Well, here we are – months after my last post with a million things to talk about. We have revealed the cover of The Last Smile in Sunder City, advanced copies are out in the world being read and reviewed, Glitch Season 3 is airing, and winter has come and gone.
I’ve been in Melbourne for the last three months, playing the role of Kit Marlowe in the stage adaptation of Shakespeare in Love: a rollicking romp of a play that was having its Australian debut. It was an absolute riot. I was back in my home city with a ridiculously brilliant cast performing a hilarious show to packed houses, and it couldn’t have gone better. It was a chance to sharpen my acting chops (as theatre always does), spend some time at home, work with an incredibly talented cast and crew, wear some tights, and have post-show drinks with as many old friends as possible.
It was also a bit of an experiment. Since this whole writing thing has taken off, I’ve been trying to work out how to balance these two careers. After struggling to find proper writing time while working on film and television, I thought that the theatre schedule would be more conducive to my writing/acting ambitions.
I was very, very wrong.
Without rambling too much (I did write a longer post but it dragged on way too much) there is only so much creative energy I can muster up in a day. Working on one project will drain time and passion from the other. To make sure that I do each job at the level that’s required, I plan to bounce back and forth between them. I’ll lock in big chunks of time to writing, then take a break from the books while I flip over to being an actor again. It’s a constant negotiation of deadlines and job choices but it seems to be the most enjoyable and productive path I’ve found so far.
Anyway, that’s a long way of saying that I’ll be trying to blog more going forward. We’re about five months away from release so there are lots of exciting things to discuss. I hope you all had a lovely winter/summer/whatever depending on where you are in the world.
Hello again! Yes, it’s been a long time between posts. In my defense, I’ve been working on all kinds of things that will be coming your way soon.
The Last Smile in Sunder City is now at the copy-editing stage. Soon I’ll be able to share things like release dates, excerpts, and the incredible cover! I just visited London and New York and was able to meet the awesome people at Orbit Books in both cities. I’m in very safe and experienced hands and my luggage is weighed down with all kinds of amazing books written by the other Orbit authors.
On the acting side of things, I filmed the third season of Glitch (check out the first two seasons on Netflix) and another program in Australia called The End which I am really proud to be a part of. I’ll have more to say about that as it gets closer to release.
While I was back in Australia, my brother George and I got the cameras out and filmed a little project of our own called Level Up Lance. The post-production is going to take a while but it will hopefully be one of many things we’ll produce this year.
A short film called Gutterpunks that I wrote and directed is days away from being completed. It’s pretty special. Once we hit up some festivals I’ll make it available online.
But mostly, I’ve been working hard on the next book in the Sunder City series. I’m actually feeling pretty good about it so far. Because The Last Smile isn’t out yet, I still feel like I’m writing in my own little bubble, which I will enjoy while it lasts. I imagine this will all feel different once an audience has something in their hands.
Now, a little ramble…
While traveling, writing, and balancing both careers, I’ve realized that there’s a part of this job I hadn’t quite anticipated, and that’s the emotional effect that writing can have on my day.
A few times this month, I’ve caught myself feeling emotional, not understood why, and then realized that it was linked to whatever I’d been writing about that morning. I would find myself sitting in the same emotional state I’d sent Fetch Phillips into a few hours earlier.
This reminded me of my first year at drama school when our improvisation teacher (shout-out to Chrissie Best) took us through a series of lessons that I’ve never forgotten.
We’d drop into a particular emotional state, then force ourselves to come out of it and move on.
Emotions are addictive. It can be really tempting for actors to take their one-stage (or on-screen) lives home with them. Whether it’s joy or anger or grief, once those feelings have hold of us, we don’t want to let them go. But it’s indulgent and it can make us insufferable to be around if we don’t keep it in check. In those classes, we would go to the deepest emotional point possible, then shake it out and try to go back into the real world as decent human beings. (Well, we were drama students, so maybe not that decent).
Learning not to cling to those feelings was an important lesson as a young actor, and it turns out to be just as important as an author. Writers go to some strange, deep, vulnerable places. If you don’t break free of those feelings, they can turn you into a grump or a bundle of tears.
As creators, it’s tempting not to leave our little worlds. Sometimes we fear that if we step too far away from them, they won’t let us back in. But, in my experience, those emotions always return when called and don’t need to be kept on a leash.
That’s how I feel about it anyway. It’s important to suffer for our art while we’re doing the job – take risks, shed tears, scare ourselves, be as honest as we can – but then we wash our hands of it before we sit down at the dinner table.
I’ve really enjoyed hearing from you in the comments and on twitter, so let me know your thoughts on this. Have you ever found yourself too caught up in the emotional world of your work? Or maybe as a reader?
Thanks for hanging out. I’d better get back to Sunder City and push Fetch into the next chapter. I left him in a pretty rough place and he won’t be able to get out of it on his own.
Hey readers! I’m still adjusting to my newborn-blog and learning to feel comfortable vomiting my thoughts out into the world. So, let’s take a break from talking about my projects and I’ll tell you about some peeps I know who are doing creative and exciting stuff.
If you’ve ever watched Pokemon (or similar anime), you’ll be familiar with a world in which everyone is obsessed with a single stupid game. Well, Kyle Bosman from Easy Allies has used that trope to create a web-series called Box Peek.
It is utterly charming and laugh-out-loud funny but the greatest triumph is how it was mostly created by the genius and determination of one man. The whole show is constructed with paper puppets that Kyle draws, cuts out, puts on popsicle-sticks and films in his apartment. And you won’t believe how good it is.
Watch it because it’s great, and watch it because it will inspire you to stop making excuses and just make some shit!
Also, I was lucky enough to play one of the characters and the first season is up right now.
If you’re reading this, you probably watched Black Sails. If you did, then you already love Toby Schmitz who played the inimitable Jack Rackham. You may or may not know that Toby is also a ridiculously talented writer and director.
“A twice-rejected art school applicant rises to political power through the use of charm, cunning and violence. From there, he declares merciless war on ‘cultural disintegration’, ordering an aesthetic purge of the entartete Künstler – the ‘degenerate artists’ – and their work.
As a result, between 1933 and 1945 one fifth of all artworks in Europe – valued at billions of dollars – are looted by, or have their sale coerced by, the Nazis.”
Yes, it’s about Nazis. Also, it’s written IN VERSE! (like Shakespeare). Plus, it’s a mind-blowing, captivating, delirious night at the theatre.
This is a tough bloody subject, no doubt, and there are valid arguments to say that we should leave these monsters in the past and not dignify them with continued analysis, lest it be misconstrued as a celebration.
But the joy of the play (to me) is how we are reminded that they were not monsters, but flesh-and-blood, petty, pathetic, greedy, awful fucking men. And maybe we wouldn’t need reminding if similarly well-spoken, sharply dressed, alt-right arseholes weren’t poking their heads up right now, asking to be listened to. As the play reminds us; this was yesterday.
Also, the writing is so staggeringly dense, poetic and hilarious that it’s like being beaten around the head with a sack full of classic texts. In a good way.
But why recommend it if it has already closed? Because it will be back. I have no doubt. When it does, make sure you see it.
Also, just go see live theatre. New stuff. Sometimes it’s bloody brilliant.
(And if you happen to be programming a theatre season somewhere in the world, make sure you drop Toby Schmitz a line and have a read.)
Josh Weller, who just finished up being the frontman for London punk band The Kenneths has a comic called Die Already, and it is really really cool. I’m reading it on College Humor’s streaming service DROPOUT.
I’ve promoted this series on Instagram before, but it needs saying again. It’s a Middle-Grade series (roughly 8-10-year-olds) from Steven Lochran about Dinasour Cowboys!
Three books are out already: Riders of the Thunder Realm, The City of Night Neverending and The Edge of The World. The Champions of the Blade is on the way.
If you know a young reader who would get in on that premise, check them out.
The Buskers Guide
My brother George and I are similar in the way that we’re willing to embark on an adventure even if we’re not sure we have the skills to succeed at it. George really put that to the test when he started The Buskers Guide. It follows George and his mate Josh as they become musicians and see how far a few songs can take them. The journey is documented in their Drifter Diaries.
The show really hits its stride in episode 3 (when my Mum makes a cameo with a cocktail). They meet some beautiful, unique characters and it also serves a useful tourism video for how to get around Australia without a lot of cash.
This was filmed a few years ago, and they’ll soon be dropping some fresh, original songs under a new name, so its a great time to see the origin story.
I show up briefly, a little into the series, but make sure you go on the whole journey.
I’ve been reading a lot of modern sci-fi and fantasy recently, trying to familiarize myself with the genre and to get a sense of the market I’ll be entering into. Rosewater has been a highlight. It’s an Afropunk sci-fi set around an alien invasion in Nigeria. The main character of Kaaro was particularly interesting to me, in regards to my own story. I loved how Tade has created a protagonist who can believably walk among the miraculous while remaining detached and unpredictable. Kaaro and Fetch would probably enjoy sharing a drink.
Check it out, and enjoy a new kind of sci-fi adventure.
Well, that’ll do for now. I hope you find something here that you love as much as I do. Next time, I’ll get back to the strange business of talking about myself x
Last time I blogged about Sunder City, I said that I’d discuss fantasy next. That’s probably why this has taken so long.
When I was writing about the noir and mystery elements of Sunder City, I knew that Chandler was my main man. He was the spark that ignited Fetch Phillips in my mind, and the touchstone I’d go back to when I got lost in the woods.
When it comes to magic and monsters, things aren’t as easy to explain.
I have no single inspiration for my fantasy universe. Imagined worlds are everywhere now. I’ve been sucking them into my eyeballs and ears through video games, books, tv, film and anime from before I could talk. Apparently, I tried shouting “He-Man” before I could say “Mum” or “Dad”.
With all these references and influences out in the world, it might seem lazy to fill the Sunder City with creatures we’ve seen so many times before; species that sprang out of Middle-Earth or mythology and refuse to retire, kicking around in cartoons, comics, and D&D.
But I have an explanation.
This world is made for Fetch. We are here for his story, told in his voice. In The Last Smile, you’re only going to get the details he cares to mention. In a lot of ways, Fetch is pretty self-obsessed, so I needed to create a world that would naturally roll off his tongue.
Elves, Dwarves, and Vampires are part of our shared culture. If I’d made up all-new monsters and called them something else, I’d have to ask Fetch to describe each one in detail. Why would he do that? He lives in his world and he assumes that the reader does too. So, if there are Clubbergubbles living downtown, why would he waste time telling you what a Clubbergibble is? It would be like explaining a spoon.
I guess I imagine that every sci-fi or fantasy story set in a different world must get put through some interdimensional translator. You can’t explain every little thing, so it all gets rounded up to the closest name we recognize. Thimthams become trees, Zibbyzoos are horses, and the Hairy-Squatmen of Sunder City look kind of like Dwarves, so let’s call them Dwarves and get on with it.
Another reason to steal a few pop-culture creatures is that this world has gone to shit. Six years ago, the magic disappeared. Every magical species is now suffering from a painful, post-magic hangover. Since you never saw Sunder City before it was broken, I want to start you off with a few familiar signposts. A dead flower doesn’t carry much significance if you don’t know what it looked like in bloom.
Some people like their fantasy dense, other-worldly, and wholly original. I get that. Maybe one day I’ll write a book with a ten-thousand-year war and little notes at the bottom with important dates and the names of long-dead imaginary people.
It just won’t be this one.
Fetch doesn’t care for all that. He just cares about his case. And it’s good for him to have a case. It keeps his mind from this wounded world and the stupid part he played in it all. It stops him from thinking about the things he would change or the man he betrayed or her.
I’m still a while away from putting The Last Smile in Sunder City (my debut novel, very exciting) into your hands, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun along the way. There will be release dates, interviews, art, appearances, and all kinds of announcements. Perhaps I’ll be able to share some interesting insights into the publishing process (something I know next-to-nothing about right now). But first of all, let me give you a better idea of what this book is, and where it came from.
The Last Smile takes a bright, expansive fantasy world and smears it onto the dirty streets of a classic detective story.
Obviously, this is not the first time that those two styles have come together. The iconic, hard-boiled detective walked out of the pages of pulp fiction long ago, taking his trenchcoat, smokes, and fedora, and found himself mixed up in every other genre imaginable. He’s sidled up to superheroes, crossed the galaxy and even belted out a few show tunes along the way.
And yes, he has already met his share of elves, dwarves, and dragons. Whether it’s Discworld or Dresden, the noir hero has been playing with magic for decades.
So, will the adventures of Fetch Phillips be suitably different to these previously established worlds? I bloody hope so! But it’s nice to start somewhere familiar. To wake up in a place that feels comfortable, surrounded by people we have affection for… because that makes it all the more interesting when we burn it all down.
I have to be careful what I say about the book before you have a chance to read it. As much as I can, I want Fetch and the world to speak for itself.
So, let’s talk about inspiration, beginning with the work of Raymond Chandler.
When I was about thirteen, my dad recorded The Big Sleep off the telly, onto VHS, and told me that I might find it interesting. Watching Bogart and Bacall being witty as hell in black and white, kicked off a bit of an obsession. I ate film noir for a few years, following Bogie’s career in particular. Then Dad handed me the book.
Phillip Marlowe had me from page one. The voice, the characters, and the infinitely quotable “Chandlerisms.” Farewell My Lovely, The Long Goodbye, Lady in the Lake, I read them all, and I go back often.
Now, if you haven’t read any Chandler, and you’re here because you were a fan of Black Sails, then I have a treat. Toby Stephens (my dear Captain Flint) played Phillip Marlowe in a series of dramatizations for BBC Radio 4. They are abridged but thoroughly engrossing versions of all the books. It’s a great way to be introduced to Chandler’s work while getting a good dose of Toby Stephens being brilliant. I bought it on iTunes, but you can listen to it in other ways depending on where you are in the world.
Raymond Chandler’s work has been referenced or ripped-off, countless times, in every medium, to varying degrees of success. I took some pretty big handfuls of inspiration myself when I was first creating Fetch Phillips. But often, the derivative works miss the mark.
They take the fedoras and the trenchcoats and the femme fatales. There are smiling mobsters and stolen dirty pictures and rich guys who drink too much. The hero is a cynical smart-ass with a dark past and a strong jaw, but there’s usually something missing. The romance.
Marlowe is a bit of a softy. Though Chandler himself says that a “love interest almost always weakens a mystery story,” Marlowe is a romantic. That’s why he does what he does and why, sometimes, he’s so good at it. A good detective story should be a study of humanity, like any other worthwhile work of art.
There is no point saying any more about this because Chandler said it best himself, in his essay “The Simple Art of Murder.”
If you haven’t read any Chandler, or Dashiell Hammett or James M. Cain, and you were wondering what my book might be like, I hope this gives you an idea of the story I wanted to write.
Take it away Ray…
“But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things. He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.
If there were enough like him, I think the world would be a very safe place to live in, and yet not too dull to be worth living in.”
Pretty great right? I won’t say that Fetch Phillips quite lives up to this description. Maybe in time. I believe it’s somewhere in his blood. But Sunder City is a long way from Los Angeles, and Fetch’s monsters have a bit more bite than Marlowe’s…