Apologies for how late this has been, but I’ve been flat out with stuff since the start of October and it’s only now that I’m resurfacing. Hurgh. Anyway, I did a review of my TV watchings of 2014 in, erm, July, so here’s 2015’s in March.
Let’s start with something I missed from 2014, Silicon Valley (HBO, Sky Atlantic). Just the funniest, geekiest programme you’ll ever see. Set in the titular Silicon Valley, it features a gang of start-up millenials, who accidentally stumble upon an app everyone wants. As someone who loves following all that geek culture and is fascinated by the way the Googles and Amazons have changed the world, it’s pretty much perfect and shows HBO can still produce brilliant shows.
One of the best binges I had last year was Six Feet Under (HBO, DVD), which was the most astonishingly good thing I’ve ever watched, I think. Set in an LA funeral home, it tells the story of the Fisher family, initially dealing with the loss of the patriarch, but expanding into rich territories. The writing and acting was pretty much perfect, setting a standard few shows have ever met. In fact, few artworks have ever met. Classic HBO.
Unlike True Detective season 2 (HBO, Sky Atlantic) which was just horrible on so many levels. A lot of words have been written about how bad it was, but I’d say it’s largely because HBO dispensed with their tried and trusted method of an Exec Producer Showrunner, i.e. lead writer, supported by a writer’s room and put too much on the shoulders of Nic Pizzolatto. Nothing worked. The world-class acting from season one was replaced by fumbling performances by Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn. The misogyny might’ve been lessened but at the expense of suspense, mystery and anything you would care for. Just terrible and an example of how not to do story and plot and character. If there’s to be a third season, I hope they let it stew for a while.
Showing how it’s done were two shows I watched on Netflix. Fargo (FX) and Better Call Saul (AMC). I was never a fan of the Fargo film, but the TV show was incredible. It had everything — comedy, action, tragedy, suspense, mystery, and excellent performances from Martin Freeman and, especially, Billy-Bob Thornton. Such incredible writing — the scene where the two henchmen argue in sign language was just, wow. And I was a huge fan of Breaking Bad. So much so that I was concerned about BCS. The first couple of episodes might’ve been a bit too cute with the BB references, but the series evolved into one of the richest and most heart-wrenching stories I’ve ever read/watched. Just sublime. [Note, I’ve watched the second season of Fargo and it’s just as good, and the second season of BCS might be even better — time will tell]
Another Netflix gem, this time a self-produced one, was Daredevil (Netflix). You’ll know that I’m an uber-geek and fell out of love with Arrow as it got blander. No such worries with DD, capturing the darkness and brutality of the comics after Frank Miller’s work, arguably perfected during Brian Michael Bendis’ run on it. The show does away with a lot of the camp of superheroism but still retains warmth and humour. It’s arguably a better crime story than superhero, but it’s still brilliantly watchable. [Note, a lot less convinced by Jessica Jones]
Other comics-related stuff is my devouring of The Walking Dead (AMC, Amazon Prime/Fox). Don’t be put off by the zombie setting, this is about people and how bad they are. There’s gore, yes, but it doesn’t really follow horror tropes, instead focusing on selfishness and alienation. There are plotting problems, mainly to do with the pace and frequency African-American characters are killed off, but it’s ludicrously compulsive watching.
Not so good was Fear The Walking Dead (AMC, AMC), which shifted the action from rural Georgia to LA and promised to show the apocalypse happening, something the parent show skipped over with Rick’s coma. Well, it did and it didn’t. Suffice to say, there must’ve been studio interference because they did the old time-jump trick just as things got interesting. Other than that, the show was okay. I didn’t really attach to any of the characters, which is the real strength of the other series.
I had a good bit of sci-fi catching up to do and watched Firefly and Stargate Universe, both of which were entertaining, if heavily flawed. Another great comedy show we watched all of was 30 Rock, Tina Fey’s seemingly autobiographical series set behind the camera on a weekly sketch show. Funny and insightful, what more can you ask for?
Terrestrial watching highlights were few and far between. British TV has got so bad that The Bridge III was the only decent thing worth watching and that was Scandinavian. Thanks for that, Tories. Everything else we tried was either scene-chewing Shakespearean tedium (focusing on the language rather than the stories) or just shit. Sorry. A decent gem was The Fall, an authentic Northern Irish serial killer drama starring Gillian Anderson, which stuttered a fair amount in the second season but was still pretty compulsive viewing.
And I’ll end on one of my highlights, The Good Wife. It must rank as a guilty pleasure, but it’s so very good. Really strongly written and tightly plotted, reflecting current events and breakthroughs. Makes you care about a firm of scumbag lawyers. Really. Unlike Damages (FX), which did the opposite — every character in it is horrible. One of the things that irk me about it is the creation of false suspense by a tedious flash-forward device — gruesome scenes are peppered in amongst some fairly low-key law-y stuff. Shows a real problem with the writing, in my opinion. Glenn Close is decent as an immoral lawyer but everyone else, meh. But watch The Good Wife. I’ve got seven eps of the final season ticking around.
And there you go.
Hope you’re all gearing up for Newtonmas, not long now.
Anyway, just to let you know SNARED was selected as one of Amazon Publishing’s top-selling books of 2015 and is on sale at £1.49 (also in the Australian deal, too). If you haven’t bought it, well now’s your chance. Linky and the deal page is here (some crackers on that list)
Oh, and in other news… I’ve signed a three-book deal with Amazon Publishing’s Thomas & Mercer imprint, home of SNARED among many others.
The deal is for the first two books in the DI Simon Fenchurch series, THE HOPE THAT KILLS and VICIOUS CYCLE, hardcore police procedurals set in that London. The east end mainly, though Islington features heavily. And it’s also for the second in the DS Vicky Dodds series, FALLEN, picking up eighteen months after SNARED. What’s happened to Vicky in that time? Well.
Tentative dates, which will be updated in due course, are THE HOPE THAT KILLS in May/June 2016, VICIOUS CYCLE in September 2016 and FALLEN in January 2017. I’ve delivered the first two books and I’m going through edits for HOPE just now. Done an outline for FALLEN, but not put finger to key yet.
Because they’re a brilliant publisher who treat authors as people and not like cattle. I love working with them. They seem to like me, too. I know a lot of other authors with the imprint and nobody has anything even vaguely negative to say. Plus, they’re one of the few publishers who know how to really sell ebooks (I’d add Bookoutoure to that small list). And I’ve loved the process of publishing and selling SNARED.
Wow! Erm, what about Cullen?
Ah, yes. That publishing schedule is aggressive as hell and shows a huge amount of support for me and my scribblings. There’s a knock-on effect for the Cullen series, which means there won’t be any new Cullen novels until next Christmas, dependent on that publishing schedule. Happily, this matches my own thoughts (as outlined in the afterword for COWBOYS). With series books, especially self-published ones, there’s a law of diminishing returns. Think of it as a funnel, wide at the start but tapering off. The Cullen books have got better as I’ve written them and improved my craft, but the sales need a bit of time to catch up. Hence why I’ve started another two series. Hence why I’ve slowed down publication of Cullen (first three were nine months apart, last two were ten). I still love/hate the bugger as much as ever, and I hope you enjoy the Fenchurch books as much as I have writing them. And, of course, Ms Dodds sophomore adventure.
Yeah, so there we are. Happy Newtonmas when it happens. I’ll probably do year-end stuff over the next few weeks.
Oh and I’m properly on Schoolbook now. Sorry, Facebook. Friend me there, or whatever it is the kids do these days.
It’s almost that time of year again when they let me out into the public…
Book Week Scotland is organised by the Scottish Book Trust and runs from the 23rd to the 29th of November and I’ll be appearing at four events that week, making up for the no other events I’ve done this year.
In East Lothian, I’ll be appearing in Haddington’s library on the Tuesday 24th at 11am (though I think this might be a closed-invite event), in Musselburgh library at 2pm on Wednesday 25th and Cockenzie House at 7.30pm on Saturday 28th. They’re all an easy drive from Edinburgh and are served by pretty good bus routes, I think.
These will be “In conversation with…” style events and I’ll be appearing with Len Wanner, author of Tartan Noir: The definitive guide to Scottish Crime Fiction (linky) and a very good friend of mine. Expect banter and humour akin to the better bits of my books. I doubt I’ll read from any books — that’s what the books are for.
Tickets are free (as in beer) and available here —
On the Thursday, I’ll be in Glasgow at the City of Glasgow College as the token self-published author where I’ll be talking digital publishing with Adrian Searle of Freight Publishing, Kyle MacRae of Blasted Heath and others. Again, free entry and details are here —
If I get my act together, I’ll even have some paperbacks to sell and sign. Happy to sign Kindles and so on, but I draw the line at most body parts.
Given I don’t have to do many events like these, contractually, this is one of the few opportunities you’ll get to see my ugly mug and speak to me. Always happy to tweet and email.
And yes, I’ve been very busy — some big news will be rolling along soon.
Hey — just a quick note from me to say Cullen 7, COWBOYS & INDIANS is out now! Sincerest thanks to everyone who has preordered it — it should be on your Kindle now, waiting for your eyes to read it. Feels good to have it out my computer and into the wide, wide world.
Some early review quotes from Goodreads —
“I have read all the books in the Scott Cullen series and I honestly think this is the best one so far.” — Adele Mitchell
“Overall, a fantastic book by one of my favorite authors … easily the best book I’ve read so far this year.” — Tam McGregor
Buy it from Amazon now.
Oh, and if you haven’t bought it, SNARED is £1.99 today only.
Q. When is your next book coming out?
Q. How do I contact you?
A. Twitter is usually best. Failing that, email me using this form — I reply to every email. Unless it goes into my spam folder, of course.
Q. I’m a publisher/magazine and I want to publish something of yours for a huge amount of money.
A. Allan Guthrie of Jenny Brown Associates is my literary agent. Contact him through their site.
Q. I’m a screenwriter/producer/director and I want to option one of your books for a huge amount of money.
A. Talk to Al.
Q. Are your books available on audio?
A. Not yet. Something on my todo list.
Q. Love your cover artist! Who is he?
A. She. My girlfriend does most of my covers. Or she tells me how to do them. If you’d like a cover, ping me an email.
Q. Who handles the ebook and print formatting for your self-published titles?
A. Me. I use Scrivener to output pretty clean Kindle files. I also use it to write my books — an awesome tool and really cheap. Takes a wee bit of getting used to but it’s really powerful. There a ton of good sites out there showing you how to use that to publish your ebooks.
Q. In what order should I read the Cullen books?
A. Ghost in the Machine, Devil in the Detail, Fire in the Blood, Dyed in the Wool, Bottleneck, Windchill and Cowboys & Indians.
Q. Will you write an eight Cullen novel?
A. Yup. I’m probably going to produce them every twelve to fifteen months or so, due to other commitments. The first three books were published eight months apart.
Q. Can I write a Cullen book on Kindle Worlds?
A. No, not yet anyway.
Q. Have any of your books been turned into film or tv?
A. Not yet.
Q. Why are your ebooks only available on Kindle?
A. A couple of reasons. I’ve got books published by Thomas & Mercer, Amazon’s publishing arm, and they don’t aggregate to competitors. For my self-published work, I tried selling on other channels, e.g. Nook/Kobo/iBooks, and nobody bought them. Amazon’s KDP gives you lots of benefits for going exclusive, and it works for me. My books are DRM-free so the files can be bought on the Kindle Store and transferred to any e-reading device using cables and stuff. Really easy, even my dad can do it.
Early last year, I realised my TV watching was sadly years behind. I’d been rubbish. I’d never seen BREAKING BAD or THE WIRE or THE SOPRANOS. I’d been far too busy writing, reading and working in all that time. So I decided to fix it. My New Year’s Resolution this year was to get myself up to date with TV watching and I’m going to write a few blog posts about what I’ve watched. Hope this isn’t too boring for you (I’ve got to fill this blog up with something).
Let’s start with BREAKING BAD (watched on DVD, available on Netflix). What hasn’t been said about this? There seems to be a bit of a schism in the world about this show — those who don’t quite get it and those who foam at the mouth. Count me as among the rabid sector. What’s so good about it? The writing, pure and simple. The acting is first-rate, especially Bryan Cranston as Walter White, with a rich supporting cast, especially Bob Odenkirk as amoral lawyer Saul Goodman (more on him soon). The cinematography is excellent, getting better as the series goes on, with the arty, angular shots adding to the claustrophobic feel. But, really, it’s the writing. One of the great flaws in Hollywood just now is the poor quality of writing, especially in blockbusters, with action scene set-pieces thrown together with no regard to narrative logic. The strength of BB is the characterisation and the logic — every action has a reaction consistent with the character’s behaviour. The pace is fast, getting through plot points at speed but never getting bogged down. It’s also slow and intense — everything’s focused on with precision, drama is allowed to unfold. And over the course of the series, we see the descent of Walter White from meek Chemistry teacher who’ll do anything for his family, to criminal drug lord, prizing his money over everything. One of the big learnings for me as a writer last year was avoiding melodrama, which commonly means character change happening too quickly — BB showed that unfold naturally. It’s just perfect.
One of the best domestic TV dramas of 2014 was LINE OF DUTY (BBC) series two. Up to a point. Crisply written with powerful twists and cliffhangers, this was a real acting powerhouse, particularly the performance of Keeley Hawes, who I’d always considered lightweight. She’s maturing into a strong actor, showing the psychosis of her character, at least as good as Lennie James in the first series. All that aside, the writing let it down in the last episode. A powerful drama essentially led nowhere and broke one of the fundamental rules of writing — don’t cheat the audience. A flashback showed the events shown in the first episode were incomplete and had misled us. Really poor writing. Or was it editing? One of the strengths of TRUE DETECTIVE and S3 of RIPPER STREET (see below) was the running time was flexible, varying between 50 and 65 minutes depending on the episode. The last episode of this could’ve done with another 15-20 minutes to show what happened, not have some vague flashback. Hopefully the third series will learn from this… It reminded me of the ending of BROADCHURCH (ITV), which left too much open at the end.
A perfect ending was Danish/Swedish co-production THE BRIDGE II (BBC), pretty much the only Scandi-crime I’ve watched that doesn’t bore me to tears. Building on the events of the first series, the odd couple pairing of Saga Norén and Martin Rohde are a perfect inversion of the Hollywood buddy cop formula. And what an ending — that’s how to do a cliffhanger. Only shame is how long it takes for them to produce a series, but maybe a lot of people could learn about letting things percolate, me included.
We watched a lot of stuff on Sky last year, including bingeing on the 24 miniseries (Sky), which I can’t remember anything about. Drones or something. It was fairly entertaining, but the whole thing just feels played out. Other favourites were geeking out on ARROW and THE FLASH (Sky), though they started to feel increasingly hollow. Arrow started out a mishmash of an intense, driven superhero and some tedious teenage soap opera, saved by a mostly brilliant supporting cast — Felicity, Diggle and Detective Lance were all top notch, Laurel and Thea a lot less so. Usually suffers a deep midseason lull before remembering the point and gearing up to a frenetic finale, Arrow lost it for me this year with a death too many. Barry Allen started out as a guest star in ARROW and soon became The Flash. As a guest, he was witty and energetic, a strong contender for a perfect Peter Parker (that’s Spider-Man, in case you’re not that geek). As a lead, he’s let down by boring writing and a really bad supporting cast — Harrison, Cisco, Caitlin, Iris, Eddie. Meh. Gave up on both of these early this year and haven’t missed them.
Another Sky series we watched was the piss-poor FOREVER. There’s a mantra that you learn as much from bad writing as good. This is bad writing and I learnt a lot. It’s essentially a NYC police procedural told from the perspective of the ME. Fairly interesting premised. The thing is, he’s immortal. Cue lots of getting killed and waking up in one of the rivers around Manhattan. Flirting with the detective who’s investigating him. It’s sub-CASTLE, if that’s a thing. Looks like it’s been cancelled. Thank God.
We started getting into streaming TV late last year, watching Amazon Prime Instant Video on my Playstation 3 (subsequently burnt and replaced with an Amazon Fire TV). One of the highlights was binge-watching RIPPER STREET (Amazon Prime) from the start, including the Amazon-produced third season. The first two are cracking, fast-paced and intense. Freed from the constraints of TV schedules, the variable episode length in the third allowed the drama to unfold naturally, except in a tedious mid-season episode set entirely in the police station — an archetypal “ship-in-a-bottle episode”. The whole season ended at a natural point, so I was surprised it got another two series. Very pleased, though.
Although it tailed off in the second season, LIE TO ME (Amazon Prime/Netflix) started off with an interesting premise — Tim Roth stars as a body language expert who can spot lies. Gets into the old case of the week formula, one week working a private divorce case, the next for the FBI, that sort of malarkey. I found it useful for the body language analysis early on, but soon got annoyed by the lead character’s increasingly annoying behaviour (I’ve *never* been guilty of that, ahem). Key learning of it for me was destroying the “smartest man in the room” myth — the reason I can’t watch HOUSE is it’s all sleight-of-hand magic, what’s in his head is being kept back from the audience, who don’t have the medical training to understand what’s going on. Similarly, the third season of SHERLOCK (BBC) disappeared up its own arse when it forgot it was there to feature crimes being solved in an entertaining way and instead focused on how amazing a character Sherlock Holmes is. And featuring no plot. Or entertainment, except for a hilarious stag do. Don’t get me wrong, I love character as much as the next guy, but story = character + plot. Too much character and it’s self-indulgent, too much plot and it’s ridiculous. On that note, ELEMENTARY (Sky) was fairly watchable, allegedly coming from the same initial idea as SHERLOCK. Sick Boy from TRAINSPOTTING was entertaining playing off a CHARLIE’S ANGEL, though it felt a bit lacking in emotion and the third series descended into classic “how interesting are we?” tropes.
Another case-of-the-week procedural I actually got into was FRINGE (DVD, Netflix or Amazon, I think). Centred around the FBI’s Fringe division, investigating paranormal crimes, it was more than an update to the X-FILES. The rich cast made up for the initially wooden lead in Agent Dunham with the brilliant Walter Bishop, a proper crackpot mad scientist. The first few series got the blend of case of the week and season story arc to a tee, exploring the implications of Walter’s youthful arrogance. A trial of a serial storyline in season three, featuring some of the best parallel universe storytelling I’ve ever seen or read, soon descended into tedium in the fifth season, where we didn’t get past the second episode. Shame.
The other real highlight of the year was TRUE DETECTIVE (Sky). The first season brought a quality cinema mindset to TV, with high production values and big stars in small roles. Like BB, it had a brooding intensity, which I loved. Matthew McConaughey — Matthew McConaughey — was excellent as Rust Cohl, shown both as a driven cop and as a broken-down wreck. The interplay with Woody from Cheers was insightful and drove the story on, rather than sticking in expositional dialogue. It’s not perfect. There are accusations of misogyny, which I can see but the likely truth is every character in it is horrible, even down to the kids. And the ending was the weakest part, descending into mumbo jumbo. But that was just ten minutes of a pretty-much perfect series.
Okay, that’s the things I can remember about last year. I’ll follow this up with the first half of 2015 soon. Hope that was at least vaguely entertaining.
Hope things are all good with you out there. Sadly, COWBOYS has suffered a slight delay, mainly due to my own incompetence at setting deadlines (or, rather, calculating them). New release date is 31-Aug-15, so only +30 days. Nothing sinister going on, the book’s in the editing stage. And to think I used to be a project manager…
In slightly different news, I’ve just set up a Thunderclap for the book. For those who don’t know, basically it’ll send a load of Facebook posts and Tweets on launch day and hopefully cut down the spam. Sign up to support it at the following link —
Let’s start with SUPERNATURE book 2, JUST WALKING THE DEAD. A little novella thing, 15,000 words of vampire-related deviancy. It’s out on Friday (12-Jun-15, my birthday!) and is on pre-order just now —
Universal Amazon link — http://mybook.to/EJDead
Magic, what’s next?
The seventh Cullen novel. I’m getting into deep edits with it and shooting for a release on 01-Aug-15. It’s a bit of a monster and has taken me longer to write but the initial feedback seems to show it’s worth the extra effort. It’s about 25% longer than the other Cullens (still shorter than SNARED) and is pretty bloody complex.
With a series of male rapes around Edinburgh baffling police, a bloodied corpse is found in the shadow of Dean Bridge, handcuffed and half-naked. Who is he? Why is he handcuffed? Did he fall or was he pushed?
As the victim is identified, the case only gets murkier. Detective Sergeant Scott Cullen of Police Scotland’s Edinburgh Major Investigation Team is sucked into the depths of the city’s financial services sector, facing up to some old enemies and creating some new ones. Just months into his new role, Cullen is torn by the trials of management, putting a friendship on the line. New leads take them no further forward — too many suspects in a world where nobody trusts anybody else and all are out for themselves. Can Cullen catch a killer who could be anyone?
From bestselling author Ed James, Cowboys and Indians is a tightly woven, gripping crime novel challenging the honesty of professional liars.
Universal Amazon link — http://mybook.to/EJCowboys