Cobley's Classic Rock and Prog Show

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

FREE Captain Winston Bulldog EBooks! UPDATED!

Added to the free Bulldog Ebooks Bonanza is BULLDOG CLIPS - with artwork by Andrew Wildman, Mike Collins, PJ Holden and many many more!!! It also features Samurai Commander Keiko Panda in her first solo adventures since her epic in The Mammoth Book of Best New Manga volume 2, Hugo the Zombie and a host of other strips. Keiko Panda is also the cover star of the first Mammoth Book of Best New Manga, where the epic Bulldog: Empire series (see below) is presented in its 63 page entirety!

Perhaps the most enduring character I ever came up with was Captain Winston Bulldog, aerial adventurer in a world of warring nations of Humans, Mammalians and Arboreans. Winston was the only Mammalian airship captain in the Aerial Defence Force of Union Britain. His adventures lasted many years, totalling 28 issues of his own magazine, then a 2 issue US format mini series. I wrote the stories, and the artist roster is a veritable who's who of the UK comics scene at the time. A couple of years ago, I collated a wide selection of Bulldog stories into 2 paperbacks. Now, until the end of September, I'm making them both available as ebooks completely for FREE. Go here to download your copies and delve into the world of Captain Winston Bulldog. I had high hopes at one time that the character would make the breakthrough into the big time, and made several attempts to relaunch as a series for children, but could never get publisher interest. I'd love Winston to make a comeback at some point, but in the meantime, here's some free comics - appropriate for all-ages!


Sunday, 25 August 2013

A Reader and A Writer - Ending and Beginning

In my day job, parents often ask me how to help their children improve their writing. My answer is simple: read. Read with them. Read to them. Encourage them to read. Anything. Read yourself. The last one often gets me funny looks, as if that's the last thing a busy adult should be doing. For me, it's the first, last and always (to semi-quote The Sisters Of Mercy - that ages me). And so it is that my summer began in earnest with plans to read at least two books a week. At the same time, my 8 year old daughter enrolled in the Summer Reading Challenge at the local library - read 6 books, get prizes; keep going get a medal (there's a ceremony and everything!); read 20 have your name on the wall as a Super Achiever. I think she's up to 12 books now, sometimes reading one in a night (having trouble sleeping in this weather anyway). As for me: well, I've managed one a week since she started the challenge. The plans are there: my pile of unread books is probably the height of the average 8 year old. Still, anyway, here are my thumbnail reviews of my summer reads:

Product DetailsThis doesn't really need much of an introduction from me. Banks's passing was very sad - I'll miss the leftie, compassionately angry voice that we had from him. The Crow Road and Espedair Street are amongst my favourite novels, the latter a wee bit of an influence on what I'm writing at the moment (just a bit as it has a fading rock star in it). So it was then that I came to The Quarry with as high expectations as anyone. In the end, this tale of a meeting of a man and his old friends as he nears the end of his life, narrated by his possibly-on-the-autistic-spectrum son, is slight but affecting. Banks's voice shines through. There's not much plot but this is a book about people and, although not one of his greatest works, is a fitting note for Iain Banks to go out on. I'll miss his words, and miss his presence in our culture. Interestingly, a friend of mine, Lucy Carter, is the lighting designer for the operatic stage version of Banks's The Wasp Factory which is coming to the Royal Opera House soon. It's a pity that Banks didn't live to see it.

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My wife gave me this as a birthday present, and it couldn't have been better chosen. On the face of it, it's science fiction but is much more about... well, that would spoil it. We have a very flawed narrator who only gradually discovers what's really happening to him. He is a journalist aboard a privately-funded spaceship sent out with a varied crew to, well, explore and see how far they can reach into space. They are set to turn back at a specific point, so it is as much a PR exercise as anything else. But of course, not everything quite goes according to plan. What Smythe does brilliantly is rattle you through a rapid sequence of events quite early on, and you begin to wonder whether he's wasted opportunities to tell a more engaging story. But then. We get to look at those events from a different perspective and everything changes. It's the best novel I've read yet this year. It's just out in paperback, so treat yourself!

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Like the rest of the universe, judging by the queues at the Ely event (see below blog entry), I read Gaiman's latest novel this summer. I'd read all the publicity, and was a little wary of over-hype. Like a lot of people, I followed Gaiman's Sandman series, and I really liked his abruptly arrested run on Miracleman, so that was my way in to his work. The Graveyard Book remains a classic of children's literature - my daughter's not quite ready for it yet, but she will be. 'Ocean...' seems more slight than it is. I'm a big fan of shorter novels, and this tells as much story as it needs to - it's about growing up, and the notion of how we remember our childhood.There's fantasy in there, and some potentially nasty stuff, but some glorious stuff too. It's sad and joyous, and worth the hype.

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I don't often plug books by people I know, but I can't resist. Dave deserves all the praise that has been heaped upon him. I described this as 'Magnus Mills for kids' on Twitter, and I still can't think of a better way of describing it. A young boy books passage on a small boat captained by a bear. Pretty soon, they get lost. Arguments, adventures and bonding ensue. It's funny, it's fast-paced, it's accompanied by Dave's brilliant illustrations, and it's actually pretty moving. There are questions left at the end, and it doesn't end in the way I expected. But it does end in the way it should. So much more than a children's book. In fact, I don't think there's any such thing. There's just books for people. And this will touch you, whether you're 8 or 48.

Now, I guess I'd better get back to that pile of unread books! 

One quick plug for myself before I go:

Product DetailsVolume 3 of The Graphic Canon is out now, which features my comic strip adaptation of Wilfred Owen's Dulce et Decorum Est, which I did for Classical Comics a few years ago. Find out more here.

And, of course, you can still get copies of my books! If you'd like a personalised signed copy of The Legend of Tom Hickathrift, look me up on the 'Contact' tab above and drop me an email.
Reviews, comments, feedback from readers always welcome!

Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct DetailsProduct DetailsSo, summer comes to an end. Back to the day job, but writing continues. Endings and beginnings. More on my next book when I have it...

Friday, 23 August 2013

Handing books out: reading at Waterstones

If there's one thing I'm good at, it's sitting down. Sitting down is always better, though, with a bit of an audience. Today's visit to King's Lynn Waterstones was great - the store is redesigned with a great new layout. Graphic novels at the front of the store! How great is that? So it was that I had a prime spot to do some readings from 'The Legend Of Tom Hickathrift' and sign some copies. It's always a great pleasure to meet parents with kids who decide to take the book home, and it's humbling. I've had a good week.

Not for the first time, I've been asked whether it's the first in a series. I don't know yet, but how's this for possible titles:
Tom Hickathrift and the Ghosts of the Smeeth
Tom Hickathrift and the Search for the Moon
Tom Hickathrift and...

Oh, but I've said too much already! :-)

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Handwaving in a Library: Meeting Kids!

Today we had a steady trickle of parents and kids into Downham Market library to hear me read about Tom Hickathrift's fight with the Ogre, Swoddy the dog's encounter with The Black Shuck, and Princess Isobel's escape from the dragon's cave. I seem to wave my hands about a lot. And I wore the same shirt as yesterday. Fashion faux pas. Next up is a similar thing again at Waterstones King's Lynn on Friday. I'm available for children's book festivals and the like. But not weddings. You'd need a disco. Or a band.

Handshake in a Cathedral: Meeting Neil Gaiman

blurry, but here he is, taking the lectern
Yesterday, I went to an event at Ely Cathedral, where Neil Gaiman gave a talk and read from The Ocean At The End Of The Lane and the forthcoming Fortunately, The Milk. I knew this would be a popular event, but couldn't possibly have predicted the queues. I tweeted a couple of photos last night - the queue snaked around town from the cathedral for at least two hours beforehand. Topping and Co, the bookshop who organised the event, were amazingly organised and must have cornered the market in copies of 'Ocean...'. There were easily upwards of 1000 people there. I was luckily 134 in the queue so didn't have to wait until the 2am that some did to get books signed. You have to admire Neil Gaiman's dedication in keeping going until, as he put it, "my hand falls off". The talk itself was good-humoured, warm and witty. As a writer who sometimes has very little faith in my abilities, it was reassuring to hear Neil's take on how none of that matters - he just writes. At one point, he answered a question about how he was perceived by others by saying he just sees himself as 'normal' and everyone else as odd. I'd go with that, and also his alternative career choice as a religion designer! I always find when meeting people you admire that less is more, so when I got to the front of the queue, Neil signed my copy of 'Ocean...' and my cherished hardback of Sandman: Endless Nights. The chapter Death And Venice is probably my single favourite Sandman story. I'll be reviewing 'Ocean...' here as part of my roundup of holiday reading later in the week. The next thing I did is either resoundingly gauche or A Nice Thing To Do. I like to think it's the latter. I gave Neil - as a thank-you - a copy of The Legend of Tom Hickathrift, seeing as the climax is set in Ely with a dragon and wolves and so forth. He must get this a lot but seemed genuinely pleased and said it was always good to meet a fellow writer, and shook my hand. There aren't many days that you can write a sentence that includes the words 'Neil Gaiman', 'handshake' and 'cathedral'. As I type this, I'm getting ready to do my own reading and signing session at Downham Market library, aiming to enthuse kids about reading and local legends, scaring them with tales of the Black Shuck and The Ogre Of The Smeeth. I don't expect to have Gaiman-like queues but I am looking forward to being on the other side of that table again, and hope I can do it with a modicum of the same good grace and humility. Thanks to Neil Gaiman for giving us his time and his words.
Dedication was 'Jason - dream!' Think I will.

Friday, 16 August 2013

August Tom Hickathrift Events

I'll be at Downham Market Library at 11am on Wednesday 21st August with Tom Hickathrift! 
I'll be giving a reading and a talk on the legend and the book, followed by a signing. I'll have copies available for purchase with me. This is an all-ages event, so please do come along whether you have kids or not! Tom says eat pie!

If you can't make that one (and even if you can), I'll also be making a return visit to Waterstones in King's Lynn at 11am on Friday 23rd August. I'll again be giving a reading and will be there to sign books and answer questions. Cor, blarst me! says Tom.