The Embers of Black Flame

News arrives via David Bishop’s blog that a number of novels in the old 2000ad line, including my own Strontium Dog: Ruthless, have suddenly appeared in Kindle editions.

Ruthless had a bizarre gestation. I’d written two Strontium Dog audio plays for Big Finish Productions. Featuring Simon Pegg (now better known as Scottie in Star Trek) as Johnny Alpha, they were critically acclaimed, albeit not stellar sellers, and eventually sold to the BBC Cult website, which offered them in the user-unfriendly streaming format.

The first of my Strontium Dog scripts, Down to Earth, featured a car chase in the dark, the execution of which impressed someone at Black Flame enough for him to ask me if I would consider writing the novelisation of the movie Highwaymen, which was frankly one long car chase in need of fleshing out. While that was limping through the production process (and, curiously, never actually going on sale, despite the claim of some second-hand booksellers to have copies available), I was then put forward to write the first of the Strontium Dog novels for Black Flame’s new line.

Soon after, my original contact was kicked upstairs in a well-deserved promotion, leaving me to the less able ministrations of his minions. The original commissioning editor had been great to work with, but faded into the background to be replaced with someone who kept sending me other people’s emails, a sub-editor with a chip on her shoulder, and a man who once accused me of breaking the terms of a contract that he hadn’t actually read, only to slink back and acknowledge that I had done exactly what I was asked to do. Black Flame began pushing my Strontium Dog novel to the trade, and took a couple of thousand advance orders. They did, however, forget one crucial point. At the time, they hadn’t actually contracted me to write it.

So it was that I had a panicked message from a new editor with a week to go before a deadline that only existed in his head, asking me if there was any chance I could knock out the book by the day before yesterday. Er… no, I said.

Black Flame scrabbled around and found another book to plug the gap, with the ironic title of Strontium Dog: Bad Timing. My own novel, Ruthless, eventually limped out as the third in the series, complete with an opening chapter designed to introduce new readers to the franchise, even though they would now have been reading two other books first.

Despite all this, I had a fantastic time. There is nothing, I repeat, nothing as much fun as writing a novel. I spent a lazy summer in a shed by a lake in Finland, writing my required number of words per day, and loving every minute of it. I veered off into tangents about alien biology, blocked out fight scenes on hijacked space liners, and speculated on the future of Martian journalism. After so many years squeezing my ideas into haiku, song lyrics and short stories, suddenly I had the freedom offered by 70,000 words. It was never going to set the literary world alight (as one Finnish newspaper article unkindly suggested), but I loved it anyway.

Now I hear that Black Flame is no more, which shows you how much attention I’ve been paying. I stopped pitching ideas to them in 2005 or thereabouts, having long since tired of broken promises and petty cock-ups, souring what had begun as a very cordial relationship. I’m pretty sure, too, that they remembered me ever after as the guy who refused to bail them out when they accidentally sold a book that hadn’t been written yet.

Now, apparently, the time elapsed since the demise of Black Flame means that the rights have reverted to Rebellion, the owners of Strontium Dog, which allows Rebellion’s Abaddon imprint to re-release the book in Kindle format. Like the other authors in the line, there’s nothing in it for me personally – we were working with other people’s characters, and signed away our rights to future royalties, but that’s not the point. It’s just nice to see that it’s still out there.

Cattle Call

yuri-lowenthal-tara-platt-voice-actors-588x600“Actors,” said Alfred Hitchcock, “are cattle.” You control them with a pointy stick. You tell them where to stand. You leave them in a field all day, chewing regurgitated grass. You pull on their teats when you need a drink. No, I am not entirely sure where he was going with that. But actors should definitely do what they’re told, otherwise how will the director’s vision make it to the audience? Actors are the vital conduit between text and audience. And they make empty, melancholy mooing noises with bovine regularity.

I have had to sit, powerless in a studio, while actors droned on about how I had made factual mistakes in my script for their bewilderingly popular, 30-year-old franchise. In the recording booth, I reminded the director that we had copies of the DVD on site that would prove the actors wrong. He shrugged and said it was too much trouble. It was then I started wishing for a cattle prod. Continue reading