My video interviews from the Book Festival

During my very busy period at the Stripped comics strand of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, in addition to chairing a couple of the author events this year I was also delighted to pose the questions for a couple of their series of short video interviews with authors, including this one I did with Lauren Beukes and Inaki Miranda shortly before chairing their event (which was great fun) – don’t worry, you don’t see me in either as I am safely behind the camera (which I prefer) and indeed as they edited it to mostly the author’s responses you barely hear me, but was nice to be asked to do a couple and fun to do. I talked to Lauren and Inaki about their collaboration (this was the first time they met in person) as well as their next projects:

And I also got to ask Neil Gaiman some questions, which was great – hard to believe it’s been around twenty years since I first did an author event with Neil in my old bookstore. Our slot got bumped by another interview team but Neil noticed this and very kindly arranged to fit us in after the next item on his very busy schedule, and so we got to stand in late summer sunshine in Charlotte Square and I got to ask Neil about his returning to the Sandman, working with JH Williams III and how it felt, having grown up like most of us our age watching Doctor Who, to walk onto the TARDIS set knowing they were filming a story you wrote, and how much more receptive the people now at the BBC are towards his work:

My turn to answer questions for a change

Over the years I’ve been pretty used to posting questions to writers and artists for interviews, but in something of a change about for me the guys at Geek Native asked to interview me in my guise as a blogger of all things comics and SF on the Forbidden Planet blog that I set up (counts, is slightly shocked) almost six years ago now, discussing the FP blog but also the importance of blogging and web presence in general for companies, publishers and creators:

Q3: How important is it for a writer to have a blog? Is it a distraction, just part of fan service or something more significant?

I think it is extremely important writers and artists have some sort of web presence where they can interact a bit with readers, be it a general website and maybe a twitter feed, a blog or whatever. I know some authors and artists aren’t mad on it – it depends very much on individual tastes and persuasions, after all, and not everyone feels it is for them, just as some authors aren’t that keen on doing readings in bookstores and festivals; some are fine with that (I’ve worked with authors who can talk happily to small group of 20 readers through to some standing on a theatre stage with several hundred to talk to quite happily), others really don’t like it at all.

But the fact of the matter is promoting yourself and your book/comic/movie/animated mutant atomic penguin cartoon is part of the game. It has been for as long as I’ve been in the booktrade and is increasingly important – the appearances at signings and readings are important and, perhaps even more importantly now social media is so embedded in everyday life (even when many of us are out and about and away from a PC we’re still plugged in), the digital promotion and web presence is pretty vital. Some authors and artists still seem happy to have a simple ‘about the author’ on their publisher’s site and that’s their choice, but many do dip their toes into blogging or Twitter and find that it’s a good way to interact with fans, a good way to build up interest and the all important word of mouth about new work they have coming and also to reach readers who may never otherwise be able to interact with them – after all, even if you are an author who does carry out a lot of public engagements at bookstore readings, signings, book festivals etc, at the end of the day only so many can get into these events and many more may live nowhere near where they happen. But distance and audience size restrictions mean nothing in cyberspace.”

Alan Moore speaks

I was kept very busy this week finishing editing and setting up my mate Pádraigs incredibly Massive Mega Moore Marathon – its a new (15, 000 words or so, phew!) interview with Britain’s Wizard in Extraordinary, Mr Alan Moore. In fact its so big I had to break it into three sections across three days on the Forbidden Planet blog – part one is mostly concerned with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, especially the new third volume Century, the first volume of which comes out this month (Century 1910), the second next year (Century 1969) and a final part which is set in the present day after that.

It will surprise no-one who knows Alan’s work to learn that the subjects and themes and references covered are diverse, from the Threepenny Opera to Jack the Ripper and Monty Python. Part two is where Alan talks about future projects and other works (including doing some work for a local youth culture mag which included Alan telling the kids the truth about drugs! Brilliant), taking in magic and James Joyce along the way, with the third and final part, which I posted up yesterday, is where Alan graciously agreed to take some selected questions sent in by readers of the FP blog. Its enormous but fascinating reading – many thanks again to Alan and for it.

On a related note, earlier this week we found out that media analysts Cision had posted a list of the top fifty blogs in the UK. As you might expect its dominated by politics blogs and blogs from established traditional media like the BBC and the Guardian. And in there at number 31 a solitary entry from the worlds of comics and science fiction – the Forbidden Planet blog. Needless to say I am surprised and delighted – I started that blog just over four years ago, now we have several contributors and its grown a lot (so much so that its a real juggling act for me to balance keeping the blog fires stoked and working on the main webstore; usually that means I end up doing a lot in my own time to keepit going, as do some of the contributors). And its nice that its grown so much since I started it and that a lot of folks in comics and SF communities check it out, but to see that its in the top 50 of all UK blogs? That its up there with Guardian blogs? Wow. Just goes to show that if its done correctly (and honestly) a good blog presence can be more effective (and cheaper and more enjoyable for you and your readers) than huge amounts of advertising. That’s the sort of thing that can happen when you embrace blogging culture as a company instead of screaming hysterically at it.

Hellboy interviews

Recently I had the opportunity to conduct some short ten minute phone interviews (hey, short call is better than no call, I wasn’t going to turn then down!) in the run up to the DVD release of Hellboy II: the Golden Army for the Forbidden Planet blog, which went up over the weekend – I got to talk to two of the cast, Doug Jones who plays Abe Sapien (and is also the Faun in the brilliant Pan’s Labyrinth) and Anna Walton who plays Princess Nuala, then rounded it off with a brief chat with the original creator of the Hellboy comics, Mike Mignola, which was an extra special treat as I’ve been a huge fan of his Hellboy comics for years.

Mark Millar talks Wanted

Over on the Forbidden Planet blog my colleague Mark poses some questions to another Mark, Mark Millar, Scottish comics superstar (Civil War, Ultimates) about his comics and the movie versions of Wanted and Kick Ass. On the blog there’s a second, shorter video with an excerpt from the special effects creation extras on the Wanted DVD too.

Primeval

The penultimate episode of ITV’s Primeval comes up this Saturday and its penned by the very fine novelist, screenwriter and comics scribe Paul Cornell, who was also responsible for some of the finest episodes of the new Doctor Who – “Father’s Day” and “Human Nature”. We were lacking time for a full-length interview but I couldn’t let it go past without marking it and Paul kindly took some time out to answer a few questions for the Forbidden Planet blog, should you fancy a read before the episode airs on Saturday evening.

Postcards from Palestine

I mentioned Katie who runs the Moomin13 LiveJournal a while back here and who posts on life as a peace activist in Gaza and also her art and cartoons which draw on her experiences in and around Ramallah. She’s been doing more cartoons and also beginning an actual comic strip based on her experiences, some of which have been published in magazines and papers in the region. I had a very brief chat with her over on the FPI blog this week (with links to a lot more of her work, including the titular Postcards, which show art and when the cursor runs over them flip over to show the context on the ‘back’ of the postcard), which I hope some folks find interesting.

Filming in the Gardens

I was asked recently to do another interview about blogging for an upcoming TV programme. They wanted to avoid the normal static interview so opted for asking me questions while walking alongside me with a camera in Princes Street Gardens, which was fine, except being a sunny, spring day the place was full and, not unnaturally, everyone was looking at us (is it for the telly? Who is he?). I’m pretty far from shy but neither am I a total extrovert (regardless of what some folks think! I think I am a bit of an introverted extrovert actually, which, if it sounds like a contradiction in terms is fine, because I’ve always enjoyed being one of those) but jeez, talk about self-conscious! This is why I much prefer doing radio (plus I have a good body for radio) or being on the other side of the camera.

Anyway, it seemed to go well and I managed to forget about everyone watching us as I got onto my High Horse and discussed freedom of expression in blogging and tried to relate it to the growing culture of censorship we seem to be experiencing from governments and corporations alike. How much of it ends up in the cut I have no idea, although the folks making it did tell me they had interviewed someone at the LSE before coming to see me and he had apparently been interested in seeing my interview because that case still comes up; I quite liked the idea of my overly-opinionated blog posts being referenced in an academic essay, it appealed to the part of me that is the Eternal Student (frankly I’d be happy spending half my life studying one degree after the other if it was feasible, purely for the pleasure of learning and applying it). It does all make me wonder what my old computer mediated communications lecturer would make of it all; I’m sure Mad Dog McMurdo would probably find it amusing.

Apart from some mild embarrassment though it seemed to go quite well and they will let me know once it is all put together, etc. Not sure I actually want to see it since frankly I avoid being in pictures for the most part, but I know my mum will want to see her wee boy on the screen; before anyone asks, I am not available to join other Z-list celebs on I’m A Talentless Twat Get Me Out of Here or Big Brother, although I am available to kiss Shilpa Shetty. Talking of which, how mad was that reaction to a very showbiz kiss? I’m told that public kissing is frowned upon in much of India; I know one shouldn’t disrespect different cultures, but burning effigies because someone kissed in public? Good grief, get over yourselves you stupid, uptight numpties!!! Can this really be the land that gave us the Kama Sutra?!!? And you just know most of the guy burning those effigies and professing outrage at this kiss would bloody love to get a chance to snog Shilpa, hypocritical tossers.

Funny thing was, as we were setting up to film I got a phone call from my Norwegian friend Vidar; by coincidence he and his friend were lying on the grass in the Gardens enjoying the sun and nursing hangovers and had spotted us, so I went off to join them afterwards. When they asked us what it was I told them we were location scouting for a new Scottish porno movie “Tossing the Caber”, but alas these days I suspect I would be relegated to a bit part (mind you, depending what bit it could still be interesting). Since it was a warm, sunny evening I ended up doing the Annual Rite of Spring, which involves paying homage to the return of the Earth Goddess in the time honoured Celtic tradition (we went to the Pear Tree and sat out in the huge, cobbled beer garden for some al fresco drinking).

Charlie Huston interview

I’ve just posted up an interview with Charlie Huston on the FPI blog, already an established author in the US for his Henry Thompson crime novels and now moving into a new vampire-noir-crime series featuring a character called Joe Pitt. The second book has just come out in the last few weeks in the States while my friends at Orbit are set to release the first one, Already Dead, in the UK in February – if you like vampire novels and want something a bit different I highly recommend it.

Charlie also made his comics debut in 2006 with the revamped Moon Knight for Marvel, with the first arc recently issued in a hardback collection, winning his quite a few plaudits. And I loved his answer when I asked him how he saw his interpretation of Marc Spector:

“He was always a visceral character to me, and I wanted to try and share that feeling with other readers. Violence, drug abuse, mental illness, moon copters, these are all visceral elements. I wanted Marc Spector to be a shambling mess of a human being who only comes alive, who only understands the world when he puts on a cowl and a cape and jumps out of a helicopter and lands knuckles first in someone’s fucking face.”

Ah, superheroes, they are so noble

Leah and John

I’ve posted my first author interview of 2007 over on the FPI blog, chatting again with Leah Moore and John Reppion, principally about their upcoming work but the subjects also range across using zombies to do your Christmas shopping and comics writers as guest on reality shows like Strictly Come Dancing (we aim for a diverse approach, you know). John and Leah’s recent handiwork (alongside Shane Oakley and Leah’s dad, a certain Alan Moore) can be enjoyed in Albion, which just hit the shelves a couple of weeks ago (and ended up being a present to myself). Albion is a very clever reworking of classic British comics characters from yesteryear, such as the Steel Claw and the Spider.

You don’t need to be too familiar with the characters – most of them are well before my time and the little of them I have read was in old reprints in the back of modern comics annual as a kid – to get into this; it takes a basic premise that all of these old characters, largely forgotten today (as they are in real life) turn out to have actually existed but have all been kidnapped by a nervous government who has locked them all up (the superheroes and the villains both) in a remote, secret prison in a Scottish castle. As an overbearing American officer visits and criticises the Brit approach for not being like the American one (just as UK comics characters were quite different from American – far odder and weirder) events are coming to a head.

The book is damned clever, one of those works you will need to go back and re-read several times, spotting more characters as you do so. It also creates some interesting analogies to current political events, not least holding people without evidence or trials simply because they are different and you are scared of them. And it has Robot Archie in it! Highly recommended, this is a graphic novel that you will come back to again and again.

Vellum

Indulging myself in waxing lyrical on books reminded me that I forgot to post a link here to the author interview with Hal Duncan over on the FPI Blog. Hal is the Glasgow-based author of the astonishing debut novel, Vellum, which I’ve been raving about for the last couple of months – its one of the most literate and inventive fantasies I’ve ever read and draws handsome comparison to some of the finest practicioners of the art such as Michael Moorcock and Neil Gaiman. If you have read Vellum, which came out in August, then I think you’ll find Hal’s answers in the interview to be illuminating; if you haven’t read it yet then I hope it encourages you to pick it up.