Spooky Music / Patrios / Tricky Translation

HIDDEN RITUALS

At the same time as I sent the rough draft of THE PATRIOS NETWORK to my beta readers (see last newsletter) I also coincidentally found myself with a week of downtime between videogame jobs. For the first time in a long time I suddenly had seven whole days with no deadlines, nobody waiting on work from me, and nothing to do.

Naturally, I recorded a new album.

It’s called RITUALIS OBSCURA, made especially for Halloween/Samhain/All Saints’ Eve/call it what you will. Filled with undead drones, haunted pianos, funeral bells, and cursed whispers, it’s the perfect accompaniment to your spooky ceremonies… 💀

The working album title was Reflections, which explains the track names and sonic variety. The centrepiece is IN THE PEARL OF FORGOTTEN BONES, a 15-minute ‘moonlit drum ritual’.

RITUALIS OBSCURA is musically my darkest album yet, consistently gloomy and sombre, but somehow also my most varied. While every SILENCAEON release is different, normally they’re stylistically internally similar. This one, less so… apart from all the ghosts 👻

PATRIOS IN AGENTIS

Speaking of THE PATRIOS NETWORK, I finished revisions to it last week and turned the first draft in to my agent.

In a weird coincidence it’s almost exactly the same length as THE EXPHORIA CODE. Like, within 750 words. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen before without planning, it’s very bizarre. (THE TEMPUS PROJECT was about 10,000 words shorter.)

Anyway, the good news is that feedback from my beta readers was positive across the board, which once again demonstrates what I often say about being completely unable to judge our own work when we’re in the thick of it, and why it’s therefore important to just keep writing and ignore one’s inner critic. If you’d asked my opinion of PATRIOS at the time I finished that beta draft, I’d have told you it’s a disaster and I should be ashamed to put my name on it.

Now I know that’s not true at all 😂 But at that stage of writing, after the months of slog and emotional rollercoaster rides, all we can see of our own work is the flaws; the paths not taken; the pieces that didn’t come together. Until we step back, take some time away, and listen to what others see in it we simply don’t see the parts that do work; the pieces that did come together.

That’s not to say my readers had no notes – quite the opposite! – but I’m feeling a lot better about this book than I did two months ago, believe me.

(Upon reflection I suspect my state of mind may also have been affected by the subject matter: neofascists, militia groups, digital fakery, xenophobia, and online hatred spilling out into the real world. Hardly uplifting material to live with for eight months.)

ANCILLARY PRONOUNS

‘Translating Gender: Ancillary Justice in Five Languages’

Not a new article, but I only recently saw it: Alex Dally MacFarlane talks to five translators of Ann Leckie’s multi-award-winning novel ANCILLARY JUSTICE – in which the dominant society uses the pronoun “she” for all genders – about how they dealt with the issue in their own languages, some of which use grammar that literally cannot be separated from gender.

It’s a fascinating piece, especially for English speakers who simply don’t have to deal with any of this:

http://interfictions.com/translating-gender-ancillary-justice-in-five-languages-alex-dally-macfarlane/

ME, AGAIN

Next Friday I’m appearing at the NG21 Nordic Games Conference for a ‘fireside chat’ style interview to talk about writing RESIDENT EVIL VILLAGE and other games. It’ll be streamed online for conference attendees: https://nordicgame.com/first-ng21-autumn-speakers-revealed/

I also recently recorded an interview for the ALCS podcast Authors’ Matters, talking to Caroline Sanderson (Associate Editor of The Bookseller) about THE ORGANISED WRITER. We had a few technical hitches, but the interview itself came out well and it should be available soon: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/writing-matters-by-alcs/id1480672631

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Patrios in Beta / China Orbital / Daggers

Patrios in Beta

No, not a liturgy, but a milestone; THE PATRIOS NETWORK, the next Brigitte Sharp novel, has now gone out to my beta readers. 

You may recall I started writing it on February 1 – I finished the zero draft (which is my full-of-holes-and-notes version, not fit to be read by anyone) on August 1, and finished cleaning it up into a rough draft for my beta readers on September 1. Whether this is down to amazing coincidences of timing, or simply the spectre of deadlines, is open to debate 🤔

Why has this one taken me so long to write? Well, it’s not actually that long – from start to finished draft in seven months isn’t bad going for a full-length novel anyway, and when you consider that I’ve also been running the writers’ room for a videogame during that time, and thus only been able to spend half of each week on the novel… I’m pretty happy with that speed, to be honest. 

It also demonstrates the benefit of sticking to a daily word count; every day I was working on the book I wrote a minimum of 1500 words. The final word count of the zero draft was 118,000, which works out to 79 days of writing. I happen to know there were some days where I wrote more than my quota, so let’s call it 70 days of actual work. Like I said, I’m pretty happy with that.

(The beta reader draft, as you can see, is a few thousand shorter. The version that will go to my agent and editor after revisions might be shorter still, though that’s never guaranteed as it depends on what exactly needs rewriting…)

Anyway, it’s been a while, so here’s the blurb to remind you what this one’s about:

In The Patrios Network, MI6 cyber-analyst Brigitte Sharp faces her toughest and most puzzling challenge yet. A ‘deepfake’ video of an American politician calling for race war in Europe leads to violent clashes and a growing militia threat on the continent, while Bridge pursues a traitor to Paris with fatal consequences. What do online conspiracy theories, sudden power blackouts, and a Moscow grudge have in common? A night of blood threatens to explode, and Bridge must decipher the network’s dark agenda before time runs out…

Publication is currently scheduled for May 2022.

China Wants to Build a Huge Orbital Solar Power Station in Space

https://interestingengineering.com/china-wants-a-huge-orbital-solar-power-station-in-space

Shades of THE FUSE, the sci-fi graphic novel series I co-created with Justin Greenwood – China plans to test a new solar power technology that could use microwave beams to transmit collected energy from an orbiting platform. 

That solar collection is more efficient in orbit than on-planet, with all its messy atmosphere and whatnot, isn’t news. The tricky part of this question has always been about getting that energy back down to earth. In THE FUSE’s history, the platform’s early days used shuttles to literally transport huge charged-up batteries to the surface, then later developed microwave transmission (leading to the shuttle bays becoming barely-used relics… which was a plot point, natch). Looks like we’re going straight to microwaves if it does happen, though.

(But something tells me the Chinese facility won’t be five kilometres long, home to half a million people, and have its own police force…)

CWA Daggers 2021

Once again, I produced and directed an online version of the Crime Writers’ Association’s Daggers award ceremony. It was hard work, but a lot of fun, and having done it already in 2020 certainly meant this year was less stressful…

Or it would have been if my main computer hadn’t decided to suddenly melt down two days (!) before the event. Cue forty-eight frantic and sleepless hours of troubleshooting, finally figuring out what was wrong, and wrestling it back to life. I literally got it working just a few hours before the Daggers, and wound up running the entire ceremony – including the pre-recorded VT – off a Mac with just 8GB of RAM. Not recommended!

This is where I get stern with you all: MAKE SEVERAL REGULAR BACKUPS. This is a more or less brand new computer, bought late 2020 and worth several thousand pounds, and it still went belly-up. Without my local Time Machine backup I couldn’t have run the Daggers at all. Without my full Backblaze cloud backup, I couldn’t have subsequently restored my entire work data a few days later. You just never know. MAKE SEVERAL REGULAR BACKUPS.

Anyway, that aside 😅 You can watch the Daggers ceremony on the CWA’s YouTube channel:

Don’t Shoot

Ho ho, the puns just keep coming with this one. DON’T, the indie film directed by my friend Iain Lowson (and which I’m exec producing) is shooting principal photography in England this month. 

Monotone. Dull. Normal. Evelyn's existence is all of these things and nothing more – until she becomes aware of a humming noise. It starts to dominate her otherwise normal life. Driven to distraction, she hunts frantically for the source…

Because of the nature of this film – it contains only a single line of dialogue! – a lot of work will be done in post-production. But the shoot should be a lot of fun, too.

(No idea on a release date or festival appearances, yet. I’ll let you all know, of course)

Want to know the future? Ask a novelist

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2021/jun/26/project-cassandra-plan-to-use-novels-to-predict-next-war

Finally, a story in the Guardian about military initiatives to assemble groups of novelists and futurist writers to predict crises and flashpoints. This actually isn’t new, or even especially rare: it’s been going on for years all over the world. But of course it’s rarely discussed in public.


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Resident Evil Village / CWA / Shang-Chi

Welcome to the Village

Today sees the release of RESIDENT EVIL VILLAGE, the eighth instalment in the blockbuster games franchise. I was the scriptwriter, and also worked with director Sato-san and the team at Capcom on breaking the story and scenario design.

(If you’d been wondering what I was doing in Osaka in 2019, finally you have your answer. Yes, this was the project I codenamed Gojira, for hopefully obvious reasons.)

VILLAGE is literally a huge game, featuring a large amount of narrative and cut scenes; over the course of development I wrote several hundred draft pages of script, not to mention thousands of words of lore, character backgrounds, and more.

I should also emphasise that I was merely part of a team; on a game like this, no one person writes literally everything. I got to do all the fun bits, though 😉

In answer to the inevitable question: no, it wasn’t me who decided one of the antagonists should be a formidable vampire giantess – though I can understand why you might think so. In fact, the marketing phenomenon that is Lady Dimitrescu was already conceived when I came on the board the project. But I did get to develop her character and write all her lines, so I’ll take a little of the internet’s adulation…

https://www.residentevil.com/village

The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu

Back when I wrote for Marvel I did a Shang-Chi miniseries, for the Spider-Island crossover event, wherein I incorporated aspects of tai chi and wuxia film to the character. It was a tiny contribution, but I’m still proud of the work, and almost a decade on I’m delighted to see the series now featuring in several “Shang-Chi comics you must read before seeing the movie” lists.

I did hope to do more with Shang-Chi – I had a pitch for an ongoing series, reviving his occasional role as an MI6 agent, all but approved – but for various (non-creative) reasons Marvel shelved a bunch of planned new books and, alas, that was one of them. I doubt I’ll ever return to the character now, but I’ll be one of the first in line to see this movie.

Associating with Crime Writers

I am delighted – and, frankly, still somewhat baffled – to report that I was recently elected joint vice chair of the Crime Writers’ Association. I was already a board member, and I’ve managed the CWA’s social media since 2019, but still. Bit of a whirlwind.

Like so many institutions of its kind, the CWA has had to evolve and modernise a lot in recent years. I’m proud to have already contributed to that modernisation, and now I’m looking forward to helping it continue to move forward into the future.

https://thecwa.co.uk

Patrios Progress

Speaking of books ’n’ stuff, at time of writing I’m a hair over 66,000 words into THE PATRIOS NETWORK, the next Brigitte Sharp thriller. 

It’s something of a patchwork manuscript at the moment, to be honest, as I assemble all the puzzle pieces into something that makes sense – much like Bridge herself often does, come to think of it – but I’m feeling generally good about it. Sometimes, when you’re in the thick of a novel, that’s the best you can hope for.

Atomic Blonde Mondo vinyl

Would you like a double vinyl LP of the ATOMIC BLONDE soundtrack from Mondo, in lurid pink and a retropulp sleeve? Of course you would.

https://mondoshop.com/blogs/news/music-weekly-antoni-maiovvi-anta-death-waltz-originals

3 a.m. Returnal

RETURNAL was also released recently; I did some early work on this one for Housemarque, the Helsinki-based developer, focusing on concept development, lore, and backstory.

It was quite some time ago, so I honestly have no idea if anything of mine is still in the finished product! But it was fun working with Housemarque, for whom this is their first narrative-focused project, and I’m delighted that the reviews indicate they have a huge hit on their hands.

https://housemarque.com/games/returnal

A Ghost Town of Disney Castles (!)

And here’s your utter weirdness for this newsletter: the empty Turkish ghost village of Burj Al Babas, consisting of 732 mini-castles near the Black Sea, planned as a haven for the rich.

Never completed thanks to a combination of Turkey’s cratering economy and the pandemic, it’s truly one of the most bizarre sights around. I can see this becoming a Pripyat-like tourist attraction if they don’t burn it to the ground first.

https://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/haunting-photos-reveal-massive-abandoned-town-disneyesque-castles

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Progress, not perfection / Mars

Keep on Bridging

I haven’t sent one of these out since new year, so with the end of February fast approaching, I figured now’s as good a time as any. 

Part of the reason for my tardiness is simply that I haven’t had a lot to say. I began work on a big videogame last autumn, and I’m still working on it, and it’s taking up a chunk of my time… but, as is so often the way in games, and as I’ve spoken about here before, I can’t tell you what it is or who I’m working with. It’s enormously frustrating, but I’m used to it.

When I’m not working on the game, though, I’m doing something I can tell you about…

…Because at the start of this month I began writing the third Brigitte Sharp thriller, THE PATRIOS NETWORK.

In The Patrios Network, MI6 cyber-analyst Brigitte Sharp faces her toughest and most puzzling challenge yet. A ‘deepfake’ video of an American politician calling for race war in Europe leads to violent clashes and a growing militia threat on the continent, while Bridge pursues a traitor to Paris with fatal consequences. What do online conspiracy theories, sudden power blackouts, and an old Moscow grudge have in common? A night of blood threatens to explode, and Bridge must decipher the network’s dark agenda before time runs out…

And working on the book today is what prompted me to finally put something down here.

I’m a big advocate of what I call the ‘zero draft’ approach to writing. Others call it the ‘vomit draft’, or the ‘shitty first draft’, but the principle is the same: it’s easier and better to write a rough initial draft, as fast as you can, and not worry about revising it until you’ve finished.

There are many reasons for this, and I won’t go into all of them here. I’ve written and talked about it extensively, including in THE ORGANISED WRITER, and you can read a condensed summary in the For Writers section of my website.

Today was a good reminder of why I do it, though. Today I wrote a short chapter, early in the book, which frankly isn’t my best. I might even admit it’s a bit weak. It doesn’t contain much conflict, it doesn’t follow a character’s journey from desire to goal, and it only does one thing to advance the story. 

But that one thing is very, very important. So the chapter is necessary, or at least right now I’m pretty sure it is. And, in the final version, I hope it’ll be more interesting, more compelling, more engaging.

For now it just needs to exist.

When I’ve finished the whole draft, I’ll come back to it. It’s even possible I may realise what I need to do, how I can improve it, in the coming weeks while I’m writing another part of the book entirely. If that happens, I’ll jot down those thoughts as a note in the virtual margins of that chapter. What I won’t do is go back and edit the chapter there and then, because – for my way of working, at least – that’s a slippery slope, and before I know it I’ll be wasting days revising everything I’ve written so far, instead of actually making progress.

Making progress, to me, is by far the most important thing. Learning to live with subpar work in my zero draft, reassuring myself that I’ll go back to it later and make it better long before anyone else will read it, was a major step in my development as a writer and has stood me in very good stead over the years.

One of the things I love about doing my podcast Writing And Breathing is seeing how everyone’s process is different. Even those of us who work in similar ways still have wrinkles and idiosyncrasies that mean no two writers write in the same way. So I always try to be clear that my process isn’t going to work for everyone, and if you have no problem sitting down to write and making your deadlines, for heaven’s sake don’t change for the sake of it.

But if you are having trouble finishing drafts, or getting your words done every day, you might want to try this approach. Just focus on getting words down, and worry about making them *good* words later.

Mission to Mars

Just one last thing: you probably heard that NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars last week. That’s pretty amazing in and of itself. But even better, thanks to modern camera tech, we now have hi-definition video of the landing. Incredible.

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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

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