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Thursday, 13 December 2012

Alternative Guide to Alternative Reality 3... Comics!

Read Part one of the blog at Life in the Realm of Fantasy
And hop over like an excited Bunny to part two at Fresh Pot of Tea
And now for part three.....
If I were a dishonest man (and the admission that my previous Movember moustache makes me look like the Village People indicates I am utterly honest) then I’d claim that some awesome seminal sci-fi story created my interest in alternate reality. The truth is far from that- it was a combination of the awesome old-school Star Trek, and Marvel comics that take the blame.

For those who follow my blog that’ll come as no surprise. I’ve rambled about the key influence of comics in my fantasy writing before, and its impact on my current book, The Infinity Bridge, is glaring. The whole plot begs for a graphic novel, and the pace, dialogue and action is very comic book style in places.

One of the fundamental aspects of the book is the idea of alternate reality, that history/evolution/physical laws of the world could have diverged at some stage from our own. It’s a wonderful plot device—the possibilities are endless, and range from the divergences of individuals (think It’s a Wondeful Life and Sliding Doors) to entire worlds and their structure (think Wizard of Oz and Narnia in more extreme examples). So it is no surprise that the theme is a massive one in the world of comics.

The first mainstream use of alternate worlds was over in DC-world, back in the Wonder Woman and Flash comics. Wonder Woman kicked it off with our hot pants heroine falling through a dimensional rift and meeting a double called Tara Teruna (two Wonder Women... and so the fantasy begins...). But the Flash story, Flash of Two Worlds, was the seminal moment where we have a true ‘alternate.’ It used the great idea that the Golden Age Flash, a comic book character in our Flash’s world as well as ours, existed in a parallel world (called Earth-2 in later series). DC expanded this idea again and again, using the tool to resurrect Golden Age incarnations of their characters, and ones acquired from other publishers over the years.

It all got a little bonkers in the end, and DC started to wrap it all up with the series Crisis on Infinite Earths... and then rebooted and rebooted and wrote Infinite Crisis and 52 and... bleh...

But I’ve never been a DC boy (although my moustache again may infer otherwise), I’m Marvel through and through. For me the series ‘What If’, which was serialised in UK comics was my first exposure. It was a series where the light-bulb headed Watcher told a yarn about a reality that had diverged at a significant historical moment in the Marvel Universe. There were so many good ones, the memorable ones for me (probably because his was the most popular comic at the time) being the Spiderman ones: what if Aunt May had been popped instead of Uncle Ben?; What if someone else had been bitten by that radioactive spider?; What if Spidey joined the Fantastic Four?; What if the Spider clone lived? (it did, much to the groans of multitudes of Spider fans).

Yet those tales were only ever short spin-off ideas. The parallel worlds and alternate history as actual plot lines in Marvel comics really took off with the X-men. My era of the X-men was the classic Claremont-Byrne run, reprinted in the UK in wonderful monochrome which made some parts rather tricky to follow. Towards the end of their run together, the pair did a story Days of Futures Past, in which characters from an alternate future travel to the mainstream world of the X-men to try and avert a key event that created their divergent reality. It was massively and deservedly popular (not least because you got to see Wolverine toasted by a Sentinel...bub) and Claremont returned again and again to that alternate, often bringing characters and villains across (Rachel Summers Phoenix; Nimrod; Forge etc).

The idea grew and grew over the years, and there’s an awesome geek out list on the web with all the alternates numbered (from a 2005 summary I think). I found myself reading like a sad-o through it and nodding at the ones I recognised....

You can see the appeal as a writer, especially if you write a series. Alternate realities allow the writer to screw around with characters, about what we know or think we know about them, without upsetting the mainstream ones. It also allows the rather tired concept of evil versions of characters to be used (none may live up to the glory of evil-Kirk and his guy-liner).

It would be difficult to write anything on comics and how they influenced me without doffing the cap to Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Watchmen runs with the concept of how history would be altered if superheroes existed in our world—so how would the presence of a superhuman impact upon the Vietnam War, or international relations/politics, or day-to-day living, or technology. The influence of the Watchmen comic on the genre is vast, and it deservedly maintains its status in comic book history. If you are not a particular comic fan and wanted to see what could be done differently with the genre then this is a great place to start (the subtleties to the plot-lines are marvellous).

So that wraps up my ranting on alternate worlds, taking it back to where it all began for me. I haven’t broken any new ground in my book, using the alternate history model as an excuse for Steampunk fun. Oh, and its meant I could have an ogre pop up in some woods near York. In the sequels to the book I’m planning a few weirder ideas... and, yes, at some point I’ll need an evil version of a character. Its just got to be done...
The Infinity Bridge is up on t'Amazon, both in print and in Kindle. If you want a peek then click on the links...

Friday, 7 December 2012

Swamps and Sorcerers

I don't often post about my books or writing on here, mainly because there's more interesting things to rant about. However, when there's a new cover to show off, I just canna help meself.

Darkness Rising- Secrets is the third of six books. Unlike books 1 and 2, which were the result of a split of a single volume, it was written more as separate work. As with book two it runs two parallel story arcs, Emelia's quest for the crystals, and Aldred's journey. There's also the minor plots with Torm, Emelia's friend from bk1, who is our 'Everyman' character and more on Vildor, our baddie.

When there's so much going on its tricky to design a cover. Books 1 and 2 were stunning: we used a rather striking model for both, and the first decision was whether to continue with her on the covers. The dilemma was that if she graced bk3 then we were committed to all six with her.

Discussing with Ceri, the amazing cover designer at Myrddin Publishing, we opted for a change. After trying images to represent Marthir (and her tattoos) and Vildor, we settled on a representation of Hunor, the rogue and leader of the comrades. For the background we opted for an image of the swamps of Ssinthor.

"After some period they became aware of shapes forming in the fog. Tiny at first, they grew in stature until ultimately they recognised the deformed trees of the swamp. They loomed all around. The branches reached like rotting arms towards the disorientated comrades.

There was little doubt they were far deeper into the swamps of Ssinthor as they exited the mists. The air was both hotter and wetter and the stench of the swamp overpowering."

On the full wrap around cover you can make out the silhouette of a building. We've used this as a representation of the Temple that the gang are seeking out, based on Jem's interpretation of Emelia's lore-touch.

"The four crept through the boggy foliage. Within five minutes they had reached the edge of the woodland and Orla had her first view of the temple.

Its shining black walls contrasted vividly with the near homogenous emerald colouration of the surrounding swamp. The temple was constructed on a raised area of land, but this aspect had not prevented the creeping green of the swamp’s foliage from working its way up to the walls. The ancient carvings of snakes and dragons were interspersed with bulbous creepers that gave the structure a horrid vascular appearance."

So, here's the final result. Different to bks 1 and 2, but with enough of the theme to make it feel part of the series. The book'll be released on Kindle just before x-mas, with the print early New Year. Fun times!

Friday, 16 November 2012

To Infinity...and back again

About a year and a half ago, when the kids got sick of me saying my fantasy books were too violent for them to read, I decided to write a book targeted at teens (nominally referred to as YA... young adult). Various ideas rattled around the brain box, but none seemed exactly right.

I decided fairly early on that I should stick to what I know, namely speculative fiction. I felt pretty saturated with fantasy, so the logical genre was therefore sci-fi. The combination of sci-fi plus teen, plus what my kids might have liked led me down memory lane to try and think what would get me interested at that age.

It didn’t take long: Dr Who, Star Trek and Star Wars.

For the kid growing up in the Seventies it was the eternal conflict, and indeed now the franchises have been milked to the point of a shrivelled cow, it remains an ongoing concern for the current teen geek.

On one hand we had the wonderful British eccentricity of Dr Who, airing most Saturdays on the BBC and driving most of us behind the sofa (admittedly not so much as a teenager...). On the other we had the re-runs of the original Star Trek, with the green lass at the end and lots of gags about the captain’s log (read ‘poo’) and Mr Spock’s final front ear. Although slightly archaic even by the late 70s there was a glossiness and action about Star Trek that ran in direct opposition to Dr Who.
Could you love both? Of course—but you had to like one more than the other.

And for me it was always Who. I grew up in the era of Tom Baker’s fourth doctor—all Simpson-esque eyes, multi-coloured scarf and utter bizarreness. I have faint recollection of Pertwee’s last stories (Planet of the Spiders), but I do wonder if they’d been affected by anniversary re-runs or later by videos. Me and my brother had a vast collection of Dr Who books and a knowledge of the series that would have won us Mastermind (indeed some dude did win Mastermind with Dr Who as his speciality subject and I could answer all the question). Dr Who journeyed through my childhood with me, in his magical blue box. I recall being gutted about being in a school play because I was missing The Pirate Planet. I can recall being terrified by the robot mummies from Pyramids of Mars, and the stone hand from the Hand of Fear. I recall me and some mates playing a game where we were inside the Doctor’s brain from the Invisible Enemy. I can recall the nightmares from the giant slimy thing that popped up from the skull in Image of the Fendahl. And the bad guy drowning the doctor in the Deadly Assassin (which really got the censorship lobby going) was etched on my mind forever.

That era of Dr Who was simply amazing, and even now the stories stand up to scrutiny with the wonderful mix of gothic horror and sci-fi, the larger than life Doctor and the splendid companions (Sarah Jane, Leela and Romana). So I took the essence of that time and tried to create a story which would emulate the buzz I used to get with Dr Who –the balance of excitement, mystery, humour and sci-fi. The baddies needed to be tough, near indestructible, but with some Achilles heel that was apparent after the nerve wracking chase sequence. There needed to be a British-ness about it, so I set it in York, and also roped in a Victoriana alternate reality for good measure. With a dash of clockwork. The companions have been replaced by the teenage main characters. The bizarrity comes from Ben, the heroic schizophrenic brother of Sam. And the wisdom, the mentor, the alien intellect role of the Doctor? Why, that’s Merlin, but existing as a dissociated consciousness on the internet.

And my final nod to the Dr Who of my childhood? Tom Baker’s final episode was Logopolis, with its unforgettable finale at Jodrell Bank radio-telescope in Cheshire. Where else could I have my own final showdown in the Infinity Bridge?

The observant amongst you will note that I’ve avoided talking about Star Wars. For me the first two will remain cherished memories, the rest curious fun. Iconic, yes. Enjoyable, yes. But it was not a patch on Dr Who in terms of influence for me.

So the mind is already at work on the sequel, and this time there might be some old school Trek influences creeping in.... (‘On Earth, we call this a kiss’ ‘I like this very much, Jim Kirk.’ (soft focus on green lass)).

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Lydia and the love of Ink

Of all the strange fashions and things that have changed over my moderate span on this fair earth none fascinate me quite as much as tattoos. When I was a kid (in the Seventies) tattoos were generally correlated with being a rough bugger. The sort of tattoos that you saw back then were old school blue ink ones, usually fuzzy, and with declarations of love for (i) mother (ii) salty Susan (iii) football team/ England/British Bulldogs (iv) Elvis. The final tattoo cohort was typically middle aged women who had been daft enough to try and do their own whilst bored in a maths lesson with a sharp compass and some India ink.

During my years of being a doctor my exposure to tattoos has expanded to rival that of a dedicated tattoo artist. Working in anaesthesia and theatres I tend to see plenty of exposed flesh, and indeed on ITU my referrals have their own collection of ‘ink.’ And there is still a vast variety of colour and style. The cringe worthy ‘suck here’ tattooed above the pubic bone, with a helpful arrow pointing southwards, makes an intermittent appearance. Odd Arabic/Chinese/Indian script seems to be getting more popular, much to my bewilderment, as does tribal Polynesian tattoos around biffed up biceps (which looks OK, to be fair).

And I think as Tattoos have improved in their style, colour and frequency their use as an indicator for general rough-ness has diminished. Don’t get me wrong—there is still a usage for the well-established teeth-to-tattoo ratio in judging people, but on a whole more and more younger and younger people have them now, and are perfectly decent types.

I’m trying to think when it all changed. I recall great tattoo stories as a kid being the chatter of the playground. One about a mate’s mate’s brother’s mate bumping into a half-ogre skinhead in Leeds city centre, and the skinhead saying ‘Ask me my name, go on, ask me!’ The terrified mate’s mate’s brother’s mate wisely did this, and the skinhead pulls down his lip and displays his name tattooed inside his lip. Presumably it was Bob, or Sam, or more likely Gaz/Baz/Daz rather than Tarquin or Horatio.

Facial tattoos also were a source of childhood delight—nothing displayed your general psychopathic ruffian status more than a fetching web on your neck and jaw, or a tear tattooed on your cheek, or LUFC (Leeds United Football Club) on your forehead. This notoriety was compounded by the perception that facial tattoos were illegal, that you could get arrested if you had them.... I know, we were young and also believed the student-getting-chloroformed-and-waking-up-without-kidney one as well.

Perhaps it was late Eighties to early Nineties when it flipped over. I seem to recall that average folk were beginning to get ‘inked’ then. More women were starting to have butterflies/roses/celtic patterns, often around ankles and lower backs. Celebrities too caught on, and I think as those images filled the magazines it became far less stigmatised. It slipped from the realms of alternative culture/heavy metal/goth into the mainstream. Interestingly I think the alternative fashion side reacted by becoming more extreme in the tattooing—advancing from small areas of tattoos to sleeves and whole backs.

And I don’t know whether its desensitisation, or maturity, or mid-life crisis, but I’ve found myself increasingly drawn to them. Of course, when I was 20 and full into grunge (with my parka, long hair, earrings, Mudhoney t-shirt) I went to have one done. Quite a funny story, actually. I went with my buddy, Giles, who is pretty much straight as they come. We decided to have a bit of ‘flash’ work—a yellow smiley face (we used to wear the badges as teenagers). On our backsides. So I ask for mine the size of a ten pence, and 30 mins later it’s done. Giles, looking pale, asks for his smaller. Smaller than a 10p? Like a penny? To be fair, he had to have a patch shaved off to do it.

Anyway I digress, as ever. Not content with my crap tattoo, that is, after all, only just better than having ‘Elvis’ on my arm, or Horny Devil (complete with a well endowed red imp) on my deltoid, I’ve been contemplating some major ink. This could be regarded as an atypical move by a consultant anaesthetist, but as long as it isn’t across my face like the leopard-dude I should get away with it.

But what to have? You wait until 41 to do it properly and you can’t just have any old crap. It has to represent or symbolise something. Anything circular or tribal won’t work—my physique is said to be the bastard offspring of Gandhi and Casper the Friendly Ghost. All my interests are ultra-geeky—options of daleks, spiderman or Gandalf have met with a medusa stare from the wife. I don’t like writing on tattoos—part of me worries that ‘Ross is great’ will not come across well in High-Elven, and when I think of names I always remember Jonnie Depp and ‘Winona Forever.’

I think I’ve boiled it down to a few options. A good friend had a dragon done, so I kind of feel that one’s out. I like Coy Carp ones—mainly for the colour; and I like the image of a phoenix (as it unites my comic, fantasy, and symbolic interests). Phoenix is slightly ahead—if I was really cool I’d get it done like Battle of the Planets....

So anyhow, I’ll probably be still working up the nerve in ten years time, and in the interim I’m embracing middle-age and growing a moustachio in November in aid of men’s cancer. Far less permanent if it all goes horribly wrong.

I’ll leave you with Lydia, one of the greatest proponents of body-art the Muppet world has known.




Friday, 12 October 2012


I flogged one of my books to a lad I know at work, who has limited interest in my soap opera style epic fantasy, but has a missus who loves the stuff. She's a big Dave Eddings fan, and as my book has some similarity to the linear fantasy of the Belgeriad, I hoped she'd enjoy it.

I bumped into him the other day and asked how she was getting along with it. He said she was really get into it, but had to stop reading it one evening as a scene was terrifying her. I was a little taken aback- after all I chanced my 10 yr old lad reading it, and he wasn't fussed about the occasionally visceral scene or two, and he certainly wasn't scared (well I couldn't hear him scream whilst I watched telly downstairs).

It would seem it was an early scene where a Dark-mage chases the heroine Emelia through dark cobbled streets, and corners her in an alley. So, yeah, creepy... but, enough to make you stop reading?? Admittedly it may have just been her excuse, and she thinks it is a bobbins book....

It got me thinking about the nature of fears. It's a topic that comes up a lot in our house; after all, fear is a salient aspect of childhood. There's a commonality to fear with my two older kids, and then a divergence which typifies their personalities. Both had the separation fear, and the fear of loss that all kids have. That's something that lurks inside all of us, I think, that terror of isolation, of loneliness. They had a common fear of me and the wife splitting up. That stemmed (logically) from an abrupt swathe of people we knew separating. So every time me and t'wife get the arse on with each other about pointless stuff (I didn't tidy up, usually) the kids were wailing like drunken banshees about us not loving one another etc etc. All rational thus far.

But it's the differences which fascinate me. Charlie, with his vivid imagination, his heart on his sleeve, has fantastical fears. His fears were of the mythical and supernatural. I can recall him being scared witless by a kids spooky story where a boy gets turned into a doll. And that Dr Who episode where the girl traps a boy in a drawing. He was really freaked by it (actually I get that fear... I was disturbed by it too!!!). His has always been the monsters and the vampires and the ghosts.

Evelyn, ever pragmatic, was first scared of dangerous beasts. Sharks in the sea in Devon; box jellyfish in the English Channel; snakes, lions, venomous spiders in Yorkshire... She's moved on now to disease, after an ill-advised trip to Thackray's medical museum in Leeds. Now I'm continually questioned on a range of dire pathologies by her, whether small-pox is coming back, and how worried she needs to be about anthrax. It's like having a mixture of House and Jack Bauer inside an eight year old.

I think back to my childhood, and my fears were no less rational. I had the standard (for my generation) Dr Who scared moments (the Ruton in Horror of Fang Rock; the robot ventriloquists dummy in Talons of Weing Chiang... in fact anything involving Robert Holmes and his love of Gothic horror on Saturday tea-times). The ghosts and ghouls less so, but I recall one episode of the sci-fi series Sapphire and Steel, wherein people from photographs came to life... and this soldier had no face. I was terrified for weeks after that...

The only fear that remains is one of loss, and I suppose by extension of that the fear of death. These are the common fears of most. As you grow old you become afraid for others-- afraid my kids will run into problems, get hurt, get knocked over, and this eases your own somewhat. But every now and then you get a wrench in your gut about something...

So with all that lingering in the rear of our minds, why do we seek fear for entertainment? Why do we like to be scared? There's a huge market for horror, and by that I don't mean paranormal sparkly vampires, I mean good old fill your pants and spill your drink TERROR. And every weekend people jump off perfectly safe bridges with elastic bands on their back, just to get the feeling of hurtling towards a river four hundred feet below and not dying. We invite fear back into our lives quite readily. Why?

I suppose fear shares the same physiological response as any adrenaline surge: extreme excitement, preparing for battle, fighting, running for your life. But the situations we create now are sanitised, they are safe fear, far more than our ancestors ever could. The invisible spirit on Paranormal Activity isn't going to come out of the TV and drag you across the floor. The bungie rope is going to hold. The parachute will open. The free fall rollercoaster style ride won't splat you all across the bored queue below. And with any buzz, repetition equals less thrill. You can see as a society we seek more and more thrill, more condensed controlled terror, to sate our needs. Everything now is 'extreme.'

Yet,ironically, the fears we carry from our early days never really leave. The fear of loss, the fear of passing away perhaps before you have had time to do what you want or say what you need to. Is there a way of facing these fears, these anxieties, in a sanitised way? I'm not sure there's a way of making it cuddly, or disposable, or easy--but I think that by sharing fears with others, by accepting we all have those basic anxieties in common, we can learn to live with them a lot better.

Hang on... there's a scratching on the window....

(yeah, yeah, Salem's Lot joke... couldn't leave you on too much of a downer


Thursday, 27 September 2012

Young and Restless

On Facebook I’m in a zillion and one groups, mainly because people practice stealth grouping wherein I seem to be added to groups without my noticing. I had a cull of late, where I went and removed myself from pointless ones, and kept the ones where I had at least a modicum of interest. Some are straight promo ones, whereas others are ‘book clubs’ (promo ones interspersed with occasional debate... and links...).

One group is a YA book group, which I think I joined by virtue of one of the admins being someone I knew. Initially I thought, well I don’t write YA but I have read some of what I consider YA, and have been made to sit through movies and TV series based on YA paranormal romance. So I stuck with it, and the other day read a really great thread on a YA writers work getting chopped off some award nominations because of sexual content.
It got me thinking about the genre, not least because since I joined the group I’ve written a book targeted at teens. It came about because the oldest two kids (Charlie, 10 and Evelyn, 8) wanted a book by me that they could read without falling asleep or reaching for a thesaurus. So I wrote one. And now I’m thinking, what ‘category’ should it fall into?
Literature is getting like music with its genres/styles, and like the cinema with its censorship/age classifications. In t’old days life was fairly simple, or so I thought. We had books for kids (Dr Who books, CS Lewis, Winnie the Pooh, Enid Blyton) and books for grown-ups (the rest). We also had ones written for kids that adults liked (what are now called cross-over books). The idea there was kids books for older kids that weren’t suitable for young ‘uns never really occurred to me. This was probably because by the time I was a teenager I was reading adult ones (mainly fantasy, sci-fi) and chuckling at any rude bits.
But there was a definite teen-literature market even then. Books such as Catcher in the Rye, with its teen protagonist, was a popular book amongst angst-saturated teens and the Outsiders, by SE Hinton, really got the ball rolling in the Sixties, not least because Susan Hinton was a teenager when she wrote it. I remember the film, with its plethora of brat-packers, and its depiction of gang fights, smoking and drinking, and swearing. Not surprisingly it was a perfect YA book, as it didn’t patronise its audience.
I think as a male geek-nerd of the first order I missed out on the YA evolution in the Eighties. I recall the Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews being popular, but I was never clear whether that was a book for teens or one for adults that teens read. And herein is a curious dilemma. Is the whole idea of YA a little patronising?
YA is targeted at teens: the common age range is described as 12-18. The bottom end is often overlapped with another genre, middle-grade, which I think is kind of 10-12/13 ish. I find it fascinating when I think of the maturation of adolescents between 12 and 18 just how anyone could think there is a book whose themes/contents would be relevant or appropriate for the whole group. I suppose what I’m pondering is the content, and what is acceptable for MG, for YA and what is adult?
When we boil it down I think we’re looking at language, as in expletives, sexual content and violence/horror. Even the bottom (MG) end of the market is happy with violence. Take Harry Potter: we have plenty of scraps, some torture, bits of murder, death, snakes eating wizards. I read Conan as a 10 year old and loved splattering viscera. The reality is that kids won’t bat an eyelid at most violent content, within reason. Acceptable violence in YA? I think of a 15 film: a bit of splatter, spurting vessels, guns, swords, but not full anatomical gore and torture.
Expletives? That’s tricky too. Teenagers are the worse swearers on the planet, as they think it’s cool. What’s OK for expletives in the books they read? I suppose its volume, rather than precise usage, and also whether it’s appropriately put in versus put in to titillate. For my part, I don’t tend to put cussing in my books, even the adult ones!
And then finally we come to sexual content. As a father, this is the one I struggle most with as I’m probably in denial about the whole issue. Teenagers at my high school, even in the Eighties, were obsessed with sexual themes. By the time most were 14-15 porn had crept into lives, 18 rated sex scenes were passed around on video-tape, and a few were already practising them. And since then we have the internet, and kids with laptops and locks on their bedroom doors. The reality is that what we consider too rude for kids isn’t probably a scratch on the surface compared to what they’re reading or watching. Which isn’t to say we should condone or advocate it in our literature. I think its all down to context, isn’t it? Pointless, exploitative, overly detailed erotica hasn’t really got a place in YA books IMHO. Intimate scenes, sex scenes which are relevant to characters/relationships/plots, are surely OK in our YA books? Other aspects of sexuality, such as homosexuality should definitely have a place. Perhaps even sexual crime (incest, rape) may be acceptable if written in an appropriate fashion. We do our teens a disservice by shying away.
Now, having said all of that, just because we can doesn’t mean we have to. Books like Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Harry Potter, Philip Reeves’ Mortal Engines, The Hunger Games and Cirque du Freak are tame by the above standards yet read by adults. My book, with its group of teens being chased by killer androids, touches on some mature concepts of identity, self-worth and mental illness, but in a manner I think puts me in the MG category akin to Reeves, Pullman and Rowling. And I’m happy being there—with no cussing, shagging or decapitation.
Until the sequel.


Friday, 14 September 2012

A Gathering of Dust

I think I mentioned a while ago that I had written a short story for an anthology with the guys from Skull Dust Circle. Well, it's been published today, and it looks to be all shades of awesome! Gary Vanucci, our Emperor, has put together the book and the cover, and written a story that acts as a historical prequel to his mega-DnD-esque series, Wothlondia Rising. The artistic William Kenney has also done a story set in his fantasy world. I've recetnly read his first book, A Dream Of Storms and it blew me away (storm jokes aside). The third author is Jeremy Laszlo, who was the first guy out of the Circle i befriended, and who has completed his trilogy (The Blood and Brotherhood). The other two guys, Ben and Stefain, I have yet to read and i think the book will give me excellent opportunity to get introduced to their work.

My story? It's a short about two of my characters, Jem and Hunor, and how they started off on their path as rogues and thieves. Lots of actions, a few laughs... you know what to expect if you've read any of my stuff!!

Back to normal posts next time- something about Young Adult books that's been playing on my mind.

Gathering of Dust on Amazon UK
Gathering of Dust on Amazon US of A

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Stainless Steel Style

My first exposure to Harry Harrison's writing was actually via an adaptation of his work for the UK sci-fi comic 2000AD. The Stainless Steel Rat appeared in issues in the late seventies early eighties, written by Gosnall and drawn by Carlos Ezquerra (who drew Jim like James Couburn). It was quite different to a lot of 2000AD stories, as it captured the irreverent humour of Harrison well, and I loved the idea of a space-age thief (because let's face it we all wanted to be Han Solo, not Luke Skywalker).
A few years later, when I started to read a bit more sci-fi (mainly Heinlein) I decided to try the SSR books, and from there got into Deathworld, Bill the Galactic Hero, and the Eden books.
Harrison was a skilled writer. His style was easy to devour, avoiding the pomposity of many sci-fi writers and he managed to write humour without deriding the genre. I found it interesting that Harrison's origins were in the comics field- he was an illustrator and a writer of syndicated comic strips in the 1950s.

Deathworld was Harrison's first SF novel. It was originally serialised, as were many of the fantasy and SF books of that era. Its hero, Jason dinAlt, is a typical Harrison rogue--he is a gambler with some psychic ability--and he meets and accompanies Kerk Pyrrus to the planet Pyrrus (the Deathworld of the title). When I read the book first time I was blown away by the mixture of action and humour that typifies Harrison's work. Harrison wrote three Deathworld books in the sixties, but it was the Stainless Steel rat series that produced the greatest output.

After discovering them in 2000AD I read the first seven books through the 1980s, four of which had been written when i got into the series, and three after (SSR for President, SSR is Born and SSR gets Drafted). The decision to write SSR books about Jim's youth was a great idea, in my opinion, as the series was turning into a little of a family affair by the fourth book.

Jim DiGris was a perfect anti-hero. He was a moralistic thief and con-man who abhorred killing, justified his thievery by saying it provided the galaxy with something to talk about, and was dedicated to his missus and kids. His love, Angelina, has less compunctions about bumping people off. The concept of the Special Corps (a group of largely ex-criminals who now fight crime) formed the basis for the early books, and highlights Harrison's love for the rogue in SF.

Harrison lived until 87, which is fair going, and its hard to be too sad about his passing as he leaves an astonishing catalogue of work behind. I'm planning to catch up on the SSR books that I never read, and indeed the Bill, Galactic Hero sequels. There are so many books and so little time!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Something Different

My youngest turned two the other day and amongst his haul of presents (most of which revolve around tractor-themes) was a Mr Potatohead. This elicited screams of delight from the older two, who then ‘helped’ him make his Potatohead by taking it off him and doing it. They were unusually cooperative—they compromised on the choice of eyes, teeth, hat, arms and nose. The resultant Potatohead was anatomically correct (well for a potato-human hybrid) and they presented it back to Henry who chuckle and pulled all the bits out. Then Henry poked them all back into the various holes and created the sort of Potatohead you’d get from bathing in gamma rays and getting angry. Three arms, tongue jutting out of his arse, no eyes, that sort of thing. He finalised the whole thing by shoving the toy glasses on my face (better than shoving the tongue up my bottom, I suppose).

What made me chuckle was the fact Henry, being two, had very few conventions to follow. He put the limbs and eyes and hats where he fancied, and liked the general look of the creation. It’s like when he draws—he just gets crayons and scribbles like a Brass-Rubber on speed. It looks good to him so f%$£ it!

Creativity without boundaries is something many adult artists aspire to in their work. They try to emulate that period of your life where you can just splurge out something that looks/feels good to you and be damned with what others tell you. It doesn’t last long though. As soon as you hit school the restrictions start. Some are understandable—you have to write letters so others can read them... it’s called communication. Others try to channel you down conventional lines: stories have a start, middle and end. The kids are marked down if their short stories don’t follow that line. This was troublesome for my eldest son, Charlie, who has sensory processing disorder and dyspraxia, and tends to throw his ideas down like Jackson Pollock painted. Its taken years to adapt him into a conventional writing structure (and we only did it because he has an exam in two months where he has to write like that!).

But creativity isn’t just about form, it’s about content. One of the best things about being a Geek-dad is that my interests—reading, writing, comics, DnD, drawing, Dr Who, fantasy—have permeated into my kids in a positive way. Whether you’re a fantasy fan or not, or whether you think comics are a childish media or not, you can’t argue that they don’t fire the imagination. My two eldest have seen this geek-heritage, and seen my writing and publishing books, and been inspired. Charlie (10) is an avid reader, years ahead of his age, and is munching through fantasy and sci-fi series like there’s no tomorrow. He loves creating in his games, is mad-keen on DnD and creating stories around his characters, adores his Lego still, and scribbles comics all the time. Whereas his written work at school is constrained, the stuff at home is wonderfully imaginative.

Evelyn (8 ½) naturally enjoys all the things her elder brother does, with a slight chick-bent. When she plays DnD she likes the role-playing parts, and making the backstory, rather than the slaughter of kobolds. Her reading is definitely girly, although she is reading Harry Potter again (she read the first three at 7) and she’s discovered some wonderful series (Holly Webb’s Rose series, RJ Anderson’s Knife series). She read Jacqueline Wilson for a good while, but stopped recently as she felt they were a bit miserable in places. Although she does well at most things, Evelyn’s strength is writing. She’s written a whole bunch of stories, some only half-complete, others done and dusted. Some she illustrates, others not. She’s planning to be an author (as well as dancer, singer, actress—Charlie is planning to be in MI5...) and if the following story is anything to go by she may well manage it!

She wrote this after a shitty period of bullying at school, which I’ll tell you about another time. It was a way of trying to express her feelings and write a story about being believed by people. As convention goes, it has a start, middle and end, and you can see the influence that Disney Channel programmes and Jacqueline Wilson has had on her. But (proud dad that I am) this is her own work, with the help of Microsoft Word doing that red and green squiggles, Daddy. No-one else has touched it!

Here goes:

Something Different by Evelyn M Kitson

“Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!” I was in the playground on a Thursday; chatting with my friends Lol, C and Abi, when guess who wandered up? Robin, the school bully, even though she’s a girl. She always picks me as her first victim. It all started in kindergarten. She asked me if she could sit in the empty seat beside me, so I said yes because I was new. She peered at my writing and suddenly burst out laughing and I didn’t even know what was so funny.

So since then we’ve been deadly enemies.

“What’s new Fesilly?”  She said, waving her arms about. “Look! Look! I’m Fesilly.”
“The name’s Felicity, Robin. Why don’t you go flap your wings and let us talk in peace?” My friends snigger uncertainly looking at Robin with weary eyes.
“Flick! I know a place were we can talk in peace! Lets go!”
So we did.
When we got inside the school, Robin was waiting. When I sat down she fired a spitball at me and by the lockers she grabbed my overshirt and threw it in the bin!
“Hey sweetie! How was school?”  asked my Mom as I walked in the door.
“If you want to know how many good things happened today, zero is your answer.” I answered.
“You got it.”
“I don’t believe you, Felicity.  I think you’re as bad as each other.”
Ignoring her retort I went to the kitchen cupboard and got some oreo biscuits and started dipping them in my milk.

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! I woke up and hit my alarm clock. I got out of bed and pulled back my curtains. Aaahh!! Only two more weeks till the summer hols. 3 months of no school! It was a sunny day, which was what I needed, maybe, just maybe, it would lighten Robin’s rainy mood. I pulled on a white frill top and some denim shorts. Did I ever tell you I’m ten? Did I ever tell you I have 3 brothers and they tell on me at home? They also tell my head teacher that I’ve been naughty in the day so my head teacher sends a letter home to say I’ve had a ‘behaviour malfunction’.
I went and poured some granola and then my Mom walked in. My sly older brother Ben came in behind Mom and then Chazz, my 5 year old brother, and last but least my 8 year old brother, Harry.
" YOUNG LADY! Why on earth would you go skating outside late?” boomed Mom, “No skating for a week!”
I can’t believe it! Normally Mom would just give me a PS3 ban. Or maybe an XBOX ban or a PSP ban. Or sometimes a computer ban! No skating for a week?! .
 DDDDDDRRRRRIIIINNNGG! Went the school bell, ringing in my ears.
“Just stay away from Robin!”
“OK, Abi.” I responded, hoping Abi would come to my rescue if anything happened.
I went to tenth grade class and sat down. Robin sat down next to me and I ignored her just like Abi had told me to.
“Right! We are learning about when you wait longer for things to happen, they’re always better, ” said my teacher.
“Felicity couldn’t do that,” said Robin, “…and she can’t spell supercallafradjalisticexpialadousios, either.” A row of giggles shot through the class. I think my teacher had had enough already.
“PLAYTIME!” he bellowed. Normally, I would have jumped up and run out of the room without second thoughts and would be grabbed by Mr.Enliten (the teacher) and would be sent to the head. Today, however, I sat there, with my arms folded and just, well, waiting.
My teacher was surprised and said, “Felicity, you can go first.”
So I did. I did that day after day, as well as sitting quietly and instead of talking, paying attention. It had been 4 days since Robin had called me Fesilly, but she hadn’t stopped picking on me. She had been spreading rumours about me doing naughty things, but no one believed her. Because of that, Robin got narked and got her gooners and herself to push me into an alleyway near where I lived and beat me up. I was coming home with black eyes, bruises, scratches and sometimes even bloody noses and still Mom didn’t believe me.
It had been a week since Robin had ambushed me when I was talking in the playground. For some reason Mr. Enliten called me into the classroom to talk.
“Felicity, myself and some other teachers have been thinking, we have done a little look at your work, done a little bit of research, and we have, well, found out, that…you’ve…well…got… Dyslexia.” said Mr.Enliten, his eyes were full of kindness and warmth. I didn’t believe him at first, but then I saw he wanted to help me.
“OK.” I said, rather quietly.
“Felicity, you mustn’t worry. We will help you. You’re a bright girl. A lovely girl.”
I slipped out of the room. I’d heard of Dyslexia. It means that sometimes you might get your letters or your numbers the wrong way round. Mr.Enliten had already told my Mom. Still, I went outside and joined my friends. I could feel like someone, or somebody was watching me. I turned. 
“Felicity, we like you now ‘cos your not getting told off anymore,” said all of girls at the equipment area.
Robin’s followers and Robin were still worrying me. That night I hurried home and literally ran past the usual beating up alleyway. Then the next week all the boys said they liked me and thought I was a very nice girl! Then that was the best week ever. Still of course trying to run away from Robin would so not work. Robin grabbed me by the arm just as I was walking up the driveway.
“Hey, strangely different girl.” she said. I don’t now why, but my eyes suddenly welled with tears. “…and look! She’s crying!”
Suddenly all Robin’s followers came out from behind trees and cars. Robin threw me to the ground and kicked me hard.
“LEAVE ME ALONE!” I yelled desperately. My chest (where Robin had kicked me) was throbbing. It hurt so much. The pain was like losing friends. Friends that weren’t worth losing. I suddenly realised that everyone from school was there watching. Them? Why on earth would they do that! I looked further into the crowd of people… and… there… I could see… three sad faces. Lol… C…and…Abi. After a while people started to speak, not droop.
“Robin why… don’t… you, well… like… leave her alone?”
“Yeah, can’t you see she doesn’t like it?”
Suddenly three familiar voices started talking. “Yeah, Robin. All these years you’ve made us scared. From… well…you.”
“Abi’s right Robin. Leave her alone,” said C.
“Uh-huh. Leave her alone. Leave us all alone.”
“B-u-u-t…” Robin started but trailed of. “I mean, like… look, she’s crying!”
“Well of course she is, Robin! You made her!”
“Robin, you’re… well we’ve never brought ourselves to say this… Robin… well… you’re……mean.”
“Oi! You there!” Came a familiar voice… Mom! “Leave my daughter alone!” Mom ran out and pulled me from Robin’s grip. Robin stammered and ran away, faster and faster until she was nothing but a dot miles and miles away. Her gooners did likewise.
 “I’m so proud of you!” said my mom, as we walked in the door. “…about the boys and Robin, I believe you now, and after the school holidays, I will step straight into that school. I can’t believe it! It’s horrible! It’s mean! Why it’s more than mean! It’s disgraceful! I’m going to go to your head soon. What’s his name? Oh, yes Mr. Flint, I’m going to tell Mr. Flint what they’ve done to you!”  
“Thanks,” I said, baffled.
Now every body trusts me and likes me because I did the right thing. And when you wait longer for things, they’re always better.


Thursday, 19 July 2012

Take Cover!

I can remember when I was a teen and getting big into music how excited I'd be about new releases. My mate Woodsy would fire me up and we'd nip out of school at lunchtime, bike down to town, and count out the 10p pieces to buy the new LP/12 inch/single. Downloads and CDs have never replicated that for me. I loved the covers as much as the music--in my earliest music loving years it was the album covers of Iron Maiden and Marillion that did it especially.

So it is with comparable enjoyment that I can unveil the cover for Darkness Rising Book Two- Quest. This is the second part of Volume 1 of the Prism series, and it boasts a fresh edit, a new prologue (with Torm) and an extended epilogue. I might post the extra material on the Nurolia website, for those who bought the original undivided Volume 1 which was available between Sept 11 and March 12.

The cover was done by Ceri Clark, an author previously at FIBP. Ceri is independent now, but is doing some stuff with a new label called Myrddin (appropriate as she's Welsh!). She has a fantastic style and technique and we set out to make the cover link with that of Book One (Chained). Hence we used the same model, but altered the background and colour tone to make it distinct.

The full dustcover/ wrap around displays a coastal scene with a castle/city atop a rocky outcrop. This is representative of Goldoria City, which is where the finale of the book is situated. The book begins with Emelia, wounded by the demonic humour being taken by Jem, Hunor and Orla to the sanctuary of Master Ten. En route they bump into some old acquaintances from Book One. A parallel story arc follows Aldred, Baron Enfarson's son, as he investigates both Hunor and the murder of a maiden in Eviksburg.

To me the real star of the book is Vildor, Lord of the Ghasts, whose scenes in the Dead City provide most of my quotes for Twitter's Sample Sunday. Having just written Prism book 5 (first half of volume 3) its great knowing where the story takes his character.

The book is pencilled for release in early August. I'll update on here, and on the World of Nurolia website here! Until then bask in the glory of Ceri's work, and check out her website at

Friday, 13 July 2012

'Yes it is, not that it be...'

I’ve just finished reading the astonishingly good ‘ThreeHearts and Three Lions’ by Poul Anderson. It’s a book that was writtencontemporaneously to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but unlike the rather sombreprose of the master it fair bounces along. The gags are funny, the charactersgreat and I can’t recommend it enough. Yet there was one bit of it that irkedme, and that was one of the character’s dialogue.

The character in question is a dwarf (Hugi) whom Holder, themain guy, picks up on the way. He’s a Scottish dwarf and, given this book setthe standard for many fantasy works since, I have no issue with that.Unfortunately the author writes his dialogue in mock-Scottish style. I cansense the cringing through my keyboard already. For example:

‘Mon, where’ve ye been a while?’ cried Hugi. ‘We’ve beenfretted sick o’er ye. Na word or track past the lake’s edge, till ye returnsoaked and reeking o’ wicked places.’

‘Noo we maun galumph quick’s may be oot o’ this ill realm,’ gruntedHugi. ‘Sooner we’re in honest kands, better oor chances be o’ living to bragaboot this dunce’s trip.’

You get the idea! WTF? Or in Irish dialect ‘Wa thi feck?’Why on earth do writers do it? Throw in a little dialect, perhaps a fewcolloquialisms appropriate to the character, but whole speeches sounding likesomeone taking the piss? It brings to mind Dick Van Dyke’s attempts at aCocker-nee accent, which must have made the Kray twins put a bounty out on Dickback in the sixties. Or Russel Crowe’s unforgivable attempts at regionaldialects in the last Robin Hood romp, which were a whistle-stop tour of everyaccent in the British Isles.

But you can kind of pardon films. Actors are, after all,human and not all are nutters like Gary Oldman (who insisted on specific voicecoaches for his eastern European accent in Dracula, and still sounded like a camp Hammerhorror vampire). And it’s well acknowledged that most of the US think the UK islike a Sherlock Holmes film, all smog, cobbles and rowdy taverns (Halifax ISlike that, but most of the UK isn’t...). From authors, though, I expect adifferent standard. And for fantasy authors I expect the best. Why? Becausethose of us who write in it have to battle through years of prejudice againstit being a succession of Tolkien rip-offs, plump with dwarven singing, orcsa-chopping and wizards with pointy hats. And the mock-Shakespearean dialoguesdon’t help (my personal opinion is that only one character in the whole offiction can use phrases like ‘Forsooth’, ‘Verily’ and ‘Varlet’ and that isThor... no one else... ‘I say thee nay!’).

It’s like there’s a covert style-guide brought out by amateurauthors...

Step 1: add –eth and –est to verbs in a strangeunpredictable fashion. Geteth me?

Step 2: extra (silent) E’s will augmente the realisme ofthine worke.

Step 3: Reverse thine order of nouns and verbs. E,g. ‘Verilythe Emperor most darke shall be banished thus.’ ‘Smite the ogre foul, I beseechthee.’

Step 4: it’s ‘Ye’  and‘Thee’ not ‘The’

Step 5: Sling around a few medieval terms... ‘thee’ ‘thy’‘thou’ ‘art’ ‘doth’ ‘mine’ (not ‘my’ as in ‘Taste mine war-hammer, orcish scum’)

No-one minds one or two, and to be fair it’s perpetuated bythe UK Touriste industry in places like York andChester (Ye Olde Fucking Tea Shoppe, my Wife ofBathe sized-arse!). But authors really screw their books up with it. Wags likePratchett and Eddings mock its usage in their books

Oddly I don’t mind modern slang in dialogue, or evenreasonable use of apostrophes in regional dialect, or even use of the word‘feck’ in Roddy Doyle’s books. It’s the bogus medieval dialogue that reallygets to me. And pirates that say ‘Arrrhhh’ a lot (unless it’s in response to acannonball blowing their leg off).

So I’ll leave you with the classic sketch from Blackadder 2in which Lord Blackadder goes in search of the wise-woman....

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Hello Kidney!

I was asked the other day why I didn't blog about serious stuff, you know, the sort of thing that I do at work. The answer's kind of obvious- that's work, that's what I do during the day, this is fun, this is what I do when I'm relaxing.

Nonetheless it did give me a thought, and that was 'What could I blog about related to work, the wouldn't be too gory, too boring, too technical or too confidential?'

Tough one. I split my time between Intensive Care (synonym 'Expensive Scare') which isn't renowned for laughs, and anaesthesia, which someone said is 99% boredom, 1% sheer OMG. I do have other stuff that I do, related to patient safety, management, education and so forth. And then it occured to me I could write a bit about organ donation.

Organ donation is a strange topic. I say this because it always reminds me how difficult it is to remember when I didn't know about something. Let me elaborate. Before I became a doctor I was a fairly astute kid. I watched plenty of TV, read a lot, was into science (and comics, and DnD, yeah, yeah, get to the point). What exactly, back then, did I think organ donation was?

I had almost no concept of what it entailed. I'd seen donor cards in the GPs surgery, and perhaps adverts in papers. I can recall comedy sketches about it (the bouncing heart in Airplane; the organ collectors in Monty Python's Meaning of Life). But what did it involve? Were these organs you donated when you were dead popped out days after? Weeks after? How were they put back in? Who actually needed them?

It's a very difficult thing as a doctor specialising in an area to try and think back to the days of not knowing what we know. It'd be the same for anyone who dedicates themselves to an area (whether law, education, IT, whatever). Of course, things are a little different now. In the 70s and early 80s computers were basic, and you had a homeopathic choice of TV channels. Books were the main source of info, which required forewarning and access. Now even the 10 year olds have smart phones, and Google has a frightening amount of power. Patients are far more informed, irrespective of social class and intellect. It makes the job bothe easier and harder when you are discussing topics like organ donation with them, because information doesn't always come with quality controls!

My first real experience of organ donation was as a registrar in Birmingham, about a decade ago now. Prior to this I had a mixture of ignorance and indifference, not really being aware of the benefits. In a sense I thought there was a ghoulish-ness to the process. Then I worked on a paediatric ICU, followed by  liver and cardiac ICUs, and saw the patients in need of transplants. It's one thing to be told statistics; it's another thing entirely to see an eight year old dwindling day on day praying for a liver transplant.

So now I'm the Clinical Lead for organ donation at my small trust in Manchester, and its part of my job to try and raise awareness in the hospital about it. Because most doctors are like I was pre- my experience in Birmingham-- a little bit indifferent and a little wary. And if doctors are like that, you can see why the average Joe is even more so. About 30% of the UK population is on the Organ Donor Register, and about 800K join each year. Soberingly in the UK there are almost 8000 patients awaiting a transplant, ten times that in the USA. Most of these are kidney transplants.500 people die each year in the UK whilst waiting, of all ages. About half of donations in the UK come from living donors (kidneys obviously) which is an amazing figure.

But these are numbers, and seeing the benefit of transplants, I can say that I'm really pleased that my career has taken me in that direction. It's an amazing thing to be part of.

Serious post over... click on the link if you wanted to find out more about transplants and donation in the UK here or in the US right here.

Next time I'll be back into the realm of fantasy, but in the interim here is one of the comedy clips on how it DOESN'T HAPPEN (and feel free to contact me if you wanted more info on any of the above).

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Byrne, baby, Byrne

Of the dozens of influences that have snuck into my writing (and by that I mean not just the published fantasy stuff, but the unpublished sci-fi and contemporary fiction pieces) comics have to be a major part.

Those who read my sporadic blog posts will have ascertained this, from my posts on Stan Lee, Superhero movies and Bryan Talbot. There are plenty of literary comic examples which would make the comic  devotee nod with agreement: Gaiman, Moore, Morrison, Wagner, Ennis. But (bar the 2000AD writers) most of those I loved as I matured. The stand out for me as a kid was John Byrne.

I got thinking about this after two 3 star reviews for my book on Amazon US. They were fair reviews- both liked the book, but commented that it jumped about a bit and spent time on characters who didn't seem to feature much. Part of that is the fact Volume One, of which book 1 Chained is only the first half of, was written as a larger book and then divided. But, to be fair, the other reason is that's my style.

I always loved stories where minor plot lines  and characters were introduced, hinting at a larger future sub-plot, which developed later and linked in with the main plot threads. The comics author and artist John Byrne was a master of it, and my love of his work in the 70/80s has stayed with me since.
I first recall reading Byrne during his X-men run with Chris Claremont. Inked by Terry Austin his style was awesome: he defined the look of what was to become the most popular Marvel title of the decade. Such great stories then too: Dark Phoenix, Days of Future Past, Arcade, Alpha Flight, Prometheus. Stunning. I read both US and UK reprints back then, so also caught the reprints of Iron Fist, plus his Captain America work (Union Jack and Baron Blood sticks in my brain).
So when Byrne took on Fantastic Four I was really pleased- I started collecting them around the time they went into the Negative Zone, catching up the older issues as I went. To me the FF run (perhaps 60 issues) was his greatest work. I adored what he did with the characters. The sub-plots, the acknowledgment of the rich supporting characters and prior stories. He loved both the cosmic tales (Galactus especially was done well by him) and the human (Sue loosing the baby springs to mind).

It had a huge influence on me. I compared all other writers to his style, and felt few came up to scratch. His art was excellent, irrespective of the inkers, and when he wrote Alpha Flight I was hooked on that as well (though my brother bought that one). It had the same style- the sub-plots, the evolving story-lines, almost soap opera in style.
I followed Byrne for a while after FF and Alpha Flight. He was becoming a bit of a victim to his own success. West Coast Avengers was good, but he tried to screw around previous writer's work too much; Hulk didn't work for me (Hulkbusters...?). When he bounced to DC I bought a few, but I never liked re-boots and never really liked DC heroes.

My tastes in comics changed around then, becoming more interested in mature readers titles. I lost track of JB, although I saw his New Men in Forbidden Planet the other week and was tempted.
His influence is obviously double-edged. When you read his work in one go the plots work great, building over time. If you read them as isolated issues then it's frustrating. My Prism fantasy series will run to six books, and when read together all the little strands knit together. I think of a few fantasy writers who do the same: George RR Martin and Erikson are two. And to be fair, not everyone likes that style. But I enjoy it, and it seems to work for me. And I have JB's influence to thank for it.
Perhaps I need a new sub-genre, like Space Opera, but fantasy style. "Soap Fantasy" comes to mind, but that sounds a little too late-night naughty TV channel for me....any (clean) suggestions welcome.