City of the Saved Weekend Sale

For those of you who do ebooks and haven’t yet delved into the City of the Saved, Obverse Books has a weekend sale on, in which you can get ebooks of the first five City of the Saved short story collections as a bundle for £12.49 the lot.

The City of the Saved is a setting within the Faction Paradox range, but these books can be read totally independently of any knowledge of that, and are absolutely fantastic. Off the top of my head, I think they’d appeal to fans of Jo Walton’s The Just City, Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes, Greek myth, and Philip K. Dick especially, and to anyone who likes the basic idea of a location at the end of time in which every human who ever lived (and some who didn’t) is resurrected to live immortally.

Anyway, my usual caveats with Obverse apply — the publisher, editor, cover artist, and at least ten of the writers in these collections are friends or friendly acquaintances of mine, and Obverse have repeatedly published my work (and I have at least one short story and one non-fiction book coming out from them in the next year) so I may be biased — but at the same time, I *became* friends with all those people because I like their work so much, rather than the other way round, so I think if anything rather than me being biased that’s a sign of *just how good* these things are. One of the books (the third one) has a story of mine in it as well, and it’s a story I’m proud of, but there are at least half a dozen stories or so in these collections that I’d recommend more highly, and not all of them by friends.

If you want to get five great short story collections for only £12.49, and discover a load of great writers (and some of the very best stories here are by people I’ve not seen published elsewhere) visit Obverse Books.

(And while you’re there, pick up some of their other great books. I’ve read… maybe twenty books they’ve published? Possibly more than that… and never found a single duff one. If you like thought-provoking whimsical postmodern science fiction and fantasy, or in-depth explorations of Doctor Who, there’ll be something there that you like.)

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Coming Soon: A New Faction Paradox Story By Me

Since Simon announced on his blog a couple of weeks ago that he’s sent a version of it to the publisher, it’s probably safe for me to say that I’ll have a story in the upcoming Faction Paradox anthology The Book of the Enemy. In fact, unless the story gets retitled between now and release, my story is *titled* “The Book of the Enemy” (the anthology is not named after my story — my story was inspired by the book’s title).

My own story is an exercise in pastiching a particular kind of Edwardian story, and is also one of those spot-the-reference type affairs with appearances large and small by various characters from popular fiction of that era. Having seen most of the other stories and Simon’s framing material, I think this is going to be a remarkably good collection.

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Ghostwatch: 25 Years On

There is a great tradition in British TV of tales of the fantastical and macabre. Doctor Who, which I’ve obviously written about on here before, is (at least at times) a prime example, but much of the most interesting TV made during Britain’s TV Golden Age (roughly from 1954 through to the change in the ITV franchising rules from January 1, 1993, which started the race to the bottom between the TV companies that still continues) was based in the fantastic — whether Ghost Stories For Christmas, The Stone Tape, Quatermass, Robin of Sherwood or children’s series like Catweazle or The Box of Delights, a disproportionate amount of the very best TV dealt with the eerie and unexplained.

One of the very best things ever made in that tradition is also the last of them, and was broadcast for the only time twenty-five years ago tonight.

Ghostwatch has a curious place in TV history. People of my age (“xennials” as we are apparently now called) have it as a formative experience, and it’s discussed almost incessantly on forums dedicated to “cult” or vintage TV, to the point where it’s almost second only to The Prisoner in terms of discussion around it. But at the same time, it’s largely unseen outside that relatively small audience — a tabloid scandal meant that it’s never been repeated on British TV, and it wasn’t released on home video until a decade after that single showing. So while I feel like I’m repeating things that everyone has already said just by talking about this programme, I also know that a substantial proportion of my readership has never seen it.

And that’s a shame, because Ghostwatch is a rather special piece of TV. Writer Stephen Volk said he was inspired to write the play by hearing the brother of Terry Waite (who had been held hostage in Beirut for many years) say of his release “I’ll believe it when I see it on the BBC”.

Volk decided to create a play about that idea, and about ideas of trust, and of the viewers’ complicity in what they are watching. The result (after several iterations in different formats) was a ninety-minute production, Ghostwatch, which was put out as part of the “Screen One” strand of dramas.

Ghostwatch was a scripted drama, and the horror story it told was almost a compendium of clichés — two girls, in a difficult family situation and on the brink of puberty, start experiencing strange poltergeist-like phenomena. As this is investigated, it becomes clear that what they’re experiencing is merely the outer “onion skin” of a whole series of horrible events that have happened on that location in the past, including child-murders and the suicide of a deeply troubled man. The investigations make things worse, and at the end the spirit haunting the house is let loose upon the world, with horrifying results.

What made it different, though, was that it was told in the form of a non-fiction programme — a live broadcast, combining in-studio chat with experts and phone calls from the audience with a live feed from inside the haunted house and from the streets around it. What starts out as fun turns horrifying, as the show inadvertently becomes a national séance, with audience members phoning in to say clocks had stopped or glass tables had exploded, and with “Pipes”, the ghost, manifesting in more and more unpleasant ways.

Ghostwatch has been compared to Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds, and there is a definite similarity both in form and in effect (tens of thousands of people phoned the BBC to complain on the night, and it has been linked with various degrees of plausibility to several cases of PTSD among children and to at least one suicide), but (other than some poor performances from the young actors playing the girls) it’s infinitely more convincing, and more terrifying, than the radio show.

Partly this comes from the same kind of techniques that Welles used — there are scripted “technical flaws” with the equipment, the production style is exactly what one would expect from a show of this type, and there are wonderful moments like an outside broadcast scene where Craig Charles is on camera and jokes with some trick-or-treating kids bothering him during the shot, but then the camera doesn’t cut away (one of those technical flaws) when his sequence ends, and he pushes the kid out of the way. Moments like that, where you feel like you’re seeing unscripted actions that go against the presenters’ personas, really sell the illusion.

But the big thing, of course, is the performers chosen. The major cast members in the play all played themselves, and were given roles that perfectly suited them. Sarah Greene, a perky children’s TV presenter, was in the house with the young girls, talking with them about their experiences while keeping them relaxed by bobbing for apples. Greene’s real-life husband Mike Smith was in the studio taking and reading out phone calls from the audience, in a role similar to his task during many live telethons (Smith was one of the UK TV presenters for Live Aid, and performed a similar role for the first few Comic Relief specials). Craig Charles was also on the outside broadcast, joking in a similar manner to his persona from Robot Wars while interviewing people on the street, while the studio anchor was Michael Parkinson, British TV’s most respected chat show host.

With the exception of Charles, none of these people were known for dramatic roles at all, but all were immensely familiar from unchallenging family TV — so much so that even when I saw
Ghostwatch *in the cinema*, a dozen years after broadcast, with the writer present to talk about his script, I *still* found myself thinking of it as a live broadcast, and being *utterly* convinced.

In every case, the presenter/actors’ personas were used to drive the script along. Early in the story, where a traditional horror script has a fake-out scare, there is one — Craig Charles hiding in the kitchen and jumping out at Greene. But this is *exactly* the kind of thing that Charles would be there to do in that kind of production. Parkinson spends most of the first half of the story half-hiding a smirk, and gently mocking the whole concept of the programme as one would expect from him — so when, later on, he seems worried and snappy at one of the studio guests, in a way he would never be on TV, it’s a sign that things are *really wrong*, as is Mike Smith’s increasing distraction as he worries for his wife.

(One thing I oddly found most convincing was just that the number they kept flashing up to call in, 081 811 8181, was the number for all the BBC’s call-in programmes at that time. On the night in question, the number was set up to provide an automated message telling people not to worry, that what they were watching was fiction. Unfortunately, so many people phoned in that the phone lines went down, lending credence in many people’s eyes to the idea that the “national séance” was really having an effect.)

Sarah Greene standing in front of a glass door, with the ghost "Pipes" reflected in it

Now, if that were all, then Ghostwatch would still be an interesting play, but what I find most interesting is the way it encourages the viewer to doubt their own perceptions, and their own participation in the “séance”. There are many shots where Pipes, the ghost, is seen briefly as the camera passes, and when the camera passes that way again he’s no longer there. As far as that goes, that’s just standard horror-film stuff (albeit done very impressively on a technical level, as in the shot above where Pipes is seen reflected in the glass door behind Greene, but where Greene herself apparently can’t see him, and the camera follows her in one shot to the spot where Pipes was seen and he’s no longer there).

The best example of this, and one that’s really unnerving, is one shot from very early on:
Two sleeping girls

Twenty minutes later, a phone call comes in from an audience member, saying they thought they saw him in the background. The footage is replayed, and we see this:
Two sleeping girls with a ghostly figure in the background

Are we misremembering the first time? Surely we’d have noticed a spooky bloke standing there.

Both Parkinson and the parapsychologist he’s interviewing say they saw nothing out of the ordinary, and then the parapsychologist asks for the footage to be replayed again, *we see the video rewind on screen and play again*, and this time we see this:
Two sleeping girls with no ghostly figure in the background, but with some faint shadows that could be seen as one

So there’s something there, but not the clear man we saw the second time (and, crucially, not the same nothing we saw earlier). The parapsychologist outlines on the screen where the shadows could be tricking a viewer into thinking there’s a person there, but explains it’s just a shadow.

This kind of thing is enormously effective, and is what makes Ghostwatch particularly relevant today. If Ghostwatch had been just about convincing people not to trust the BBC, well… we already have the tabloids for that, and while a certain amount of distrust in the media might have been a healthy thing to want to create in 1992, in a climate like today’s where any fact one disagrees with can be greeted as the work of “the biased BBC”, “the MSM”, and “fake news”, such pseudoscepticism can seem more like an autoimmune disease of the body politic.

But distrusting oneself? Taking time to decide whether the evidence of one’s own eyes is reliable, and to re-examine our own preconceptions and perceptions? That’s something we can do with a lot more of, and something that is more valuable now than ever before. And it’s something that, almost incidentally, in the process of being one of the most terrifying pieces of horror TV ever, Ghostwatch manages.

I don’t know if it would have the same effect on anyone who wasn’t in the UK and in their early teens in the early nineties — so much of its effect depends on it being so close to programming that was on at that time — but even people like my wife (who is USian and so didn’t see it until more than a decade later, and never saw any of the programmes it takes its stylistic cues from) find it a remarkable piece of work.

It’s available on DVD, but for 30p more than getting it on its own, you can get it in a double-disc set with The Stone Tape, another British TV horror classic, and one of Ghostwatch‘s inspirations. Get it, and remember a time when something this shockingly good could be produced by a TV company.

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The Death of Stalin

One of the many nowtrages to hit Twitter this week has been over Armando Iannucci’s new film The Death of Stalin, as Peter Hitchens attacked the very existence of the film, in a piece which was shared with the headline “You Wouldn’t Make A Comedy Out of the Last Days of Hitler, So Why Stalin?”

As one might imagine, this headline brought quite a lot of mockery, much of it based around Hitchens not knowing about the existence of Downfall memes, though my personal favourite line was a friend of mine who simply said “they lose me after the bunker scene”. But Hitchens actually had what almost amounted to a serious point.

His argument was that the left are far too lenient in their opinions towards Stalin, who is too often treated as a figure worthy of respect or admiration when compared to Hitler. And so far as this goes, there’s a lot of truth to it. Tankies are treated as tolerable, if risible, figures among much of the left, and Stalinism has become a daring pose for a particular type of “dirtbag left” shitposter (I recently had to block someone who I’ve known for a decade or so on Twitter after he started posting Holodomor denial. I don’t tolerate that shit even if others do.)

If Iannucci’s film had been made from that perspective, treating Stalin and his henchmen as essentially benign, comic figures, Hitchens’ view would have been entirely accurate. However, it’s very clear that Hitchens didn’t bother to look into the film at all before condemning it, because it’s an unflinching depiction of the monstrousness of Stalin’s regime, and one of the most horrifying films I’ve seen in a long, long time.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a comedy, and a very funny one — Iannucci is undoubtedly one of the most important comic talents of the last thirty years, and one of a tiny number of filmmakers in Britain actually capable of making a comedy feature film (for most people who pay attention, the phrase “British comedy film” is one of the most terrifying in the English language, conjuring up as it does images of Sex Lives of the Potato Men or Lesbian Vampire Killers). But this isn’t comedy even in the sense of Iannucci’s work on The Thick of It — though there’s a clear family resemblance there. Nothing “funny” actually happens, except in the sense of Mel Brooks’ dictum that “tragedy is when I cut my finger, comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die”.

The comedy in Iannucci’s film comes entirely from the incongruity of people behaving in human, relatable, ways in a situation which is unutterably horrific. There are several comparisons that could be made — Brazil, several of the Coen Brothers’ films, and Hannibal all spring to mind, as well as Iannucci’s own earlier work — but the one that this film reminded me of more than anything else was I, Claudius.

Like that series (which I still consider the best thing ever made for TV), The Death of Stalin portrays real events of the most grotesque kind — massacres, rapes, torture — in an absolutely unflinching way, and elicits laughs not despite but because of our horror. The reign of Stalin is shown as a monstrous, cancerous, thing, a system rotten from the top down, where Stalin’s top advisers can joke among themselves about blowing people up with hand grenades, and can make these “jokes” while knowing that the people they’re joking with are on the list to be executed over the next few days.

And it’s a system which almost everyone knows is unjust, and yet in which everyone is complicit. Stalin himself is a monstrous tyrant who can have anyone killed at a whim, and everyone knows it, yet his death doesn’t rid the country of the tyranny — all it does is inspire an immediate scramble among his ministers to become the new dictator, both out of lust for power and out of a terror for their own position.

And it’s funny precisely because every character is recognisably human and has recognisably human concerns in this inhuman situation — one of the funniest moments comes when Stalin’s ministers gather round his dying body and try to lift it to carry him to his bed, but have to jostle for position to avoid kneeling in his urine, while also ensuring that they are positioned by rank. And moments like these are deliciously underplayed — that could easily be a broad, Pythonesque, scene, but instead it’s played entirely as drama. Much like I, Claudius, the film manages to evoke both utter horror and shocked laughter simply by getting a great cast to play horrific events as if they were everyday occurrences — which in their context they were.

Every character is entirely comprehensible, even though utterly reprehensible. Simon Russell Beale has been, rightly, getting huge plaudits for his portrayal of Beria as a power-crazed sadist who wants power simply in order to hurt people physically, mentally, and sexually, but Steve Buscemi’s portrayal of Kruschev, as a man who has no particular taste for causing hurt but who also has no compunction about destroying anyone utterly if it meant keeping himself safe, is also superb. Meanwhile Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) is a weak, petty, fool, who gets to the top (at least temporarily) only because he’s no threat to anyone, while Molotov (Michael Palin) is a heartbreaking true believer, who forgives Stalin even when his beloved wife is sent off to be tortured, because Stalin can do no wrong.

The whole cast, though, is wonderful, and even relatively small parts go to immense talents like Paul Whitehouse and Paddy Considine, who make the most of them. (One does wish, though, that the film could have had more women in important roles, though it does the best it can given the male nature of the Politburo — the pianist Maria Yudina, for example, is given a fairly large role in the story despite having no real connection with it in reality).

The film compresses and invents events (the time between Stalin’s death and Beria’s execution, for example, was nine months rather than the handful of days shown in the film), but in its broad strokes it’s accurate (and many of the events around the death itself are far more accurate than one would expect — generally speaking the funnier an event, the more likely it is to be firmly based in reality). And what it shows is that politics based on authoritarianism, national myths, and heroic leaders who will not hear opposing viewpoints leads to death on a massive scale, and to pain, and to heartbreak, and to terror.

If Hitchens could bring himself to watch the film, he’d discover that far from glorifying Stalin, it portrays him as a monster, dying in his own piss while being spat on by someone he’d considered a close friend, with those he’d brought to power racing to undo his actions, his idiot son in imminent danger of treason charges, and his loving daughter being urged to flee the country for her own safety.

It’s a film anyone who hates authoritarianism, dictatorship, and bullying, should watch, this year of all years.

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Hammer House of Horror: The Soulless Ones

On Saturday, I made one of my infrequent trips down to That London, this time to see a theatrical performance with my friends Debi, Penny, and Ozzy.

The Soulless Ones is an immersive production from Hammer Films, in which you as an audience member enter an old Victorian music hall, and are handed a cloak “to make you invisible to the vampires” (the production is immersive, but not interactive — you’re not meant to take part in the action). After a brief introduction in which you are told that you have been gathered to witness a psychic experiment, you’re free to wander the music hall as you wish and to discover the stories that are happening there.

Each of the characters you’re introduced to has their own storyline, and those storylines intersect. You’re advised to follow the character you find most interesting, though you can also choose to explore on your own or to find a particular place and follow what happens there (several rooms had near-constant action in them). Each character wanders from room to room as their own story dictates, and interacts with the others, and so no matter what you do you catch glimpses of several stories as well as the whole story you choose to follow.

As a fan of modular storytelling, this was fascinating to me. In some ways, perhaps following one actor around (as you’re advised to) isn’t the best option, as each character’s storyline is rather slow going, with each scene only advancing their plot a tiny amount (in order that people who haven’t seen them for four or five scenes don’t then get completely lost), and you might be advised to sit in one place and see a variety of different characters’ scenes, but this is less of a problem with Gothic horror than with almost any other genre, given that it’s a genre based on the slow burn and accrual of horrors, rather than on dense plotting.

It felt, in some ways, like reading a superhero crossover, where you have two bookend scenes and then just follow the titles you’re interested in, so you might be reading Blue Beetle and have Green Lantern drop in for a few panels before he goes on with his own story. At least one of my friends has said they’d feel frustrated at “missing things”, but the slow-burn nature of the story means you don’t feel like you’re missing out — rather, it feels like you’re seeing the story you are following embedded in a larger world.

And while the storytelling isn’t interactive, the fact that you make choices about what you can see means that you can experience the *kind* of story you want. For example, my friend Penny (who has reviewed the show here, and who has gone into a lot more detail about specific characters and spaces) is a super-fan of Hammer, especially their Dracula films, and the experience she had was “like being in a Hammer film”. I’m also a Hammer fan, but it’s not my main fandom in the way it is hers, and so the story I experienced ended up being one which drew more from other strands of Gothic horror — my experience was very Gormenghastly, with more than a hint of the Doctor Who serial Ghostlight to it. Both, of course, still were Gothic horror stories — it’s not like you can go off into an epic fantasy story or anything — but they’re subtly different flavours of Gothic horror that suited our particular tastes, so we both ended up getting an experience that was better than if we’d shared the other’s (which said, I’m sure I’d have enjoyed Penny’s and vice versa).

The ability to pick up and put down threads of story was aided by the characters being very well-drawn types. Every character was familiar from dozens of films and books — the “psychic researcher” showman who has made a big discovery and wants to prove it to the sceptics; the reluctant psychic who has a complicated relationship with her gifts; the sceptical man of science who doesn’t believe a word of this flummery; the Renfield-esque human servant of the vampires; Carmilla , last of the Karnsteins and Queen of the Vampires; the foppish eighteenth-century vampires with white-painted faces; the bald, cowled, vampire monk who turned to the Devil when God could not save him, and so on. Each character was given depth as the show went on, of course, but anyone with even the most passing familiarity with Gothic horror would have been able to pick up instantly who everyone was and what their motives were.

The story I chose to follow was that of the sceptic, Solomon Cresswell. Cresswell’s story is one of a descent into madness and torment — at the start he is an upright late-Victorian/Edwardian gentleman, who’s been invited to the psychic experiment because he’s ridiculed the experimenter in the press. However, his whole belief system is shattered when he realises that the spirit world is real, and there is life after death — and even more so when he briefly talks to his dead wife through the medium. He slowly descends into madness and drunkenness as he realises that the vampires have the ability to resurrect the dead, and eventually reveals the source of all his guilt and shame. He’d been a researcher, trying to find a cure for consumption, when his wife had come down with it, possibly from visiting his laboratory. He’d become so desperate for materials for his researches that he’d resorted to killing patients in the advanced stages of the disease, to get access to their organs, but while he’d thought that he was near a cure, he’d never actually managed to get one — and his wife had died while he was busy with his work. He’d still not buried her, but kept her corpse on ice in the hope of one day reviving her. The vampires’ ability to resurrect the dead gives him hope, but when he finally overcomes his scruples enough to ask them for their secret, they explain they can only revive dead *vampires*, and that the only way for him to be with his wife is for him to die too, and so he willingly allows himself to be sacrificed in the ritual that is the big closing setpiece.

Cresswell’s story is very much one of ideas, and it confronts a lot of the evils of Victorian society. It deals with imperialism, the rise of eugenics, and the way that scientific advances in the Victorian era were fuelled by colonialism and grinding poverty. These things are not the centre of the narrative — this is, fundamentally, escapist fiction, after all — but they were *part* of the narrative, and drove some of the stronger moments, so the story as I experienced it was not the steampunkery and top hats that so much modern fiction in the Victorian era is.

Every one of the dozen or so characters has such a journey, and the way the stories interact and interlock is wondrous. Each actor has to give a continuous two-hour performance, going up and down (a *lot* of) stairs and having to make entrances at precisely the right time. Some scenes have a certain amount of slack, starting with one character gloomily staring at a letter from a dead love or similar, presumably to allow everyone to get back on track, but surprisingly few of them, and an equal number require meeting someone on the stairs as both characters are on their way to other rooms. To give any performance at all in such circumstances must be a massive feat of athletics and timing, but the actors all managed to give *good* and occasionally great performances.

(Particular credit here has to go to the actor who played the poet who was using one of the vampires as his muse — the actor in question was a last-minute replacement for our performance, and had to read his lines from the script. Happily this didn’t break the mood too much as of course as a poet he could carry “a sheaf of his poems” with him, but he still managed to give a good performance under what must have been impossible circumstances.)

And the venue itself was perfect for the performance. Hoxton Hall is a Victorian music hall, with most of its fittings still as they were when it was built, and so immediately it has the advantage of *looking* like somewhere from a Hammer film (or, actually, from The Talons of Weng-Chiang) while also having a large central space with a stage which can be used for the big opening and closing scenes. But other parts of the venue had been dressed to fit — there was a “graveyard” in the cellar which was surprisingly convincing, for example.

In every way that matters, the production aspects — costume, venue, set dressing — *were* Hammer. (And, specifically, they were 50s/60s Hammer, all decaying aristocratic grandeur with the occasional bucket of Kensington gore, rather than 70s Hammer. There were no women having to bare their breasts, and no Kung-Fu vampires, here.)

In fact, I only had two real nitpicks that could be made about the production at all — at one point, Cresswell refers to another character, under his breath, as a “fascist”, a term which wasn’t in use at the time the story is ostensibly set.

And a *really* tiny one which I bet no-one else would have noticed at all. There’s a scene in which a character is killed in what amounts to a public execution, and vampires drink his blood, while someone plays “Champagne Charlie” (this character, who I otherwise didn’t see, apparently sings quite a few songs at different points). Now, this makes a lot of sense — not only is “Champagne Charlie” a song that turns up quite a lot in films about Jack The Ripper or Jekyll and Hyde as a general signifier of Victorianness, it’s also a song that was sung by the crowd at the last ever public execution, to mock the condemned man, the year before Hoxton Hall was built, and there’s various other resonances that make it the perfect song for the scene.

However, the version that was sung was not the version that would have been known to Victorian music-hall goers, but rather the version with rewritten lyrics (“Champagne Charlie is my name, by golly”) that was released as Blind Blake’s final single in 1926.

I suspect the chances of another person who’s both a fan of late-Victorian entertainment history *and* of 1920s ragtime guitar following the story to that point are minimal, but it was still an odd duff note in what was otherwise a near-perfect experience. Presumably the script just said “he plays Champagne Charlie”, the musician got hold of an old record of the song and learned it, and no-one realised it was the wrong version.

(Happily, for anyone else who likes verisimilitude in their stories about supernatural blood-drinkers summoning angelic embodiments of destruction and damnation, I’ve come up with a Watsonian fix. You see, there’s a reason I say it was “released as Blind Blake’s final single” rather than just that it “was Blind Blake’s final single” — it’s generally believed that while the track in question is credited to Blake, it’s by someone else, and we don’t know who. As the character singing the song is a vampire, it would be perfectly possible for him to have still been alive in the 1920s and to have been the person who was recorded, singing his own version of the song. There you go.)

But the fact that this was the *only* major criticism I can make of it as a show is in itself telling. There are a couple of points I can make about things that aren’t the show itself though.

One is that the “follow an actor around” style of experiencing the show is possibly not the best way. Not only do you get the same piece of information more than once on occasion, you also occasionally have the experience of being the *only person* following that actor from one scene to another, which can feel a bit like being a stalker (possibly only to people with my own particular social hangups though). If anyone reading this is going, my advice instead is to explore the venue for the first half, and then to sit in the main hall for the second, as that will possibly give you a better spread of the different styles of story without feeling socially awkward.

The other thing to note is that by its nature the show is not perfectly accessible. There’s no audio description (though this wouldn’t, I think, be a problem for anyone with any vision at all, as you can wander as close to anything you want to see as you want, and nothing I saw required a particular visible detail) or subtitles, for fairly obvious reasons (I think audio description *could* be done, just about, but it would be a mammoth task). There are also flashing lights and dry ice used at various points — though while our party contained one person who’s photosensitive and two whose asthma can be set off by dry ice, it wasn’t at a level that affected any of us (though obviously I can’t guarantee that’ll be true for anyone else).

It’s also impossible to experience *some* modes of the story without being able to use stairs. Our party had two people who use a stick, and this could have been a problem. There *are* lifts (and my friend chose to use them) but of course using them pulls you out of the story somewhat, and it’s also not possible to follow a particular actor that way, as they’re always moving up and down between the different levels of the theatre. For myself, I was lucky enough to be having a good day with my arthritis, but still my choice of who to follow was somewhat decided by him being physically easier to follow than some other characters who were dashing about.

But that is, I think, part of the nature of the event, and I can’t see any way of doing better for mobility-impaired people that wouldn’t break the immersion, and while those of us who can’t walk well are thus limited in how we can experience it, it’s still possible to have a worthwhile experience within those limits.

With those caveats, though, I can absolutely say that this event (which runs until November 4) has my highest possible recommendation, assuming you have any love at all for old Hammer films, general spooky vampire stuff, or immersive or modular storytelling, and that you can get down to That London (I’m on a low budget and it’s a fairly expensive show, so I ended up getting the Megabus there and back and not getting to bed til 5AM, and it was still worth it). I wish I’d been able to go a second time, in order to try different ways of experiencing it, and if Hammer put on another of these events next year (or even just remount the same one) I’ll definitely be going.

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I Really *Will* Be Back Soon

As in, almost certainly tomorrow. My various sleep problems, bits of scheduling nightmare, and other things, mean that for two of the last four nights I didn’t get to sleep until gone 5AM and for one of the nights I *did* sleep there was a problem with my CPAP which meant I didn’t sleep properly. I have half a dozen blog posts planned out in my head and ready to type, I’m just too physically ill to actually type them — once I get a single good night’s sleep I should be able to get them all done in very short order. Thanks for your patience/

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The Basilisk Murders: Now Out!

My new novel The Basilisk Murders is now out in hardback from Lulu, and in paperback and ebook from Amazon (UK ebook), (UK paperback), (US ebook), (US paperback). Those of you with Kindle Unlimited or the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library can read it for free — and if you *don’t* have those, you can sign up for a thirty-day free trial for Kindle Unlimited and read it for free anyway — and I’ll still get paid (though you’re more than welcome to buy a copy rather than read it free if you want to make sure you can keep it). Patreon backers should be receiving their free copies soon.

For those who haven’t seen me talk about this book, here’s the blurb:

“Was this going to be the end? I wondered as I sprinted down yet another flight of stairs. Was I going to get caught, and get killed, by a geek serial killer?”

When Sarah arrives at a tech conference she’s meant to be covering for her magazine, she thinks it’ll be a few days away from her marriage problems on a tropical island. Instead, she’s surrounded by sleazy men who want to build a computer God, thousands of miles from home and her wife. She hates where she is, and the people who are around her.

But when someone starts killing those people off, Sarah has to investigate. What is the Basilisk? Who is committing the murders? Why is everyone talking about blackmail? And why is everyone drinking fish?

Surrounded by Russian billionaires, gropey bloggers, alt-right computer scientists, and philosophy professors, can Sarah solve the murders and win back her wife before the Singularity? And can she do it without having to deal with her racist ex-girlfriend?

Part cozy mystery, part technothriller, part biting satire, The Basilisk Murders is a hilarious, gripping, story of irrational rationality, staying kind in a hostile world, and building a better sandcastle.

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