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Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Backlist Bonanza #1

Four of my backlist titles are lined up for launch, and the first of them is now up and available as an Amazon exclusive; Nightmare, with Angel will be followed over the coming weeks by ebook editions of White Bizango, The Spirit Box, and Red, Red Robin.

Nightmare, with Angel is the manhunt/Eurothriller that earned me the 'finest British writer of bestselling popular fiction to emerge since John le Carre' quote from John Williams in The Independent. It's been used by my publishers ever since and no one's ever heard me protesting. But I don't think anyone's ever sought out le Carre's opinion on the matter, either.

It's set in the months following German reunification. A while ago I posted an account of the research behind the book; if you weren't around for that, here it is again (or you can skip straight to it and find the book here).

Nightmares and Angels

Just after the Berlin Wall came down, I threw a bag into the back of the Volvo and drove down to the Hamburg ferry. Not quite as spontaneously as that, of course. I had a plan. I'd lined up meetings with Hamburg's Sex Crimes division and detectives in the Criminal Investigation department of the Dussseldorf police. I had places to look at, questions to ask, and a date with the Senior Pathologist in the morgue at Heinrich Heine University.

But in the most ambitious part of the trip, I headed East. Right across Germany, through the border, and into territory that had, only months before - weeks, even - been sealed off, self-contained, an enigma to the West.

For someone raised on spy fiction, this was no small deal. In Cold War mythology, East Germany was enemy territory. In reality the border was a zone of tension, and people died trying to cross it.

What I found was empty checkpoints, broken barriers, watchtowers with their windows stoned-in... there were concrete blocks that had been placed to prevent any vehicle from making a dash through, forcing the car into a zigzag path that no longer served any purpose. This once-fearsome locale now felt like a corner of an abandoned airfield, already becoming overgrown.

And what I found on the other side resembled the Britain of my earliest memories. It was as if time had stopped in the 1950s, which I suppose it pretty much had. Fields, farms, and villages were untouched. Where there was industry, it was like a concentrated dump of poison in an otherwise bucolic landscape. My most powerful visual memory is of the bright yellow hillsides of oilseed rape, unnatural in their intensity, a sight that always takes me back not only to the place, but to that precise time of the year.

I don't know what they must have made of the Volvo. At least half of the cars I saw on the road were Trabants, those tiny two-stroke polluters with bodyshells made of cotton waste and resin. The Volvo was a red 480 ES, one of those sports coup├ęs with which they sometimes surprise the market, pictured here as it appeared in Bryan Talbot's The Tale of One Bad Rat. Driving around in it made me feel like Commander Straker in UFO.

I covered my checklist of sights and places, I gathered atmosphere and detail. It was all for a novel called Nightmare, with Angel.

I stayed in some odd places; one night in an inn where they kindly but apologetically gave me a tiny stockroom behind the bar with a bed in it, another in a workers' subsidised country vacation home, vast as the Overlook Hotel and just as empty. Along the way I found everything that I needed for the novel, and much that I'd never imagined. It didn't all find its way in, but it all made a difference. That's research for you.

I look back at some of the stuff I've done in the course of my career and wonder how I had the nerve. I had no one to guide me, I'd made no advance reservations. I didn't even speak any German. I did have a map and a phrasebook. I wasn't a complete idiot.

Here's how I began my pitch for the novel:
Imagine this.

You've got a nine year old girl who lives alone with her father in a big old house by the sea. Every day she looks more like her mother, and her mother was a tramp. Because of this her father all but ignores her, the woman who keeps house in the daytime also keeps her distance, and the child has to face a solitary life with only a scavenged photograph of her mother for comfort and a wishful image of what it might be like to be loved again. Her father isn't a hard man; but he's a mess, he's losing his grip, and he doesn't seem to see how he's losing his daughter as well. When he notices her, he's impossibly strict. But most of the time he's absorbed by his own bitterness, and he hardly notices her at all. Her days are long, and as bleak and empty as the coastal landscape around the house where she roams. With her father seemingly lost to her, she needs a father‑figure to take his place; and on the day that she falls into one of the big sea‑drains by the town dump and has to be rescued by a stranger, she thinks that she's found one.

His name is Ryan. He lives in a rented shack by the railway line and makes a living however he can; odd jobs, casual work, fixing up abandoned appliances, cleaning out aluminium cans and bagging them for scrap. He gets her out, he takes her home and, without waiting for thanks, he walks away.

But it isn't going to be so easy for him. 
So the story that swept all the way to the East began closer to home, on a part of the British seacoast that I knew quite well. Sunderland Point is one of those places that can only be reached by a causeway at low tide. Strange, desolate and charming, it's one of the most atmospheric places I know. At the time I was experimenting with one of those panoramic cameras that took a picture like a school photo. It was a format that somehow suited the landscape.

A couple of years later I traded in the sports coupe for a sensible family wagon. Lots of legroom for the rear seats, plenty of luggage space, and room for the dogs.

This year, I traded back.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Remember This?

Ah, Saturn 3. While I won't make any claims for its quality, it did play a crucial part in my early career - I novelised it during the ITV strike of 1979, and the experience was key to my going freelance a few months later. Until then I'd fitted my writing in around the day job, but this 75-day trial run persuaded me that I could both make it work and make a living. I was 25. Older me looks back in horror.

But it worked out, and the novelising gigs got me through some of the low spots. They could be good, fast money for the amount of time and effort involved. For a young writer it was hard to resist the impulse to improve on the material, to add scenes and characters and story to make 'a proper book'. On a couple of occasions (Silver Dream Racer, Warriors' Gate) I had my chain jerked and was told to restore my flight of literary fancy to something closer to the script.

There was a certain joy to the work, like a head-clearing run in the rain. Exercising those professional muscles, and just enjoying the exercise. I think that was a youth thing. I'd hate it now.

As well as these titles, I novelised one of my own radio serials and my two Doctor Who scripts. Regardless of the fact that the raw materials were already provided, a decent and professional job could put you on an editor's radar; Colin Murray, who commissioned Saturn 3 for Sphere, then bought my first real novel.

My slickest gig, I reckon, was the two Kids from Fame books, based on the '80s TV series. Twenty-six scripts arrived from MGM; the publisher's idea was that they'd make two books of 13 chapters each, one chapter per episode. Which clearly couldn't work because it would just be a compilation of synopses. So I split the scripts into two piles and combed through each, gathering elements for two new meta-stories. In 21 days I turned in two 50,000 word novels and picked up £4,000. They were published under the name of Lisa Todd; she got fanmail from kids in dance class, and I had to respond in character.

That was the most I ever made on a novelising job. Sometimes a deal could include a royalty - none of mine ever did, but a royalty on a tie-in with a movie hit could bring an unexpected payday. One fellow-scribe once told me how a Kevin Costner book-of-the-film paid for his house.

Are they endangered, or are novelisations actually extinct? I know that tie-ins and spinoffs still flourish, not to mention the rise of fan fiction to an industrial scale. But the script-into-book format, which was once the only way to relive and keep a souvenir of the viewing experience, was surely rendered obsolete by tape and DVD?

There's a fansite devoted to the making and appreciation of Saturn 3. You can find it here.

People have sidled up to me at conventions bearing a copy of the book. They expect I'll be embarrassed by it. I'm not.


Here's something I once said on the subject, in an interview some time back:

It was just a gig, back in 1979. I was working for a TV company and the union called a strike which went on for twelve weeks. My agent came up with the job and I took it. I got a copy of the screenplay and two non-professional snapshots, one of the robot costume and one of a tunnel set. That was it. The script was terrible. I thought it was bad then but in retrospect, and with experience, I can see how truly inept it was. That may not be Amis' fault. Years later I met someone who'd worked on the production and she told me that every script doctor in town had taken an uncredited swing at it, so it's impossible to say whether it was stillborn or had been gangbanged to death. I did the straight piece of journeyman work I'd been hired for, turned it in, and banked the money. It's not my book, by any definition. It's more like a housepainting job. That's all novelisations are.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Coming this summer

For the first time in Ebook form:

Monday, 3 February 2014

Some of my best friends are...

Dogged by controversy after last year's all-male shortlist, the organisers of the Arthur C Clarke awards have responded in 2014 by raising the profile of female authors, publishing a separate list of the submissions from women writers.

When I served on the World Fantasy Awards jury a couple of years back, I saw a number of comments that our shortlist's 'gender balance' was tipped in favour of male writers.

The truth of it is that works by women dominated the early stages of the selection process. The catch being that each judge favoured different ones. When it came to distilling our individual lists through several stages to find consensus, that very diversity thinned the field. No way were we working a gender bias, conscious or unconscious. It was hard enough just to push our way through to a result that our process could show to be fair.

And, bottom line, we were discussing the works, not the authors.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Twisted Histories

Out now from Snowbooks, this themed anthology of original fiction includes a new story of mine, Blame the French.

"A selection of spine-tingling tales from some of today's finest horror writers."

You can buy it here

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Social Notworking

Teenagers are turning their backs on Facebook, apparently, and deserting it in droves. Well, let me tell you young kids, I was way ahead of you.

There's an account out there with my name on it, but it's one that I very rarely check. You can spot it easily. It's the one with the profile picture of a hunting dog being rogered by a racoon.

All right, so I didn't enter into the whole Facebook thing too seriously. But what started as a handy way to share pictures on the move almost immediately began to run out of control. With as few as half a dozen friend connections, here was a thing that already demanded feeding, monitoring, and constant maintenance.

I saw what was coming. To quote the great Patsy Ann Noble, he who rides a tiger can never dismount. So I hopped off this particular beast before it could properly get going.

I won't say Facebook is entirely without its uses. When someone owes you money and is pleading dire financial straits, it's instructive to go online in lurker mode and see them brag about the new piece of kit to which they're in the process of treating themselves.

Then there's LinkedIn. I signed up to that one with no certain idea of what it was for. But with so many people with whom I'd worked already on there, I was persuaded that I'd surely find out.

I still haven't. The only activity seems to come from rapacious get-rich-quick types selling empty schemes and fist-pumping seminars, and people trying to break into the professional circles of complete strangers.

So if you've recently sent me a friend or connection request and I haven't replied, it's not because I want to ignore or insult you. I'm just not around.

Unless you owe me money. In which case I'm there in the shadows, watching you like a hawk.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

In Case You Hadn't Noticed, It's Christmas

If someone gave you an e-reader, I've scheduled a free promotion for some of the Amazon backlist titles on Boxing Day. Click on the covers in the sidebar to find out which ones. But not until then, of course.

I'm not being cute over it, I really don't remember which ones I landed on.

Oh, and a Happy New Year.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

In Gethsemane

For this weekend, my favourite novella free to the Kindle.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Eleventh Hour Sizzle

Tidying up my hard drive, I found this. Because the CBS show was already under way when I joined, it was my first sight of what the team were doing.


Tuesday, 17 December 2013


Sandbaggers (The): The Complete SeriesI picked up the 3-season DVD boxed set and watched all of The Sandbaggers a while back, to find that it holds up brilliantly. If only all vintage TV could so well match our memories of it... the episodes are mastered from decently preserved tape, not telerecordings, and while the production values are standard for 70s studio-based drama, it's the writing and performances that give it real enduring quality.

My first agent was the Transworld editor responsible for dealing with writer/creator Ian Mackintosh over the series' novelisations, and he'd told her that he himself was a former Sandbagger. In a business filled with bullshitters, this seemed to chime with stories I was hearing of scripts being sent for vetting by some shady government department before production. Personally I'm inclined not to disbelieve it; Mackintosh's depiction of a credible bureaucracy, and the way in which he invests it with urgent dramatic life, hardly seems like a fantasist's first choice of material.

Long before the DVDs were available, I was in contact with a researcher from Kudos who was trying to track down VHS copies of Sandbaggers episodes. They served as part of the groundwork for the show that would become Spooks (MI5 in the US).

Still available from Network DVD.

Friday, 13 December 2013


A short story twofer, free to Kindle now and over this weekend.

Science Drama Awards

Just got the pix from Lisbon. This is me being...

I have no idea what I'm being.

But I'm thanking Sharon Bloom, Chris Farrer, Philippa Giles, David Richards, and the Silent Witness cast and crew.