Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Madame Mist

Ladies and gentleminions, I present to you the back cover of Last Stand of Dead Men, courtesy of Artist Extraordinaire  Tom Percival...

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Last Of Us

I've been pretty busy these last few weeks, while at the same time trying my best to take some time off.

Apparently, time off is a good thing. Time off is necessary. We released The Maleficent Seven at the start of the year, and we're gearing up to the release of Last Stand of Dead Men in EXACTLY one month's time. That's two books out in the same year, one written straight after the other, not to mention one or two other short stories for various things yet to be announced. So I've pretty much been working nonstop since November of 2012. Wow. When I say it like that, I suddenly start to feel very tired...

I'm still waiting to hear back from Harper Collins on things like the back cover reveal, and possibly putting up a sample chapter or two. I also need to pick a date for a VERY informal reader get-together in Dublin over the next few weeks. When I said I'd do this back in April I had no idea I'd be so busy, so hopefully I'll still be able to fit it in. Oh, and in a matter of days I'll be posting the tour schedule for LSODM, which will be kicking off at the Edinburgh Book Festival on August 25th- where copies of the new book WILL be on sale.

I normally HATE early releases, but seeing as how it's only a difference of four days PLUS the fact that the Edinburgh audience never reveal spoilers, I don't mind this at all.

Er... I think I've strayed from the point of this Blog entry... what was it again?

Yes! Time off! That's it!

So, I haven't ACTUALLY been able to take any time off, but then I've never been one for taking holidays. However, I have managed to watch a few movies in the evenings, and watch a few TV shows to relax, and to play a few video games. And THAT is the point of this Blog entry.

Over the past few months, I've played two very good games. Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider. I've talked about these games in an earlier post. Of the two, I preferred Tomb Raider. It just felt more visceral. The gameplay was excellent, the atmosphere was amazing, and the tension was nerve-shredding. But apart from all that, it was the character work that stood out. Tiny emotions flickering across Lara Croft's face, paired with such wonderful voice acting, meant that I really cared about her. I liked her, and I didn't want anything bad to happen to her. In contrast to the gritty, naturalistic world of Tomb Raider, Bioshock was hugely imaginative fun with great gameplay, stunning visuals, and a great supporting character. The best supporting character in video games, I reckoned.

And then came The Last Of Us.

The Last Of Us is survival horror. 20 years after the outbreak of a fungal virus that latches onto a person's mind and drives them insane, the world is in ruins. Survivors gather in quarantined cities. Life is miserable. Life is cheap. Death is quick, cruel, and common. But outside the walls of the cities, it's even worse. That's where the Infected roam.

(A fungal virus sounds pretty laughable, right? Type 'Cordyceps' in to any search engine. Read up on what it does to ants. Now imagine what it'd do to people.)

You control Joel, a man in his 50s who has to escort Ellie, a 14 year old girl, across America. They go from city to town to suburb to countryside to mountains, and not only do they have to avoid the Infected, they have to avoid most of the other survivors as well. Because these are NOT nice people.

This is a game that combines the best elements of both Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite. The world is grim and gritty but so, so beautiful. Lush greenery spills up from cracked cement. The sky is a million shades of orange at dusk. But the action is brutal. And the supporting character is astonishing.

Play this game for a few hours and you'll start to really care about Joel and Ellie. Play it for a few hours more and you'll find yourself terrified. You'll hear the clicking of the Infected around you as you crouch in the darkness, and you'll freeze in fear. Why? Because you want to keep Ellie safe. That's ALL you'll care about.

This is one of the best games I've ever played. Is it the most fun? No, that'd probably go to one of the Uncharted games, just for sheer entertainment. But this is definitely the scariest, the most tense, and the most involving. It sucks you in and it doesn't let you go. This is a masterpiece of gaming that will be used as a benchmark for all games that come after, and as a piece of storytelling it succeeds where so many other stories fail.

It's brilliant. If you're over 18, then ready yourself, and go play it.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Can't Think Of A Title For This Post

It's getting harder and harder to find the time to watch movies these days, so you'd think my criteria for the films I DO get to watch would improve, right? Like, I should probably make the decision to ONLY watch movies that have a chance of being actually good, and to stay away from films I've heard are terrible. Right? Right.

But where's the fun in that?

Besides, adopting such a sensible attitude to movie-watching would have robbed me of the delight of realising that two films I expected to be absolute rubbish turned out to be surprisingly good fun. Let's take the first one— a sequel to one of the worst films I've seen in the last few years.

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra was an awful film. I mean, it was just dreadful. It was so bad that I felt compelled to talk about it on this very Blog, way back in 2009. Here is what I said about it:

"I now hate this movie, for it is awful. It is worse than X-Men 3. It is even worse than Transformers 2. I have not hated a film so much since I saw Van Helsing. Van Helsing was directed by the same man. There are lessons in life I should learn, and yet learn them I do not."

Ah, good times. This was back when I was writing Dark Days. What a fantastic book that was.

Sorry, where was I? Oh yes.

The first GI Joe was horrible. It had a stupid story and stupid action and stupid characters and everything was stupid. It had the worst CGI I'd seen in a long time and they'd taken a monumentally dumb approach to the whole thing. They gave the Joes super robot suits, for god's sake.

So naturally, knowing how much I hated the first one, I went ahead and watched the sequel. And maybe it's because I expected it to be every bit as bad— but it was actually pretty cool.

The story was still dumb. COBRA'S ultimate plan was just daft. But there were so many cool bits in it. The ninjas on the mountain. Adrianne Palicki jogging. Cobra Commander's AWESOME outfit. Adrianne Palicki in the red dress. Bruce Willis and his house of guns. Adrianne Palicki doing stuff.

And the two best scenes were between the Rock and Channing Tatum. The video game and the sharpshooting. Funny writing, funny performances- if every scene was as good as these two, it would have been an amazing movie. As it was, it was fun, action-packed, quite stupid, but there is NOTHING about it you'd hate after watching it.

Oh, but there is ONE moment I should mention. To show how high tech the Joes are, they're given all these cool gadgets at the start. One of these gadgets is a pair of gloves that MELTS THROUGH a chainlink fence. Melts THROUGH it! How awesome is that?? No more waiting around for the extra few seconds while they cut through the fence with stupid, old-fashioned fence cutters! No way! Now they save VITAL SECONDS by using these gloves! And the best thing? THEY GLOW BRIGHT ORANGE! So instead of dumb soldiers cutting through a fence with stupid fence cutters in the dark, being all sneaky and stuff, now the Joes can cut through the fence and alert any enemy within a five mile radius to their presence at the same time! Yippee!

(But apart from this moment of dumbness, it's not a bad movie. I swear.)

And the other film I thought would be awful was Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.

I heard this was diabolical. It's not. There are parts of this that are SO COOL. The witches are the best witches ever in the world EVER. They're evil and hideous but no two are alike. The make-up is brilliant. Famke Janssen is the head witch, and it takes guts to turn one of the most beautiful women in the world into a hideous monster, but they do it, and she's utterly brilliant.

It's a lovely idea at its core— what would Hansel and Gretel be like when they grew up?— and while it's set in a vague time, hundreds of years ago, the language and the music are modern day, which adds to the anarchic quality of it all.  That said, the American accents sported by Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton are a tad distracting, especially seeing as how everyone else has a thick European accent. But come on... Renner's cool and Gemma Arterton is Gemma Arterton. Mmmm Gemma Arterton...

Word of warning, though. This looks like a family film, like a slightly dark fairytale, but it's not. It revels in bad language and gore. There are exploding heads a-plenty. So naturally I loved it.

I don't know if I'd ever watch either of these movies for a second time, but they were pretty damn good the first time out. Which was a really nice surprise.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


A few days ago, I was asked by a reader to talk about mental health issues on this blog, a topic about which I know nothing about. I was hesitant at first— in fact I still am— because there is nothing worse than being given the wrong advice. And me? I have no advice to give.

But these last few signings have been interesting. I've met quite a few people who have made me stop and think about my role and my responsibilities an an author. This isn't something I wanted. I didn't write these books to be famous or to be listened to— I wrote them to write them. That's it. By my reckoning, I shouldn't have any responsibilities towards any of you. I just write books that you happen to read. Why should I care about you beyond you reading my work and giving me your money?

But of course, I do care. Quite by accident, I assure you. This was not planned. I've met a few of you, I know a few of you, and I've heard from even more of you. I read your comments and your tweets and your letters. Some of you have stories to tell, and I end up listening. 

These past few months, since The Maleficent Seven has been released, I've met a lot of new people.  I met a girl who thanked me for mentioning the fact that Tanith once had a thing with Aurora Jane— and she thanked me again for not making a big deal out of it. I met a girl with selective mutism who, by the end of our encounter, was chatting away and grilling me about plot details. Then I met a girl who thanked me for Clarabelle.

I smiled and told her how much I loved writing that character. The girl nodded, smiled, told me again how much she loved Clarabelle. Then she told me she had mental health issues, and sometimes she found it hard to separate what was real from what wasn't, and she loved Clarabelle because she saw in her a person who was different from others but who was loved, and accepted, and allowed to thrive. 

And I looked at this girl and I didn't know what to say. I came up with Clarabelle because I needed a certain kind of warmth and a certain kind of quirkiness. Never in a million years did I think that someone out there would relate to her. 

These three girls have all sorts of pressures on them that I can't understand, and all three of them have a handle on it. The Clarabelle fan was getting the help and support she needs. The girl who couldn't speak was speaking, and she even fist-bumped me on her way out. And the Tanith fan was as strong and confident as anyone I'd ever seen. And as each one of these girls walked off, I realised that they were my readers. These girls, and boys and girls and men and women like them all around the world, are my readers, and if I can do anything to help them in any way, even if it's just to raise a smile when they're feeling low, then I have managed to do something that I never thought I'd be capable of. I'd be able to help them. 

We all have problems. We all have issues. We all have pressures. If you don't seek the right kind of help, if you don't know where to look or you don't have the friends and family to support you, things can go wrong. But there is help out there. There are people, unlike me, who know what they're talking about. Every country will have its own helplines and websites, sites like here in Ireland. Search for them. Find them. And for god's sake use them.

I am now going back to being selfish and egotistical, and absolutely sure that Holly Smale fancies me. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Geek Girl

Those of you who dip your toes into the ocean that is Twitter may have noticed me mentioning a book for silly, soppy girls, called Geek Girl, by Holly Smale. In the interests of full disclosure, I have to say right now that I met Holly at the Harper Collins Summer Party last week and, well... she's kind of besotted with me. It's a thing, it happens, it's perfectly natural, so let's all move past it without making Holly feel at all self-conscious.

Thank you.

I exchanged a few tweets with her a few weeks ago, then visited her twitter page. I figured if she was half as funny in her book as she is on twitter, it'd be a book worth reading. So I bought it, and I've just finished it.

My Review of Geek Girl

Geek Girl is a book about a girl who is a geek. There are no ninjas in it. Virtually no one dies. There are two haircuts (one planned, one not). There are bizarre characters. There is one tremendously awful bully that makes you want to punch the page. There are clothes and shoes.

And DESPITE all the lack of bloodshed... this book is brilliant.

Harriet is 15 years old. She's a geek. She likes facts and figures and doing her homework. She's not exactly popular in school. She's just... weird. Her mind works in unusual ways. When she's plucked from her life and told she's going to be a model she thinks everything is going to get better— she's going to change and suddenly be cool and have friends...

There are lines in this book that will make you laugh out loud. There are jokes. One liners. Gags. Set ups and payoffs. It may deal with popularity (or lack of same), and it may deal with bullying, and insecurity, and it may play with the myth of metamorphosis... but even when Harriet is at her most vulnerable, she is never less than hilarious.

If it helps, you can think of Harriet as the younger sister to Clarabelle, in the Skulduggery books. She is, literally, THAT weird. And THAT loveable.

I would rate this book eight fish out of eight.

But please, let's not mention how much Holly fancies me. It's just... it's embarrassing. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

It's Fun Being a Writer

I get to create stories for a living. I get to daydream for a job. I also, fair enough, have to work extremely hard and cocoon myself in solitude until the book is finished, but that's beside the point. The point is, I get to be a writer, which is something so few people who ALSO want to be writers get to do.

I've just made the very last changes to LSODM I can possibly make. We're in the final type-setting stage now— that is when they take the words you've written in the manuscript and arrange them onto a book page, ready to be printed. And I now know how many pages there are going to be...

KOTW was 607 pages in the hardback version. LSODM, which is a little under 30,000 words longer, will be... ready for this?... it will be...

604 pages.


Now, wait a moment, before you scratch your heads and ask how does that work, it is quite simple. If they had continued to use the same font size as they used from the very start, my publishers would be releasing a book of, according to my vague and approximate mathematical skills, 900 pages. Which is a tad BIG.

So instead they've just reduced the size of the font, to squeeze more words in. Yay! You'll be able to lift up the book when you read it! Result!

Anyway, where was I?

Yes, now that I have approved the type-setting pages, and sent in the dedication and the author biography, I can now get back to the business of being a writer. Which is, y'know, to write... and stuff...

Coming up very soon, I have a non-Skulduggery short story to write, I have to start planning out Book Nine in greater detail (and actually get started on it), and I need to write a load of Skulduggery mini-adventures for the short story collection, in 2014.

But right NOW, my main focus is on another non-Skulduggery short story, for a collection that'll be coming out in the winter of next year. I've been thinking about this for a while now, trying to figure out what to write. It can be any genre, any style... My options are unlimited. But, see, that's where the problem lies.

Limitations are useful. If I'd been told that my story had to be, say, dystopian future sci fi, then I'd have nodded and gone off and written a great dystopian future sic fi story. But because it CAN be a dystopian future sci fi OR a modern day fantasy OR a comedy about a kettle shop OR a first person narrative about a boy who has lost his dog... I now have too many options. How can I settle on one idea if I might find a better one in a different genre?

Before I wrote Skulduggery Pleasant, I embarked upon a hundred half-finished and abandoned stories, books and scripts. Any of you who write will know what I'm talking about. We flit from story to story because we get bored or we get a better idea or this one we're writing now is just not working, or it's too hard, or it's not coming out like we wanted... We flit because our imaginations are running too wild. Our creativity will not settle down.

But of course it won't. It's imagination. It's creativity. Their whole purpose is to go crazy. Their whole purpose is to run wild. But we, as writers, need to get on our horses and gallop after them, lasso them, pull them back, slow them down and herd them into a pen (and this is where the metaphor gets extravagant, as this is both a livestock pen AND an author's pen). We don't want them tame, of course we don't. We want them rearing and kicking— but we want them to do it in that enclosure, within those boundaries and those limitations. That's the only way we'll be able to use that creativity to write a story.

So, that's what I'm doing now. I'm thinking about limitations, and boundaries, and genres. What do I WANT to write about? What style do I WANT to write in? What genre? Once I know all that I'll be able to think of a story and a character and sit down and write the damn thing.