What Goes Around... #INTRUDERS

I am heading to the UK today, via the medium of a heavier-than-air flying machine. I'll be there for a couple of weeks, and so will narrowly miss the US premiere of INTRUDERS on August 23rd (BBC America, 10/9C). I'll then be in the US when the UK premiere takes place, in — last I heard — October. Life, eh? But I'm fortunate to have already seen the first three episodes, and the trek from idea to screen has been so long and tangled that it comes as little surprise that the dates fall this way. I wrote the book in 2006: the series has taken its own sweet time in coming round. Over the last month I've been retweeting information about the show to — I'm sure — the point of tedium, but you'd do exactly the same, my friend. You'd probably be stopping random people in the street and telling them about it. Yeah, I bet you would. In, like, a really annoying way. Whereas I'm not doing that. Often.

What I'm going to do now, however, is jot a few background notes about the book and series...


The core ideas for my books are cautious in their approach, arriving in dribs and drabs, sometimes over the course of years, until they start sticking together and finally achieve critical mass. There's a degree of spoiler-dom in this first section if you haven't read the book, but the trailers for the show have already made it pretty clear what we're talking about...

THE INTRUDERS was basically inspired by four things:

1. An awareness of how dualized many of us are, in ways major and trivial, how we daily and inherently act and feel as more than one person. How we can be merrily going through our lives, watching our weight, knowing we're definitely not going to have that cookie, then suddenly finding it's in our hands and we've eaten half of it already. How we can be fascinated by other countries or historical periods, without any obvious reason from our (known) past, deeply consumed by passions that seem to have a life of their own. The secrets people keep, too, the things they've done or wish to do, or have happened to them, and how these hidden elements of their psyche define their lives forever. As Carl Jung said, “In each of us there is another whom we do not know.” And he should know, because he's dead.

2. I was also intrigued at the time by people who seemed to enter the world with an inside track, as if starting the game of life armed with prior experience and a strong following wind. There are many examples, from Mozart's precocious composition skills, Bach's apparently effortless genius and other artistic prodigies — to entrepreneurs who were already selling their parents' possessions back to them at the age of two. My most compelling personal marker is a little-known fellow called Sam Mendes, whom I knew at university. While the rest of us spent the first term flallopping around the place like baffled puppies, newly-released into neo-adulthood and agog with self-doubt and exhilarated confusion, Sam was busy putting together his first theatrical production. I didn't even know where the theatres were. In time, I was directed in a play by him and we were both part of a barge tour of pubs, performing wordy skits to audiences of perplexed drunkards who'd probably been hoping for strippers. Been decades now since we spoke, but luckily my father keeps me updated on just how jolly well my old acquaintance is faring, which barely causes a beat of chagrin. Sam is an infuriatingly decent guy on top of it all, and when I heard he'd won an Oscar for his first movie my reaction (while howlingly envious, I'm only human) wasn't one of surprise. Well, yeah, I thought — he would: that makes perfect sense. And good for him.

Though I didn't care for SKYFALL at all, dude. So there. Ha. Loser.

3. Another trigger was an incident with my infant son and a toy saxophone. Tiny children will go for any old thing with their grabby little hands, raise it to their mouths — and suck on it. But one afternoon I saw Nate pick encountering a yellow plastic sax for the first time, put it to his mouth, and blow. He then picked up something else, and sucked as usual. I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for this, but it made my bleary sleep-deprived mind wonder how he'd known that's what you did with this particular kind of object...

4. And finally, the number 9 has long fascinated me, almost as if I knew it would one day come to have special relevance. Years back, mainly as an excuse not to write the current novel, I got interested in curiosities of math. To avoid writing a previous book I taught myself to write in hieroglyphs — a skill I have now forgotten, along with all the math stuff (which fell quickly out of a head not fundamentally suited to holding it). I was interested to discover, however, that the number 9 has some fun properties. Try this, for example: pick a three digit number in which the digits are all different, then reverse it — you could start with 367, for example, and get 763. Subtract the smaller of the numbers from the larger: in fact, don't do this yourself, but get someone else to do the math, without telling you either number. Then ask them for the last digit of the result, and you'll be able to tell them the whole number in a way that appears divertingly remarkable. How? The middle digit will always be nine, and the first and last will add up to nine: 763 - 367 = 396. You can then do the process again, with a variation, getting them to pick a new starting number, and allowing them to make their own choice about whether to tell you the first or last digit this time. Feel free to use this nifty trick to score large sums of money in bars. If you do it more than twice and get beaten up, however, you're on your own.

My son, to whom the novel is dedicated, will be nine years old when the show airs.


Once I had the idea for the novel, I realized I already knew the place to set it, too. The story wanted to be placed in the Cascade Mountains, and the coast of Oregon, and Seattle, a city in which I'd previously spent only a few days. Generally this kind of thing doesn't bother me, as my job is basically to make shit up, but on this occasion I felt it might be a good idea to get to know the place better. The prospect of escaping for a while from the sleeping patterns of a very young child had absolutely no influence on the decision.

Accordingly I flew to Seattle and spent a week there by myself, walking the streets nine hours a day stopping only for coffee, beguiling the evenings in a variety of bars, reading local history and drinking rather too much local amber. The scene in the novel in which Jack Whalen slips and falls on his ass when walking down vertiginous and icy Madison Street, for example, is closely modelled on an incident in real life. Doubtless for cogent creative reasons, this scene doesn't appear to have made it to the screen adaptation.

Though shot mainly in Vancouver and its environs, the show totally captures the look and atmosphere of the parts of Seattle in which it's set. Here are a few photos I took on that trip...

Post-Alley-lowPost Alley, close to the Pike Place Market. It features a stretch of wall where local custom dictates that people stick their pieces of used chewing gum, creating an intriguing piece of "art". It was a glass-fronted business down here that provided the inspiration for the office for Kerry, Crane and Hardy — Amy Whelan's employers.

Intruders-treat-lowMy favourite alleyway in Seattle, not far from Pioneer Square. Yes, I do have favourite alleys, and Good Christ I've got a lot of pictures of this one. I like the man in the sweater carrying the suitcase: albeit dressed wrongly, he puts me in mind of the character of Shepherd.

Door-lowMy favourite doorway in Seattle, the astonishingly verdigrised entrance to the Seattle Steam Company, again not far from Pioneer Square. This door has no bearing whatsoever on the show, but is a very pretty colour.

Hope-Flies-lowA bird, flying on a typical sunny Seattle afternoon, across the back of the building I had in mind when I was writing the climax for the novel. In fact, I think the production have found a better building in Vancouver for the TV show...

Road The highway from Portland to Seattle. The Pacific Northwest does, to be fair, look a bit like this a lot of the time. But the point of this picture is that it's close to the Sutter Creek Rest Area, at which — though renamed for the show — some non-lovely things happen...


Jess Pope at the BBC in London optioned the book soon after publication, and invited me to be part of the development process — deciding how to adapt the book, and coming up with a bible for a series. I tackled this with vim, but soon came to realize that spending the foreseeable future tying my brain in knots as I cut out stuff I'd spent the previous nine months putting into the book would swiftly have me committed to a padded cell (a fate which may be coming down the line anyway, but let's not hurry it along, eh?) Eventually a novel deadline hauled me off the project and I handed it with some relief to a series of writers who came up with at least three different script approaches that I'm aware of — all had merits, but none really landed.

Part of the problem was trying to re-site the story to the UK, which just didn't work. Eventually, with regret (and after an astonishing amount of dedication and hard work), Jess let the project go — at which point it emerged that Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner had been waiting patiently in the wings. Jane picked the book up for BBC Worldwide in Los Angeles, we had initial phone conversations, there was exciting talk of Glen Morgan getting involved, and then it all went very, very quiet. I stoically accepted this as the standard story of potential interest fading like the morning dew, toward a future time where everyone would not only deny that they'd ever been interested, but claim that the novel had even existed in the first place. But then suddenly late one night there was an email from Julie, giving me the heads-up that the BBC would be greenlighting a series worth of scripts the next day. Things seemed to go pretty quickly after that...

A lot of people have asked me if I wrote the scripts, or wanted to. Hell no, is the answer. When someone like Glen Morgan is on deck you'd have to be insane to do anything other than stay out of his way. I've been consulted throughout, however, and he and the other writers (Darin Morgan and Kristin Cloke) done a superb job of porting the novel to the screen. Adapting a book to a visual medium requires a lot of changes, as I know from my own time in the script mines (including over a year spent adapting Clive Barker's WEAVEWORLD as an eight-part series, way back in the mists of time. Why has someone still not screened that book, for crying out loud? I still have my scripts. They're right here. I'm just saying.) While much of the series stays true to the novel, new material has been added and the timing of some of the reveals (as will already be evident from promo materials) has been pulled forward to work better for television. The scripts do a fantastic job of retaining everything I cared about in the book, maintaining both the slow unfolding of the narrative and the sense of ominousness.

The web site io9 reacted to the press screening of the first episode by saying it was "Bananas. Creepy bananas". I'll take that. I'll do more than take it. I'll put it on my business card.

Something I would never have expected is the sheer class of the cast who've become involved. Though American audiences (so far) mainly know him for a compelling stint as The Master on Dr. Who, John Simm is not only an incredibly accomplished and versatile actor, but a hallmark of quality. There's simply no-one better at playing a complex everyman, drawn into a conspiracy and forced to fight for his — and other people's — lives, while he uncovers the truth. Mira Sorvino's ability to play the multiple sides of her complex character is spell-binding. James Frain nails his pivotal role as Shepherd with a chilly grace spiked with vulnerability, Tory Kittles is perfect as the grenade thrown into Whalen's life from his past, and Daryl Shuttleworth should simply be given his own show. And as for Millie Brown... the trailers barely hint at how extraordinary this young actress is. When you write a novel with a big, difficult role for a nine year old girl you don't even think about how impossible it might be to film the damned thing. Luckily, with Millie, it turned out to be perfectly possible. She's something else.

Authors are understandably protective of their books: the only safe way of trying to ensure they turn out well is to have the luck to have them worked on by the best people available. Add these actors to Glen's creative direction, the directing talents of Eduardo "Blair Witch" Sánchez and Daniel "The Last Exorcism" Stamm, the production designs of Mark "Breaking Bad" Freeborn, the producing vision and drive of Julie Gardner, Rose Lam and Jane Tranter, the music of Bear McCreary and all the other talents in camera, sound design, costume and everything else, and INTRUDERS turned out far better than I could have dreamed.

And no, I'm not just being nice for the good of the show. It was my book. If the adaptation sucked, I'd say so. Loudly. The series very much does not suck. You heard it here first.

I couldn't be happier, too, with the ballsy way in which Glen, Jane and Julie have allowed the mystery to take its time. The thing that saved the television industry, and has raised it so far above movies in the quality and depth of its output, is this willingness to engage with viewers as adults, to expect an attention span and use it to tell a story in the way it's meant to be told.

Stories are like people: if you can get to the bottom of them immediately, there's not much bottom there. It's the process of getting to know them (stories, and people), that journey of uncovering their wondrous depths and unexpected corners, that binds you. Approach slowly, carefully, and with a curious mind and an open heart, and they can become a part of you, forever.

Anyway. The show's coming soon. I hope you enjoy it. Just remember this:

Everything in it is true.



New Collection - EVERYTHING YOU NEED #sasp

VERSION 2 OF BLOG Welcome to my second attempt at writing this blog. I wrote something yesterday and, while it's technically okay, it just seemed a bit stiff (I've appended it at the end, so you can make your own judgement). Writing's like that, as you doubtless know. Sometimes you're able to say what you mean, but at others the words dutifully plod out onto the page instead, conveying information rather than sense, sturdily doing their job rather than making anyone give a crap about what's being said. I'm not sure this version is going any better yet, to be honest, but...

By way of introduction, I'd like to suggest a new Twitter tag. The tag is #sasp - short for 'shameless act of self-promotion'. The idea is that it should be used when self-pimping your product or services. Deploying it will mean (a) readers can choose whether to read the tweet, and (b) users will feel less of a tool for doing part of what they're supposed to be doing - i.e. convincing poor unsuspecting people that it's worth spending their cash on the products of their so-called minds. I'm hoping the term can also be introduced into common parlance, thus:

"I'll get down to some actual work in a few hours, but first I've got to do some SASPing."

"I unfollowed her. Never tweeted anything interesting. Total SASPer."

To save someone else from pointing it out, it's already occurred to me that trying to promote a tag could be seen as a back-door way of promoting myself, but that's all too ironic and post-modern and recursive for my brain to comfortably handle, so let's just let it go, eh?

And anyway, my real point is this: I'm hysterically pleased to announce that my new story collection, EVERYTHING YOU NEED, is now available from Earthling Publications. And for once, I don't feel bad self-promoting. Why the heck should I? Not only did I spent quite a while writing these pieces of fiction in the hope that people might like them, time I could otherwise have fruitfully spent in the pub, but others — namely the exceptional Paul Miller — have taken the risk of making the stories up into a book (an actual one, that exists in three dimensional space and possesses mass) in the hope that at least some copies of it will wind up being moved from his warehouse and into people's homes, in return for instruments of monetary value.

Sure, I could be all "Aw, shucks, you don't want to read that nonsense...", but frankly, you could do worse. If the alternative is being repeatedly punched in the face by stern men called Alexei or Big Pete, then seriously, give the collection a chance. On the other hand, if you suddenly have the chance to hang out with polar bear cubs, then by all means put it aside for later. Your call.

Actually, I'm not sure this is going so well after all. Maybe you should read the first version instead...

VERSION 1 OF BLOG I'm delighted to announce that my new short story collection, EVERYTHING YOU NEED, has just been published. It's ten years since the last one came out, also from Earthling. Comparing the two, I see some differences. But I'll come to that..

Fans of dark and disconcerting fiction are very lucky in that short stories have always been a core strength of our genre/s, a delivery system for real narrative in addition to attractive groups of words. Sure, there are lots of 'literary' collections out there, but have you tried them? There are admittedly extremely gifted exponents, but so many of these slim, attractive volumes seem to contain little more than slices of languid posturing, pieces that feel like they fell off some more major work, or else are practice sessions for one. Maybe it's just me, and I do try not to be an utter Philistine, but after a few samples of these ending-less meanderings I yearn for something with focus and bite... and a story.

Dark fiction and SF shorts by contrast are often even more powerful and complete than novels: a sense of wonder and a twist of terror are both short-lived emotional states, and tales of restrained length can sometimes be the best way of injecting their payload deep into someone's mind. What a Bradbury, King, Dick, Poe, Matheson, Campbell, Ellison, Lovecraft or Asimov can do in the short form - to barely start on a list, and ignoring the great new practitioners out there right now - defies belief. It's in short stories that the new and interesting stuff usually first arrives, too, re-enlivening and re-inventing the genres in the face of periodic over-exploitation by the mainstream. We're very fortunate to have these writers and these stories, and also owe a huge debt to the editors and publishers out there keeping the form alive, often with very little financial incentive for themselves.

Nobody gets rich out of short fiction. That's not the point. We read and write and publish these stories because we know they're what actually counts, understanding that - especially in genres that touch so closely on our key fears and hopes and concerns - they're the sharpest knives for peeling away the layers of custom and everyday and getting to the truth inside. Don't get me wrong - I love novels. I spend the majority of my life working on them, and a good novel is capable of wonders no other art form can aspire to. People wouldn't have sat around a campfire twenty thousand years ago and told each other novels, however. It'd take far too long, and involve too much time spent on material that's enriching and thought-provoking for people with the leisure to enjoy those added benefits... but isn't really the STORY.

What's a story? It's a series of events that happen to people, real or imagined, after the telling of which you have — to however small a degree — changed. Changed either because you've felt something new, or imagined a circumstance you had't before, or merely because you are one chunk fuller of the ways in which people and incidents and ideas can be placed in relation to one another, one step further along the infinite journey of trying to understand what it's like to be alive. Tales of wonder and unease do this better than any other type of fiction, I believe, and that's why these genres will always be my home.

Having said which... Comparing EVERYTHING YOU NEED with MORE TOMORROW & OTHER STORIES, I perceive I may have gone just a tad more literary in the last decade, at least when it comes to short fiction. There are fewer long narratives. There are more stories which revolve around a particular feeling, or notion. They're more experimental in tone overall. Some of what's between these covers is me playing, trying to capture new things. Don't be alarmed, they have beginning-middle-end, and shouldn't have you frowning and muttering 'And what the hell was the point of that, exactly?' - and actually I believe there are pieces which are as good as anything I've ever done, for what that's worth, including stories which are new to the collection.

Anyway. I'd like to thank Paul Miller at Earthling for being the perfect publisher, and Vinnie Chong for the perfect jacket illustration. I'll be interested to hear what you think of the result of our labours. I can't guarantee it'll be everything you need, but I hope it has something you like.



Taking arms against a sea of assholes

Twenty years ago I wrote a short story called MORE TOMORROW, about a man who discovers something very not-good happening on the Internet, and is horrified by - amongst other things - other web-users' reactions to it. I've had many conversations about this story down the years with my father, an academic who has taken an interest in way in which people appear unable to acknowledge the reality of distant others. (If you're interested, the story's available in e-format on Kindle. I tried to make it free but Amazon won't let you do that. Bear in mind it comes from the neolithic era when the web itself was somewhat novel, everything was in black and white, and men still wore hats).

My father mentioned the story again to me on the phone this morning. He's in the UK, and following the current furore about trolling. I'm not going to add many more words to the millions already pouring forth on the subject, but...

Let's face it. Ninety nine percent of the assholes posting vile messages are cowards who'll shrink back under a rock when confronted (there's an example of this in a pretty balanced look at the phenomenon here). Most of these people are not credible threats. They're children, showing off, and spluttering bile. Too much attention produces more bile.

Let's also remember that not all troll-targets are women, and not all trolls are men. It's a mistake to present this as an issue of sex, or 'misogyny' (a term which is bandied about with perhaps excessive enthusiasm in some quarters). The truth is simpler but also scarier. Trolling is a manifestation of the broader fact that a large portion of humankind appears unable to comprehend or respect the reality of anyone outside their own heads and concerns. This failure is the wellspring of crime, rape, terrorism, and most of the world's other evils, and it's a tendency which is enabled and maginfied by the very nature of the Internet. It's never going to go away, and so the question is how we accommodate it.

I certainly don't this reserve is the answer, which is why I didn't join the #twittersilence. I don't believe that women - or anyone else - who've been subject to abuse should choose to lose their voice in the face of it (women, and entire races, have suffered in silence too long already). Instead we must educate where possible; vigorously repudiate when that doesn't work; and ultimately may simply have to choose to ignore the bad behaviour of others - meanwhile doing our best to cancel it out by acts of contradictory goodness.

Trolling is this month's flashpoint in an age-old conflict. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the true battle amongst humankind is not between men and women, or race against race, or creed against creed... it's about the non-assholes of the world trying to hold back the relentless zombie tide of assholes.

It's us against them, and we win not by getting tied up in knots about how best to be nice, or by accusing an entire sex of being flawed: we win by not being assholes. Every time we're good, and kind, and reasonable, somewhere a troll's star goes out.



Cooking the Books

Terrible title, I know, but flush with having scored an invaluable list of cool bookstores to check out as a result of a previous post, here's another chance for us to pool our brains. I'm reading Rebecca Solnit's new book at the moment, THE FARAWAY NEARBY. In it she mentions an abiding affection for cooking, noting that "it sometimes seems so pleasurable because it is the opposite of writing; it engages all the senses; it's immediate and unreproducible and then it's complete and eaten and over. The tasks are simple, messy, fragrant and brief, and success and failure are easy to determine".

True that, and there's little more relaxing after a day spent staring at a dispiritingly empty Word document than heading to the kitchen to rustle up some grub. It's not always a success, and you will encounter many a "Dad, what is this?", but it's fun. What helps are the little tricks you pick up over time, generally as a result of screwing something up, and that's what I'm asking for now. Not favorite recipes - though that's not a bad idea, and one I'll doubtless come back to - but the tiny tips, however bleeding obvious, that tilt the balance of probability in your favour.

Here's a random five of mine...

1. Mashed potato is remarkably tolerant of timing. For ages I thought I had to make sure it was ready at the same time as everything else. Not so. Once it's done, it can sit happily in the pan for some time, then brought back to life with a quick reheat, loosened with a little double cream. It's actually better that way. I'll add to this the observations that (a) you want to drain the spuds very well, (b) you should mash before adding butter, and (c) you want a lot of butter, I mean a ton, and should beat it in hard with a wooden spoon. Set aside, then rejuvinate when everything else is ready. 2. Buy good knives. They're worth it. A knife that will take a proper sharpen will make your life so much easier. Dealing with tomatoes and meat in particular will suddenly seem much more feasible. The only more important tools in the kitchen are... see (4) 3. When cooking Christmas dinner - or Thanksgiving, I suppose - don't try to get everything to land at the same time. You'll drive yourself nuts. Instead get the turkey done, then wrap it in foil. It'll very happily stay warm for an hour, relaxing nicely, leaving you free to sort out the vegetables and pan gravy from scratch. The most time-critical dish is the roast potatoes. For mash, see (1). 4. Use your hands. If tidying or preparing meat or fish, don't dick around holding it down with a fork. Millions of years of evolution put hands on the ends of your arms for a reason - there are no better tools on planet Earth. Wash them properly before and after, of course, but otherwise remember that you're eventually going to put whatever it is you're being wussy about in your mouth, and so holding it with your hands should be no big deal. 5. When making burgers, don't mess about adding egg or onion, and steer clear of over-processed beef. Buy decent ground chuck and make sure it's 15% fat, and no leaner. This will help it stay together, and it'll taste a lot better, too.

Bonus tip: don't get into some old skool pan-frying chicken scenario when you're really quite drunk. Sadness may result. Though the scar does look a bit like Kurt Cobain, which is mildly diverting.

So now, it's your turn. Tip me. And pass this thing around... the more the merrier.

ps: This post is in solidarity with one of the great cookery writers of our time, recently revealed to be married to an utter fucktard.