Month: November 2011


I’m not sure how I utterly failed to hear anything about this film until last night, when the trailer appeared in the middle of something I was watching on TV (oh, alright. It was “Grey’s Anatomy”. You got me. Guilty as charged) but it looks absolutely lovely.

Note to all film-makers: anything with Paris looking all twinkly in the snow, and you have my full and undivided attention. Because I’m soppy.


The Girls’ Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse

I mentioned briefly before that I’ve been recruited by the amazing Adele, who runs Un:Bound (when she’s not kicking seven bells out of her kickboxing training buddies or generally taking over the world…) as one of the Apocalypse Girls.

We do cheery things like discuss how to survive an undead apocalypse, how to fight zombies, where you should shelter when the Bomb drops, what weapon goes best with a clutch bag, fashion for Fall / nuclear winter…. all those things you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask.

Well, now you can ask us.

This week on the Guide, it’s movie week. So as well as talking about how to grow your own food (provided it’s not brains), we’re posting some of our favourite apocalypse movies.

I’ve just posted two of mine: The Core and The Day After Tomorrow, so if you head on over to the blog, you can join in and tell us what you think of these particular apocalypses. Apocalypsi. Apocalypso.


The Muddle Ground

I was having a conversation with somebody very bookish last week. I don’t mean that in a bad way–not that I’ve ever seen “bookish” as being particularly negative–but in the sense that she knows an awful lot about books. About books, about the people who write them and about the people who read them.

She told me that she’d recently heard of a teacher telling a class of secondary-school students that if they were having trouble with a book, they should read the first page, the last page and the middle page – and that this would give them a framework for the story. The middle page, in particular, would be the one that told them what the story was about.

At this point, we had to pause our conversation so my eyebrows could be retrieved from the ceiling. But once the stepladder was safely back in its cupboard, it occurred to me that this is a marvellous theory. Think of the time it’ll save reviewers, for starters. In fact, think of the time it’ll save all of us! We’ll never have to read a book from end to end again!

Now. You know me. I’m an old cynic. So I thought it might be fun to try a little experiment. It’s Monday, after all, and we may as well have a bit of fun. It’s not terribly scientific, but since when have I ever let that stop me?

Below you’ll find the approximate middle of several books I’ve picked from my shelves at random. None of them are obscure limited editions or anything like that. These are all mass-market editions of well-known books. True, they’re books I own, so they’re going to reflect my taste to a degree, but in the Great Venn Diagram of the Internet, that means they may well reflect yours too.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to identify each book and to consider how true the “middle of the middle” theory is in each case.

Just to make things a little trickier, I’ve changed character (and place) names where appropriate. Your main characters are now Bill, Bob, Betty and Bernadette, who will be ably assisted by their friends from all over the alphabet. They live in Billingsgate, just so we’re clear, although they’ve been to Belgium and… um, other places beginning with other letters. So don’t think I’m losing my mind when these names keep popping up.

These are all “straight-narrative” books–just in case you’re wondering. No complicated formats, no epistolary novels, no time-travel gimmicks. Just the beginning-middle-end straight-shot books.

So. With no further ado….


Bill had died in prison, when what the infirmary had told him was just a malingering, feeling-lousy kind of day turned out to be a ruptured appendix. Now, here in the Billingsgate library, Bob found himself thinking about a garage in Belgium with box after box of rare, strange and beautiful books in it rotting away, all of them browning and wilting and being eaten by mold and insects in the darkness, waiting for someone who would never come to set them free.

Native American Beliefs and Traditions were on a single shelf in one castle-like turret. Bob pulled down some books and sat in the window seat. In several minutes he had learned that thunderbirds were mythical gigantic birds who lived on mountaintops, who brought the lightning and who flapped their wings to make the thunder. There were some tribes, he read, who believed that the thunderbirds had made the world. Another half hour’s reading did not turn up anything more, and he could find no mention of eagle stones anywhere in the books’ indexes.


The difficulty is Betty, as always. After dinner she goes to their bedroom, from where she could conceivably hear me as I sneak along the hall, although I take care to be very quiet. Or she stays in the sitting room, knitting away at her endless Angel scarves, turning out more and more yards of intricate and useless wool people: her form of procreation, it must be. The sitting-room door is usually left ajar when she’s in there, and I don’t dare to go past it. When I’ve had the signal but can’t make it, down the stairs or along the hall past the sitting room, Bob understands. He knows my situation, none better. He knows all the rules.


The silence and the loneliness were dreadful. In fact, I think he might have given up the whole plan and gone back and owned up and made friends with the others, if he hadn’t happened to say to himself, “When I’m King of Belgium the first thing I shall do will be to make some decent roads.” And of course that set him off thinking about being a King and all the other things he would do and this cheered him up a good deal.


He dashed his head against the knotted trunk; and, lifting up his eyes, howled, not like a man, but like a savage beast getting goaded to death with knives and spears.

I observed several splashes of blood about the bark of the tree, and his hand and forehead were both stained; probably the scene I witnessed was a repetition of others acted during the night. It hardly moved my compassion–it appalled me; still I felt reluctant to quit him so. But the moment he recollected himself enough to notice me watching, he thundered a command for me to go, and I obeyed. He was quite beyond my skill to quiet or console!


Bob looked at Bill. “When I think back to that day–”

“You were there?” interrupted Bill. “You went on the mission?”

“Of course,” replied Bob. “Me, your father, Brian Babesson and seventeen other Belgian men. We flew in on the 18th of March 1993, and we reached the factory in the late morning of the following day.”

“What happened?”

“They were waiting for us. More than seventy vampires, all well fed and rested, wide awake and waiting when we went through the door. I noticed that the black paint covering the windows was still wet, and I told your father, who ordered everyone to retreat. But it was too late. They came down from the rafters. We never stood a chance.”


(because I know you’ll get it straight away, but I think we should have it regardless…)

“I know it sounds stupid, Bob, but we think it might have caught something off Bill.”

“Daftness, you mean?”

“That’s ridiculous, boy!’ said Brian. “Idiocy is not a communicable disease.”

Baxter puffed his pipe.

“I used to think that too,” he said. “Now, I’m not so sure. Anyway, you can catch wisdom, can’t you?”

“No, you can’t,” snapped Brian. “It’s not like ‘flu. Wisdom is… well, instilled.”

There you go. Have it it, boys and girls. I’m going to go and make Bob, Bill and all their friends a cup of tea. I think they’ve earned it.

Shades of Grey

I’ve spotted something quite alarming recently–mostly among my friends, but I think it’s creeping up on me too. Grey hair. Even the cat appears to be afflicted, with a little white patch appearing between his shoulders (do cats go grey? I know dogs do… but cats?).

I’ve managed to catch up with several friends over the last month or two, having not seen most of them since the start of the year… or even last year in some cases. And most of them are going grey. This particularly seems to be the men (clearly all of us ladies are either blessed with perfect genes or we’re dyeing our hair like crazy) who now cover the range from sprinkle-of-salt to completely grey. It’s odd, seeing it, because the greyest of them all I’ve known since we were 16 or so–he’s Other Half’s best friend and was Best Man at our wedding–and even when you consider that he’s been lumbered with the early-greying gene, there’s nothing quite like realising your friends & peers are all At That Age.

Turning 30 didn’t really strike me as being a big deal. It’s nothing, that one. But this morning, I had to take my little boy to our first school “open morning”: he starts school properly next autumn, so this is our first foray into the (frankly, terrifying) world of LEA forms and… stuff. I’m absolutely sure that at some point, someone’s going to call my bluff and realise that in fact, when it comes to parenting, I’m not organised or knowledgeable at all. I’m just sort of muddling along, with the odd flail in the direction of rightness.

But that… now that made me feel the grey encroaching. As does the thought I have to go to a Writery Thing tomorrow, where there will be Proper Writers (not just those of us who don’t yet have an actual ISBN to our name, let alone the ones writing about angels who shoot people and enjoy an unhealthy relationship with a hipflask…) all of whom are bound to see that I’m basically winging it…. If I come out of there with roughly the same number of greys I had before, I’ll be doing well.

I’ve actually been going grey since I was 15. Very, very slowly, but very, very definitely. I’ve never bothered too much about it: my hair, in its natural state, is a fairly bland, dark shade of brown with nothing especially exciting going for it. And I figure that when I’ve bothered to have it dyed, I’m paying a fortune for highlights which are sort of already there. (I said sort of, alright?)

All of this is apropos of very little, other than the current red-dyed disaster–never going there again, I swear–is growing out, and the other night in the mirror, I spotted the greys coming back, just like I spotted them on the heads of my friends.

When I saw them on the others, sitting in my kitchen, I realised that it’s a reminder of just how long we’ve all known each other. One since we were 16; one I met in the first year of university, which considering we graduated a decade ago, that’s some length of time. The last, I met when he was a doctoral student tutoring me for my Masters. He’s not as grey as everyone else–but he’s a Latin teacher, so the usual rules don’t apply.

They’re reminders of the dinners, of the weekends, the barbecues, the birthdays, the housewarmings… of all the other kitchen tables we’ve sat around in our time. Of weddings, funerals and (in our case) a baby. Of far too many bottles of wine, and an utterly impenetrable maze of in-jokes and shared history which can be relived with and explained to each new member of the group… but never quite shared.

I think I’ll be keeping my greys a while yet.

The wrinkles, though? They’re another story altogether…

Soul Food

A while back, I blogged about funeral biscuits and arval bread – a custom I’d not long come across.

I’ve just seen this article on the Guardian blog, which partly covers some of that – but goes on to ask what food would best suit your funeral. Not in the sense of what’s sensible or appropriate, given the circumstances, but what you think would best sum you up.

Me? I have a sneaky feeling it’d be cocktails and pizza. With extra cheese.

What about you?


There’s a bunch of odds, sods and general bits & bobs I need to tidy up, I suspect.

Several are here.

The Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse anthology is now available to buy. Go here (UK Kindle edition) or here (US Kindle edition) for all your end-of-the-world needs. There are some seriously awesome stories in there. And there’s mine, too.


Solaris have put out a press release with a few more details about “Blood & Feathers”, and said some very lovely things indeed. This makes me happy and not a little nervous. But basically, if you’ve ever wondered what Alice in Wonderland would be like if it was set in Hell, I think it’s fair to say you’re in safe hands here. Or possibly insane ones.

Finally (somewhat fittingly) I’ve been recruited by the Apocalypse Girls, so expect to see me popping up on the site every once in a while, along with some fabulous ladies offering their practical tips for surviving mass annihilation. Just because it’s the end of the world, it doesn’t have to mean we can’t handle it with grace, poise, and a truckload of attitude.

Welcome to The Girls Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse.

Over the next few months a collective of experts will be posting their top tips for survival of all kinds of apocalypse, large or small. There will be alternative takes on the best way to tackle zombies, what shoes work in the next ice age, weapons selection, care and maintenance and every thing else the modern girl needs in the end of the world.

Be ready for Zombies, Werewolves, Hell literally freezing over, Skynet and the worst hair day ever.

Lock and Load ladies, the end of the world is coming.

Disney Daze

Yes, I went to Disneyland Paris. And, for once, I disengaged my cynicism. This doesn’t happen very often so, you know, enjoy it while it lasts. Normal service is bound to resume shortly.

It’s not the first time I’ve been: I went with my parents a veryveryvery long time ago, and Other Half and I took Small Boy there just before his first birthday. That trip wasn’t really for him as he was far too little to know what the hell was going on–it was for us–but this time, he was completely into it. And when I say “it”, I mean “everything”.

So we watched parades, we did shooting galleries, we gave Mickey Mouse a hug. We flew magic carpets and magic pirate ships, blew up the Death Star (Small Boy loves Star Tours almost as much as I do) and crossed rickety rope-bridges. We rode a runaway train and joined Buzz Lightyear in the battle against the evil Emperor Zurg (3 times) and stood watching the snow falling on Main Street USA (every half hour, on the quarter hour).

Also: I got to have a little moment with an Armageddon Armadillo. It was intense.

I have few flaws, but one of them is my deep, all-encompassing love for Armageddon.

I know. I can’t help it. When Colonel Willie Sharp comes up to Grace at the end and asks to shake her hand… I’m in pieces. Every. Single. Time.

And yes, that is a House Lannister shirt I’m wearing. Cut me and I suspect I would bleed geek.

Anyway. Moving on.

Apart from the Armadillo, there was something else I had my eye on, which wouldn’t fit in the suitcase either…

At least, that’s what Other Half said. My suggestion that we buy a bigger suitcase didn’t go down so well…

The Angels Are Coming


“Blood & Feathers” just appeared on the list of publisher picks for 2012 over on Fantasy Faction,* where the guys at Solaris said lots of nice things about the book. As in: very nice things. This is both massively exciting and just a teeny bit daunting. Mostly because… well… it sort of brings it home to me that the book suddenly isn’t just me sitting at the computer any longer. It’s honestly, genuinely going to be out there. In the wild. Which is a little intimidating.

So, you know, squee. And wibble. Lots of wibble.

*Yes, that is me in the photo. No, I wouldn’t say that being photogenic was one of my talents.

Pandemonium: At the Sign of the Black Dove

You’ll have seen me mention the new John Martin-inspired anthology, “Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse” before; partly because it’s veryveryvery cool, and partly because I’ve somehow been fortunate enough to be involved.

Excitingly, the e-book launches this Friday (4th November) at Tate Britain. Last time I checked, there were still a couple of tickets left, but not many. The demand has been absolutely staggering, which is both fantastic and utterly and completely jealous-making as I can’t actually be there. However, lots of other lovely people will be (including many of the other writers as well as Jared & Anne, our apocalyptic editors) and it sounds like it’s going to be a great evening.

Hence the sulking and the pouting over here. Ahem.

If you can’t make the launch, don’t fret. You’ll still be able to buy the e-book (details on the Pandemonium site) and indeed, you should. There will also be an extremely limited hardcover edition available through the Tate.

I am absolutely thrilled to have been involved in a project like this one, with some incredible authors. It’s also been a tremendous privilege to work with Anne and Jared as editors, and to see their enthusiasm for the anthology mirrored by so many others. They have worked so hard on putting together the best collection of stories they possibly can, and I very much hope you’ll buy it and enjoy it.

My story in there, “At the Sign of the Black Dove” is set in and around a pub (called, enigmatically enough, the Black Dove). Look at it as the anti-Winchester, if you like. It’s about faith and friendship, and why you should always tip your bartender. You never know what else he might be…

Jude wasn’t quite sure when it happened.

He remembered the barman ringing the bell, his voice carrying across the bar. “That’s it, boys and girls. Last call.”

He remembered Charley’s face swimming in and out of focus; Hope suddenly lurching forwards, slumping over the table.

He remembered the world tipping. Maya leaning over him, her eyes larger than the moon and shining like all the stars in the sky together. “Jude? Jude…? Can you hear…?”

And then he heard nothing more.

It was dark when he opened his eyes, and Jude had no idea where he was. He was lying on something rough and slightly sticky. It smelled of stale beer and old sweat and other, worse things. Everything was quiet, and his first clear thought was to wonder exactly how much he’d had to drink.

And there was the answer. He was still in the Black Dove. The floor of the Black Dove.

That was not good.

His head hammered as he sat up.

That was even less good.

The room was almost entirely dark, heavy curtains pulled across the windows. One dim shaft of light had found its way through, and dust motes danced in it, spiraling towards the ceiling. Jude listened, his ears straining to hear whether anyone else was in the room with him.


Poor old Jude. He doesn’t know it yet, but that hangover’s really the least of his problems…