Coming Soon: Away With The Manger

Away with the Manger will be released here every Sunday leading up to Christmas, starting with Part 1: A Very Bad Idea on the 3rd December.


Also, I really have no idea how I managed to get my voice to go that high.


Building Worton | Doing It Over…

If I could go back to the beginning, if I were to start Dark Legend over, what would I do differently? Even though it has been through so many changes in its life there are definitely still a few things I would do differently.

It would start differently for one thing. I would either expand or change the prologue. I’d make sure Wayne had more of a role in the first book- Maybe put him in at intervals, researching Will, whilst the main action goes on around him.  Otherwise I think I would concentrate on DI Fisher investigating the events of the the current prologue, being a bit sceptical and then coming across the graffe himself. Then at the end he would set out to find Will… At which point we do the six month time jump that happens at the end of the current prologue.

If ever there was to be another TV version I would have this as the thrust of the first episode. I would start with Wayne going into Police Tower and reporting the incident at the Serpent’s Fall, with a few flashbacks as well. What I’d also include in this currently non-existent first episode are all the various things that are mentioned but not seen- Rusty Barnes’ funeral, Greg and Joe in the sewers, Dan becoming infected… I’d use the first episode as a better introduction to the characters and a way to introduce the ‘legend’ concept, to set up the media storm that engulfs Will. That, in a visual version, would need a lot of setting up- More than it does the books. In the books I can get away with having it all in the past, explaining it in-retro, and I can allow the reader to use their imagination, but television is much more demanding. On television that would just be an info dump.

I’d change Eliza’s arc as well. At the minute her arc is too man dependent- Her motivations stem from the actions of men (alright, it’s men being arseholes that cause her actions but still…) I’d want her to have a much different motivation, less masculine-centric. I’d make her opposition to Will’s fight against the graffe front and centre, more apparent. I’d focus more on how her  reputation is underserved (rather than just a few lines) and I’d make sure she gets a different ending as well. The ending she currently has leaves me a little uncomfortable.

The actual ending, when I get around to it, will be different to the original version- The change is tiny (in the grand scheme of things) but it’s now way more tragic and emotional for the surviving characters. The chances are that they’ll all be f***ed up for life. I do worry that it may confuse people or that people will really hate it (there are some who DEFINITELY will hate it but hopefully I can write it in such a way that most people like it.

Overall I’ve already made most of the changes I wanted to make- I’ve already altered Eliza’s ending once from what it was originally (where she died and was never mentioned again) and the book I’m writing at the moment, No Angel Born In Hell is almost completely different thanks to some of the previous changes I’ve made. I’ve pulled forward at least two arcs that originally formed part of the last book (because both work better here and it means I can plough straight on to the climax without muddying the water.) One character who was there originally now isn’t (because I needed a better way to get him in place for the ending) and one major character death that originally occurred here got pushed forwards into book four. This happened because some elements of book four were also changed, especially the second half of the story after Jack’s fortress is overrun (It changed because I dropped an original story arc involving androids and an insane priest.)

I do think that there would be problems if I wanted to change any major component at this stage though- Maybe if I get that TV version.


Target: Llewelyn

Early March… Many years ago…

Walking the roads above Bethesda I almost get whacked by a bus. I then start to wonder if that was the bus I was just on, the same bus that almost collided with a tree and about five other cars on the way here. You’ve got to love the Welsh bus system. Who needs to pay fifty pounds for a day of adrenaline sports when you can get a day saver ticket and do the same thing for a fiver? Sixty miles an hour down tight lanes, swerving round every corner, the bus tilting like a motocross bike circling a speedway, cars hooting as they narrowly avoid being crushed. Good job it’s too early for casual walkers or there’d be pedestrians flying all over the road as well. The bus that comes at me above Bethesda is a particularly crazy example and the lanes up here are much tighter than the ones running out from Bangor. As I am young and full of life and not prepared to die I dive for the side of the road and narrowly avoid being crushed. If that was the bus I was just on I’m peed off, because I needn’t have got off in the centre of Bethesda.

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Building Worton | Keeping the Faith

One of the key questions a writer should ask themselves when creating any character is what their religion is. Are they Christian? Are they Jewish or Hindu or Islamic? Do they, in fact, have no religion at all? Are they an atheist? The answer depends on the context,  a Buddhist in Anglo Saxon England is going to be a bit out of place, to use an example, but it is important to answer the question nevertheless as it will inform the character’s actions and how those actions impact on the story.

Dark Legend, being set in the modern, mostly secular world, means that religion doesn’t play that big a part in the main story. That doesn’t mean that the characters don’t have any kind of faith or belief system though. Between them they have a whole mixed bag of faiths and beliefs and this affects them and the story in different ways.

Will is an Atheist, as Harris mocks him for at one point: ‘Christmas? You don’t believe in Christianity, Jesus or God Fleming…’ As Will then rebuffs, he believes in Christmas as well as peace on earth for that one day each year. So he does have some, limited sort of belief and that, I think, is solely down to the society he lives in. Without any God to guide him, Will knows that there isn’t going to be any miracle or salvation coming. He knows that the only thing stopping humanity from going over the edge is humanity itself. For Will, death is the end and when he loses his friends he’s lost them forever. For him there is no happy reunion in the sky. Thanks also to him bottling up his emotions, this means he gets more cut up about those deaths than anybody else- He often blames himself.

Not having to worry about sin and damnation also means that his morality is somewhat dubious. He’ll sleep around and not care. He’ll blow up buildings and not care. Only when people get hurt or injured or damaged does he care, he has that much morality at least.

In terms of faith Will is interesting because his Mother’s family were Jewish. This means, under Jewish law, that Will is also Jewish. If you told him this, however, he would tell you that he isn’t because he doesn’t have any religion. It adds a nice slant to his childhood Christmases where he would go around to his friend Zac’s for the day, Zac also being Jewish. His dad’s family, going back three generations, are atheists. Max, Anna and Mable are the last three to have any kind of solid religion, in their case Christianity.

Contrast Will with Hailey. Like Will, Hailey is also an atheist but one who was brought up in the throngs of Catholicism. Her parents were both Catholic and when we first meet her she’s a pupil at a Catholic boarding school run by nuns. (Why is it always nuns? Errr… Because nuns are funnier than regular teachers?) Though an atheist, she has a great many superstitions and is incredibly open to ideas surrounding the supernatural. This is emphasised in Sting where she comes to believe that there is something behind the walls of the gate. Dast doesn’t believe her, although she is partially right. Later on she mentions that she heard it speaking to her as well, to which Will responds by asking ‘did those nuns never teach you to ignore voices in your head?’ I won’t spoil what Hailey’s answer is.

By far the character who is most visibly impacted by religion is Dast. Though, like many of the other characters, he’s an atheist, his story is wrapped up in his mixed Islamic/Hindu background. Being gay, he appalled his dyed in the wool father and was thrown from the house, running away to Worton, where we first meet him some years afterwards. Without that incident, an incident which originates from Hassan Sayeff’s strong beliefs, Dast would not be in the right place to take part in the story. Like Hailey, he still has some remnants of belief and this shows up from time to time.

I also imagine that Gertie Barnes is a regular churchgoer, dragging her reluctant nephew along with her. I imagine she dresses up for it as well. That would certainly fit with her character.

Religion itself crops up now and again in the story itself, like in Sting where Will, Doug and Joe take shelter in an abandoned church. This gives rise to Will telling a story about a hypocritical priest. Earlier, in the first book, we visit St Felicity’s church, where according to Doug (wrongly,) Greg went for the purposes of being touched up- There’s also a bit of an Easter egg somewhere in that bit by the way, just so you know. There’s also Muriel Fisher, who, to the couch-bound Will’s irritation, watches religious programmes on a Sunday despite not being religious. Dast also briefly mentions how the Mersey is as sacred as the Ganges in Stop The Cavalry– A fact which is actually true.

At the end of this year I’ll be releasing a four part Christmas story that exists a little outside the main narrative. It features Eliza, Dan, Doug and Amanda (with a few appearances by Will and Harper and a cameo from Randy.) Being a Christmas story religion plays a massive role and all I will say is that accusations of blasphemy occur more than once within it.

Religion is a necessary part of fiction, especially if you want your writing to have life and a grounding of realism. Dark Legend is not a book about religion, but because it is set in our world, in the real world, religion has to play its part in the character’s lives, even if its influence is only passive.

Building Worton is a series of posts going behind and beyond the scenes of the Dark Legend books (Spawn, Swarm, Stop the Cavalry and Sting) and the Morfaverse at large. Everything is available from Amazon in various formats.

The Barricade

I’m increasingly becoming of the opinion that literary agencies are more a hindrance to getting properly published than a help, especially in my case. I’ve long suspected that one of the reasons I’m being rejected because I don’t fit into their conservative, middle class mould but I’m getting the impression, sometimes, that my work isn’t even being read at all, let alone read by the right people. I feel like I’m not even being given a fair chance.

You’d suspect, for example, that a book which is becoming more and more socially relevant by the day would peak somebody’s interest, but it hasn’t. I just get the same standard ‘it’s good but there’s no place for this in the current market.’ (See above for what that basically means!) There should always be room for socially relevant books in the market, but in this case I’m just being fobbed off.

So what do I do? Keep trying to break through their impenetrable barricade? Or do I try and find a way around that barricade?

On the independent road I am getting somewhere right now. In a few places some big fish are starting to sit up and take notice. Some of this year’s promotional pushes are yielding results too, though not all. The new paperbacks have been a massive boon as well. That isn’t going to sustain me forever though. Forgetting that my mental health won’t allow it, it’s also never going to get me into a position where I can make an actual difference, a proper impact on an industry that is crying out for radical new ideas. I HAVE to get over the barricade.

Publishers do not accept author requests, however. Soliciting directly is definitely out of the question. They REQUIRE people to go through an agent. This is understandable, they have better things to do than read through one hundred trash manuscripts a day. From what I’ve read the agencies have a bad enough job themselves. They’re struggling to cope by wave after wave of people thinking, for some reason, that writing is an easy job.  Perhaps that’s another reason why I’m not getting through- My stuff is just being drowned in a noise of other attempts. But as of right now there is no other option but to join in with those masses.

The main problem with the current route to publication, I think, lies with the gatekeepers. It lies with the agencies and the first hurdle. There is a widespread problem in that they’re definitely not doing enough to promote a vibrant and diverse literary scene. There is so much written on the internet about how certain people, certain ethnic and cultural groups and certain areas of society are underrepresented in fiction and the tendency is to blame the publishers. I don’t think so, not entirely anyway. It could well be that the underrepresented just aren’t getting through to the agencies, that like myself they aren’t even being considered because they don’t fit a certain mould.

In Britain, for example, working class fiction and the working class author used to be a huge thing. Now it has all but vanished. The authorial landscape is increasingly homogeneous to fifty-sixty year old white, middle class men (often with slicked back grey hair and a degree in English literature) writing low quality thrillers (or in one case, fodder for teenage girls written in what I can only describe as a disturbingly fetishistic way) or white, upper-middle class, middle aged women writing things for their own social niche. Quite often they aren’t very challenging Anybody outside those areas (like, say, anyone who is in their mid twenties and working class) doesn’t stand a chance. There is a place for those books, everybody deserves and NEEDS to be represented, but currently that is not happening outside these areas.

There has to be a solution and a way over the barricade, for both myself and all the others who are being undeservedly ignored because they don’t fit in. What that may be eludes me right now, however.

Sorry if this came across as a bit of a rant. I just needed to let my feelings out.

Building Worton | Could it Ever Happen?

A mutant plague is all well and good within the context of science fiction, but what about here in the real world? Could something like the Dark Legend series ever actually happen? Could a gene altering parasite really be created in a lab and unleash hell? The answer is that it might be able to happen, given the right set of circumstances.

Every day scientists are making leaps and bounds in the name of genome manipulation. There will, soon, be such a thing as designer babies. Parents with the money to do so will soon be able to choose their baby’s sex or eye colour or hair colour or whether it has big ears. They’ll be able to make sure that it never gets any inherited diseases… But hey, why stop there? DNA contains every bit of information we need to survive, and more, so why not go with six fingers? An extra toe? You could even genetically graft a duck bill onto your baby if you really wanted to. My point is that DNA is no longer the fixed thing that it was once was. We now have the ability to change it, to alter it, before a child is born. Very soon we’ll be able to change our DNA whenever we want, when we’re twenty or forty or eighty. Already we’re able to select the traits we want through IVF and manipulation and genome editing is only a few steps beyond that.

Altering DNA, adding to it or taking something away, relies on a process called CRISPR. This is a very recent scientific discovery, only from the last decade, but already it is changing the whole study of genetics. It uses enzymes, specifically one by the name of cas9, to cut out a specific strand of DNA. CRISPR can also be used to add to DNA, giving your baby that longed for and beautiful duck bill. It’s already been used to create the Spider-Goat… A goat that can produce silk, like a spider. So far CRISPR has only been achieved at a single celled level and not on a fully grown, adult human but I would say that it is only a matter of time. There is also ZFN and TALEN which do similar things. CRISPR is the latest and best of these processes.

So, if Dark Legend were to happen, there would have to be a parasite or a creature which naturally secreted a CRISPR like enzyme, an enzyme that destroyed a person’s DNA as happens in the books. Thank goodness one of those doesn’t exist… Yet! For years the dream of scientists the world over has been to create life and they are getting incredibly close. In fact, they are practically there. Earlier this year scientists created their first synthetic life form. So far they’ve only managed to make microscopic bacteria but their eventual goal is to make a full, organic life form. We’re not talking spider-goats or duck billed babies here, we’re talking new never before seen animals and creatures and yes, maybe even parasites. We’re talking about playing God.

It could start of simply and innocently enough- Some scientist builds a parasite in order to provide a ‘natural’ alternative to the CRISPR process… It goes wrong. It doesn’t work the way it should. Instead of targeting the specific genes it targets everything. It breeds, it spreads… Oh boy, we’re doomed!

But if it corrupted our DNA so much wouldn’t that just kill us? In one scenario, yes. There is, however, another possibility. DNA is not simple. It isn’t just the stuff that keeps us alive… There is also a whole heap of inactive junk hiding in there, some of which could be dangerous. Estimates vary but it has been guessed that as much of 97% of our DNA is junk This includes ancient diseases, genetic back alleys and heaven only knows what else. All it would take was the activation of one of these strands of junk DNA, say by way of man made parasite, and a person could potentially become in-human. They could devolve. They could, in theory, mutate.

Science fiction is brilliant at championing our worst fears. It has done ever since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. Dark Legend does exactly the same, albeit unintentionally I’ll admit. Scientists are already looking at manipulating DNA, they are trying to create life and both of these investigations could go incredibly wrong.  If the information got into the wrong hands it could be deadly. The plague may not be exactly as Dark Legend, it could be something radically different, but it is possible to some extent.

All together now: Spider Goat, Spider Goat… Does whatever a Spider Goat Does… Actually the image is not of a Spider Goat… It’s from Delamere Dairy.



The Destruction of Braich-y-Dinas

Anyone who has driven the A55 will have likely come face to face with Penmaenmawr. Coming from the west you drive around the outside of it, the road balancing precariously between the sea and the shored up, granite cliff face. Come from the east and you’ll mostly drive underneath it but before you get there you’ll see it rising up in front of you, blocking the road ahead. When you get close you’ll see it scarred by scree slopes and criss-crossed with wire fences. It looks uninviting, unwelcoming, but it does not look all that threatening. It is hard to believe, driving past it today, that this was once regarded as one of the most dangerous headlands in Britain. In order to get around it people used to brave the mudflats of the Lavan sands at low tide. That mountain genuinely terrified people. The Romans had the better idea of diverting their road behind it. Over the course of the twentieth century the mountain was decimated, stripped of its terror, first by way of intensive quarrying and the reduction of its size from 1550 feet to just over 1000, and then by the building of the A55 dual carriageway around and under it. The quarrying in particular is both a travesty and a tragedy for not only has it has stripped Britain of one of its coastal wonders, it has completely destroyed what was, potentially, one of the most important archaeological sites in the region, the hill fort of Braich-y-Dinas.

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