Saturday, 23 February 2013

Playstation, Scooters and Short Novels. Fight!!!

So the new Playstation has been announced, and that affects YA authors how..? Well, if you don’t know your audience, how do you expect to write for them? The PS4 is the first of the new generation consoles, machines with so much power the games look more like interactive movies. But is this really what modern kids are after?

Killzone: Shadow Fall on the PS4
Back in September, I appeared on Litopia After Dark with internet legend Frank Edward Nora. Frank is a modern day Samuel Pepys, recording his observations of humanity on thousands of podcast diaries. He is convinced that as technology advances, we’re going to be lost in a virtual work, unable to separate reality from the digital universe, and it looks like the PS4 marks the next stage of that development.

Scary stuff if you buy into it. But I don't, and here's why.

Personally, I am quite excited about the PS4, possibly because I’ve followed the rise of video games since the PONG of the seventies. I spent my youth spent playing arcade games, followed the development of early computers from the ZX81 to Atari ST and eventually found myself working as an artist on 3D virtual reality games.


But my kids are more interested in iPods and those mini app games, so much so that we have an XBOX 360 and widescreen HDTV gathering dust while they move an iPod left and right to roll a ball about the screen - spending chunks of spare time on games that have the most basic of 2D graphics. A Facetime call comes in, then suddenly it’s "helmets on" and they're all off to the skatepark with stunt scooters. In between stunts, they’re pulling out iPods and iPhones, filming each other, (or “doing edits”), updating Facebook and streaming video. They’re not lost in a virtual world at all; they’re merging modern technology with their fun, exciting, busy lives.

Jack, doing a flying tail-whip (whatever that is)
And that’s the problem. Teen lives are busy as hell and console games are far too demanding. The average console game costs around £50 new and takes a good 60 hours to play through. You can’t simply shove it in and shoot stuff, you have to go through the standard tutorial level, then build up skills and weapons as you go. App-games, on the other hand, are cheap (many free) and so simple, you just need to see a few seconds and you know exactly what to do. Take Temple Run or Fruit Ninja. Both free, both simple, free and bags of fun. Turn on, play. Friend calls. Grab your skooter, a can of coke and voooooom, you’re off, with the game in your back pocket.

That’s what YA authors have to compete with, not the PS4.

So, is there a literary equivalent? If certain games are getting simpler in order to attract attention, can the same be done with the novel?

When I was a teen, I was a terrible reader. I could never finish a full novel. But then the Fighting Fantasy series came along and I was hooked. It was reading, and a game, all in one. But best of all, each time I read, it felt like I’d reached the end of the story.

I’m not suggesting these make a return, but I would like to see more short novels for teenagers, rather than doorstops that seem to be the current trend. Books like The Hunger Games, Northern Lights, Gone or The Enemy would have scared me shitless when I was a teen, just by their sheer length, even though the content would have been spot on for my tastes. That’s probably why, back then, I read more James Herbert than Stephen King.

The bottom line is that teens have so many easily accessible, bite-sized bits of fun screaming for their attention that they don’t have time for long games, let alone novels. The publisher that realises this, and captures the attention of the iPod crowd is going to make a lot of money. Maybe it’ll be another kind of adventure book, maybe it will be compact novellas or a modern take on chapbooks. I don’t know, but I’ve got a hunch that a new wave of short, exciting and accessible titles could be one way to grab this young, exciting, and very busy audience.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Caught In A Mosh

I went to my first rock concert when I was 14 years old. I saw Motorhead at Newcastle City Hall. A few months back, I noticed they were not only still touring, but coming back to the City Hall, so I decided to look for tickets. The only seat available was the exact one I had 28 years ago, up on the balcony - D13. Too weird - I had to buy it!

But it gets better. The support act were going to be mega-thrash gods, Anthrax. A band I used to be crazy about in my teens. Oh, and it gets even betterer - the original singer, Joey Belladonna, is back with the band and they've got a new album out. So I went out and bought me first CD for god-knows how many years. Worship Music is just incredible. I've listened to it pretty much non-stop.

As for the gig itself, it was full of ageing rockers, but there were a few young faces there, and a handful of kids too, which was great to see. The biggest difference was the atmosphere. When I last saw Anthrax, we were all going mental, jumping and moshing all over the place. But this time, that was pretty much the first two rows only. Everyone else was standing in their correct place, holding up iPhones.

Anthrax were the better band. Joey still sounds amazing, but Motorhead were beyond loud and into the category of sheer pain. Very laid back and cool, no matter how fast they played. Here's a few pics.
Anthrax
Scott Ian - Anthrax
Lemmy - Motorhead
Motorhead
Phil Campbell - Motorhead
Lemmy - Motorhead

Sunday, 30 September 2012

A Blog About Matthew

At the back of Arabesque, there’s a brief mention of Matthew and the amount of care he needs. I’d thought I’d do a quick blog about our life at the moment, not just for a whine and a moan, but because a blog is something to look back on. A good example is my post from 2009: Fun With a Wheelbarrow which is such a silly memory of carting Matthew round the streets in a wheelbarrow and it always makes me laugh. It was a fun day, and something to look back on with nostalgia. But sometimes it's important to look back on the bad times too, which is the real reason I'm writing this entry.

Me and Matthew, at Wookey Hole during the summer.
Things are particularly tough at the moment, for Matthew in particular, and then the rest of us. Three weeks ago, Matthew had major surgery: a femoral osteotomy in both legs, which involved the bones of both legs being cut, rotated and re-fixed. It was a five hour op, and luckily, both legs were done in the same op so he doesn't need to go back.

bed-time meds
He had a week’s recovery in hospital, and then he came home on six weeks bed rest. We’ve got his bed in our front room because it just wouldn’t be fair to confine him to his bedroom – apart from the fact that he doesn’t fully understand what’s going on. As far as he's concerned, he went to sleep in hospital, and woke up with lots of discomfort and pain. We've got to keep on top of this as best we can because Matthew can't tell us what he needs. As you can see in the photo, his night-time meds are a bit daunting. There's actually one missing.

Day to day, he needs lots of moving and cleaning and changing, and all of that causes him pain and discomfort. But nights are something else. We have medicines that help him relax and sleep, but for some reason, they aren’t doing their usual job. Perhaps it's the pain he's in, perhaps it's stress and having had such a big change to his usual routine. 

Matthew and brother, Jack
Usually, on an evening, Matthew sits next to Paula, getting a cuddle while we watch TV. He can't have that at the moment and we can see how much this distresses him. But whatever the reason, we’ve had nights when he’s been awake, moaning and unhappy, all night long. And we've had nights where he's settled and slept until 2am, then woken up and moaned from then on.

So me and my wife are pretty zonked at the moment. It's also affecting his brothers, because if we're tired, they feel it, and sometimes when we're up through the night, they get disturbed too. 

During the week, I go out to work and Paula is confined to home. When I get home, I try to help out with Matthew. So ultimately, there's not a lot of writing getting done just now. But that's okay, because in a few weeks things will be back to normal. And when that happens, and I'm sat at this laptop wondering whether to waste time on Facebook, I can read back through this blog and get back on track, in the hope that one day, I’ll make enough money to be able to write full time...

... in a massive bungalow, with a boiler that works, a hydro-therapy pool for Matthew and a kitchen so big, you can park a car in it.


Thursday, 30 August 2012

So proud...

... of our Cameron. He was quoting big chunks of The Young Ones to keep Matthew happy on our way to the hospital this morning (for an op pre-assessment). He knows most of Bambi - the episode where they go on University Challenge. One of the best.

And it's got Motorhead in, so even better!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

My Big Day Out

I was invited down to London for two small events organised by Bounce. The first was an informal lunch with a few (very important) booksellers. The second was an event at Foyles, a fantastic book heaven on Charing Cross Road, where I met reviewers and key bloggers.

Me, holding an invisible balloon.
This was very relaxed and chatty, and I tried as well as I could not to go off on tangents - every now and again getting a subtle cough from Non, and then a clear, 'Colin! Tangent!' I managed to get back to Arabesque and answer a few questions.

The main ones were to do with strong language in teen fiction and the way I chose to end Arabesque. I'm not going to give any spoilers about that, but to give a taste of what I said at Foyles, the end is not meant to be a cliffhanger (I'm not planning a sequel, at least, not at the mo), but reflect the book's opening. However, I also felt it important to add that the YA books I enjoy the most don't tie up all of their loose threads. Life isn't like that, and as I like to write about teens being thrust into a cruel and violent adult world, it wouldn't be fair to have a lovely, happy ending where everything turns out just dandy. To illustrate this, I told a personal story of my uncle's tool shed, and what I found in his vice after he died.

Life can be shit, and death sucks too. I guess we're stuck with both.

Book Signing - this one was an
Arabesque poster for Sister Spooky
As for the strong language - I could blog all day about this, but I want to save as much as I can for Litpopia After Dark on the 16th. I'll post a link for anyone who misses that, and do a full blog on strong language shortly after.

At the end, I got a chance to ask questions of our bloggers, and how valued they feel - if they do at all. I hope they do, because usually, even when I find a book that I want to buy, I tend to hang fire and check reviews first, and I find myself going back to the same bloggers. So keep at it! Bloggers are mint!

Between the two events, I managed to do a quick run, around London, snapping as many photos as I could.

Meeting local celebs
At the Tate Modern
Cool phone box near Foyles
Chinatown at night

When we left Foyles, I went with Non, Matt and Caroline (two mega-librarians) for my first experience of a Japanese restaurant.

And this morning, on my way home, I used all of the photos I took to make a Powerpoint of my Big Day Out for my youngest. So much more fun that just telling him.

On the train, making my Powerpoint for Cameron

All in all - a mighty fine visit. Thanks to everyone involved in organising the day, and everyone who came along. It was a blast.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Event: Colin and Non at Foyles

Several events coming up. The first is Foyles in London. I'll be there with my editor, (and YA author too!!) Non Pratt, talking about YA authory stuff. - okay, that's not selling it very well...  (coughs) I'll be telling horrible stories, juggling knives and trying not to make the audience sick (like I did at Shiney Row library :o))

Click here for the FB page. 
ARABESQUE event at FOYLES

So er... come along. It'll be brilliant!!!

ADDED: Erm.. well I tried a quick juggling practice in the garden. Might not be the best idea.


Thursday, 19 July 2012

Advance Copy Arrives

This probably seems a strange thing to do, but for anyone who dreams of being published, this is one of those key moments when the dream becomes a reality.