Archive for the ‘Star Wars’ Tag

One Day To Sci Fi Weekender

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Tomorrow I’m off to my first convention of the year – the fifth Sci Fi Weekender, in North Wales.

It’s the third year I’ve attended this Con, and I always look forward to it.  It’s a Con to celebrate all things geeky in TV, film and books, and it actively encourages Cosplay.  Seeing all the incredible costumes is always a highlight of the Con.

This year I’m looking forward to it all the more as I am on several panels.  As it happens they are all on Saturday afternoon – at least I get them all out of the way at once.  At 2pm I am on a panel called ‘Does Crime Pay’, exploring the concept that ‘crime is the new black’.  Then I’ve got a bit of a break, but can’t go too far as at 3pm I’m moderating the ‘Blurred Lines’ panel discussing cross-genre.  And I still haven’t come up with questions for the panel yet.  So I know what I shall be doing tonight.

And following that I’m on the next panel too, which is exploring what makes science fiction – ‘from Space Opera to Dystopian Futures’, the panel description says.  I suspect it was my public declaration of love for Star Wars that got me on that one.

With only a day to go, the usual dilemma has reared its head – what to wear for a Con?  I’m not organised enough to put a costume together.  The usual fall-back Con wear is jeans and a Geek t-shirt.  However, I have recently realised that I literally have a drawer full of Geek t-shirts, reflecting an array of geeky interests – Star Wars; Buffy; Dr Who.  I’ve even got a Resident Evil 4 t-shirt.  So which ones do I pack?  My favourite Con t-shirt is the girlie pink one with the cartoon grim reaper on that says ‘Horror Writer’.  But I wore that at the last Con.  Can a self-respecting geek be seen in public wearing the same t-shirt at every Con?

If you’re going to be at the convention, do stop by and say hello.  And if you’re not – well, I’ll catch up with you when I return to normal life.

In the meantime, I’m off to go ransack my t-shirt drawer and think up intelligent questions for my panel.


BristolCon 2013 – Roundup

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I usually follow up a Con with a write-up, and so here is my take on BristolCon, which took place on Saturday 26 October.

Hubby and I travelled down from London by train on Friday afternoon, as soon as I was able to get away from the day job.  It was actually quite a pleasant journey, taking just about two hours on a train we could pre-book seats on.  The hotel, we were pleased to find, was a five-minute walk from Bristol Temple Meads Station, and was modern and comfortable.  It was also conveniently located for the Town Centre and close to bars and restaurants, for those who want to take a break from the Con.

The Con officially began at 10 am on Saturday morning, running two concurrent threads.  I was on one of the opening panels – the panel on Innovative Deaths, moderated by Anne Lyle.  We discussed ways of killing people for over 45 minutes.  Fortunately we didn’t seem to scare the audience too much – or at least that was how I interpreted it, as nobody ran out screaming.

After that I caught some of the ‘My World is Not Your Sandpit’ panel, about fan fiction, in which a rather energetic debate took place.  I have to say I missed the beginning of this panel, but what I saw clearly defined the two sides of the argument.  One side was that if the fan fiction writer is not making any profit from their writing, and the original creator of the world is done writing books about that world, should they not be flattered by enthusiastic fans wanting to play in their sandpit?  The opposing viewpoint was that anyone other than the creator is not going to get the world right because so much of a created world never makes it into the book, and a writer is never really done with their world.  It was an interesting discussion and I must confess I can see the point of the writers who say they don’t want anybody else playing in their sandpit, because it’s theirs.  Though the chance to be adored enough for someone to want to play in my sandpit would be a fine thing.  It was also pointed out in this panel that fan fiction is an evolutionary stage of the young writer, and this spoke to me as well.  Fortunately my Star Wars fan fiction was written in the days before the Internet and will never be aired in public.

After that I stuck around for the panel on the Evolution of Genre, where among other things the influence of ‘real-world’ problem on genre was discussed.  Apparently zombies do well during periods of high unemployment and financial restraints.  Vampires apparently do well during periods of affluence.  What this says about us I don’t know.

After taking a break from watching panels I joined the other authors for the ‘mass signing’, for which we’d all been encouraged to bring books to sell at the committee table.  A member of the writing group who’d bought a copy of SOUL SCREAMS a while ago came to get it signed, but unfortunately I sold none of the copies I’d brought with me.  Which was a bit crushing, frankly.  Obviously I need to step up my promotional efforts.

My final programme item was to moderate the small press panel at 4pm.   I had done some homework on this, and I already knew I had a fantastic panel.  Cheryl Morgan, who runs Wizards Tower press.  Chrissey Harrison, independent film maker and small press publisher.  Jonathan Wright, journalist and editor.  David R Rodger, self published science fiction writer.  I think we gave the topic a good airing, all my panel members engaged in the conversation and we had a reasonable number of people in the audience.  And to be honest, I quite enjoyed moderating.  I think I’d like to do it again some time.

With my commitments over with I sat back to enjoy a couple more panels, venturing into the larger programme room for the ‘Beyond Arthur’ panel, moderated by Gaie Sebold, and then the panel saying farewell to Iain Banks, moderated by Cheryl Morgan.

And then it was back to the bar, to see out the day with more chat, more food and more wine, and to relax before our train home Sunday morning.

BristolCon is a small local Con, running for a day to be deliberately attractive to people in South West England who can attend without having to book hotel accommodation.  Although small I found it a very well run and friendly Con, especially welcoming to small press and self published writers.

Next year’s Con has been set for 18 October 2014 in the same great location.  I am intending to come back next year.

If you can get to Bristol I thoroughly recommend this Con.  It’s a fantastic experience.

My Life in Books: Dune

I went through a science fiction phase in my teenage years,triggered by my obsession with Star Wars.  When I picked up Frank Herbert’s classic, I think I was 15 – the same age as the hero, Paul Atreides.  Which was probably one of the reasons I liked it so much.

My immediate impression is that the world building was overwhelmingly complex, but impressive.  I enjoyed the book and got to the end, and began to work through the series.  I think I got as far as GOD EMPEROR OF DUNE before it all got way too complex and I gave up.

The cover featured here was on the book that I read, but I had trouble finding it.  There have been many editions of it published since then.  There also seems to be a vast number of additional books in the series published since I gave up on it.  I have never met anyone that stuck with the whole series – most people who started reading this series appear to give up with the same book I did, or on CHILDREN OF DUNE, which I think was the one before.

The first film of the book, with Kyle MacLaughlin, came out not long after I read it, and when I went to see it, I was rather glad I’d read the book first – as a teen, I felt the film would be pretty incomprehensible to anyone not familiar with Frank Herbert’s universe.  I did quite like Kyle MacLaughlin’s portrayal of Paul, though (he was too old to play a 15-year-old, but since he had to age several years in the course of the film, I was prepared to overlook that), and I thought the Baron – the Floating Fat Man – was suitably disgusting.

I think this book is one of those timeless classics, that should be read by anyone with even a passing interest in science fiction, no matter how old or young they are.

My Life In Books: Han Solo’s Revenge

My first viewing of ‘Star Wars’ – a few weeks before my 13th birthday – led to an obsession with all things Star Wars-related for years.

Nowadays, the number of novels set in the Star Wars universe fill an entire book case, but back in the early 80s, all we had was the novelisations of the three films, and a trilogy of novels by Brian Daley about Han Solo. I happened upon HAN SOLO’S REVENGE in the book shop one day. It is actually the second novel in the trilogy, but it was the only one in stock at the time, so I read it first.

Set a few years before Han Solo has that fateful encounter with Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Mos Eisley cantina, all three of these books relay Han and Chewie having adventures in a long-neglected corner of the galaxy called The Corporate Sector.

Han Solo was the only Bad Boy I ever had a thing for – and even at the age I was, I though going out with someone like him would only lead to trouble. At 14, I preferred Luke Skywalker, who I thought was much more suitable boyfriend material. Ultimately, Han was never really very ‘bad’, at least in these books, which were clearly written as Young Adult books, even though the genre wasn’t really defined as such at the time. Han Solo is always described as devil-may-care smuggler and pirate, and he was a single man with a healthy interest in women. And yet there’s no sex and no bad language in these books. Nowadays, I think books for teenagers are far more risque.

Still, as a teenager I adored these books, and I still have the original dog-eared and yellowed 1980s paperbacks. The illustration here is the original cover. I always had a beef with this cover. Han Solo is not left handed.

These books are now are now joined on my book shelves by a great deal more Star Wars books. I keep them stacked in chronological order – the order in which they occur in the Star Wars timeline, not the order in which they were written. That’s an important distinction.

My Star Wars obsession has faded someone over the years, but these three Han Solo books – HAN SOLO AT STARS’ END, HAN SOLO’S REVENGE and HAN SOLO AND THE LOST LEGACY, to put them in their correct order – remain amongst the books I have read the most.

And I can probably still recite the original 1977 Star Wars film, word for word, from beginning to end. Should I ever feel inclined to do so…

What’s In A Name?

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Juliet says to Romeo, arguing against the notion that he has the name of a rival family.

I have to disagree with her on this point. Names are important. It’s why I still insist on being Ms Townsend, even after getting married, and why I don’t write under a pseudonym. I’ve been Sara Jayne Townsend for 42 years, and I’m not about to change now. I’ve played about with hyphenating the two names, and had a very brief spell, aged about 13, when I decided I preferred ‘Sarah’ to ‘Sara’. But ultimately this is my name, and it might not be very special or significant, at least to anyone else, but it’s mine, and it’s part of what makes me who I am.  With a different name, I’d feel like a different person.

The same can be said for character names. They must be chosen very carefully. I’m writing in the ‘real’ world, on the whole, so perhaps have an easier job than SF and fantasy writers, who have to make up names. But even so, much thought goes into character names. It’s why a book of baby names lives on my shelf of writing reference books, in spite of the fact I am well known as a person with no interest whatsoever in having children.

Sometimes characters seem to name themselves, but the names that attach themselves to the characters conjure up connotations and aspects of how that character is developing in my mind. The young protagonist of SUFFER THE CHILDREN, Leanne, seemed to name herself without a great deal of thought from me. It’s a name that to me conjures up connotations of a tough but vulnerable person. It’s a fairly modern name, so it suited a young person. The character Carrie, on the other hand, I purposefully named after a Stephen King novel, because I wanted to pay homage to a writer who has provided a great deal of inspiration to me for most of my writing life.

As for naming the boys, I have to say that when I write men – and I am of the opinion I’m not terribly good at writing men – I do tend to write about my ideal men, as I’m sure a lot of writers do. However, my concept of the ideal man is sensitive, intelligent, introverted and geeky, which pretty much describes Simon in SUFFER THE CHILDREN. The aggressive Alpha male is not a turn on for me. Give me a geek any day.

My first two serious adolescent crushes – the kind when you start writing their names in hearts all over the cover of your school exercise books – were, firstly Mark Hamill (I first saw Star Wars a month before my 13th birthday, and it was a revelation – up until then boys had largely been an alien species for me), and shortly afterwards, Simon Le Bon, when I first got into Duran Duran. So the names Simon and Mark have, to me, always suggested desirable men. No real surprise, then, that the hero of my first published novel is called Simon, and the hero of my current WIP horror novel is called Mark.

It’s difficult, though, with names, especially when you’re going with real-life ones, because sometimes people you know make the assumption that if you use their name in a book, you are basing the character on them. The horror WIP has characters called Helen, Mark and David. There are people with these names in the T Party, but I can say, in all honesty, that none of my characters are based on anyone in the writing group. If I do base characters on people in real life, I don’t give them the same name as the real life person. For instance, the character of Jonathan in DEATH SCENE is based on a real person. But that person’s name isn’t Jonathan. And that’s all I’m prepared to say on that subject.

Where do you get inspiration from for your character names?

Happy December

Well, it’s December. Which means I can no longer put off attempting to get into a festive frame of mind. It’s time to buy Xmas presents, do my Xmas card list, and venture into the attic to retrieve the tree and decorations.

Two years ago I did a blog post on why I don’t like the festive season. This Scrooge-like view is shared by many of my friends, but I have to say it seems to completely baffle my family. “You used to love Christmas”, my sister said to me recently. Yes, I did, when I was a kid and it was all about getting presents.

However, in an attempt to redress the balance – and to a certain degree bow to the inevitable and try to let in some festive cheer – I have decided this year to do a post on what I do like about the festive season.

Starbucks Gingerbread Latte:
I don’t drink coffee. The only coffee I like is Starbucks soya lattes – and most coffee drinkers say that Starbucks coffee doesn’t actually taste like coffee, which is probably why I like it. But I do love gingerbread, and Starbucks gingerbread lattes are one of the best things about this time of year.  Along with my customary stem ginger muffin, the gingerbread lattes have become part of the breakfast treat that accompanies my early-morning writing sessions.

I love marzipan. When I was a kid I waited anxiously for my mother to decorate the Christmas cake. My sister and I would both get a lump of marzipan each to eat on its own. I would roll mine out like Play Dough and nibble it, in an attempt to make it last as long as possible.

When the Christmas cake has been cut and handed around, I’ll still go for one of the corner pieces that has more icing sugar and marzipan than cake. Because in fact I prefer the marzipan to the cake.

Ten Days Off Work:
Because I work for an organisation that closes down for the season, we knock off at noon on the last working day before 25 December, with a couple of glasses of champagne, and that’s it for us until the first working day of January. This generally amounts to ten (sometimes eleven) days of not having to crawl out of bed at 6am and trek through the cold and the dark to get to work. Ah, bliss.

The Wizard of Oz:
When I was a kid, cable TV had not been invented. Never mind DVDs, we didn’t even have video players in those days. Throughout most of the 1970s, “The Wizard of Oz” was on TV on Christmas Day. It was never on any other time of year, and there was no other way of watching it back then.

Hubby also fondly remembers looking forward to watching “The Wizard of Oz” at Christmas as a child.  So much so that we now have it on Blue Ray DVD, and we make a point of sitting down to watch it together, at some point over the holidays.

Yes, I still like presents. I think everyone likes getting presents, even though we’re not supposed to admit it.

As a kid, I hated getting clothes – I thought they were boring presents. I preferred getting toys. Not much has changed, actually. I still like ‘toys’ – preferably those with a Star Wars or Buffy theme – and get more excited about these kinds of gifts than I do about scarves or make-up kits or any of the other things that girls are supposed like.

Having a valid excuse to eat and drink too much:
Whatever one’s religious beliefs, this time of year is a time for feasting. That means being able to forget the diet, and gorge on chocolate and all things fattening. Especially mince pies.  I love mince pies.

It’s also an excuse to drink lots of alcohol with all your friends, and nobody frowns on you if you start the year with a killer hangover, because that means you had a good time on New Years’ Eve.

It hasn’t escaped my notice that most of the above points involve food. It’s time to eat, drink and be merry. I shall do my best to be cheerful as 25 December rapidly approaches.  I think I’ll have another mince pie…

Why I Don’t Read Fantasy

(Cross-posted from the WriteClub blog)

When I was a little girl, boys were an alien species, to be avoided at all costs. I didn’t understand them, I didn’t want to talk to them, and I certainly didn’t want to read about them. Hence, I tended to gravitate towards books that had female protagonists. If there were boys in the book as well, I would put up with it, but there had to be a girl in there I could identify and empathise with.

When I hit puberty, boys became marginally more interesting, but when I was in high school, all the boys seemed horrendously immature and shallow. Needless to say I didn’t date much. No surprise that I completely identified with the girl in LABYRINTH (who was also called Sarah), who didn’t go out on dates, spent all her time immersed in a fantasy world and who was burdened with babysitting a baby half-sibling she found a trial.

Anyway, I digress. The point here is that I only wanted to read stories about girls. When I was young I wanted stories about girls who were isolated; different; alone. When I grew out of the angsty teenage phase I wanted to read books about independent-minded, intelligent, courageous women who could hold their own in the world of men.

When I developed my obsession with STAR WARS, in my early teens, I had a brief flirtation with reading science fiction. Most of it didn’t really grab me – there was a distinct lack of decent female characters. And this, when we come down to it, is the reason why I’ve never read fantasy. There are a lot of fantasy films I’ve seen and enjoyed (the aforementioned LABYRINTH being one – THE PRINCESS BRIDE is another one of my favourites). But I’ve never got into reading the genre. When I went through my sf phase I picked up a shabby copy of THE SWORD OF SHANNARA at a second hand book shop. I thought it was so dreadful, I never finished it – even at age 14, when my reading tastes were a lot less sophisticated. In retrospect, this is probably another reason why I never felt the urge to pick up another fantasy book.

Admittedly, the genre has come a long way since the 1980s. The stories are not full of insipid, two-dimensional women these days. There are a lot of female fantasy writers who I am reliably informed write books about strong-willed, intelligent women who know their own mind and are looking for more than just a handsome man to marry. But I have never read any of these books. My own prejudices are hard to shake. Plenty of people have said to me, about a particular fantasy author, “you’ll like her books, they have a strong female protagonist.” But as well as strong women, I like books filled with mystery and suspense, and most importantly, at least one gruesome death. Browsing in the book shops I always gravitate back to the crime and horror sections, even if my intention is to go to the fantasy section. I still go back to those books with the moody black covers and blood spatters. I’m comfortable with routine. That’s why I always go back to the violence in the end.

Geek Toys

This cuddly Chewbacca, to the left of this picture, is my latest geek toy, found in HMV on a recent shopping trip. I think he’s adorable. And if you press his belly, he makes Chewie growls.

I thought I would put him on the shelf to keep Gizmo the Mogwai company. Gizmo (from ‘Gremlins’) is cool, too. Switch him on and he sings and sways about. But he does require batteries, so I don’t keep him switched on all the time.

I have a growing collection of ‘geek toys’. Most of them share shelf space with the books, but that’s only because we don’t have shelves in our house that aren’t crammed with books. Gizmo and Chewbacca are cohabiting with the science fiction section, as you can see.

I’ve always been a sucker for dolls and soft toys, though I find as an adult I’m gravitating more towards toys with a ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Buffy’ theme. I have a 12″ high Buffy doll, and one of ‘Evil Willow’ that I am rather fond of.

Who says you have to be a grown-up when you become an adult? Another definition of ‘geek’, I think, is someone who spends more money on toys as an adult than they ever did as a child…

Why Vampires Make Bad Boyfriends

(Crossed-posted from the WriteClub blog)

Writers of any genre involving paranormal creatures are united in their fondness for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. And sooner or later, amongst Buffy fans (at least the female ones), the question invariably arises: which of Buffy’s boyfriends is best?

Fans of Spike and Angel seem fairly evenly divided. I, however, have always gone for Riley. Yes, I know, he’s usually considered boring. I rather like ‘boring’. Riley was solid, dependable, reliable, trustworthy (well most of the time, anyway). And he had a healthy respect for independent-minded women. And, most importantly, he was human.

I do understand what the whole ‘sexy vampire’ thing is all about. Vampires are the ultimate Bad Boys, and a lot of women are attracted to bad boys. For some reason, I never have been. The only ‘bad boy’ I ever had a thing for was Han Solo, and when I wrote my Star Wars fan fiction, at age 14, the alter ego I created to put myself in the Star Wars universe was Han Solo’s half sister – even at that age, I had worked out that dating someone like him would lead to trouble.

But let’s look at why vampires make bad boyfriends. First of all, there’s the whole ‘immortality’ thing. If you want someone to grow old with, don’t choose a vampire because they don’t. He’s still going to be looking young and sexy when you’re old and wrinkly and drawing your pension.

Then there’s the issue of not being able to go out in sunlight. You won’t be able to go on beach holidays with your beloved. Or for picnics in the park. Or anywhere, in fact, that requires going out in daylight. That’s going to be problematic in any relationship.

Another thing that occurs to me is that actually, it shouldn’t technically be possible for a vampire – a male one, anyway – to have sex. Vampires don’t have heart beats, and without a beating heart the blood does not flow through the body, and…well, let’s just point out that blood flow is a key factor in being able to have sex, at least for men. But OK, vampires aren’t real, we are talking fantasy, and the act of sucking blood has been equated with sex since Bram Stoker wrote “Dracula”. So I am prepared to suspend my belief for this one, at least.

But ultimately, human/vampire relationships are doomed to failure, and even Buffy realised this in the end – it’s why she accepted her relationship with Angel was over.

Maybe I’m far too sensible for my own good, and that’s why I’ve never gone for the ‘bad boy’ idea. But I’m happy to let all the other Buffy girls fight over Angel and Spike. I’ll take Riley. I prefer ‘boring and dependable’ over ‘exciting and dangerous’ even when it comes to fantasy men.

I accept I’m in the minority here. Maybe I’m just weird. I’ll take a geek over a bad boy any day. In the long term, they’ll cause less heartache.

London Film & Comic Con 2010

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I spent this past weekend at Earls Court at the London Film & Comic Con, camped out at the Mystery Women stand.

Me and Dalek

Since we did a similar event in November, we at least knew what to expect. The 10,000+ people that turn up at these events are not usually readers of crime fiction – they are autograph collectors and sci fi geeks. However, a chance at being able to interact with so many potential punters is not to be turned down.

As well as myself, we had Cassandra Clark, Mary Andrea Clarke, Leigh Russell and Linda Regan. Linda is usually recognised at these events because of her acting work, and she brings along her hubby, Brian Murphy, who is kept just as busy signing pictures for people who recognise him from “Last of the Summer Wine” and “George and Mildred”.

Mystery Women with 'Mario'

When I went to Collectormania in November, my e-book wasn’t out. Now that it is, I made up some of the CDs with the e-book to sell, and a stack of my SUFFER THE CHILDREN promotional postcards.

We had about four tables, near the back of the hall. On the next stand over was Robert Rankin, who of course has sold a lot more books than any of us. However, our stand was right next to the Star Wars section which made me happy – it’s the 30th anniversary of the release of “The Empire Strikes Back” and there was a lot of Star Wars-related stuff going on. A group of Star Wars fans were kitted out in fab costumes, collecting money for Great Ormond Street Hospital. Right next to our table we had the Mandalorian Mercenaries stand, and the ‘astromech technicians’ stand, where two full-size remote control R2-D2s began their walkabout. We also had a variety of storm troopers wandering around, and an imposing Darth Vader, striding about with his long black cloak billowing. In fact, it was billowing so much that every time he strode past he knocked some of my cards off the corner of the table. But I wasn’t about to confront Darth Vader.

Collective noun for Mandalorian Mercenaries?

In between us and the toilets, were all the stars of the Star Wars films who were giving out autographs. I had to walk right past David Prowse and Kenny Baker every time I needed to use the ladies. Well, I was happy – I am a sad Star Wars geek.

Like last time, we had fun admiring all the wonderful costumes, and trying to work out who everyone was dressed up as. I can identify most sci fi characters, but I don’t read comic books, so I’m not so good with the super heroes (apart from the obvious ones like Spider Man and Bat Man). And there was a contingent of black-clad teenagers who I suspect were dressed as characters from Twilight, but I’m not a fan so couldn’t say. They might just have been moody teenagers in their ordinary attire for all I know.

Me with storm troopers

On Saturday, I sold one copy of my e-book on CD, and that was to a friend of mine who had turned up at the Con and wanted to show support. I gave out a lot of cards, though, so felt the publicity was worth while.

Linda Regan chats to the Invisible Man

Sunday was a much more interesting day. I was expecting the Con to be quieter. It wasn’t. In fact, people seemed more inclined to spend money. Most of the attendees seemed to be there both days, so either they spent Saturday browsing and then came on Sunday having decided what to spend their money on, or by Sunday they were firmly entrenched in ‘spend’ mode and parted with their cash far more easily.

Mary Andrea Clarke with Jedi

Whatever the reason, it was good news for me. I sold five CDs on Sunday, and most were to real punters (as opposed to friends). Which means my sales over the weekend alone amounted to the total sales of the last two months put together.

No matter that I had to get up early and trek across London on Saturday and Sunday, and then go back to work on Monday feeling like I really haven’t had a weekend. This is the sacrifice that must be made, and the sales clearly demonstrated that it was worth my while.