by Sandy Auden
December is traditionally a time for looking back and reflecting on the changes
of the last twelve months. For John Lenahan, magician, comedian and actor, there's been
the release of his debut novel Shadowmagic; for comic artist and writer Dave West there's
been success with his first complete webcomic and first graphic novel of collected
stories; and for authors Len Maynard and Mick Sims, they've signed with an agent and
they're dipping their writing toes into adventure thrillers for the first time.
John Lenahan is one of those talented guys who can turn his hand to any number of roles. He's an excellent magician and his stage show is as funny as it is skilful. He was also the voice of Talkie Toaster in the first series of Red Dwarf (UK).
This year, his debut novel Shadowmagic has been released and it follows the story of Conor, an average kind of teenager whose father has one hand missing and talks to Conor in ancient languages. It's a slightly eccentric life but otherwise fairly normal until two warriors on horseback appear at their front door and try to kill them. After that it gets pretty weird.
Lenahan told us how the story came to be written...
"There was no single Big Idea for Shadowmagic, just a lot of little ones that added up. I have always loved first person narratives about a serious situation where the main character keeps his/her sense of humour like Corwin in Nine Princes in Amber or Jim diGriz in The Stainless Steel Rat. For my first little idea, I wanted to create a character like that.
"My second little idea was to try and create a book that would be as captivating for my twelve-year-old son as Roger Zelazny's Amber series was for me at that age. I spent half my time while writing Shadowmagic trying not to just transcribe Nine Princes in Amber -- hopefully I succeeded. What I did take away was a first person character that was transported into a fantastic situation where he didn't have a clue as to what was going on. The reader learns at the same time as the character.
"Little idea three came from a video game I used to play on the Atari -- Dungeon Master. It had an interactive map that only revealed new areas of the dungeon after you found them. The idea of a land that appeared fully formed only after the rightful king found it, was a big part of the first plotting of Shadowmagic. As the book became fully formed, that idea almost disappeared. But if I can give a reader just a tiny bit of the feeling I experienced in the wee hours of the morning as I stepped around a corner and screamed as I saw a giant dungeon rat on my monitor -- I've done my job.
"Four -- Macbeth. Don't worry folks, there are no thys and forsooths in Shadowmagic but the idea of a character that allows a soothsayer's prophesy to shape their life, only to find that the prophesy was completely different to what was expected -- has always intrigued me.
"Five, and this is a biggie, was a play I saw years ago in a little theatre in Cork, Ireland. It was called Women in Arms and I don't even know who wrote it. It was a play about a group of people who told stories from Irish Mythology to keep their spirits up. From that I learned of the ancient Irish legends from The Tain and The Ulster Cycle. Stories, that I think, put the Arthurian stuff to shame. Through my love of Irish mythology I found the myth from the O'Niel clan about how the Red Hand of Ulster came to be on the flag of Northern Ireland. Telling it would be a spoiler, but trust me -- it's a good one.
"Six, I wanted Conor, my main character, to realise that his father was much more than he thought. Hey, I'm a dad -- cut me a break.
"Lastly, I wanted it to have humour. I make my living as a stand-up comedian and humour is literally my life. I'm a firm believer that there is no situation so dire or so tragic that still doesn't allow or need a good joke. It gets me in trouble at funerals sometimes but I still hold firm to that philosophy."
Shadowmagic volume one is out now and Lenahan has already finished writing book two and he's onto book three.
Writer and Artist Dave West on Curses and Curious Characters
It's been a good year for Dave West -- AccentUK has released his collected stories Strange Times in a hard back edition and he's also enjoying success with Accent's Whatever Happened To The World's Fastest Man?, the first in series of stories that look at the good and bad side of having super powers.
Taking a few moments out of his busy schedule, he told us about his projects:
How did Strange Times start out?
I had this idea to write and illustrate strange little tales. These were to be throw-away stories that told of strange events that happened to people in an otherwise pretty normal city. I hadn't really intended for the stories to be linked, but before I got to start on Issue Two I had people coming up to me at conventions asking when Issue Two would be out. They were really interested in seeing how the stories all came together. Funny thing was that when I sat down and thought it through, it was pretty obvious that the stories in Issue One where all part of the single bigger story. Issue Two flew onto the page as if in confirmation that there was a story to be told, a story where all the characters would come together to save the world... from itself.
The story is told in a series of short, individual time-slices featuring constantly changing characters that build into the overall tale. Why did you decide to use such an unusual structure?
Having a demanding day job and a family I find it hard to sit down for more than an hour at a time to do "comic stuff." Doing smaller story segments, little chapters, works really well for me. I have the idea for the next chapter in my mind and start drawing it on the page. An unpredicted number of pages later and I'm finished with the drawing and get down to writing the text on the pages of art. The story almost writes itself as I draw the images on the page. This isn't a typical way to "do comics" I'm sure, but works for me on this one.
What challenges did the structure give you?
Knowing when to stop. The characters really start to take on a life of their own and have their own stories to tell. It's difficult at times to keep to the bigger story being told and not get lost in the smaller ones.
Who/what inspired all the different characters?
I'm really not sure. I think I've pulled bits of them from all over the place. Mr. Rock for example... I've no idea where he came from... but he does sit on my desk and watch me work. He hasn't spoken to me yet though, which is good.
Why did you close this first collection with one of the more obscure characters?
It seems to be a common thing in comic books, and in most films, that everyone that you get to know by name has a significant role to play in the story unfolding before you. With Strange Times I took the opportunity to introduce characters who, whilst interacting with the main players and letting you get to know them a little, then walk (or ride) off into the sunset having had no material impact on anything at all. Life, I feel, is like that.
The story in Strange Times doesn't conclude in volume one. When will the next volume be out?
I expect to finish the story in Book Two and have it printed in 2011, but then the first book is called Expect the Unexpected, so I guess that date may change. I do have an idea for a follow-on story, set in the continuity of the first two books but not really following on their stories as such... we'll see.
West is also working on The Blessed/Cursed series which acknowledges that life is a balancing act and explores the positive and negative aspects of having super powers. The first story, Whatever Happened To The World's Fastest Man? features Bobby Doyle, a man who can stop time. When a terrorist places a massive bomb in the middle of London, Bobby knows he has the ability to rescue the people in the fall out radius but is the personal cost too high?
How did Fastest Man evolve as a project?
Well I'd been playing with the idea of what it would mean for normal people to get powers. People who weren't suddenly hunted down or who found themselves in the middle of some global conspiracy. Just normal people, living normal lives, or trying to anyway. Whatever Happened To The World's Fastest Man? was a story that had sat on paper for a year or so. My regular artist Andy Bloor was busy on The Wolfmen 2 and Marleen Lowe had just contributed to our Robots anthology. I sent her the script and she liked it enough to have a go at showing the subtle difference between Doyle time and normal time... she did a fabulous job and I knew when I saw her first trial page that we had something special on our hands.
Why did you include the newspaper articles etc as part of the story-telling process?
It was something I discussed with our designer Andy Bloor. I wanted the cover and interior non-comic pages to look like a newspaper and to read as such. The covers then could really be part of the story as could articles inside... every page could then be used to add to the story, and the feel that this was a true story. I've even had people asking if there really was a Wolfmen movie in production.
What other titles are in the series?
Marleen Lowe is currently working on a five page prequel to Whatever Happened To The World's Fastest Man? for an anthology in the USA, to be produced by the guys at Tales From the Parent's Basement. We're pretty excited about being invited to contribute to that and being given a reason to tell another tale about Bobby Doyle. Once Marleen has finished the art on that she'll be working on Has Kane Mesmer Lost His Magic Touch? which will explore the life of Mesmer, the magician mentioned on the cover and hinted at on the odd poster in the comic pages of Whatever Happened To The World's Fastest Man? Once Andy Bloor has finished Wolfmen 2: The Fall Of The Wolfmen, the plan is for him to start work on Missing: Have You Seen The Invisible Man?
What's the reaction been to Fastest Man?
In a word "Fantastic." The reviews have all be extremely positive. Feedback from readers and professionals alike has been very humbling. It really appears to have captured people's imagination.
Authors Len Maynard and Mick Sims -- New Agent and New Stories
Writers Maynard and Sims have signed with literary agent Ian Drury of Sheil Land Associates Ltd. "This is to continue with our supernatural thrillers, and also the three crime thrillers and the three adventure thrillers we have drafted out. We're going to be quite busy!" said Maynard and Sims.
Unlike their Dept 18 novels, it's far less dangerous for them to talk about their crime and adventure thrillers -- although they've still had to use an assumed name for safety. As Michael James Leonard, Maynard and Sims are writing several books to take us into a modern world of good and evil and somewhere in between.
For the adventurers amongst you, there are the Harry Beck stories, set in the Bahamas and starting with Touching The Sun. Beck is the owner of a small charter company but his peaceful life is shattered when his best friend's wife and small daughter are brutally killed in an explosion then his friend, Alan Lancaster, goes missing. Beck receives a message he believes to be from Alan which leads to the discovery of a computer memory stick. Contained on the stick is evidence of a pedophile ring, a cartel of rich and influential people, who are using the Bahamas as a gateway through which to traffic children from Haiti and Cuba. When Harry's father's life is put in jeopardy Harry is convinced that the only way to keep himself and those around him safe is to find Alan Lancaster and, through him, bring down the cartel.
For the crime lovers, there are the The Killing Books Trilogy featuring John Bain. Bain a US city detective. He has his own set of morals, honed through the years to survive in the crime ridden streets. Married but with problems he maintains a mistress and a Robin Hood approach to crime prevention. He beats the bad guys at their own game, managing most of the time to stay one step ahead of his police bosses and Internal Affairs.
"Writing the crime and adventure thrillers has been so different from the supernatural thrillers," said Maynard and Sims. "It's a whole new dynamic with the writing. The plotting is different, the characters react differently to situations. There is so much more opportunity to get under the skin of the people in them, to get inside their heads and see what makes them tick.
"Along the way there may also be a few short stories like the thoroughly un-Maynard/Sims story that came out in Infernally Yours the anthology from Necro Publications edited by and illustrated by GAK in tribute to Edward Lee.
"But for the moment our minds are in a world of action men and women and some thoroughly unpleasant baddies. It's great!"
Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic interviewer/reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; and a diligent interviewer/reviewer for Interzone magazine and SF Site. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. For background information, visit www.sandyauden.co.uk.
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