princess and the Frog, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, The Fantastic Mr Fox, Paranormal Activity, 24 Hour Party People, Adventureland, District 9, 500 Days of Summer, Triangle, Mesrine Parts 1 and 2, A Perfect Getaway, Antichrist, The Hangover, Flawless, Night at the Museum 2, Moon, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Drag Me To Hell, Monsters Vs Aliens, The Damned United, State of Play, Revolutionary Road, Brandy for the Parson, Friday the 13th parts 1-7, Miller’s Crossing, Coogan’s Bluff, Donkey Punch, The Killers, Psycho IV, Kick-Ass, Avatar, A Christmas Carol, Iron Man 2, Seven Samurai, A Day at the Races, Go West, The Big Store, A Night at the Opera, A Night in Casablanca, At the Circus.
And re-watched: The Man Who Wasn’t There, Rear Window, How to Steal a Million, Paint Your Wagon, The Gauntlet, No Country For Old Men, Fargo, Raising Arizona, Contact, The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, The Fearless Vampire Hunters, The Dark Knight, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? Zodiac, Creepshow, 10,000 BC.
And a few more I’ve forgotten.
After completing the latest draft of The Scar-Crow Men, the next Will Swyfte book, I took a week off to re-charge in one of my favourite UK locations, the Penwith peninsula on the far tip of Cornwall. Some time in the surf, local beer and good food, with a lot of reading and a trip to Tate West thrown in.
It did the job – which is good because I’ve come back to several projects piling up on my desk. More on those later.
What started as a joke on Twitter and Facebook – in which I complained that my four nominations for Best Novel on the British Fantasy Awards longlist made me look like an inhuman writing machine – has taken on a life of its own.
Artist and reader @Madnad ran with the idea – and you can now buy her creatively-designed ‘Inhuman Writing Machine’ t-shirts here. Good for authors, journalists and anyone who makes – or aspires to make – a living from words.
And, no, there’s no cash coming my way for this. Go on, you know you want to…
Nobody likes to think they can be measured by a stranger. But I’m very interested in psychology and I recently took a VisualDNA personality test. It involved clicking a stream of images in response to various questions. The result:
“You’re a bit of a rebel at heart. You enjoy being challenged intellectually. You’re energetic and curious, with a love of life and an infectious enthusiasm for new adventures. Conscious of your place in the world, you like to stay informed about social and political issues and feel a duty to be environmentally responsible. You are inspired to make your mark and leave a positive legacy. You are energized by your vibrant network of friends and colleagues. Tech savvy and hungry for knowledge, you live life to the full, always seeking new adventures that broaden your horizons and take you out of your comfort zone.”
Which is horribly, horribly close to the truth.
Happy New Year everyone. A quick catch-up post as I get my head back into work-mode after the seasonal festivities, during which I saw and enjoyed both Sherlock Holmes and Avatar amid the usual carnage of what is my favourite time of year. I’m definitely a mid-winter person.
I’m currently snowed-in and watching the reports of Britain grinding to a halt (again). I’m afraid to consider how we’ll cope in a real catastrophe.
My work had a good showing among the usual “Best of…” lists, published at the end of 2009.
Thanks to all.
Complimentary copies of World’s End, Darkest Hour and Always Forever (courtesy of Pyr), The Burning Man mass-market paperback and the hardback and tradepaperback editions of Destroyer of Worlds (courtesy of Gollancz) have all recently arrived and are now piled up in the middle of my study. And there’s still Lord of Silence to come from Solaris.
I’m going to need a bigger study.