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Badger Cull Feature in Somerset Life

Pick up the current issue of Somerset Life magazine to see my two-page feature on the badger cull.

Somerset Life

Priced £2.95, the issue, dated February 2014, is available in shops throughout the region – but if you’re outside Somerset and still want to read, you can check out the digital edition.

In my feature, I look at the pro-cull and anti-cull arguments, including interviews with DEFRA; James Small of the NFU, who believes the cull will help kill Bovine TB; Pauline Kidner, founder of local wildlife charity, Secret World; and their Scientific Advisor, Dr. Elizabeth Mullineaux (both of whom believe the cull is wrong, and are vaccinating badgers against TB).

The feature starts on page 27, but it’s well worth picking up a copy for further features on a drive from Portishead to Glastonbury Abbey; South Petherton; and a half-century celebration of the Somerset Wildlife Trust.

In The Firing Line

There’s also a brilliantly extensive anti-cull letter on page 16 that’s worth the price of admission alone!

I want to thank everyone I talked to, everyone who helped source photos and my editor, Charlotte Skidmore. I’m really proud of the finished piece, and hope that it puts both sides across without bias.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2014 in Interview, Published work

 

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2013 in review

I quite like this little feature that WordPress does every year. Slow beginnings, I know, but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of transparency now and then…

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,400 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Thanks for reading so far, guys and gals!

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Review: The Yellow Birds

I don’t read much war literature, but something about The Yellow Birds grabbed me.

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Maybe it’s the book’s intriguing title or its captivatingly simple cover. Perhaps it was because it won The Guardian’s First Book Award, and the first four pages are filled with praise from Homeland’s Damian Lewis, Man Booker Prize winner, Hilary Mantel, and BBC Radio 2’s Simon Mayo, as well as being named one of the Books of the Year by publications like New York Times, Scotsman and Evening Standard.

Likely, it was because it answers one simple question about Iraq: What was it like over there?

Kevin Powers, a former machine gunner for the US Army, delivers an affecting, haunting and beautifully-realised novel that deserves all the accolades it’s received.

The Yellow Birds somehow manages to describe the indescribable with layered, rhythmic prose and minimalist-but-effective dialogue. The plot is pleasingly simple yet focussed as one soldier makes a promise he can’t possibly keep to a fellow soldier’s mother: “I promise I’ll bring him home to you.”Powers masterfully uses this inevitability to play with the reader with a refreshingly non-linear narrative that gives insight into the life of Private John Bartle; not just during the war, but also after he comes home – if you can call it that.

The book cleverly cements the idea that fighting in Iraq, and that question, is just the beginning – and, paradoxically, the end. We’ve, perhaps, become desensitised somewhat to the endless war, and to the fact that a human life is transformed entirely when he or she becomes a soldier. I was horrified over many of the book’s details as it trod the line between fiction and fact. It’s visceral and choking, but always honest and thought-provoking.

The way Powers questions what is right and what is wrong resonates long after you turn the final page.

But when Bartle comes home, essentially an empty shell, it’s just as surprising. What do soldiers do once the war has passed them by? How do they feel as we celebrate their homecomings after they’ve left their friends behind, broken and dead? And what happens once we forget about them?

Of course, this all sounds deeply depressing, but Powers balances out the terror, the chaos and the numbness with blindingly beautiful writing; his varying sentence structure, poetic language, and emotive descriptions. The examination of relationships from-the-heart. It all contrasts so wonderfully with the raw and vivid circumstances, the rough and crude dialogue.

The Yellow Birds rounds off satisfactorily, as if you’re leaving a friend in his new-found calmness. It’s powerful and heart-breaking. It would take a stone heart to weather the journey without at least a tear in the eye.

The concluding reading group questions are a bit jarring – but then, I’ve never been in a reading group. Maybe they act as an ideal ‘Starter for Ten.’ The interview with Kevin is a worthy addition, however, as the author admits: “the cliché, in my case, was true: I thought that the army would ‘make me a man’.”

It’s a very personal book but one with speaks harsh truths about humanity during wartime, and Powers’  concluding passage, in which he briefly mulls over his own writing experience, underlines the novel’s importance: forever a reminder.

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2013 in Books

 

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All of Time and Space: 50 Years of Doctor Who

There was a gap in time and space.

A gap between Grandstand and Juke Box Jury, primetime on BBC1. They needed something that could appeal to everyone, that could run and run, that would capture the imagination of the nation. And thanks to a team that included Sydney Newman, Verity Lambert, Waris Hussein, and William Hartnell, Doctor Who was born.

An Unearthly Child 1 - feat

The very first episode was broadcast 50 years ago today. This immense anniversary surely can’t have passed anyone by; it’s something that TV really can’t do that often – simply because not much lasts that long, not much can become compulsive television, not much is ingrained in society’s psyche quite like Doctor Who.

What’s its lasting appeal? Well, watch an episode. Longevity is ingrained in its very DNA.

Showrunner, Steven Moffat, recently called the show immortal. Even in The Wilderness Years (the 1990s and early 2000s, for those uninitiated), the Doctor and his wonderful TARDIS lived on in books and audio and comics and in the minds of many generations. It’s a living legend.

Despite its proud British iconography, that famous Time Lord has travelled the globe: tonight’s 50th anniversary celebration, which stars Matt Smith and David Tennant as the Eleventh and Tenth Doctors respectively, will be simulcast around the globe.

It would be easy to propose a toast to those who have made the show what it is. But the weight of those individuals would be incredible. Of course, let’s look at those Doctors – William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi – splendid fellows, all of them!

But then there are the companions, the guest stars, the writers, the directors, the producers, designers, floor managers, assistant directors, executive producers, showrunners… Oh, there have been so many.

So thank you all.

Doctor Who has changed my life; that’s no secret. And one day, I want to write for the Doctor. Yes, one day. But for now, I’m happy celebrating in my own little way. I’ve watched An Unearthly Child this morning; went to see the actual TARDIS last weekend (!); have been writing Introducing: Doctor Who feature articles for Kasterborous since January; rewatched Cold War (just because); am reading The Only Good Dalek; am poring through the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine; and (something which I’m almost sure no one else in the world is doing to celebrate) am reading the TARGET novel, Doctor Who and the Invisible Enemy.

I can’t wait to find out what I’m doing on the show’s 100th anniversary.

Another amazing thing about Doctor Who is how it brings people together. I’m part of a fandom, a network of dedicated people, all who love the same thing. I now have friends I didn’t have before 2005, when I became a fan… No, actually, I now have friends I didn’t have before last year – and it’s all thanks to Doctor Who.

To paraphrase the Eighth Doctor – friends I’ve known: I salute you.

The show has also given me countless hours of entertainment. And there’s not a person in the UK who doesn’t know what the TARDIS is. There’s not a person in the UK who doesn’t know what the Daleks are.

And as a fitting paradox, there’s not a person in the UK who doesn’t know who the Doctor is – even though we don’t actually know much about him. Doctor… Who?

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2013 in Television, Uncategorized

 

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Interviewing Matt Smith: One Year On.

I can’t believe it’s been a year since I interviewed the Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, at the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff.

Matt Smith Handprint 2

I’m immensely proud of the interview and all the articles that came from it, including a feature, All Monsters, Great and Small, which starred in the very first issue of the Kasterborous Magazine. But it’s not just professional pride. It’s also a very personal thing that will stay with me until the day I die (or regenerate). Reading through all the material, listening to it on the Dictaphone, or just going through the bits that I bought at their shop – it brings back the excitement of that day.

Matt Smith wasn’t the only person of interest there; though I didn’t get to meet him, one of my writing inspirations, showrunner Steven Moffat, was a surprise guest and gave a brilliant speech.

Not only was it an honour to speak to Matt and see Steven, but it proves an ongoing source of inspiration. This is the world I want to be in.

It’s a strange but wonderful feeling. Surreal, certainly, but there’s a fantastic excitement running through me, and I hope it comes across in my work. I can’t help but think, how amazing would it be to write for Matt, to write for other incredible actors, to work alongside the people I admire…

I was astonished at how nonplussed some of the other journalists were when faced with the Doctor. Most would not admit to the sheer excitement they must surely feel. But I’m not like that, and I know I’ll never become complacent. It was a mind-blowing experience.

Matt is my Doctor, and I’m gutted that he’s leaving at Christmas. But then, I love all the Doctors and I’m certain Peter Capaldi will be just as stunning.

Nonetheless, I want to thank my Kasterborous editor, Christian Cawley, for giving me such a unique opportunity. And I want to say a special thanks  – even though they’ll never read this – to Matt and Steven, who have given me not only a consistently exceptional era of my favourite show, but also a day I’ll never forget.

 

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Kasterborous Magazine Out Now!

The print version of the Kasterborous Magazine is out now, alongside an online edition and a copy accessible on tablets and mobile phones.

K Mag 1.1

For my editor, Christian Cawley, it’s been two years of hard work. The rest of us just breeze in sometimes, send him a feature or an interview or something, then our job’s done! But Christian and designer, James McLean have both delivered an exceptional magazine which celebrates both the show and fandom. As Christian explains in his Editorial, the Kasterborous Magazine is all about what makes the show: the fans.

After all, Doctor Who is run by fans, and has been for quite some years now! Notably, there’s Steven Moffat and Russell T. Davies, but going further than that, there’s Julie Gardner, Andrew Cartmel, Caroline Skinner, Phil Collinson, John Nathan-Turner… That’s just touching the surface. Everyone who stars in the sci-fi sensation seems to fall in love with it. Tenth Doctor, David Tennant, was a fan before, of course, as was Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi. Matt Smith, the Eleventh Doctor, admits to not really watching it before he was cast – but now is as dedicated a fan as any.

And Kasterborous Magazine #01 features my exclusive interview with Matt, conducted last year at the Doctor Who Experience.

K Mag 1.2

Obviously, I can’t give too much away at the moment, but needless to say, it was an incredible, unforgettable experience, and I’m really proud of the final four-page feature.

So how did the magazine first come into fruition? “A pub was involved, perhaps 2, over the space of several months and under the guiding hand of [Vworp! Vworp! editor, Gareth Kavanagh],” Christian tells me. “The initial idea kind of followed on from Vworp! Vworp!, in which I contributed Time Leech part 1, and I was keen to find a new way of increasing Kasterborous’ reach, as Facebook and Twitter weren’t working too well and the podKast was on hiatus at the time. You know Doctor Who fans are the only people who say ‘on hiatus’?”

The magazine has a very fresh, unique look, and Christian says that James McLean “has done an awesome job balancing daily illustration work with the challenge of coming to terms with completely new software, so I doff my hat to him as I’d still be fiddling with borders at this stage. We decided to [create] emblems, which gave us some direction. You can see in the first issue how James’ use of the software has advanced as you read through from beginning to end, and I think with the Asylum of the Daleks feature, we found the best way of developing a look for an article, so expect more of that in issue 2…”

K Mag 1.3

The magazine isn’t the only new thing about Kasterborous, however: the K Store allows you to buy all version of the magazine alongside books and – coming soon! – t-shirts, as well as allowing free download of Rick Lundeen’s web comic adaptation of The Daleks’ Master Plan. “[It’s] something I’ve been planning since back when we released Ultimate Regeneration,” Christian says. “Back then, time and knowledge got in the way, as did technology. It’s much easier to launch a store these days.”

Issue 2 focusses on Doctor Who games, described as the ‘Digital Conundrum’ – but why does Christian think so many of the games have failed? “If we were only talking about one or two games then it would be difficult to say,” he considers. “Looking at it, I think the BBC’s idea of what a video game is, can and should be are vastly in opposition to what development teams might think. It’s an ongoing bugbear of mine.”

The second issue is planned for sometime this year, and yes, I’ve written a feature on the MMO, Worlds in Time. If you want to contribute to further issues, simply email Christian (christian@kasterborous.com) or contact him via Twitter or Facebook.

My co-contributors for #01 are: Elton Townend-Jones, Scott Varnham, Christine Grit, Alasdair Shaw, and Associate Editor, Brian A. Terranova.

And you can buy your copy here!

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2013 in Interview, Published work, Television

 

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Interview: Bristol Science Fiction Writer, Tim Maughan

I arrive at the Watershed, armed with a notepad full of questions for local science fiction writer, Tim Maughan. His work – principally the short story collection, Paintwork, but also Limited Edition, written for New Scientist’s Arc magazine and shortlisted for a British Science Fiction Association award – is a glimpse into a possible future, mixing the concerns of today with the technology of tomorrow.

Tim Maughan

His writing is inspired by some of the sci-fi greats, including Neuromancer’s William Gibson, Fahrenheit-451 writer, Ray Bradbury, and J. G. Ballard, most famous for Crash. A copy of Ballard’s High-Rise waits for me at home.

I’ve prepared some less-probing questions, ready to ease Tim into the interview; everyday trivia that’s never going to make it into the final article, but nonetheless breaks the ice and allows us both to get to know each other. Standard stuff. But when we sit down on the balcony overlooking Bristol Harbour, I realise I don’t need that notepad. Tim’s enthusiasm is there from the get-go, and we’re discussing the merits of those classic science fiction authors straight away.

I quickly put the Dictaphone on and, an hour-and-a-half or so later, realise that this interview is something special: certainly the most extensive I’ve ever had the pleasure of conducting.
I touch upon Paintwork’s main character, 3Cube, whose art – graffiti utilising QR Codes – pulls Bristolians of tomorrow back to a more innocent time. I tell Tim I felt somewhat nostalgic at this prospect – but was this his intention?

“I guess nostalgia’s applicable,” he replies, mulling it over. “I think the idea there was that 3Cube’s artwork is maybe too optimistic or naive. He’s told that by one of the other characters in the story. I was really trying to write about authenticity in that story and about wanting to define what authenticity was. There was a review – it was on Good Reads, I think – of someone who really hated that story; they accused me of being a hipster, that I was saying it was only authentic if it wasn’t digital and it was analogue… and that wasn’t it at all. I was suggesting some people feel like that but I wasn’t trying to say that that’s how I felt at all.”

Paintwork 1

This brings me onto an idea that fascinates me: that once your writing is read by other people, it’s no longer yours. Everybody puts their own stamp on it; everyone brings something to it. No text is created in a vacuum – and no text is read in one either.

“It’s something that, as writer, you have zero control over,” Tim concedes. “You don’t. And I’ve seen really positive reviews of my stuff where people have come away with things that I didn’t think were in the story, as well as negative reviews. There was a really good review of Limited Edition a few months ago… I was kind of pleased actually because [the reviewer] came away thinking at times he was rooting for the characters and then he had to shake himself and realise that he shouldn’t be! And I like that. I like that he felt like that. You should be rooting for the characters, but at the same time, you shouldn’t. But it’s not their fault that they’re like that – and that’s the situation they’re in… So you have no control over that and I also like to deliberately be very ambiguous, especially about moral issues and issues like authenticity.”

Limited Edition tells the story of the Bristol riots from a looter’s viewpoint. It also raises an important question about if main characters have to be likeable – and even about whether the reader can be won over. I’m reading Neil Cross’ Burial at the moment, which examines an accidental murder. You disagree with what Nathan, the central protagonist, has done, but due to Cross’ sterling narrative, you root for him regardless. It’s an odd situation to be in. Similarly, I was disgusted at the riots a few years ago, believing that peaceful protest is the way forward. But listening to Tim talk so passionately about consumerism and expectations, and reading his short story, I can now sympathise with Limited Edition’s main character.

Art by Robert Carter

Art by Robert Carter

“I think if readers aren’t coming up with their own takes on my stuff, then I’m probably not being ambiguous enough. And it’s tough in science fiction, because I found a lot of readers and some critics don’t like ambiguity. They’re not interested in it. They want everything to be framed ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ They want heroes,” he explains. “There was a review a few months ago of Paintwork and one of the reviewers wasn’t happy with how I portrayed Paul in Havana Augmented as a hero. And I didn’t know that I had. I hadn’t set out to portray him as a hero. They were unhappy with the ending; he goes into this re-education camp, he’s treated well… But what about all the other people in the camp? It was a fair point, but I didn’t think that I was saying he should’ve been treated well. He was treated well in the camp because he was seen as this national hero – was that right? Have his actions damaged Cuba? But I don’t want to ram points home to people; I want people to come away with their own opinions. That’s fine.”

He argues that this definite line between hero and villain is linked to comic book culture, but says that he’s got used to dealing with what readers bring to his own writing. “It’s always interesting to me to hear what people think about your own stuff [but] I had to come to terms with it a bit,” Tim says, and recalls his main concern initially: “Does this mean I’m not getting my point across or does it mean that I can’t get my point across without ramming it home to people? And I don’t ever want to ram anything home to anyone. I sometimes joke about it with a friend of mine; sometimes, it feels like you can only be ambiguous if you spell out that you’re being ambiguous! I write the stuff, chuck it out there, people like it, don’t like it, have their own opinions on it – I have to learn to live with that. And that’s fine; I’m quite happy with that.”

Paintwork 2

Still, this ambiguity can be an issue when it comes to offending others.

“I got some probably fair criticism for not including female characters enough in my stories, but part of what I was trying to write about was male pride, and the role of young men in urban society; how they struggle with having significance and standing out and making their mark on things,” he says. “It goes back to this idea of showing who you are in a society where consumerism is more important than self-expression.”

The fact is, readers will always bring themselves to a text – and that’s not really a bad thing. “If people are talking about it, then it’s worked,” he concludes.

You can read my full three-part interview with Tim over at Guide2Bristol. In Part One, we discuss his sci-fi influences, most notably Ballard, while in Part Two, we talk about what it means to be Cyberpunk and how celebrity culture has affected his work. And, in Part Three, we conclude by mulling over the relevance of 1980s ideals, if the landscape of Paintwork is the future he wants to live in, and what’s next for Tim.

And you can read Limited Edition here and watch the short film based on Paintwork here.

(Thanks to Tim Maughan and Guide2Bristol’s Rudy Millard.)

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2013 in Books, Interview, Published work

 

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