Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Moving Home

Regular readers of the blog will notice it hasn't been properly updated in, well, a long time. Work's overtaken it somewhat, and I've been getting involved in other things. To keep track of what I'm up to these days, please check out the new official Chris Farnell site for information on my latest projects, as well as regular begging for work.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

5 Green Films That Undermine Their Own Message

The environment is important kids, we need it t live and junk. Film makers for the last couple of decades have been super keen to teach kids the importance of looking after the environment, apparently missing the fact that all their children are going to hear is “Because Mummy and Daddy drive cars, you and all the whales are going to die!”

What’s worse however, is that most of these films, one way or another, end up undermining the very message they’re trying to spread.

Wall-E

Photo Credit: Ben K Adams via Compfight cc

This is my personal favourite on this list, mainly because, like most Pixar films, I can’t sit through it without bursting into tears like some sort of baby. The film opens on possibly one of the most kid friendly apocalypses you can imagine. No seas of acid, no global warming, no meteorites or super strong rabies variants. Nope, this is the trashpocalypse. The Earth came to a halt because there was too much littering.

This is fine if you’re a kid, as “not littering” is something you can realistically contribute to, unlike global warming, which you just have to watch in despair as your mum drives you to school in a 4x4.

The Day After Tomorrow

This film is basically Independence Day but with the gigantic alien spaceships being replaced with really bad weather. At the start we see the noble Dennis Quaid scientist desperately trying to persuade the evil politicians to sign Kyoto and not kill us all. They don’t and we all die.

Unfortunately, any moral you might have gleaned from this film is spoiled by the fact that the science is terrible. There are scenes where see people literally run away from the cold and escape from it by shutting a door just in time. In one seen we see a cold breeze literally freeze an American flag in mid flight, ignoring the fact that to do that the flag would have to be so damp it would be unable to fly anyway.

Fern Gulley: The Last Rainforest

Not to be confused with Gurn Fully, the tale of a man who pulls funny faces, then is forced to find his way to the home of the wind gods with his tongue hanging out after his face gets stuck that way. Also not to be confused with the film Avatar, which ripped this film off so hard it really is amazing that the Robin Williams bat didn’t sue James Cameron.

The message of the film amounts to “cutting down the Rainforest is bad”. The message stumbles a little bit though, since it turns out the creatures of the rainforest have the power to reduce a human being to the size of an insect at will.

Faced with power like that, you can forget chopping down the rainforest. We should nuke it from orbit just to be sure.

Free Willy

Free Willy is a touching story about the importance of looking after wild life and protecting the world around us. It shows us that keeping a whale in captivity is wrong and that it should be released into the wild where it can run (or swim) free.

Of course, this is slightly undermined in two ways. Firstly, not a single kid saw that film and came away not wanting their very own trained killer whale. Two, Willy, with his damaged dorsal fin and psychological damage from years in captivity, would almost certainly die when he reached the ocean.

The Simpsons Movie

Back when it was good the Simpsons often dealt with environmental themes, and continued to do so long after the show stopped ever being funny. The cartoon saw a brief return to form for The Simpsons Movie, where the town of Springfield’s constant pollution lead to the evil, maniacal head of the EPA isolating the entire town under a glass dome in a way that bore no resemblance to the Stephen King book “The Dome” that came out shortly afterwards.

We see that our careless, selfish attitude to the environment utterly destroys it, hence the giant glass dome. Except that at the end of the film the dome is destroyed and everything goes exactly back to normal. Like, exactly back to normal. Nothing is done about the deadly nuclear power plant or the heaps of toxic waste being dumped in the lake. It’s forgotten about.


Saturday, 6 April 2013

#52 Bioshock Infinite: In Defence of the Violence in Bioshock Infinite

Last night I finished Bioshock Infinite. Then I went and ate a pizza and had a long sit down because frankly, I was over-stimulated like an angry toddler and needed to calm down before nap-time.


Oh, and after the very next line break I am going to start raining down a hellfire of spoilers which you do not want to read unless you’ve played the game yet. Seriously, this is a great game but it’s also a game you don’t want to have spoiled, so off you fuck. Oh, and for good measure I’m probably going to spoil the movie Trance, although to be honest that’s less of a tragedy.

Bye bye.

Okay, is everybody left? Yeah? That guy at the back? Are you cool? Good, I thought you were but I just wanted to check.

Spoilers start here.

I really hope we can be done with the tired old “Are videogames art?” thing now. This week I enjoyed two pieces of media content that dealt with the unreliability of your own memories and ended with a gigantic mind fuck where someone’s memories weren’t what they thought they were and the hero of your story turned out to be something else entirely. One was Trance, which stayed with me the entire length of the walk from my seat in the cinema to the first set of traffic lights I passed on my way home, where I parted ways with the friends I’d been seeing it with. The other was Bioshock Infinite, which I can already tell is going to stay with me for a good while longer. Does it affect you as much as say, the Mona Lisa, Mice and Men, or Citizen Kane? Well I don’t know how much any of those three things affected you, it turns out that stuff’s subjective, but if you can technically describe Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo as art, then this game passes all the tests by a mile.

But I’m not writing this to add to the white water rapids of gushing reviews that have already been written about Bioshock Infinite, if you’re reading this I assume you’ve played the game, so you know it’s good.

No, I wrote this to talk of one of the few criticisms about the game that have come about (always prefaced by more gushing about what a great game it is). Some have been saying that the game is too violent, and this time it’s not Keith Vaz or Tipper Gore. It’s Kirk Hamilton and Kotaku, and Cliff Bleszinski, one of the videogame designers behind Gears of War who happily describes himself as “the guy that brought you a chainsaw gun”. The argument that both people make is that Bioshock Infinite is such a masterpiece of world building, story and character that it detracts from that to have spend so much of the game slamming a set of spinning fishhooks into people’s faces and proving right PC Danny Butterman’s theory that there's a point on a man's head where if you shoot it, it will blow up.

I empathise. When I first sat down to play the game last week, after a while I tweeted this:
And the fact that gamers and game designers are asking these questions and expecting more from games is a good thing, and I hope that the nuanced, character-driven game that uses mechanics other than violence to move the plot forward comes along soon – assuming you believe we don’t already have it in games like Grim Fandango, or Portal, or Fallout 3 which I played through mostly by talking my way out of problems or running away (although personally, while these are all great games none of them quite delivered the gut punches that Bioshock Infinite was dolling out).

However, on this one case I believe they’re wrong, that the violence in Bioshock Infinite is a core part of the story, not just an add-on that’s there because you need shooting to break up the plot.

Yes, if this development of this game was anything like the last one, the fact that it was a shooter probably came before the plot about sky racists, time travel and dimension hopping. The original Bioshock was set on a tropical island full of genetically modified Nazis before it was set in Ayn Rand’s extremely wet dream (do you see what I did there?), and a lot of the gameplay mechanics had been nailed down long before there was a story. However, the story they ended up with in Bioshock Infinite was a story that embraced the fact it was built around a violent gameplay mechanic.

I’ve talked before about how zombie movies aren’t just violent, they’re about violence, and to certain extent the same is true here. When Booker and Elizabeth walk into a ticket office, only for Booker to end up murdering everybody in there, Elizabeth is terrified and disgusted. Throughout the game we are given reminders of the terrible things that Booker has done, at the battle of Wounded Knee and as a Pinkerton. We see Elizabeth go from being horrified at the violence Booker commits, to accepting it as a necessary evil, to performing her first murder and eventually leading a brutal attack on the city of New York.

By the end of the game we discover that everything that happens, from Elizabeth’s imprisonment to the city of Columbia itself are all consequences of Booker’s attempts to escape his violent past. In one world he escapes it by drinking too much and getting into gambling debts, in another world he does it by becoming born again as Zachary Comstock, and building a floating city capable of an even greater scale of violence and genocide.

Which is all very well, but that’s back story. Why does Booker have to be ‘sploding heads left right and centre in game?

Because, while in films and books the rule is always “Show don’t tell” in games you learn by doing. In the original Bioshock the fact that you’re a brainwashed slave has emotional punch because you realise that it’s you who has been blindly following instructions since the game started. When you arrive at the scene of Booker/Zachary’s baptism at the end of the game, you don’t need to be told that it all seems weirdly familiar, because you’re already getting déjà vu from the baptism at the beginning of the game.

So if you’re playing a violent character it’s not enough to know that he did violent things, you need to see that violence, and perform that violence yourself, and see how others react to it. When you discover that in another life your character razes cities to the ground, it’s made more believable knowing the trail of bodies that brought you to that point.

There are some great stories that can be told with games that don’t need any violence at all. But this story was about a violent man, and it’s no worse for it.

Monday, 4 March 2013

How I Got Published


So Chuck Wendig’s written a piece about all the misinformation about the publishing industry, and asking writers to use the mighty power of anecdote to shed some light on the process and get rid of any conspiracy theories. I wrote a comment, it turned into a long comment, and eventually it turned into the definitive story of how Mark II got published. Not written, Christ I’m still not sure how you write a publishable book, but this is how it got published, and I think it’s probably a pretty good template to work to. So I’m sticking this up here as a link to refer to so I don’t have to repeat myself again.

Mark II got published by Tindal Street Press in 2006. It was, I believe, the third book-length piece of fiction I had written and attempted to submit to agents, so by that time I was intimately familiar with the cycle of submission and rejection letters – my favourite remains a standard form letter I got when I was 15 that someone had scribbled “Stick at it!” across.

I wrote a book. I redrafted the book. I got some friends who I trusted to read it and tell me which bits were crap, then I redrafted it again. Then I paid my sister and her friends £20 to go through looking for typos, because she was 15 and I didn't have any scruples about child labour when it came to siblings. Then I went through it one more time to polish it.

This wasn't the first book I'd gone through this process with, and I already had (and still have) a nice thick folder full of rejection letters. This time I decided, rather than spending a small fortune on printing and postage (Again, this was 2004/2005, and no literary agent worth their salt would dream of accepting email submissions in those days) I decided to send out a bunch of query letters. I found my agents by going through the Writers’ and Artists’ year book with an orange highlighter, marking out anyone who didn’t explicitly say they hated teenage or science fiction.

The query letter consisted of three things: That I was 19 years old and was taking the creative writing course at the University of East Anglia (a prestigious course, although I’ve no idea how much this helped- the agent that eventually accepted me didn’t know I was taking the course when we met), a short sentence describing my book, and a further sentence explaining why I was interested in that agent, customised for each letter to prevent it sounding like a mass mailing (which it was).

I sent off 28 query letters and kept a spreadsheet of the results. I still have that spreadsheet. I don’t know exactly how many of those agents asked to see the manuscript, but I remember it was the majority which meant that I could include a cover letter that said “as requested, here is my synopsis and first three chapters...”

I do know that out of that 28, 5 never responded, I eventually received 13 rejection letters, although most of them chose to read the book first. 7 requested that I send them a synopsis and first three chapters, and then I never heard from them again.

The one agency replied to me query letter asking to see the whole manuscript (I expect it was a screw up on an interns part, as traditionally they look for 3 chapters and a synopsis, as does everyone). This was the agency that eventually called me up asking me to come and visit, and who eventually agreed to represent the book. I suspect (though don’t know for certain) the reason was a combination of genuine enthusiasm for the book, the passing resemblance its tone had to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, and that they also had Never Let Me Go on their books and thought cloning was going to be big that publishing year.

From there we went through the whole cycle again, they approached numerous publishers, many of whom had nice things to say about the book, some recommending we target YA publishers. Eventually one publisher, Tindal Street Press took us on. Shortly afterwards it was also sold to Fazi Editore in Italy, and the Italian translation actually netted me a bigger advance and twice as many sales. The Italian translation also allowed me to say I share a publisher with Richard Castle, which I'm eternally grateful for.

Mark II was published in 2006 by Tindal Street Press, with a launch party in my home city of Leicester. Since then the book’s sold roughly 3,000 copies worldwide, and once a year I buy a meal with my PLR payments. I’ve had a couple of film companies inquire about the movie rights, but as near as I can tell film companies inquire about the rights to everything, so I’ve never got more than a little excited about that.

My second novel was wildly different from the first. Both books were science fiction, but my second had actual spaceships and aliens in, so my agents were a bit at a loss as to what to do with it. We parted on good terms and I entered the whole cycle once again. I’m currently working on a third book (well, fourth, but the third one is banished to a bottom drawer for the time being) and have received a lot of “loved it, but don’t know how to sell it” style rejections for book two, which I’m considering attempting to self publish, since I think I’ve got a pretty good idea how to sell it.

So that’s how Mark II went from being a lengthy word document on my laptop to an actual book with pages and a cover and everything. Although name-dropping UEA probably gave me a bit of a boost in the being-taken-seriously stakes, I started out with zero contacts and no more insight into the publishing industry than you can get by reading about it and by building up a stack of rejection letters. If I had to put Mark II’s getting down to any quality other than “it being a good book” (naturally, they’re all good books) I’d say it’s a willingness to accept many, many rejection letters as a natural part of the process, not the end of the world (some times that's easier than others), taking the time to get the presentation right, and being very, very lucky.

Monday, 28 January 2013

#51 Zombie Lab: Let’s All Go to the Museum!


Hi! Yes! I’ve been away for a while. I don’t want to go into details, but it turns out there was a completely unrelated apocalypse that coincidentally was due to happen on the same date as the supposed “Mayan” apocalypse. The only person who knew how to avert it was Bing Crosby, who concealed clues to the only hope to mankind’s salvation in the lyrics of several of his biggest hits.

Anyway, long story short, I managed to avert the rise of the Spider Clowns, but then I was stranded in Reykjavik and it took me three months to hitch hike back to somewhere with Internet access. It wasn’t that far to travel, I’m just very unappealing to drivers.

But I’m not here to talk about that, there are much more interesting things for us to discuss.

So let’s talk about museums. I love a good museum. Whenever friends come to visit me in Norwich I’m always keen to recommend that they visit our famous Teapot Museum, then they ask if I’m being sarcastic and I say “No, I’m not being sarcastic. Why?”

One place that has a lot of museums is London, and among my favourite museums there in the Science Museum because, frankly, it has lots of planes and a lunar module and I think that’s cool. (Also cool: Novelty teapots).

This week the science museum is combing two things I love (Science. Museums.) with something else I love (Zombies) to bring about the Science Museum Zombie Lab. The Zombie Lab is going to take place over this Wednesday evening (January 30th, 6:45pm to 10pm) and Saturday and Sunday afternoons (February 2nd/3rd, 12pm to 5pm).

I’m going to be there, and all of you should be there too. Here are a few of things you ought to expect:

Games and Activities
Zombie Costume Competition
Exactly what it says on the tin. Come dressed as a zombie on Wednesday evening, and if people are convinced enough that you’re a shambling corpse they’ll give you a prize. Or hit you in the head with a shovel. It depends.

Quarantine
This one looks fun- the idea is that the zombie safe house doors will be slamming shut in ten minutes, and you have to prove you aren’t a zombie by completing a number of tasks.

Horde
Remember that bit in Shaun of the Dead where they try and navigate through a horde of zombies by groaning and shuffling? Zombie LARP regulars among our readers may remember this account of why we’re not longer allowed to do that in game.

Well collective behaviour experts Edd Codling and Nikolai Bode of the University of Essex will be looking to test just how good a zombie you can be in what they’re describing as a “predator-prey” game.

The Trial
This is my personal favourite activity at the event, purely on the grounds that I helped write some of the support materials for it. Yep, Mary and Grant (or Serious Business to give them their official name) the minds behind Zombie LARP and the Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter live game we reported on last year, have come up with a new creation. Since, sadly, the Science Museum was apparently unwilling to let us charge headlong around the museum firing Nerf guns at one another, they have instead constructed a post-post-apocalyptic world, where the tide is just beginning to turn against the zombies, a cure for the disease has been discovered and society is beginning to rebuild.

People will be asked to take part in the Community Jury Initiative to answer two fundamental questions- are the cured zombies legally responsible for all those people they ate? And should those who didn’t get infected be held responsible for all those zombies they killed? The answers may not be as straight-forward as you think...

UPDATE: You can find out much more about The Trial here.

Talks
I’ve written about the zombie apocalypse being used to examine real life issues so many times here you’re probably bored of reading about it, but the Zombie Lab will feature a number of talks that do just that. Daniel Bor (University of Sussex), David Papineau (Kings College London) and author and games writer Naomi Alderman will be talking over whether zombies are conscious as a way of examining what consciousness is. Another talk will look at possible causes of a zombie apocalypse, because there aren’t enough things to be terrified of in the world.

Films
There will also be a special showing of the zombie romance Warm Bodies, which we’ll probably have to get round to reviewing for this site sooner or later.

And that is just scratching the surface (which I’m sure could be worked into a zombie pun, but it’s late and I’ve got some other stuff to write, so you’ll have to come up with that one yourselves). Have a look here to see the full list of stuff the Science Museum is going to have on over the festival, and I’ll see you there!http://zombielarp.co.uk/

Monday, 29 October 2012

#50 Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: Vampire Hunter Club Live




If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably been drooling in anticipation at the release of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter on DVD, the movie of the book written by that guy who thought of taking public domain works of literature and making money by inserting the word “zombie” into every other sentence.

You may even have heard of the press event launched to promote the DVD, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: Vampire Hunter Club Live, a game put together by the minds behind our favourite Zombie LARP. Regular readers will be familiar with my previous zombie LARP adventures, from my heroic death during the tragic tale of Team Scavenger, to our first doomed foray into Station Zero at the Friar’s Walk Mall, to the Zombie LARP Christmas Carol, where we learned that Morris dancers are apparently way more badass than any of us thought likely, in such a way that some narrow-minded people may believe, ahem, completely broke the game.

But that was all a long time ago. This time, rather than assembling yet another team of doomed comrades and leading them to their death, I joined the staff at the event, playing one of the evil vampires that were being hunted. As a result I was given food and travel expenses that were ultimately paid for by Fox, so I’ve finally sold out and everything I say from here on in is probably suspect.

Grant Howitt, one of the game designers behind this and Zombie LARP, has already written an excellent blog post on the things he learned designing and running the game. And Alex Hern has already written an article for the New Statesman on his experiences playing a vampire hunter, and we have no wish here to duplicate content already provided by that fine publication.

So today I’m going to tell you some of the things I learned as a vampire, intermingled with a couple of player stories we’ve received from some LARP virgins.

Vampire Lesson One: Talking With Fangs Is Really Hard (And A Bit Racist)

The whole point in being a vampire is that you receive eternal life, superior strength and otherworldly beauty, but that it comes at a terrible cost. Many vampire stories are vague about just what that cost is (Do you really believe in a soul anyway?). Well, having walked in a vampire’s shoes I can tell you what that cost is, and it’s not worth it.

Eternal life, eternal beauty is great, but trying to do that with two massive prosthetic fangs crowding the front of your mouth completely ruins the whole thing. After I’d had my make-up applied and my teeth glued in I discovered to my horror that becoming a dark creature of the night meant I could no longer pronounce my Rs or my Ss. My speech had taken a form that was hideous, and yet somehow familiar. Before long it dawned on me. In my efforts to speak clearly with those fangs in my mouth, I was apparently doing some sort of weird Fu Manchu style Chinese accent.

I spent the remainder of my preparation time before the game saying “The rain in Spain falls mostly on the plains” in a desperate attempt to learn how to speak normally in case any Asians turned up to the game.

Interlude: The story of Ryan Sullivan

I had a great time at the Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter Live Vampire Hunt (ALVHLVH).

I had no idea what to expect when I arrived. All I knew was I wanted to get my hands on a weapon and head out on the first expedition. I didn't have to wait long until a shotgun was put in my hands and a brave doctor - discernible by his white lab coat - was leading an exploratory mission out into the dark.

After checking the several small rooms we passed, didn't want to fall victim to a simple ambush on the first outing, we arrived on the Dancefloor; which would become one of the bloodiest battlefields of the evening. Here we found a solitary vampire who retreated before our awe-inspiring awesomeness. So we gave chase to the little hellspawn!

This is when I had my first lesson in "don't underestimate a vampire." He'd lured us right back to the nest of vampires. One had turned to eight. We beat a hasty retreat to the Dancefloor and the battle began. I quickly ran out of ammo and had to abandon my team-mates temporarily to reload. This action was noticed by a bystander and my bravery, or lack thereof, was quickly pointed out to me.
Once I was rearmed I returned to the fight and helped to save a fallen comrade and dispense of the undead horrors. We returned to the safe house as heroes, laying waste to four of the vampire scorn. That was only the beginning.

A plan was forged by Leo, the maker of plans. We were to plant a bomb in the heart of the vampire nest and cleanse this place of their foul stench once and for all. My ammunition had long been spent and I went onto the battlefield armed with nothing but a single bandage to aid any injured companions. It was terrifying, the feeling of complete vulnerability.

Soon a brawl broke out and I pulled a man from the front lines to administer the aid I could, lest he fall to the dark host and become one of them. My comrade had dropped his weapon in the commotion and the demons were close to swiping it. I wrestled it away from their cold dead hands and looked in awe upon the Axe of Abraham Lincoln. It was glorious.

With our forefather's axe in hand and Leo's excellent plan, victory was assured. Our group was separated by a last ditch ambush from the vampires but they were too late and they knew it. We closed the door on the safehouse to hear the explosion boom above us. It was over. The night was safe once more.

Vampire Lesson Two: People Don’t Object To Being Sent Into Certain Death As Much As You’d Think

The Vampire Hunter game took place in two sessions, with two very different and distinct feels. The first game could be best described as, well, a total and utter blood bath. The players swarmed out into the abandoned nightclub, armed with NERF shotguns or, as Zombie LARP veterans call them “No way are you sending me out there with one of those, I want to try and make it through this game alive!”

We did our best to give them a fighting chance, but before long the vampires found ourselves surrounded by Thralls, the unwilling, brainwashed slaves we’d made of murdered vampire hunters. Thralls are discernible by several qualities. First, the red bandage wrapped around their arm to signify their allegiance to the undead. Two, that they are totally useless in a fight unless you can procure a weapon for them. Three, that although they’ve fallen in battle, they’re still paying to be here, so despite being your army of obedient minions, you also have to make sure they’re having fun.

With so many dead, many vampires soon found themselves with far too many thralls under their command, and it was hard to give them all fascinating and engaging tasks to do. So when in doubt it wasn’t uncommon to tell them to just charge head on into a front line of axe wielding survivors. What was quite spooky though, was the sheer enthusiasm the thralls seemed to have for what would inevitably turn out to be a short and sticky death (especially given the fact that seriously, players never, ever, ever learn to pull their blows).

Interlude: The Tale of Rebecca Cosgriff of Books Becca Buys
Having never before attended a 'livegame', I wasn't quite sure what to expect when me and my (coerced) friend turned up to Islington Metal Works. I wasn’t massively reassured when I was ushered inside amongst some leather-clad compatriots to sign a liability waver.

Only slightly deterred, we congregated inside the main room of the metalworks (furnished with a rather fetching faux train carriage/burger van) to hear the welcoming speech from our hosts, Serious Business. Promptly informed that we were not to expect mere immersive theatre but a live action horror game to solve and participate in (cue clammy hands), we were let loose with strict instructions to hit only from the chest down and try not to seriously maim anyone.

What followed was at least 30 minutes of general standing about feeling confused and, if I’m honest, a bit left out. Some people had obviously attended similar events before and got straight down to de-coding baffling messages strewn around, and volunteering to take the limited weapons on a scouting mission. Those of us not so sure of ourselves were left behind with nothing to do and no weapons to brandish for quite some time. I understand that this sort of game involves proactivity but it would have been nice if some of the cast members had engaged with those of us obviously standing around looking baffled, and ensured that everyone had a turn being led through the labyrinthal metalworks on an mission (my group were selected to get nuked up and taken out into the field, only to get forgotten about and left, tempted to give up the ghost and just order a burger).

With only about 30 minutes to go my friend and a couple of other lost souls decided to just go for it, grabbed a weapon from a cast member and got involved. I have to say it was a lot of fun, despite stubbing my toe and screaming, in a way that would have made Buffy turn in her grave (before being hastily resurrected), trying to run away from the hissing, prosthetic-clad un-dead. We managed to merge with a more experienced group and I was soon responding to frantic calls for “MEDIC” and bashing away at some poor(presumably) underpaid actresses with a foam axe. Bliss.

The whole thing struck me as a terrifying medium between Secret Cinema and the London Bridge Experience, and all in all I had a good laugh and met some nice people. But my experience would have been much more positive with a bit better organisation, a few more (working) weapons and some effort to include people not so sure of themselves, or at least introduce some ‘getting to know you’ activities before things kick off so the n00bs can team up with the pros.

I can’t say I’m a live action simulation convert, but I definitely would consider giving it another bash (literally) when the Serious Business has a bit more experience.

Vampire Lesson Three: It Is Mankind That Is The Real Monster

The second game had fewer players, but more alarmingly, they got organised. Where’s in the last game if Grant and Mary wanted to shit the players up they just had to send a couple of us running and screaming into the safe room to watch them scatter and panic, this time we’d run into the safe room to meet a barrage of NERF darts and axe-blows.

Listening to the referees and the human NPCs we kept hearing how terrified the players were, but as a vampire you would see only death. Instant, violent death.

And then came my moment to shine.

One of the elements Grant and Mary had added to Vampire Hunter to differentiate it from Zombie LARP was the introduction of Interrogations. A vampire would be dragged kicking and screaming into the safe room, tied to a chair and questioned for valuable information that the players would need to progress. As a vampire you were given two pieces of information, and a “trigger” that would cause you to spill everything.
My compatriot in previous LARPs, Alina, for instance, played an agile, parkour-esque vampire who would tell you everything if you threatened to damage her legs. Within seconds of being taken into the room someone had chopped off one of her legs and she sang like a canary.

We assumed the players had done their research, and so I was looking forward to seeing what would happen when I went in. The interrogator dragged me into the safe room, and before I was even tied to the chair... they started hacking my legs off. Now this wasn’t my trigger, so I just had to limp over to the chair and continue the interrogation, and throughout I was slashed at, had things chopped off, and threatened.
But worst of all was the look in their eyes. People who I’m sure I’d love to meet socially were clearly really, really enjoying the torture. Like, a lot.

When they finally got all the information they could from me, I was brutally killed and tossed back out into the corridor, and I don’t mind admitting it was something of a relief.

When this blog started we used to play a regular drinking game of apocalyptic movie tropes, one of which was “mankind is the real monster”.

It is my friends. It definitely is.

Thanks to Lynsey Smith for letting me use her photos of the event. See the whole gallery here.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Next Big Thing

A slight shift from business as usual as this week we're taking part in The Next Big Thing. It's sort of like one of those annoying Facebook chain questionnaires, except instead of Facebook it's people's blogs, and instead of all those really dull people you know, it's authors, so, y'know, it's cool.

I was very kindly tagged in by Kim Curran, author of the real-life-save-game-function novel, Shift. Once I'm done here I'll be tagging the next bunch of writers who'll keep the chain going. But first, here's some shameless plugging for my cloning novel, Mark II.
What is the working title of your book?
Mark II

Where did the idea come from for the book?
From TV. I was watching a documentary about cloning, and one of the people interviewed was a parent who wanted to clone their terminally ill child. It got me thinking about what the clone would think about this. I started off trying to write a short story about a clone who was brought about in this way, but it sort of expanded into a novel.

What genre does your book fall under?
Young adult science fiction. Or teenage science fiction. Or science fiction with teenagers in it.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
This is always difficult when all the interesting people in your cast are children, as all the actors who could possibly play the part have this horrible habit of growing up. My current favourite for the role of Mark Self and his clone is David Rawle from the Chris O'Dowd sitcom Moone Boy. He can pull off two most important things about Mark- a look of wide eyed innocence and look that looks a lot like wide eyed innocence but really, really isn't.

Oh, and the theme tune has to be this.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Phil's best friend Mark dies after a long illness, only to be replaced by a clone who looks like, sounds like and has some of the memories of his old best friend, but is a new person altogether.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Roughly 12 months. Started writing it when I should have revising for A-levels, finished it when I should have been doing coursework for university.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
A lot of people have compared with Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, I think mainly because it has a child narrator with an unusual perspective who doesn't quite get the "rules" of everyday human interaction. I like to think of it as Frankenstein, if the monster had found some people who actually liked him.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
It started off being about playing with an idea that seemed like a very possible real world application of cloning technology. I fudged the science and made my clone vat-grown and speedily aged up because I didn't really want to write about a newborn baby, but I really liked the idea of doing science fiction story that didn't seem to have any of the usual trappings of science fiction (although I love writing stories with all those trappings as well!).

In the end though the thing that kept me interested in the book was the friendship between Phil and Mark's clone, which felt very real to me, and I have a lot of fun writing Mark's clone, an intelligent, articulate boy who's only real probably is that he's unflinchingly honest about everything and assumes everybody around him is the same.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It's quite a while since I wrote this now, but looking back I still love the way Mark's clone takes all the little rituals and unsaid rules that dominate teenage friendships and just picks them apart piece by piece.

For another Q&A I've done on Mark II, check out this interview at the Bluewater Waterstone's YA fiction blog

Now, over to the next, Next Big Thing.

Alexander Gordon Smith has turned up here before in our drunk author interview. Go and read about his Next Big Thing here.