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Monday, April 28, 2014

The Writer's Blog Tour is a quick quartet of questions doing the rounds on the internet. I only discovered it when my friend, and master scribe, John Hunter took part last month. Last week the renowned gentleman and scholar Mike Carey nominated me.

(Mike's responses to the famous four questions can be found over at his blog.)

So, without further ado -


What am I working on? 

For the last couple of months I've been working pretty much exclusively on a new ongoing comics series. Unfortunately it hasn't been announced yet, so it's currently a bit Top Secret. (I know everyone is sick to the molars of folk talking about secret projects that they can't talk about, and somehow end up talking about them more than they would if there was no secret to keep mentioning. So I'll try not to do that.)

I haven't written an ongoing series before, and the process has been fascinating. I'm working with a team who really know what they're doing, which has obviously been a great help, and even though it's only been a few weeks, I've already learned a huge amount from them.

I'm writing with a particular, very talented, artist in mind which is different to my usual 2000AD work, where I often find out who drew my script when the comic itself falls through my letterbox. (Not that I'm complaining – it's been a very pleasant surprise each and every time! It's just that this is a new part of the job that I'm really enjoying getting my teeth into.)

It's also been great fun putting together the plots for the first year of the series, knowing that when the time comes to actually write those stories the characters will likely be trying to pull the narrative in different directions, and that a hundred happy accidents will carry me into territories I couldn't have imagined.

I wondered if the transition from writing (mostly) four-page stories to suddenly having twenty pages every month, 240 a year, would be traumatic, but a story is a story no matter the length and they all need beginnings, middles and ends. I'm still finding that I have to be economical with my page real estate, and find clever ways of fitting in everything I want.

I'm working on a few shorter comics pieces too, one for the publisher of the new series, and a couple for 2000AD, but the deadlines on those are more relaxed so I've been leisurely adding to their note files, using them like a pressure valve system for when the big job threatens to give me a panic attack.

I'm working on a film script with my writing partner Dan Lester. We've written two already – one of which was shortlisted for the Red Planet new writing prize last year (or was it the year before?) - and we're currently assembling notes towards the first draft of the third script.

Last year Amazon commissioned me to write a novel for their Kindle Worlds program, and I've been toying with ideas for a second book. I have no publisher, editor or deadline though so at the moment that project just sees a thousand words every now and again when inspiration strikes. (Which, I suspect, is no way to write a book.)

How does my work differ from others in my genre? 

I have no idea!

I suppose every writer's work differs from the rest of their clan just by virtue of being written in their own voice, and drawing upon their unique life experiences. I presume I'm the same.

I noticed early on that I enjoy a project a lot more when I throw something personal or peculiar to me into the pot. Even seemingly trivial things like introducing a Scottish character into a time travel tale (Boilwash McGinty in A Guide for Prisoners arriving from 2148) can be enough to make it feel like a 'me' story. (And if I find myself writing something that doesn't feel like a 'me' story, my enthusiasm can wane.)

Before writing became my job I was an engineer, then a computer programmer, I worked in markets (like The Barras and Ingliston) and markets (as in financial markets). I'm rubbish at team sports, but I used to be okay at boxing and fencing. I love sweetcorn and hate egg. It might not sound like much of a biography, but that combination alone is enough for a half dozen stories that no one else could write.

Why do I write what I do?

I want to recreate the excitement I experience myself when I read a really good story. That's been my motivation since I was four and I used to fill dozens of red Silvine jotters with my own stories about Luke Skywalker, Batman and The Incredible Hulk. I don't think much has changed since then.

Seeing the work in print is always very cool, cashing the cheque is great, but I don't feel like a job is done until I know how a story's been received. (For better or worse.)

So I write things that I'd want to read. I like a good sci-fi idea, especially something really thought provoking, or that provides a sudden insight into something seemingly mundane. (I'm thinking of stuff like Spike Jonez' film Her last year or pretty much any of Ted Chiang's short stories.) Neuromancer was the book that got me back into reading when I was a moody teenager, and I love anything a bit cyberpunky.

I'm also a big fan of dark fantasy (it's probably horror, but that's not how I'd usually describe it) like the sort of stuff that Joe Hill, Mike Carey, Clive Barker and China Mieville write.

How does my writing process work? 

I usually write in two phases.

First comes the messy chaotic part, where a hundred ideas sit on the page, contradicting each other, being rowdy and causing trouble. During this stage I'm probably anxious that the story's going to remain a mess, that it'll never work, make sense or sell. It's usually the most creative point, I think, when the silliest ideas spring up and are entertained for longer than they maybe should have been. It's not always fun, but it is usually exciting, if that makes sense. This part is fuelled by coffee, daydreaming and staring at walls, and results in many notebooks and Evernote folders being filled. It also demands a recovery period, mostly comprising of a yoga class, a sweaty run, some reading in the sun (when the seasons allow) or a glorious half hour in a quiet steam room.

Next comes the part of the process when I have to edit the nonsense down, impose some structure and have it all make narrative sense. This is nerve-racking for a different reason, as I'm terrified that I'm going to cut something that is, without my knowing it, actually an essential element of what makes the story work. It's also very satisfying as my fears about never being able to write anything ever again begin to evaporate and I slowly become more confident about showing this new thing to something else.

I have a hundred or so stories that made it to the end of phase one but never benefited from the tidying operation of phase two. I keep them in a folder on my computer (well, on The Cloud now, but you know what I mean) called The Lobby. This was supposed to be where I keep all my active projects, but every now and again I realise it's become a resting place for stuff I haven't Second Phased yet. But ideas are resurrected from there all the time, so it's actually not a bad thing to have lying around.

The film scripts I've been writing with Dan Lester have their own process. We usually spend a few months, maybe a year, making a lot of notes. Then we take the notebooks to Turkey, where we sit by the pool drinking cold beer and forming them into a hand-written script. Then we come home and, in the gloom of the United Kingdom, simultaneously rewrite and type up what becomes our second draft. Phase three of this process is where we sell the script to a friendly Hollywood mogul for a million dollars, but unfortunately we haven't cracked that bit of it yet.


I'd like to pass the baton to three writers who are interesting for totally different reasons.

As well as writing and drawing for 2000AD, and writing for Marvel and Vertigo, montynero created the brilliant, and vastly successful, six-part comic series Death Sentence. His blog is a great read and can be found at montycomics.blogspot.co.uk.

Aiden Courtney is a writer and artist, probably best known for the brilliant Irish language comic Rírá, and his blog is over at www.aidancourtney.blogspot.com/

The third writer is Rob Williams, who has written everything from Indiana Jones to Ghost Rider. He was responsible for two of my favourite modern day Dredd stories (Meat and Outlaw) and has a new miniseries out from Vertigo called The Royals. His blog lives at www.robwilliamscomics.co.uk.