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The Real Danger of Videogames

It's rare indeed that I'll last more than a few levels of a videogame these days. And this despite the fact that I was a fiend for them growing up. Yet, just this week, I tried my hand at an old PC classic called Portal, and instantly fell in love. It's a beautifully weighted puzzler backed up by a wonderfully written, slyly humorous script.

"A bit of harmless fun," I hear you say. "Sure, you're entitled, and what'd ye be doing anyway only watchin' telly or readin' books? Am I right?"

Oh, yes, you're right. Entertainment is entertainment after all and it's not as if I was playing during writing hours.

But here's the thing. I don't plan my books. I'm what's known as a "pantser". I start a story and wait to see what happens. In practical terms, this means I rely on a constant stream of inspiration. At every moment of the day, whether I'm thinking of food, or bullying small children, or surfing the NetWorld, my subconscious is busy in the background solving my problems.

But Portal -- the brilliant Portal! -- took over that process. Two nights in a row I dreamed about the game, and while I had plenty of inspiration during the week, it was all about solving the latest fiendish puzzle.

Ah, well. I've finished it now and can get back to daydreaming fixes for plotting conundrums. I'm glad I don't play games all that often. I'm not sure I'd ever get anything done!


So, the copy-edits for my next book, The Call are done. This means that from now on I will have no further input until we all start marketing the thing and you poor sods begin to receive wheedling pleas asking you to buy it, sell it, publicize it, review it, give all your lives and worldly possessions over to the glory of ME.

Oh, relax! That won't happen for a while yet, I swear it.

It's been years since I've been through the mill of Traditional Publishing and I had forgotten just how much work goes into it. I had at least four full edits at the hands of several, highly qualified people, before the eagle-eyed and brilliantly pitiless line-editor brought death to a thousand commas. She uncovered a host of other tiny flaws. None of these would have ruined the story. None would have brought armies of furious readers onto the streets to take their rage out on shop windows or on poor little match girls in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But each of them acted as an irritation, working and working to pull you out of the story.

I had to pay about $1,200 to self-publish my previous novel, The Volunteer. The lion's share of that money went on a very thorough line edit. I shudder to think how much I would have had to pay over to get all the careful layers of polish
I'm getting on The Call.

I want The Call to be the best book ever written between now and the inevitable death of the sun. I wanted the same for The Volunteer, of course. But this time around, I have a large team at my back who all act as if they want the same thing; as if their very lives depend on it!*

Self-publishing is a wonder of our age and it has saved many fantastic stories from dusty drawers around the world. I don't doubt, that sometime in my life, I'll be making use of it again. But I won't and can't pretend that my work is better for never having anyone but me involved in its creation.

*Some exaggerations may apply. See Terms and Conditions.

Reading, Watching

Just a quick entry to say how much more good stuff has been coming my way over the last few days.


I've just finished with Adam Neville's Lost Girl. It's a grim cli-fi tale of a father's desperate search for his daughter. The tension -- as is Neville's speciality -- slowly, slowly rachets up until you can't breathe. Great stuff with a scarily believable climate apocalypse background.


Just started on season two of The Leftovers. I'm still not quite sure what episode 1 was about, but I enjoyed it immensely.

On the other hand, the first episode of BBC's The Last Kingdom was a great disappointment. I like the books quite a bit, and I imagined the makers of Vikings must have been quaking in their boots when a series covering much of the same territory was being made by a great institution like the BBC. Well, they must be laughing now. The Last Kingdom drops the ball on all the things Vikings gets so right: the alien cultures of both the raiders and the Anglo-Saxons; the child actors; the fight scenes etc. I wonder how Bernard Cornwell feels about it?


Currently about 12,000 words into a sequal of my forthcoming novel, The Call. I've had a few weeks where travel and illness and the day-job kept me from doing proper work on it, but I feel I'm back in the swing at last.


More soon.

Watching, Reading, Being


Busy, busy, busy! In ten minutes I'll have soap in my eyes as I get ready to go and watch The Martian. Hurray! But don't feel let down thinking I never watch anything on the little box in my living room, because I totally do. There's been some great stuff on lately: Fargo has restarted with a bang on Channel4. The Returned and The Leftovers and Vikings and The Last Kingdom are all under weigh, but I have yet to catch up with them.

Even better than all of these is an amazing little detective series on BBC called River. Holy moly! I think it's the saddest thing I've ever seen, but so bloody good and so clever that I can't tell you a single thing about it without spoiling everythig for you. If you have a chance to watch this one, please give it at least one episode to make up your minds. I think it's brilliant.

Other than that, I really loved the hilarious New Zealand comedy What we do in the Shadows. It's a mokumentary about four old-fashioned vampires sharing a flat in a modern city. I laughed and laughed and my only regret is I didn't save this one for watching with friends. It would make a great party movie. It's on Netflix if you're interested. And you should be!

At the opposite end of Netflix's humour scale, we have Beasts of no Nation. The story of a child soldier. Gorgeous cinematography only augments the absolute horror of the situation. It rambles. It's hours long. But I was never bored and feel it does justice to the traumatic subject matter.


I've just got hold of Adam Neville's latest, Lost Girl. Looking forward to getting stuck in to it.


All my cons are fled and I'm left with a long winter of shivering, writing, and wishing I were elsewhere. On the bright side, however, life is awesome and full of stories. Seriously, Peadar, cop on! Oh, and you'd better come out the other side of this with a new book.

More soon.

My New Novel Publication Deal: The Call

Anybody who has so much as passed me by in a corridor over the last few months, must have been thinking to themselves, "What's he in such a good mood for? He's a vegan. He can't even eat cheese, for heaven's sake!"

Well, it looks like the details are finally out there in the world...

To cut a long story short -- although it's more of a novel, really -- my new book, The Call will be out some time next year. I'm so proud of this one and ridiculously excited about it. I don't have a blurb for it yet, but basically, it's a YA portal fantasy. It takes place in an Enid Blyton boarding school with massive casualties and a severe lack of ginger pop.

My old friends at David Fickling Books will be publishing the novel in Ireland and the UK. Meanwhile, brand new best buddies at Scholastic will put my name in lights all over the US. *cough*.

I'm grateful to all of them. As well as to my beta readers and the Cons that let me roadtest parts of the book on innocent punters.

That's it! I'll share the publication dates when I get them.


Ian McDonald's Luna: New Moon is Brilliant

I'll try not to go on and on here -- the title of this post fully expresses my feelings on Luna: New Moon. But I will go on a little bit.

Ian McDonald has spent much of his career exploring Science Fictional ideas in countries and cultures different from the Western default of white-picket fences and apple pie. He's been in Turkey and Brazil, India and Africa. Japan. Belfast. Now he's decided to mash them all together and slap them down onto the horrifically unforgiving surface of the moon.

His mad experiment has resulted in a brand new culture. It's brutal, fascinating, even exhilarating, with its own laws and artforms and customs. There are people known as "wolves" who skirt the edge of madness whenever a full Earth hangs in the sky; there is a pack of runners on an endless hypnotic jog around one of the cities, where people join or leave as they approach exhaustion. Fashion changes lightening fast, but that's OK: a few minutes can get you a whole new wardrobe printed out.

It's a wild-west claims culture fuelled by murder and complicated contracts. It's packed with a horde of POV characters, all of whom have very different quirks, needs and ambitions.

I don't want to spoil it for you, but man, there are some great set-pieces in there, and while the plot seems to meander a bit at the start of the book, it all comes together beautifully for a big-screen action-packed finish.

I think this is Ian McDonald's best book so far, and for once, I'd love to see a sequel.


TitanCon Lurgie is a Thing

Wow! I had a hilarious time at TitanCon this year. But punishment was swift and sure and came in the form of a deathlurgie. I had to work today and yesterday too, which didn't help, but at least some Important Stuff got done and now, I can lie up on the couch and replay conversations with all kinds of cool and clever people.

I got to chat a bit more to some of the extras this year and that turned out to be a real privilege, I can tell you. "Sound" is how we refer to people like that down here.

As always, the organizers did mighty work and somehow convinced the Drowned God to provide a stunning day for the tour.

But highest praise of all, goes to the natives of Coach 1 -- the only true coach in the North. Man, we must have laughed or snorted in outrage all around the coast. I learned to love the incredibly moving music of Pod and the Milters. Although, when I discovered what milting acutally was, that joy was somewhat tempered.

I won't name the names of all the weekend's funproviders. There were too many of you and I'd be sure to leave somebody out. Also, I'm incompetent with names. But I will say a great big "thanks", for the memories, and most especially, the Lurgie of Enormity that has brightened my days since.

Roll on Octocon!

TitanCon Programme. Enjoy or be Destroyed.

Why, yes, my pretties, we do have a programme for TitanCon, with workshops galore, Water Dancing, famous writers, ballet dancers, actors, people having torrid affairs, a masquerade and so, so much more. I invite you to join us for the time of your life.

The full programme can be viewed here. Enjoy... or be destroyed.


Yes, dear friends, sometimes life is very much a joy. Warm weather and blackberries. Good conversation and better cooking. Right now, I'm working my way through the Oh, She Glows cookbook, making everything from puddings, to salt'n'vinegar roasted chickpeas to breakfast cereals. Tonight, it's enchiladas.

By day, however, the nourishment is more intellectual. I'm writing up a storm -- nothing I'm allowed talk about, but definitely stormy. In a relaxed, balmy kind of way.

And then, when all the work is done, it's time to play...


I'm on one of those good streaks in books that seem to come more and more rarely. Judith Herrin's Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire gave me lots to chew on when I ran out of roasted chickpeas. Yes, yes, I knew the Byzantine Empire was a sort of a successor state to ancient Rome, but I had no idea just how complete the continuity was. "Very complete" is the answer.

Right up until the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the people of the city referred to themselves as "the Romans" and wrote all their documents in an ancient Greek that Plato would have understood.

On the very last day, as the last Emperor lead the last charge against the Ottomon besiegers, he spurred on his followers with the words, "Hurl you javelins and arrows against them... so that they know they are fighting... with the descendants of the Greeks and the Romans."

Cool stuff!

Yet, it's not quite as cool as N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season.

Now, I have a confession to make. I met this author at a convention a few years ago and thought she was great. Yet, I couldn't bring myself to like her books. I bounced off The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms so hard I broke a tooth. While The Killing Moon left me... indifferent.

So, I swore that no matter how compelling the hype, I was never, ever going to read another of her novels. Luckily for me, I broke that promise, because 30% into The Fifth Season, my skull is creaking under the strain of holding in so many great ideas. Books like this are the reason I love speculative fiction. Books like this keep me up at night, partly in delight and fascination, and partly in a rage of jealousy.

I won't spoil it for you, because I'd cry if somebody did the same for me, but in the unlikely event the rest of the story lets me down, I've still got more out of it than the last five novels I read (or tried to read) put together.


I really enjoyed Narcos on Netflix. No spoilers here, but if you know nothing about Pablo Escobar, you'll think the whole story is a ridiculous, drug addled confabulation. Watch it!

And I've just started a British crime series (also on Netflix), called The Fear. One episode in, and I'm marvelling over how good it is. Has anybody else seen this?


TitanCon is very, very soon now. Anybody toying with the idea of going, should just give in to the impulse right now. Seriously, guests from the Belfast-made Game of Thrones -- including the rascal known as Miltos Yerolemou -- will just be lounging around or posing for photographs. And then, there are the writers: Sarah Pinborough, Joe Abercrombie, Pat Cadigan and more.

Feel free to stay home and weep. But feel even freer to make a new, albeit temporary home for yourself in Belfast, where weeping has been banished, and only ecstasy remains.

More soon.

The Miserly Patron
He pays no horses for verses
--he wouldn't know how.
The best that you'll get,
Is a cow

I just love these little windows into the lives of the ancients! Bards, it seems, were a pampered lot with a sense of entitlement as large as the ocean.

I won't claim those few lines above to be a translation. I've toyed a bit with Old Irish, aka Sengoidelc, but it's too bloody hard for the amount of time I'm prepared to invest.

Luckily, others have not been so lazy. In the middle of the last century, a guy called Gerard Murphy translated and collated every scrap of old parchment he could lay his hands on. In the name of accuracy, he dropped all pretensions at poetry and made thorough, if dull, prose translations instead.

On the plus side, it gives me a chance to do my own rendition, and no, I don't expect any ponies for my efforts. It's just a way to pass the time while I wait for my lottery numbers to come up.

For any masochists in the audience, here's the original:

Ní tabair eochu ar dúana;
do beir a n-í as dúthaig dó,

This one doesn't look that difficult if you know modern Irish, containing as it does lots of words that still exist in similar forms. For example, the first line, these days, would be "Chuala mé". But there's evil in the grammar, believe me. Claws and hooked teeth.

And I can't help adoring that final, one-word line: "cow"*. What a put-down! I wish I could have matched that.

More soon. God help us all.

*Or, "a cow".


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