Monday, June 29, 2020

Announcing #RPGaDAY2020



August isn't too far away and that can only mean the imminent arrival of #RPGaDAY - an internet incentive to try and get the world talking in a positive and encouraging way about tabletop roleplaying games. 

Every day during August (remember, AUGUST, don't start yet) check out the cool graphic above designed by the awesome Will Brooks. See what the word prompt is for that day, and write, post, blog, vlog, podcast, draw, paint, sculpt, sing, interpretive dance... anything at all, about tabletop gaming inspired by that prompt. Keep it positive, remember we're all about positivity and inclusivity.

To inspire you (hopefully), Anthony Boyd, my co-host for the last five years of #RPGaDAY and I have made a little video to tell you more...



As we get nearer the time I'll upload the awesome dungeon crawl map created by Dunromin University Press as an alternative to the regular graphic. 

Below you'll also find the list of prompts in plain text, and I'll add translations as they come in.

See you in August!

#RPGaDAY2020 Prompts

1    Beginning
2    Change
3    Thread   
4    Vision
5    Tribute
6    Forest
7    Couple
8    Shade
9    Light
10    Want
11    Stack
12    Message
13    Rest
14    Banner
15    Frame
16    Dramatic
17    Comfort   
18    Meet
19    Tower
20    Investigate    
21    Push    
22    Rare
23    Edge
24    Humour
25    Lever
26    Strange
27    Favour
28    Close
29    Ride
30    Portal
31    Experience


The RPGaDAY2020 Prompts in Spanish, translated thanks to Roberto Micheri.
  1. Comienzos
  2. Cambio
  3. Hilo o Enhebrar
  4. Visón
  5. Tributo
  6. Bosque
  7. Pareja o Par
  8. Sombra o Sombrear
  9. Luz
  10. Deseo o Necesidad
  11. Pila, Apilar o Montón
  12. Mensaje
  13. Descanso
  14. Estandarte o Consigna
  15. Marco o Esqueleto
  16. Dramático
  17. Comodidad, Consuelo o Alivio
  18. Satisfacer, Cumplir o Reunirse
  19. Torre
  20. Investigar
  21. Empujar
  22. Raro o Extraño
  23. Borde, Ventaja o Límite
  24. Humor
  25. Palanca
  26. Extraño
  27. Favor
  28. Cerrar
  29. Montar o Paseo
  30. Portal
  31. Experiencia

We've also had the prompts translated into German by ShineShadow and Michael L. Jaegers, many thanks!!

1 Anfang
2 Veränderung
3 Verlauf  
4 Vision
5 Tribut
6 Wald
7 Paar
8 Schatten
9 Licht
10 Wollen
11 Stapel
12 Nachricht
13 Ruhe
14 Banner
15 Rahmen
16 Dramatisch
17 Komfort  
18 Treffen
19 Turm
20 Nachforschen  
21 Drängen  
22 Selten
23 Grenze
24 Humor
25 Hebel
26 Seltsam
27 Gunst
28 Ende
29 Reiten
30 Portal
31 Erfahrung 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Chatting about Games



Yesterday I was kindly invited to chat on a fairly informal hangout on Twitch, chatting with Kalum from the Rolistes podcast. It was my first time talking live on a Twitch stream, but I think it went okay. You can watch the whole thing on Youtube - 


Anyway, during the video I talk about a lot of stuff. So I thought it would be best if I add links to the various things mentioned...

Star Trek Adventures - the RPG I was working on last time I talked to Kalum at Rolistes, which I had to drop out of. Check out the Modiphius page here.

#RPGaDAY - check out the Facebook page for RPGaDAY so you get the latest news and find out the prompts.

Doctor Who Roleplaying Game - what I'm working on at the moment can be found at the Cubicle 7 Games site.

WILD - The roleplaying game of dreamshare technology. You can check out the new site here



Qistina Khalidah - the fantastic artist who I'm so sorry I mispronounced on the chat - who did the amazing cover art for WILD. You can find Qistina at Qissus online, or the Artstation here

Aegean RPG - game of mythical Greece published by we evolve

The Gaslight Club RPG - game of Westworld like hosts by we evolve. 

Okay, take care everyone. 

Stay safe!!

Friday, June 5, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Books That Hooked Me (Part 10)


READY PLAYER ONE - ERNEST CLINE

The final entry in my ten books that have had a massive impact on me, and another one I came to rather late. I know lots of people who had read and loved Ready Player One but it wasn't until the film came out that I felt the need to satisfy my curiosity.

It was a weird one - there was that awful marketing campaign with the poster with Wade's leg being ridiculously long, and the 80's movie tie-in posters that were parodies of things like Back to the Future and The Lost Boys, but echoing at the back of my head was the constant voice saying "didn't people I know love this book?"

I was curious, but was no longer working in the book industry so I did what anyone did and I got the free sample 20-odd pages as a download on iBooks, just so I could check out the style and whether I'd like it.

It was great, but there was something weirdly familiar about it.

The film came out, and it was just as the local cinemas were having this realisation that attendance was down - no one wanted to pay £15-20 a ticket, and in order to get bums on seats they dropped all their prices to £5. Debs was at work, and I had a day off, so I paid my £5 and saw it one afternoon shortly after it came out.

I really enjoyed it. Far more than I thought I would. So much so, I told Debs about it and we went to see it together the following week.

The movie came out just before my birthday, and Debs always struggles to think of what to get me - and I really don't want or need anything. But that year I asked her to get the me book so I could finish reading beyond the sample, and see how it differed from the movie.

Didn't take long to finish the book, really enjoyed it (though I could see The Shining sequence working better for the movie than the repeating the whole of Wargames line for line...

But the thing that really stood out was the writing. Over the years, I've read so many books that have inspired me to write, and a few that have really heavily influenced my style. I mentioned my write like Chuck Palahniuk phase, that followed my write like Stephen King phase. But when I finally started writing for myself, especially for the NaNoWriMo novel I did, and the start of its sequel, I felt I stopped trying to sound like other writers and just be me... and that's what Ready Player One sounded like in my head as I read it.

It read like something I would write. Not just for its obsession with the 80s, but the language just felt like someone (Ernest Cline) was tapping into the way I thought and wrote. Really weird...

I read Armada, his follow-up book which is heavily influenced by the classic 80's movie The Last Starfighter. Probably owes as much to that movie as Ready Player One owes to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Tron.

But if anyone wants to know what my fiction writing style is, without actually reading any of my work, just check out Ready Player One and you'll get a good idea. It's quite uncanny.
--

That's it. Final blogpost about media for a bit. The dayjob looms ever closer, as the lockdown is easing (far too early if you ask me).

I'll post as often as I can, but until the next time, stay safe and look after each other.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Books That Hooked Me (Part 9)


THE MAGICIANS - LEV GROSSMAN

Okay, confession time. You know there have been things in these blogposts where I've confessed that there have been films, TV series and the like that I dismissed completely - only to actually check them out for myself and discover that they are fantastic. Well, Lev Grossman's The Magicians trilogy is one of those.

I remember the first one coming into the shop about the time I left the bookshop. The cover was trying to jump on that Dan Brown vibe that was big at the time, following on from Lev Grossman's previous book, Codex. The covers kinda matched - you know, keeping the theme for the author just like Dan Brown, and then I read the back of the book and the blurb made it sound like Harry Potter meets Dan Brown. And foolishly, I discounted it. Didn't give it another thought.

What a doofus.

Debs, being the massive Harry Potter fan, and fan of all fantasy novels, read the trilogy (she was still working in the bookstore) and really enjoyed them.

Then, along comes the trailer for SyFy Channel's new TV series The Magicians - based on the trilogy of books. The trailer looked brilliant, and Debs said to me "You should read the books, they're really good!!" and after the second season aired in the UK (at some stupid hour in the morning because UK TV has no faith in good genre TV) I finally did.

I honestly don't know why I didn't read it the moment it came in. I absolutely love them. The added advantage is that the novels kinda start the same with Quentin Coldwater going to Brakebills University for Magical Pedagogy, meets Penny, Alice, Eliot and Margo/Janet, and learns about magic and the costs it brings. But, about a quarter of the way through it goes off in a different direction. Sure, there's Fillory, the Narnia that Quentin used to read about like an obsessive Potter fan, and The Beast, but it's very, very different in places.

There are huge sections that made it feel almost like you're reading a really cool Dungeons and Dragons game (especially the end of the first book).

Man, just thinking about it makes me want to reread it.

Maybe that's another one of its strengths. While I know the TV series really well, and love it, the books are different enough to make me want to reread them multiple times to experience a different timeline. (Something the TV series cleverly addressed, making it feel like the events of the books could be just another timeline up to a point).

Awesome.

Since the trilogy, and the TV series, there's been a graphic novel retelling the first book from Alice's point of view rather than Quentin's, and there's been a cool comic series of a new class going to Brakebills - a class of Hedges.

If anything, I actually think that The Magicians has even more potential as a tabletop RPG than Harry Potter. Certainly more possible. Especially when you think you have the "magical college" side of it, along with the non-academic magic users, and then there's the whole of Fillory - a whole magical world to game in...

Maybe one day...


Sunday, May 31, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Books That Hooked Me (Part 8)


JOHN DIES AT THE END - DAVID WONG

Onto part eight of my series of blogposts about the books that had an impact on my life.

David Wong's book, John Dies At The End, is a weird one in many ways, but the way I discovered it was a purely selfish one. Inspired by reading Chuck Palahniuk, I'd come to the stupid conclusion that I should give up on comic writing and RPG writing - I couldn't draw, so I should try to tell stories the traditional way and write a book. I didn't (and still don't) have a publisher for fiction, and I had a look online to see how the indies did it. After all, indie publishing was the way I went with comics...

One that really stood out was David Wong's web story. Published in instalments online, John Dies At The End had thousands upon thousands of readers, attracting the attention of publishers - which lead to the eventual book years later.

I read about this, and read the first handful of chapters online, and thought, "Hell, this is it! This is how I do it!"

Feeling full of renewed vigour, I started writing my awful fiction - The Case of Lost Possibilities - in instalments on a new blogsite (an offshoot of this one) and put up new bits every week. I figured, this was it - this was the way to attract the attention of publishers, show I can write fiction, and get my crazy-assed stories out into the world.

And you know what?

It didn't work.

I think the site had less than a dozen readers, and the story was a bit lame anyway. I liked elements of it, but I really should have had it all planned out beforehand. John Dies At The End always felt like it was being made up as it went along and I really enjoyed it, but I wasn't anywhere near the league of David Wong.


The book came out, and I was working at Ottakar's/Waterstones when it was released - I bought it first day it came in. I read it in a week, and loved it. It was crazy, strange, and sounded just like the weird s*** I would have written given half the chance.

It was the first book I read and got to the end, and then flicked straight back to the beginning and started the book again. That's how much I enjoyed it.

It has been very high on my "you must read this" recommendations list since then.

The movie adaptation is rather excellent too. Brilliant cast, great director (Don Coscarelli - director of Phantasm). It's well worth a watch. Just be warned, it's like watching The Lord of the Rings and the movie gets to Rivendell, then skips straight to Mordor. The movie's great, but to squeeze it all into 90mins it had to miss out a huge chunk in the middle.

Maybe one day they'll make it into a TV series, so they can continue into the crazy adventures of John and Dave in the sequel books...

The second book of John and Dave, This Book Is Full Of Spiders: Seriously, dude, don't touch it is just as crazy, and was recently followed by the third book, What The Hell Did I Just Read. All of them read like the sort of thing I would have written back when I was roleplaying a lot with the old game group in my tiny hometown of [undisclosed].

Very highly recommended.

Hell, just writing about them makes me want to reread them again. Or write a roleplaying game set in their universe...

Saturday, May 30, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Books That Hooked Me (Part 7)


HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE - J. K. ROWLING

Sorry I was late putting up a post yesterday for the books that had an impact on me. It was a combination of being busy with writing, and the timing after JK Rowling latest tweets...

I'm just going to post to say I love Harry Potter. I loved the movies first, then finally read all the books. But it was the sixth one - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that really struck a chord. Mostly because there is a lot of cool background in there, masses of story that they didn't have time to put on screen, detailing Tom Riddle's background and upbringing, that was fascinating.

I just wish that Warner Bros. bought Harry Potter off of JK outright, opening up the world to other creators to set stories (and games *hint*) within the Wizarding World.

One day I'll write a Harry Potter RPG...

One day...

Thursday, May 28, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Books That Hooked Me (Part 6)


FALLING OUT OF CARS - JEFF NOON

Part 6 of my little series of blog posts about books that had an impact on me, and we come to the book that has been on the top of my favourites list for quite a while now. Jeff Noon's Falling Out of Cars.

There is just something about this book that I absolutely adore. It's a surreal road trip as a group travel the country on a bizarre mission. Henderson, Peacock and Marlene are on a mission to recover fragments of a mirror that may be at the heart of a strange affliction that is hitting the population of Britain - images, information, and signs all start to become unintelligible. People get lost staring at mirrors, and the world is covered with fabric or paint to try to mask every reflective surface. In order to keep sane, the team take regular doses of a drug called Lucidity, but even that cannot hold back the weird effects of these mirror fragments.

There's an amazing sequence of them going into a building where a fragment is, but the text repeats as they are trapped in a loop of events, seeing themselves on CCTV repeating the actions. It's brilliant and mindbending.

I bought it back when I was working in Ottakar's, and since then I've bought many, many copies when I've found them at a good price so I can give them to people I think would enjoy it. I even bought the ebook of it so I can carry it around with me on my phone in case I'm stuck waiting for a train, or in a waiting room somewhere. It doesn't matter if I can't remember where I was on the reread, the fluid nature of the narrative means you can jump in at any point and it's still brilliant.

Recently I've been reading Jeff Noon's more recent work, a cool series of detective novels set in a weird 1950's. A Man of Shadows details the PI John Nyquist as he tries to track down a missing girl between two parallel cities - Dayzone and Nocturna. One where it is kept permanently day, the other permanent night. Really cool stuff, and I'm about half way through the second book The Body Library, where Nyquist is caught up in a city where narrative and stories are key, and writing can shape reality.

There was talk about Falling Out of Cars being made into a TV series, and I hope one day it happens. I always get the feeling of a darker version of 28 Days Later for the look (without the zombies) of them travelling motorways in a weird road movie.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Books That Hooked Me (Part 5)


HOUSE OF LEAVES - MARK Z. DANIELEWSKI

Another book that has seriously influenced my writing style is Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves. I was working in Ottakar's, looking after the SF/Fantasy/Horror section, and there was this awkward book that was just huge. Not just a thick book, but in all dimensions. There was the usual debate over whether it should be shelved in Horror or in General Fiction, but as there was supposedly an element of weirdness it usually ended up in my department on the Horror shelves.

I remember flicking through it and thinking "WHAT?"

It's in the inside of House of Leaves that really makes it stand out as being something different. The book itself is a book-within-a-book. It tells of Johnny Truant, who is reading the manuscript of an academic study of a documentary film called The Navidson Record that he found in the apartment of a recently deceased elderly man.

The Navidson Record is a film about a family living in a house whose interior dimensions do not match the exterior. The dimensions change, and then a door appears in a wall that leads into an impossible hallway... which leads to a labyrinth, and a hall, and an impossibly deep chamber down a spiral staircase, and...

Well. It's a bit crazy. As you read Johnny reading the Navidson Record, it's kinda like watching The Blair Witch Project. As close to a found footage movie as you can get in a book. Especially as you can't entirely trust Truant's account.

But it's the layout that makes it special.

Each character's section is written in a different typeface so you can tell which section is which. As the family investigates further into the anomalous room, the more bizarre the layout of the book.

There are weird sidebars of nouns, spiralling passages, footnotes, and pages with single words spinning in the void.

Out of curiosity I ended up buying it, and read it about about a week. It was actually seriously unsettling and left me looking at the walls of our house with a new level of uncertainty.

Seriously cool.

I did some internet research and discovered that there was a different edition of the book - the American edition of it was in colour! Nothing major, but to add to the weird typography, every instance of the word "house" was in blue, and there were another couple of words like that in there too...

In addition to that, Mark Z. Danielewski's sister, who records under the name Poe, recorded an album called Haunted, inspired by House of Leaves. The album has tracks that directly relate to the book, including 5 1/2 minute Hallway, something they call the mysterious new hall that appears in the Navidson Record. Never heard any Poe before, and I took a chance. What a brilliant album! Well worth checking out, and cleverly incorporates found recordings of Poe's (and Mark's) father, who notoriously wasn't very supportive of his creative efforts. Hence the book's dedication - "This is Not for You".

Again, though, I have to confess I didn't feel the same connection, intrigue and excitement with the follow-up book Only Revolutions. Two parallel narratives telling the same story from two points of view - only they're usually in the same place. And you read one narrative one way, then flip the book and read the other upside down. It's recommended you flip every ten pages...

Unfortunately, it kinda read like a shopping list.

Not the last of the experimental books I dipped into - I checked out the rather good Raw Shark Tests by Steven Hall (say the title quick and you'll get it), and this kinda peaked with "S." by Doug Dorst and J J Abrams, where you read a book but also read the storyline of two people checking the book out from a library and communicating by writing in the margins - and tucking in postcards and newspaper clippings that are presented as removable props.

It's the sort of thing I really want to do with an RPG...


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Books That Hooked Me (Part 4)


FIGHT CLUB - CHUCK PALAHNIUK

Next on my series of Books that Hooked Me, books that really had an impact on me is one that really changed my writing style massively. I was working in the cinema while Debs was working in graphic design and magazine layout, and (I've mentioned on this blog in the movies that made me series) there was a movie that I really wasn't interested in. One that was so badly marketed that I remember saying "Why would I want to see a movie about bareknuckle fighting?"

I was an usher for that first showing in the cinema, and hung around to make sure the very few people who had come in for that midweek lunchtime performance were settled and sat... and those first ten-twenty minutes of the movie Fight Club just had me absolutely hooked. I was stunned - a combination of the visuals, the flashback, the narration. Mindblowing.

I remember going back to work thinking "I need to watch the rest of it", and it wasn't long before Debs and I checked out the wonders that was David Fincher's Fight Club. I loved it, and saw it multiple times when it was screening.

It was only a few days after seeing the movie that I decided I needed to check out the book it was based upon. The book of Fight Club is surprisingly close to the movie except for a couple of small elements - there are whole chunks of the movie, especially Jack's narration, that are word-for-word from the book. There was an energy to the style, the way it addressed the reader, that was completely new to me. It was incredibly eye-opening.

Of course, that lead on to Survivor (which was brilliant), and Invisible Monsters (which has one of the greatest opening couple of pages I've read)... I was hooked.


On to Choke, a tale of someone who lives off of donations from people who "saved" him from choking in restaurants, and then onto my favourite of Palahniuk's books - Haunted. I've never been much of a short story reader, but Haunted addresses the short story in a new way. A tale of seventeen writers who go to a writers retreat where they have three months to write their magnum opus. They have food and drink, but cannot leave until it is complete.

The chapters are each of the characters' stories, and bridged with a linking narrative of these writers gradually sabotaging the food, and descend into a mass of self destruction. I guess you could say it's allegorical for how writers sabotage themselves...

On came Rant, which was really clever in the way it told its tale by second hand accounts of witnesses, but it was with his next book, Snuff, that I kinda gave up. Sorry Chuck... Couldn't finish that one.

At the peak of my reading Chuck Palahniuk, when I did try to write fiction it was really like I was channelling my inner Palahniuk. There were flashbacks, asides, weird narration. C'mon, Dave. Have your own voice...

Anyway, Fight Club was a real eye opener for me, and changed my reading and writing habits tremendously.

Monday, May 25, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Books That Hooked Me (Part 3)


THE ILLUMINATUS! TRILOGY - ROBERT SHEA & ROBERT ANTON WILSON

I owe the owner of the local comic shop a lot when it comes to recommendations of great comics. He was the reason I started reading The Crow, Bone, Hellboy, and so many more. However, he's always been great at recommending other media too. Without his recommendations I would never have watched the TV series Misfits. So when he recommends something, I listen.

One of his earlier recommendations, when I confessed I loved things like The X-Files and David Lynch, was that I should read The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. He said it would open my mind.

I know this sounds like some weird literary version of drug deal, and I guess it kinda was. From his recommendation I got it out of the library, and started...

Before I go on, I have to say, I've only read it once - and it was so, very, weird. I remember starting to rereading a few years ago, but there are so many books and so little time to read them in.

Anyway - The Illuminatus! Trilogy is a bit like The DaVinci Code, but many, many years before it. And if Dan Brown was experiencing dimensions not usually seen in our reality. Following a couple of detectives - jeez, how did I forget that one of the characters is called Saul Goodman? - looking into a conspiracy behind the bombing of a magazine, you discover the theories of the Illuminatus and are introduced to Hagbard Celine, head of the Discordians, who are trying to stop the Illuminati - the secret organisation that controls the world. Hagbard, a modern Captain Nemo, aboard his golden submarine, is hoping to stop the Leviathan, hibernating Nazis, Yog-Sothoth... and it all switches from third- to first- person and changes viewpoints of characters mid-paragraph and...

Well, it's all a bit weird.

But I really enjoyed it. It was a bit of a gateway-drug though, and I followed it up with the Masks of the Illuminti, and the excellent Schrödinger's Cat Trilogy. But the next in the recommendations was Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum - a similar tale of uncovering conspiracies throughout history, which I particularly enjoyed as well. Though, being by Umberto Eco, I felt like a lot of it was about a bazillion times smarter than I could actually comprehend.

It did lead down a bit of a rabbit hole though...

Yes, I read the DaVinci Code - well, I did it as an audio book while I was travelling a lot on the train. The audio book was good though, mostly as the guy doing the reading did some excellent accents for the characters - slipping almost into Monty Python at times.

But it did lead to some non-fiction as well, including Everything in Under Control (which was great when I was writing Conspiracy X), and a totally mind-blowing screenplay called Reality is What You can get away with.

It is a great exploration into changing your reality tunnel. Almost like a self-help book, if you don't like the world around you, or your situation, you can change the way you perceive the world by changing your reality tunnel.

Hell, maybe I should give that one another read now...

Sunday, May 24, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Books that Hooked Me (Part 2)


DUNE - FRANK HERBERT

Onto the second of the books that have had a bit of an impact on my life. DUNE. Another one of those books that I came to too early. I'd seen the movie, the awesome David Lynch adaptation of Dune that I still absolutely love to this day. I watched it with the old D&D group, "the Eight", and I felt like I was in a minority that I hadn't read the book. Heck, if I remember correctly, when I joined the D&D group one of the characters was called Muad'dib. We watched the movie, and the others kinda chimed in to say "that's not like the book", or "that's wrong". So, I felt like I had to check it out.

This was back when I wasn't really reading a lot - roleplaying, movies, and videogames were the primary forms of entertainment to me at that time. I bought the novel, gave it a go, and I probably did the same thing I usually did which was give up after about a hundred pages as the payoff wasn't fast enough.

So stupid.

But I loved the movie, and the setting was fascinating. And I ended up buying this cool book on a whim - the Dune Encyclopedia. It was a mammoth reference work about the Dune books, and I found that even more intriguing. It was great. I devoured that book, possibly more than I should have done, and watched the movie multiple times.

Skip forward many years, and I discovered reading for pleasure - thanks to Stephen King (see yesterday's blogpost). It must have been after I left University, after I'd read Lord of the Rings and loved it, I thought to myself - 'You know, you really should read Dune.'

So I did. I blasted through the first four books, loving every moment. We relocated across the country, and without a job I needed to read to keep my head busy, and Dune was where I went. I remember going into the Waterstones in our temporarily adoptive new hometown and asking for the final book - Chapterhouse Dune - and they didn't have it but would order it. All the rest were on the shelves, except that one. A few days later, book six arrived and it had the old cover before the reprints - with the old logo that matched my beaten old copies of the rest of the series. I was ecstatic.

Illustration of Paul Atreides from the
Dune Encyclopedia 


We located again, and I started working in Ottakar's, and the prequel trilogy just started to come out. I picked up the paperback of House Atreides, the start of the Prelude to Dune series. I have this weird memory of starting to read the first volume and finding a typo early on - and stopping reading right there. I mean, a typo. I remember it being something obvious like Atreides. I honestly don't know if it was actually there, or me misreading it. I've just had a look through my copy and can't find anything - though I'm not very awake...

After I got over myself - and working in a bookstore those covers kept tempting me - I finally gave House Atreides another go and devoured the Prelude to Dune series, loving those as well.

I'm sorry to say that it was the Legends of Dune series that stopped me. I tried. I started reading The Butlerian Jihad, the legendary story of why sentient machines were outlawed in the Imperium that I was eager to read. I just couldn't get into it. I still have the paperback, and I even have the hardback of the next volume - The Machine Crusade - but never got any further.

Maybe one day I'll go back to it, but the lure of rereading the original six again is always on my mind.

Especially with the new adaptation coming later this year. Can't wait!!

Saturday, May 23, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Books that Hooked Me (Part 1)

Over the last couple of months I've been keeping my brain occupied, and distracting myself of the horrific state of the world, by writing regular (if not daily) blogposts of nonsense. Looking at the comics, the movies, the TV series, and the RPGs that have all had a massive impact on my life.

Those days of daily blogposts may soon be coming to an end as I can see the need to return to my dayjob is looming ever closer. Unless something horrible happens with the R-number, despite it not actually going down at the moment, I'll be back at the day job in just over a week. I must admit, on one hand it'll be great to see the rest of the staff as I've missed them, but I'm really not looking forward to being out there - exposed to the world and its current potential dangers. How all those who have been doing it for the last ten weeks or more have been coping, both physically and mentally, astounds me, and I can only thank them for their efforts of ensuring we can still eat, get the necessary items to live, and to look after those in need. Thank you.

Anyway, with the return to work looming, there really is only one subject I haven't covered in these daily blogposts of media that has had an impact on me - Books.

I'm going to try to do them in chronological order of me reading them. Some are classics, some a little more left field, but each one of them has had an impact on me, and shaped my reading choices - and in many cases, my writing style.

So let's start at the very beginning. It's very good place to start...


IT - STEPHEN KING

I have a confession. My youth was not filled with reading books. Sure I read comics, but my very early years were mostly spent watching movies, TV, and playing with Lego and Star Wars figures. I distinctly remember reading The Secret Seven, and strangely I have a memory of reading the Action Man novel, The Taking of Monte Carrillo. Why I can remember that, I don't know...

Otherwise, I bought a lot of paperbacks - all of them movie adaptations. I have boxes of them still. It started with the novel of Star Wars, and it just kept going. Through the foil covers of the Raiders of the Lost Ark, to the weird, fake romance novel covers of Romancing the Stone and the Jewel of the Nile. I bought them all. If they had a colour photo bit in the middle, even better. It was like being able to see the movie again before VHS existed. I would read some of them them, others I'd just read the exciting bits I remembered from the movie, or skim for the extra bits that weren't in there - like some in the Ferris Bueller novelisation.

I mean, I tried other books. When I started playing D&D and Middle Earth Roleplaying I tried to read The Lord of the Rings, but really couldn't get into it. It wasn't until I went back to it over a decade later when Babylon 5 was on that I actually read it and loved it.

Anyway, I used to buy these novelisations of movies, even after VHS started being a thing. It was just the collector in me - if I liked a movie, I'd get the book of it.

In my little home town there was a little store near the biggest junction in the town. It was tiny. I mean, the whole store was about the size of a small terraced house's kitchen. You could get two customers in there at most, with a tiny counter at one end. However, they sold books, and records. I bought a lot of music in my teens, listening to vinyl with my enormous headphones on while playing games on my ZX Spectrum.

The owner of the shop was a middle aged Chinese lady who was lovely. We used to chat, and she used to order the weird records I wanted as special orders for me. And some of those weird movie novelisations too, looking up what was available from her supplier's monthly printed catalogue that looked more like a supplement to the phonebook than anything glamorous. I think outside of my family she was the only person I used to talk to for weeks on end. She probably dreaded me coming in. I'm sorry if you're reading this now...

When I went in there, there was this book on her spinner rack of novels that just kept staring at me. Literally. Because it had freakin' eyes on the cover...

IT.

This must have been 1987, as it was the paperback and it wasn't a brand new release, but I was out of school, out of work, and in a limbo - trying to write on my ancient electric typewriter.

I'd been in a few times to get various records over a number of weeks, but that cover was still there - staring at me. So bloomin' unsettling.

Eventually, I caved, and bought it. It really wasn't the sort of thing I read - it didn't tie into anything (at least not yet) but I'd seen the movies - Carrie, The Shining, Christine, The Dead Zone, Silver Bullet... And on top of that, it was HUGE. I wasn't a big reader, and I hadn't managed to get through The Lord of the Rings, and here I was buying a book that was longer. Over a thousand pages of it...

Anyway, I bought it. And blasted through it. Not the fast speed of most dedicated readers, I'm never a fast reader, but I did get through it pretty swiftly for me. I was hooked. Mostly because it had the weird nostalgia element, and playing upon your childhood fears. I loved it.

So much so, that when I finished it, I started reading the rest of Stephen King's work. I moved on to Christine - which I also loved. I knew the film really well, so the extra stuff in the book that wasn't in the movie was brilliant. It was like a massive director's cut of the movie. And then I moved onto The Stand, Carrie, The Shining... and kept going.

Stephen King is the reason I read.

Simple as that. I owe it all to him.

I've kept reading his work too. I'm a bit behind - I think I got sidetracked about Duma Key era, but I loved the Dark Tower series, and especially loved Insomnia and Rose Madder.

I've mentioned on this blog before the surreal moment when I finally got to meet Stephen King. My reading had got to the pitch that I was working in Ottakar's bookstore, looking after the SF/Fantasy section and becoming an advisor to the chain of 140+ stores to recommend titles to the genre ranges. I was even editor of their chain-wide SF/Fantasy/Horror newsletter.

Thanks to this, the sales reps from various publishers knew me, and the awesome rep from Hodder - Stephen King's publisher in the UK - invited me and my wife (who also worked for Ottakar's at that time) to go to the big book launch for Stephen King's new book, Lisey's Story. It was more like a weekend, as we had tickets to the talk one evening, and the following evening there was a launch party in a weird building off the Strand in London. It looked like a masonic temple, but within its walls Alabama 3 were playing.

The evening went on, the publishers and booksellers were mingling, and eventually - tired from a hammering six hour book signing in a supermarket - Stephen King came in, got up on stage, and sang along with Alabama 3 (see the blurry photo to the right)...

Our sales rep from Hodder spotted me and Debs, and said - "Have you met him yet?" - Hell no, not yet! "He'll head this way when he gets off stage, wait there..."

So we did. And Stephen King was introduced to us by our lovely Hodder rep. We shook his hand, Debs gave him a bar of chocolate (as the UK chocolate is far superior - you don't know what you're missing, honestly), Debs thanked him for his books really changing our lives, and I kinda just stood there going... "errrrr"...  And off he went, chocolate in hand.

Anyway, that's about it really. All I can say again is thank you, Stephen King. Without you, I doubt I would have been as big a book reader as I've become. I doubt I would have ended up working in book retail for eight years. Thank you.


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Movies That Made Me (Part 24)


AVENGERS ASSEMBLE / THE AVENGERS (2012)

Doing this chronologically has meant that the final movie in the 24 movies that have had the biggest impact on my life is tinged with a bit of a down-side. Marvel's big movie, The Avengers (or as we in the UK got it Avengers Assemble, because we didn't want to get confused with John Steed and Emma Peel) was a bit of a landmark, and coincided with some major and not great changes in my life...

Okay, let's set the scene. I grew up reading Marvel comics. I loved Iron Man, Thor, Dr Strange, and especially Spider-man. I was one of the first in that darn queue to go and see Iron Man when it came out and absolutely loved it. Blown away by how cool it was, and by how true to the comics it felt. I loved Thor: The Mighty Avenger, and I especially loved Captain America: The First Avenger. These were all brilliant movies in my eyes and I was loving what Marvel were doing with their films.

Let's just get this straight here - my opinion has not changed in the slightest. I love the MCU movies, and don't think there is a bad one in there. My favourites, just for the record, are Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Doctor Strange.

At this time, I was blogging for the SyFy Channel, and doing some writing for a couple of other websites including Forces of Geek. Thanks to this, I'd managed to get on the press lists for some of the big movies coming up, and managed to go and see some movies in advance so that I could review them for websites.

However, the biggest one was to come when I was invited to the press screening of The Avengers, and an invite to attend the UK press conference the following day.

So, I headed down to London. Press invite printed out, name on the list, I went to the Odeon Leicester Square along with loads of other press people, and eagerly awaited the biggest movie of the decade. It was raining when I got there, but it didn't matter. I was going to see The Avengers. They took my name, saw my ID, watched me turn my phone off, and in I went...

The movie was brilliant. Absolutely loved it. I was a massive Joss Whedon fan, and as always he managed to weave a story with an ensemble cast that made sure everyone got screen time, everyone had a storyline, and it all made sense. Fantastic!

I remember staggering out of the movie amazed and happy.

I took the tube to my inlaws where I was going to sleep that night, ready for the following day's press conference, and tried to turn my phone back on. Nothing. It had gotten completely soaked in my jacket pocket and was dead - it really wasn't going to come back on. Nuts.

Eventually, a couple of tube rides later I arrived at my mother-in-law's to discover that people had been trying to get in touch with me all evening. My phone was off, and wouldn't come back on, so it was all news to me... but while I was in that screening watching some of my favourite childhood heroes leap about on screen, my mother had been taken into hospital and it wasn't looking great. I couldn't get home, the trains were no longer running that far up the country, and there was nothing I could do. I spoke to my family to see how she was and how things were, and once in hospital she was doing okay. She was going to be in there a while.

In the end, reassured that there was nothing I could do and that she would be alright, I was convinced by everyone that I should stay where I was, and go to the press conference. It was a big deal, and my mum would have wanted me to go and experience something as amazing as this.

So, reluctantly, I did.

The following morning, I phoned around again to check everything was okay and that I was doing the right thing, and then I headed back into the city to go to the press conference. My phone was still dead, but I had my camera - but I wasn't allowed to take photos during the conference as that honour went to some of the professional reporters and photographers, and the video camera crews from places that had more clout than me.

I took a photo before it started - a swanky hotel ballroom had been transformed into this massive conference hall, with chairs and cameras set up facing the wall of heroes and chairs for the actors...


I managed to get a seat about seven rows back so I wasn't too far from the actors as they came out.

Selfie at the conference before it started
When they did, it was amazing. I've reported about this before on the blog back in 2012, but actually being in the same room as the whole cast of The Avengers was electric. You can tell why these people are in movies, because up close they are all so darn attractive. They're all gorgeous people.

And there was me, like a bald potato sitting in the audience. Star-struck, stunned, and my head spinning in circles confused by what had happened the previous night and whether my mother was going to be okay.

The press conference itself was about thirty minutes. Robert Downey Jr stole the show being the living embodiment of Tony Stark. Being in the same room as Scarlett Johansson is a little disconcerting. These were the biggest actors on the planet, just about - and certainly would eventually be the biggest actors in the biggest movie franchise, and in the biggest movie. And there I was, fifteen feet from them. That expression in the awful selfie above? Yeah, that was pretty much my expression for the whole thing.

Not my photo, I wasn't allowed...

And then it was over. They bid their farewells, and wandered off to the one on ones in various hotel rooms with the press that would be used on every entertainment programme from around the world.

I grabbed my bag, and headed home - made the two hour trip back home, showered, changed, repacked a new bag, then started the six hour trip back to my hometown so I could visit my mother.

She was okay, but it was the start of things going bad. She was in hospital for weeks after that as they tried to work out what was wrong and to assess the situation. Eventually, she was released into a care facility in my hometown, but never returned to the family home. The Avengers night in question was April, and she died in August. During those last few months I spent a couple of days every week when I had time off from work up there visiting, but I've always felt guilty that I couldn't be reached that night.

On those visits my mum said that I did the right thing, that she was okay, and she listened to me relating the story of the press conference and being in the same room as the stars.

It wasn't the last press conference I went to, and I managed to go to the Thor: The Dark World one (the video of which is on my Youtube channel - my most watched video as it has Tom Hiddleston in it), the Guardians of the Galaxy one (which just reinforced my infatuation with Karen Gillan - I managed to bring Debs along for that one, but unfortunately Vin Diesel was a no show), and the first Ant-Man one.

In time, the invites stopped coming. I couldn't afford to keep going to London to see movies for press screenings, and the last one I attended was to see part of The World's End, where I met Edgar Wright. Pair this with the websites I was writing for shutting down, and my time as a movie journalist had come to an end.

It was fun while it lasted.

--

And that's it. My twenty-four movies that have had the biggest impact on my life. It was hard to narrow it down to just twenty-four, movies have been such a major part.

Hope it wasn't too boring!

I'm thinking of doing one more of these things - possibly books? - but not as many. The time to go back to the day-job is looming ever closer.

In the meantime, stay safe everyone. Look after yourselves and those around you.




Tuesday, May 19, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Movies That Made Me (Part 23)


INCEPTION (2010)

Very nearly at the end of the list - I thought I'd stop at twenty-four. So we're getting a lot more recent.

In the build up to Inception's release, no one knew what it was about. There was a cryptic trailer with lots of strange scenes (including the weird corridor fight scene) and the tagline "Your Mind is the Scene of the Crime" before it was eventually changed to the tagline "The Dream is Real". But I loved Christopher Nolan's previous movies, and that corridor fight scene from the trailer looked like it was a bit Matrix-y so I had to go and see it...


I remember staggering home in a state of shock, and my mind immediately went to "why haven't they made an RPG of this?" I went to see the movie again a week or so later to really take it in, and immediately put it at the top of my "favourite movies of all time" list. I was just mesmerised by how cool it was, the way it played with time speeds depending upon the level of dreaming, how the technology had evolved, and I wanted to know more.


I did become a little obsessed with it. I immediately bought the bluray when it came out, and I think that Christmas I bought family copies of it on DVD (which I don't think they appreciated). I scoured Ebay and managed to get a copy of the promotional booklet that was a heavily redacted instruction manual for the PASIV device and its original uses.

When our local Odeon upgraded one of the screens to IMAX, they brought back some of the big IMAX movies for screenings that could really show off the capabilities of the big screen and big sound. Of course, Inception was one of these, and we had to experience the cool new screen. So big... and so loud. The Hans Zimmer soundtrack made your chest vibrate, and you could see the fabric of your own clothes move with the sound. It was awesome.

Still I wanted more. The bluray included a prequel (The Cobol Job) - a 15min motion-comic that sets up the beginning of Inception, but it wasn't enough. I wanted to know more about the world in which Inception was set. Who built the devices? Why? What else could they be used for?

And so I started writing WILD. An RPG of dreamshare technology that I've been chipping away at for nearly ten years. I've spent so many years on it, developing the background, changing the rules over and over again, and I think finally a smaller starter version of it may actually come out in the near future (once I get my writing commitments out of the way).


It's just an awesome film in my books. There are very few deaths, so it became a comfort movie when I was feeling down due to the real world kicking me in the nuts. I may have over analysed it as now I can't unsee the way that "the kicks" work is wrong at the end of the movie, but it's going to be a tough thing to sell any other way.

My excitement about Christopher Nolan's new movie TENET is very high, but I really want him to delay the release until it is safe to go and see it. It just looks to be the ultimate follow-up to Inception - it could even be in the same world - but if it means I have to wait for it for my own health and others, I'm willing to wait.

If you've never seen Inception, you really should remedy that. It's amazing, and will leave you questioning your reality.


*For those paying attention, my current top 3 movies are:
1) The Matrix
2) Inception
3) Fight Club