Month: March 2012

Fresh Hell

My eyes are bleeding. My head hurts, and I’ve spent much of the last two days trying to deal with the toe-curling embarrassment of knowing that at least one person has already read my book*, and that they’ve been paying close attention. Very, very close attention.

Yes, I’ve just finished the first pass of my line edit on “Blood & Feathers”.

Things I have learned: firstly, that I use too many words (like that’s a surprise to any of us).

Secondly, that I create elaborate back stories for stuff which I don’t actually mention on the page, but which I expect everyone to know, because they’re in my head and therefore Must Be A Universally Acknowledged Truth (ooh, and second-and-a-half-ly, trying to say “an universally” makes you feel and sound like a numpty).

And thirdly, that my editor, Jon Oliver is a saint, whose quiet comments in the margins are terribly sensible and clever, and manage not to roll their eyes and tell me to go stand in the corner. He’s taken the thing I wrote, and he’s poked it, threatened it (politely, of course: Jon is nothing if not well-mannered) and made it behave itself; turning it into something I can be really proud of.

And that, if you ask me, is worth the bleeding eyes..

*I suspect this is a reaction I’m going to have to get past, and hopefully a very pleasant occupational hazard I should get used to…


The Only Plan is B

Lots of people have already picked this up & commented on it, but as a long-term Plan B fan, I had to jump on the bandwagon.

In case you’ve not seen it, here’s the astonishingly good video for his next single: Ill Manors (language NSFW, by the way).

It’s worth checking out this interview with him from October 2011 if you want to hear more of his opinion on British society and government, and what he thinks needs to change (from 4:30 onwards). He’s a very passionate voice, and he speaks with intelligence and eloquence – something his recent speech at the TEDx festival only served to underline.

Everyone knows one person out there they can help who’s less fortunate than them. And I’m not talking about help financially. I’m talking about knowledge. Plant that seed. Find out what these kids are good at, or what they care about or what they like, and try and draw it out of them because it will change their lives.

If you’re talking about inspiring people, it’s good to sound like you mean it – and he does.

And more to the point, he’s certainly inspired me… how about you?


There’s no getting around the fact that e-mail (and the internet in general) has revolutionised the way we communicate. This being a blog is kind of a case in point.

But there is one thing about old-timey letters that we’re missing. The paper.

I’m a notepaper fiend: it stretches far beyond the typical notebook fare, and into the realms of stupidity. Take, for instance, the gorgeous decorated & die-cut writing paper I was given one Christmas when I was around 7 or 8. There were two sets: one was illustrated with a swashbuckling swordsman, complete with domino mask and lightning-struck castle perched over a stormy sea. The other had a circus, and was mostly pink.

There were two of each, plus plainer lined paper to act as continuation pages. I think the idea was that I used them to write my thank-you notes (ever practical, my mother) but I couldn’t bear to. The first time I opened the cellophane on the swashbuckler was when my eldest cousin was little (which would have meant I was in my mid-teens) to write her a letter. I opened the circus one two weeks ago, to write an RSVP to a birthday party my son had been invited to.

It struck me that I’ve been hanging on to this paper for my entire adult life (and then some) without knowing quite why. Saving it for something “special”, I suppose – but what qualifies as special enough?

Perhaps if we wrote more letters on lovely paper – and in proper ink (I went to a school where writing in biro was right up there with spitting in your great-grandma’s dinner in terms of Things We Don’t Do: from the age of 6, it was fountain pens all the way…) – then all letters would feel special.

I’m not actually sure I remember the last time I received an actual letter – not a card, not an email, although I’m always delighted to get any of those –  but a letter, through the post. I know I’m not alone in this: I can’t remember the last time I wrote one, either. We’re all so pushed for time, busy rushing around and barely running off a quick e-mail or text message that the idea of sitting down to read (let alone write) a letter has become an alien impossibility.

Perhaps if we had paper like this, though, that might change: Famous Letterheads, 1900 – 1997. (There’s also a whole Tumblr site devoted to them: Letterheady, a sister site of the brilliant Letters of Note)

Naturally, Tesla has the coolest paper ever… and while I can’t see myself having something quite that extraordinary, I’m rather taken with the idea of writing letters again.

Our e-mails can’t be bundled up & tied up with ribbons, packed in a trunk in an attic for our grandchildren to find, and wonder that there was more to us than the self they knew.

The texts we send our friends, our lovers; the messages of congratulation or condolence – the confirmation of affection – can’t be revisited.

And while for most of our daily drudge of correspondence: the spam, the receipts, the work mails… it’s a relief not to have to sort and file – what about the special ones? The ones to and from the people with whom we choose to surround ourselves: the ones who actually matter?

I rather like the idea of finding myself some beautiful paper and a new pen..

Anyone with me?

With Bows On

All this talk of Katniss and Hawkeye and the Green Arrow (or “Arrow” as we’re apparently calling him now)… it’s made me nostalgic.

So much so that I went to the bow cupboard and pulled out my own kit for the first time in… well, ages. I do bang on about longbows, but I’m a recurve archer too – I learned on a recurve, and I still have one. 

It’s been a while since I shot – given that young children and archery fields aren’t the best mix – and it took me longer than it should have to remember which way up the bow limbs were supposed to go, which way up the sight went, which way up the string went, how the flipping bow-stringer works (one of the reasons I switched primarily to longbow was the simplicity of putting the bow up. Recurves are… more demanding. Don’t even start me on compounds: they’re the divas of the archery world, requiring winching and oiling and goodness only knows what. Also, they have training wheels on them. That’s not proper archery, is it?) but finally, after much swearing and head-scratching, here’s my recurve:

Being a medievalist through-and-through, my bows have all had names. It’s the done thing in medieval literature, so it was natural I applied it to my own arsenal. The bow in the pictures above is Mordred. With a draw weight of 32lbs, he’s heavier than my first bow: a lightweight recurve which only needed something like 25lbs of pull to bring her to full draw. She was a lady, delicate and dainty. She behaved.

Guinevere, spring 2006

With marvellous disregard for any Arthurian literature I’ve ever read, I nicknamed her Guinevere.

The heavier draw weight meant I could move up to longer targets – but that was when I started to fall in love with longbows.

Shooting longbow is a completely different experience to recurve. You don’t have any of the aids a modern bow uses (I stopped with a basic pin sight, and an arrow rest with a button that pushed the arrow into a better position, but you can put stabiliser bars, weights… all kinds of kit onto the limbs of a bow to improve your shooting) and it’s incredibly disorientating when you switch from having an arrow rest and a sight… to having to balance the arrow on the edge of your hand and sight by eye.

Longbow shooting is also fast: because you don’t have a sight, there’s nothing to adjust – you look down the shaft of the arrow, place it on a marker that you think will guide your aim… and you shoot.

Every tournament begins with a round of 6 arrows called “sighters” which don’t count towards scoring: they’re used to help calibrate sights, or in the case of longbows, to find a marker.

God help you if your perfect marker is a tree branch: you wouldn’t believe how much they move…

Longbow archers tend to be more sociable at a shoot: with no sights, and wooden arrows which are more likely to be affected by wind, they spend the majority of it picking arrows out of the ground. As their kit is quick to put up, they spend a lot of time hanging around, particularly when there are also compound archers (who take a lot longer to shoot) involves. It might be just my experience, but many of them are incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to the history of archery and the longbow in particular.

The longbow archers at my old club were also apocalyptically sweary: I think they took pride in channelling the spirit of Agincourt… as well they should be. Getting to shoot the longbow over in France, on part of the Agincourt battlefield, was pretty special, and something I won’t forget in a hurry.

And archery does seem to be having a bit of a moment: between Katniss and the launch of the CW’s new Green Arrow vehicle, Arrow – not to mention Hawkeye, hopefully there’ll be a whole new batch of baby archers stepping up to the line soon…

I hope so.

BLOOD & FEATHERS final cover art

You remember I showed you the first draft of the cover back in December?

Well, here’s the finished version, which we revealed this morning….


Isn’t he lovely?

I just want to stroke him. Although I’m also slightly worried about getting my fingers all messy.

I’m so pleased with the cover – I think it’s absolutely beautiful, and I can’t wait to see it on the front of the book.

Simon‘s done an outstanding job, and I’m blown away by how well the cover matches the feel of the story.

It’s awesome.

[insert silly grin here….]


Lots of writers use playlists when they work: I’ve seen some great ones online over the years, for all sorts of different books.

I’ve lost track of the number of songs I’ve killed by listening to them over and over and over and over again while I’m writing – a couple of Nero’s songs being a case in point. I had the two of them running as background while I wrote “At The Sign of the Black Dove” – my story in “Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse”.

The problem was that I put in a lot of hours on that story. Which meant the same two songs on a loop for many hours. This isn’t exactly helped by the fact that they turn up very early on the album, and it’s one of my husband’s favourite records.

We have the routine down to a fine art: he goes pottering off down to the kitchen. He puts some music on. Two chords later, there’s a howl of despair from my study, followed by my stomping down the stairs, grabbing the remote control (all the while muttering expletive-laden things like “Are you trying to kill me? Are you? ARE YOU?!”) and then disappearing back into my study. Door slamming optional.

It’s not that I don’t like the songs – I do – and it’s not like I’m scarred by the process of having written a story to them (well, only a little) but the second I hear them, I’m back in “work mode”. It’s the strangest thing.

Anyway. Because someone asked me a while back about the music I wrote to, I thought I’d round up the obvious ones. I do rather give away my love of dubstep, particularly when it comes to the short stories, I’m afraid…


I relied on this massively when I was writing. Given I wrote it in 4 different places: my old house, two rented flats and – most memorably – the balcony level of the Barbican Foyer (and yes, I still remember exactly which scenes I wrote there!) the playlist was the rock I clung to in order to keep things on an even keel. Now there’s a nice mixed metaphor for you.

Some of the songs go with particular scenes, some with particular characters, but the song on here which matters the most, if you like, is Linkin Park’s “When They Come For Me“. In part that’s because, hey, I like Linkin Park – but it’s also because this is where it all made sense. I can hang the whole book on this song.

All the Right Moves: OneRepublic

Make Me Wanna Die: The Pretty Reckless

Believe Me: Fort Minor

Slip Out the Back: Fort Minor

It’s Not the End of the World: LostProphets

Only Man (Jakwob Remix): Audio Bullys

Burning in the Skies: Linkin Park

When They Come For Me: Linkin Park

New Divide: Linkin Park

Dreamcatcher: Unicorn Kid

The Island, Pt I (Dawn) & Pt 2 (Dusk): Pendulum

Witchcraft (Rob Swire’s Drum-step Mix): Pendulum

Ich Tu Dir Weh: Rammstein

Bulletproof Heart: My Chemical Romance

The Only Hope For Me is You: My Chemical Romance

Teeth: Lady Gaga

Walking in Circles: Dead by Sunrise

Dead Reckoning: Clint Mansell

End Credits: Chase & Status with Plan B

For those of you on Spotify, my friend Paul (better known as @pablocheesecake on Twitter) has been an absolute sweetie and put a Spotify playlist together for all your BLOOD & FEATHERS listening needs. And you can find it here:

The only thing not on there is Rammstein (which, let’s face it, isn’t surprising…). It’s very neat, and I’m incredibly grateful to Paul: thank you!


At The Sign of the Black DovePandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse.

An apocalyptic story needs an apocalyptic soundtrack… and in my head, this is exactly what the end of the world sounds like…

Nero – Doomsday

Nero: Fugue State

Murderess Lane: Hub Fiction

“Murderess Lane” is a story about another London – a London which always was, and always will be: the kind of London which has flagellants roaming the streets, and an underground chamber hung with bodies hidden in the heart of the City. It’s not a very nice place, and it’s confusing and noisy and frightening. So, naturally, while I was working on it, I listened to this.

Pendulum: Through the Loop

Kudos and cookies if you can name the sample. It’s easy, honest.

Bad Like Mike

I’ve been doing some angel-related bits and pieces lately, and cannot believe that I’d not stumbled across this before:

God takes one look at this thing and is just like, “Mike, show this fucking douchebag the door”.  The Archangel Michael calmly nods his head, slowly takes the cigarette out of his mouth and flicks it onto the floor, cracks his knuckles and confidently strides towards Lucifer.

Yes, it’s the Archangel Michael, featuring on Badass of the Week. How genius is that?

And, yes, I might well have that quote pinned up on my study wall.

Also, bonus points for this:

Now I’m exactly not a religious man, but I’d be remiss in making Satan the Badass of the Week while not giving credit to the guy who Pedigreed him Triple H-style onto a bed of tacks and then stepped on his stupid horned head.

Of course, now I’m going to have real trouble shifting the image of Michael-as-wrestler from my mind, but I’m also pretty positive that his finishing move would be the Pedigree (less flashy than the People’s Elbow, after all).

Bad. Ass.

The Dark Glass of Memory

This is one of my more rambling thinking-out-loud posts, I’m afraid, which was in part prompted by Twitter.

Last week, Adam Christopher (@ghostfinder) mentioned he’d  just seen Dark City for the first time. I love Dark City: it’s probably the only film I’ve seen twice at the cinema – and this was the big old theatre/cinema in the town where I grew up, where you could sit in the balcony a floor and a half up and lean over the rail to drop popcorn on other people’s heads. Not that I ever did that, of course, because that would be childish and irresponsible and… yeah. Where was I? Ah, yes.

And boy, but that trailer makes it look like one of David Lynch’s bad dreams, doesn’t it?

I remember this film getting deep under my skin when I first saw it – it was that central conceit of memory and its effect on identity which did it. I was reading a few psychology books around that time – I was a strange teenager, I really was – and had come up against the concept of false memories (go here for a slightly less dry explanation) and Dark City really tapped into that idea.

It must have been out about the same time as The Matrix – another film which messes with reality and memory, and blows stuff up as it goes (full disclosure: I really, really, really don’t like The Matrix.) so there was obviously something in the water in Hollywood at the time.

As Adam quite rightly pointed out on Twitter, it’s a common concept in SF: after all, Blade Runner hurls itself into mind as a perfect example – and that’s without even stopping to think about others out there. But it’s one of my favourites: keep your spaceships and your FTL (leave me the big guns and plasma cannons though, please) because I like getting my head around whether we’re more than the sum of our memories and our experiences.

Plato’s cave; Russell’s “five minute” hypothesis (or “Last Thursdayism“)… they’re ideas which are simple to grasp, thanks to much cleverer people than me doing all the intellectual heavy lifting, but they blow my mind. It’s one of the things I love about Inception: beneath the heist film and the cities that fold up on themselves, there’s a discussion about the imperfection of memory going on. Maybe on the second level…

Do memories make us who we are – and if our memories turn out to be false, does that mean we’ve gone wrong somehow, followed a path that we shouldn’t have? Does a badly-recalled or deliberately falsified memory ripple out to change everything we are, or could have been?

And what happens if they’re turned against us?

Interestingly, I was watching Push again over the weekend – I saw it a couple of years ago and had largely forgotten it – but I realised it was another “doubting your memory” movie, at least in places. It’s maybe not the greatest film ever (although I loved the idea of it using Hong Kong as a modern-day Casablanca: the place where everyone washes up when they don’t want to be found) but I’m surprisingly OK with that. Amazing what I’ll let you get away with if you drop some mental shenanigans into the mix.


It’s funny, really, because while I was thinking about all this, I realised I’ve even got it in my own book – the idea of memory and what it means. Admittedly, it’s pretty buried under the angels and the M1911A1s*, but it’s there. Which just goes to show, I guess, that some things stick – whether you remember it or not…

So. To ramble to the point: truth v. memory. In film, and books, and anything else you care to mention. Like it? Does it interest you, or is it just too goshdarn fiddly? Where’ve you seen it done well… and where’ve you seen it done badly? This one’s open to the floor – so make the most of it.

Or I’ll start talking again.


*Anyone with an eye for trivia: you might want to remember that. And don’t say I never give you anything…