Friday, 23 December 2011

All Things White & Beautiful

The closest thing to a Christmas story you're going to get from me this year.
Taken from one of the abandoned drafts of the sequel to White Vampyre.

The bar was mournfully quiet; its lights were dimmed low, with only one remaining customer.  It was late; a time to be cuddled close with a loved one, if you had a loved one.  The barman had successfully ejected all of his customers over an hour previously with the exception of this last, lone drinker.  His full repertoire of subtle and not so subtle hints had failed to persuade this maudlin patron that it was time to leave, and the barman, who had hoped to go home early for a romantic evening with his girlfriend, had resolved himself to remaining to the bitter end.  Under law he was obliged to continue serving as long as he had customers, or until six am when all licensed premises were required to close for a minimum of two hours.
At five minutes to three in the morning the overflowing ashtray and half-completed pyramid of empty shot glasses implied the bar’s unwelcome final customer had no intention of going anywhere any time soon.  These suspicions were confirmed an instant later when he produced a credit card and slid it across the bar.
“Another shot of tequila.”
“Don’t you have a family to go home to?  I do, if you don’t.”
The man rewarded him for his pains with a dirty look.  He searched through the pockets of his overcoat and produced a battered Zippo, a pack of cigarettes and a leather wallet.  Shaking out a cigarette, he flicked open the Zippo with practised ease and lit it.  The tip of the cigarette glowed red as he took a long draw, the paper burning with a slow hiss.  As he exhaled he snapped open the wallet to reveal a SPF officer’s shield.
“No, I don’t have a family waiting for me.  I had a girl once - she asked me to choose between my career and her.  I’m still police - figure it out for yourself.”  He took a sip of his tequila and grimaced.
The barman decided to try and reason with him one more time.  “I’m sorry to hear that.  But I do have a girl waiting for me.  Y’know what I mean?”
“Well hooray for you!”  A dangerous glint shone in the officer’s eyes.  “Let me tell you what I have.  I’ve got a big fucking H&K scattergun in my patrol car that’d shred your little dive real quick.  So why don’t you just cut it with the mouth and serve me my drinks?  Does that sound fair to you?”
The barman had not survived his many years in Europa City by not knowing when to back-pedal.  “Hey, no need for that, man.  A tequila, wasn’t it?”
The officer nodded.  “Yeah, make it a double.”
The barman poured the shot, the faintest of nerves shaking his hand, though his fear was moderated by self-righteous indignation.  He cursed his misfortune.  Of all the bars in the city, of all the nights of the year, this psycho-cop burnout case had to choose his bar to drown his sorrows in.  His one solace was that the evening was unlikely to get any worse.
A polite cough made Sykes look up from the pitted surface of the bar.  The woman was dressed in an ankle length white fox fur coat, with a matching astrakhan hat.  Here and there, melting drops of snow added highlights to the coat’s luxuriant pelt.  Her skin was almost as pale as the fur, it contrasted sharply with the ebony black plait of hair that curled around her right shoulder and breast.  The only other colour about her was her lips and eyes, carnelian and sapphire respectively.  It was the eyes that captivated; sucked the soul from your body and the spirit from your heart.
The SPF officer froze, the colour draining from his face.  It was the only emotion, other than maudlin regret, he had felt all night.
“I know you.  I know you!”
The woman sniffed.  “Of course you do, Edward.  You stopped me for a traffic violation about a year ago.”
“No.  You can’t be her.  It’s not possible.”
“All things are possible, Edward, with a little faith.  Now, how about buying a lady a drink for old time’s sake?”
“What are you drinking?” Sykes asked, not so much surprised by the sound of his voice as by the question asked.  It was certainly not the one foremost in his mind.
Cognac,” the woman whispered.
Cognac it is then, a large one.”
The barman gave Sykes a sidelong glance as he picked up a balloon glass and pressed its rim against the optic.  He repeated the procedure and set the glass in front of Sykes before retreating to the far side of the bar.
With the barman a discrete distance away, Sykes managed to voice the question that had haunted him these long months.  “Why?”
“Why what?”
“Why show up now?  Why humiliate me in the way that you did?”
The woman shrugged.  “I didn’t realise you felt humiliated by our meeting.”
“No?  How’d you expect me to feel after being found stark bollock naked in the back seat of my own patrol car?  Christ, I was lucky not to be chucked off the force.  As it was I spent a month undergoing psychiatric evaluation and another three months on probation.  Shit, lady, you all but trashed my career.  If Guyon Sajer hadn’t taken a personal interest in me I’d have been royally fucked.  And that was only because a woman matching your description was linked to the death of one of his officers.  Not that they found any record of a ‘Meledy Raindeth’ in the city of course.  So the question remains - who the hell are you and what do you want?”
The woman who had called herself Meledy Raindeth shrugged.  “What does anyone want in this god-forsaken city, Eddie?  Something to keep them from hunger.  Something to keep them from the cold.  Someone to love.  You ask what do I want, but the real question is what are you searching for at the bottom of a bottle?  Your humanity?  Some lingering shred of decency?  A sign that there’s more than a brass badge separating you from the scum out there?”
The colour, which had been steadily draining from Sykes’ face suddenly returned in a flush of anger.  “Fuck you, bitch!  I don’t know what you think you know about me,” he exploded, spraying flecks of spit across the bar, “and I don’t care how you came by it.  I was acquitted.  It wasn’t my fault.  She ran out in front of the car.”  He wiped a string of saliva from his chin and tossed back his tequila.  “Barman - another.  Better still, just leave the bottle.”
The barman, who had been listening intently to a sports cast, jumped.  “What?  Shit.  Sure.  But let’s see some credit first.”
Sykes tossed him his card.  The woman slid on to the barstool next to him.  She crossed her legs, causing the fox-fur to fall open, exposing a milky-white expanse of thigh.  She picked his cigarettes up from the bar and took one.  Her eyes bored into him as she picked up his lighter and snapped it open.  Exhaling, she replaced the lighter and said, “You can scream it wasn’t your fault as loud and often as you like but deep down inside you we both know you don’t believe that for a minute.”
Sykes’ jaw dropped.  He snapped his mouth shut and stared at his nemesis, trying to organise his thoughts.  Then he said, “You’re beginning to bore me, lady.  I don’t know what your purpose in coming here tonight is, whether you just want to bust my balls, or what, but I’m about two seconds away from arresting you.”
She smiled.  “For what?  Speaking truths in a public place?  I know it’s unfashionable but I wasn’t aware it had been made a crime.”  She swallowed some of her cognac and smiled.  “So much pain.  It’s eating you up like a cancer, and yet you could let it go just like that if you chose to.”
Sykes shook his head, bemused.  “Just who the hell are you?  You’re one scary lady, that’s for sure.  They used to burn women like you at the stake.”  He grabbed himself another cigarette and picked up his Zippo.  He stared at the SPF shield and lightning flash engraved into its case - it had been a graduation gift.  Back then, fresh from the academy, things had seemed so much simpler.  He had been young and hot, a rising star in the department.  He and three other officers from his graduating class had formed their own cadre within the SPF.  Faced with a rising tide of vehicular crime, the Council had given them carte blanche on the roads.  As long as their reports were clean they were free to take whatever steps they deemed necessary to police the city’s autobahns.
Playing games of terminal chicken with the biker crazies and car-jackers, they had blazed their own brand of justice across the city.  But administrations and their attendant politics change, and one by one they had fallen as quickly as they had risen.  Shiltz was doing ten for vehicular homicide; Voigt would never walk again and Connors - there had barely been enough of her left to fill an ashtray.  If Sykes had not been undergoing psych while on probation at that time the odds were that he would have finished up dead as well.
“You can’t go back, Eddie.  Times change.  You either adapt or you die.”
He lit his cigarette.  “Yeah, and sometimes you do both.”  He picked up the tequila bottle and took a slug.  “So, come on, lady, what are you really here for?  You got a purpose in raking up the past, or are you just out to push my buttons?”
“I came here to save your soul.  To show you the error of your ways, if you will.”
“No shit.  It’s a little late for ‘A Christmas Carol’ isn’t it?”
She smiled, but there was no warmth or tenderness in her eyes, they remained icy, impassive.  “That’s right.  I’m the ghost of Christmas Fast.  C’mon, Eddie, let’s go for a ride in that big black phallic symbol of yours.”
Sykes sat back on his stool and regarded her thoughtfully.  He pushed the bottle away from himself and stood up.  Swaying slightly, he said, “Hell, why not.  You’re probably the best offer I’ll get all night.  And you’re certainly a looker.”
“Try not to confuse that with hooker.”
“Sure, sister.  Whatever you say.”
Sykes’ car was parked a hundred metres from the bar.  They trudged arm in arm through the falling snow, their feet slipping in the slush.
“That barman was certainly glad to see the back of us.  Couldn’t shut the place up quick enough.”
“Unfortunately he won’t live happy ever after.  When he arrives home he’s going to discover his next door neighbour mid-coitus with his girlfriend.  Never a good scene to begin with, this sordid little affair becomes even more tragic.  He murders them both in a fit of passion and then, stricken by remorse, takes his own life.”
“How?  No don’t answer that.  I don’t want to know.”
Sykes transmitted the security code to the car’s onboard system and opened the passenger door.  Raindeth ignored him and walked around the vehicle in a slow circle.  She caressed the bodywork, brushing away the melting snow.  “Almost frictionless.”
Sykes shrugged.  “Some sort of carbon bonded polymer.”  He sighed wistfully.  “It’s not a patch on the old Mk III.  Those supercharged babies were the best.  These electric beasts just don’t have the same feel.  I never saw the point in banning internal combustion engines.  The damage was already done decades ago.  Why do they think half of Europe’s underwater now?  In case nobody’s noticed, it’s too fucking late to save the ozone layer.”
“Everything changes.”
“You told me that already.  So where are we going?”
“The Netherlands quarter.  A little place called the Paradiso over in the Amsterdam sector.”
Meledy shrugged.  “Nostalgia, continuity, take your pick, it’s all one and the same to me.”
Sykes set the auto-routing system and engaged the drive.  There was a soft, purring whine as the turbines powered up and the car slipped into the flow of traffic.  He sat back and closed his eyes.  “God, I feel lousy.  Think I’ll try an’ sleep it off.  Wake me when we get there.”  He opened one eye.  “And don’t touch nothing.  Full security protocols are active.  Reaching for the cigarette lighter could put you on the receiving end of a forty thousand volt stun charge, and that’s guaranteed to put a crimp in anyone’s day.”

The Paradiso had slipped a little further from respectability and a little closer to depravity in recent years.  The decor remained predominantly black and the floor was characteristically tacky underfoot.  Clouds of dry-ice shrouded the patrons, refracting and diffusing the flickering strobes and lasers on the dancefloor, where tripped-out dancers worked to the low slung bass and pounding rhythms.  Fuelled by a combination of alcohol and stimulants they formed small tribes as they worshipped the beats in a manner barely removed from their pagan ancestors.
Meledy Raindeth, or whatever her name was, seemed to drink in the narcoleptic atmosphere.  To Sykes she appeared suddenly more vital and alive.  Like the difference between an animal in a cage and one free in its natural environment.  It made him shudder.
She took him by the arm and steered him towards a booth in the corner.  He was not surprised to find a bottle of cognac and two glasses waiting there.  Without waiting to be asked, he pulled out the stopper and splashed the liquor into each glass.
“Well?  Are you going to save my soul now?”
The woman swirled the amber liquid round in her glass.  “If you like.  Do you want the Frank Capra bit - where I show you your life if you hadn’t pulled me over?  Or would you prefer a version that doesn’t involve killing little Louise?”
He shook his head emphatically.  “No.  I don’t want to hear any of your pointless lies.  What’s done is done.”
“As you will.  But believe me, I did you a favour that day.  After the ECPD took control of Tessler there was a lot of ‘house cleaning’.  How many skags did you and Schiltz run off the road?  Fifty?  A hundred?  Yet suddenly he’s taking the fall for it.  Why?  Where was Voigt’s backup?  Was it really just pure coincidence that a petroleum tanker crashed into Connor’s bike?  Hardly.  Baby, your little cadre was set up to take the fall.  The Council decided an example had to be made.  If you had not already been disgraced you would have been Judas Goat number four.  Think about it.”
Sykes licked suddenly dry lips as he stared into the darkness.  Somewhere inside him a little, worrying voice was telling him that it was true.  As much as he wanted to deny it, the only real question left in his mind was how in the hell it had taken him so long to figure it out.  The facts were blatantly obvious.
“Why us?  There were a hundred others dirtier than we were.  Officers on the take, running their own shakedowns.  Sure, we dispensed rough justice but we were…” he paused; his next word was barely a whisper as realisation dawned, “honest.”
“Too honest for your superiors’ comfort.  You were all young idealists with romantic notions of heroism.  The sort who might take to asking awkward questions.”
Sykes thumped the table.  “Shit!  No, it still doesn’t scan.  Doesn’t add up right.”
The woman leaned in close across the table, her breasts, barely restrained by her leather camisole, brushed lightly against Sykes’ arm.  The SPF officer appeared not to notice her invitation as he stared at the gyrating dancers.
She followed his line of sight.  “Look at them, tell me what you see.”  Her breath was warm in his ear, quickening his pulse.
“See?  Just the usual lowlifes.  A bunch of pierced, branded, tattooed and drugged up nobodies.  The city’s full of them now.”
“Modern primitives.  Mankind reverting back to it’s earlier tribalism.  Using drugs and drumbeats to enter altered states of consciousness like the ancient shamans.  Only they’ve merged it with technology.
“Homicide, rape and other crimes of violence are rising daily.  The city has become a melting pot of racial chaos, one that your beleaguered police force cannot hope to control.  Five years from now, maybe less, it will be a police state.  Martial Law will govern the citizens.  It became inevitable from the moment the department seized control of Tessler.  The SWAT and TAC teams have already taken advantage of the corporation’s cyber-ware.  Hardwired nervous systems, smart-guns, optical implants that see beyond the white light spectrum, cloned, genetically enhanced organ replacements, all these things and more besides.  The Council’s designing human machines to police the city.”
“Yeah, right.  Well good luck to them.  Somebody’s got to take care of the mess.  Lady, you’re really boring me now.  I was in the middle of working up a major drunk, now I’m in a club full of deviants on the opposite side of town from my apartment.  If you’ve got a point now is the time to make it, otherwise - blow.  I don’t need you raking up the past.  Yeah, I’ve made mistakes, but I paid for them.  So leave me alone and go and spoil some other fucker’s evening.”
She curled her lip in a sneer.  “All because little Louise Gilchrist is never going to be twelve years old.”
“An’ what the fuck would you know about how I feel.  Nothing.  Zero.  You don’t know shit about me, lady.”  He suddenly felt smothered by her close proximity; the warmth of her body was sickly, her flesh over-ripe.  He got to his feet with a drunken lurch and started backing away from the table.  “I don’t know what sort of witch you are,’ he spat, pointing a finger at her, “but keep your skanky whore’s ass away from me.  Whatever it is you’re selling, I ain’t buying.  I must be crazy.”
“You must be,” she said, “or else you wouldn’t have come here.  That’s a quote by the way.”
“Yeah?  Well you know where you can stick your quote.”
“Tsk, tsk.  We’re a little uptight, aren’t we, officer Sykes?”
Sykes spat on the floor and turned to walk away.
“Wait!  Don’t you want to know why I sought you tonight?  Surely you haven’t come this far just to walk away now?”
The SPF officer sighed and returned to the table.  “I just know I’m going to live to regret this.”  He helped himself to another drink and looked expectantly at his host.
“That’s better.  Kick back and relax and we’ll get down to business.  You’re sick, tired, coming apart at the seams. All that pent up guilt and hatred is burning you up from the inside.  If you don’t get a handle on your feelings shortly they’ll rip you apart.”
“So?  What the hell do you care?”
“I don’t.  Whether or not you destroy yourself is of no consequence to me.  At least not ultimately.  However, our past contact affords me a tenuous link through you to the outside world, and through that link I would have you serve me.”
Sykes looked her directly in the eye and laughed.  “Now I know who’s crazy.  Jesus, lady, do you really think I’m going to help you after what you did to me?  Christ, I only agreed to follow you in the hope that I might get laid.  A little community good will as it were.”
“My favours are not for you.  You have not yet crossed that barrier, and if you have any last vestige of hope left in your soul you should pray that you never know my love, for it is a deadly and destructive lust that has been the ruin of many.  That said, I would still have your assistance in a little matter that continues to trouble me.  And, truly, by helping me you will be helping yourself.”
“Say I don’t want to help myself, what then?”
“If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for your fallen comrades.  Don’t you owe Schiltz, Voigt and Connors that much?  You and Emma were particularly close were you not?  Don’t you want to avenge her death?”
Sykes paled so much that his skin rivalled that of his host.  His hand trembled, splashing cognac on the table.  “Nobody knew about us.  Nobody.  Fraternisation between officers is strictly forbidden.  You get emotionally close to someone on the job like that and it comprises your reasoning.  You’ll go out of your way to protect them.  At the cost of your colleagues, civilians or yourself.  If anyone had discovered we were lovers one of us would have been reassigned.  But there’s no hiding anything from you, is there?”
“No.  There is not.  I cast my nets far and wide and the barbs on my hooks are cruel and bite deeply.”
“Well, you’ve won.  What I won’t do for money or in the name of self-redemption, I’ll do in the name of love.  Cliché, I know.  Yeah, for Emma I’ll take care of your little problem.  God knows it can’t damn me any more than I already am.”
“Don’t be so melodramatic.  All I want you to do is go and talk to a man.  And after you have heard what he has to say, well, that shall be entirely up to yourself.”
Sykes gave her a suspicious frown.  “That’s it?  Talk to one man?  There must be a catch somewhere.”
“No catch, Eddie.  Just cause and effect.  The ripples of your conversation will spread across the city and in doing so, serve my purpose.  But believe me or not, you will go and see Guyon Sajer and tell him that I sent you.”
“Sajer?  I guess I owe the old bastard a visit after he helped me.  I haven’t seen him since.  Yeah, lady, I’ll go and see Sajer for you.  Though what good it will do you I can’t imagine.”
He stood up, grabbed the cognac bottle and shoved passed her.  She grabbed his arm and restrained him.  Sykes stared into her eyes and felt his soul being drawn down inside them.  Suddenly he knew there was nothing he would not do for her love, but the moment passed as quickly as it had arrived.  A little dizzy and fearful, he stepped back from her.
The woman smiled wistfully.  “Eddie, have yourself a Merry little Christmas.”
He turned his back on her.  “Yeah.  You too,” he remarked caustically.

Friday, 16 December 2011

'Tis The Season...

To paraphrase Marvin from The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Christmas, love it or loathe it, you can’t ignore it.  They say it’s all about the children, but not being a parent I can’t vouch for that.  Much as I might complain about crass commercialism and greed, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the ritual of breaking bread with friends and family.  There’s something primal about eating together - probably a throwback to the tribe sharing their bounty.  Socialism with a small “s”.  Something, regardless of the season, that I think we all need more of in these uncertain times.
So what else is Christmas good for?  Songs and films, of course, and I don’t mean the ubiquitous Bond repeats.  Music, for those of you who don’t know or haven’t yet guessed, is something of a passion of mine.  Regrettably, I have very little sense of timing or rhythm and couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but I don’t let that stop me from appreciating the work of others.  Of the many Christmas songs out there it probably won’t surprise you to learn that Fairy Tale Of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl is my favourite.  Who can argue with the lyrics, “You scumbag, you maggot, You cheap lousy faggot, Happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it’s our last”?  But as great as that scans, it’s the structure and tone of the lyrics overall that make this song a classic.  I’ve always been drawn to songs with a strong narrative, of which the above is a classic example.  We get MacGowan’s drunken optimism, followed by MacColl’s bitterness at having wasted her life with him, which sends MacGowan into maudlin self-pity.  As Christmas songs go, they don’t come much more grounded in reality than this.  Christmas, the time when families are supposed to come together but more often than not end up fighting.
But when it comes to telling a story in song, few can rival Leonard Cohen or Nick Cave.  I’ve never really understood why people find Cohen depressing.  The vocals are somewhat lugubrious and the song arrangements often sparse, but when you actually listen to the words there’s a lot of humour and irony there, as well as erudition.  I remember reading an interview with Cohen a number of years back in which he stated he would no longer use a reference such as Abraham and Isaac in his writing as the majority of people would no longer comprehend it.  Whatever your views of religion, the stories of the Old Testament resonate with the power of myth - something a storyteller can always use in his or her arsenal.  Abraham, who waited many years for God to bestow a child upon him, is asked by that same God to make a burnt offering of his only son.  It’s the ultimate illustration of faith.  And yet, as Kierkegaard points out in Fear And Trembling, if he is so certain why does he not tell Isaac?  If you’re familiar with the story, a reference to Abraham and Isaac provides instant shorthand to powerful emotional themes.  Some might say that while this is fine in song or poetry, in prose it is the crutch of a lazy writer.  But as Oscar Wilde pointed out, “Talent borrows, genius steals.”  Genius, it appears, is in short supply these days.
Back to Christmas.  Your gut is bursting.  You’ve watched the Doctor Who Christmas special and reached the point where if you hear Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody one more time someone is going to get hurt.  What’s left?  Only the greatest Christmas film ever made in the form of Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life.  In a modern and cynical age, one could be forgiven for thinking that a man such as George Bailey could never exist outside of Hollywood, even in the 1940’s.  A man who consistently put doing the “right thing” above his own hopes, dreams and ambitions, sometimes at terrible personal cost.  And yet surely only the most jaded of souls can watch IAWL and not wish they were a little more like Bailey?  Of course, those of us who find ourselves standing on a bridge contemplating suicide aren’t fortunate enough to have the intervention of a guardian angel, second class or otherwise, let alone be given the gift of seeing the world how it would be if we’d never existed.  In Bailey’s case, thanks to his kindness and compassion, it all comes good and he passes through his darkness and come to appreciate the life he has.  Sentimental, perhaps, but if you can’t indulge in a little sentimentality at Christmas when can you?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

What Leon Did Next

Time for a quick progress report.  As announced previously, the eBook version of “White Vampyre” will be published simultaneously by Amazon and Smashwords on Monday December 12.
Those who can’t wait that long will find a teaser over at Jenn Nixon’s blog:
To coincide with the release the author has answered a Q&A session with Brit grit writer Julie Morrigan, which should be posted on her blog over the weekend: .  In case you’re wondering, no, I don’t quite manage to eschew political discussion.
For those unaware of Julie’s work, I recommend the excellent “Heartbreaker” and the short story collection “Gone Bad”.  While I’m plugging other people’s work, Julie has also contributed to “Off The Record - A Charity Anthology”.  Not only do you get cutting edge crime fiction from some of the most exciting talent writing today, by purchasing the book you contribute to the following:

In the UK, National Literacy Trust.
In the US, Children's Literacy Initiative.

Of the fundamental education we provide children, the ability to read and write is undoubtedly the most powerful.  Through fiction we are transported to other worlds and get to live other lives.  Sometimes, we even create our own.  Doesn’t get any better than that.
At £2.23 for the Kindle edition, it’s less than the cost of a pint of ale or a fine malt whisky in most licensed establishments.  Don’t tell me you can’t afford that.

With “White Vampyre” in the bag what’s next for yours truly?  The answer is a police procedural set in Inverness titled “A Pauper’s Shroud”.  As I’m currently in the process of completing the final edit, I hope to have the book out by the end of February.  Those of you who can’t wait that long will find an excerpt at the end of “White Vampyre”.  If APS runs a little slower than WV, it compensates by being darker and remains steeped in the same wry humour.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Interesting Times

As the old Chinese curse, as made famous by a certain Mr Pratchett, says, “May you live in interesting times!”  Suffice to say, it’s been an interesting month.  First, I found myself agreeing with Dr Rowan Williams, both his backing of the Occupy London campaign and his subsequent criticism of the government’s proposed welfare reforms.  While I acknowledge individual faith to be a powerful and, more often than not, positive force, I have an inherent dislike and distrust of organised religion.  The centuries of social control, and the oppression and demonization of women by the patriarchal monotheistic faiths has always struck me as nothing short of hypocritical.  Much of their ideology comes across as hopelessly outdated in the twenty-first century, while the underlying principles of love, compassion and peace are too often forgotten by those who profess to practice them.
The cynic in me, in these times of falling congregations and waning influence, wonders if this is no more than an attempt to garner credibility by siding with the public against a common foe.  The resignation of St Paul’s canon chancellor, Giles Fraser, followed by the Dean, Graeme Knowles, over the proposed eviction of the Occupy protestors led to a swift reversal in policy.  One that the Archbishop of Canterbury has followed through to its logical conclusion.  The pragmatist in me, meanwhile, shrugs his shoulders and says, so what?  Surely the end result is more important than the motive?  Is it really such a stretch that Dr Williams and his fellow bishops might in fact be demonstrating genuine Christian values?  Of course not.
The long, dark tea-time of my soul aside, we live in a time when many of those responsible for the global banking crash of 2008 continue to reward themselves with obscene bonus and pay increases far above inflation.  Little wonder those on low and middle incomes, whose disposable income continues to shrink, find themselves confused, enraged and disgusted.
People tend to have a knee-jerk reaction when you employ the phrase “redistribution of wealth”, but with one percent of the world’s population owning forty percent of the wealth it should be obvious to the majority that something needs to change and change drastically.  Will occupying banking institutions and public spaces achieve this?  I rather doubt it, but as the uprisings of the Arab Spring proved, if you push the common people far enough they will take matters into their own hands.  Not that I’m suggesting we get our pitchforks and burning torches and form an angry mob outside Westminster, much as I’d like to see David Cameron and George Osborne’s heads on pikes (there we go again with another inherent prejudice).  Figureheads are just that, and removing them is not unlike cutting off the heads from a hydra.  Instead, we need to look inside ourselves and decide what we truly believe is acceptable in our name, the name of the people.  Governments, after all, are meant to serve us, not the other way round.
Of course the truth is that the revolution won’t be so much televised as franchised!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

All We Make Is Entertainment

The title, taken from a song by the Manic Street Preachers, laments the death of the British manufacturing industry and growth of vacuous reality TV shows.  Although the Tony Blairs and David Camerons of this world have difficulty in grasping the fact that the sun set on the British Empire some considerable time ago in the wake of two global conflicts, the rest of us have a firmer grasp on our position in the New World Order.  In case it needs saying, we are no longer dinning at the top table.  Not that this is any excuse for sleeping creatively, but as a certain Mr Clinton once remarked, ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’
With the global economy flat lining, there has probably never been a worse time to be involved in the creative arts.  They only thing worse than being an aspiring writer right now is probably being an aspiring actor, although the two go hand in glove to some extent giving the paucity of original drama currently being commissioned and broadcast by the UK’s terrestrial channels (HBO in America, by contrast, is light years ahead of the curve).
The public gets what the public wants, and what it apparently wants is to watch greedy awful people making dinner for other greedy awful people while scheming to appear slightly less greedy and awful than they really are.  Then the are the D-lebrities in the jungle or the Big Brother House, largely following the above script, not to mention Simon Cowell’s latest karaoke offering.  Admittedly, even at my most curmudgeonly, I can’t deny Susan Boyle has a great singing voice, but the circus of exploitation that went along with her “discovery” was nothing short of shameful.  Surely the measure of any society is how well it protects the vulnerable.
What all the above have in common is that they’re cheap to make and more or less write themselves, making them an attractive alternative to commissioning original work.  That, perhaps, makes the exceptions all the more important.  Abi Morgan’s excellent “The Hour” and Shane Meadows’ “This Is England 86” provided compelling, and in the case of the later, often uncomfortable viewing, as did William Boyd’s adaption of his novel “Any Human Heart”.  That all three dramas were, to varying degrees, set in the past is perhaps telling of our need to escape from the harsh realities of the present.  A series such as “Mad Men” allows us to look back and see the sixties as simpler times, better, and more wholesome, even though we know this to be a lie.
Of the UK series presented above, only “The Hour” stands as truly original, “This Is England 86” being a sequel to Meadows’ earlier film and “Any Human Heart” being a book adaption.
If television is grim, film in ten times as worse, with a slew of sequels and franchise extensions in the works.  Hollywood likes nothing better than a pre-established audience, be it fans of a best selling novel or game.  But with films costing millions of dollars who can blame them for wanting a little box office security?  Back in the day, having a “star” was sufficient to open a film - the public didn’t care what film Tom Cruise or Mel Gibson were in, just that they were on screen.  Nowadays a star reprising a well known role is required, as proven by Johnny Depp’s multimillion dollar payday for “Pirates Of The Caribbean IV” (I’m willing to forgive Depp for this on account of the fact the he recently lost millions of dollars of his own money that he’d ploughed into the adaptation of “The Rum Diary”, his warm hearted tribute to his friend Hunter S. Thompson).
Truth be told, sometimes I like to put my brain in neutral and watch shit explode.  I might not be guilty of watching reality TV but I’m definitely part of the franchise problem - must see trips to the cinema in 2012 will involve Star Trek (12 or 2 depending on who is counting), Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, Dredd, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Bond 23: Skyfall.  Three franchise juggernauts, a comic strip adaptation reboot and a book adaptation.  Of course, amongst such popcorn fodder, I’ll be hoping for the next “The Usual Suspects” or “American Beauty”, but the trouble with original and thought provoking films is that they appear unannounced and are promoted by word of mouth.  “The Disappearance Of Alice Creed” and “Winter’s Bone” both came to my attention in this fashion.  The former an original low budget Brit flick that proves that the British film industry isn’t quite dead in the water, the latter a wonderfully shot and acted adaption of Daniel Woodrell’s novel of the same name.  Other classic book adaptations of late have been “The Rum Diary”, mentioned above, and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”.  You would have to have been living under a rock to have avoided the second, but with a strong cast and beautifully understated direction it more than lived up to the hype and critical praise.  Whether the American remake of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” can pull off a similar feat remains to be seen.
On the face of it, film or television adaptations are surely the Holy Grail for an author.  Best case, it exposes a new audience to your work and sales rocket.  But even if it stinks, you still get to keep the money (unless you’re Alan Moore and actually have the balls and integrity to return the cheque).
If only it were that simple.  The reality is that once a film or television production company has “optioned” your work i.e. paid a nominal fee for the exclusive rights to adapt it for the big or small screen, there’re no guarantee the project will ever get made.  Numerous book adaptations have festered in production hell, only for the option to lapse, be bought by another company and for the whole process to repeat.  You’ll make some money from the above but not enough to turn pro.  Then there is the issue of creative control.  Assuming the cheque has enough zeroes you might well be happy enough to cash it and distance yourself from the fact that they’ve turned your beautiful baby into a crack addled whore.  To be fair, unless you have sufficient clout to have some form of veto written into your contract, odds are you’ll have to lie back and take it.  Same goes for your chances of negotiating a cut of the box office or merchandising.  Myself, I’d at least want an option on first draft of the screenplay, if only so I could hold it up against the final draft and say, ‘Look what those bastards did to my book!’

Friday, 18 November 2011

All me to introduce myself...

Welcome to "The Violet Hour" the blog for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror writer Leon Steelgrave.
Another writer's blog, you say?  Well, yes, I won't deny that there will be discussions on writing, writers, books and even fiction posted here, not to mention updates as to the status of my current projects.  There will also (hopefully) be guest appearances by other writers, too.  More than that, there will be music, film, television and politics, because when all is said and done, I'm something of a geek.  You probably are as well, else you wouldn't have come here.  Don't think bowing your head and avoiding eye contact is going to let you off the hook.  Your card is well and truly marked.  If you know what Docking Bay 94 is and you can complete the sentence, "I'm a doctor, not a…" you'll fit in well here.  If not, stick around anyway and you might learn something.  Useless trivia for the most part, but information nonetheless.  Knowledge might well be power but it all rather depends on which direction your moral compass is pointing.  Ask a politician.
In short, the aim is to inform, entertain and never bore.  Time is all we've got, so I'll try my damndest to make sure your investment is worthwhile.  As ever, it's all about the words, which are without doubt a writer's stock in trade.  On this blog all the words are free, elsewhere you'll have to pay for them.  If I've done my job correctly, it will be a case of fair exchange, no robbery.
On that note, a word from our sponsor:
White Vampyre the debut novel by Leon Steelgrave will shortly be available in various eBook formats from Amazon and Smashwords.  Updates and details can be found at, via twitter @LeonSteelgrave, on facebook, and at The Violet Hour.