Interviewing Scott K Andrews In London Tomorrow

I'm a big fan of Scott K Andrews as a writer and a person.  So when he asked if I fancied interviewing him at February's British Science Fiction Association meeting, I didn't hesitate to ask how many hundreds of pounds he would pay me to do so.  Sounding rather hurt, he explained no money was involved at all and so I fired a torrent of expletives his way, then begrudgingly dug up my Journalist Cap, dusted it down and prepared for battle.

It should be a pretty easy job, to be honest, because Scott's a good talker and also a very loud one.  No microphone required there.  So I plan to interrogate him within an inch of his life at this event, which is in London tomorrow.  Or today, if you're reading this on February 25.  Or in the past if you're reading it any time afterwards.  You missed out, suckerrrrrrrr.

So, anyway, yes.  Scott and I, quacking about his TimeBomb trilogy of novels, the School's Out trilogy, being a writer in general and, inevitably, Doctor Who.  Wednesday, February 25, 2015.  The mind-probe action starts at 7pm, upstairs at The Artillery Arms, 102 Bunhill Row, London, EC1Y 8ND, but the room will start to fill up with SF-minded boozers (both BSFA members and non are welcome) from 6pm. Scott will open with a reading from TimeBomb #1, then the interrogation will happen and we'll open up for questions from the floor at about eight.  There'll also be a raffle and everything, in which you can win Scott's actual trousers he'll be wearing on the night.

Actually, no, sorry, that should be, "A selection of SF novels".

Did I mention the event's free?  See you there.

Here's the BSFA page about the event.


* * *


Want to feel afraid in your own home?  My short story A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home can help.  Presented as a letter to YOU which is delivered to YOUR house, this grave warning from the previous resident tells you things you really don't want to hear.  A Sincere Warning... can be purchased as a low-priced ebook or as a uniquely personalised physical letter which is mailed to your home address!  Full details at ScaryLetter.com

My novella Beast In The Basement is a twisted tale of obsession, revenge, censorship, blame culture and parental responsibility.  In a big house in the country, an increasingly unstable author toils over a new hotly-anticipated novel which will close a best-selling trilogy.  A violent incident tips him into a downward spiral with horrific consequences.  Beast is available for Kindle (which can be read on most devices) at Amazon UK, Amazon US and more.  It's also available as half of Brandy In The Basement, a collaboration with JMR Higgs.  More details here.

My acclaimed non-fiction ebook How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else aims to tell you everything I learned about interviewing people, in my past life as a journalist.  It's available via Amazon UK, Amazon US and Amazon Germany, among others.  You can also buy it direct from me, in a Triple Pack of all three major file-types (PDF, ePub, Kindle), via PayPal.  Full details here, you splendid individual.

How to Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne and Everyone Else

Ten Experiences I Loved In 2014

Hello!  This head-cold, together with the Lemsip-style meds I've been taking for a week now, mean that my head is too spacey to write with anything approaching flair.  So I'll keep this year-review post minimalist and largely pictorial.  Which will come as a relief to you, as you have 3,401 other year-review posts to skim through.  So here are 10 examples of the many things I loved about 2014...

1) SWANS BY THE PIER
I was walking back from a cafe one Spring morning, along the seafront, when I saw two swans a-swimming.  This was unusual and striking.  Sadly, one of my first thoughts was relief was no-one else was around, or some dumb kid would inevitably have started hurling stones at them.  Whenever I see people throwing stones at birds - usually gulls - I confront them, so this moment of pleasure could so easily have turned ugly.  Happily, it didn't.  I trailed these swans along the shoreline for a while and filmed this video beside the Palace Pier.  It's worth watching for the moment the pair of them turn around as one, to head back away from the shore.  Shortly after the video was filmed, they flew off.




2) WONDERFUL LITERARY AGENT
Hello and thank you to Oli Munson of AM Heath - the best thing to happen to me all year.  Blogged about that here in March.  And here's a nice pic of (from left) Lavie Tidhar, Laura Lam, Oli and me, snapped by the mighty Scott K Andrews at August's Fantasy In The Court event at Goldsboro Books.



3) THRASH METAL GIGS
I don't go to all that many live shows these days, but when I do I'm seeing bands I love.  So this year I finally got to see German legends Exumer supporting Brit delights Onslaught.  Not to mention two of my favourite thrash bands, Destruction and Overkill, playing separate London shows.  Perhaps the most momentous show of all was US death metal pioneers Possessed at London's Highbury Garage.  Since this band split in 1990, I never expected to see them live.  And yet there they are, fronted as before by Jeff Becerra, who was tragically paralysed from the waist down in a shooting.  They were excellent and I was pleased to learn they're working on new material.  Here's a blurry but representative pic I took towards the end of the set.



4) THUNDERBOLTS AND LIGHTNING
My favourite photo I took all year, in terms of capturing a split second. This was about 3am.



5) SHAUN T AND THE FOCUS T25
This was the year that one-man fitness-tornado Shaun T came into my life.  Unfortunately, he arrived in July, at the peak of summer, when I decided to try his Focus T25 DVD routines and therefore also needed to buy a large electric fan.  I've always known that endorphins are a writer's best friend, both in terms of physical and mental health - it's just that I haven't always put that wisdom into practice.  Focus T25 is a brilliant way to stay active, with its (surprise surprise) 25-minute routines which send your endorphins sky-rocketing for the rest of the day.  Each routine benefits from an on-screen Modifier Person, who performs simpler, easier versions of each move in case you need them.  And for the first few days or weeks, you will need them.  Perhaps most importantly of all, Shaun T is really charismatic and funny and motivational.  He's the man you need to help you properly do this stuff.  I really can't recommend buying the first T25 set (containing the Alpha and Beta packs) enough.  This Vine captures one of Shaun's amusingly sadistic moments, followed soon after by the kind of high-energy exercise which threatens to make you keel over.




6) GOLD
My folks celebrated their 50th anniversary in August, by returning to the church where they wed.



7) JAWS ON THE BEACH
You can't get any more immersive than that.



8) EPIC HOLIDAY
Took an unprecedented two-week to Menorca. Had no idea what to do with myself by the second week, but it was a tremendous gin-fest from beginning to end.  One highlight was witnessing my other half Esther performing a spirited karaoke version of Psy's synth-pop hit Gentleman, while labouring under the misapprehension that the chorus went, "Motherfucker gentleman" rather than "Mother father gentleman".  You've never seen children's ears covered so fast.  Wish she'd let me upload the video.



9) FIGHTING FANTASY CONVENTION
I've loved the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks since I was a kid and previously blogged about them here.  2014 saw the inaugural Fighting Fantasy convention, organised by the remarkable Jonathan Green an extraordinary 32 years after the Puffin Books legend began with The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain.  A resounding success both in terms of the great guests and the items on display such as original front-cover artwork (see below).  As I think these first two pictures convey, I was firmly in fanboy mode while meeting the books' creators Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson.





10) BLOOD ON THE ALTAR
On December 6, as part of Brighton's DRILL festival, we saw a screening of Dario Argento's gory supernatural horror film Suspiria... in a church.  Authorised blasphemy.  Not only did this take place in a church, but the band Goblin, who soundtracked the movie, performed that soundtrack live in the church alongside the film.  It's fair to say this was a pretty remarkable experience.  Putting aside the joys of Goblin for a moment, you could hear every word of dialogue echoing high up by the church's high ceiling, as if dark angels were murmuring it back to us.  There was a bar, too.  Churches really have come on, these days.








So that's it for 2014.  In the words of Frank Sinatra, it was a very good year.  Work-wise, I've been writing the same novel (the title of which has the initials JSOTS, acronym fans) since March, while taking time out to once again act as judge for the British Fantasy Awards.  I'm crossing my leathery, gnarled fingers when I tell you that this novel will be handed to agent Oli by the end of January.  What happens after that is in the lap of Satan.

I didn't blog nearly as much as I would have liked this year.  I plan to do better in 2015, so do bookmark or RSS or whatever-the-hell-it-is-that-you-do this place and swing by again.

If you'll excuse me, I'm heading sofa-ward to take the rest of New Year's Eve lying down, with Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted - a proof copy of which was one of my favourite presents this Christmas.



Happy New Year!


* * *


Want to feel afraid in your own home?  My short story A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home can help.  Presented as a letter to YOU which is delivered to YOUR house, this grave warning from the previous resident tells you things you really don't want to hear.  A Sincere Warning... can be purchased as a low-priced ebook or as a uniquely personalised physical letter which is mailed to your home address!  Full details at ScaryLetter.com

My novella Beast In The Basement is a twisted tale of obsession, revenge, censorship, blame culture and parental responsibility.  In a big house in the country, an increasingly unstable author toils over a new hotly-anticipated novel which will close the best-selling trilogy of Jade Nexus books.  A violent incident tips him into a downward spiral with horrific consequences.  Beast is available for Kindle (which can be read on most devices) at Amazon UK, Amazon US and more.  It's also available as half of Brandy In The Basement, a collaboration with JMR Higgs.  More details here.

My acclaimed non-fiction ebook How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else aims to tell you everything I learned about interviewing people, in my past life as a journalist.  It's available via Amazon UK, Amazon US and Amazon Germany, among others.  You can also buy it direct from me, in a Triple Pack of all three major file-types (PDF, ePub, Kindle), via PayPal.  Full details here, you splendid individual.

How to Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne and Everyone Else

Dimebag Darrell: Ten Years Gone

This week, it's been 10 years since Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell was murdered during a live show in Ohio.  To commemorate one of metal's all-time great guitarists, here's an article I wrote for Rip & Burn magazine soon after the 2004 tragedy.


IT'S ENTIRELY POSSIBLE THAT, when a gunman swiftly approached guitarist 'Dimebag' Darrell Lance Abbott on the night of December 8, 2004, some of the audience laughed. After all, their hero was standing onstage playing a guitar. His band Damageplan were barely into their first song. The six-foot-three stage invader carrying a handgun had to be part of the set, right?

Tragically, this was paranoid schizophrenic 25-year-old Nathan Gale: a man who believed he had a score to settle. Reportedly grabbing Dimebag with one hand, he shot the guitarist repeatedly at point-blank range. As the horrible reality dawned on a shocked crowd at The Alrosa Villa - a long-running, 250-capacity rock club in Columbus, Ohio - Gale continued to fire, killing fan Nathan Bray, the venue's security guard Erin Halk and Damageplan's own security man Jeff Thompson - all of whom were reportedly attempting to prevent more bloodshed. Gale then took the band's drum tech John Brooks hostage in the backstage area. Hearing a commotion inside the club, local police officer James Niggemeyer entered the premises. In a grim final scene normally reserved for action movies, Brooks shifted position and Niggemeyer killed Gale with a shotgun blast to the head.

You may never have heard of Dimebag Darrell. After all, rock musicians rarely gain mainstream attention for their brilliance alone. Yet his death sent shockwaves rippling through millions of fans and musicians. As part of the band Pantera he changed the face of metal forever.

So who exactly was Dimebag and why was he targeted by a homicidal fan?


'I'M GONNA BE YOUR bartender, boy. Lean back further!'

The mid-'90s in Philadelphia: Dimebag Darrell and I were on Pantera's tour bus, playing one of the band's many rock 'n' roll games. The band were at the height of their success, having scored a Billboard Number One hit with 1994's Far Beyond Driven album - an achievement made all the more impressive by the record's solidly uncompromising nature. I was the journalist, attempting to 'hang out' with the guitarist. Having been coerced into playing, courtesy of some fairly good-natured peer pressure, I leant backwards like a bad limbo dancer. Dimebag then appeared with a bottle of whiskey, pouring some into my open mouth. Another alcoholic liquid followed, before he introduced the piece de resistance: hot chilli sauce. Strangely unable to swallow this tasty brew, I coughed violently, spewing the mixture over myself, Dimebag and the tourbus floor.

Roadies hurried to grab sponges and clear it up, patently having seen this happen before. Certainly Dimebag didn't seem to hold it against me. You could see why he was universally popular with fans and other bands alike: the man was a walking cartoon character, so full of gruff Texan machismo that you could hardly believe him real. With a beer surgically grafted to the palm of one hand and whiskey shots never more than a twist of a bottle-top away, Dimebag was known for his hospitality and insatiable appetite for traditional rock 'n' roll antics.

As Pantera had developed a distrust for the media, however, he was far more guarded and temperamental with me. One minute we'd be talking about guitar pedals; the next he'd be holding court about journalists misquoting bands. As if to prove the point, he said a deliberately convoluted phrase, then asked me to repeat it. Because I was drunk and he wasn't always easy to understand - the guitarist referred to his own comically garbled language as Dimebonics - I failed and he brushed me off. Case closed. Another dumb journalist spurned.

Pantera hit their native Texan metal scene in 1981, resembling a glam rock band both in terms of their sound and spandex-clad look. Darrell Abbott's nickname was then Diamond, no doubt in reference to Van Halen's flamboyantly camp mainman 'Diamond' Dave Lee Roth. Darrell was joined in Pantera by bassist Rex Brown (aka Rex Rocker), singer Terry Glaze and his drumming brother Vinnie - the pair had spent their childhoods worshipping bands like Kiss (Darrell would be buried in one of the band's commercially available coffins) and being encouraged to adopt instruments by their musically-oriented Dallas folks. The boys' father was, after all, country & western producer Jerry Abbott.

Because Pantera's first four albums were released on their own Metal Magic record label, these releases were obscure and presently remain so. Musically, the albums charted a swing from melodic arena rock to a hard-edged crunch informed both by classic metal acts like Judas Priest and the harder athletics of Metallica. Even in their early days, Darrell's guitar work distinguished Pantera as ones to watch - particularly on 1988's Power Metal album, which saw Phil Anselmo making his vocal debut. The guitarist's work was state-of-the-art, buzzing like a living entity. A mere $100 will bag you a copy on eBay today.

The only thing holding the Texans back was exposure. Cue a deal with the Atlantic Records subsidiary Atco, through which 1990's Cowboys From Hell was released. This jaw-dropping collection of songs remained catchy while flaying the skin off your head, growing Pantera's fanbase considerably.

Significantly, Metallica released their Black album the following year. While a massive success, its more accessible approach left a fat wedge of hardcore fans feeling disenfranchised. The good ship Pantera was perfectly happy to accommodate such refugees. The prevailing musical climate further contributed to the Texans' popularity: half of the rock world were modelling lumberjack shirts and crooning along to Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the rest of Seattle's glum grunge pack.

In 1992, Pantera's cult groundswell burst with the release of Vulgar Display Of Power, a brilliantly savage album and a true landmark in metal. For a growing army of fans, Pantera were quite literally their rock: the solid, eternally reliable modern-day equivalent of Motörhead. It's easy to see how the band's eventual split might prove devastating to a devotee. Especially to someone with Nathan Gale's problems.


PERHAPS THE FIRST SIGN that all was not well with Nathan Gale came during his mid-90s formative years in Marysville, 25 miles north-west of Columbus. The heavy-built teen was distinguished from millions of other Pantera-loving high school students by a belief that Pantera had stolen his lyrics. A former friend has recalled Gale presenting pages of words which he claimed were his own, but had clearly been copied from Pantera's album inserts. When Gale announced his plans to sue Pantera, several friends reportedly distanced themselves from him, believing him to be 'off his rocker'.

While Gale eventually abandoned his litigious intent, it's possible that the grudge remained. He spent time as a semi-pro soccer player - reportedly psyching himself up for games by playing Pantera on headphones - and had occasional run-ins with police. The latter are thought to be connected to 'drug issues' which his mother claimed he 'worked through'.

While Gale apparently had his sights on a career as a tattooist (often turning up at the local parlour and reportedly forcing 'pointless conversation' on people, as the parlour owner has noted), he ended up joining North Carolina's 2nd Marine Division in 2002, working as an auto mechanic. When he returned home for Christmas that year, his proud mother gave him a handgun - the very same weapon he would later use to take four lives. While Mrs Gale didn't, at his point, realise the extent of her son's mental condition, it's a chilling example of America's deluded view of the firearm.

While Gale was intended to have spent four years with the Marines, he was sent home on a medical discharge in November 2003, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Left untreated by medication like Thorazine or Haldol, this is one of the most damaging of mental disorders. Generally thought to be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, its symptoms include delusions, confusion and anger. Sufferers are warned to seek help immediately if they experience suicidal or homicidal feelings. The possibility that Gale had been suffering from the disorder for most of his life is suggested by extracts from his handwritten diaries, in which he refers to 'growing up not knowing my own thoughts'. 'He came home [from the Marines] with his medications,' his mother has said. 'I don't know if he took them or not'.


DIMEBAG DARRELL'S MURDER IS all the more bizarre for having taken place in the rock world. The fates of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls have rendered homicide part of gangsta rap, but in rock it's practically unheard of. One of the few vaguely comparable events saw Norwegian black metal artist Varg Vikernes murdering his rival Oystein Aarseth in 1993, receiving a 21-year jail sentence. Eerily, Dimebag's death marked the 24th anniversary of John Lennon's assassination by Mark Chapman, another paranoid schizophrenic. 

In 2003, it became clear that Pantera had permanently split in half, due to a communication breakdown between the Abbott brothers and their bandmates. Dimebag and Vinnie formed Damageplan and released their debut album New Found Power in February 2004 - a worthy, but workmanlike affair. Fandom's paper-thin line between love and hate, plus its talent for dividing into opposing tribes, were well demonstrated as fan message boards buzzed with heated and often downright aggressive debate.

The Abbotts cited Anselmo's increasing interest in a long procession of side projects (Superjoint Ritual, Down, Eibon…) as responsible for Pantera's demise. In the issue of UK magazine Metal Hammer released on November 24, 2004, Anselmo blamed the 'distance' which had specifically grown between himself and Dimebag. 'There was never a point when he could not get drunk,' he said. 'Which was pretty much every day. And now I'm hearing it's worse than ever'. Showing obvious anger towards his former colleague, he added that the guitarist 'should be beaten severely'. This, along with statements like 'I suggest no-one do me wrong. Things don't go so well for them. And I lift not a finger' would shortly lead some fans to forge the conspiracy theory that Nathan Gale was commissioned by Anselmo. If that doesn't immediately strike you as utterly ludicrous, one stream of the heartrending video statement posted by a tearful Anselmo after Dimebag's death (Pantera.com) should clarify matters.

We may never know exactly why Gale killed Dimebag Darrell. While some witnesses claimed that Gale walked onto the stage verbally blaming Dimebag for Pantera's split, you wonder how audible he might have been, over the noise of a live metal band. Almost more important than Gale's motive, however, is the fact that he had the opportunity. Spectators to the tragedy have asked why a more prominent rock agitator - Marilyn Manson, for instance - hasn't taken a bullet, and the answer has to be security. Few artists make it to the top of their genre's tree, playing heavily-policed arenas, then start again with a new band operating at club level. Damageplan's 2004 tour saw Vinnie and Darrell revisiting their roots: Pantera had first played the Villa in 1991, before swiftly outgrowing it. When Nathan Gale climbed over a eight-foot wooden fence and entered the venue, pursued by security staff whose progress was slowed by crowd density, he was ironically taking full advantage of the Abbott brothers' rebirth. The implications for rock show security will surely be profound. As one US message-boarder rather crudely noted, 'This is like the 9/11 of metal'.


I LAST SAW DIMEBAG Darrell in February 2000, while interviewing the band at a down-home bar in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They were publicising Reinventing The Steel, an album which would prove their last, if a fine swansong.

The 34-year-old guitarist burst into the bar's courtyard like a tornado, seemingly drunk at 3pm. Dancing around with a dazzlingly red beard and a camcorder perched on one shoulder, he darted over and slapped the back of my head. 'I'm just fuckin' with you, man,' he roared, by way of explanation. As expected, he had no recollection of having met me before.

The ensuing interview is one of my favourites, because it was so hilariously difficult. Filmed by the band's entourage, who sat around as though watching a boxing bout, it involved horrendous amounts of alcohol, semi-serious arguments between band and interviewer, together with unexpected physical contact: at one point, Anselmo seized me in a wrestling hold.

As usual, Dimebag provided most of the very finest quotes. 'We are the STEEL FUCKING ROD up the fucking centre of everything that churns around us!' he bellowed at one point. 'We're pure fucking metal!'

Was there an ironic wink? Hell, no. Sadly, there's now one less person on the planet who'll say that stuff with a straight face.


* * *


Want to feel afraid in your own home?  My short story A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home can help.  Presented as a letter to YOU which is delivered to YOUR house, this grave warning from the previous resident tells you things you really don't want to hear.  A Sincere Warning... can be purchased as a low-priced ebook or as a uniquely personalised physical letter which is mailed to your home address!  Full details at ScaryLetter.com

My novella Beast In The Basement is a twisted tale of obsession, revenge, censorship, blame culture and parental responsibility.  In a big house in the country, an increasingly unstable author toils over a new hotly-anticipated novel which will close the best-selling trilogy of Jade Nexus books.  A violent incident tips him into a downward spiral with horrific consequences.  Beast is available for Kindle (which can be read on most devices) at Amazon UK, Amazon US and more.  It's also available as half of Brandy In The Basement, a collaboration with JMR Higgs.  More details here.

My acclaimed non-fiction ebook How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else aims to tell you everything I learned about interviewing people, in my past life as a journalist.  It's available via Amazon UK, Amazon US and Amazon Germany, among others.  You can also buy it direct from me, in a Triple Pack of all three major file-types (PDF, ePub, Kindle), via PayPal.  Full details here, you splendid individual.

How to Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne and Everyone Else

Happy Birthday Doctor Who

Okay, so it's not a particularly auspicious birthday.  It's not a round number or an even number.  But the 51st year of the show which kickstarted my childhood imagination and has given me plenty of writing opportunities is certainly worth celebrating.

So I've written about my favourite Doctor Who stories for the BT website.  It was tough to assign actual numbers to these stories - especially when it came to the Number One slot.  I'll also admit to having gone easy on the site's readers and not included some of my more... idiosyncratic... choices like 1977's The Invisible Enemy or 1978's The Invasion of Time.  But it was fun.

So far, I've only received two incredulous social messages starting "WOT, NO [insert excluded story here]?!?!?!"  Very much hoping to better this by midnight.  Perhaps you could help out in comments below?


* * *


Want to feel afraid in your own home?  My short story A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home can help.  Presented as a letter to YOU which is delivered to YOUR house, this grave warning from the previous resident tells you things you really don't want to hear.  A Sincere Warning... can be purchased as a low-priced ebook or as a uniquely personalised physical letter which is mailed to your home address!  Full details at ScaryLetter.com

My novella Beast In The Basement is a twisted tale of obsession, revenge, censorship, blame culture and parental responsibility.  In a big house in the country, an increasingly unstable author toils over a new hotly-anticipated novel which will close the best-selling trilogy of Jade Nexus books.  A violent incident tips him into a downward spiral with horrific consequences.  Beast is available for Kindle (which can be read on most devices) at Amazon UK, Amazon US and more.  It's also available as half of Brandy In The Basement, a collaboration with JMR Higgs.  More details here.

My acclaimed non-fiction ebook How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else aims to tell you everything I learned about interviewing people, in my past life as a journalist.  It's available via Amazon UK, Amazon US and Amazon Germany, among others.  You can also buy it direct from me, in a Triple Pack of all three major file-types (PDF, ePub, Kindle), via PayPal.  Full details here, you splendid individual.

How to Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne and Everyone Else

Welsh Wallace's Campaign And The Welfare Reform Act

Welsh Wallace
Hello!  I want to lead your eyes towards a GoFundMe campaign by the blind artist Welsh Wallace.  That's not her real name, funnily enough, but when she shares her true identity online it makes it all the easier for people to verbally abuse her.

That's what a minority of confused, frightened, frustrated people do these days: they "call out" disabled people who they believe are fakers.  The government and The Daily Mail have done a scarily efficient job of demonising the disabled, these last few years.  By making benefit fraud seem a far bigger problem than it actually is - bigger than, for instance, bankers needing unimaginable sums of money to bail them out of the trouble they caused for themselves - and casting doubt on the genuine nature of sickness and disability claims, the Welfare Reform Act created a culture of suspicion, paranoia and blame, directed at the poor, the ill and the disabled.

Clearly, genuinely fraudulent benefit claims needed to be dealt with.  Yet to say that babies were thrown out with bathwater would be to grossly understate the case, given the horrendous consequences.  Many, many thousands of ill and disabled people have reportedly died as a result of having their benefits taken away, after being systematically 'assessed' by the government-appointed company ATOS.  The relative lack of uproar shocked me.  Don't get me wrong: plenty of people railed against the madness.  But on Twitter, I often felt I was seeing more people complain about other users employing manual RTs, for instance, than about this glorified social cull.  Thankfully, protest groups like writer/comedian Francesca Martinez's WOW Campaign have taken the government to task and continue to pressurise them to officially assess the Welfare Reform Act's horrific impact.  The United Nations are apparently also assessing potential human rights violations.

A 'conker bowl', designed and created by Welsh Wallace
Back to Welsh Wallace, then.  Through social media communication and phone conversations with her, I've seen her face the kind of adversity that would honestly have most of us curled up in a corner, gibbering.  She lost her sight a few years back as a result of head injuries and since then it's been one long struggle.  Authorities have placed every conceivable obstacle in her path, from benefit sanctions to the local council refusing to send bills out in braille.  She has suffered the most insanely ignorant online abuse from people who can't believe a blind person can create art, so therefore she must be faking.  She's had abuse in person too, and I wish I could tell you more about that.  I wish I could tell you many more things about Welsh Wallace, but unfortunately she'd kill me.  The latest obstacle she's faced, though, is cancer and subsequent operations.  I spoke to her after her initial diagnosis and have never heard someone facing such uncertainty, yet putting such a very brave face on it all.

Having emerged from hospital, she has a new lease of life and a new goal: she wants to get her online shop back up and running.  The shop through which she sells her amazing clay work.  The shop which she has sporadically had to close in the past, either because the verbal abuse became too much to take, or because her health faltered, or because she had to prioritise things like eating and paying bills, rather than buying clay.  Given that she's an intensely proud and stubborn individual, it's very pleasantly surprising that she is finally asking us for help in getting the shop back up and running on October 1.

Inside that conker bowl
The crowd-funding campaign page is here.  I would love it if you joined me in slinging some cash Welsh Wallace's way.  There are some very nice perks for pledgers.  If you can't afford to pledge but still want to help, then please share the campaign.  If the campaign has already ended when you read this, then check out the Grand Opening Facebook page for her shop.  This the first time Welsh Wallace has directly asked us for help, and I'd dearly love to see her get it.  Thanks!

UPDATE: Wallace's initial £350 target was met in 24 hours!  Her stretch goal now, if more funds are raised, will be to buy "a GPS guide that will allow me to walk outside without a guide giving me complete independence to go for a walk whenever I want without having to pre plan or save up to hire a guide."  See her campaign update # 3 here.


* * *


Want to feel afraid in your own home?  My short story A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home can help.  Presented as a letter to YOU which is delivered to YOUR house, this grave warning from the previous resident tells you things you really don't want to hear.  A Sincere Warning... can be purchased as a low-priced ebook or as a uniquely personalised physical letter which is mailed to your home address!  Full details at ScaryLetter.com

My novella Beast In The Basement is a twisted tale of obsession, revenge, censorship, blame culture and parental responsibility.  In a big house in the country, an increasingly unstable author toils over a new hotly-anticipated novel which will close the best-selling trilogy of Jade Nexus books.  A violent incident tips him into a downward spiral with horrific consequences.  Beast is available for Kindle (which can be read on most devices) at Amazon UK, Amazon US and more.  It's also available as half of Brandy In The Basement, a collaboration with JMR Higgs.  More details here.

My acclaimed non-fiction ebook How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else aims to tell you everything I learned about interviewing people, in my past life as a journalist.  It's available via Amazon UK, Amazon US and Amazon Germany, among others.  You can also buy it direct from me, in a Triple Pack of all three major file-types (PDF, ePub, Kindle), via PayPal.  Full details here, you splendid individual.

How to Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne and Everyone Else

The Greatest Novels Of 2014 So Far, Chosen By Twitter

We're halfway through the year.  How'd you like them apples, Charlie?

To mark the occasion, I asked Twitter-folk to tell me the one best 2014-released fiction novel they've read so far.  It's clearly an imperfect science, canvassing opinions like this.  Depends on who happens to be passing by on Twitter, instead of getting work done.  But when someone takes the time to enthuse about someone else's novel, even in the breath of a tweet, it's surely worth checking out.

So here are the novels people tweeted back about, in absolutely no particular order.  Neatly, there are 20 of them - a pleasing mix of Big Five, indie and self-pub.  Of genres, too.  I'm including the recommendations of tweeters who have read proofs or review copies of books coming out later in the year.  If the hardback came out last year but the paperback came out this year, I included the title. All book-title links go to Amazon, while clicking author names takes you to their Twitter profiles where applicable.

The Girl With All The Gifts - M.R.Carey (Orbit)

Terra's World - Mitch Benn (Gollancz)

Resistance - Samit Basu (Titan)

The Boy With The Porcelain Blade - Den Patrick (Gollancz)

The Three - Sarah Lotz (Hodder & Stoughton)

The Martian - Andy Weir (Del Rey)

The JackPort Killer - Kneel Downe (Lulu.com)

An Officer And A Spy - Robert Harris (Arrow)

The Incorruptibles - John Hornor Jacobs (Gollancz)

The Cormorant - Chuck Wendig (Angry Robot)

The Humans - Matt Haig (Canongate)

Words Of Radiance - Brandon Sanderson (Gollancz)

The Dark Inside - Rupert Wallis (Simon & Schuster Children's Books)

The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt (Little, Brown)

Grasshopper Jungle - Andrew Smith (Electric Monkey)

Smiler's Fair - Rebecca Levene (Hodder & Stoughton)

Annihilation (The Southern Reach Trilogy) - Jeff VanderMeer (Fourth Estate)

Galveston - Nic Pizzolatto (Sphere)

California Bones - Greg van Eekhout (Tor)

Dirty Magic - Jaye Wells (Orbit)

Because it's my blog, I get to throw in a further three great books not mentioned above and you cannot stop me.  You are powerless and can only watch as the words pour forth:


So what about you?  Want to lend an extra tip of your hat to one of the above?  Or recommend one amazing 2014 release which isn't listed above and which you didn't write yo'self?  Go right ahead, in Comments below, you irrepressible scamp.


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How to Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne and Everyone Else