Tuesday 31 December 2019

Review of the Decade - 2010-2019

I've not done one of these before, but inspired by Twitter's Decade Challenge I thought it might be fun to consider what I've achieved over the last ten years, as well as considering the ups and downs of life.

Starting with the downs, I started the 2010s living in a four-bedroom house, but by the end of the decade I now find myself living in a three-bedroom flat*. In fact, during the last ten years I've lived in four different properties, and have gone from having a dedicated office space to a desk in my bedroom. At the start of the decade I was a full-time freelance writer, for three years I held down a full-time teaching post whilst still writing, and I currently have a part-time job, but on the up side I'm earning more from my writing now than I was in 2010. I also lost my Mum last year.

However, in the space of the last ten years I have had fifty books published - everything from colouring books and gamebooks, to steampunk omnibuses and Doctor Who tie-in novels. I have also compiled and edited three short story anthologies, and have had over forty short stories of my own published in various formats.

It seems mad to consider that my last Fighting Fantasy gamebook was published in 2010, while in 2020 I will be writing my twenty-second interactive adventure, Dracula - Curse of the Vampire.

In the 2010s I organised three Fighting Fantasy Fests and attended numerous other events as a guest, including the Frankfurt Book Fair. I've travelled a fair bit, to be honest, as far west as Canada, as far north as Norway, as far south as Gran Canaria, and as far east as Vienna, in Austria**.

I've worked with talented artists such as Martin McKenna, Pye Parr, Simon Coleby, Kev Crossley, Russ Nicholson, and Tony Hough, and I've started my, I am pleased to say, ongoing relationship with publisher Snowbooks. Talking of whom, within the last five years that I have created my ACE Gamebooks series, which is published in the UK by Snowbooks, and which has, to date, been taken up in one form or another by six foreign language publishers and counting.

I had my first creator credit in 2000AD, and I've even had an editor's credit appear in a comic books series/graphic novel, and I will be continuing with my editing work into the next decade.

I've read a fair few books and comics, and I've seen a fair few films, but I have also run nine successful Kickstarter projects, the most recent of which was for 'TWAS - The Roleplaying Game Before Christmas.

So not a bad decade all in all, and it will be interesting to see what the next one brings. Certainly in terms of writing and travel, hopefully more of the same.

What have been your highlights of the last ten years?

* I know - #FirstWorldProblems.

** So not very far east.

Monday 30 December 2019

Thought for the Day

“Sometimes a book has its day and, although of course it does not change, the reader does, as a result of having read better things, or new tastes having come to the fore, or fashions in literature having moved on. Other novels seem to have improved, usually because we have matured as readers, our imaginations have expanded and we understand new literary approaches, sometimes because of life events which have opened us up to a new emotional awareness and understanding.”

~ Susan Hill, author of The Woman in Black

Friday 27 December 2019

Review of the Year - 2019

I'm posting my Review of the Year a few days' early this year, because I'm also planning on posting a Review of the Decade before the year is out.

2019 will definitely go down in my memory as the Year of ACE Gamebooks. Three of them were published over the space of six months, which meant posting out roughly 600 rewards to those people who supported the Kickstarters that meant I could produce the books in the first place. As well as writing 'TWAS - The Krampus Night Before Christmas, editing Beowulf Beastslayer, and proofreading and publishing NEVERLAND - Here Be Monsters! I also started writing the next in the series, Dracula - Curse of the Vampire.

Not only that but I also ran another Kickstarter to publish 'TWAS - The Roleplaying Game Before Christmas, in time for next Christmas, which is the first title in the ACE Gamebooks Roleplay line!

Going back to ACE Gamebooks though, I have also sold the foreign language rights to a number of the titles in the series. Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland is now available in Germany, the Czech Republic, and Brazil, and will soon be available in Argentina, France, and Italy. The Wicked Wizard of Oz will be available in Germany and the Czech Republic in 2020, and there are other licensing deals in the works.

In terms of conventions, I visited the UK Games Expo (for which I wrote a short piece about the history of Joe Dever's Lone Wolf series), MantiCon in Germany in August, and Dragonmeet at the end of November. I also ran Fighting Fantasy Fest 3, which I am assured was the biggest and best to date.

In terms of short fiction, I had stories appear in the anthologies Kaiju Rising II (The Ghost in the Machine), Wonderland (The Hunting of the Jabberwock), and Scarlet Traces (Wonderful Things), while some of my short stories became available again with the reprints of old issues of Inferno! magazine. 2019 also saw the publication of my first short story for the Black Library in five years - Journey of the Magi, published in Inferno! Volume 4 - and I'm pleased to say there are more to come.

This year was also special because Dr Janina Ramirez provided a cover quote for Beowulf Beastslayer, and I started working with another well-known person on a book due to be published next year.

I appeared in my first audio drama, when the Fighting Fantasy Audio adventure Deathtrap Dungeon: The Last Champion was released in March, and in November I attempted NaNoWriMo once again, although I missed out on making the 50,000 word target by around 2,000 words.

I didn't manage to write another Scrooge and Marley (Deceased) story, even though I had hoped I would be able to make time to do so, but the BBC's recent adaptation starring Guy Pearce, and the BBC's adaptation of The War of the Worlds, showed me that there's still room for my interpretation of both these classic stories.

So what do I have planned for 2020? Mainly, finishing Dracula - Curse of the Mummy, but there are some other exciting projects on the horizon, and I will be attending the UK Games Expo again in the summer. And that, I think, is plenty to be getting on with for the time being.

Thursday 26 December 2019

The Krampus Kalendar: Z is for Zzzz...

And relax... Christmas is over for another year and it's Boxing Day! But why is the day after Christmas Day called Boxing Day?

It has nothing to do with the sport of boxing, if that’s what you’re wondering. Boxing Day has been known by that name since the Middle Ages because of its connection to alms boxes.

It was on this day that alms boxes – the boxes placed in churches to collect money for the needy – would be opened by the priests and the money, given by the better-off parishioners, distributed to the poor of the parish. This was once known as the ‘dole of the Christmas box’. It led, in time, to the practice of giving those who had provided a service over the previous year – such as delivering your milk or mail – a seasonal thank-you in the form of a ‘Christmas box’, hence, Boxing Day.

This type of collecting box was first brought to Britain by the Romans, but rather than distribute the money to the poor, the Romans used it to pay for the games which took place during the winter celebrations.

After the sixteenth century it was common practice for apprentices and household servants to ask their masters (and even their masters’ customers) for money at Christmas time. Any gifts of money they received were placed inside an earthenware ‘box’ – which looked more like a piggy bank, complete with a slit in the top – which was then broken open on 26 December.

Didn't get 'TWAS - The Krampus Night Before Christmas for Christmas? Don't worry, you can buy it for yourself here!

And if you missed 'TWAS - The Roleplaying Game Before Christmas on Kickstarter, you can place a late pledge here!


To find out more about the festive season and its many traditions, order your copy of the Chrismologist's Christmas Explained: Robins, Kings and Brussel Sprouts today!

The book is also available in the United States as Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Christmas.


Wednesday 25 December 2019

The Krampus Kalendar: Y is for YULE

Today is Christmas Day! Happy Christmas!

Of course, Christmas is pre-dated by two major pagan festivals, the Roman Saturnalia and the Viking Yule. To our pagan ancestors living in the frozen north of Europe and Scandinavia, the dark days of winter were a frightening time. The darkness was the domain of demons and malicious spirits. On top of that, Odin, chief among the Norse gods, flew through the sky on his eight-legged horse Sleipnir, looking down at the world with his furious one-eyed gaze, deciding who should prosper and who should perish in the year ahead.

Yule was the name given to the Viking festive feast, a time when light and new birth were celebrated in the face of darkness and death as witnessed in the natural world. It was at this time that evergreens were brought into the house; a sign that life persisted, even during these darkest days of the year.

The Anglo-Saxons even referred to the month of December as both Winter Monath and Yule Monath.
To help keep the darkness at bay, on or around the 21 December, the time of the winter solstice, fathers and sons would go out into the forests and bring back the largest log they could find. This massive piece of timber was then put on the fire and left to burn for the entirety of the season of Yule – twelve days altogether.

The English word Yule is a corruption of the Old Norse Jōl. However, Jōl itself may derive from hjól, meaning ‘wheel’. In this sense, it refers to the moment when the wheel of the year is at its lowest point, in midwinter, ready to rise again in the spring.

So here's hoping you have a very happy Yule and a prosperous new year!

Tuesday 24 December 2019

The Krampus Kalendar: X is for XMAS EVE

Every Christmas Eve, children the world over await the arrival of one individual more than any other (or at least one of his many lieutenants) with excited anticipation. The image of the jolly old man with his long white beard, red suit and attendant reindeer couldn’t be more familiar, but where did this admittedly peculiar figure come from? Who is, or was, the real Father Christmas?

Whether you call him Father Christmas, Santa Claus, Sinterklaus or Kris Kringle, the semi-historical, semi-legendary figure who inspired the Christmas gift-giver children know and love today was one Saint Nicholas. And he didn’t come from the North Pole or Lapland. Saint Nicholas came from Turkey (although, of course, turkeys come from Mexico)!

Nicholas was the Greek Orthodox Bishop of Myra in fourth century Byzantine Anatolia. His parents both died when he was still a young man, leaving him a considerable fortune. Shunning his wealth and privileged background to join the Church, Nicholas then made it his mission to give his riches away to those more deserving, and in greater need, than he. The most well-known example of his charity is the one which led to children hanging up their stockings on Christmas Eve for Santa to fill with gifts.

But the image we now have of Father Christmas has its origins in more than just the legendary life of one particular saint. In truth, Father Christmas’s origins go back much further than fourth century Turkey. For the Norsemen of Scandinavia, the season of Yule was as much a dark time ruled over by demons and malevolent spirits. It was best to stay indoors, to escape the baleful gaze of the nocturnal flyer Odin. Odin also brought winter to the world. In this guise he was accompanied by his Dark Helper, a demonic horned creature who punished wrong-doers. This figure would resurface later as Father Christmas’s assistant.

Thor, the Norse god of thunder, may well have had a hand in influencing the development of the Father Christmas myth, for he rode across the sky in an iron chariot pulled by two huge goats, called Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr (in English, Gnasher and Cracker), rather like Santa’s sleigh, with its team of reindeer.

There is also evidence that pagan peoples once worshipped an elemental spirit called Old Man Winter. He too went into the mix that was to eventually produce the figure of Father Christmas.

Father Christmas has an important part to play in 'TWAS - The Krampus Night Before Christmas, the latest title in the ACE Gamebooks series, and is available to buy now. If you've already bought it and read it, please do post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever.

To find out more about the festive season and its many traditions, order your copy of the Chrismologist's Christmas Explained: Robins, Kings and Brussel Sprouts today!

The book is also available in the United States as Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Christmas.


Monday 23 December 2019

'TWAS - The Roleplaying Game Before Christmas Late Pledges


If you missed 'TWAS - The Roleplaying Game Before Christmas on Kickstarter, you can place a Late Pledge now.

Simply check out the rewards below, and click on the PayPal button for the one you would like to select. And thank you in advance for your support.

The Krampus Kalendar: W is for WASSAIL

Wassailing used to be a popular part of the Christmas festivities in England and the memory of it still lingers in the words of certain carols, but what was wassailing, and how exactly did people go about it?

Wassail itself was a hot drink which pre-dates the Christian festival by some centuries. The word ‘wassail’ comes from the Old English wæs hæl which literally meant ‘be whole’ and so, by extension, ‘be healthy’. The phrase ‘hale and hearty’ has its origins in this expression as well.

The ceremony from which wassailing developed was a toast to the sun as it rose on the morning after the shortest day of the winter solstice. It, like the veneration of evergreens, was believed to encourage a bountiful harvest (specifically that of fruit) in the year to come.

The transformation of the winter festival to a Christian one did nothing to diminish the popularity of the wassail toast and it persisted, like so much else, becoming interwoven with the newer Christianised celebrations.

In Saxon England, at the start of the year, the lord of the manor would shout the greeting wæs hæl to his assembled household who would respond with the words drinc hæl, meaning ‘drink and be healthy’. His lordship would then take a swig from a large wooden bowl – the Wassail Bowl or Wassail Cup – before passing it on to the next most senior member of the household. And so it would be passed down the line until everyone had had a drink.

'TWAS - The Krampus Night Before Christmas is available to buy now, and if you've already read it, please do post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, and anywhere else you can think of.

To find out more about the festive season and its many traditions, order your copy of the Chrismologist's Christmas Explained: Robins, Kings and Brussel Sprouts today!

The book is also available in the United States as Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Christmas.


Thought for the Day

“For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.”
~ Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Sunday 22 December 2019

The Krampus Kalendar: V is for a VERY Merry Christmas

The word ‘merry’ now has all sorts of connotations connected with it to do with being slightly intoxicated, but how did the seasonal salutation come to be in the first place? And for how long have Christmases been merry?

‘A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You’ was the verse that Sir Henry Cole chose to put on his first commercially available Christmas card in 1843, although the phrase was already in use almost 300 hundred years before that, appearing as it does in The Hereford Municipal Manuscript of 1565:

And thus I comytt you to god, who send you a mery Christmas & many.

The word ‘merry’ has its origins in the Old English word myrige, meaning ‘pleasing’ or ‘delightful’. By the sixteenth century there were a number of phrases in everyday use that included the word – ‘make merry’ (circa 1300), ‘Merry England’ (circa 1400) and ‘the merry month of May’ (1560s) – in which it meant ‘pleasant’ or ‘agreeable’. However, by the nineteenth century it had taken on its more familiar meaning of ‘jovial and outgoing’.

Another familiar Christmas usage of the word ‘merry’ is in the English carol ‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’, first published in William Sandys’ Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern in 1833. The carol probably existed as a folk-song long before it was written down, and the phrase ‘rest you merry’ appears in The Dictionary of syr Thomas Eliot knyght, of 1538:

Aye, bee thou gladde: or joyfull, as the vulgare people saie Reste you mery.

'TWAS - The Krampus Night Before Christmas is available to buy now, and I'm pleased to say that 'TWAS - The Roleplaying Game Before Christmas has funded on Kickstarter.


To find out more about the festive season and its many traditions, order your copy of the Chrismologist's Christmas Explained: Robins, Kings and Brussel Sprouts today!

The book is also available in the United States as Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Christmas.