Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Back from my First US Dr Who Con - Regen Who 3

(Photo by Mark Iman Photography)

I’m back home now from a weekend in the US, at the Baltimore-based Dr Who convention, Regen Who. What a delightfully well-organised show it was! I had a fabulous time… beginning with our journey out there, through a myriad of chatty panels and readings and talks… and hilarious conversations in the bar and over dinner and in conference rooms… to the very highpoint of the con for me – which has to be my panel with Katy Manning, in which we talked about Iris Wildthyme and she performed a small, new scene which I had written especially for that day. What a thrill to hear it brought to life on stage beside me, in front of all those lovely fans!

There were many brilliant moments in this Con – orchestrated so well by Oni Hartstein, James Harknell and Craig W. Matthews and their army of helpers – including my chair and the Mistress of Chat, Kara Dennison. I spent much of my time with my mate George Mann, and we had a great many laughs – and some brilliant book-shopping, too – in the gigantic Barnes and Noble on the bay, and in a perfect used-book store we discovered called Book Escape… where Kara and George scored about a dozen 1990s New Adventures novels. (How serendipitous is that..?!)

It was my first US Dr Who Con. I’ve done one or two UK ones in the past, and it’s so nice to be invited and to realise that people really want to hear about the things you’ve done and written. Not just Dr Who, either – people want to know about ‘Baker’s End’ and all the other things I’ve worked on. The big surprise for me of the weekend was just how many people came up and said how much they loved books I wrote almost twenty years ago – ‘The Scarlet Empress’ and ‘The Blue Angel’ – books that were actually pretty difficult to get hold of in America.

The weekend was filled with happy new encounters and reunions and also, meeting with people I already knew very well from social media. Friends like Bret and Syd, who I’ve known for so long via Facebook and a number of collaborative projects – but who I’ve never actually been in the same room as. How magical to sit drinking beer in a bar in Baltimore as if we’ve always been friends. There were also marvelous times and conversations with people I’ve always thought I might enjoy meeting.

Anyway – happy times and places! And some very happy memories. It was the kind of weekend that, though tiring, sends you back to your normal, rather quiet working days in your study, with renewed vigour and glee.

Thanks, all involved. I had a blast!

Monday, 13 March 2017

How are the Writing Resolutions holding up..?

Someone writing a piece for a magazine has asked me about my resolutions for writing for 2017, and whether I'd kept them ... here they are -

Morning pages first every day. Three pages written first thing, about *anything*.

Don’t waste time comparing own career with anyone else's: writing isn't a competitive sport.

Four work sessions every day. On at least two ongoing projects.

TV is kind of rubbish compared with books, so watch less. Read in the evening after dinner.

Journal. Everything goes back to your journals. Look after them. Also, draw - to give you a break from 

And I've stuck to them all so far!

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Returning to Charles De Lint's Books

I’ve been a fan of Charles de Lint since the early Nineties and, as I check back through my reading diary, I find I’ve read more of him than I even knew. Did I read these books in the right order? Is there even a right order to be found? Sitting down this week and reading his mammoth collection of interconnected tales, ‘Dreams Underfoot’ I realise that the correct order is elusive… because Charles de Lint doesn’t write books so much as he writes pomegranates.

‘Dreams Underfoot’ consists of stories to do with characters, places and legends of the fictional city of Newford. The characters are musicians, artists, street kids and writers… people find love, only to have their beloved snatched away by ghosts or mermaids or imps: by the eruption of magic into their everyday lives. It’s a place where people talk about ‘consensual reality’ and the idea that things are so only because more than one or two of us agree that they are so. It’s a place where the fae and the fantastical exist alongside the tragic and gritty.

Nowadays we have a catch-all term for the genre – urban fantasy – and there are dozens of series of novels set in contemporary towns and cities, featuring casts of vampires, shape-shifters, werewolves and warlocks. They’re almost commonplace now…! But back when I was first reading Charles de Lint his work stood out as very unusual, and almost unique.

It still stands out because of the quality of his writing, and the fact that his stories aren’t just about cosmic clashes between good and evil… The genre-blending is never clunky. These are proper tales. They are elegant little poems sprouting up in the urban decay. The characters always come first, and we feel like we are visiting the most important moments in their lives. We look forward to them strolling into further stories, cropping up as co-stars or cameos in the background. There’s a sense of the fantasy city as a living fabric – which is much more believable, to me, than the endless parade of obvious sequels that the genre has slipped into.

There are so many wonderful stories here and, having emerged from the tangled forest of the book by the end, it’s hard to pick out particular ones as favourites. Back to my image of the novel as a pomegranate: the individual cells are tight-packed together beneath the rind – each of them bursting with juice and a precious seed. Doesn’t it feel much more like real life, to learn of a cast of characters’ backstories and destinies, all out of order, all at different stages, as you bump into them? I loved Quentin’s time travel tale of his lost love Sam, split over two stories at opposite ends of the book, as well as the story of the illustrator Jilly Coppercorn, one of the stars of the Newford stories, whose tale of survival we only gradually learn as it gets filtrated through the tales of many others. She’s central to the work, though – she’s the one whose faith never wavers in the fantastical beings who share Newford with the more prosaic folk.

I must have mentioned before, the wonderful remainder bookshop I used to visit in Darlington, opposite the indoor marketplace? Where they used to sell imported American paperbacks for 70p each? This was in the late Eighties, early Nineties – fantasy, science-fiction and horror published by Del Rey, Ace and Berkley. Many of those books – with their luridly-painted covers – were quite unlike anything that you’d find in the ordinary shops. It honestly felt like they had dropped through from another dimension. Charles de Lint’s books were among those I was picking up there – alongside Jonathan Carroll’s, Ursula Le Guin’s and various others. They all had stories in the vast annual compendium, ‘The Best Fantasy and Horror’ edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, which I also bought from that same, tiny shop with its single long table of shiny covers and dusty bare floor.

All that fantasy fiction struck very deep chords with me, I realise now – those early forays into what people would now call Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance. I’m very glad of them – and I’m delighted to return to Newford, and to Charles De Lint’s world of artistic slackers and dreamers; his Rackham-faced goblins, Pre-Raphaelite hippy girls and taciturn musical men. I’m really glad to find I’ve only read about six of the many, many books he’s published. I’m happy to vanish into the rest.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

'Baker's End' - 'Tatty Bogle' is now for sale!

'Baker's End' - 'Tatty Bogle' is now on sale from ....!

I really love that sub-genre of British Horror fiction and film known as Folk Horror. There’s something so creepy and yet so ridiculous about hordes of horny-handed peasants in blood-spattered smocks dancing around a maypole waving scythes. There’s something that goes right back into the collective unconscious about it: we all go a bit funny when we see scarecrows and corn dollies and all that spooky kind of stuff.
            It seemed to me that Happenstance is exactly the kind of place where the locals would give full vent to ancient customs and queer practices. They’re deep in the English countryside. They’ve never had BBC 2, let alone cable TV. They obey the old rhythms and laws of the land. And every thirteen years everyone makes a scarecrow of their own and leaves it somewhere it’ll scare the bejabbers out of everyone else. And a giant Tatty Bogle is erected on the village green, and his living Bride is roasted to death inside it, as everyone sings and has a rare old time of it. Oh, and it rains blood for several days running.
            So… that’s the kind of Wickery Man / Bloody Satan Claw premise that I started with. Mr Simon Barnard was keen on having something with scarecrows, so I gave him scarecrows aplenty: even a hideous baby scarecrow thing that still makes me shiver, just thinking about it.
            Rural horror and bloody rain… and talking cabbages. It’s all here. I had this lovely image of Tom talking earnestly to his best friend, a cabbage. It goes back to his suggestion, many years ago when he was Doctor Who (in the real world – not here) that a cabbage would make a good companion for the Doctor. I love the idea of taking that throwaway idea quite literally, and here Eric forms a critical part of this story’s hellbound climax.
            I must point out that this episode is the most extreme instalment of Baker’s End yet. Things really start to get very odd indeed.

            And I must say again – kudos to our brilliant cast and crew for going along with all these shenanigans. What a superbly funny and busy day we had in October recording this one. Singing! Raining blood! Fleeing from Hades! We barely had time to catch our breath. And, in the middle of it all, the formidable and gracious form of Tom Baker. He’s a legend, as we all know – but how hackneyed that phrase is. These days, so many people are called icons. But Tom Baker really is a piece of legend; a fragment of myth; a figure from a folk tale. He’s in his element, here at the heart of these stories, I think. He bellows and coos and declaims his crazy doggerel as the King of Cats and I couldn’t be prouder of the wonderfully mad and funny world we’ve created around him.