2020: Good night and good riddance

Well, everyone’s doing year-end wrap-ups, so here’s mine. What a strange year 2020 was – starting out so promising, trudging through a long slough of existential despair, and finally ending on some sort of promise again…!

In January I presented the WGGB award for best videogame writing to Jon Ingold for his work on OVER THE ALPS…

…and was lucky enough to spend much of the evening chatting with the wonderful Sandi Toksvig (sometimes it’s okay to meet your heroes!). I had two books coming out later in the year, and everything was looking rather peachy.

Until suddenly it wasn’t, and we all know the rest. But those books were still released, marking the year’s major events for me: THE TEMPUS PROJECT in May, and THE ORGANISED WRITER (for which I also narrated the audiobook) in October. That month also saw a US edition of THE EXPHORIA CODE.

The other big announcement was of course Red Planet Pictures picking up THE EXPHORIA CODE option for TV, just last month.

So, not a bad year despite everything, right? Well, no… but there was also a lot more going on under the radar, as it were.

This year I’ve actually written 1.5 spec novels (both still works in progress); two short stories, FOOD BY HAND and A DECENT COUNTRY; finished work on one videogame, consulted on another, and began work on a third; and wrote and directed CROSSOVER POINT, a short film made entirely during lockdown, starring Moisés Chiullán and Casey McKinnon.

I also outlined the third Brigitte Sharp novel; finished the draft of a card game I’ve been working on for some time (but of course can’t now easily playtest!); rewrote a bunch of the Crime Writers Association’s website content for its planned 2021 revamp; and wrote SHELTER IN PLACE, the coronavirus thriller parody.

I also launched WRITING AND BREATHING, a new podcast where I chat with other writers; composed a new SILENCAEON album, Shelter / Place, to help new at-home workers focus better; and acted in an Incomparable Radio Theater show for the first time.

Finally, I spent time doing ‘virtual pitches’ for a couple of film projects; I was elected to the CWA’s board, and helped organise the virtual Daggers award ceremony; plus I gave online Organised Writer talks, with more scheduled over the coming months.

So, somehow, I managed to stay pretty darn busy. I’ve barely left the house since March, which is depressing as all hell, but frankly that’s how I stave it off – by making things.

2021 should be calmer. There’s Brigitte book #3 to write, as well as the videogame; talks/workshops to conduct; and hopefully the EXPHORIA TV show. I have nothing else planned for the year…

But as always, let’s see how that goes by next December 😅

Meanwhile, in real life, I hope you all stay as well and healthy as you can. Take care of yourselves, and your loved ones, and here’s hoping we can all get together again in person some time soon.

Happy new year, everyone!

– Antony

Brigitte to TV / Le Carré / Free short story

Well, let’s face it; 2020 really didn’t work out the way anyone thought it would. Here’s hoping for a return to sanity in 2021. Not least because…

A Bridge to TV

Red Planet Pictures, the people behind Hustle and Death in Paradise (and founded by one of the co-creators of Life on Mars) have optioned THE EXPHORIA CODE for TV.

Red Planet is a great production house, with the experience and chops to bring Brigitte & Co to life in a way that will hopefully make readers happy. I’ll also be involved as a producer, so of course will try to help steer things along the right path. But RP presented us with a great creative pitch as part of the option process, which showed they get the book and characters, so we’re off to a good start.

Of course, something being optioned is not the same as it being made, and in the current climate there isn’t a whole lot of production going on. But here’s hoping we can get underway soon enough.

http://redplanetpictures.co.uk/red-planet-pictures-bolsters-slate-for-2021

Agent Writing in the Field

John Le Carré died last week. He was a titan of literature, and sui generis in spy fiction. 

Of course I’m a fan – what espionage author isn’t? – but more than you may even realise. THE COLDEST CITY, the graphic novel which became ATOMIC BLONDE, was an intentional homage to Le Carré’s work. 

There’s a fair amount of spy fiction in the comic form, and some of it is truly great work. But – for perfectly understandable reasons, mainly that it doesn’t make for particularly energetic artwork – little is from the bleak, grey Cold War school of tradecraft in which Le Carré wrote so deftly. THE COLDEST CITY (along with its follow-up THE COLDEST WINTER) was my attempt to do so, with the help of artists Sam Hart and Steven Perkins, who understood the desired flavour. Hell, my original draft of the back cover blurb for CC actually namechecked Le Carré, but we ultimately removed it so as not to seem like we were riding his coattails.

We were, though. Just about every espionage writer of the past half-century was.

I never met him, though I was amazed to learn he was somehow aware of me and my work. He was apparently researching his next novel even as he was taken ill. We can only hope that we all remain as vital, curious, and skilful as he while the years wear on. RIP, maestro.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-19888446

“A Decent Country” Free Online

I recently wrote a new short story, A Decent Country, and made it free to read online.

It’s a quiet sci-fi satire on our current parlous state of politics and voter apathy, with a (small) glimmer of hope on the horizon. As a no-deal Brexit thunders down the tracks towards the UK, it felt like the right time to make it available.

https://www.wattpad.com/994999267-a-decent-country

Antony on “Monocle Reads”

I appeared on the Monocle Reads podcast to talk about THE ORGANISED WRITER. It’s a fairly short segment (I could have talked for a lot longer!) but nevertheless insightful:

https://monocle.com/radio/shows/meet-the-writers/monocle-reads-84/

7 OR C?

Finally, if you’re looking for some amusement over the holidays, I was roped in to the unexpected second episode of Tony Sindelar’s bizarre (and thankfully hilarious 😂) game show 7 OR C, in which all the questions are about… well, no points for guessing that.

https://www.theincomparable.com/gameshow/145/

Happy Holidays!

2020 really has been terrible for many of us, and I hope wherever you are that you’re able to find some way to celebrate the holidays and relax a little. Fingers crossed for the coming year, and a return to something resembling normality.

— Antony

And I saw him through his disguise:

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Tempus giveaway / Bridge in America / Technology: Threat or Menace?

TEMPUS PROJECT AUDIBLE GIVEAWAY

THE TEMPUS PROJECT, the second Brigitte Sharp novel, is now out on Audible UK with narration by the excellent Lucy Brownhill.

https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/B084QGL2Z1

Audible were also kind enough to give me some freebie codes to give away. To get one, send an email to antony.johnston@gmail.com telling me BRIGITTE’S FULL NAME. The FIRST THREE people to answer correctly will get a giveaway code.

(NB this is specifically an Audible UK release. If you’re registered with Audible anywhere else, please don’t enter as it won’t work for you.)

NOT YET BREAKING

If you’re wondering why it’s been a while since the last newsletter… well, I still can’t actually tell you. I’ve been holding off in the hope of being able to share some Very Exciting News™, but I still can’t, so to hell with it.

Of course, now that I’ve actually sent this thing out it’ll probably be announced tomorrow. Hey ho.

So, what am I up to? Well.

Project Gojira, the big video game I’d been working on for a couple of years, is done and dusted. Still can’t say what it is, but you’ll find out early next year. 

In its place I’ve begun work on Project Speedfreak, which will keep me busy in game for at least a few months, and possibly a year or so depending on how things go. No idea if there’ll be a public announcement about my involvement, but suffice to say it’s a big triple-A project for which I’m leading a writing team.

Projects Bomber and Mean Machine, being movie/TV things, are in holding patterns. Will anything ever come of them? Your guess is as good as mine. C’est Hollywood, and all that.

Project Snaggletooth, a novel I wrote during lockdown earlier this year, is in the notes/revision stage. The Project Damage Case novel, meanwhile, hit a roadblock about halfway through. I need to give that some deeper thought before continuing.

I’ve completed a rough outline for Project Overkill, which is the third Brigitte Sharp thriller. Hoping to get typing away on that soon – to be frank I didn’t dare start before the US election was over, and then it turned out people couldn’t even agree on the definition of “over” for a couple of weeks…!

And while all that is going on, I’ve been delivering talks and arranging workshops around THE ORGANISED WRITER, which is lots of fun. If you’re interested in taking part in one, I’m doing two classes in the new year, for Arvon and Pen To Print. Keep an eye on those, and my Twitter feed, for more info.

I also spoke to the CWA’s London chapter about THE ORGANISED WRITER, for one of their ‘In Conversation With’ evenings, and that’s now on YouTube:

(Bonus for the nerds: the person interviewing me is none other than Bonnie MacBird, who was one of the writers of TRON! I’m hoping to get her on Writing And Breathing soon)

STATES OF EXPHORIA

The North American edition of THE EXPHORIA CODE was released last month by Pegasus Books. It was featured in The Big Thrill, the newsletter of the International Thriller Writers org, where I was interviewed:

https://www.thebigthrill.org/2020/09/up-close-antony-johnston/

There’s also a Q&A with me at Marshal Zeringue’s Writer Interviews:

https://writerinterviews.blogspot.com/2020/10/antony-johnston.html

And finally, I did an event for Brookline Booksmith with my old friend and thriller writer extraordinaire Greg Rucka about the book, Brigitte, writing, my obsession with technology, and more. It was a really good chat, and the whole event is now on YouTube:

MEANWHILE, TECHNOLOGY

As always, it’s how people use tech that makes such a big difference. So first, some bad: a pilot program to give police livestream access to Amazon’s Ring doorbell cameras.

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/11/police-will-pilot-program-live-stream-amazon-ring-cameras

(This is a good example of what my friend futurist Jamais Cascio calls the Participatory Panopticon, as we willingly partake in our own constant surveillance.)

Then, some good: using a Boston Dynamics ‘Spot’ robot dog to help monitor the still-incredibly-dangerous Chernobyl site.

https://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/robotics-hardware/boston-dynamics-spot-chernobyl

And finally, some middling, where once again reality draws ever closer to the fiction of THE EXPHORIA CODE: in a simulation demo, an AI-controlled fighter plane absolutely demolishes a veteran human pilot.

https://breakingdefense.com/2020/08/ai-slays-top-f-16-pilot-in-darpa-dogfight-simulation/

WRITING AND BREATHING

There have been quite a few episodes since last time, so I won’t clog up your inbox with all the graphics! Suffice to say the show is going strong and my guests continue to be fascinating people 😊 Such as…

THAT SURE WAS THE ’80s

Finally, I’ll leave you with this insane video by Jean-Michel Jarre, for the track ZOOLOOKOLOGIE from his excellent and unhinged album ZOOLOOK. As one friend pointed out, the only thing that could make this more ’80s would be a filofax.

INSIDE THE MORAL KIOSK:

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The Organised Writer on sale this week

Just a quick one today, to remind you all that THE ORGANISED WRITER goes on sale this week.

HOW TO STAY ON TOP OF ALL YOUR PROJECTS AND NEVER MISS A DEADLINE

The Organised Writer is the first productivity system designed for writers, by a writer.

Built upon solid, practical principles like clean mind theory and memory offloading, its purpose is to help you write more, and more easily — by allowing you to relax and forget about everything except writing when you sit down at your keyboard.

Designed and used in the real world for more than a decade by prolific bestselling author Antony Johnston, The Organised Writer is a no-nonsense guide to being more productive — and more organised! — that understands the life and needs of a working writer. It doesn't bamboozle you with lingo, ask the impossible, or saddle you with endless lists and charts.

The Organised Writer is a practical and focused approach to writing in the real world.

Available at all good stores, including the usual online places. There are buying links at the official site, http://organised-writer.com

(Yes, Americans, you can type http://organized-writer.com instead and it will take you to the same site 😉)

Overnight we even hit #1 in Amazon’s “Publishing & Books” list. That’s pretty awesome.

(pic courtesy Casey McKinnon)

Online Events

I’m also doing two ORGANISED WRITER online events over the next few weeks. Both feature Q&As, so if you want to ask me questions about the book, and hear why and how I wrote it, come along.

On October 8 I’m with the Nottingham Writers Studio:

https://www.nottinghamwritersstudio.co.uk/event/the-organised-writer-talk-qa-with-author-antony-johnston/

And on NOV 10 I’m doing a Writers & Artists masterclass (the mere fact I’m doing one of these continues to blow my mind):

https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/events/the-organised-writer

Tickets and info at the above links.

***

Hope you’re all well and safe. Have a good one.

— Antony

Organised unboxing / Bridge to America / Deepfake news

COME ON, WRITER, DO THE ORGANISATION

Behold, an unboxing:

It’s only a couple of weeks now until THE ORGANISED WRITER is published. We’ve lined up some interesting events to go along with it (all virtual, of course). Times are UK:

On Thursday 8 October at 6.30pm I’ll be talking to the Nottingham Writers’ Studio about the book, why and how I wrote it, and of course how it can help you — assuming you’re a writer!

Tickets are available here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-organised-writer-talk-qa-with-author-antony-johnston-tickets-119897822615

Then, on Tuesday 10 November @ 7pm I’ll be running a Writers & Artists Masterclass, ‘The Organised Writer & The Myth of Writer’s Block’. In that one I’ll outline some of the fundamental principles of the book that you can take away to use yourself and, yes, debunk the myth of writer’s block. No, really 😅

Tickets are available here: https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/events/the-organised-writer

I’m also doing various interviews and guest blog articles to talk about the book; follow me on Twitter for links to those as and when they happen.

BRIDGE ACROSS THE STATES (oh, and Canada)

Meanwhile, the second week of October sees publication of the North American edition of THE EXPHORIA CODE, the first Brigitte Sharp thriller. 

I know some American readers have been frustrated trying to get their hands on the Brigitte books, so now here’s the first — available in hardback or ebook, whichever you prefer (I assume there’ll be an audiobook, but have no information about it at this time).

We’ve already had some great reactions from US reviewers:

“A fast-paced and cleverly constructed story that uses many of the familiar spy-novel tropes but does so in exciting new ways... A rousing success” — Booklist

“Thrilling action scenes keep the pages turning” — Publisher’s Weekly

The Pegasus Books page has more information, and pre-order links: http://www.pegasusbooks.com/books/the-exphoria-code-9781643135274-hardcover

Obviously, I can’t hop on a plane and appear at bookstores right now. Believe me, if I could, I would. But what I can do is appear virtually. So if you’re a bookseller, librarian, member of a book club, etc… and would like me to hop on a Zoom call or similar with your reading group to talk about Bridge and The Exphoria Code, drop me a line.

One such event promises to be a lot of fun: Greg Rucka and I are set to appear for Massachusetts store Brookline Booksmith on Monday 12 October (that’s Columbus Day, which ironically is usually the day I fly home from New York Comic Con…) at 7pm EST, whereupon Greg will apparently grill me about the book. Which, if you know Greg, sounds terrifying 😅

Tickets are available here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/antony-johnston-with-greg-rucka-the-exphoria-code-tickets-120298611385

THIRTY STORIES HIGH

Project Gojira is finished at last — at least, my part in it. I still can’t tell you what it is, but the game is set for release next year, at which point you can be sure I’ll be shouting it from the rooftops.

What else have I been up to? Well, there’s already a new videogame gig in the offing, from hereon known as Project Speedfreak, for which I’m assembling a writer’s room. Very exciting.

Over the summer I wrote a new short novel, Project Snaggletooth, which is now out with my beta readers. Completely unlike anything I’ve done before, but lots of fun. 

Finishing that has allowed me to re-devote time to Project Overkill, aka the third Brigitte book — which is still causing me coronavirus-related headaches, but one way or another it’s got to be done… 

Meanwhile various film and TV projects like Bomber (film) and Mean Machine (TV) continue to rumble, but as ever, Hollywood moves incredibly slowly until suddenly it doesn’t.

…Oh, and I didn’t even mention that I’ve been roped in to help produce the Crime Writers’ Association’s Dagger Awards ceremony this year, as the whole thing is going to be virtual rather than the usual gala dinner event. Yes, a live virtual awards ceremony. What could possibly go wrong.

POWER OF THE ATOM

The Orion Project was a programme tasked with figuring out a method to propel rockets by using atomic bombs. No, you didn’t read that wrong. This is nuts:

FAKE, FAKE, DEEPER FAKE

Regular readers will recall me talking about Generative Adversarial Networks, or GANs, and the coming inevitability of ‘deepfakes’ that can be made from a tiny amount of original material but are nevertheless almost indistinguishable from the real thing. Well, consider us one step closer; this breakthrough allows almost perfect lip-synch animation using just an audio source.

And here’s a YouTube video demonstration. There are fantastic legitimate uses, of course, but brace yourselves for ‘fake news’ of alarming verisimilitude:

LIFE ON MA—WAIT, VENUS?

This one just came up this afternoon, as I write; the possibility of microbial life in Venus’ clouds. Venus has long been seen as one of the least hospitable planets in the solar system, so that would be kind of extraordinary. (I’m reminded of the incredible array of life found around ‘black smoker’ vents on the sea bed, which also seem extremely inhospitable, but life there is, and in abundance…)

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/14/science/venus-life-clouds.html

WRITING AND BREATHING

I remain extremely proud of the variety of guests I manage to persuade to let me grill them about how they write…!

  • John Gruber is the famous tech blogger behind Daring Fireball (and my first non-fiction guest)

  • CL Taylor is the bestselling author of psychological thrillers Sleep and Strangers

And there is, of course, more to come. I love making this show. It’s now been running more than six months, so I’ll take this opportunity to plug the Patreon page: if you enjoy W&B, do consider showing your support. It means a lot.

DEAD WITNESS TO AN UNSEEN FIGHT:

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