Rediscovering comic books

I gave up reading comics about six years ago. I didn’t grow out of them (who grows out of reading comic books?); I just ran out of space to store them all. I’ve got an attic full of old comics (lots of them still in their cellophane) and the bathroom ceiling was starting to creak under the weight. So what could I do?

Well, obviously, get the attic reinforced. But that was just a temporary measure. I couldn’t keep buying these things forever. So around about the same time I started writing seriously, I decided to give up on comics, depriving myself of the oldest form of story-telling in existence.

So, moving forward a few years, and I have the same problem. Lots of books and not enough room to store them all. This time though, there was a solution: the Kindle. Now I could read and keep as many books as I wanted, without taking up an inch of shelf space1. I later moved on to an iPad (a better reading experience for me).

A few weeks ago, I found a couple of apps that would let me buy comics, download them and then read them on any iGadget connected to my account.

‘Sounds fair enough,’ I thought. ‘I’ll try one or two and see how I get on.’

Three weeks and two hundred quid later, I’m having the time of my life! Comics have changed a lot in six years. For a start, they’re not comics anymore apparently; they’re graphic novels: a master stroke in marketing which means that old geeks can tell folk they’re still neck deep in serious literature.

‘What’re you reading at the moment?’

‘The Killing Joke.’

‘Ah, sticking with the classics I see.’

Spider-man is now a multi-millionaire (that won’t last; he’s Marvel’s fall guy), Iron Man looks a lot like Robert Downey Jr (I wonder why), Nick Fury, who used to be white, is now is the spitting image of Samuel L. Jackson (again, I wonder why).

Best of all: the Silver Surfer has discovered slapstick comedy and has a travelling companion (a bit like Doctor Who, but a lot less creepy).


The sentinel of the spaceways now has to contend with soaring the galaxy with someone who has to eat, sleep, and make planetfall for toilet breaks. The surfboard needs a washroom, my friend…

Loving it!


1Actually, I still buy real books: The Odyssey (read it!); American Gods (read it!) and a couple of Booker Prize winners (never finished ’em). I keep them on a shelf near the door so folk can see how clever I am when they walk in.

Erotica without the sex

One thing that writing an erotic novel has given me is a sense of discipline. I don’t mean that I’ll look at a piece and think ‘Ookay, I think I might have gone a bit far there…’ It’s more a case of not taking the erotic prose to a point where it becomes a little… well… ridiculous. I was concerned about this when I started work on the Quisling Orchid, so I set myself a very simple goal: Don’t write anything that will earn you a spot on the ‘ten worse sex scenes of the year.’

As well as going to far, you can just as easily write something that’s hampered by your own inhibitions. I come across a lot of writers who’ve churned out some pretty staid erotic fiction simply because they’re afraid that someone they know will read it. The last thing you want is your great aunt (the one who promised to leave you the cottage) thinking you’re into auto asphyxiation.

Get over it, you tell ’em, it’s holding you back.

So they get over it, and then go from the shallow side, straight of the deep end; now we get some erotic writing that can only be described as ‘gooey’: you finish reading it and you think ‘Jesus, who’s going to clean all that up!’ But to be honest, going too far is probably better than stopping yourself from going far enough.

Worthwhile erotica is hard to do, so read the good (so you know what you’re looking for in your own work) and the bad (so you know crap erotica when you’ve written it yourself).

For me, what makes a piece of writing erotic is the atmosphere surrounding it, not necessarily the sexual act itself. The erotic is in building the heat and anticipation, and it’s a very good way to practice your writing: write an erotic scene that you know isn’t going to end in someone getting jumped. It helps focus your mind on the characters and their surroundings, on what you can do to charge the atmosphere and then finally expel that charge. Don’t discharge using any of the following:

  1. The sudden popping of champagne cork that no one has twisted.
  2. The sudden appearance of fireworks at the window.
  3. Sighing.
  4. Crossing of legs.
  5. The sudden and inexplicable destruction of a nearby planet.

And as with all writing, never hold back in your initial draft; the dodgy stuff can always be fixed later. But if you inhibit yourself from day one, then you’ll probably just stay inhibited until you publish.

Here’s a section of The Quisling Orchid that took me a while to get right; the first few drafts went too far too quickly; the next few were a little bit staid. The one after that was okay, and it was at that point I realised that I actually preferred the first one. Sometimes, the most erotic scene is all about the anticipation.

The Quisling Orchid (extract)






Book review: Two Years Eight Months & Twenty-eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

two_years_etcBelieve it or not, this is my first Salman Rushdie. He never struck me as the kind of author would appeal to me, but when I read he’d tackled magic realism genre with a literary somersault … Well, it’s got to be worth a look, hasn’t it?

The inconveniently-titled Two Years Eight Months & Twenty-eight Nights is an account of the war between humanity and a race of mythical genies who’ve breached the barriers between our world and their own. The genies are all-powerful, all-knowing and sex-mad. The human race is understandably bewildered. Along the way, we dip in and out of the lives of several mortals who happen to be descendents of one particular genie who has a soft spot for humanity. They live fairly ordinary lives, aside from being blessed/cursed with a random super-power. We have a baby that inflicts skin decay on anyone who tells a lie in its presence, and a gardener whose feet don’t touch the ground. These mortals are eventually gathered and recruited by their jinnia ancestor to fight for humanity…

All very odd.

The book is told from an extreme omniscient viewpoint: the storyteller is recounting the history of the war from a thousand years in the future, which lets him to jump from scene to scene and character to character (living or dead) with an almost manic abandon. It’s a very effective way to write a story covering centuries of religion, mysticism and numerous locations, but the book tends to sacrifice character development to do it. You never get a real sense of depth from any of the players, and after a while they all seem very similar.

The story itself is deeply philosophical and very dense; it clearly demonstrates the authors knowledge of religion/mythology, and his ability to weave these ideas together into a thought-provoking epic. It unashamedly aims to be a literary work, and while I was reading it I wondered if it was perhaps trying too hard. I like the odd passage of flowery exposition as much as the next man, but in many places I found it a bit repetitive: we’d have a passage of near-poetry telling us about a character, and then almost straight away, another passage saying the same thing. The book was a classic slow-burner, but the pace picked up as the war progressed: the expositions thinned out and the writing became much tighter.

I sometimes stumble into the school of thought that says the reader should expect to work hard to appreciate literary fiction. Well, for me this book was quite hard work, and while I appreciated the effort that had gone into it, I wasn’t sure I completely enjoyed it. Some of the phrasing certainly made me think, ‘Wow – that was bloody good’, but on the whole it didn’t really move me, and when I’m reading literary fiction, that’s what I’m looking for.  A good story though: highly original, well told and with some genuinely funny moments.

Six out of ten