Archive for the ‘writing’ Category
Posted on March 7, 2014 - by MG
So far I’ve been to three. (I know, lucky!) First up was Jo Cotterill’s LOOKING AT THE STARS, which was the loveliest cake party packed with other kids authors from Oxford and the environs as well as a bunch of Oxford school’s loveliest librarian. All-round kidlit sugary goodness to celebrate an actually rather serious book about a girl who uses story-telling to help her comfort her family and to survive a harrowing journey of exile.
Then last week, to get down for the first book of Robert Muchamore’s new series ROCK WAR (the link is to an interview he did on the BBC about the new books). The Rock War launch was a rollicking rock and roll party in Camden with invites mocked up as classy rock-concert tickets. Little Daughter and I went with another mother-and-daughter couple, friends from Oxford. The tweens strutted their stuff amongst the hordes of other young people while Clare and I looked wistfully at the buffet table of goodies and wished we maybe hadn’t just stuffed our faces with yummy Chinese street food of yumminess. We also chatted to all the other kids authors who were there, this time the London lot. Robert was busy all evening signing books and taking photos with fans, announcing his imminent retirement, probably, until he decides to launch a comeback.
As exciting as all this was, it wasn’t until the last day of the month that it reached the highlight of book launches, probably for the rest of my year. Because my dear friend Sarah Hilary, a friend since our teenage years, was finally and spectacularly published by Headline with the blisteringly good detective thriller – SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN.
We were probably fourteen years old when we met for the first time. It was outside the stage door of the Rex Theatre in Wilmslow, where we’d both come (alone) to see our favourite actor from TV series Blakes 7, Paul Darrow, starring opposite Rula Lenska in Mr. Fothergill’s Murder. So taken by this event was I that I ended up recreating the scene in what is technically my first novel, the post-modern, experimental Blakes 7 fanfic novel, BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH. (Come on, every writer has a po-mo experimental fanfic novel in the drawer, admit it.)
After having our hearts set a-flutter by meeting the sexy Mr Darrow at the peak of his handsomeness, Sarah and I remained in touch.
From the beginning, Sarah made it clear that she wanted to be a writer. I, on the other hand, had swapped that very early ambition for another, possibly more difficult one – being a film director. We lived quite far apart in Manchester so saw each other intermittently over the next few years, principally to get together to watch Blakes 7. We went to college, the relationship became one of correspondence. Sarah was writing an original screenplay. She was writing an adaptation of a Philip K Dick book. My ambitions to become a film director had been thrown aside, this time for a career in science. Sarah, meanwhile, appeared to be studying something creative and getting on with the plan.
I was fairly certain that soon enough, I’d be seeing movies with Sarah’s name attached as writer.
We grew into our twenties. And lost touch.
Fast forward to 2004. Sarah wrote to me via the website of the IT company I co-founded and where I worked. As it turned out, she lived close by in the Cotswolds, had a young daughter a year older than Little Daughter. We met up. Of course, my first question was – what happened to the writing. Sarah shrugged. She’d gone down the path of getting published – it hadn’t worked out. I’m thinking of trying it, I told her. Have an idea for a technothriller about the Mayan apocalypse in 2012. Good luck, she said, with honesty. It’s not easy to get published, but you should definitely try.
Then we talked about fan fiction. Sarah hadn’t spent years reading and writing fanfic, and was fascinated. Especially to hear that I’d gone cold-turkey on fandom, around 1997. (Yes that is how committed I was to getting published, I even gave up my hobby so that my mind would be clear of Blakes 7 and ready to develop original ideas. )
In the next few years, I began writing seriously. Sarah began to write fanfic. She was really, really good at it. Soon she began to write a literary novel. I loved her first manuscript. It certainly got agent attention. But the usual thing – not quite what they were looking for, difficult to find a market. It was a bit of a re-run of what Sarah had gone though years before. But this time, she didn’t give up. There we both were, bloody-minded and determined to get a book deal.
At Cadbury World, I told Sarah of my planned sequel to Failed Ms #1 – title THE FIFTH CODEX. This eventually became INVISIBLE CITY – my first published novel.
At an indoor kids playground in Carterton, Sarah and I chewed over her own progress with agents. It wasn’t happening. Why don’t you write crime? I said. You certainly know how to write violence and fear and suffering. Crime’s got a lot of that, hasn’t it? You’d be brilliant. Sarah wasn’t sure. I’m not sure I can do plot. One can learn how to do plot, I said, and anyway I think you can. Your books keep me up all night.
So began the Sisyphean task of breaking ground as a new crime author. I won’t pretend to know anything about the genre, except that Scandi stuff is popular, isn’t it? And a cool woman detective.
Finally, about two years ago, Sarah sent me something to read that she was hoping would get a book deal. If not, she was going to self-publish. That ms was SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN. When I finished it I emailed Sarah. I couldn’t imagine a world where this book wouldn’t get a book deal. It had everything a great crime novel should have – terrific structure, a wonderful twist, as well as what had been present in Sarah’s writing from the beginning – wonderful prose and characters. It was chewy, I remember telling Sarah. This one’s going to make it. Just wait.
And it did.
Posted on December 18, 2013 - by MG
I do, however, have one publication this year and I’m ridiculously proud of it. Because for a former writer of Blake’s 7 fan fiction (IN YOUR FACE, CAITLIN MORAN!) there is no greater honour than to publish an official, licensed Blake’s 7 story.
The title is BLAKE’S7: ANTHOLOGY and the book features three novellas, each between 20-25k words, all set in Season 1 of Blake’s 7:
Berserker by RA Henderson
When the weapons research facility on space station Amber was shut down, something got left behind. Blake is determined to find out what…
Cold Revolution by MG Harris
Kartvel claims to have escaped Federation control – without bloodshed. But is all as it seems on this mysterious planet?
Trigger Point by GF Taylor
Infiltration and explosions are one way the Liberator crew can help the resistance on the corrupt planet Belzanko, but can a subtler approach work too?
The chance to have a story in this hardback publication came up last year, when my good friend and fellow author Una McCormack tweeted me about the Big Finish open submission. It was closing three hours hence. After a long day of working on a YA manuscript, I didn’t have time or energy to come up with something entirely new. I looked through all the Blake’s 7 stories I’d ever written for something I could adapt and extend into a novella. Most of my fanfics were set before the first episode (known as Pre-Way-Back), S3, S4 or after the final episode (known as Post-Gauda Prime). Clearly, it wasn’t going to be easy.
Also, like many fanfic authors, I used Blake’s 7 as a template to develop relationship stories, so I knew those were out, at least the plot-thin examples. Perhaps less commonly, I also used the fanfic as a way to experiment with different writing styles. (If you don’t have the cash for a Creative Writing course I can recommend this – homework for this week is to write a Star Trek:DS9 story in the style of Graham Greene!)
It didn’t leave me with many options for what might be adapted in time for the submission deadline.
I realized, however, that the events of a S1 episode Bounty could be used to set up a political conspiracy thriller involving most of the S1 cast. There were a few political conspiracy stories in my collection: Urbi et Orbi, The Real Life of Roj Blake and Cold Revolution – the first two heavily influenced by Mario Vargas Llosa and the third, basically a ‘Canadian shack’ story featuring Avon and Soolin.
In the end I went with Cold Revolution, a story set in late S4 during the time when Avon is trying to broker an alliance between anti-Federation leaders. In the original version, Avon and Soolin act as election monitors to a world that is set to cede from the Federation.
The version I wrote for Big Finish is a much longer version in which Blake’s crew become entangled in the murky post-Federation politics of a ceding world. In this version it is Avon and Cally who represent Blake as election monitors. No shack-located naughtiness for them, however.
Here’s the tagline again:
Kartvel claims to have escaped Federation control – without bloodshed. But is all as it seems on this mysterious planet?
For anyone with a memory that extends to the early 90s, it should be obvious that this story is an allegory of the Georgian Revolution. I wrote the original version not long after the events of that revolution, following an intriguing conversation with a neighbour who was one of the United Nations monitors at the first election.
Back in the early 90s I shared a multi-flat house with Oxford historian Mark Almond. When Mark disappeared on a frequent trip to an Eastern bloc country on some ‘official’ trip or other, he’d ask us to feed his cat. These trips were so frequent at one time that we’d ask him straight out if he was a spy. At which point Mark would smile enigmatically and say ‘The Secret Services would never use someone as obvious as me. I go on TV, I write in the newspapers. They pick people that you’d never suspect.’ ‘Ah,’ we’d say, ‘but that’s what everyone would expect. That’s why no-one would actually suspect you.’
It was a friendly joke. We sort-of-didn’t really think that a mild-mannered guy like Mark would risk his life or at least his freedom spying on the last remnants of the Evil Empire. Turns out that we were wrong. Mark was in fact risking a great deal – not spying but working as a cold war bagman, taking CIA money to dissidents in totalitarian countries.
Sometimes he went as an election monitor for the UN. Returning from the election which was won by Shevardnadze, I asked if the election had been honest. Mark smiled a smile somewhere between cynicism and sadness and told me ‘Not remotely. I could have voted myself – a man with a gun asked me if I wanted to vote. When I pointed out that I wasn’t Georgian he just said “the whole world wants to vote for Mister Shevardnadze”.’
I was reading a lot of Mario Vargas Llosa’s political novels in those days, and writing a lot of B7 fanfic. It struck me that Blake’s 7 had a great deal to say about 20th century revolutionary politics. Especially the first season.
Mark Almond’s anecdotes about Georgia had me wondering what would happen to our heroes if they’d ever found themselves in that situation. The external environment of a ceding Federation world would be far more dangerous to an election monitor than anything the UN faced.
The loser of that faked election was Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the winner was the West-friendly Eduard Shevardnadze. The media referred to Gamsakhurdia as a ‘warlord’ – which sounds bad, n’kay? There’s a warlord in S4 of Blake’s 7 and he’s a total psycho. Yet according to Mark, this ‘warlord’ was the true people’s choice, not the apparatchik former KGB man, Shevardnadze.
Interesting, I thought. Very Blake’s 7 – things aren’t what they seem, even when the good-guys seem to have won. Too good a setting to resist!
Avon should have seen it coming, right? Of course he did, yet as ever he talks himself into following Blake’s suggestions. The fatal charisma of that crazy revolutionary!
I also fancied an opportunity to tell a B7 story set on a relatively low-tech, non-fantasy world. You see a lot of primitive societies in Blake’s 7 but too much of societies with people who throw rocks and live in mud huts, not enough of low-tech societies who have at least late 20th century tech. Surely there’d be more a spectrum? Or low-tech worlds with some high-tech, the way you get very simple African villages where mobile phones and TV are normal?
Next time someone asks me if I have ever published anything for adults I won’t say ‘But of course! You mean you haven’t read my chapter on fibroblast growth factors in Molecular Endocrinology of Cancer?’. I will say, ‘hell yeah, a Blake’s 7 story, IN YOUR FACE Caitlin Moran.’
Anyway, there it is, my one official Blake’s 7 story. Thank you to Big Finish for publishing it and paying me actual money to write B7! (If you’re tempted to read the others you’d have to dig up some pretty old fanzines. And also know my fandom pseudonym *grin*.)
Posted on July 3, 2013 - by MG
Last week I emerged from the self-imposed semi-hermitage of finishing a manuscript, to drive up north to Wakefield and the Riveting Reads Awards. The lovely kids of Wakefield had picked APOCALYPSE MOON to be on the shortlist, and presentations of each author’s books were promised, so I was keen to go.
The Yr5s of South Parade School had made artwork around the APOCALYPSE MOON jacket, with different textures and using materials including papier mache, chalk, oil pastels and paint. Lovely! They very kindly gave it to me at the end, so when I can find some wall-space (on a non-rainy day!) I’ll take a photo for the blog. My first time seeing artwork based on the final dark book – before it’s usually been Invisible City.
A group of Yr7s from Ossett Academy did something else I’ve never seen – they acted out a scene from the book! The scene was set in the ‘Muwan’ – the advanced aircraft flown by the Sky Guardians of Ek Naab. The kids had made a control panel from a keyboard and some painted cups, and of course – tin foil. Four kids held the Muwan scenery in place around the actors, who played Josh and Tyler. Two boys did Josh’s inner voice (nice! I hadn’t ever really thought about the dramatic possibilities of that!). I wish I’d videoed them, they were all so great!
The chose to dramatize the section where Josh shows alt-Tyler (from the parallel future) the Muwan. This Tyler hasn’t ever seen it, is only just now beginning to accept that maybe Josh is telling the truth about time travelling from June 2012. He gives a speech (inspired by Kurtz’s famous speech from Apocalypse Now). I really enjoyed watching it and talking to the students afterwards about why they picked that particular piece. I’ll admit, I’m happy that a scene that I hoped would resonate, had an effect on these readers. Tyler, in a very toned down way, of course, is the Colonel Kurtz character of this story. The one who’s had his innocence ripped away by living through the horrors.
Often the difference in making a story work for young people lies simply in which end of the story you choose to tell. Tyler’s story would be a lot darker and grittier than Josh’s. Josh leads a charmed life, by comparison. But hopefully, that makes him easier to relate to.
I was delighted to thank all the kids who made artwork or presented the drama, a package of Joshua Files goodies, the gym bag, enamel badge and wristband. Lots of happy faces!
Ah but – the book didn’t win the award! That honour went to the impossibly youthful-looking Ciaran Murtagh with GENIE IN TRAINING. Congrats!
Posted on June 7, 2013 - by MG
A rare return to the blog – I’ve not retired, simply retired to Twitter and Facebook, like so many bloggers. But once in a while, I may have a thought or experience that’s worthy of more than a fleeting comment on the world’s filter-free news-ticker.
(Actually, a few weeks ago I went to LA to research Secret New American Thing, a new book project about which I’m keeping quiet until various things are sorted out, but which IS DEFINITELY HAPPENING. 2014, sometime, probably summer. But more on that when I finally blog about SNAT.)
So last night I went off to That London to meet up with some of me lovely author pals, at the launch of the latest Jimmy Coates adventure by Mr Joe Craig – BLACKOUT. Live action trailer is below – looks amazing!
JIMMY COATES is a brilliant series of hi-tech action thrillers about a boy who learns he’s part of an experimental government program to ‘grow’ soldier-assassins using cyborgs that are also part-human. The killer cyborgs will activate when they reach eighteen. But Jimmy activates when he is just eleven. And that just ain’t right, boys and girls. So THEY are after him. Why did he activate young? (strokes fingers) A mystery. Who did this to Jimmy? (strokes chin) An enigma. Can he learn to master his cybernetic powers and control his urge to violence? (strokes cheeks) You’ll just have to buy the books!
Anyway, here are some party photos from the lovely children’s bookshop. Victoria Parks Books.
Finally, if you’re still reading this far, I’ll just say that Joe Craig, the multi-talented author of the JIMMY COATES books (he sings! he plays cricket! he interviews himself!), is a New Friend and that we have been Talking about a little project I used to call Quite Secret New Thing. Turns out that Joe too had a QSNT. Hmm. ‘I wonder’, we wondered, ‘what might happen if the two QSNTs were to meet?’
Posted on January 10, 2013 - by MG
HELLOOOOO and a Happy New Year! We made it to 2013. Thanks to Josh Garcia, as well all know, on this blog. As I now officially enter my post-Joshua Files writing life, I’m going to be featuring some different kind of stuff on the blog for a while. It might get biographical. There could be recipes. We’re going off-piste for a bit. And I’m working on four, count ’em – FOUR projects. Two – JAGUAR’S REALM and THE PRINCE are manuscripts I’ve been cooking for years. And two are Brand New and Very Super Top Secret.
Like all Blake’s 7 fans I’m brimming with excitement at the prospect of the Syfy channel’s reboot of the classic seventies BBC TV series, Blake’s 7. I loved that show so much, words can barely express it. All my early stories were Blake’s 7 stories. My latest one is too – Big Finish have commissioned new Blake’s 7 novellas from three authors, to be published in November in an anthology. To celebrate my finishing the story – COLD REVOLUTION – and in honour of the upcoming new Blake’s 7 series, I thought readers might enjoy an excerpt from a novel (BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH) I wrote in 1996.
In this chapter, Jemima, a Blake’s 7 fan (ardent would be too mild an adjective), travels to Sausalito, California, to meet Greville Davis, the British-born Hollywood screenwriter who’s been commissioned to write the blockbuster Blake’s 7 movie. She’s none too pleased with the idea that this new writer might go off-piste and decides to confront him.
Here’s an excerpt:
From the diary of Greville Davis
Without any doubt, the ideal way to begin the morning is with a cup of black espresso, charred plum tomatoes with eggs over easy; at least two Marlboro Lights. I followed my own advice this morning as on others. Reading material: Variety. Music: Schubert symphony number 5, first movement only. I read that Gabriel Byrne has just finished shooting another picture; I make a note to tell Sonja to call him to read for Travis. Or Blake. Or, just possibly, Avon. On second thoughts, score that; he’s perfect for Travis; remember him as the Nazi in “The Keep”, or the Irish gangster in “Miller’s Crossing”. He could bring a real subtlety to the role; I’d have to write him closer to the original but with the disturbing self-containment of the second Travis. I wonder if the Coens would be interested in being involved? No; they’d want a hand in the writing, which no-one is going to have but me. Put down same for Quentin Tarantino; don’t be tempted!
Second cup of coffee, third cigarette; music change: three minutes and twenty seconds only, J.J Cale.
Standing on my balcony I look right across the marina; I can’t quite see my own boat from here; it’s too small. After the picture, I’ll buy a bigger one. I’m convinced, at last, that the opening scene is right. I’m not out to shock but then again I don’t want anyone to sit there thinking that they’ve walked into yet another spaceship blockbuster. Its strength always was the interior lives of the characters; let’s stick to that, dialogue and psychological thriller.
I’m still unsure that we made the right decision to do this as a post-Gauda Prime. There are so many constraints; Blake’s 7 in a fundamentally Blake-less universe. Alternative Universe Seven might be easier but it would never be accepted as canonical. Never-before-told stories are just a waste of time; we need a cash cow. Something to continue the adventures. We could bring Blake back as the original Blake and say that Avon shot the clone…but would that be stretching credibility? Perhaps I’ve too much respect for Chris to do that; no, the impact of the final episode must not be compromised. Ideally.
Another minor victory; Terry finally came around about not using his story outline. For a while there, I thought he’d never speak to me again, which would have been a shame because even though I resent some of his comments about my landing this deal, he’s still a great man and one of my all-time heroes. Plus, he has a great wine cellar.
Fourth Marlboro; reading; ‘Vanity Fair’ music; Simon and Garfunkel – ‘Mrs Robinson’.
Sailors are early risers; I can see them spilling out onto the wharf as I write, all decked out in Gortex and Reeboks. There’s a girl on the deck of one of the nearer boats. She’s been there for an hour at least; just reading; not wearing sailing clothes; doesn’t seem to have plans to go anywhere today. I wonder what she’s reading?
If only I knew whom they were going to cast as Avon, it would make my job a good deal easier. It’s a role that has to be defined in a large part by the actor. If we want him played like first or second season Avon then we have to get someone who can bring out that heroic element whilst still retaining the cynical wit. Or maybe we want the angst-ridden Avon of the third series? He could never vocalize those feelings so we’d have to get someone who can say it all with The Look. David Duchovny is interested, I know, but are we interested in him? Is there anyone out there who doesn’t see him as Mulder? Certainly our audience does. In any event, he’s too young; too whiny; doesn’t have the gravitas to pull it off. I still like Alan Rickman for the part. Like David, he’ll appeal to all the right impulses in the Avon-groupie brigade. Even now he still has that expression, that voice that just says: sex. But then…if Alan could do it then why not Paul? They’re of an age, for sure. Sometimes I just want to get on the phone to Fox and tell that producer what I think of his casting plans!
Memo to the producer; Rick; let’s get David Duchovny in to read. He has just the right deadpan wit; let’s see if he can do the temper and the angst.
If you’d like to read this whole chapter, you can download it here: THE SCREENWRITER excerpt from Between Life And Death