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Wednesday 6 December 2017

Now in Paperback from Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble... you name it

As the Special Investigator to the Lord Chancellor’s Visitor in Lunacy, Sebastian Becker delivers justice to those dangerous madmen whose fortunes might otherwise place them above the law.

But in William James he faces a different challenge; to prove a man sane, so that he may hang. Did the reluctant showman really burn down a crowded pavilion with the audience inside? And if not, why is this British sideshow cowboy so determined to shoulder the blame?

The Authentic William James is the third novel to feature ex-police detective and former Pinkerton Man Sebastian Becker, joining The Kingdom of Bones and The Bedlam Detective.

Praising "this superbly crafted thriller", Kirkus Reviews named The Bedlam Detective one of their 100 Best of the Year and called it "that rare beast, a literary page turner".

MysteryTribune.Com described it as "a rare literary masterpiece for lovers of historical crime fiction."

Of The Authentic William James, author and screenwriter Stephen Volk (Ghostwatch, Afterlife, The Parts We Play) says:

"It's a blinding novel... the acerbic wit, the brilliant dialogue - the sheer spot-on elegance of the writing: the plot turns, the pin sharp beats. Always authoritative and convincing, never showy. Magnificently realised characters in a living breathing world... Absolutely stunning."
In their starred review of The Authentic William James, Publishers Weekly wrote:
"Gallagher gives Sebastian Becker another puzzle worthy of his quirky sleuth’s acumen in this outstanding third pre-WW1 mystery."
"Only bad thing about his books is that they eventually end. Brilliant.”
—Jonny Lee Miller

Thursday 16 November 2017

Five Questions

Towering insights. Answers to the great questions of life. My short interview with Lucy Hay on her Criminally Good blog.

Tuesday 7 November 2017

Winter Draws On

The Goodreads people have drawn five names from their virtual hat and it's congratulations to Stephanie, Betty, Antoinette, Beryl, and Courtney.

Signed copies of The Authentic William James are on their way.

More Brooligan Press titles and promotions will be coming soon.

Wednesday 1 November 2017

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Authentic William James by Stephen Gallagher

The Authentic William James

by Stephen Gallagher

Giveaway ends November 05, 2017.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Tuesday 31 October 2017

Next Week's Freebie

As the $1.99 Bedlam Detective ebook promotion from Crown continues until the end of the week, here's another story download offer for the coming weekend.

Crown's promotion is restricted to its own territories but the Kindle story offer will be worldwide.

This one includes two short stories. Out of Bedlam is a Becker story originally written for Random House's Dead Good Books online magazine. The Plot is a standalone which, taken together with the novella In Gethsemane, represents one of my earliest ventures into historical fiction.

Click here for the 2 stories

Click here for The Bedlam Detective promotion

Monday 16 October 2017

The Authentic William James: the paperback

For a limited period from October 22nd, and backed by an ad campaign on Bookbub, Random House will be cutting the price of The Bedlam Detective ebook edition to $1.99.

No a bad curtain-raiser for this:

Publication of The Authentic William James trade paperback edition is set for December in all territories. Copies for review were dispatched last month, but I can tell you that some of the books are escaping out into the wild ahead of the date.

At the end of October Goodreads will be running a giveaway promotion, with five signed copies in a free-to-enter draw.

Here's a taster:

The ebook's been on sale in the US from Subterranean since last September, but the exclusivity period is now over. Which means that The Authentic William James will be available digitally in all territories and on all platforms as of November 2nd.

Thursday 27 July 2017

Remembrance of Things Pasted

Among the stuff that migrated to my loft after my father died: four scrapbooks of my press cuttings, compiled by my mother in those loose-leaf photo albums, the kind with a sticky page and a transparent overlay. She kept everything. Everything that her thoughtless son remembered to pass along, anyway.

This morning I took them down to give them a dusting. The sticky's dried out and it was all I could do to contain all those clips and snips before they made a snowstorm on the study floor.

Many of them have yellowed, and more than a few have faded. I started wondering whether I should at least consider scanning and digitising them in my Copious Spare Time; an impulse that wore off fairly quickly as I looked at the volume of stuff and the amount of pernickity effort that would be involved. Nothing here will mean much to posterity; and as a collection it can never mean as much to anyone as it meant to her.

And the scanning of ephemera... well, that's a tricky issue. When I started research on The Kingdom of Bones I got a lot of my detail and atmosphere from old newspapers at the New Orleans public library. They'd been transferred to microfiche and the originals, I would assume, disposed of or destroyed.

The only good thing you could say about microfiche was that it was better than microfilm. Both were, at best, hit-and-miss for legibility. Now there's high-resolution scanning with OCR recognition - too late for those pages if the originals are gone, and now we have the issue of evolving formats and digital obsolescence. I already have stuff on compressed discs that can't be accessed by anything later than Windows 98. And at the other end of the scale, there are movies being shot in digital formats that are out of date before the edit's completed.

Digital's great for convenience and accessibility. But for permanence... well, ironically, it seems that ephemera has the edge. So for now it's just close up the pages, and handle with care.

Here's one of them. Neil Gaiman interviewing me for Time Out in March 1989. I wonder whatever became of him.

And no, my head was never actually that shape...

Monday 10 July 2017

Apologies, Edgar

I did a meme

Wednesday 28 June 2017

Simon Templar and Me

DigitalSpy reports that the unaired 2013 pilot for a modern reboot of The Saint will be available for streaming next month, although the site doesn't yet specify where. It also attributes Simon West's directing credit to Ernie Barbarash, for reasons that lie shrouded in mystery.

I've known about this for a while, and I've been wondering when we might see it get a release.The pilot was financed and made without a network on board, which is always a risky strategy. Networks and cable companies like to put their stamp on every show they air, while distributors who simply buy in product rarely have the means to finance it. But the trailer's fun and the show looks pretty entertaining, if you can get past the notion of a designer-stubble Simon Templar.

A couple of years before its making I had a three-week series of phone conversations with the producer who'd acquired screen rights to the character. He was a deal-maker with a long track record of getting high production values on limited budgets, mainly with action movies shot in Eastern Europe. The budgetary element may explain why the phone stopped ringing the day after my agent became involved, but over those three weeks I had time to think about the material and begin to form a 'take'.

I reckon enough water's passed under the bridge for me to be able to share my first, exploratory memo on the character, written a couple of weeks in. Followers of the blog may recall that I was once asked to offer a similar take on Danger Man. Before the conversation ended I took The Saint a step further with a couple of follow-up pages – nothing like a fully-fledged treatment, just the necessary bones of a story.

But as Laurence Olivier used to say to avoid performing in interviews, you have to pay money for that.
How I'd do THE SAINT 
(not in that sense)

I'd argue that The Saint is to TV what Bond is to film; a classy British export that gradually lost its oomph as it moved further away from its origins. The key to a successful reboot of the Bonds was a return to the underlying material. The key to a rebooted Saint will lie in a return to Charteris' character and story choices.

There were a zillion 'Gentleman Outlaws' in 30s fiction and none of them had the genes for survival we find in The Saint. It shouldn't be rocket science – LC's own description of 'the Robin Hood of modern crime' pretty much tells you all you need to know.

He's a guy with a complete disregard for authority and a rigorous code of personal fairness. He lives high on money he takes from thieves and the greedy rich. He appears to seek a life of luxury and entertainment, and nothing entertains him more than righting an injustice done to an innocent. But every now and again, we get a glimpse of the utter steel underneath. We may get the sense that something really bad happened to him early in life, and it made him who he is. We'll never find out what it was, and it's important that we don't.

The most recent screen incarnations have ignored all that. They've treated The Saint as an ordinary hero and they've flopped.

There's an artistic case to be made for taking The Saint right back to the 30s as a period piece, but not a commercial one. The new show needs to feature his timeless nature in the modern world. Yes, he's British, but it's the kind of Britishness that goes for export. They want the guy in good clothes with the manners and taste and the accent.

We may think of the Saint as a rootless figure wandering the world and encountering random adventures, but he isn't. Some of the ITC episodes presented him that way but Charteris gave him a precinct and a supporting cast, and the old show made frequent, though inconsistent, use of them.

I'm coming to this with a blank slate. I don't know what anyone's expecting to see. But it's been emphasised that the source material should be honoured so here's how I'd approach it.

When not travelling or enjoying the life in 5-star continental hotels, Simon Templar lives in Upper Berkeley Mews in London. Mews are courtyards to be found behind London's grandest rows of townhouses. They were originally built to stable the horses, carriages and grooms of the big houses. Now they're like secret cobbled streets in the middle of the city. Mews cottages are expensive but we never see the Saint concern himself with money, apart from the odd hint about his finances when he pays for a suite with the credit card of some millionaire that he's had reason to punish (he has a wallet full of them). He owns or rents an adjoining property and he's knocked a hole through the wall so that he come and go, undetected by anyone who has him under surveillance. The former stables is now a garage/workshop in which stands a classic Hispano-Suiza car, a thing of beauty but mostly in pieces, a restoration project rather like Gibbs' boat in NCIS; we'll rarely, if ever, get to see him work on it but it makes the point that he's a guy entirely capable of rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands dirty. And the workshop's a handy place to cut open a strongbox, build some device, or question a captured enemy tied to a chair.

World travel was a feature of the ITC series and it needs some thinking about now. There were two kinds of locales; trouble spots, which were usually fictional African or South American countries, and millionaires' playgrounds, featuring casinos and palm trees. Stories set in Miami or the Cote d'Azur sprang from Charteris' lifestyle once the money from his writing enabled him to indulge his own Templar-like tastes.

Watching those shows today is weird because of the transparency of the artifice. One grainy library shot followed by an hour on the backlot, with the same stock company of character actors in ethnic makeup. But when the Ian Ogilvy and Simon Dutton series shot in genuine Mediterranean locations, the production values were higher but there was something missing in the feel of the shows.

If an international element is the key to snagging a US TV network and European sales, then clearly it's a problem that has to be solved. If a US studio is excited by the thought of a rebooted Saint then it would be useful to know what they're seeing in their minds when they respond. Simon Templar + Americans abroad in European cities? Library footage and green-screen work no longer jar, and shows like Alias, Covert Affairs and Nikita include foreign sequences without leaving home. But they make it quick and they don't linger long enough for the illusion to be exposed.

Characters – there's Patricia Holm, sometimes described as the Saint's girlfriend but their relationship is way more subtle and complicated than that. Sex is occasionally implied but they're not a couple. It's as if Charteris had invented the concept of 'friends with benefits' way before anyone else dared to think of it. She'd have him, if he was a normal, available guy, but she knows him well – probably better than anyone – and knows that he isn't. Whatever shaped him made that hard core impenetrable. You can get up close, and Patricia Holm gets closer than anyone. But there's no way in. So she dates other guys and knows he has flings with other women. Sometimes she worries about him as a mother might. If she were in danger, Simon would move the earth to save her. And God help the person who did her any harm. She doesn't play a featured role in every story but she's a thread in Templar's life.

Whenever Simon has a run-in with the police they're usually represented in the figure of Inspector Teal, a dour and serious older man whom Simon delights in baiting. Teal endures the teasing with heroic stoicism. Though he's a comic creation, he's no fool and Simon knows it. They're natural opponents in a game with rules, and on rare occasions they can set aside the rules and work as allies when there's a powerful reason to do so. The bottom line, though, is that Templar's disregard for the letter of the law means that Teal wants to see him behind bars. He knows that Simon's personal code makes him capable of anything, including murder.

Others: If there's a need to introduce an American character, Charteris gives us one in the form of Hoppy Uniatz, a boneheaded and thickly-accented New York gangster who served as a London sidekick in the later stories. Frankly, I think he's too broad a caricature for the reboot. In the Saint's US-set adventures Inspector Teal has a counterpart in NYPD detective Inspector Henry Fernack. Fernack has little that's special about him that I can recall. Minor but memorable is Orace, a taciturn former military valet who's caretaker in a property that Simon owns and uses as a country hideaway.

Stories – I don't know if the option deal includes the rights to the Charteris stories and previous TV material. If it does then that's well over 100 springboards from the TV scripts alone, but the optimum would be the Casino Royale route – go to the written source material and apply contemporary re-imagination directly to that.

For a pilot, select a story with opportunities to touch all the bases above – the mews house, Patricia Holm, Teal, Orace, an American villain or victim, something that takes Templar to Paris, a denouement that reveals the ruthless core behind the charm, and a tag that leaves Patricia in wistful contemplation of their relationship before she walks away and leaves him for now. But... first we introduce the new Saint in a self-contained teaser, set somewhere with money, sunshine and bikinis, that plays like the action finale of a big story we just walked in at the end of.

(then a title sequence that evokes and updates the classic Chambers & Partners style, with a new David Arnold theme)

A current show that owes much to The Saint is USA's White Collar, though Matt Bomer's love-hurt jewel thief is a gelded version of Templar. You couldn't imagine Templar trapped into serving an FBI agent or submitting to an ankle tag. But Bomer himself would have made an excellent Saint; as, I suspect, would The Tudors' Henry Cavill, if the Superman people hadn't got to him first.
So there you go.

Friday 5 May 2017

Richard Dalby, 1949-2017

A supreme scholar, a gentle soul, and a great loss to the field and all who knew him.

We met in the '90s when Richard invited me over to Scarborough to talk about my Stoker-inspired project (then called Victorian Gothic, it would later become The Kingdom of Bones and the first of the Sebastian Becker books).

Richard had produced the definitive Stoker bibliography and also had a wonderful selection of early editions and other material. These included a Dracula first, found in a West Country book shop for £8, and Stoker's personal annotated copy of The Man. Richard had discovered that one in the back of a dusty bookstore and when he took it to the desk to pay, the shop's owner thumbed through it and then knocked a couple of quid off the price "because it's been written in".

Richard had two houses, one to live in and one for his books; the book house was entirely that, as far as I saw, shelved like a library in every room. He kindly photocopied Stoker's then-unobtainable Snowbound story collection for me, and later as editor picked up some of my own stuff for his anthologies.

I don't claim we were close, and in later years we pretty much fell out of touch, but I count our meeting as one of the significant waypoints in my life.

Thursday 13 April 2017

Thursday 9 March 2017

Less than a week from now...

Wednesday, 15th March 2017:. NOVOCASTRIA MACABRE presents an evening with Stephen Gallagher in conversation with horror author Stephen Laws. Northern Mining Institute, Neville Hall, Westgate Road, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 1SE. 7pm, tickets £3

"An evening with Award Winning Screenwriter and Novelist Stephen Gallagher (DOCTOR WHO, CHIMERA, OKTOBER, BUGS, MURDER ROOMS, SILENT WITNESS, ELEVENTH HOUR, CRUSOE, STAN LEE'S LUCKY MAN, and more...) in conversation with horror author Stephen Laws. A superb writer, a great raconteur. Want to know what it's REALLY like to work in TV in the UK and US? What the differences are? Who holds the power? Which country better respects the writer? How to really make the most of your ideas? Whether you're a fan of his work of an aspiring novelist or screenwriter, this is an event for you."

What a fantastic venue. Immediately following the talk, I'll be offering to saw the leg off any willing volunteer.

Monday 6 February 2017

The Future Boys

I've been following this series of plays since The Future Boys' 2012 debut in Dead Static at Camden's Etcetera Theatre, the classic 'playspace over a pub' where new talent and old hands get equal exposure. With Pilgrim Shadow and last year's King Chaos the company moved to the Tristan Bates Theatre in London's West End, expanding the cast, increasing their audience, and ramping up the absurdity.

Writer/director Stephen Jordan is a child of 90's SF culture, and these are character comedies bounced off science fiction tropes. Absurd, yes, but not spoofs. They employ sitcom structure with a classic pairing at its heart, an Odd Couple who both need and annoy each other in equal measure.

New material, new medium; the next outing for the company will be in the form of two new and original audio dramas recorded BBC-style before a live audience, supported by a Kickstarter campaign that's running until March 4th.

The most basic pledge will get you the downloads, while other levels bring in the usual swag options. These include tickets to the recording at the Leicester Square Theatre on Thursday March 30th at 7.15pm.

Bad Bat's previous productions include The Probleming, Global Mega Incorporated, and The Ghost Train Doesn't Stop Here Any More, an Amicus-style portmaneau show in which I had a playlet.

Update: the Kickstarter editorial team have selected The Future Boys as one of their curated "projects we love". 

Update to the update: the campaign reached its target.

Tuesday 31 January 2017

March Event, Newcastle

What a fantastic venue. Immediately following the talk, I'll be offering to saw the leg off any willing volunteer.

Monday 23 January 2017

Snakebite Writing

Unused concept rough, New English Library
I've been catching up on a couple of home-grown TV dramas that have been lurking for far too long on the PVR - no, I won't name them - and they've reminded me of something I once heard David Puttnam say in an interview. He was contrasting British and American screenwriting practice using two exaggerated versions of the same story.

British version: a man wakes up in the morning. He goes down to breakfast. We see his house, his children are already at the breakfast table, we meet his wife. They talk about what he's going to do that day. He says he's going to the woods because of that thing they talked about last week, then he shaves, dresses, and drives the kids to school. Maybe there's something on the car radio about snakes in the woods, but the children are arguing in the back so he turns it off. He calls his boss, says he'll be late for work because of having to stop by the woods on the way. His boss chews him out about some big order they have to get fulfilled. He arrives at the woods, gets out of his car. We see him walking through the woods and then we see him carry out whatever mundane task he came here to perform. Now we see him walking back. Ouch! What was that? He catches sight of a snake slithering away. Later on...

(I've padded it more than Puttnam did, but you get the idea)

American version: A man's out walking in the woods and a snake bites him in the ass.

There's a certain breed of script editor whose notes seem to be concerned mainly with the so-called 'shoeleather' of a narrative. Why is this character in this location? How did they get there from where we saw them last? What do they do every day? Can we dig into their lives a bit more? Can we do more to explore this relationship? It's dull stuff but they always want it in. So you get literally dozens of scenes where nothing of any actual consequence happens, doggedly paving the way for an eventual story point.

I don't necessarily buy the whole English/American thing, but I do think that Puttnam's storytelling point is spot-on.

It's hard for a writer to hit the ground running. On the other hand it's not engaging for the audience to have to watch you getting up to speed as you write your way into the characters and their world.

There's a harsh but effective craft solution - write what you need to write, but then cut what the audience doesn't need to see.