Search This Blog

Friday, 23 March 2012

Your adventure ends here...

Chain of thought is a funny thing. I was driving to work t'other day, toxifying the beautiful countryside with my gas guzzling SUV (fantasising I was a member of CTU from 24) when an old Pulp song came on the stereo. The song was called 'Something Changed' from the album Different Class. In essence it's about what would have happened if Jarvis and his lass had never met- would she be with someone else instead? What if he'd decided to go and have a beer or stay in bed instead of going out and first meeting his missus.
I'd actually bought it for my wife back when it came out as we were both Pulp fans and we'd just started going out- me in Scarborough, her in Stoke. It seemed to capture the sense we had at the time that this was more than just a short term thing- and 16 years later I suppose I can say we were right about that! (picture me getting home tonight to find that she's eloped with the pool attendant Juan...)

So onwards my brain goes and I start thinking how much life is like a Fighting Fantasy book. Man, I loved those books. I can remember the first one I bought- The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. I was probably 10 and I'd seen the DnD stuff that my mate Nick's older brothers used and been eager to play it, but our attempts were chaotic as we didn't really 'get' it. So when I found this book on holiday in Scotland I thought that it was the next best thing.
I must have spent all the time that I didn't ski that week playing the book. I had no dice so I used ripped pieces of paper numbered 1-6. I mapped it all out. Loved it. Loved the nagging uncertainty of choice within it.

Citadel of Chaos (with the bloody Gangees in it) and Forest of Doom (Yaztromo rocks) were bought on return to Leeds and then I was an addict. Me and Dan (my brother) must have got 20 or so of the series, plus the spin-offs like Sorcery. Some other series tried to emulate them (like Lone Wolf) but usually they just complicated it to try make it more grown up. WTF? It was supposed to be a gung-ho slaughter fest- with increasingly graphic endings ( Demon bird lays eggs in your brain...your adventure ends here...). I nursed what I thought was a dark secret as I read the books, always keeping my thumb at the prior entry lest the choice I'd made resulted in my arse being consumed by a frisky ghoul...turned out everyone did it (the thumb part, not the arse-chomping).

Inevitably I moved on to, well, every role-playing game available from 1984-1990. The books fell by the way-side but I can't forget the buzz of playing them for those early days and the wonderful illustrations.

(As an aside I found them in my bro's garage the other month and have bestowed them upon my 9 year old- and so it begins again...)

So is life like Fighting Fantasy? I ponder my life as I stumble into middle-age and, like Pulp, think about those significant choices and indeed some less significant. Where would I be if I'd chosen -pursue your love of comics and go to art college (turn to p345)? rather than -decide that blood and brains are more fun, train as a doctor (turn to p132)? Well I'd probably be a good sight poorer, probably not as happy, and I wouldn't have met my wife.
Other choices- which university would you like to spend 5 years drinking at? If it is Leeds go to p109, if Cardiff go to p222, if London your adventure is over. Such choices ripple through your life- if I'd gone to Cardiff or London would I live and work where I am now? If me and Amanda had chosen to stay in Australia would we have kids..the same kids?

It gets mind-blowing at times. I wonder just how free some of those choices were? Now my choices are constrained heavily by family, debt, money, career, that weigh like Marley's chains around me (OK that's aren't a chain, although kids do limit your options more than a rabbit did). But even back in those formative years how much freedom did I truly have? My choice of career was undoubtedly influenced by my mum being a physio and me spending time as a kid hanging around hospitals. It didn't dictate my choice- but there was bias within me. Your choice of spouse is hardly totally random- its not an episode of Blind Date after all. It's like the entries in the Fighting Fantasy Book of Life have some clue, perhaps they're in italics or bold.

And without being morbid one of them will have "Your adventure end here" when you turn the page. I've had one or two scrapes over the years that have almost ended on those entries (Car engine on fire...that's a great story...). And sadly, and I know this from random sad shit that happens at work on Intensive Care, you don't always have a choice about turning a page and can't keep your thumb at the last entry.

But when I look back I've chosen my adventure well so far. I've had a fair few 5s and 6s with my dice rolls and beat some tough monsters. I've got a full character sheet, with a vorpal wife +5, three Kids of Exhausting Fun, a house almost as good as Baba Yaga's Hut and a Career of Extra-Healing that generally works well.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Roaring Mouse

We are all readers before we are writers. Was that in an Abba song? No, maybe that was something about dancing before I could walk... but I digress. First and foremost to be decent writers (something I among many aspire to) we need to read. Not just our genre but everything... books, comics, magazines, cereal packets (got that one off the missus).

To this end I started reviewing books. First on Amazon and Completely Novel, then for Fantasy Book Review and finally I've decided for my own blog. But as this one is busy enough I've decided to run it as a parallel blog...

So, the Roaring Mouse...

Why the title? My remit is to showcase indie, small press and self-pub books as the rest of the literary world gets enough cyber-minutes from snarkier reviewers than I. Inevitably it will have a fantasy-SF bent, as I'm that way inclined, but I'll also shove in some horror and thrillers too. The title is a play on the comedy the Mouse That Roared, which we all recall as Peter Sellers in a variety of roles. The analogy is that small press and self-pub can carry the same quality and literary impact as anything the big publishers decided to carry and, indeed, are probably less likely to follow trends of twinkly vampires and magicians at school.

So please jump across to the sister blog and follow and comment and hopefully read!

The Roaring Mouse

Monday, 12 March 2012

Liebster (part 2)

It was the Lieb- thing that got me pondering. The name rattled around in my brain box for a while, like a .22 calibre slug in an episode of CSI, then sprang out not once … but twice.

Two Liebers… but spelt slightly differently, which have had a major impact on my writing and life in general. Now, were I a cool man then I’d be saying it was Jerry Leiber, who wrote ‘Hound Dog’, ‘Stand by Me’ and ‘Stuck in the middle with you.’

But coolness has never been a label attached to my Gandhi-like torso…

The first is an obvious one…it’s Fritz Leiber. When I started playing DnD in the early Eighties I looked around for books that would give me inspiration to write adventures for the motley crew that I played with. LOTR, as worthy a book as it is, is not one to dip in and out of or indeed just flick through. I needed something a bit lighter and more action and monster orientated. This was pre-Dragonlance and I initially went for Robert E Howard’s Conan, which was fun. But it lacked something, and that something was what I found in Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

Leiber’s heroes were far more rounded than the muscle-bound Conan and the stories carried a great blend of humour, grittiness and cynicism. Both characters were essentially rogues, like fantasy Han-Solos, stealing, fighting, drinking and carousing. They wheeled and dealed in the lands of Nehwon, primarily in the greatest fantasy city of all… that of Lankhmar. Mouser was my favourite- a mix of thief and amateur sorcerer with a sizeable dose of cynicism in him, who none the less had intermittent bouts of kindness well up from him.

The Swords sequence comprised six books and through the series the characters matured. As a RPG they gained extra kudos as they featured in Deities and Demigods, which I think was how I first came upon them.

Given the current craze in rekindling vintage fantasy I’m hoping that these two will get a look in.

The second Lieber? This one is less obvious…Stan Lee, or Stanley Martin Lieber, must be known to everyone on the planet with a pulse as the creator of Marvel legends. I cannot emphasise enough what a total influence Stan Lee’s creations had on me as a kid and my desire to create and write. In the late Seventies Marvel produced a bunch of British imprints of their US titles and also reprints of the classic Sixties stories in ‘pocketbooks.’ I was thrilled to see that they are printing them once more through Panini. The lee-Kirby Fantastic Four remains my favourite ever comics for so many reasons. The stories were so over the top, so grandiose and so imaginative. This was the era of the Silver Surfer, Galactus, the Inhumans, Skrulls and Kree, Annhilus, Blastaar and, of course, Doctor Doom… how only Jack Kirby could draw him. And the prose…aw, man. Never have there been such excesses of adjectives and exclamation marks! The use of ‘true believer’ and ‘pilgrim’ conveyed a feeling of being in a special club that was so lacking in DC comics and the hundredth re-boot of Superman. It was like they didn’t give a crap about anyone’s opinion, they just created and had a laugh.

(Grant Morrison did a take-off of Sixties FF comics in a Doom Patrol story called ‘And men shall call him hero.’ It was based on a Lee-Kirby story ‘This man…this monster,’ and had Doom Patrol done as ‘The legion of the Strange’ teaming up with another super group against a Galactus take-off, complete with OTT captions. It trod the fine line between homage and piss-take).

It’s often joked about now but I loved it as a kid and I love it still. The sheer scope of what they did was unlike anything I’d ever read. It fired the imagination far more than any Star Wars or Star Trek ever could and showed me that really the universe was the limit (well, the Microverse and the Negative Zone were, I suppose).

So my own Liebsters should go to the two famous Leibers/Liebers that still influence and inspire me to this day.

Liebster (part one)

So there's this thing called a Liebster blog. Essentially someone who likes your blog, who has been nominated themselves, nominates you and posts a link to your insane musings on their own blog. The only criteria is that you have to be a sort of blogging Billy-no-mates, like Charlie Brown in Peanuts.

So that's me.

So now I can proudly display the Liebster logo and acknowledge CJ Listro for nominating me. CJ's blog is called Sarcasm and Lemons ( ) and is a fantastic mix of opinion, reviews and features. She recently hosted SM Boyce (whose Lichgate series buzzes around Twitter like a bee drunk on nectar) and she's revising her book Dark Moon 1: The Ward of Shadow. She also has a great picture with this blue thing on her face which looks like a sort of butterfly (and oddly like Psylocke from the X-men c1988). So nip over and bestow great love upon her!

So my nominations? Crikey. In no particular order, as they say at awards ceremonies...

Pauline's Fantasy Reviews is a great site which does what it says on the tin. She reads and reviews at a merciless rate and pulls no punches. Great site that deserves more followers.

Fresh Pot of Tea is a blog by Alison DeLuca who writes astonishingly good Steampunk. It's jammed with features, nuggets of life and stuff about writing and always gives me a chuckle.

Losing Sanity is a blog by Johanna Garth which is a constant chuckle. She has a great way of breaking situations down for their amusement value.

Kate Jack's Blog is a fantastic site which mixes shorts stories, author interviews and opinion. Kate is an author I met whilst on Authonomy. Really recommend this one.

Talking to Myself is Stephen Winterflood's blog. He had this great angle on things which makes you chuckle with his mixture of grumpiness and humour. He's also a great writer.

So that's the famous five. I'll be adding a second post onto this inspired by the Lieb- part of the blog title....

Saturday, 3 March 2012

The new bogeyman

When I was a kid I think I had a traditional set of fears. Way, way back it was monsters, although ironically I love them now and spend all my spare time writing about them (agreeably people hacking their heads off). Then it moved onto separation related things- you know, like being abducted or losing my folks- that sort of thing. I had the Dr Who behind the sofa fears. My doctor was Tom Baker and the first season I really remember was the wonderful run of gothic horror style episodes from seasons 13 to 15 (Pyramids of Mars, Talons of Weing Cheng, the Fendhal etc). One that especially sticks was the Horror of Fang Rock, with the Rutan blobbing up the stairs of the lighthouse. Petrified!

And it's funny seeing the fears coming out in my kids. Yet there's an oddity or two that is curious to think of. First of all the two eldest (now 9 and 8) had very different ones. Charlie- the dreamer- has always been monsters and imaginary horrors until recently. He was terrified when he was 4 and we took him to a Halloween party- clung to me like a limpet all night (and I look like a vampire on my good days). He's been afraid of ghosts in his room, monsters outside, scarecrows on Dr Who, and weird stuff like being turned into a doll or converted into a drawing (all very Tales of the Unexpected). Of late, he's got more rational- now he's afraid of being abducted. Fair enough.

Evelyn- the pragmatic one- was always afraid of dangerous animals (although you could call fear of sharks in Devon a touch irrational) and disease. I've no idea where this last one comes from but she is seriously hypochondrical at 8. Her love of Horrible Histories fuels her concern about the return of the Plague. Perhaps she knows about an Al'Quaeda attack we don't...

But the best one yet is the new bogeyman. Now I was never afraid of the bogeyman, because he was never on Dr Who and the comic by Raymond Briggs made him a green joke. But it would seem that there is a new bogeyman in town...and he's called the Hacker.

Sorry... The Hacker.

At first I thought it was a mad axeman chopping up naughty children and keeping them in jars in his basement in a Roald Dahl type fashion. But no, it's a cyber-fear. They all discuss it at school, when they talk about kids social network sites like Moshi Monsters and Club Penguin. The Hacker is a cyber-bogey man who creeps around the internet destroying your Moshi Monster. He can be anywhere, lurking on the fringes of your screen... My son came home one day and told me that a kid at school had seen him! Anticipating he would be an acne ridden Speed Metal fan with aviator shades on I questioned further. No, my lad says, he's been seen by his mate Jacob actually on Moshi Monsters. He's a being made from shadow that slunk across the screen and gave the Moshlings a good kicking.
(Further questioning elucidated that this was the same Jacob who told Charlie his hand had been bitten off by a shark and replaced with a rubber one...).

The kids were freaked, avoiding going on the computer without me nearby (not a bad thing) and blaming any computer problem on the new bogeyman. They discussed him at school, worried about him at night and generally used him as an excuse not to go to sleep at lights out.

The Hacker! WTF. We are truly in a new age my friends when the scariest thing is an amorphous entity on the inter-net killing virtual pets. The kids think of dangerous viruses as ones that mash your hard drive up, not ones that give you meningitis. They fret about their on-line pets when they forget to feed them. It's bonkers.

Then I think about the hours I spend tapping away on computers at night. I think about all the tweets I send and jokes I share with people I've never really met. I think of hours of my life drained by the vampyric Facebook. And am I surprised by the new fears of my kids?

So I did the only thing I could. Told them that statistically they're far more likely to be run over by a car than abducted, eaten by monsters, blown up by a bomb, crash in an aeroplane, swallowed by a shark or rotted by the Plague.

Now they're afraid of cars.