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Squirrel Girl and Me

Came across a passing reference today that reminded me of one of those odd coincidences in life and, because I have a ton of work to be getting on with and absolutely shouldn't be doing a whimsical blog entry, here's a whimsical blog entry about it.

Way back in about 1990, I was going to run a superhero RPG session and so was planning it out. It was going to be set in Manchester where I lived at the time, with an eye to immediacy and familiarity -- when the heroes punched a villain through a shop window, it would be possible to name the street and and the shop, and the players would know exactly where it was and how it looked. I was using the Golden Heroes ruleset from Games Workshop, dating from their pre-Warhammer niche marketing days. Awful name for a system (it's currently available under the name Squadron UK), but a good, playable game that does a good job with super powers as long as they don't get too cosmically scaled. My big bone of contention with the system was character generation was randomised with no balanced option for designing a character. Having something really unexpected landed upon you can be fun to play, but if a player desperately wants to run a Batman analogue and instead ends up with Ambush Bug, that's not ideal. Thus, I asked the players beforehand what they'd like to play and hand built the characters with an eye to them being more-or-less balanced. One player when I asked her, however, said "surprise me."

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Incoming! Stuff I'm Doing This Year

Hello, and my apologies for a lengthy silence when I just didn't get around to posting much. Anyway, I've done a bumper list of stuff I'm doing between now and November, so without further ado, for you delight and delectation...


Sunday 10th August 2013
I shall making a couple of appearances on panels, and generally ninja-ing myself around elsewhere. Say hello. Buy me a drink. Say hello and buy me a drink. The panels are:

Doctor Who: The Ones You Love To Hate 11:45am to 1:00pm
Jonathan L Howard, Adam Christopher, Ben Aaronovitch, David McIntee, James Swallow, Abigail Brady and Lesley McIntee

Nothing's more fun than a really hissable villain, and Doctor Who's had more than its fair share of dastardly dudes and dames over the years. What makes a perfect villain? Is it the megalomaniac schemes? A catchphrase? Or just a natty line in sinister clothes? We talk all about the nastiest people in history.

In George II & III, Renaissance London Heathrow Hotel

Doctor Who: My Best Friend 6:45pm to 8pm
From Susan all the way through to Clara Oswald, the Doctor’s companion has been a fixture of the series for as long as it’s been on the air. But who’s been the greatest of them all? Jamie? Jo? Tegan? Rose? Donna? Or do you fly the flag for Dodo or Lady Christina? Jonathan L Howard, David A. McIntee & Matt Nixon.
In George II & III, Renaissance London Heathrow Hotel


Saturday 19th October 2013
Bristol is a wonderfully odd place, and “The Kraken Rises” illustrates that perfectly, both literally and metaphorically. The gig is that folk who want to write turn up and discover that the arrival of comet will trigger much weirdness around the city. These doughty folk are sent hither and yon between locations where they bump into assorted reprobates (Hello there!), who help them out as they put together their own story about The Doom That Came to Bristol. Or didn’t. The writers can do whatever they like within the broad framework, and the best stories will end up in a proper published anthology organised by the lovely folk at Angry Robot. Helping the peripatetic writers on the day will be Gaie Sebold (Babylon Steel, Dangerous Gifts), David Gullen (Shopocalypse), Emma Newman (Between Two Thorns, 20 Years Later), Gareth L. Powell (The Recollection, Ack-Ack Macaque), Tim Maughan (Paintwork, “Limited Edition”), and myself.

Bristol city centre, around and about in currently secret places.


Tuesday 1st October 2013
Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute finally gets its much belated US publication day. Cabal has upped test tubes and defected to Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of Macmillan, who will also be publishing the fourth Cabal in late 2014.


Saturday 26th October 2013
I was on a couple of panels last year, and that’s likely to be the case again this. Bristol-con is a very friendly one day do with this year’s guests of honour being Philip Reeve, Storm Constantine, and Mark Buckingham. If you can make it, I’d throughly recommend that you do so.

Doubletree Hotel, Bristol.


Thursday October 31st – Sunday November 3rd 2013
Nothing scheduled in stone for this one, but I shall be round and about.

Hilton Brighton Metropole


Tuesday 5th November 2013 US and ebook publication
Thursday 7th November 2013 UK publication

Katya’s War is out on these dates, and I’m very much looking forward to its publication. I’ve had some lovely feedback from readers about Katya’s World (along with some slightly boggled comments from people who are confused and sometimes resentful that I write things that aren’t about Johannes Cabal. Considering what a pejorative term “one-trick pony” is, I never expected to be criticised for not being one. Ah, well). I have a lot of plans for “The Russalka Chronicles.” Oh, you just wait.

No release or launch day plans yet, but I think there’s likely to be something happening. Tough to get anything planned at the moment, but I have a few ideas. Watch this space.


7:30 pm Monday 18th November 2013

I shall be doing a couple of readings in the back room of the Shakespeare Tavern (the Shakespeare on Prince Street, that is. This one: http://gkpubs.co.uk/pubs-in-bristol/shakespeare-pub/ Not the one near Temple Circus), along with Ian Milstead. I’ll probably be doing a Johannes Cabal bit and something else non-Cabal. Might even write something v. short specially.

Shakespeare Tavern, 68 Prince Street, Bristol.
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Skeletons! And the Big Statue! A brief appreciation of Ray Harryhausen

I remember it so well. It was shown, I would guess from the evidence, on a Sunday evening and I would make a small bet it was on ITV, their Sunday evening schedules always being more fluid than the BBC's.

Sunday evening, and we settled down to watch a film called Jason and the Argonauts." I'd never heard of Jason, either the original myth or of the film. In fact, The name "Jason" only suggested to me at the time Peter Wyngarde being louche -- I had never heard the name in any other context. I had seen no trailers, I had no preconceptions. I had just been told it was an adventure film with "monsters in it."

That was enough to make me excited, but then the film delivered all that and so much more.

Next day at my primary school, it was all any of the boys in the playground were talking about. We just kept riffing through our favourite bits again and again. There were skeletons! And the big statue! And the flying things! (Nobody got very excited about Poseidon, as he was obviously just a bloke, and not magically animated). And the hydra! And the skeletons! And the big statue!

Talos, the Big Statue, was my favourite at the time, and the sheer nightmarish implacability of the great bronze man as it methodically hunts and kills the terrified Argonauts is a striking image to this day. I think Jason and the Argonauts started my fascination with Greek myth and the legends and folklore of many nations in and of itself. I certainly remember reading a children's retelling of the tale at about the age of nine and being disappointed that, in the original, they only encounter Talos on the way back and not, as in the film, a dramatically more satisfying encounter en route. The film also skips all the subsequent unpleasantness with Medea as well as perhaps the most humiliatingly mundane and ironic death for a hero in any of the myths of Ancient Greece (if you don't know it, I'll let you find out for yourself. Suffice to say, it isn't glorious).

The original story is also inferior in lacking a Bernard Hermann soundtrack. Those silly Ancients Greeks.

As an adult, although the lead-up and staging of the Talos sequence is undoubtedly brilliant (the foreboding valley of the monuments raises the hackles before Talos moves even a millimetre), it's the sheer intricacy of the skeleton fight -- the Children of the Hydra -- that is probably my favourite scene.

And now I screech to a halt, because the man who raised those skeletons, who made Talos step down from his plinth, that made the harpies bedevil poor blind, Patrick Troughton, has gone, and I can't quite believe it. Yes, Ray Harryhausen was 92, good innings, la la la and all that. But... somewhere inside myself, I was sure he'd turn out to be immortal. I mean, he did all the grunt work for Zeus in Jason and the Argonauts, and again in Clash of the Titans. He attacked San Francisco with a giant octopus (actually a hextapus, because there wasn't enough budget to animate eight legs) and Rome with a Venusian. He knackered the Washington Monument by whacking it with a flying saucer, and made Tom Baker look cool by animating a statue of Kali. How can a man who does all this just die like a normal person?

Of course, his work has made him immortal for the foreseeable future, the clear adoration with which film-makers have spoken of him has marked him out as one of the greats, and the sheer imagination and energy he put into his creations will continue to delight for a very long time to come.

But I don't know. Can a man like that ever really die? I have a belief, held more seriously than an atheist should, that up on Mount Olympus, Hephaestus has cleared space at his workbench and he and a new god are making plans.

"That's a lot of legs."

"Is that a problem?"

"No. Not if we have the budget for them." 
Johannes Cabal the Detective

Robin Sachs

I can hardly believe the news that Robin Sachs has died (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-21343137). When Christopher Cazenove died, Robin took over the role of reading the second Johannes Cabal audio book Johannes Cabal the Detective. He called me and we had a long and pleasant chat where he asked a lot of salient questions about pronunciations and so forth. He was fun to talk with. Then, late last year, he dropped me a line to ask if I was interested in him doin Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute? At that stage, the contracts weren't done and I wasn't sure of the rights would be available, so we chatted about this and that at length. As it turns out, the rights were still available and, if not for my own recent illness, we would have been moving ahead on an audiobook version by now. Now he's dead, and at the ridiculously early age of 61. I am truly shocked. There's no indication yet of what happened. 

I can't call myself a friend of his, just somebody who worked with him once and was very much looking forward to working with him again. I chatted with him on a couple of occasions, but they were good chats. He was funny, and droll, and namedropped some huge names into the conversation precisely because, "I like hearing you go, 'Whaaaaaat?'" and then he'd laugh. 

Thoughts, of course, to his family and close friends. 
jonathan l howard, johannes cabal, the fear institute

A Hallowe'en Announcement of the Most Appalling News

I'm sorry. I am truly sorry. I have no idea how this could have happened. 

I am the bearer of bad tidings. 

It transpires that, for reasons that remain obscure, Thomas Dunne, the respected publishers of books such as Peter Ackroyd's six part History of England, through to striking new works of fiction like David Wong's John Dies at the End has, and I can hardly bring myself to say it, decided to publish Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute in North America, a continent hitherto spared that terrible contagion. 

I can barely see to type, the tears are streaming so. 

But, before you run off to stockpile batteries, ammunition, and canned food prior to walling yourselves up in the cellar, it is my unhappy lot to tell you that the coming apocalypse will be yet more terrible still. 

In an act of elemental villainy that has left doomsday cults around the world nodding appreciatively, Thomas Dunne has requested -- Nay! Demanded! -- that a fourth Johannes Cabal novel be written, presumably to finish off any survivors. 

The timeline is not set in stone, but I believe the intention is for Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute to be released approximately a year hence in North America, and the as-yet-unnamed fourth Johannes Cabal novel to follow a year later in the autumn of 2014.

Indeed, the autumn of the whole of that once proud continent. 

Go to your families, your loved ones. Hold them close, now that you know your time is so cruelly limited. Tell them everything is going to be okay, though the lie curdles in your throat.

I'm so sorry. 
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BristolCon 2012

Woo, lookit, a non-Twitter entry. 

Bristolcon 2012

Anyway, BristolCon 2012 is happening this Saturday the 20th and I shall be doing stuff at it. Specifically: 

14:00-14:45 -- I shall be signing books in Programme Room 1. They may even be my own. I am told there will be copies of Katya's World available, over a fortnight before they're due in the shops. I should have a few myself, but Forbidden Planet in the traders' rooms should have some if all goes to plan. There will also be copies of the Cabal novels for sale. 

15:00-15:45 -- I'll be appearing again in Programme Room 1 on the Women in Sensible Armour panel along with Danie Ware, Joanne Hall, and Foz Meadows, and moderated by the legendary (and terribly dapper) Philip Reeve. I've ranted about stupid fantasy armour on Twitter a few times in the past, so I'm there as the token outraged male, I think (Mr Reeve doesn't count. He's there to moderate and is therefore above us as Asgard is above Midgard). 

17:50-17:55 -- A reading, once more in Programme Room 1. No idea what, yet. It's only five minutes, so I'm fretting a bit over what's short and punchy enough for that. 

19:00-19:45 -- Just across the hall in Programme Room 2 for another panel. This one is Nano or Nono, How to Survive a Writing Challenge, about the rigours of things like NaNoWriMo, and whether they're a sensible thing to do or a mistake. Ben Jeapes will be moderating that one, with Dolly Garland, Joanne Hall, Leigh Kennedy, and myself doing the panelling. 

I should also point out that at 18:00-18:45 in Programme Room 1 there will be a thing in memory of "Ghost of Honour" Colin Harvey, who died last year. The hope is that an anthology Colinthology will be launched then, all profits going to the hospital charity that Colin worked for. This won't be a morbid affair; that's really not the sort of chap he was by all accounts and he wouldn't have wanted that. I have a story in Colinthology. It's set in a bar. The editors tell me a sod of a lot of the stories are set in bars and pubs and there is a lot of beer involved. That's what Colin would have wanted. 

Anyway, if you're in that neck of the woods, at least consider it. It's £20 for a full day's serious fun (and a goody bag), which is a bloody good deal, I think. Hope to see you there. 


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FantasyCon 2012

Well, I'm off to my first convention in a while -- FantasyCon 2012 at Brighton this weekend. As is always the way, there are things I'd really like to attend that are dead opposite other things I'd like to attend, for example Mark Gatiss talking about TV writing is on at the same time as an interview with Mary Danby. Much as I'd love to hear Gatiss speak, Danby has been a literary heroine of mine since primary school (she'd probably be mortified to hear) when I started reading the Armada series of ghost anthologies she edited and wrote for.

Those books had a profound effect on me, to the extent where, with hindsight, I can point at a detail in Johannes Cabal the Necromancer that is inspired by one of the stories I read from those collections. I didn't write it as a nod to them, even though Necromancer in particular contains a great many wilfully obscure and very deliberate cultural references. I don't think it was a conscious decision at all. It was only later when happening across one of my surviving Armada books (I still have a couple and am loathe to part with them), that it struck me that I'd been holding an image in my mind all these years and it had finally expressed itself in my own writing. 

Which detail? Well, here's a fat sort of hint:

The Fourth Armada Ghost Book

As an aside, while I was hunting down that image, I found the cover of book 5 on Mark Morris' site, and he, too, notes them as a formative influence. 

Morris will be there, as will assorted other folks of much awesomeness such as Ramsey Campbell, Stephen Volk, Kim Newman, Rob Shearman, Adam Christopher, and... well, look, there's a list at the bottom of the site's index page, you can see for yourself. As you can see, it looks to be more of a literary fest than general media (although there's some film stuff). I'm excited. 

And then... come October, I'll be at BristolCon. I went last year and it was good fun, so I'm looking forward to that. I'll write more about that closer the time, but I will point out that the hope is to launch the Colinthology collection then. This is a memorial anthology with profits going to the charity the late SF writer Colin Harvey worked for. The aim was to make it a collection of tongue -in-cheek or generally upbeat stories, and I have a bit of silliness in it that I hope will engender a least a faint sense of amusement in the reader. It also has a beautiful cover. Colin was, by all accounts, a sterling chap and I can attest to him being a good writer -- he deserves to be remembered. 
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Upcoming Stuff

I'm terribly sorry -- I haven't been keeping this up at all despite me doing stuff that was worth blogging about. I shall endeavour to get back into the habit of posting more frequently. 

Right, things that are happening.

This Saturday, the 15th, I shall be making an appearance at the Trowbridge branch of Waterstone's at midday. I wish I could give you a link for that, but the web page is down for maintenance at the moment. Anyway, I'll be boring the pants off anyone with the patience to bear it for an hour. It's going to be mainly about Johannes Cabal, talking about the genesis of the character, doing a reading, a Q & A and then, time permitting, a little bit on Katya's World with a brief reading. 

Then, on the 12th October at 18:30, I shall be cluttering up Waterstone's in the Bristol Galleries, along with some other reprobates associated with BristolCon, specifically Emma Newman, Gareth L. Powell, and Tim "The Maughan" Maughan. It's going to be a panel and Q & A dealy, with signings afterwards, and -- if Gareth L. Powell starts channelling Ack-Ack Macaque at any point -- the scaling of bookshelves and the random flinging of poo. 

Then in the week following, I shall be at BristolCon itself. In all likelihood I shall be on one or more panels, but that's not finalised yet. If I got drunk at the Waterstone's thing, it was me up the bookshelves with the poo, and they don't want me on any panels as a result, I shall at the very least be there as a punter. 

If you're in the Bath/Bristol area for any of those dates, you'd be more than welcome. 
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Ray Bradbury

It's almost a month now since we heard the sad news that Ray Bradbury had died. I wrote the following at the time, but couldn't bring myself to post it. Time has lent a little perspective and I feel okay about doing so now. 

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