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Monday 26 September 2016

Meanwhile at Fantasycon...

Just back from a weekend of frolics, wine and conversation at 2016's Fantasycon by the Sea in Scarborough, a town of shabby-chic Edwardian charm with a fantastic coastline and some, er, interesting after-dark streetlife. The Grand Hotel made for a highly sociable venue in a spectacular clifftop location. Dining options on the doorstep, and some fine autumn sunshine for those moments where you just had to take time out and wander. I had a great time meeting up with friends old and new.

There was no single dealers' room, as such, more a bazaar that spilled through small rooms and passageways off a corner of the main hall. I'm pretty sure I didn't get to see everything, but I did get my first-ever sighting of the new hardcover in its finished form. I don't even have my author copies yet, but PS Publishing regularly handles UK distribution of Subterranean titles and had rushed a stack of advance copies expressly for the convention. So, many thanks to all involved, with further thanks to those who bought out the stack!

A damn handsome piece of book production, if you ask me. I couldn't be more pleased. The hardcover editions of both The Kingdom of Bones (Shaye Areheart Books) and The Bedlam Detective (Crown) were something to behold, and this new title equals and, dare I say it, surpasses them. Subterranean also holds ebook rights for US territories, details of which can be found here. I'll have paperback news in due course.

poster art: Graham Humphreys
The weekend was rounded off with the news that Ellen Datlow's The Doll Collection won the British Fantasy Award for Best Anthology. 

I get to bathe in a little reflected glory because my story Heroes and Villains is in the book. That story was the basis of my short play Cheeky Boy, part of this theatrical event. You may recall me banging on about it somewhat earlier in the year.

Friday 23 September 2016

Shipping Now: The Authentic William James

The book's now shipping and preorders are being filled. They're preceded by an interview conducted by Gwenda Bond for Subterranean. It's
on the company's Facebook page; follow the link to see the whole thing.
Today we’re bringing you a fascinating new interview with Stephen Gallagher about how he created the character of investigator Sebastian Becker. Gallagher is a novelist, screenwriter and director specialising in contemporary suspense. His latest novel about Becker, special investigator to the lord chancellor’s visitor in lunacy, is The Authentic William James. It earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and we expect it to start shipping soon. Get your orders in now; you’re in for a treat whether you’re already a fan of the series or this is your entry point.

Gwenda Bond: Where did the idea for this series start?

Stephen Gallagher: I suppose the first seeds were sown when I was around twelve or thirteen and I answered an ad in the back pages of a Sexton Blake paperback...

Thursday 15 September 2016


Down by the British Museum in Bloomsbury runs Montague Street, a terrace of Georgian townhouses of the classic Upstairs/Downstairs kind. They're now mostly brass-plate offices and boutique hotels, and I can never walk along it without thinking of Charlie Grant.

Charles L to the literary world, Charlie to just about everyone who knew him. The Montague Street connection is tenuous - he and Kathryn stayed in one of those hotels after a British Fantasycon where Charlie was toastmaster, having been the previous year's Guest of Honour. It's just one of those details that evokes a host of other memories and (see what I'm doing here?) the evocative detail is what Charles L Grant, writer and anthologist, was all about.

The '80s was a great time to be in horror. Already a genre with a strong tradition, in the 80s it was pretty much rampant. Writers such as Ira Levin, Thomas Tryon, and John Farris had already begun to break down the wall between genre and the mainstream, and then Stephen King drove a tank through the breach.

I count myself hugely lucky to have been finding my feet at just the right time. Two personal landmark events stand out in my memory; one being my first sale to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, the other Charlie picking The Jigsaw Girl for Shadows 9. Publishers were mainly buying horror novels because they were making money. But if Charles L Grant bought your story, it was because he thought it was good.

Every field needs its controversies and ours was the Quiet Horror vs Splatterpunk debate. Unlike the Sad Puppies debacle it was an enriching and enjoyable hook for panel discussions, bar chats, fan writing... the question was basically over the relative merits of showing vs suggesting. Charles was widely acknowledged as Quiet Horror's Grand Master, both in his own fiction and in the influential Shadows anthology series on which he was editor. King praised his eminence as a creator of 'small-town horror', the form that's currently been so effectively mined and celebrated in Netflix's Stranger Things.

Many of those that I count among my 'cohort' have remained friends to this day. I only wish that Charlie, who left us on this day ten years ago, were still here among them.

Wednesday 7 September 2016

Abroad Thoughts from Home

This is probably the most niche blog post ever, but I wish I'd had access to something like it when the need first arose. It's the Idiots' Guide for a British writer joining the staff of a US TV show. How you land the gig is up to you. This is just about the admin.

What used to be a rarity is becoming more common. For the British writer it's almost invariably a sideways move following a notable success at home or as part of the package in the acquisition of a successful format. Freelanced scripts aren't unknown, but they're exceptional. As a rule American TV drama is staff-written and the writing staff all work on-site. For all you need to know about staffing and more, I can make no higher recommendation than the Children of Tendu podcast.

This is an ad-hoc list that I threw together for a friend who asked for some advice. It's not authoritative, or comprehensive, and I'm taking no responsibility for any errors or omissions.

If it happens for you - and I hope it may - it's a brilliant adventure, and maybe some of the following will help to smooth the process when the time comes.
  • If you supply material to the American market but stay resident in England, then you can do that with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) which means the IRS will leave you alone and you'll pay your taxes on the income as normal in the UK (UPDATE: I've been told that this has changed, and that you can now claim the exemption with your own country's tax ID. But make sure you check.).
  • BUT if you're on a TV staff then you'll relocate, most likely to LA (though some shows have writers' rooms in NY). The room is almost always in LA even if the show is shot in Atlanta, Toronto, or wherever.
  • For that you'll need an 01 visa (Alien of Extraordinary Ability) to get in, and a social security number to get paid.
  • For the visa I had to make an appointment at the US embassy to show my employment contract and provide evidence of past achievements. It wasn't anything horrendous, just a lot of faff in a tearing hurry. Shows are greenlit at short notice and staff up quickly, so you don't get much lead time.
  • My US employer hired a service in London to deal with my application and fast-track it through. I got my passport back at my hotel the evening before my flight!
  • The payroll company will want a social security number in order to start paying your salary. Once in LA you can apply for it in person. There's an office on Olive Avenue in Burbank. It can take a few weeks to come through as it has to go via Homeland Security. My income backed up while I was waiting.
  • You'll also need to provide your employer with a Certificate of Continuing Liability from HMRC, which basically says that despite working in the US you're still a UK resident and taxpayer. Without it they'll withhold Medicare and Social Security payments from your salary, and you won't be able to reclaim the money. I was completely unaware of this, and in that first year it cost me dear.
  • To work for any of the WGA-signatory production companies - which is all of the reputable ones - you'll need to be a member of the Writers' Guild of America. 
  • At one time any writer from Europe would be enrolled into the WGAEast, but that doesn't seem to be a hard and fast rule. There's no substantial difference between the branches. Existing members of the Writers Guild of Great Britain can have the joining fee waived.
  • Dues are paid quarterly. Your paid-up WGA membership will provide you with medical cover.
  • You'll find that most of your coworkers will have their salaries paid into a Loan Out Corporation or LLC. My experience here is limited. I just worked and got paid as an individual. As an expat I already had enough admin to contend with.
  • Once you have your SSN you're in the system and you'll have to file an annual return with the IRS and pay taxes on your US income. This is claimed as a tax credit against your UK liabilities, so you don't get taxed on the same money twice.
  • If you're working in California you'll be paying Federal Tax and California State Tax.
  • A friend of mine who worked in California for one year (not in the TV business) filed his year-end return using a program called Turbotax. I felt much safer having a US accountant do it. Having said which...
  • My first accountant had no experience with expats while I had none of the US tax system, which resulted in various misunderstandings and penalties. Now I'm with an outfit with expertise in the tax affairs of non-residents.
  • On arrival I booked into a motel for a couple of weeks and looked for longer-term accommodation while I was getting into the work. You can take your chances on Craigslist but the premiere resource for LA is westsiderentals.com. You can search their listings for free but to get contact details you have to register. 
  • I paid the modest fee and searched for a furnished guest house, which is generally self-contained accommodation attached to a bigger property. 
  • The search categories for a reasonable commute to the major studios are Santa Monica/Westside, Hollywood/West Hollywood, Studio City/San Fernando Valley.
  • But find out where your writers' room is going to be. Many productions set up their offices in a rented suite away from a studio lot.
  • Before heading out I booked a long rental on a car. For some reason it worked out cheaper doing it from the UK. Booking from here I got the Collision Damage Waiver included; had I done it on arrival that would have been an extra.
  • Alamo was offering the cheapest car rental at that time.
  • I don't know if it's still the case, but renting a Satnav as an extra came at some ridiculous price. I took my own with a US map preloaded, and it was invaluable.
Pay special attention to the Certificate of Continuing Liability. No one warned me and, as I said, it proved an expensive omission.

Sunday 4 September 2016

See a Dinosaur Eat a Cow. You Know You Want To.

Here's a film I'd never seen before, and have finally caught up with. I don't quite know what to make of it. As you might expect it's a B-movie through and through, but the production values took me by surprise. With the Mexican locations, and widescreen cinematography, its look is great.

Like the later Valley of Gwangi, it's based on an idea by Willis O'Brien. In fact, it's based on the same idea. The backroom genius of The Lost World and King Kong had a hand in the script but none in the special effects, which is entirely the wrong way around.

It's a cowboys-and-monster movie. Apparently English and Spanish-language versions were shot back-to-back. In places it lapses into colourful travelogue but, to be honest, you're grateful for the distraction. Unless you're a fan of ranch boundary disputes it's a long, long wait for the dinosaur action we've bought in for. And when it comes...

Well, what the hell. It's called The Beast of Hollow Mountain and we're not here because we mistook it for the Tarkovsky.

You know what they say - "If the cooking in this house doesn't meet your standards, try lowering your standards."

(Re that trailer, and just for the avoidance of doubt - no, there is no such thing as a 'Sneak Peak".)

Director Edward Nassour described his patented "Regiscope" process as a form of electronically programmed animatronic model work. It was later established by Cinefx's Don Shay that the dinosaur action was mostly achieved by swapping out multiple models in different poses, elsewhere known as 'replacement animation'.

Though the technique had been used with success in George Pal's Puppetoons, Ray Harryhausen described its use in live-action features as "not quite practical".

Thursday 1 September 2016

DANCING WITH SHADOWS, the Charles L Grant Blogathon

Neil Snowdon writes:
12th-18th September I’ll be hosting a celebration of Charlie and his work, with contributions from myself, Ramsey Campbell, Nathan Ballingrud, Mark Morris, Gary McMahon, Gary Fry, Christopher Golden, James A. Moore, Lynda E. Rucker, Stephen Bacon, Mark west, James Everington, Thomas F. Monteleone, Nancy Collins, Stephen Bissette, Stephen Gallagher, Jean-Daniel Breque, Tim Lebbon, Jonathan Oliver, Marc Laidlaw, Steven Savile, Kealan Patrick Burke, P.D. Cacek and John Langan and more to come…
I'm scheduling my contribution for September 15th, the tenth anniversary of this enormously respected artist's death. For more details and for links to the other contributors, see Aim for the Heart at https://neilsnowdon.wordpress.com/.

Photo credit (right) Mary Jasch