Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Paradise

'The Paradise' was interesting last night. As if the BBC, having looked at how ITV are doing period drama these days, are trying everything they can to emulate that success. So they just make it stupider - missing the point of why Downton Abbey is great in its own way - and their own period stuff (the revamped Upstairs Downstairs and Cranford) are great as well (i am still cross about them cancelling the wonderful Updown.) The Paradise was fun - but somehow underconfident, slightly dumb and obvious in almost every way. (And where were the accents meant to place it? Middlesbrough? If so, why don't they say so...?!)

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

What Have I Been Reading Recently..?

I haven't told you for a while what I've been reading.  This month has been mostly about writing with very sharp pencils in multiple notebooks. I've got first drafts of two different projects going on and there's something very satisfying about sharpening a handful of pencils and then just letting rip on the page for an hour at a time. So there's been less time for reading, with all this new stuff whirling scratchily around in my head.

I read 'Fifty Shades of Grey' and 'The Hunger Games' at the start of the month because I like to keep up with what the rest of the world is reading. I found 'Fifty Shades' weirdly tame and precious - and so peculiar with its endless contract negotiations and mimsying about. It's like straying into the bland sex fantasies of people from 'The Apprentice'. It's also filled with lots of unintentional laughs, which is always worth sticking around for. I found the characters a bit more engaging than I thought I would - but in the end I thought it was just poor. I won't be reading the sequels, I don't think. It's not even excitedly, addictively, feverishly poor, like - say, Valley of the Dolls or Flowers in the Attic. It's a tepid sexy book for a tame and yawnsome era.

'The Hunger Games' was great fun, though. But I've read it all before in John Christopher and other science fiction novels for kids. That's the thing about these huge-sellers - they attract the attention of non-readers who think what's being done is novel. It was the same with Harry Potter - which was new to those who had never heard of Eva Ibbotson, Diane Duane, Jill Murphy or Diana Wynne Jones.

So... what have I read that I've really liked?

Well, there was a Natalie Goldberg book I'd never come across before. In the 1990s I love her books on Zen and Writing, 'Wild Mind' and 'Writing Down the Bones'. Somehow I missed out on the fact that she'd carried on publishing. 'Thunder and Lightning' is a terrific continuation of her major themes - with a bit more consideration this time on the subject of reading as a writer, and what we can take from the books we love.

Then there was Diane Keaton's memoir about her relationship with her mother, 'Now and Then'. It was wonderful to find that Keaton is as earnest and amusing as any character she's ever played. She doesn't even know she's being funny at times. But she writes beautifully, I think - and, on the evidence of the reproduced journal entries - so did her stymied mother. I love all the stuff about their various collages and dappy art projects. When Keaton publishes a kitschy artbook in the 1980s, juxtaposing images of stars of the past with stuffed animals, she receives a letter from her all-time hero, Clark Gable. He tells her that her book is insulting crap. But still Keaton bounces back - creating further 'artistic' disasters and racketing around in Hollywood. It's a lovely book, I think.

Reading disasters this month? I splurged in Waterstones and bought things from their 'Book Club' - which was a disaster. I read a very anaemic literary novel. And then a comic fantasy novel by someone revered by *everyone* I know - and it has sent me to sleep several nights in a row.

But now i'm halfway through James Herbert's new monster tome, 'Ash'. He writes so badly - with people 'nodding affirmation' and hundreds of other redundancies - and spouting the most banal dialogue I've read anywhere ('Playing the subtext' as the tv soap people used to say...). There's a hackneyed haunted asylum setting, some ill-advised lesbian shenanigans and some characters tastelessly imported from 'real life'. But i still find him utterly, wonderfully, pulpishly readable. I always have!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Iris Wildthyme in the Post

Panda's very happy with the post this morning. We got our boxset of Iris Wildthyme Season Three - starring Katy Manning as Iris and David Benson as Panda himself. Three new adventures written by Cavan Scott, Guy Adams and George Mann.

You can acquire your copy - here!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Quite a Satisfying Day

Quite a satisfying day: writing in longhand all morning at a cafe down the road from us; reading at lunchtime with Fester sitting with me; getting a haircut at a marvellous old-fashioned barber's; typing opening chapters of a new YA science fiction novel from my pencilled drafts and then getting fine editorial notes on a Doctor Who thing I'm working on. And Jeremy's cooking tea!

Monday, 17 September 2012

BooQfest Northampton

 BooQfest in Northampton this weekend was an astonishing do! We had a great time. It's one of the best organised book festivals I've ever been to - and probably the most fun.

I was there to give a reading from my novels, and also to take part in a Doctor Who discussion panel with a bunch of lovely Who luminaries. We hung out with a gaggle of old friends - and made a whole lot more.  We had milk shakes sitting out in the sun, and chocolate and chilli in a ritzy cafe. We even visited the theatre where 'Talons of Weng Chiang' was shot. We sat in the hotel bar till very late two nights running, laughing and rabbiting on. There were some really lovely people there this weekend.

I love the fact that they called it 'The Gay and Lesbian Books Festival for Everyone' - it's such a good, inclusive way of putting it. Drawing attention to the particularity of gay writing - but deliberately opening it up as something that everyone can take part in, read and listen to.

It was all over much too fast. I barely got time to talk long enough to everyone I wanted to - from the Doctor Who fellas to visitors like Carole Matthews, and new novelists who I heard talking about their stuff to people who I knew through their novels, such as Jane Lovering.

The accent was definitely on fun, though, the whole weekend. We worked hard and then we had a good laugh, too. That's the essence of weekends at events like this.

Art Critic Panda had a different outfit for each event he attended. He wore Chanel for Alan Moore and came in a biker's jacket to my reading.
One of the highlights of the weekend for me was Alan Moore's talk on Saturday evening. He read an epic poem on the history of Queer culture, 'The Mirror of Love.' A tour-de-force, read with great verve. And he was visibly moved and pleased by our reaction to his reading. Then he talked - effortlessly, seemingly off-the-cuff - about his engagement over the years with gay history and aesthetics. He talked brilliantly about Northampton and New York; about dissidents, rabble-rousers, drag queens and monsters. He traced the history of both Gothic lit and Gothic music back to origins in the very town we were visiting - and he did it with great modesty and a wicked, twinkling humour. If you ever get the chance to hear him speak, you must do.

So - we had a fabulous weekend. Huge great thanks to the BooQfest team and my fellow authors and audience members. I hope the festival will run and run on an annual basis forever now! And that they'll ask us back again!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Could it have been Magic..?

Filing papers and stuff today and finding a bunch of reviews for my novel, 'Could it be Magic?' in 1998. All of these reviewers saying - all very well, but from now on he must stop writing about working class people! He must stop writing about the north! He has to stop writing about people on council estates! He has to mature past writing about where he came from! Who cares about New Towns in the North East anyway? He doesn't need to put in fantasy stuff and magical realism! He could be quite a good realist if he tried, being so gritty and working class! And why can't he write about posh queers if he has to write about queers? He needs to stop putting jokes in and start being more serious and things! Quite funny, looking back on all this from those broadsheets. They all seemed to know what I should have done next in order to, as they say, *mature* as a novelist... maybe i should have done what they said...?

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Northampton this weekend

As you know, I love being asked to do gigs give readings, and talk about my stuff. I love to meet readers and fans and sign their books.  Here's a new festival I'm going to this Saturday - where I'm reading  from Brenda and Effie and Iris Wildthyme, and then taking part in a panel about science fiction.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Guest Review by Fester: A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen

Fester the Cat writes...


It's been a while since Paul's let me review anything on here. The last time was that book about the daft cat who kept getting on the bus by himself, or something. And then there was that once about the cat in the library? Anyhow, I've been getting a fair bit of reading done this summer, sitting down the bottom of the garden. I've sat on a few piles of books and stuff but it's been a while since Paul's told me to read something especially for his blog thing so I can tell you what I think.

This was pretty good. It's the best cat book there's been for a while, I think. And the important thing about it is that it's not, like, sentimental. Not like that one where the cat had already died and was sending letters from heaven in between the chapters. I mean, what was that about?

This one is about Bob who is ginger and lives down in that London, but never mind. He adopts this fella who's busking on the streets and sorts his life out for him, letting this bloke James get him medicine and stuff and sorting out his fleas and all that. Actually, all a bit like when I first moved in here with these two, and I let them think they were sorting out my life and getting me healthy and all that.

There's some pretty exciting stuff, in Bob's book - because he has a few near scrapes when he goes missing and runs off and there's a few disasters and that along the way. I got a bit - well, not worried exactly, but you know - concerned here and there. And there's some nice stuff about the problems that the human fella, James, faces, with drugs and selling the Big Issue and that. I do think there could be some more pictures, though - and I note from the cover pic that Bob's wearing a scarf a bit like the one I occasionally sport.

Anyhow - a big paws up from me,  Feline Book Critic Fester, for this one. It wasn't as mopey and soppy as these things sometimes are.

So there you go. I'm hoping I get some more stuff to review in the near future. Hey, maybe some of those cat crime books, where the cat does the murder-solving and all that. That'd be ace, I guess.

Ok. See you later.


Thursday, 6 September 2012

'Brenda and Effie Forever!' available v v soon!

Here's the cover - complete with spoilery blurb!  It'll be available very soon in hardback and paperback. What do you think..?

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Summer Reading in Review

Now that it's September I'm looking back on the heap of books I've read between June and August and thinking about what I've been up to - the places i've been, and the characters I've spent my time with. And also, how one book links up and zig-zags into the next.

As always there are recurrent themes and tendencies. I see that I've elected to spend time with a bunch of old favourite characters (as if the difficulties of everyday life in the outside world send me off in my spare time to seek the company and solace of old friends.) So, this summer I've have spent days with Holmes and Watson; Jeeves and Wooster; Newbury and Hobbes; Doctor Who; Inspector Alleyn; the crew of the original Starship Enterprise; the Psammead; Mapp and Lucia, and the cast of characters in Jane Sanderson's 'Netherwood' series and Yasmine Galenorn's 'Chintz and China' series.  At the same time, I've plumped for three re-reads of novels that I've already read multiple times - by Alan Garner, Anne Tyler and Jonathan Carroll. At one level it looks like I'm looking for security and stability in my reading... but there's also a sense, to me, of somehow 'filling in the corners' in this returning to favourite characters. I'm finding the last in the series, or starting the first in a new, revived series - and reassuring myself of the ongoingness and indestructibility of those characters and worlds.  (The biggest feeling of glad ongoingness was something I got from J T Colgan's Doctor Who novel; Rohase Piercy's delightful gay Holmes novel 'My Dear Holmes' and Jacqueline Wilson's expertly-done E. Nesbit sequel, 'Four Children and It' (which came at the very end of summer.)

I'm surprised to find, adding it all up, that I've read more in the Cosy Mystery line than I have in Science Fiction and Fantasy this summer - revelling in series about Beatrix Potter and her sleuthing animal friends and witches who run teashops and do battle with ghastly spirits.

Where I've delighted in finding new stuff has been in the YA bracket - uncovering authors such as Katharine Paterson, whom I'd never read before - and finding new books to love by Penelope Lively and Diana Wynne Jones. I also had a bit of a rummage in elderly Penguin classics - reading 'Diary of a Nobody' for the first time and loving it - but also at last reading 'Memoirs of a Midget' by Walter de la Mare and not liking it as much as I'd always expected. In Classics, I learned, that for every Fabulous Nobody there's bound to be a Disappointing Midget.

Other disappointments of the summer included the new novel by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, whose first two novels I loved so much. This was the third in a series and I found it to be a mopping-up exercise for plot points, and uncaptivating on its own.

My two big personal discoveries of the summer? One that everyone has forgotten - James Leo Herlihy - and one that seemingly everyone but I already knows - Mitch Albom. I found books by both to be wholly absorbing and life-affirming. With both authors, I felt I was hearing the voice of a new old friend. What more could you want from summer reading?

Here's a picture of Fester reading 'Fifty Shades of Grey.'  Right now I'm having a dalliance with big bestsellers. I devoured 'The Hunger Games' in a weekend and now I'm making my way through all the shenanigans with Mr Grey...

Monday, 3 September 2012

Sharpening Pencils

This morning I sat down with new notebooks and newly-sharpened pencils at my desk. It's September and time to sit down to first drafts of two new projects.