Sunday, 19 February 2017

A Short Story A Day Keeps The Badness At Bay

With a day job, two wonderful yet demanding children, a home life, writing comics and working on two new books, I don't really get much time for reading. Hell, I don't get much recreational time at all. My wife and I are trying to rework our schedules so that they include more self-care.

This is a big deal for us as we want to maintain a happy balance between what we have to do and what we want to do. This includes more time out together, more precious time with our kids, healthier escapades and trying to squeeze in some recreation of our own.

The lack of all of the above tends to have a detrimental effect on my brain chemistry, so it's time to change that. Something I used to do a while ago was read a short story every day.

My mind tends to be so busy that most novels don't hold my attention past the first 50-100 page, so short fiction is the best for me while things are so busy. Of course, with a ridiculously stuffed library of vintage science fiction (and rather a lot more), I won't run out of stories anytime soon.

Filling my head with stories helps it to tick along in a far more pleasant fashion, so this pleasant endeavour will begin again now. The difference this time is that, as of tomorrow, I'm intending to post a short review of each one as I go along.

Let's see how this works out.

Saturday, 11 February 2017


Like a great many other like-minded individuals, I have to say that Devin Townsend's seminal Ocean Machine album, 'Biomech', came as such an incredible paradigm-shift that it could be described as life-changing. Here and now I am 38, a father, a husband, a former-music-journalist-turned-comic-book-writer and a bunch of other things to different people, but I remember the first time I let this album wash over me with startling clarity. 

Twenty years ago I bought the CD on the strength of hearing a few moments of one song ('Regulator', to be precise), which was playing on the stereo in Noise Annoys, the little rock and metal record store where I spent a chunk of my teenage years and a lot of money. Like many other stories you may hear about experiences with Ocean Machine, 

I was familiar with Devin's time with Steve Vai (the 'Sex & Religion' album) and the furious insanity of his Strapping Young Lad band, but nothing could prepare me for the seismic and spiritual journey that I was in for. 

I remember laying down as the album began, the opening moments of 'Seventh Wave' washing over me with its wall of guitars and phenomenally dense mix. The song quite literally took my breath away. So many things about it about it, the tuning, the melodies, the mix of the vocals, everything felt right. Fresh. New yet welcomingly familiar, strange yet bizarrely warm. 

'Life' followed next, its swell of euphoria sweeping me away. It progressed through 'Night', 'Hide Nowhere', and the sublime 'Sister'. '3am' and 'Voices in the Fan' opened my mind to a world where heavy music could be heavy and ambient at the same time, while 'Greetings' and 'Regulator' burrowed deep into my psyche. 

I'd had a long day, so by the time 'Funeral' and 'Bastard' swept from the speakers, I'd slipped into a semi-dream state which had the music sweep deeper through me. This wasn't music. It was as though somehow Devin had tapped into some kind of ethereal hive mind and shared the recordings he had managed to capture. When the 12 minute ambient piece 'The Death of Music' played, I was on the edge of sleep, lost in the strange images the album had given me. 

As that finally drew to a close, the bonus track 'Thing Beyond Things' added further depth to the state of tired bliss, immediately cementing itself in my mind as one of the most beautiful things I had ever heard. The raw, shocking scream that ends the album snapped me out of my odd dream-state, returning me to reality so I could try to process what I had just encountered. 

Here, twenty years on from its release, that magic, that sense of awe and wonder that flooded me during that first listen, it's all still there. A vein of Ocean Machine's wonder runs through all of Devin's work and has kept listeners like me captivated for a very long time. He continues to evolve and grow and move on, but for many of us it can all be traced back to this thing of pure and absolute joy. 

I met him on the SYL 'No Sleep 'Til Bedtime' tour (the Sheffield date at the 'Otherside' venue, a tiny sweat-hole of a place) and had a brief chat. I got to say thanks to him for Ocean Machine (and got my copy signed), and I'd like to say thanks for everything that followed it.

Thank you, Devin. I'll see you in March. 

I always love gigs where I'm not the only bald guy in the place.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

FEMFORCE 178 solicitation details released!

The Previews solicitation details for FemForce issue 178 have been posted, offering the first glimpse at the March 2017 relese from AC Comics!

As you can see, I'm listed in the writers for what will be my 7th issue with the title, and I am deep into work on the scripts for three brand new stories, more info on which shall be revealed over the coming months.

Of course, before that there will be FemForce issue 177, which I'm also very proud to be a part of.

The AC Comics team is a joy to be creative with, and I look forward to what the future holds with them.

Although, considering some of the death-defying situations we put the characters in, I doubt they'd be that pleased by the gleeful manner in which we fling new challenges at them...

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

No, no NanoWriMo

I'd like to wish everyone taking part in NaNoWriMo 2016 the very best of luck with their projects this time around, but sadly I won't be joining in the fun (or the moments of crushing, desperate defeat) this year. My last couple of NaNo attempts didn't work out that well, and with my writing career developing in a rather different way during 2016 (hello, comics scene!) I've decided that, this year at least, NaNo is a no-no.

I have a lot of love for that most literary of yearly events, I mean, my first (and so far only) novel was born from furious NaNo sessions. Its sequel, another NaNoWriMo project, is yet to be completed. I thin that after the experience with that first novel I needed to take a look at the way I structure my writing and how stories develop.

For now I am concentrating on comics and the music memoir, but the need to write prose fiction is still there – just a little subdued at the moment. That need is brooding in its dark cave, figuring out how next to approach something with a chunky word count without leading me to the same stumbling blocks I met before.

Writing is a constant learning experience. You can never know all of it. It's just not possible. What you can develop is the ability to take the seed of a story and help it to flourish. My comics work in recent months has helped me massively. The scripts are relatively short in comparison to prose, but the settings, dialogue and stage directions have to be laid out in such a way as to correctly convey your point to the artist, and then the reader.

This has really helped me to hone things a lot in terms of character, pacing, conflicts and resolution, as so much has to be shown visually as well as in the dialogue, and so once the memoir is out I may have to get started on a new novel.

Something fresh that doesn't come with the baggage of the universe I began with A Stolen Fate. Having said that, I'm determined that the sequel will be completed eventually, as the plot of it kicks large quantities of backside. Just not quite yet.

Life is in one of those states of flux where anything can happen, but once I find my way out of that uncertain vortex, then the next novel will come. And the next. And the next. So good luck, brave NaNoWriMo participants – You CAN do this, and this year I'll be cheering you on from the side.

Good luck.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

The Defiants - 'Love and Bullets'

I still can't get enough of this album. Definitely my favourite rock album of the year. This opening song is perfection to me. Classic, timeless and yet utterly fresh.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

FEMFORCE 176 is here! Look out for the debut of my new character!

Femforce issue 176 is now available, and this latest 80 page delight is absolutely jam-packed with new stories featuring the Federal Emergency Missions Force.

This issue, alongside the main feature story and tales from truly gifted creators, contains THREE stories that I had an absolute blast scripting.

These consist of the STARDUST tales 'Where Vengeance Hides' and 'The Distant Horde' which feature the return of Traxis, the villain from my first Femforce story from last year, plus a new SHE-CAT story which is a very special moment for me in my career - the introduction of a brand new vigilante.

Her name (or is it her title?) is VIOLET SHADOW, and even she's not sure which side she's on. You can find her first ever appearance in 'Beware The Violet Shadow'. Please do check it out!

As with my previous stories for AC Comics, these three have been a pleasure to write and AC have been a joy to converse with. It's all about the characters and the story and taking the reader to some unexpected places. More stories to come!

FEMFORCE 176 from AC Comics

Review - Luxury Stranger / In Isolation / The Jan Doyle Band – The Chameleon Arts Cafe, Nottingham

Luxury Stranger / In Isolation / The Jan Doyle Band
The Chameleon Arts Cafe, Nottingham 
September 30th, 2016

Okay, this gig happened a month ago, so I do apologise to the bands for taking a while to get this up! 

It's been far too long since my wife and I last caught the wonderful Luxury Stranger live, and when this triple-bill of musical delights came along, we had to be there. We hadn't been to the Chameleon Arts Cafe before, despite having lived in Nottingham for seven and a half years. A marvellous secret venue right in Market Square, it houses a friendly bar and an upstairs gig room, which was pleasingly lo-fi and intimate. The perfect setting for that night's entertainment.

The Jan Doyle Band were new to us, and while it took a while for their set to grab us, they did win back the audience by their final few songs. Offering a mix of dark synthpop and early Goth, the duo put a lot into their performance which helped to draw the audience in. With a mix that did leave a little to be desired and a few glitches here and there it wasn't a perfect set, however it was plain to see their belief in their material and persona. Compelling by the end. A good start to the evening.

In Isolation have been on my radar for years, but our paths never crossed until tonight. This had me kicking myself, as they were fantastic. Mixing elements of The Cure, The Smiths and Joy Division into one beautiful melancholic pop entity, the band gave a wonderful performance of guitar-driven dark indie taken from their formidable back catalogue as well as the current album, 'A Certain Fractal Light'.

The trio have a beautifully synchronised sound and awareness of each other as musicians which hooked us from the first song. The material has been crafted perfectly, peaks and valleys vying for attention amongst the instantly memorable choruses. An incredible set by a band that truly left us agape with awe. Fantastic.

Luxury Stranger had their work cut out for them, but enigmatic frontman Simon York and focused bassist Jake Hampson (currently without a live drummer) faced that challenge head-on and ensured the audience was given the perfect ending to a splendid evening. Despite playing as a duo at present, the sound was full and immediate, the two musicians illuminated only by a spotlight at the side of the stage. This left them as glowing silhouettes, and along with the stark imagery projected behind them gave the music the perfect visual accompaniment.

Their emotive blend of post-punk, dark indie and alternative rock is topped off perfectly by Simon's full-bodied voice and his engaging stage presence. Over a set which included songs such as 'Paradise Untouched', the hauntingly beautiful 'Dreaming Our Lives Away', the compelling 'Ripple' and the rousing dark pop of current single 'When The Lady Takes The Blame', Luxury Stranger turned an intimate gig in a room over a greetings card shop into an engrossing moment of monochromatic performance art.

At £6 for all three bands, it was fantastic value. CDs were bought. Friends were made. We left happy, chatting animatedly about the quality of the evening, striding out for a taxi and promising to see those bands again as soon as possible. Now that's should say it all.

Thursday, 18 August 2016


Excellent news for horror fans in the US! SCREAM Horror Magazine - the home of my VHS ATE MY BRAIN retro cult film column - will be hitting the shelves at Barnes & Noble stores next month!
This is amazing news, as I really feel that Scream has a lot to offer horror fans in the States, possibly with a slightly different flavour to US based genre magazines. It's an honour to be in those pages, and I hope that US readers will love the mag as much as fans over here in the UK do!

I've had various things available in America in the past, but the thought that my VHS column may be seen by likeminded individuals there is a genuine treat. The VHS scene in the US is far more rabid than it is here in the UK, with sites, events, magazines and new releases still doing the rounds for the faithful.

So if you check our VHS ATE MY BRAIN in the pages of the next issue of SCREAM, please do drop by and say hello!