Right, I’ve got a lot of news to share. Since my last blog post, all this stuff has happened:
- I’m now represented by Ethan Ellenberg, who is awesome.
- I’ve been working with Ethan and friends to get my published books re-released.
- I’ve written two more books – a futuristic murder mystery called The Electric Detective, and another book in the Time Rep series. More details on both of these soon.
- I’ve got a great job at London’s Natural History Museum, which means I get to walk past a Stegosaurus (called Sophie) every morning.
Stay tuned for more information and some excerpts from my new work!
Finally – I’m back! I’m so sorry I haven’t been writing much on this blog recently, particularly since I said in the post before last that I would try and update the site more often. That hasn’t really happened has it? I want to give you an amazing excuse for my absence, something along the lines of the following:
You’ll never guess what happened to me – back in April, I was sitting down at my computer, ready to write yet another hilarious blog entry, when my entire house was beamed aboard a giant spaceship and whisked off to another planet. The reason for my abduction was because an alien race had obtained a copy of Time Rep, and they wanted me to explain the ending. Unfortunately, my explanation infuriated the aliens, who threatened to either execute me, or make me go on national television and participate in their version of the X-Factor as punishment. I pleaded to be executed.
In the end I reached an agreement with the aliens – I would re-write the ending to a standard they were happier with. In this new ending, exactly the same thing happens, but at the last minute a fight scene takes place, all the characters inexplicably get caught up in a car chase, and something explodes. There’s also a tiger in it.
The aliens were much more satisfied with this ending, as they felt it provided a final action scene to maintain the pace of the story. They also liked tigers. As a reward for my efforts, I was granted a three month guided tour around the galaxy. I had an amazing time travelling the cosmos – I glided through glittering nebulas, drifted through thousands of black holes, and touched the very corner of the universe (turns out it’s a square). I saw things no other human had seen before. The only downside to all this was I had no internet access, so I’ve been unable to update this site until now. So I’m very sorry for being away for so long, but hopefully you’ll agree this is a pretty good excuse.
Unfortunately, that’s not what happened, and I don’t have a pretty good excuse. I just haven’t been able to think of much to write about, so rather than write something I haven’t been happy with, I decided not to write anything at all.
But wait – there is some good news in all of this. You see, while it’s true I haven’t been updating this blog recently, I haven’t just been sitting around in my pyjamas watching Marvel’s Agents of Shield since April. Oh no. On the book front, things are progressing rather nicely, and I hope to have loads of new stuff to share with you very soon.
Watch this space…
Ever since the first Iron Man film, I’ve been a big fan of the relentless stream of films set in the Marvel universe (yes, even the first Thor film). So I was very excited about the latest entry in the series: Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Now, for me, Captain America isn’t the strongest character in the Marvel canon. He’s a little bit straight-laced for me; a little bit too perfect, and I like my heroes to have flaws. Character flaws make me be able to relate to a protagonist better, because I’ve got flaws coming out of my ears (as well as wax, since one of my flaws is that I don’t clean my ears enough). With Captain America though, I cannot think of a single vice, vulnerability or character defect he has, and that makes me suspect there’s something behind the scenes we don’t know about him that makes up for this. Maybe he likes to burn ants under a magnifying glass in his garden when he’s not doing press ups. Or maybe he has a disturbingly large porn collection under his bed. Either way, he’s just too perfect.
Despite my ambivalence towards Captain A himself, I had high hopes for this film. Regardless of who the lead character is, I’m fascinated the twists and turns that occur in the fantastic world Marvel has established in its films. No, really – Marvel could make a film focussing on the adventures of the guy who paints the toilets in Shield’s headquarters, and I’d still go and see it. So what did I think? Well, I sort of liked it. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. I just felt it could have been better. Now, I’ve done a couple of blog posts about films before, but this time (inspired by a friend of mine), I thought I would break my criticism into two camps: Wot I liked, and Wot I felt could be improved (before you get to the colon at the end of this sentence though, you should be aware that there might be one or two spoilers ahead):
Wot I liked:
- There was a really interesting plot here, and I think the film had a very serious point to make behind its glossy action exterior, about the nature of surveillance and whether or nor we are surrendering our freedom willingly. At times, The Winter Soldier played out like one of those great 70s political thrillers, and having Robert Redford (who was awesome, as you would expect), only emphasised this through his pedigree. It was just a shame the film’s potential was suffocated towards the end by the action, which I will come onto later.
- Scarlet Johansson. Great as ever.
- Like a lot of the other Marvel films, this one didn’t take itself too seriously. There were lots of good gags in it, particularly the one about breakfast.
- I thought Anthony Mackie was great as Falcon. In an interview he did recently, he said he was really excited to do the role because he could be a superhero for his kids, and I thought that was pretty sweet. He looked like he was having a great time in this film.
Wot I felt could be improved:
- I wasn’t sure why this was called Captain America: The Winter Solider. The Winter Soldier was only a secondary character in this film, and not really the focus of the story. The film was about project Insight, not The Winter Soldier. You might as well have named the film Captain America: The Notepad Where he Writes Down Stuff, and it would have been just as meaningful.
- I’m not sure it was the right decision to make Captain America the lead character for this film. As I said earlier, Scarlet Johansson was a plus point of this film, but there’s more to it than the fact that she looks rather nice in a leather cat suit. I think this film would have worked much better if her character (Black Widow) was the lead, and Captain America was in support. In fact, in many ways, she was the lead in this film – she is the one who knows more about what is going on, she’s the one closer to Nick Fury, and she’s the one who makes more sacrifices at the end when she has to reveal her past in order to expose Hydra. This film would have been much stronger if it was a Black Widow vehicle, rather than Captain America.
- As interesting as the plot is, everything goes out of the window in the final act. Okay, this is a comic book movie, but the aerial acrobatics and the sheer scale of what happens in the last twenty minutes is just so ridiculous, its no longer possible for the audience to suspend their disbelief. I think the filmmakers wanted to out-do The Avengers with an epic climax, but in the end I think they went too far. This film would have worked better with a more restrained ending, less reliant on guns blazing. Some sort of battle of wits or something.
Anyway, enough of what I think – Captain America, how many stars would you give this film out of five?
Only one!? That’s a bit harsh, Captain. I give it three.
Sorry I haven’t been able to update my website for so long – over the past few weeks my job has been rather stressful (I’m not a full-time author, in case you didn’t know), and in order to get everything done that has been required of me, I’ve had to work some pretty long hours. As a result, it’s been difficult to think about anything other than work when I’ve arrived home late at night, and the last thing I’ve wanted to do when I’ve got back is sit in front of a computer screen and start typing, despite the fact that I really enjoy what I do for a living. I’m a wrestler, you see.
Okay I’m not really a wrestler. In truth, I have an office job (albeit a rather unusual one), and I’ve still got a lot of stuff to do before everything is all wrapped up. That said, I don’t want to let my real-world commitments stop me from updating this blog. It’s just hard to stop thinking about work at the moment, and if I’m not careful, I’ll just end up writing about that. Oh wait – that’s all I’ve been doing for the last two paragraphs. Let me try and change the subject, otherwise this will be two minutes of you life that you won’t get back.
That’s an odd phrase, isn’t it? I was in the elevator with a friend of mine the other day and he was talking about a bad game of football he’d watched recently. That’s every game of football as far as I’m concerned (I don’t do sport), but in this case the game was apparently rather boring, even for someone who enjoys watching overpaid men run around trying to get a ball to a place.
To digress for a moment, have you ever noticed how 90% of all sport just revolves around getting a ball to a place? Tennis – get a ball to a place. Golf – get a ball to a place. Cricket – get a ball to a place. Football – get a ball to a place. Rugby – get a ball to a place. Basketball – get a ball to a place. Pool – get a ball to a place. Baseball – get a ball to a place. As a species, why are we so fascinated by people who are very good at getting balls to places? Sometimes I just don’t understand the world, although from experience it’s probably me who’s the weird one.
Anyway, back to my friend and the football match he didn’t enjoy watching.
“So yeah, that’s two hours of my life I won’t get back,” he said.
I thought about what he’d just said for a moment.
“Have you ever wondered what that phrase actually means?” I asked.
“What?” my friend said, a smile creeping across his face. He smiled because he knows what I’m like, and correctly anticipated that my question was going to be followed by a smart-arse remark.
“Think about it,” I said. “That’s two hours of my life I won’t get back. What does it mean? It implies that there are scenarios in which you do actually get time back, but when does that ever happen? That football match could have been the best match ever, but you still wouldn’t have got those two hours of your life back.”
“I guess,” he said.
“So why do we say it?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s just something people say, isn’t it? But you’re right – you would never get any time back, so as phrases go, it’s a bit pointless really.”
“Actually,” I said, “I’ve just thought of two scenarios in which you would get the time back.”
“Let’s say you watched that match on a plane, and you were flying west across two time zones. When you looked at your watch at the end of the game, the time would be the same as when you’d started watching the match. So you could then say, ‘That’s two hours of my life I just got back’.”
My friend sighed.
“And the other scenario?” he said, slumping against the elevator wall.
“Let’s say you were watching the football match on the day the clocks went back…”
At this point, the lift announced in a synthesised female voice that it had arrived at its destination.
“Bye,” my friend said.
Anyway, that’s the end of my story. I will try and update this site more often, and it should be easier over the next few weeks as hopefully my work should ease off a little and I should have some holiday soon.
If there’s one thing that’s changed since the turn of the century, it’s the fact that there are so many more awesome television series out there. Sure, back in the eighties and nineties there were a few great shows (Twin Peaks, anyone?) but these days, there’s just so much more choice: Breaking Bad, The Wire, Sherlock, Game of Thrones – the list of quality television drama is endless. Well, maybe not endless, but it’s certainly very long, like a list of everything that’s wrong with Michael Bay films.
So why has this happened? Why are we suddenly so spoilt for choice when it comes to great television? I think the advent of the DVD has a lot to do with it. Before DVDs, there was just no way you could go into a shop and buy seven seasons of a TV show (or ‘series’, as we like to refer to ‘seasons’ in the UK, particularly since most TV series don’t actually last 13 weeks, which I believe constitutes the length of a ‘season’ in the traditional sense of the word). And the reason you couldn’t buy seven series of a TV show before the DVD came along was because video tapes just took up so much space. And that wasn’t the only bad thing about them. Do you actually remember video tapes? Do you remember rewinding and fast-forwarding them? Do you remember a time before you could use a menu to skip to an episode? Do you remember when you could only fit three hours onto a huge plastic tape the size of a hardback book? Do you remember the screen flickering when you paused it? In a world where you now can fit every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation on half a shelf, it’s strange to think that twenty years ago, you wouldn’t have been able to fit the same number of episodes on the actual bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Watching a whole series of a TV show on video tapes was a right pain. But on DVD, it was suddenly easy.
And the easier it became for people to watch whole series of TV shows, the more they bought, and the more they bought, the more shows began to get made. In the early days you had 24. Lost. The West Wing. Prison Break. These shows had proper movie production values (remember the first episode of 24 when the plane exploded?), great storylines, and in some cases, they had proper movie stars in them. And Kiefer Sutherland. Audiences were blown away, and suddenly the entertainment landscape was changed. Within a few years, the number of great shows had multiplied exponentially, and today people are now quite happy to buy a whole TV series on DVD, watch every episode back to back over a weekend or two, and then buy the next series.
That’s the norm.
Then there’s the fact that it’s now easier than ever for you to watch your favourite TV show wherever you want, whenever you want, however you want. Oh no! Did you miss the latest episode of Breaking Bad? Well don’t worry, because you can watch it on catchup. Or download it to your phone. Or watch it on your computer. Or have it projected into your dreams. Okay, I made that last one up, but what I’m trying to say is that there are now more fantastic TV shows out there than ever before, and it’s also easier than ever to watch them wherever you are. Consume! Don’t miss out! Watch as many shows as you can in every free moment you have!
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch TV. TV is fine. What I’m saying is that it’s impossible to watch every great show that’s out there without compromising something else in your life. So you have to make a choice. You have to choose your TV boxsets wisely. There are just too many great shows out there, and if you watched all of them, you would do nothing else with your time. Out of Breaking Bad, The Wire and Game of Thrones, I’ve only seen Game of Thrones. I know Breaking Bad is supposed to be amazing, and everyone screams at me about how The Wire is the most sublime piece of television ever made, but I’m never going to watch either of them. The reason for this is because I realise I have to choose how to divide up my time. Do I want to spend the amount of time required to watch all these great series, sitting in front of a television? Not really. I know I’m missing out on two fantastic shows, but then I’d be missing out on something else if I watched them too.
I’d miss doing something that doesn’t involve looking at a screen.
Then again, this blog post took longer to write than the average length of a TV episode, so who’s spending longer looking at a screen in the end really?
That would be me!
Hello Pete. H. G. Wells, Douglas Adams, Doctor Who – are British authors of your Generation sort of “doomed” to write funny time travel fiction?
PW: No, I don’t think so – I wrote a funny time travel story because I had an idea about people going back in time for their holidays and I thought it was an interesting plot that I’d never seen done before. I guess Britain does have a reputation for its sense of humour and science fiction authors, and being a product of that culture certainly influenced my interests and the tone I wanted to achieve in my writing. But the book I wrote after Time Rep (Note to Self) was much more serious and had nothing to do with time travel, so hopefully I’ve already shown I can break free of that mould to some degree.
What do you think has made time travel stories so appealing to people for such a long time?
PW: I think the appeal of time travel stories comes from the fact that they open up the possibility of a narrative structure that’s completely different to something you would get from another type of story. Time travel offers the reader the chance to visit an incredible variety of locations, it has the ability to offer a unique commentary on the world today by projecting ideas and issues forward to exaggerated conclusions, and most of all, it’s cool!
As well as time travel, you added an Alien-Invasion-conspiracy – didn’t you fear this could be too much?
PW: When I started writing Time Rep, I never intended its world to be packed with so many different science fiction tropes, but the more the story progressed, the more I found myself touching on all the nerdy things I love: time travel, computer games, aliens, giant space battles – the lot. I think if I had set about deliberately thinking about how to marry an alien invasion with a completely separate narrative strand about time tourism, it might not have worked as a story, but in the end the plot just evolved naturally in my mind to what you see on the page today. I guess what I’m saying is that the addition of the alien conspiracy wasn’t forced, so for me it tied together with the time travel plot quite nicely in the end.
Is it more difficult to write a time-travel-novel and transship all errors, logical problems and master all rules – or to write a funny science fiction novel?
PW: I think it’s harder to write a funny story than to just be logical and accurate with your continuity. As an author, avoiding errors in your plot requires you to have decent attention to detail, but being funny is more of an art. It was important for me that Time Rep didn’t take itself too seriously, because when the book starts to bend the rules about time travel later on in the story, the reader might not have been so willing to suspend their disbelief.
Do you really think people would prefer to travel to the great catastrophes, battles and into raw eras like medieval – to all the dark spots in history? And if so, why do you think so?
PW: I think it would depend why people were going back in time. If they wanted a nice relaxing holiday, it might not be the best idea to go back and see the Great Fire of London or the extinction of dinosaurs like Geoff does in the book! But if people were going back to study history, they probably wouldn’t visit the time periods when everyone was sitting around eating cakes and having a nice time. If a historian could go back to any period they liked, I think they would visit pivotal moments in history, and those moments usually involve lots of people hitting each other.
The main character Geoff is a lazy videogame-geek – sorry to ask, but: how much Peter Ward is in him? 🙂
PW: Ha ha! There’s certainly a lot of me in Geoffrey Stamp – particularly the version of me twelve years ago when I first started writing the book. Back then, I was lazy and unemployed too, and whilst a lot of that has changed in my life, I’m still a geek at heart, and I love videogames. I think I maintain a better standard of personal hygiene than Geoff though!
You put the first draft of the novel online, where lots of people downloaded it. After that success, you got your print-deal. Do you think it’s harder to get published than 20 or 40 years ago? We have more publishers, we have E-books, but out there is such a flood of professional and semi-professional stuff and also more than ever competition with other media, isn’t it?
PW: I think the publishing landscape has definitely changed, and on the whole I would say it has been for the better. As you say, the only reason Time Rep got discovered was because I put it on the internet and lots of people liked it – I did approach about 40 literary agents beforehand but none of them were interested, so if this had been 20 or 40 years ago, that would have been the end of it. At the same time though, I do agree that although it is great how the internet empowers people to show their work to the world – be it a musician, an author or whatever – it also means there’s a lot more junk to wade through! We live in a world where we are constantly surrounded by media and encouraged to consume as much of it as possible. At times it can all be a little overwhelming.
You worked over six years on Time Rep and now five years on your second book, right? Is it a economic or marketing problem with such longer time-spans between your novels, especially with a look on authors who fire out 2 or more books a year?
PW: I would have liked to have written my books faster, but I did so around a full time job which made it more difficult. However, it did mean I was paid all that time by my employer and was therefore able to put food on the table! In the future though, I am hoping to speed up – you have to remember that my first two books were written without any kind of book deal, so at times it was hard to find the motivation. But now that I’m published, I’m finding it a lot easier to write quickly and hope to have another one finished early next year.* I do however look at some authors and question how a story can be written so fast without compromising the quality, so I don’t feel compelled to accelerate my writing too much.
Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, original SF blockbusters like Oblivion … the SF is actually on the same multimedia-success-path as Fantasy was, when the first Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies came out. Do you like the mass media-attention and audience, or do you have the feeling that it narrows the individualism and innovation of the SF circus, because it’s only the big hunt for the next franchise and the next work “in the tradition or style of” ?
PW: I think there are positives and negatives when a science fiction franchise achieves mass-market attention. On the plus side, it gives exposure to the original work that might not have reached the same sized audience otherwise. On the downside, companies need to spend a lot of money to amplify the franchise across every consumer platform, so they are less inclined to take any risks to ensure they maximize the return on their investment. This means they often homogenize the story towards a more “tried and tested” formula, watering down the unique aspects of the work to broaden its appeal. All too often, this approach ruins the very thing that made the franchise special in the first place, and I think that’s a shame.
If you could travel in time – where would your very first journey go to?
PW: I would go back in time to November so I could go on my honeymoon again to Hawaii!
Thank you for your Time!
* This interview was conducted in December, so the book I am refering to here is the one I finished in January.
…that is the question. When it comes to writing, clichés are sometimes difficult to avoid. The room was pitch black. Her dress was snow white. There were weird and wonderful creatures everywhere. She had smouldering eyes. There was a blinding light. We use clichés like this all the time when we talk about things, so it should come as no surprise if you ever find yourself tempted to use one in your book – especially if your book is about a pretty girl in a white dress who lives in a dark room with some strange animals. With dialogue, clichés are particularly tempting, because that’s just how people speak. After all, the reason clichés are clichés is because everybody uses them, so it makes sense for a character to use the odd cliché here and there, particularly if they’re not that imaginative.
Clichés are so ingrained into our culture that it’s often hard to realise when you are using them. Your main character may have hair that flowed like silk, and perhaps her skin crawled at a certain point in the story when she was scared. You’re probably thinking there’s nothing wrong with these descriptions, and there isn’t really. But the fact remains that they are still clichés. As a writer, you might take extra care to avoid resorting to clichés in your plot (unless you’re Dan Brown of course, which you won’t be because no-one famous reads this blog), but are you equally vigilant when it comes to the words you use to tell your story?
And this all leads to the question – is it really that bad to use clichés in your descriptions? The answer really depends on what you are writing, and how high a standard you are setting for yourself. My books aren’t exactly high art, so if a cliché makes it in to the final draft, I’m not particularly bothered – in fact sometimes, I actually think it makes something easier to read. But I will at least be aware of when it is happening, and knowing this makes me try and think of a better way of putting things when it comes to the second draft. For instance, in the very first chapter of Time Rep, the original draft described Geoff’s sofa as being “littered with newspapers.” In the final draft, “newspapers were flung across the sofa.”
Now, this may seem a very minor description to highlight, but I think it points to the role descriptions should play in a story. Done right, descriptions should do more than just paint a picture for the reader. They should be little stories in themselves. Clichés tend to fail in doing anything more than describing the scene because they are too generic, and we just read over them without giving them a second thought. If you take a moment to describe the scene in a more original way though, your words can do so much more.
Think about the newspaper example. When Geoff’s sofa was littered with newspapers, what did you think? Perhaps you thought nothing much, apart from the fact that the sofa was a mess. Or maybe you thought this meant Geoff was a bit of a slob. But that was about it, right? However, when newspapers are flung across the sofa, you start to paint a different picture. You still know that there are newspapers on the sofa, but this time, their placement seems more deliberate, and the fact that they’ve been flung there implies that the mess is a bit more chaotic. It was only a minor change, but I think the reader got a little bit more from that sentence once the cliché was removed. And over the course of a whole book, this practice makes a substantial difference to what the reader gets out of the story.
Right, that’s all I have to say about that. On another note, I thought it might be a good idea to give a quick update on my new book. Basically, the first draft is done, some friends and my agent are reading it, and once I get their feedback, I’ll start to make a few tweaks here and there (assuming they don’t say it’s an unsalvageable mess!). I would love to tell you what it’s about, but until I know whether the thing is actually going to be published, I think it’s best if I keep quiet for now. However, as soon as I can announce something, you will hear it here first, unless you know me, in which case I’ll probably just tell you down the pub.
Stay tuned… (oh dear – what a cliché)