The Blog Post of Awesomeness

Greetings dear reader, ‘tis I, your humble blog-keeper and hat-sporting wordsmith back once again to inject a long-overdue dose of Random Lunacy into your consciousness. It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything on this here blog because I’ve been on what I like to call a creative excursion.

The last few weeks have seen me fly into an almost constant state of artistic alchemy, exploring ideas, genres and mediums that have interested and enthralled me for a long time.

I’ve been working like a madman on several bits and pieces including an incredibly exciting, top-secret project that is shaping up to be one of the coolest things I’ve ever produced, if I do say so myself.

I can’t wait to tell you more about it in due course but for now, allow me to share with you another fine project that I’ve been a part of during my creative excursion…

 

The Vault of Awesomeness podcast is the latest brainchild of Y.A. author Ben Davis.

Ben is the vastly talented and hilarious writer of The Private Blog of Joe Cowley series and the stand-alone novels Danny Dread and My Embarrassing Dad’s Gone Viral. He is also the Lead Writer at the Polesworth branch of Writing West Midlands’ Spark Young Writers Group, the very same branch where the Assistant Writer is some fellow named George Bastow. I’ve been co-running our Spark Young Writers’ group alongside the aforementioned Mr Davis since September and it’s fair to say that our creative minds operate on the same frequency, so when he asked me to be the first guest on The Vault of Awesomeness, my answer was a swift and definite “Yeah alright, then.”

I’d be lying if I told you interviews and public speaking were inside my natural habitat, but with a concept that was pitched to me as ‘the reverse of Room 101’ how could it be anything less than… well, awesome.

In the course of our interview Ben and I slid from the deep to the downright daft as we discussed such diverse topics as disability inclusion and black pudding.

If you’ve ever wanted to hear about how I started writing, became truly inspired by the work of Darren Shan or just listen to two yampy Midlands lads messing about, this is the show for you.

The Vault of Awesomeness: Episode 1

The Tamworth Lit Fest has Arrived

The 2017 Tamworth Literary Festival is almost upon us and I thought I’d take this opportunity to tell you about some of the marvellously creative events that will be taking place throughout the town from the 3rd to the 11th of March.

As my regular readers or anyone who has ever glanced at this blog will know, I have a deep-rooted passion for the written word and love to support as many of the brilliant Midlands-based literary events as I can. So when I heard about the Tamworth Literary festival I rushed over to their Facebook page and eagerly perused their programme of events.

They have a truly diverse and interesting line-up with something for everyone from a multitude of author talks and panels to live comedy and theatre performances.

This brand new creative extravaganza begins tomorrow with highlights including an evening of comedy with Litchfield’s First Lady of stand up and award-winning writer Carol E Wyer alongside The Ministry of Improv. An event with bestselling novelist Mike Gayle, a superhero and pop culture enthused workshop lead in collaboration by the good folks from Papercraft Heroes and Custom Comic Guitars and a Thriller Panel featuring Rob Sinclair and A.A. Abbott.

Other standout events of this year’s programme are a Crime Panel with writer/actor Hugh Fraser (Captain Hastings from Poirot) Chris Collett (author of The Worm in the Bud) Stephen Booth (author of The Cooper & Fry Mystery series) and Gordon Low (author of the Black Panther: The Trails and Abductions of Donald Neilson) as well as talks from prolific local wordsmith and Tamworth Literary Festival chairman Anthony Poulton-Smith.

Not to mention the Festival’s two Book Blasts featuring an outstanding array of authors, publishers and poets including Tamworth’s own Simon Goodwin, Birmingham’s New Street author collective and many more.

 

For more info and dates check out the:   Tamworth Lit Fest Facebook page,

Follow them on twitter:   @TamworthLitFest

 

Alternativley email the Festival at: tamlitfest@gmail.com or telephone 07562653565

 

RIP Sir John Hurt

I was truly saddened to hear about the death of Sir John Hurt. He was without doubt one of the best British actors ever to appear on the big and small screens, lending his vast talent and distinctive voice to everything from warm and cosy animations to heart-shattering biopics in the course of a career that spanned six decades. Hurt didn’t simply portray the characters he played on film, TV and stage, he transformed into them, pulling on their flesh and slipping into their minds as easily as you or I would slip into a pair of trainers. It was this extraordinary gift that enabled him to bring us so many diverse and memorable roles, from his earliest performances in ‘A Man for All Seasons,’ and ’10 Rillington Place’ to his iconic role as John Merrick in ‘The Elephant Man’ and his profound embodiment of the legendary writer and activist Quentin Crisp in the TV biopics ‘The Naked Civil Servant’ and ‘An Englishman In New York.’ He will be remembered by sci-fi  connoisseurs across the globe for playing Kane in Ridley Scott’s classic ‘Alien’ and Winston Smith in the silver screen adaptation of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four.’ He also managed to solidify his place in the consciousness of a new generation of film and television fans as Mr Olivander in the ‘Harry Potter’ franchise and the War Doctor in the 50th anniversary episodes of ‘Doctor Who.’

Hurt’s prolific and unpredictable career saw him flit from gritty dramas to popcorn movies, constantly reinventing himself with each new picture. An outstanding actor whose passing has affected thousands of film-buffs, TV-lovers and theatre-goers the world over, but the sorrow we feel after his loss can be instantly soothed as we remember the great man’s amazing body of work that will render him forever immortal.

A Book Review: An Other Place by Darren Dash

I recently had the privilege of receiving an advanced copy of Darren Dash’s new novel to review, it has been a true thrill to be one of the first people to cast an eye on the latest work from the talented Mr Dash. Here are my thoughts.

 

An Other Place is the third novel by Darren Dash the adult alias of bestselling YA author Darren Shan. Darren’s tales of vampires, demons and the un-dead have chilled the spines of millions across the globe and earned him the title of the Master of Young Adult Horror. But although a healthy helping of gore and scares are guaranteed in his books for younger readers, all of the author’s adult works have taken the reader in a multitude of diverse new directions and An Other Place is no exception.

 

The novel tells the intriguingly bizarre story of Newman Riplan, an excessive self-centered I.T. wizard whose world is turned upside down when a weekend-long drink and drugs binge charts the course for a bewildering journey.

 

When we first meet Newman Riplan, the self proclaimed King Kong of troubleshooters (or I.T. Engineer in plain English), he is in Amsterdam vanquishing viruses from corporate computer systems. While the pretentious Mr. Riplan is at the top of his industry, he has always played harder than he’s worked and the lure of the city’s red light district and his penchant for ladies of the night soon draw him away from his desk.

 

As he’s enjoying the sights and sensations of the city, Newman discovers his old mates Hughie and Battles are in town, and they quickly resolve to meet-up for drinks. As the pages turn, a few pints swiftly transform into a narcotics-fuelled spree, and when Newman finds himself on a plane full of seemingly inanimate wax mannequins, things take a disorientating turn that would leave Hunter S. Thompson scratching his head in disbelief.

 

 

An Other Place is a deliciously quirky novel that is surreal and powerful in equal measure. In the pages of the book Dash has crafted a meticulously detailed alternate reality complete with its own folklore and societal eccentricities. Another standout feature of the story is how well the author amalgamates genres, mixing together sci-fi and horror with fantastical elements to create a wonderfully weird cocktail.

 

Its immersive storyline drags the reader back and forth between light-hearted scenes underscored by black comedy to morally questionable sequences that hit with the impact of a locomotive.

 

This is by far Dash’s best work to date. It is challenging and absurd, artistically brave and politically conscious, but this abstract painting of a novel is one thing above all else…

completely original.

 

The Creative Yin and Yang

This is a story that has gone through various incarnations in its time and an earlier version of it was aired on the amazing ‘Mailman’s Survival Guide to the Galaxy’ podcast. I first wrote it a while ago when I started to notice a recurring feature that can be found lurking in the backstory of countless great artists from multiple mediums. The link between creativity and melancholy is one that intrigues and terrifies me in equal measure and after hours spend  pondering exactly what it is that haunts the souls of so many talented people, I think I’ve worked out the answer.    

 

There is a powerful force that silently possesses all of mankind’s artists. It is the energy that drives their consciousness and determines their worldviews. It is there at the hazy inception of the idea and the happy conclusion of the piece, watching and interjecting. From the first cave drawings, etched in stone by prehistoric visionaries to the last hypnotic swirl in the skyline of Van Gough’s Starry Night, it has always been there in the soul of every creator.

 

It is an intoxicating entity that resides within authors, coursing through their bodies as they write their narratives, filling each paragraph with flowing prose and vibrant imagery. It inhabits the minds of artists as they paint their masterpieces, slides down into their arms and governs the placement of every colourful brushstroke.

 

It is the force that reinvigorates the hands of poets as they hold their tired pens and waits in the corners of rappers mouths as they recite their bars to lively crowds.

 

It surges through the cores of actors as they begin to embody their roles, helping them remember their lines and capture the nuances of the scenes.

It departs the actors on the sets as they prepare for their first takes and disappears behind the cameras where the directors lay in wait. Into the filmmakers’ heads it goes, dashing from sequence to sequence, as it brings the scripts to life in their imaginations and quickly clarifies the last few muddled shots before the cameras start to roll.

 

It plants melodies and lyrics into the hearts of singers as they perform on stage and makes itself comfortable within the fingers of musicians as they strum their guitar strings.

 

It is both a blessing and a curse; as harsh as it is wise and as cutting as it is generous. It is the insightful deity that enables fledgling talents to ascend to the top of their mediums and the cold-hearted demon that fills them with self-doubt.

 

It guides the hands of writers and journalists, giving them the fuel to meet their deadlines, but it leaves them to cower behind their computers as their next assignments arrive.

 

It is both friend and foe to thespians and comedians, as it supports them on the stage but it shrouds them in despondency when the curtain falls again.

 

It abandons poets and sculptors as they beg for the muse to arise, leaving them alone in their misery before returning to work its magic at another time.

 

It is the entity that lets them feel emotions deeper as they experience life’s pleasures and pains, allowing them to see the sun shine brighter as they bask within its rays.

 

It is beautiful and callous, triumphant and cruel.

 

It is the tightrope of madness and genius that all creators walk.

 

It is the creative yin and yang.

A Chat with… Darrell ‘Big D’ Smith

In the long awaited return of the ‘A chat with…’ segment on Books, Films and Random Lunacy, I’m joined by writer, podcaster, mental health awareness campaigner and collaborator Darrell ‘Big D’ Smith.

 

Hello Darrell, thanks for taking the time to have a chat with me today here at the eccentric head quarters of Books Films and Random Lunacy. Before we start, could you tell the reader a bit more about yourself and your various works?

 

First off, it’s an honour to do this interview, and I would like to thank you for inviting me. Lets start with the most important roles I have, I am a husband and father of three. After that, I would say I am a writer, podcaster, and former mailman. Since losing most of my eyesight, I concentrate on my writing (as I can enlarge font to the size I need) and podcasting. I feel fortunate that I have been able to stay productive despite these issues. As for writing, I have written several comic reviews in the past, but now I spend most of my time writing comics, and blogs for my mental health podcast.

 

 

Let’s talk about ‘The Axeman Cometh’ the brand new comic book by your good self and veteran indie comic artist The PXD. Could you tell us a bit more about the project and the inspirations behind it?

 

‘The Axeman Cometh’ is a 28 page Southern Gothic/Noir comic collaboration between Pete Davies (The PXD) and myself. It follows the story of Robert Flint, a down on his luck private investigator from Chicago. Southern debutante, Virginia Westmire, hires Flint to solve the murder of her family in New Orleans. The case takes Flint and his partner from New Orleans to Jackson, Mississippi, as they grow ever closer to catching the killer.

As for where the idea came from, the comic is somewhat based on a story I started writing about 15 years ago. I didn’t care for the direction I was heading, and ultimately it was scrapped. When I started writing again, the story had evolved in my mind, and I really feel like I got it right this time.

 

The Kickstarter campaign for ‘The Axeman Cometh’ is in full-swing and I can confirm from seeing snippets of both the artwork and script for the story that it is sure to be a blood-chilling and beautifully-crafted comic, but for those who haven’t had a sneak peek why will they love this gloriously gruesome independent release?

 

That’s a great question. I think the answer is two fold. First, I believe the strength of the story lies in the blending of genres, and the mixture of originality and homage to the great films of directors like Alfred Hitchcock. I don’t recall having seen a story that combines Southern Gothic and Noir, and I feel this comic fills a little unexplored gap (especially Southern Gothic) in comics and stories in general.

Secondly, Pete Davies (The PxD) is knocking it out of the park on the illustrations. I honestly can’t say enough good things about it. I think he captures the exact feel of the story, and the teaser posters he produced for the Kickstarter were phenomenal. Now, when you couple that with the amazing lettering from Rob Jones, it sent the look of the comic over the top. I think readers are in for a real treat, and if we meet our stretch goals, it will take the comic to a whole other level.

 

You’ve written across several genres and mediums in the last couple of year’s including forays into journalism and short fiction. Is there a particular form of writing you feel most confortable in or do you enjoy working in multiple areas?

 

Honestly, I enjoy writing across different mediums. I think it helps challenge me both mentally, and as a writer. I hate to admit it, but I get bored quite easily. Mixing up genres, mediums, and styles really keeps things fresh for me’

 

As well as your writing you also run a weekly podcast dedicated to raising mental health awareness entitled ‘The Mailman’s Survival Guide to the Galaxy.’ For those who might not know what inspired you to create the podcast?

 

I’ve been a lifelong sufferer of Sensory Processing Disorder, depression, and anxiety. I spent many years of my life untreated for these issues, and feeling utterly alone in my condition. Once I started getting treatment, I threw myself into studying and learning about psychology, disorders, effective tools to cope, and the statistics on untreated mental illness.

At the same time, I was helping my nephews with their podcast (Games and Graphics) and I thought maybe I could use the medium of podcasting to talk about my mental health. Initially when I launched the cast it was mostly a form of therapy, and allowed me to get some things that were bothering me “off my chest”. I never really thought many people would listen to the cast, but surprisingly it struck a chord with folks. Once I realised it was having an effect on others, I decided to change the focus from just myself, to how I could help others and share the tools and knowledge I had gained.

 

As regular readers will know Darrell has kindly broadcasted a number of my prose stories on ‘The Mailman’s Survival Guide to the Galaxy’ as well as interviewing me on an episode that aired in August. I’ve always admired how honest and brave you are on your show by openly discussing some of yours and your family’s hardest struggles and creating something positive in your darkest hours. Out of all the topics you’ve covered on the show what has been the hardest to discuss?

 

Wow, that’s a tough one to answer. I think if I had to break it down, I would say there are two subjects that have been the most difficult. Both are things that have greatly impacted my life.

The first one would be finding out my father-in-law had terminal brain cancer. I talked about the impact that the discovery, caring for him, and his subsequent death had on my family and myself. At the same time, my mother was battling breast cancer, which made the situation that much harder. It truly was one of the saddest times in my family’s lives and I still think of it daily.

The second would be the degeneration of my eyesight, which led to me having to leave my job as a postal worker. I didn’t talk about it for a long time because I didn’t want listeners to “feel sorry” for me. Eventually it was having such an effect on me and my family’s lives that I decided to share it. I have had to change many things in my life because of it, and unfortunately as there is no treatment. Its something I’ve really had to come to terms with.

 

You’ve been both host and guest on several podcasts in your creative career and as your multitude of listeners clearly proves you thrive on that platform. Why does podcasting hold such a special place in your heart?

 

I think it’s the ability to reach others, and touch lives. I never thought that I was very good at speaking, and I have always been a bit socially awkward, but podcasting allows me to open up, yet stay hidden behind a microphone if that makes sense. I really just have a desire to help others as corny as that may sound, and podcasting gives me that ability. Or, I am just a frustrated radio host wannabe…you decide.

 

As the author of a bloodthirsty murder mystery and the host of a frank mental health awareness podcast the reader could assume that you’re somewhat of a dark brooding character, but beneath the more serious layers there lies a deep rooted love of comedy. You are the co-host of the anarchically zany ‘Bro-Rons’ podcast with your brother ‘Little R’ and have penned countless sketches for the ‘Games and Graphics’ podcast. Where did your passion for humour come from and when did you start writing comedy sketches and characters?

 

Man, everyone knows I am just a big goof. I get that from my dad. The passion for bad jokes, silly puns, and making goofy faces comes directly from him.

 

As for creating characters and writing sketches, that came from being a lot younger than my siblings. I played by myself a lot of times, and so I made up crazy characters in my head. Also, we had an old tape recorder, so I would make up fake news stories, find ways to do audio effects, and do character voices for my “radio shows”. Maybe I am just a frustrated radio host wannabe…Damn it, I knew it!

 

Thanks for your time  today Darrell, before I let you get back to your keyboard and/or microphone what various creative works can we expect from you in the near future?

 

Thank you again for talking to me. I have a couple of things in the works right now. One is a short story for a comic anthology. It’s a mind trip, and I hope people enjoy it. I am also working on a vastly different comic with Saad Azim. I think this is going to hit people out of left field, and really allow he and I to showcase our humor, and his incredible art. Be on that look out, 2017 is going to be a crazy year!

 

Back ‘The Axeman Cometh’ on Kickstarter here

Follow Darrell on Twitter: @des2v1

Follow The PxD on Twitter: @thepxd

Listen to The Mailman’s Survival Guide to the Galaxy podcast here

Check out The Mailman’s Survival Guide to the Galaxy website here

Like The Mailman’s Survival Guide to the Galaxy on Facebook here

 

 

The Teen Takeover is Nigh…

After a distressingly long absence of more than three months, I have finally returned to fill the neglected pages of this blog with Random Lunacy once again.

I have to say, dear reader, it feels great to be back here crafting a new rambling for your reading pleasure, but before I get too ahead of myself allow me to fill you in on what I’ve been working on during my blogging hiatus.

As regular readers may recall in February this year myself and three other young writers started studying for a Gold Arts Award via Writing West Midlands; an 18 month course that allows up-and-coming creators to learn about and experiment in new areas of the arts as well as gaining practical experience in their chosen medium by working with industry professionals.

For the second Unit of our course my three fellow students and I were given the opportunity to work alongside the team at Writing West Midlands to organise and run our very own mini fest as part of the 2016 Birmingham Literature Festival. We were handed control of an entire day at this year’s festival and told to fill it with the best events our collective imaginations could concoct as long as we followed the first rule of event-organising, ‘Stick to your budget.’

So with our heads full of ideas and our notebooks overflowing with scribbled concepts, we went about constructing what would become the first ever Teen Takeover.

My personal role in the creation of this innovative mini fest was that of Teen Takeover Programmer, which in short means I’ve spent the last few months eloquently pestering a multitude of writers, poets and artists to come and be a part of our new literary extravaganza, as well as shooting back and forth to Brum for numerous creative meetings with lots of windswept and interesting people.

For weeks upon weeks I have been buried under a pile of emails, word counts and deadlines and the hungry wordsmith in me has loved every minute of it.

So when all my eloquent author-pestering had been done and the Teen Takeover schedule was complete it was time for the good folk at Writing West Midlands to publish the Festival’s programme brochure which they distribute annually to the booklovers of Brum and beyond. This year the launch night for the aforementioned brochure was held at the Birmingham branch of Waterstones, and they only went and invited me, didn’t they?

As the Teen Takeover programmer, I was very kindly asked to go along and say a few words about our mini fest. I have to say dear reader, public speaking really isn’t my forte and to be honest I was crazily nervous, but when they asked so nicely how could I refuse?

So there I was at a posh literary soirée in the city’s best-known bookshop, silently memorising my speech as the finest wordsmiths in the region were chatting over red wine and nibbles and the BBC’s cameras rolled. I’d already watched four speakers do their turns and just as the nerves were about to kick in, my programming mentor Abigail Campbell introduced me. And with my trusty fedora atop my head I drove my chair forward and took the floor.

I’m glad to say my speech went without a hitch and it was a true honour to speak on the same bill as former Birmingham Poet Laureate Roy McFarlane who I deemed the Midlands answer to Gil Scott-Heron as well as author of The Black Country Kerry Hadley-Pryce and many more local talents. I also met the wonderful poet Marianne Burgess author of Amateur Grammatics and had a laugh with my ever-anarchic mate Olly MacNamee. It wouldn’t be a Writing West Midlands event without the legend that is William Gallagher, but this time I had the pleasure of meeting his wife and fellow scribe Angela. Lovely lady. Not to mention catching up with another one of my mentors Joanne Penn, her other half Paul and everyone from Room 204.

It was a great night but the best part by far was perusing the Teen Takeover section of the brochure. To see all those events that began as seeds in our minds in print and realise they will soon be part of a professional production was mind-blowing.

We’ve put together what we hope will be a diverse and entertaining day of events that will appeal to people of all ages. We’ve got the ‘Trials, Tribulations and Triumphs’ event where Y.A. authors Juno Dawson (Being a Boy, This Book is Gay & Mind your Head) and Nicola Morgan (Blame my Brain & The Teenagers Guide to Stress) hold an open-minded and uplifting discussion about young people and mental health.

Followed by a panel proving that modern comics are far from two-dimensional kids books, by showcasing the vast amount of creative diversity that can be found within the medium today.

Join our guests Mike Carey (Lucifer, The Unwritten & X-Men) Leah Moore (co-writer of several acclaimed comic book series and creator of the Electricomics app) and Al ‘The Astral Gypsy’ Davison (The Spiral Cage & Muscle Memory) to find out exactly why graphic novels are smashing their way into the mainstream.

 

Then Mike Carey will be putting on his M.R. Carey hat as the bestselling author discusses his novel The Girl with All the Gifts and its film adaptation that was shot on the streets of Birmingham. He’ll also be talking about his latest haunting prose tale Fellside and its future on the silver screen.

Internationally renowned poet Hollie McNish will bring the Teen Takeover to an explosive close with a little help from Birmingham’s own BeatFreeks in this unmissable evening of spoken word.

So now you know what I’ve been doing over the past few months, there are only three things left for you to do.

Check out this link to the full Birmingham Literature Festival programme, come along to the Teen Takeover on the 9th of October and help us blow the roof off Waterstones Birmingham.

Tickets for all of the Birmingham Literature Festival – Teen Takeover events are available below.

Trials, Tribulations and Triumphs with Nicola Morgan and Juno Dawson

The True Identity of Comic Books Revealed with Mike (M.R.) Carey, Leah Moore and Al ‘The Astral Gypsy’ Davison 

Creating Comics: A Workshop with Leah Moore and Al ‘The Astral Gypsy’ Davison

In Conversation with Mike (M.R.) Carey

An Evening of Spoken Word with Hollie McNish