20/04/2016: Blogging Axel America

logo

Written back in April…

I’ve just laid down a chapter of Axel America, the final one, and wanted to share with you some thoughts and experiences on process. The novel’s an adaptation of my 2011-2012 comic book Hold the Phones, It’s Alex Jones. The comics were written through a series of story sessions with my best friend and longtime collaborator, Richard Barr and along the way attracted other co-conspirators: Benjamin Stone; Adam Lively; Geoffrey Wessel and Sean Duffield. We produced the comic over two ‘seasons’, and collected them behind a madly wonderful cover by Richard. Bleeding Cool covered the digital launch. That same night, Adam and I were drinking when we learned Jones had gone ballistic on Piers Morgan’s show. A Google image search for Alex Jones led with Richard’s cover for hours, and our main ebook seller, Myebook registered 15,000 previews. Sadly I later learned they were going through bankruptcy and we got nada cash. Further suckiness? Our collected comic just got too expensive to produce. (Though, the Kablam version looks great.)

Fast forward a few years. I’m writing prose shorts, about thirty to date, and gearing up for a book. I’ve a special one in mind, a favourite child if you will, but I wondered if it might be possible to ressurect Hold the Phones and put those stories out quickly as a novella. Well, there’s no such thing as a quick novella. Not a good one. I missed my own deadline by three months, but it’s happening. Richard was happy enough to let me run with what builds around the Co-Opted story he wrote, and which Adam drew. It’s about Alex nee Axel’s manipulation by a news network’s chosen Presidential candidate, and Axel’s children on the run. Adaptation can get pretty dull without new material so I crafted a Season 3 of stories that linked it all together, and introduced new characters. Axel insisted on seeing real enemies everywhere, so to give him a break and me a story, I should created a few. My own epic from the collection, ‘Global Agenda 2012,’ didn’t fit the feel of the novel, but I knew I wanted to include his fellow conspiracy theorists. Pretty soon they went from two chapter supporting characters to part of an ensemble.

Re-drafting: I’m quite happy to admit I’m good at this, but it’s laborious. In this case, it’s been the most fun I’ve had writing anything. I’ve laughed uproariously at my own jokes again and again and that’s not a bad sign. I made good time on the second novel draft, each chapter contained simply in a .txt. file. Richard saw about a third of the .doc and was keenly enthusiastic and critical. Fingers crossed, there’s a few back-lines to plant and a character to re-name as noted in my re-draft.txt. Also, two extra scenes to write because the piece needs them and Richard wants another go round, so we’re breaking those later in the week. Of the other authors from Hold the Phones, I could only bring back Sean Duffield (working on the cover), but there’s a strong sense the spirit of collaboration had something to do with how well this has turned out. Concerns? Getting it out before the November U.S. election; making a decision on publishing – once your first book is out, certain doors are closed. Overall? No disposable quickie, this book affirms why I chose to be an author. As a reader to another, you’ll love it.

Andy Luke, 20/04/2016

Gosh, that was only a month ago. I’m surprised how hard I’ve been working on it since then, and where it is now. I hope I can put out another of these this week. I’ve got news!

Too much happening lately

My new friend, Andrew Gallagher, iron grip author of 'Escape from Fermanagh'

Since last post here, the world lost John Grandidge, a dear friend off exploring the flora and fauna of the after-life, looking out posthumously from future poetry collections of those he influenced; he peeks out from between the panels of my last few years of comics, of which he was an audible fan and supporter. He was my favourite drinking buddy; he warmed my soul when it was cold and weeping. He touched a multitude of people in the same way and he did it with style and love. He told us he’d cancer a few months ago, thinking it was an upset stomach. When it claimed him, it was years ahead of what many of us thought. He was at home with friends and a cat.

I’ve written a lot about John in pro-active grieving, which might find it’s way out, but he’s glimpsed beautifully in verse by Becca Heddle. If you didn’t know him, I’m sorry for your loss.

JG, John, Leonard Rat, Grandidge, John Wood Dragon, Jackfirecat – probably not all the names.
Poet, artist, cleverclogs.
Approaching fast, long-legged stride, black coat flapping, sweeping you up with a surprising hug.
Expressive hands full of knots and angles, drawing thoughts in the air.
Skewering pretension, dissecting hypocrisy – ach, rrr – cutting through the crap.
Delighted swift turn of the head and dart of a smile aimed just at you.
Red Shift; Little, Big; Possession; Robert Graves.
Doing everything with all of him, glint in his eyes, walking moors, riverbanks, hills.
Glorious in spleen, generous with love, hating sentimentality.
Energy, spark, fire.
New conversations, not repeats – ‘No, we’ve done that one.’
Yes, Genesis, Brand X, Billy Bragg, Prince, the Stranglers.
Snakeshead fritillaries.
Notes in Elvish; gifts of poems, drawings, time, jokes, joy.
Suddenly standing, black bag to his shoulder, ‘Bye’ – and he’s gone.

Less than a week later, I’m at the hand-fasting of Margaret Dalzell and Richard Barr; Richard being my nearest and dearest. It was at the beautiful Ballygally Castle and an informal gathering of old friends. Sarah and I, no we’re not a couple, stayed at Cairnview Bed and Breakfast, with Adam, and I heartily recommend it to anyone  visiting the place, just on the coast outside Larne. Adam and Sarah looked after me above and beyond the call. Margaret was full of empathy and humour, so much so I had to laugh behind plants when she’d make jokes about people right in front of us. Richard, who hates being the centre of attention, handled it as the professional gentleman I’ve always known him to be, even taking time out to share his latest thoughts on our novel, and suggest a few web researches.

Richard and Margaret.

Oh, and they both looked wonderful.

Then to Enniskillen, which is where Sarah’s from, and the town’s first comics festival. There I met the brilliant five-man committee and after some painting polystyrene shaped rockets. I’d a lovely chat in the pub with Hunt Emerson, Laura Howell and my boyhood idol, Lew Stringer, with Hunt making us laugh with his Frank Miller cover versions. On Friday, we’d a screening of Judge Minty, introduced and summarised by Mr. Michael Carroll, very entertaining. I’d a pub chat with lovely Sue Grant, struck up a friendship with Enniskillen horror writer Andrew Gallagher and wowed at the appearance of Pieter Bell, who I’ve known over twenty years, but rarely seen outside a comic shop. “What? Is there something going on here?” he asked. “No seriously, we just came from the caravan. What’s going on?”

Photographer: Do you think you could flirt a little bit? No, not you, Kitty. I mean, Andy.

Photographer: Do you think you could flirt a little bit? No, not you, Kitty. I mean Andy.

Saturday morning was unloading of comics from the old Black Panel distro, which creators had donated to the event; then preparing to host a morning self-publishing panel featuring Jenika Ioffreda, Una Gallagher, Danny McLaughlin and Austin Flanagan. The main venue was in McArthur Hall, actually a church hall, a real part-of-a-church hall, (ie the comics fest was in a church), and the panels were in the nearby library. I set out in good time, and fell badly down several stairs. The pain was brutal. It cleared up Sunday but I have a massive ankle swelling, though can get about. The panel was small press + first event of the day = poorly attended, but we made up for it by inviting the audience to join us and make a roundtable. Those arriving early for the 2000AD panel were just a little envious on finding Una Gallagher holding court on tales of families aural tradition of storytelling.

Glenn Matchett made this video for the panel, on writing for comics.

And a few hours later, my big turn: Alan Grant and an audience with.  I’d met Sue and Alan on Thursday night, shortly after we arrived. (Sidenote: The guests came from the airport via a party bus, which had disco lights and a dancer’s pole.)  The three of us (who had not met before), were shattered, awkward small talk shared between ciggy puffs. On Friday, Alan and I kept missing one another; resting or walking or taking smoke breaks at different times.  Sue was absolutely lovely and among other things, talked about the comics festival in their home village, which I’d love to get to.

I mean, just look at that guest list.

I mean, just look at that guest list.

Moniaive Comics Festival programme: packed!

Moniaive Comics Festival programme: packed!

So, Alan and I got to chat a few hours before we were due at the library, and the rapport picked up right away. A massive relief, because I was more nervous than I knew.  On the panel, I went through half my pre-written questions on Anarky, deadlines, research, philosophy and got gratefully off-track talking about living with John Wagner, writing horror and romance. The audience were wonderful, filling up the room with questions about 2000AD’s Strontium Dog and Ace Trucking, The Bogie Man, Lobo, and afterwards a number of people came and shook my hand saying what a great job I’d done. Alan was very generous with his experience and his time – we sat twenty minutes late, and considered sitting on but I didn’t want us locked in the library.

The organisers were brilliant: Stephen Trimble gave me a bed for a night before they put me in the hotel. James Eames took us to his home where his parents treated us to coffee, biccies and chat. Chris Fawcett was funny and cool under pressure with the pub quiz; Mark Kenyon flowed between committments. Organiser Paul Trimble did a lot of heavy lifting but still found time to celebrate 30 years of his Banbridge comic shop, Thunder Road, perhaps the first in Northern Ireland. Oh, and Matthew Gault, a tiny Quentin Blake illustration of good humour and muscular intellect. And sometimes, he drinks way too much.

"But at least he doesn't snore like a chainsaw." Photo by James Eames.

“But at least he doesn’t snore like a chainsaw.” Photo by James Eames.

The event was a great success and I join with the other guests in thanking the organisers for brill treatment. A few more quick snaps.

My new friend, Andrew Gallagher, iron grip author of 'Escape from Fermanagh'

My new friend, Andrew Gallagher, iron grip author of ‘Escape from Fermanagh’

Beer Garden: Andrew Gallagher, Ryan Brown and Glenn Fabry

Beer Garden: Andrew Gallagher, Clint Langley and the debonair aristocats, Ryan Brown and Glenn Fabry

Organisers James Eames and Matthew Gault, and Aaron.

Organisers James Eames and Matthew Gault, and Aaron.

Mark Bromage, Paul Trimble, myself and Pieter Bell.

Mark Bromage, Paul Trimble, myself and Pieter Bell.

I’ve another funeral to attend on Friday, my adorable god-mother’s mother. She passed away this morning. I didn’t know her terribly well, but of course, people I love did.

I wonder if part of growing old is not that you slow down, but that life comes and goes faster and faster. If you read this far, thanks. Love with all the heart while you can.

Enniskillen Comics Fest

enniskillen comics fest

I’ve told less than ten people this month, and now I can reveal I’ll be interviewing Alan Grant, the Guest of Honour at the first Enniskillen Comics Festival. Phew! Alan, is of course, a massive influence on comics, having co-written most classic Judge Dredd stories, thirty years, about ten years on the US Batman comics. He’s the author of some of my favourites: The Bogie Man; the House of Daemon, Manix and Doomlord for Eagle. He’s written Lobo and L.E.G.I.O.N. and JLA for DC, but it’s 2000AD for which he’s best known, on Strontium Dog, Ace Trucking, Robo Hunter and Judge Anderson.

Massive, massive honour. I expected to be the last person to be called on, never having been with the Class of ’77 hardcore 2000AD fans. The organisers, gods bless their mad, mad minds, think I’m a unique choice. Well, you could say that. I’m giving this my best and hope to do Alan and yourselves proud.

Closer to my comfort zone is the self-publishing panel I’ve been asked to host. I’ve been on ten of these and hosted a few. This time I’m putting together something with a lot of pizzazz and I’d really like attendees to put their heads through the door. I’m pleased to announce those joining me are Una Gallagher (Two Lives, Faust, Something in the Tae), Austin Flanagan (The Revenants), Jenika Ioffreda (Vampire Freestyle, Midnight Tea), Danny McLaughlin (Zombies Hi, Andrew’s Comic, Revolve Comics.) and…oh, I couldn’t possibly say. We’ll be talking about more than the boring copy-shop slog, we’ll be talking character and story, ghouls and tea. Please come by.

The Enniskillen Comics Fest is the first such event in the town. It’s a free event with an all-ages focus and a wise choice by the Arts Council funding body. It’s on May 6th-7th, at the McArthur Hall, Wesley Street, and Enniskillen Library on Halls Lane, just five minutes walk. Just look at who they’ve got:

All that linkage! No biggie, I had all the info to hand for posting to their Twitter account, which you can search for. My friends at The Comic City podcast are doing a feature on the Fest in the next few days so keep an eye out for that, or visit the #EknComicFest Facebook page for more details.

Friday

Map

Saturday

Alphasmart: Built-to-last writer’s tool

IMG_20160405_115926

IMG_20160405_115926

I get a lot of questions about it, questions I asked a NaNoWrimo author, my tongue hanging out of my mouth like an idiot who forgets what fairgrounds are like. These computers are popular with the NaNoWrimo lot. You see, Alphasmarts are portable lightweight word processors, with fantastic battery life. They’re cheap and dependable, with documents auto-saving, (as you type), and superb functionality for restoring files that have gone skewhiffy. There’s no internet capability (except on the Dana model), which means no disappearing into Wikipedia or bigger holes. You can just write. Storage wise, the Neo and Neo2 (the ones I’d recommend), hold a good size novel across eight files. They’re also durable. I stepped on one, cracked it side to screen, and it continues to work a treat. (Right Alex?)
Transfer takes place via a USB cable, slower than a stick or card, but charming in it’s own way when you hit the send button and watch the text cross to the desktop document, scrolling quickly as if typed by a highly trained phantom. It’s both Mac and PC compatible, and you can also connect straight to a printer, if that’s your bag. It’s not particularly good for editing, as you can view only six lines at a time, but for travelling and noting it’s perfick. The keys are high, inspiring those who came up on typewriters to really let loose without worrying about the sensitivities of say, a laptop.
The earlier models I’ve owned, the 2000 and 3000 do the job and no more. The 2000 doesn’t, if I recall, have cut/copy/paste. I’ve not owned a Dana, which will talk to a Palm OS. I’ve currently got a Neo and a Neo 2, both of which come with find/search/replace, limited spell-check and dictionaries, along with mini applets: a calculator; a typing tutor. There’s a mains supply but I’ve never used it for the three AA batteries last about six months under daily use. Should it go kappoof, any story I have in there will return when the powers back on.

The backside: easy instructions!

The backside: easy instructions!

Initially Alphasmarts were a schools resource for students with dyslexia and other issues. Sadly, the line was discontinued in 2013. For a while, the manufacturers are selling kits of spares, bags and the infra red receivers at discount. The essential USB leads seem much easier to lay a hand on, and I got one new there for £6. As for the computers themselves, that’s begun to get a little tricky. Buying them in the US seems easy with job lots popping up everywhere. To buy from the UK, eBay is currently the only option. The price is holding at about £45 for a Neo or Neo2 model, which usually comes with the USB lead and a bag. If you can stomach the 2000 or 3000, or just want to take them for a trial, expect to pay under £20. (My first Alphasmart was a 2000, purchased in 2014 from eBay for £2 plus a tenner postage)
It’s un-cluttered word processing in an age of apps. A hip modern equivalent featured on Kickstarter a while back, the Hemingwrite, looks to be going out at, (I guesstimate), around 」400.
Then there’s Alphasmart’s recent heir, Forte, retailing at £178. Forte does all the same things as a Neo, along with word prediction, text-to-speech and USB stick compatibility. I’d like to try one out. For now, I’m still in love with my Neo.

IMG_20160405_115401

 

Universal Journey: Magic and Multiverse

cropped-img_20160305_092046

My first commissioned work as an author went live today at http://universaljourney.org

The site explores the three Abrahamic faiths from an agnostic perspective: symbolism; history; stories; and legacies. I’ve authored sections on Saints David and George, but my star turn is an expanded piece on magic and the multiverse. It was an exciting opportunity to write about my own religious beliefs and I’m grateful I had the opportunity. (I’m not sure I did so since entering a design and content competition hosted a YA bible magazine competition in the 80s; I was listed as a runner-up) Universal Journey introduces me as, ‘ a polytheist christian.’ It’s a long time since I thought of myself as the latter, but part of being the former is that it’s all-inclusive, so why the heck not? Away you have a browse; oh but first…

Thanks everyone who’s voted Flesh Mob for Best Story over at http://orb-store.com/tense.htm and bought copies of Tense Situations into the bargain. Superb bees.

Flesh Mob – Update

IMG_20160321_173524 (1)

I made the tough decision to put novella, Axel America, to one side for a while. The notion was to have it out for Belfast Book Week, but in a nutshell, the ratio of I’d-be-a-wreck to post-production-readiness is too wobbly. I feel sure the tale will resurface somewhere. I’ve been thinking over my working habits and how it might be time to go back to shorts.

In other news, my short story ‘Flesh Mob’, is in the running for a Titania (best of anthology) prize. Here’s a pitch I found behind a box,

Corpses move and feast on the innards, and city folk cram into the Occupy Belfast building! Now 99% are assembled, will they hold their safe-haven against the rotters as the summer brings another threat from outside? Andrew Luke, author of  Absence,  Twelve  and  To End All Wars,  draws on his knowledge of the Occupy movement, abuse survivor therapy and neuro-philosophy to create an all-inclusive edutainment of chomping rotters and ways to hit them.

IMG_20160321_173524 (1)

Oh look, got paperback! That’s Art reading the anthology at Farset. We were both so excited by the story, this is the only photo where he sat still.

‘Flesh Mob’ is in Tense Situations, which you can get through lots of different book-stores around the world. A good percentage of the sale price goes to Action Cancer. For a short while you can vote for the 2016 Titania Award for best story in collection at http://orb-store.com/tense.htm so please do. More info at that link.

 Right, I’m off to see Mark Thomas at the Black Box. Have a good evening you.

It’s just a job

In some respects, writing fiction is harder when it’s a job. In between the tax and benefit forms, the business of writing guides and Yearbooks, you find the market listings: the who’s publishing what this month, and how much hummus they’re paying. I simplify writing to market by thinking of it as homework, which is okay for a while. Then again, I’m not my favourite tutor, and I’m certainly not the five of them handing out this semester’s work. So I read what they’ve wrote, and I search to see if I’ve done something they like that’s in the story bank of eighty odd tales and pomes. My first six months I kept a short-list of competition deadlines which I wanted to write for. It was harder than it seemed. Sometimes, chasing the assignment can grind everything to a halt. Often I’d write up down cul-de-sacs, or Schrodinger’s cats. It’s a challenging work, like a fierce sea, writing things for people you don’t know, to a short 1,500 word count. Sometimes it pays off. I’d been meaning to write ‘The Call’ shorts for eight years, and I think I nailed it. ‘Green Desert’ came to me brilliantly, and it’s still good, but some of the essential character got lashed out in the count down.

Lately, I’ve been very lax about this working scheme. February 29th, for example. In the morning, I attended a creative writing class where we began with a read through of a fifteen minute radio play. A delight, as the readers involved were open to the text, and laughing in all the places I hoped they would.  We looked at poems by W. H. Auden and Don Paterson, and each wrote two. The play forms part of a book I’m scribing, based on experience, and I’d arranged to interview a friend about those times early that afternoon. As luck had it, we were joined by another, and soon the three of us were laughing our sides off and spinning enough yarns to satisfy a sequel.

Next I got a few pages of the graphic novel script finished up, and packed these off to Ruairi Coleman. It’s probably called Watch Thief, and there’s rarely a tale like it. Then some proof-reading for a website I was commissioned to build. I was also hired to write some content on the subject of polytheism and the multiverse: announcement next post!

Some days are just good days, and it’s a delight to swim in those rivers. I think there’s room for two vastly different approaches to both be the right answer.