Saturday 30 April 2011

Z is for Zagor

I'm going to end this month of blogging where it all began, at least for me.

Zagor, in case you're wondering, is the eponymous villainous warlock from Steve Jackson's and Ian Livingstone's seminal gamebook The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, that unleashed the world of Fighting Fantasy upon - well - the world!

The origins of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain itself have been well documented elsewhere, not least in the 25th anniversary edition of the book that came out in 2007. It's been published all over the world, in numerous different editions and a plethora of languages. (It's even available as a Kindle edition now and a Nintendo DS game.) But for one eleven year-old boy, back in 1982, that one simple paperback changed the direction of his life forever.

I remember the day quite clearly. It was bright and sunny, and I had been dragged into town shopping with my mum. The usual round of shoe shops, food shops and kitchen shops was made all the more bearable by the promise of a visit to a bookshop at the end. Finally, I walked through the doors and was hit by the smell of dusty carpets and freshly-printed books – a smell I still savour today, along with the crack of a new hardback’s spine being broken for the first time. And there it was, on a small display in the middle of the shop – The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

The image on the cover, of the mysterious wizard summoning a dragon from his crystal ball, had me gripped. Then I opened the book.

Inside it was like nothing I had ever seen. It soon became apparent that this was not a book you simply read from cover to cover; you made decisions and turned to different paragraphs, and so directly influenced the course of the story yourself. Then there were the monsters, fabulous creatures of legend or the unfamiliar denizens of a new and terrible fantasy world. Not only that, but you fought them as well, rolling dice to determine the outcome of your battles with these horrors. And then there were Russ Nicholson’s magical illustrations.

I had read books with pen and ink illustrations before, but nothing like this! Having been brought up on a diet of the late Pauline Baynes’ Narnia pictures or those contained within the pages of an Enid Blyton adventure, images of horrific beasts, partially-eaten human remains and sinister sorcerers were a revelation!

I bought the book there and then – or rather, persuaded my mum to buy the book – took it home and devoured it. The reading experience would never be the same again. To say that I became obsessed with Fighting Fantasy would be an understatement. I collected the books religiously. I started writing my own. In time I was forced to stop buying every new publication because it was a craze I ‘should grow out of’. Throughout my school years my obsession with FF would come back to haunt me. ‘If only you put as much effort into your school work as you do into those adventures you’re always writing.’ But, in due course, I earned myself a fistful of qualifications and started thinking about what I wanted to do after I left school.

I got a place at university on a teacher training course, because received wisdom had it that writing was something you couldn’t make a living at. However, in between finishing school and starting Uni, rather than get a job for the summer like most of my friends, I started writing a pitch for my own Fighting Fantasy gamebook. It was rejected. I tried again. It was rejected again. I tried a different idea...

After my second year at university my job for the summer was to write a 40,000 word adventure entitled Spellbreaker, which was to be the fifty-third gamebook in the Fighting Fantasy range, and I’ve been published every year since.

This autumn I reach the milestone age of forty (hopefully!) and next year Fighting Fantasy will be celebrating its thirtieth birthday? Will it be a big event, with cake and party hats, or will it be a solitary affair, with a lone figure in a bar raising a nostalgic glass to a fondly remembered phenomenon? Who knows, but I, for one, like the elephant, will never forget. After all, I owe Zagor my career.

Friday 29 April 2011

Y is for YA (or Young Adult)

Why YA? Well, because there wasn't such a thing when I was a teenager. I mean, obviously there were people you could classify as young adults, but there wasn't a specific branch of fiction targeted at them. In my experience you went from reading children's books to more adult books via such classics as The Lord of the Rings and Asimov's I, Robot.

Now it seems you can't move in bookshops for the sheer number of books targeted at these proto-grown-ups. I myself have recently tried out for a series aimed and 12-20 year-old males. I've never known of such a categorisation before. From my personal experience I was a very different person at 20 than I was at 12 and am not sure my younger self would have been ready for what my twenty year-old self was reading by then.

YA fiction is being marketed on a vast scale and it seems that everyone* is trying to get in on the act. But is it right to label, or brand, stories in this way? You can guarantee that what's right for one teenager won't suit every youth on the street.

Young Adult Literature (to give it its grander title) has become a genre which covers various text types including novels, graphic novels, short stories, and poetry. Much of what's published consists of young adult fiction which in itself contains several different types of text, but the genre also contains other various types of non-fiction such as biographies, autobiographies, journal entries/diaries, and letters. So basically it's any type of book. Big deal. So what makes it specifically fiction for young adults.

Well, for starters, problem novels tend to be the most popular among young readers; in other words novels that “addresses personal and social issues across socioeconomic boundaries and within both traditional and nontraditional family structures.” Memoirs are also popular.

This most wide-ranging of genres has itself been challenged due its seemingly mature content by critics of Young Adult Literature, but "other converted critics have embraced Young Adult so dearly that they have scoured the canon for any classics they could adopt into the YA family." So, in other words, kids are reading books for adults. Go figure.

I know that my Black Library novels are read by teenagers but I didn't set out to write a book only for them. Heck, my Fighting Fantasy books are written for children, but plenty of adults read those too. But I'll keep plugging away at my attempts to write for the Young Adult market, but at the end of the day what I'm most interested in is telling interesting stories, no matter who they're aimed at.

* I'll happily admit that I'm one of them.

Thursday 28 April 2011

Lego Fighting Fantasy Villains

Inspired by my efforts so far - realising Akharis from Curse of the Mummy and Count Varcolac from Howl of the Werewolf in Lego form - I spent the Easter break scouring Ebay for all manner of Lego pieces in order to be able to recreate some more of my memorable Fighting Fantasy villains in little plastic bricks.

So, I started off with this little lot...

The raw materials

I then selected the pieces I needed...

To make one undead Chaos Knight Lord you will need...

And put them together to create the Dread Lord Belgaroth, riding his demonic Nightmare into battle at the climax of my second Fighting Fantasy gamebook Knights of Doom. The undead Chaos sorcerer is preparing to unleash a dark bolt of energy at our hero - YOU!

Belgaroth riding into battle upon the hellish Nightmare

And here's Tony Hough's original illustration that inspired the build above

And here he is on foot, his blighted weapon in hand.

Belgaroth, the Dread Lord of Caer Skaal

Having realised Belgaroth in Lego, I then turned my attention to creating Nazek the Warlock from my first ever Fighting Fantasy adventure Spellbreaker.

Here he is reading the Spell of Unlocking from the Black Grimoire in order to open the Casket of Shadows from which pour forth all manner of gribbly nasties.

Nazek the Warlock unleashes the horrors of the Casket of Shadows

Anno Frankenstein - the movie

X is for X Marks the Spot

I've always been fascinated by maps, not so much your average A to Z (although I still get a certain frisson from poring over Ordnance Survey maps) but the kind of illustrated maps that were popular in less accurate times, where pictures of trees stand for forests and where there is a village, a picture of a village is drawn.I remember spending hours studying the maps in my dad's copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings so, as you can imagine, when I came upon Jackson and Livingstone's Fighting Fantasy series and when those books started to include maps, I was hooked.

As a teenager I drew all sorts of maps of fantastical places but I never thought my work would be good enough to ever be published. So, when I was commissioned to write Spellbreaker, my first Fighting Fantasy gamebook, in 1992 I just drew up a very simple map for the illustrator Alan Langford to embellish in his own unique style.

When Spellbreaker was published a year later, to say that I was disappointed by his efforts would be an understatement. Where other books had fantastic cartography produced by the likes of Leo Hartas, Alan had pretty much copies what I'd submitted, but just added a dragon-styled compass to one corner. It was a major letdown.

When I was commissioned to write my second FF gamebook, Knights of Doom, a year later, I decided I had nothing to lose by drawing the map myself. If they publisher wanted to use it, he would. If not, he'd just get the artist to re-draw it. I'm pleased to say that my map was the one that was used.

I produced the maps for all of my books after that (although the one for Curse of the Mummy isn't my best) and was even asked to draw the map for Revenge of the Vampire, which I hadn't even written.

And that wasn't the end of my career as a fledgling cartographer; I was also commissioned to draw many of the maps for the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign The Dying of the Light, put out by Hogshead Publishing in 1995.

I personally believe that my best map was the one I drew of the Port of Crabs for Bloodbones, which I have reproduced for you here.

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Anno Frankenstein caption competition

A while ago* I ran a mini-competition to choose a motto for the Frankenstein Corps, as featured in the imminently-arriving Anno Frankenstein.

Simon Parr's design for the Corps' logo already has a motto (which translates as 'Waste Not, Want Not') but a number of inventive individuals came up with their own suggestions.

I've now, finally, drawn up a shortlist and I'm giving you a week to vote for the one you like best, via the poll that you'll find at the top of this blog. And whoever you choose as the winner will receive the following unique** prize.

So, click on the caption you like best and on 5 May I'll announce the winner - at long, long last.

* Far too long ago, to be honest.

** And it really is unique. Nobody else is going to be receiving one of these Anno Frankenstein puzzles featuring Mark Harrison's cover artwork.

Born of Science... Born of Madness!*

Just opened up my subscriber copy of Judge Dredd Megazine #310 and stumbled across this...

Colour me pleased! And there's not long to go now!

* Now would that refer to the Promethean Remade on the cover? The book itself? Me?

W is for Warhammer Monthly

Warhammer Monthly was an anthology comic published by the Black Library, from March 1998 to December 2004, running to 86 issues in total. The final two issues were published bi-monthly as the Warhammer Comic, and it remains the only comic book ever to win an Eagle Award and get canceled in the same week. It featured stories set within Games Workshop's fictional universes of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000.

The first ever comic strip I had commissioned was a Necromunda tale called Kill Confirmed (1999). It was the story of a Spyre Hunter's hunt and was illustrated by Paul Jeacock. My second comic strip was also set in the Necromunda underhive. This one, Slavebreak! (2002), was one of P J Holden's early pieces of paid comic strip work, for which he created a number of character studies.

In December 2002 Warhammer Monthly became Warhammer Warped Visions, just for that month. It featured one-shot variations of Black Library's most popular comics, but with their settings reversed between the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 universes. For example, the Dark Elf Malus Darkblade was portrayed as a Dark Eldar, while the Titan Imperius Dictatio was shown as an Empire Steam Tank. I contributed the lead story which turned Battle Sister Ephrael Stern, of the hugely successful Daemonifuge strip, into Ephrael von Stern: Sister of Sigmar, transplanting the character to the damned Warhammer city of Mordheim. The strip also featured on the cover and the editor told me that if he'd had the budget for some colour pages that month (as he had the year before) it would have been my strip that received the colouring treatment.

My other strips were all Tales from the Ten-Tailed Cat and were collected, along with the ones I'd written that appeared in Inferno! magazine, in The Complete Tales from the Ten-Tailed Cat (2005).

My total contribution to Warhammer Monthly is as follows:

Kill Confirmed – Warhammer 40,000 science fiction comic strip – Warhammer Monthly free issue given away with White Dwarf Magazine #232 (1999)

Slavebreak! – Warhammer 40,000 science fiction comic strip – Warhammer Monthly #57 (2002)

Ephrael von Stern: Sister of Sigmar – Warhammer fantasy comic strip – Warhammer Monthly #63 (2002)

The Tale of the Hound – Warhammer fantasy comic strip – Warhammer Monthly #79 (2004) – re-printed in the graphic novel The Complete Tales from the Ten-Tailed Cat (2005)

The Farmer’s Tale – Warhammer fantasy comic strip – Warhammer Monthly #80 (2004) – re-printed in the graphic novel The Complete Tales from the Ten-Tailed Cat (2005)

Tuesday 26 April 2011

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec

A young woman after Ulysses Quicksilver's own heart.

V is for Vlogging

Vlogging (or Video Blogging) is effectively the latest stage in the evolution of that diary you filled in religiously - for about four days - when you were eight years old.

It's a practice that I've taken up to help promote myself on line, keeping people updated about what I'm working on, whether they like it or not. It's not something I do too frequently (there is such a thing as over exposure, you know) but when I have something new to say or a glut of releases coming out together (as happens sometimes when you're working up to a year in advance on some projects) then I fire up the old web cam and record my thoughts, such as they are, for all to share.

I first became properly aware of Vlogging via David Moore of Abaddon/Solaris Books. He used to vlog about once a week, then fortnightly, but in the best tradition of diary writers everywhere, I don't think he'd produced one for about six months (but then he'd probably say he's been busy).

Anyway, here's one of David vlog's.

And, in case you haven't seen them, here are some links to the vlogs I've recorded to date.

Vlog #1 - Latest Pax Britannia Releases (I was finding my feet with this one)
Vlog #4 - The SFX Weekender 2 (I like this one)
Vlog #5 - Ask Me Anything (this one actually comes in three parts)
Vlog #6 - Genre For Japan

Looking at that list, I think it's about time I posted another one soon, lest I fall into the trap of diary upkeep failure as well. Now, if only I could tell you about [CENSORED] or [CENSORED BY THE INQUISITION]. Ho hum. Another time then...

Monday 25 April 2011

U is for Ulysses Quicksilver

Who else?

Ulysses Quicksilver is the hero of my Pax Britannia steampunk novels. He was first unleashed upon the world in Unnatural History, which was first published in 2007.

In two scant months the nation, and all her colonies, will celebrate 160 years of Queen Victoria's glorious reign.

But all is not well at the heart of the empire of Magna Britannia. A chain of events is about to be set in motion that, if not stopped, could lead to a world-shattering conclusion.

It begins with a break-in at the Natural History Museum. A night watchman is murdered. An eminent Professor of Evolutionary Biology goes missing. Then a catastrophic Overground rail-crash unleashes the dinosaurs of London Zoo.

But how are all these events connected? Is it really the work of crazed revolutionaries, seeking the violent evolution of Magna Britannia? Or are there yet more sinister forces at work?

Enter Ulysses Quicksilver ­ dandy, rogue and agent of the throne ­ back from the dead. Aided by his ever faithful manservant Nimrod, it is up to this dashing soldier of fortune to solve the mystery and uncover the truth before London degenerates into primitive madness and a villainous mastermind brings about the unthinkable. The downfall of the British Empire!

Since then I have written a further six novels and have already made a start on the eighth to feature Quicksilver. I've also written five novellas featuring the character. When Time's Arrow is published next year, it will bring the total number of words written about his adventures to around 700,000!

The character has changed and developed as I have continued writing the stories and his family (along with its secrets) has been extended too. So who is Ulysses Quicksilver? Well here's what I wrote about him in the introduction to The Ulysses Quicksilver Omnibus (2010).

Ulysses Quicksilver is a patriot, a lady’s man, a toff, a show-off, an expert swordsman, a damn fine shot, an epicure, a dedicated follower of fashion, a thrill-seeker, a man of the people, a lover, a fighter, a habitual challenger of authority, a man of action, an incisive mind, a mass of contradictions, a playboy – but most importantly of all, he is a hero. But who is he really?
Well, inevitably, as he is a creation of my imagination, in some ways he is in fact me. However, there’s some James Bond in there too, a dash of Sherlock Holmes and a soupcon of Oscar Wilde. But, at the end of the day, with nearly half a million words published about him and his adventures, he is his own man; just as Pax Britannia has become something that is more than the sum of its parts.

If you'd like to read more about Ulysses Quicksilver's adventures, don't forget The Ulysses Quicksilver Short Story Collection is available now from Abaddon Books and that Pax Britannia: Anno Frankenstein is out next month.

Saturday 23 April 2011

T is for Tin Man Games and Temple of the Spider God

Tin Man Games haven't been around long, but in a relatively short space of time they've made a big impression of interactive fiction and the world of adventure gamebooks, bringing original works to the masses via the wonders of the iPhone, iPod and iPad.

I first became aware of the company with their first release An Assassin in Orlandes and I'm delighted to be writing their seventh Gamebooks Adventures title.

It's called Temple of the Spider God and is being edited as I type (probably). I've already seen some preliminary sketches and roughs for the cover as well and can feel the excitement mounting as Spider God is due for release this July. (Perfect excuse to go out and buy an iPad 2, I'd say.)

You can read more via the press release Tin Man Games have put out here, and Neil Rennison himself (head honcho of Tin Man Games) bigged me up when he was interviewed at PAX East a month or so ago.

Friday 22 April 2011

Back from the Warp

Coming to a Print on Demand order page near you soon...

The Iron Hands return...

Where to write?

Environment can be very important to a writer. I used to write here.

I would like to be able to write here.

However, truth be told, I now find my writing time split between a corner of the sitting room in the flat we're renting in London, or in the spare bedroom of the house we've bought in Wiltshire, or at the kitchen table. I don't have all my books around me and sometimes that makes it harder. But needs must...

So I'm very interested in where other writers write. Graham McNeill of Black Library fame has recently rented an office to write in, since working from home with a small person around (and another one on the way) is too distracting. Terry Pratchett writes in a large office-cum-offshoot-of-Unseen-University-Library in the grounds of his large country house.

And I came across these the other day. First up is Alex Bell (a phenomenally successful young writer) and Jaine Fenn (not quite so young but just as successful).

Nathan Long on writing for the Black Library

Anyone interested in writing for the Black Library, or even just writing in general, should find this video by Nathan Long (author of the Gotrek and Felix books and Ulrika the Vampire trilogy) highly enlightening.

How to make a book

Thank goodness they don't make them like this anymore!

S is for Steampunk

For the last five years I have been writing my own ongoing series of steampunk adventures, the Ulysses Quicksilver Pax Britannia books. Elements of steampunk have even crept into some of my more recent Fighting Fantasy gamebooks - particularly Stormslayer. But what is steampunk?

People still debate the characteristics something should include to be classed as steampunk, but there are certain elements which people are pretty much agreed on.

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. It specifically involves an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century and often Victorian era Britain (or Victorian-esque as in my Pax Britannia books —that incorporates prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy.

Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them; in other words, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc. This technology may include such fictional machines as those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne or real technologies like the computer but developed earlier in an alternate history.

Other examples of steampunk contain alternate history-style presentations of 'the path not taken' for such technology as dirigibles, analogue computers, or such digital mechanical computers as Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace's Analytical engine (and the Babbage Engines and Turing Machines of my own books).

Various modern utilitarian objects have been modded by individual artisans into a pseudo-Victorian mechanical steampunk style, and a number of visual and musical artists have been described as steampunk.

If you'd like to learn more about the steampunk movement, then you could do a lot worse than to order a copy of S. J. Chambers' and Jeff VanderMeer's The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature.

Necromunda Underhive: Urban Legend

by Jonathan Green

‘Now I know what you’re asking yourself,’ the bounty hunter said, taking a cheroot from a crumpled packet, that had been secreted in one pocket of his long leather coat, and lighting it, all the while keeping the wide-calibre stub gun trained on the Van Saar. ‘What you’re wondering is, did he fire eleven shots or twelve? Well, do you fancy finding out?’

Narve Vanderacken didn’t say anything but moved his hand away from the autopistol lying on the plate metal floor only a few centimetres from his fingertips. He could feel cold sweat beading on his brow and trickling into his greying beard. How had it all come to this? What had started off as a straightforward hunt for a piece of tech, stolen by those Emperor-cursed Escher gangers the Hive Tigers, and a bike chase along Thunder Road, one of the few remaining stretches of navigable highway in the Underhive, had ended up with half his gang killed in a flash-flood of industrial waste, no doubt caused be a discharge from the manufactories of Hive City far above, and Vanderacken himself being pursued across half the Rust Sand Desert by one of the most ruthless and notorious hired guns in the sector, with a reputation that reached from Toxic Sump to Steel Canyon.

Vanderacken looked up at the bounty hunter, the brim of his hat hiding his eyes, silhouetted against the fitfully flickering, red-glowing hazard beacon, that also cast its ruddy light over the scuffed and scored yellow and black diagonals of the factory barn’s loading berths. Nathan Creed, gunslinger, bounty hunter and downhive desperado, took a long drag on the smouldering cheroot and reached into the folds of his coat again. This time he pulled out a black metal sphere, bisected into two hemispheres by a knurled ring. Vanderacken swallowed hard. It was the Inferno device: the stolen piece of tech that had got them all into this mess in the first place.

‘I found this in the smoking ruins of what used to be the gambling hole of Lucky Break,’ the bounty hunter’s voice was a distinctive downhive drawl, ‘thanks to a tip-off from a half-breed, who bought his freedom with the information he gave me, and something the good Doc Haze knocked up for me in his workshop.’

Creed tossed the sphere into the air, making the Van Saar wince, and then caught it deftly in his gloved hand. Vanderacken gulped audibly. In a split second he made his decision: it was now or never. The Van Saar made a lunge for the autopistol and rolled sideways as his hand closed around it. The last of the twelve-shooter’s dum-dum bullets impacted against the floor with a metallic ringing. ‘Damn!’ he cursed.

The bounty hunter dived for cover as a chattering hail of autopistol rounds tore apart the fungus wood crates that he had been standing in front of only moments before. He landed heavily, sliding to a halt behind a crane gantry.

‘Now what you should be asking yourself,’ Vanderacken declared, barely able to contain his new-found mirth at this reversal of fortunes, ‘is how you’re going to get out of here alive now that you’re effectively unarmed and I’m the one holding the loaded gun.’

‘Is that so?’ came Creed’s retort from behind the loading assembly. ‘You know what?’ he went on. ‘What you don’t realise is that I was never after you or this infernal Inferno Device to begin with. I only got involved when you and your boys started using me for target practice.’

‘Okay. So I guess we were both just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.’ Vanderacken’s tone was deadly serious now, as serious as a hivequake. ‘Now give me the device.’

‘I don’t have it,’ came the husky drawl.

‘What do you mean, you don’t –’ It was then that sudden, harsh realisation struck the Van Saar ganger, like a speeding motorbike. ‘Oh shi –’

The sub-sonic explosion shook the factory to its very foundations. What glass remained in its high, gothic-arched windows was blown out in a hail of diamond splinters. Crane pylons came crashing down in a cacophonous clattering crash, while the shockwave buckled the steel plates of the floor, sending barrels and drums bouncing away along the length of the building.

As Narve Vanderacken clawed his way out of the pile of twisted wreckage where he had landed, his body below the waist a bloody mess of pulped bone and tissue, Nathan Creed calmly strode towards him.

‘I told you,’ the bounty hunter said crouching down next to the dying ganger, his voice barely more than a whisper, ‘you shouldn’t have got me involved. I’m bad news. The worst. But seeing as I’ve got your undivided attention perhaps you can help me after all. You wouldn’t happen to know the whereabouts of one outlaw pit slave, arsonist and Guild caravan hijacker, who goes by the name of Crusher Harlon, would you?’

Thursday 21 April 2011

Necromunda Underhive: Retribution

by Jonathan Green

The settlement of Lucky Break burned. Crimson and vermilion flames rose high into the still air of the dome. Above the burning holestead lights flickered, through the smoke, against the ceiling of the dome in a myriad constellations, looking so much like the night sky that untold millions inhabiting the mighty mountain city of Hive Primus would never see. Figures moved amidst the flames, scarlet shadows spewing sanctified death from their holy weapons, roasting penitents and sinners alike in the Emperor’s purifying fires of retribution.

Coughing violently, her lungs full of acrid fumes, Crazy Maisy dodged a blundering, smoke-blinded hiver and ducked into cover behind a large water butt. A few more hacking paroxysms and the coughing fit passed. All around her was chaos and confusion as holesteaders ran to and fro through the streets of the gambling town, with no idea where they were going. Splashing her face with the stagnant, green-skinned soup that passed for water in the huge barrel, Maisy tired to locate the rest of the gang.

The Hive Tigers had only come to Lucky Break for a bit of rest and relaxation, after collecting on the Graff Brothers contract, but rather than a couple of night’s fun at the gaming tables and winding up the locals in the drinking dens, instead they had found themselves in the middle of a Redemptionist Crusade! She had met and dealt with the insane devotees of House Cawdor before, but these Redemptionists were madder than she was.

There had to be an easier way for a girl to make a living than this, she thought. The saloon-girls of Lucky Break had certainly seemed to be enjoying the high life – that was until the Redemption had showed up in town.

Maisy could hear someone shouting over the screams of the terrified populace and the roaring conflagration. It was a man’s voice, booming and authoritative, as if its owner was used to being obeyed, no matter what, and one that had total conviction in the message it preached.

‘It is your foul living that brought the spider plague upon us,’ the voice proclaimed, ‘your debauchery that summoned the swarms of flies, your lack of faith that made the mould harvest fail, your ungodliness that caused the Ratskins to rise against us! So sayeth His most holy Apostle Cinnabar!’

Maisy suddenly found herself caught up in the press of panicking gamblers, bar-girls, prospectors, and hired scum trying to flee the town. She tried to elbow her way out of the pack, which, bizarrely, actually seemed to be carrying her towards the so far unseen preacher. Then suddenly the mob parted and the Escher girl stumbled, ending up on her knees in front a pair of scuffed and scratched black rat-hide boots.

She let his gaze rise and took in first the frayed, once golden hem of a robe, then its soot-blackened, once crimson, heavy sackcloth folds, the racking slide shotgun holstered in a sturdy gun-belt, the bandolier loaded with wide-calibre shells, and the scorch-muzzled flamer, its pilot light a needle of brilliant blue flame, the air around it shimmering with heat-haze. The man’s face was covered by a polished, ebony devil-mask carved with a leering, unseemly expression. Behind the lunatic priest stood his anonymously-masked and cowled followers.

The Apostle Cinnabar in turn looked down at the purple-haired girl ganger, clad in laced-up leather trousers and pink nylon crop top, with undisguised disgust, as if she were the cultist of some unspeakable, carnally-obsessed deity.

‘Tempter!’ the gargoyle-masked man screamed at her, unexpectedly. ‘How dare you prostrate yourself before the Apostle Cinnabar, Harbinger of the Holy Redemption, offering yourself to him like some voluptuous incarnation of man’s most wanton and base desires?’

What was this guy like? ‘You don’t want to do this,’ Maisy hissed, feeling her cheeks reddening with angry heat.

‘Vile harlot! Prepare to be judged by the weight of your own sins!’ the slavering Apostle screamed, turning the nozzle of his flamer on her.

One concentrated thought was all it took. The Apostle Cinnabar went hurtling ten metres backwards, smashing aside his zealot lackeys in his flight. Maisy didn’t know how she did it, just that she could. It was a talent she had, that was all she could describe it as, a talent that had saved her from certain death more times than see cared to remember. The surrounding crowd gasped and before anybody else noticed, Crazy Maisy was gone.

R is for Robot

As in Angry Robot.

This March, Angry Robot Books - publishers of SF/F and WTF - opened their doors to unsolicited submissions for the first time.

The results of the Angry Robot Experiment are interesting, if not exactly uplifting for the unpublished author (or even the already published but not yet massively established author).

You can read what Lee Harris (editor at ARB) has to say about it here.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Q is for Quezkari

Quezkari is the ultimate Big Bad from my fourth Fighting Fantasy adventure Bloodbones. He - or rather it - is a bloodthirsty voodoo death-god who demands human sacrifices to sate his unholy hunger.

During the course of the book you discover that Quezkari is actually a powerful, evil spirit - a manifestation of the souls of all those transformed into Zombies by the evil voodoo priest Ramatu and those killed by the pirate-lord Cinnabar, a.k.a. the eponymous Bloodbones.

Anyway, so why make a whole post about one monster from one of my books. Well, because Quezkari was realised in pen and ink by ace artist Tony Hough.

I first became aware of Tony's work when Spectral Stalkers (FF #45) was published in 1991. I loved the detail in his work and was intrigued by the cat logo he used to sign his illustrations. Next up was Night Dragon (FF #52) for which he also painted the cover.

And then, when I was commissioned to write Knights of Doom, I was delighted to discover that Tony would be illustrating the book. He also painted the cover for the book and I was struck by his use of a purple palette when there was the risk that my choice of image could have resulted in something much darker.

I was to work with Tony again when Bloodbones was finally published by Wizard Books (in 2006) and I think that his work for that book is even better that his illos for Knights. During the course of the last year Tony has coloured some of his Bloodbones illos in photoshop and the results have been outstanding. And his picture of Quezkari was among those that were updated.

Tony has produced his own artbook called Fragments - The Fantasy Art of Tony Hough. It includes some of the aforementioned illos here as well as others based on characters from my books and you can order you own copy here.

I understand that Tony's now a trained tattooist but I haven't heard of anyway having one of his Bloodbones or Knights of Doom illustrations turned into a tattoo. If I ever decided to have ink done - you know, a nice subtle one, right across the whole of my back - I reckon I could do a lot worse than have Tony turn his illustration of Quezkari into a tattoo.