Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Poster for Eden Troupe's Production of A Christmas Carol

Virginia-based theatre company Eden Troupe have sent me the first piece of brilliant promotional artwork for their forthcoming production of my stage play A Christmas Carol. I love this poster, it is absolutely stunning, very spooky and evocative, and more importantly, very very Christmassy!

I can't wait to see the rest of the promotional literature now. Rest assured I will be putting them straight up on here as soon as I get them.

Monday, 18 October 2010

The Ten Best Books Of All Time (part 2 of 2)

Choosing your ten favourite books of all time doesn’t make allowances for all those marvellous ‘series’ of books out there; the over-reaching arcs that play out their entire stories in trilogies, heptalogies, or even on-going series that have been running for decades.

Sometimes it’s difficult to single out a specific title or novel within a cycle of books as being the best simply because to remove it from the context of the series would diminish it’s impact and render it virtually impotent (However, having said this, one of the titles found in the second part of my Top Ten Books list below is the first in an original cycle of six novels - a cycle which has now expanded into double figures in recent years).

Over the years I’ve been an avid reader of many ‘cycle’ or on-going book sagas, here are some of the best; Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, Robert Rankin’s Brentford trilogy (now 9 books long!), Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories, Jeff Somers’ Avery Cates series, David Nobbs’ Henry Pratt & Reggie Perrin sagas, Peter F. Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy, Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, Paul Magrs’ Brenda & Effie mysteries, Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space sequence and Whitley Strieber’s Communion saga.

However, one of the self imposed rules to my Top Ten was that I was not allowed to nominate an entire series as one choice. For example, I was not allowed to put Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series into my list, but could, if I wanted to, choose a single title from that range (it would have been Hogfather, if I had to choose one, that being my favourite Discworld novel).

So, here’s the second half of my Ten Best Books of All Time :

06 - Dune - Frank Herbert
It took me a good many years to finally get around to reading this classic SF novel. Often labelled as a ‘heavy’ or ‘laborious’ read, Herbert’s Hugo Award winning 1965 novel of politics, religion, ecology and the fight for control over the life-expanding ‘spice’ rich planet of Arrakis (nick-named Dune) is one of the most refreshingly original and exciting pieces of science fiction I’ve ever read. It was the opening book in the first of the two Dune trilogies (the other titles being Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune). His son, Brian Herbert, along with co-writer Kevin J. Anderson, has gone on to write a total of 10 prequels and sequels to the original series.

Despite the fact that it took me a while to read the book I’ve been a huge fan of the 1984 David Lynch film for the past twenty-six years, being one of my Ten Favourite SF Films of all time. Not a popular choice, I know, with most people preferring the John Harrison 4hour+ miniseries in 2000.

07 - Glue - Irvine Welsh
Welsh is one of the most original, shocking and all-round entertaining novelists writing today, and quite possibly the greatest British writer of the past forty years. I bought and read this book for the first time while spending several weeks up in Edinburgh, the city where the novel is set, and had the advantage of being able to walk the very streets that were being named in the story.

Following the highs and lows of four Edinburgh/Leith born wide-boys growing up in Britain between the late 70s - early 2000s, and, along with his novels Trainspotting and Porno goes to make up an unofficial trilogy.

08 - ‘Salem’s Lot - Stephen King
One of the scariest books I’ve ever read. It absolutely terrified me when I first took it out of the local mobile library, way back in the mid-80s. The book was collected together with Carrie and The Shining in a St. Michaels hardback, and I read it alone over a handful of bitingly cold winter evenings up in my bedroom after school. Although I read all three of the novels in the collection ‘Salem’s Lot stood out as the greatest of them all, and still is.

For me this 1975 novel marks the beginning of author Stephen King’s Golden Age; seeing a run of over twenty truly top-notch novels, short story collections, short novel collections, novelettes, and fantasy novels ending with The Dark Half fourteen years later in 1989.

The fifth book in his Dark Tower cycle, Wolves of the Calla, acts as a sequel of sorts, in so much as we catch up with the character of Father Donald Callahan, learning what has happened to him since we last saw him catching a Greyhound bus in the latter half of ‘Salem’s Lot.
09 - The War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells
Along with his novels The Time Machine and The Invisible Man, Well’s tale of alien invasion and conflict between the planets makes up three of the best SF novels ever written. Often categorised as ‘scientific romance’ the book can be interpreted as the author’s views and opinions on British imperialism and the legacy of the Victorian era.

Scenes of the massive tripod war machines striding across the English countryside, dispensing death and destruction to all that they meet are some of the most strikingly evocative pieces of fiction you will ever read. As with A Christmas Carol and Dracula, War of the Worlds is a story that many have seen film adaptations of but never actually read the novel.

Hugely influential to John Christopher’s fantastic Tripods children’s novel series; The White Mountains, The City of Gold & Lead, The Pool of Fire and it’s prequel When the Tripods Came.

10 - The Story of Britain - Roy Strong
The only non-fiction book in the list. Author, broadcaster and former Director of the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum, Sir Roy Strong tells the complete story of this Island, from 320BC (when Britain enters recorded history) up to present day.

Beautifully illustrated throughout with portraits, paintings, documentation, photographs and even tapestries, along with Christopher Lee’s This Sceptred Isle, this is one of the most important and stunningly crafted history books ever produced. Fist released in 1998 and, in my opinion, never bettered.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

TheTen Best Books of All Time (part 1 of 2)

Recently, for a bit of fun, a friend and fellow writer and editor invited me and several others on Facebook to compose a list of the top 15 books that will always stick with you. After thinking about this for twenty-four hours I managed to construct a list of books that (although not necessarily what I’d consider my all time favourites) are the most memorable for one reason or another.

Actually compiling this list was quite difficult, to say the least. There are many reasons why a particular book will “always stick with you”, even if the book itself is not necessarily considered a ‘classic’ or of literary merit or even one of the best in its genre. Some books speak to you on an emotional level, striking a particular chord at a time in your life when you are vulnerable or grieving, or in a highly receptive or happy state of mind.

And some of those titles can often take you by surprise.

Once, many years ago, when I was at a particular low point in my life I found myself taking comfort in a vast array of fictional titles, ranging from TV Tie-Ins, comedy, cheap horror, even novelisations. Some of which stuck with me.

Some of the books I chose for this list were in there because they were the first exposure I had to a particular genre (Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart being an example, as it was the first novel I had read by an African author), others such as Thomas Hardy’s tale of the awkward Jude in Jude the Obscure were there because they left a lasting impression on an equally awkward teenager who was reading it in school.

So, after I’d written and posted it (and left a note saying that I could have written a list of the top 50 books that have ‘stuck with me’) it then started me thinking about other lists - particularly my the Ten Favourite Books of All Time.

I remember way back in the first year of college that myself and two friends decided to go away and compile a list of the 10 greatest books we’d ever read. This started me thinking about how that list might have changed some eighteen-odd years later.

Here, then, is my Ten Best Books of All Time (2010 Remix):
01 - A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
A Christmas Carol is, without doubt, the greatest single piece of literature ever written in any language. In the world. Ever. This is not up for debate, it’s a fact! If you don’t agree, then you’re wrong. Many people have only seen a film or TV adaptation of this and never actually gotten around to reading the book itself, which is a great shame as - apart from a couple of good versions - none of them have even come close to capturing the true darkness, despair and tragedy of the novel, as well as the bright, shining core of hope and warmth that sits at the very heart of the story.

I have this ritual when it comes to reading the book, which I’ve been following every Christmas for the past two decades - I read it over the course of five days, one chapter a night, starting on December 20th and finishing on Christmas Eve. For me it’s as traditional as putting up a tree, eating mince pies, or wearing colourful paper hats from out of a cracker.

02 - A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burguess
It took me a while to get round to reading A Clockwork Orange. My friend had a copy that he always used to carry around with him while we were at college, and at regular intervals would produce it from his bag and inform whoever was listening that this was one book that we all really should read. After glancing down the first couple of pages I would always hand the book back to him with a shake of the head. “No thanks, I don’t think I’ll bother.“ I’d say. You see, I was always put off by the language of the piece, written as it is in the fictional future street-parley of ‘Nadsat’. The fact that the book contains no glossary at the back for you to look up what a word means always struck me as ridiculous, and so, for many months, I refused to pick the book up.

I now have a small bet with friends who are undecided about whether to read it or not : “Read the first 7 pages. If you haven‘t go the hang of Nadsat by then and don‘t want to carry on, then simply stop reading and give it back.” Not one single person has ever stopped reading it! And all have loved it!

As with A Christmas Carol, thanks to it’s long overdue release on DVD, most people have only seen Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of the book. Despite it being one of the greatest films ever made, it still falls somewhat short of capturing the full terror and stark brutality of the 1962 novel.

03 - The Hotel New Hampshire - John Irving
The fact that this novel is, after all these years, occupying a spot in my Ten Favourite Books still amazes me. I went through a phase, in the very late 80s / early 90s, of reading what is considered by many as great ‘literary works’ - among which were the novels of Joseph Heller, Don DeLillo and John Irving. Yet, although many cite Heller’s wonderful Catch 22 as the greatest of the bunch, it would always be Irvings tale of awkwardness, incest, homosexuality, death and a girl in a bear costume that would stand head and shoulders above the rest for me.

It went on to spawn a rather unsuccessful but entertaining film adaptation starring a dreadfully miscast Rob Lowe. The film version of Irvings previous novel The World According To Garp was much much better!

04 - London - Edward Rutherfurd
Many people are put off reading this fantastic novel by its sheer volume of pages (1000 +) or that they’ve read his earlier work, Sarum, which is equally as page heavy and fear that they’d just be ploughing through an identical book. This is a pity as neither of those fears are true. It’s true that a modicum of commitment is needed when approaching a book of such length but the same can be said of reading Peter F. Hamilton, Leo Tolstoy or even Stephen King. One of the greatest historical novels you will ever read, whether you live in London or not (and I don’t).

05 - Dracula - Bram Stoker
I first read this novel while holidaying in Whitby and, although only 50 of it's 400 + pages are set in the small fishing port, it sure helps add to the atmosphere of the book as a whole. Along with A Christmas Carol this is probably the book I have read most since I first discovered it over twenty years ago.

It still remains one of the most frightening, grisly works of horror fiction ever written and has spawned some of the most varied, interesting, unique and (sometimes) downright bizarre sequels and spin-offs of any other novel in literary history. Some of the best being Mina by Marie Kiraly, Anno Dracula by Kim Newman, Dracula the Undead by Dacre Stoker & Ian Holt and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.
To Be Continued….

Monday, 4 October 2010

The Terrible Zodin Free Fanzine

Issue number 8 of the fantastic free Doctor Who fanzine The Terrible Zodin is available to download now over on its website. At a massive 104 pages this new issue sets out to extensively cover the Wilderness Years of the programme (1990 - 2003). As well as featuring interviews with Who writers Paul Cornell and Lance Parkin it also includes an exhaustive multi-authored article covering Virgin Book’s entire New Adventures novel range.

The article features a piece on Ben Aaronovitch’s novel Transit, written by me. It was enormous fun to write, and it gave me the excuse to re-read the novel for the first time in fifteen years!

You can download it here :