Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Wild Hunt

This is the start of a festive tale I've been working on, featuring a variety of Scottish, Nordic and Icelandic Christmas characters and traditions...uhm...I haven't actually finished it though. So for now, it's just a bit from a thing...

1 - The Clanging Chimes of Doom

Clarence had been trouble from that first Christmas morning. Kyle's dad had got him from the cat rescue as a last minute surprise. Clarence had burst out of a big pile of Christmas wrapping paper looking all cute and tiny and Kyle's little sister Holly was so excited she had just burst into tears. Within five minutes, Clarence had peed on Kyle's playstation, knocked over the tree and smashed a scented candle, briefly setting fire to the advent calendar until dad doused the flames by chucking Kyle's hot chocolate over it. Everyone laughed about how they would have to get used to having a cat around the house, but not Kyle - he knew then.

That was almost three years ago, and since then, Kyle had got used to the ear piercing early morning shriek which meant that Clarence had left them another 'present' downstairs; voles, bats, frogs...they had seen it all. In one particularly epic battle, the catflap had snapped right off the door as Clarence had charged through it with a huge angry crow. The crow had flown into the toilet and it just sat there all day - glaring, flapping and cawing. Everyone held it in for as long as possible and just when they all thought they might have to move house rather than deal with the crow, the RSPCA turned up and took it away. Somehow, Kyle still ended up last in the queue for the toilet, so the whole thing annoyed him more than everyone else.

This morning's shriek seemed more shrill than usual, but that was possibly because Kyle had a thumping sore head. He had been off school with the cold for two days already and he didn't much fancy trudging back through the snow to go back today. There was going to be more Christmas Party social dancing rehearsal. Who rehearses for a party, thought Kyle, practicing fun in case you get it wrong. Mental. Although, he supposed he should be grateful that Mrs Nickneven was allowing any fun in her school at all - even carefully organised fun.
Kyle sat up in bed a little too quickly and white spots floated in front of his eyes like little sickly snowflakes.
"What's he brought in this time mum?" shouted Holly as she bounced down the stairs.
"Oh I can't even tell," wailed Mum. "A robin maybe? Don't come down here just yet love. It's like a horror movie. Honestly, that cat needs to go."
She always says that, thought Kyle, but he's still here.
"Oh Kyle come and get these please will you?" shouted Mum. "Dad's already away and you know I can't face it."
"But I'm not well!" said Kyle.
"Exactly," said Mum. "So you probably can't feel any worse."
Kyle shuffled out of bed and wobbled woozily downstairs, holding on to the bannister.
"A robin. Seriously?" he said "Very Christmassy. Maybe we're supposed to hang it off the tree..."
Mum was waiting at the bottom of the stairs, looking the other way, "Thank you sweetheart," she said, giving him a kiss, a dustpan and a binbag, "I'll make you some porridge."
Through half closed, still blurry eyes, Kyle looked around for Clarence's horrible Christmas gift. There really wasn't much there - no feathers at all in fact. There was a lot of glitter, and rather strangely, a little green Santa hat with a bell, but that was all.
"Mum there's nothing here," said Kyle. "I think he's just broken a tree decoration, or knocked something off the shelf again."
"Are you kidding?" shouted Mum from safely inside the kitchen. "There's...stuff...everywhere. Just sort it out please."
"Fine," muttered Kyle, brushing up the glitter and some torn cloth. "At least it's not another squirrel."

It was the kind of classic sick day when Mum didn't even ask if Kyle felt well enough to go to school, she just sent him straight back to bed after breakfast.
"I need to nip to the shops for ten minutes though," said Mum. "I want to get some disinfectant to properly clean up downstairs. Will you be okay?"
"Fine Mum," said Kyle, "I'll just try to get back to sleep."
He didn't even hear Mum lock the door...

...Kyle woke with a start.
Bells. He could hear bells.
He sat up and waggled his finger in his ear. The bells kept ringing.
Kyle blinked and rubbed his eyes, slowly the bedroom flickered into focus. And that's when he saw it.
There was an elf standing at the bottom of his bed. Rosy cheeks, curly shoes, cute nose - the works. An elf. An elf who was angrily jangling the bell on her little green pointy hat.

"Your stupid cat killed me," said the elf. "Now what are you going to do about it?"

Here's Bjork singing a song about one of the characters in the story, Jolakotinn, the terrifying and merciless Yule Cat...

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Loola of Mars

Here's a strip Mhairi and I did for the Thought Bubble Comic Competition this year. I also got to go down and present a paper at the Comics Forum, 'Secret Identity - Community Comics and Cultural Heritage'.

I hope we can revisit Loola at some point, she's one of HG Wells classic Martian invaders, a recurring theme for me :) Sure there's scope for a Christmas On Mars story at some point. Though of course it would be very hard to top the classic below...


Monday, 2 November 2015

The Wonderful Worlds of Alice

The Wonderful Worlds of Alice - Alice and the Time Pirate
artwork by Mhairi M Robertson

"Ah!' said the Time Pirate, "If I keep drilling, then I'm sure to remember when I buried my treasure eventually."
"But yesterday is now completely full of holes,' said Alice, 'and bits of next week keep tumbling in."

The Wonderful Worlds of Alice is a range of gifts celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Alice's first adventure, by imagining what other strange worlds she may have visited.

The adventures were devised by myself and Mhairi M Robertson - we have sent Alice off elsewhere before, including a trip to A Wonderland Wedding and a wander through A Winter Wonderland.

The Wonderful Worlds of Alice gifts are produced by Inverclyde based social enterprise Newark Enterprises, and available to purchase from The Dutch Gable House shop in Greenock.

Check out more products on their Facebook page...

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Magic Torch Comics

Magic Torch Comics create comics and graphic novels based on history and folklore. All our books and comics are available via the Magic Torch Comics online shop - from pirates and mermaids to zombies and sea monsters...there's something there for everyone.

There's also lots of our comics you can download for FREE, featuring superheroes, space discos, historical battles, folk ballads and even Slenderman...

As well as creating our own comics, Magic Torch Comics can help you tell your story too - we deliver sessions and classes for schools and community groups, and can also deliver sessions for teachers on using comics to develop creative writing and developing a graphic novel library for class. If you are interested, drop us a line...

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Achi Baba - Gallipoli 1915

Over the last few months, as part of Magic Torch, I had the opportunity to work on a graphic novel based on the Gallipoli Campaign. The book Achi Baba, will be released in July, and free copies will be available at Glasgow Comicon thanks to the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

As I maybe mentioned before, one of my first experiences of "proper writing" was a First World War script I wrote for Blackadder. This was much harder.

The book explores the complexities of the Gallipoli campaign using documents from that period of history, including letters home, war poetry, military records and propaganda.We hope it will open up that grim chapter of history for new readers.

The short trailer below showcases some of Andy Lee's excellent artwork for the project.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Captain Kidd meets Doctor Who

It being May, I generally like to celebrate the life and legends of legendary pirate Captain William Kidd - but to be honest, it's hard to top the actual discovery of Kidd's real life treasure in Madagascar.

Here instead, are a few test pages created by artist Mhairi Robertson, for a wee comic I wrote just for fun with Kidd's Oak Island treasure being the site of an adventure for time travelling hero The both his First and Tenth incarnations. Seemed like that fitted better over on this blog with the other fan fiction, rather than on the respectable folklore based website that is Tales of the Oak.

Before anyone gets too hung up on the historical accuracy of Captain Kidd meeting Doctor Who, let me remind everyone about the time pop culture pirate Kidd also met Batman...

We never quite got around to finishing it...but who knows...maybe next year. Right now, Mhairi and I are working on a new comic project, Rowan Tree Legion, which we totally are going to finish.

Kidd appears frequently in things I write, from being one of the hosts of the vintage horror comic Tales of the Oak to popping up in the childrens book Wee Nasties.

In May 2017, Magic Torch will be publishing I Thought I Was Undone...a full length Captain Kidd graphic novel, exploring the truth and the legend of the unfortunate Scottish pirate...


Thursday, 12 February 2015

This Is The One

I don't write too many love stories, but here's one that got published a few years back...

I  fell  in  love  with  Amanda  Reece  on  the  first  day  of  secondary  school.  I  was  twelve. Do  not  misunderstand  this  declaration  of  Love,  this  was  not  some  haphazard  decision  arrived  upon  while  queing  for  sweets,  some  awkard  teenage  crush;  this  was  It.
It  was  in  Art  I  believe,  second  period.  I  sat,  listening  to  the  register,  attempting  to  put  names  to  so  many  new  faces...Julie  Lemon,  Martin  Locke,  Andrew  Parker  and  then...Amanda  Reece.
Teacher  stopped.  No  reply.
Suzanne  Dixon  stepped  in.
"She's  not  coming  to  this  school  sir.  She's  moved."
"Oh.  Right.  Thanks."  said  teacher,  and  scratched  her  away  forever  with  his  biro.
As  soon  as  I  heard  her  name  I  knew,  I  knew  this  was  the  girl  I  was  going  to  be  with.
Her  not  even  being  at  my  school  simply  made  her  all  the  more  attractive, she  maintained  a  mystique  and  allure  that  most  of  the  other  girls  very  quickly  lost.  She  alone  remained  aloof,  distant,  unattainable.
So  unattainable  in  fact,  that  she  wasn't  even  there.
Erased  from  our  register,  she  quickly  faded  from  the  minds  of  my  classmates,  but  her  name  was  already  burned  across  my  heart.  And  I  knew,  as  you  do,  that  we  would  be  together.  Eventually.  I  could  wait.

And  while  I  waited, I  passed  the  time  with  a  very  short  list  of  girlfriends.  An  average  of  just under one  partner  per  year.  We'd  be  ecstatically  happy  for  a  period  of  no  less  than  two  weeks  and  no  more  than  three months.  The  time  difference  between  each  of  my  secondary  school  girlfriends  ensured  that  every  time  I  returned  to  the  dating  game,  the  definition  of  what  was  considered  acceptable  behaviour  had  always  changed. Thus  I  progressed  across  the  sexual  arena  in  a  series  of  well  timed  skirmishes,  always  surprised  to  find  that  so  much  ground  had  been  gained  in  previous  campaigns.  To  me  therefore,  sex  seemed  to  occur  more  quickly  than  it  actually  did.  Like  time  lapse  pornography.  Hand  holding  to  bashful  embraces.  Bashful  embraces to  french  kissing.  French  kissing  to  ineffectual  groping.  Groping  to  more  prolonged  fumbling.  And  then  on  to  capture  the  flag.  My  lack  of  any  physical  prowess  seemed  to  ensure  that  I  was  never  the first  team  to  capture  the  flag,  but  I  was  always  just  grateful  for  being  given  the  chance  to  compete.

I  left  school and  began  the  lengthy  process  of  avoiding  going  to  university,  punctuating  the  desolation  of  my  early  twenties  with  a  number  of  dead  end  relationships. 
And  then  when  I  was  twenty  three,  I  got  engaged. 
It  was  very  fashionable  at  the  time,  and  I  had  reached a  stage  in  my  life  where  the  aching  reproductive  panic  of  those  around  me  had  begun  to  take  it's  toll. 
My  fiance  was  Suzanne  Dixon,  the  girl  who  had  first  placed  Amanda  tantalisingly  out  of  reach.
She  had  gone  to  university  and  gotten  herself  a  degree  in  something  which  allowed  her  to  earn  professional money.  I  couldn't  honestly  tell  you  what  her  job  was.  But  she  was  A  Professional  at  it.
The  engagement  crept  up  on  me,  and  took  me  a  little  by  surprise.  The  proposal  seemed  to  fall  out  of  my  mouth  like  rogue  chewing  gum,  as  if  I  hadn't  quite  finished with  it,  or  I'd  been  storing  it  in  there  for  later  use.  I  think  to  be  fair,  we  were  both  of  us  a  little  taken  aback,  but  as  neither  of  us  could  think  of  a  good  enough  reason  not  to get  engaged,  we  pushed  on  with  all  the  bloody  mindedness  of  the  young  and stupid.   
The  wedding  preparations  went  on  around  me,  a  lace  tornado,  with  me  the  eye  of  the  storm.
What  struck  me  as  time  went  on  was how  little  I  had  to  do  with  it  all.  Getting  ready  for  the  happiest  day  of  my  life  was  a  very  isolatory  experience.  Gradually,  the  wedding  eclipsed  our  actual  relationship,  and  we  happily  latched  onto  it  as  something  to  talk  about  during  the  increasingly  regular  silences.   We  would  talk  about  our  wedding,  other  weddings  and  people  we  thought  would  probably  have  weddings  soon.
Each  Saturday,  religiously,  Suzanne  would  purchase  the local  paper  and  examine  the  wedding  photos  of  the  recently  hitched.  I  would  smile  and  nod,  or  shake  my  head  disapprovingly  as  the  situation  demanded.  One  Saturday  she  said
"Look!  It's  Amanda  Reece!  I  haven't  seen  her  for  years."
For  well  over  a  decade  I  had  loved  Amanda  from  a  distance  which  had  precluded  any  visual  contact.  Here,  now, I  was  about  to  see  the  love  of  my  life  for  the  first  time.  But  I  had  to  be  careful  not  to  make  it  too obvious.
"Amanda  Reece?"  I  said  "She  was  supposed  to come  to our  school  wasn't  she?"
"Yeah  that's  right.  She  was  my  best  friend  in  primary.  I  can't  remember  when  I  last  saw  her."
Suzanne  was  still  holding  the  paper,  and  so  I  could  not  yet  see.
"She's  married Andrew  McIntyre!  Remember  him?"
"No."  I  said  "Was  he  at  our  school?"
"For  about  a  month.  He  got  suspended  for  stealing  craft  knives.  And  then  just  never  came  back."
"Well  he  sounds  charming.  Let's  see."
Mercifully,  Suzanne  just  turned  the  newspaper  around  to  let  me  see  it,  had  she  handed  me  it, she  would  have  doubtless  noted  the  incessant  shaking  of  my  hands.  There  followed  a  brief  period  of  tunnel  vision;  Suzanne,  my  room,  the  rest  of  the  world  all  blurred  and  swirled  away,  until  only  she  remained,  the  light at  the  end  of  this  tunnel.  Finally  visible.
I  had  long  prepared  myself  for  the  day  when  I  finally  saw  her,  knowing  that  she could  never  be  the  idealised  beauty  I  had  allowed  her  to become.  And  sure  enough,  she  wasn't.
Her  hair  was  a  little  shorter  than  I  had  imagined,  and  more  blonde  than  brown.  Her  lips  looked  more  or  less  right  and  she  was  maybe  a  little  taller  than  me.  But  it  was  her.  Amanda.
She  was  smiling,  just.  But  it  was  an  empty  smile,  a  drawn  on  smile.  A  smile  for  the  cameras.  Full of  teeth  and  lipgloss,  signifying  nothing.  She  wasn't  happy.  And  how  could  she  be  happy?  We  were  not  together.  And  now  how  could  we  be?
It  was  over.  And  it  never  really  began.
Following  this  abysmal  revelation,  even  the  lacklustre  soda  stream  sparkle  fizzled  out  of   Suzanne  and  I's  relationship,  and  we broke  off  our  engagement  just  in  time for  Christmas. It was cheaper that way. I  spent  New  Year  attempting  to  reach  her  on  the  phone  in  order  that  we  could  get  together  and  have  bad  idea  sex.  Afterwards  we  would  both  feel  guilty  and  ridiculous,  but  in  the  short  term  New Year  wouldn't  be  so  cold  and  lonely.  She never  returned my  calls.

All  through  the  bitter  January,  I  consoled  myself  that  everything  that  had  happened  actually  made  a  twisted  kind  of  sense;  I  had  been  with  the  wrong  partner,  and  now  I  was  free,  someday,  Amanda  would  be  free  too.  I  would  wait.

Two  years  later,  Amanda  Reece  died.
She  was  hit  by  a  car  coming  out  of  Tesco's.  She  was  six  months  pregnant.
It  was  a  taxi  that  hit  her,  the  driver  was  Martin  Locke,  another  classmate  Amanda  never  met.
He  killed  himself  about  a  fortnight  later.
I  attended  her  funeral  of  course,  I  stood  right  at  the  back,  but  I  could  still  hear  Andrew  sobbing.
I  didn't  go  to  the  cemetery,  instead  I  spent  the  day  walking  around  the  streets  where  I  so  dilligently  misspent  my  youth,  eventually  coming  to  rest  outside  my  old  school. I  sat  for  awhile  by  the  bins  and  had  a  brief  but  cathartic  cry.
Afterwards,  lost  and  confused,  I  wandered  into  a  pub,  firmly  intending  to  accentuate  my  misery  by  getting  bitterly  drunk.  Across  the  years  of  my  unrequited  love,  I  had  become  an  adept  in  the  art  of  wallowing. The pub  was  busy  and  grey,  but  as  I  returned  from  the  bar,  two  girls  were  just  leaving  their  table  and  I  grabbed  it  immediately.
The  table  presented  me  with  a  decent  vantage  point  with  which  to  dip  into  the  lives  of  those  scattered  around  the  room.  And  they  all  seemed  to  be  happy  but  me.  Groups  of  friends,  couples,  simply  enjoying  themselves  without  having  to  concentrate.  For  the  first  time  in  my  life,  I  felt I had  no  agenda, or worse, no excuse.  The  girl  I  was  meant  to  be  with  had  lived  and  died, before  I'd  even  had  the  chance  to  meet  her.  I  sulked  into  my  vodka  and  settled  down  for  a  life  alone.
This  was  when  one  of  the  tables  previous  tenants  reappeared. 
"Excuse  me."  she  said.
"Did  I  leave  my  purse  here  a  minute  ago?"
"I  don't...I'll  see..."
Sure enough,  there  it  was,  on  the  chair  next  to  mine.
"There  you  go."  I  said,  attempting a winning smile,  but  instead  managing  a  kind  of  tortured  grimace.
"Thanks."  she  said,  and  turned  to  leave.  But  then,  for  some  reason,  she  turned  back  around.
"You  work  in  that  art  store  don't  you?"  she  said.
"Yes."  I  said.
"I've  seen  you  down  there.  Nice  shop."
"Yeah  it's  a  great  place  to  work.  Terrible  hours,  shit  pay,  good  pictures."
She  laughed.
"Hey  listen,"  I  said  "D'you  want  a  drink  or  something?  Or  is  your  friend  waiting..."
"No.  No  she's  gone  home."  she  smiled  "A  drink  would be  nice."  
"Great."  I  said.  "Oh...I'm  Steven  by  the  way." 
"Hello  Steven."  she  said.  "I'm  Amanda.  Amanda  Reece."
Her  hair  was  a  little  longer  than  the  late  Amanda's,  and  more  brown  than  blonde.  Her  lips  were  perfect  and  she  was  about  as  short  as me.  It  was  definetly, suddenly her. Amanda.
I'm not the only person to accidently spend some  of  my  life  in  love  with  the  wrong  person,  but  now,  my  course  was  clear. We  moved  in  together  within  the  month,  entirely  assured  that  we  should  be  together. Love,  not  at  first  sight,  but  sound,  the  resonance  of  this  moment  echoing  fifteen  years  back  in  time  to  my  art  class.  Where  I  would  promptly  put  a  name  to  the  wrong  face.

I  saw it  all,  a  mirror  reflecting  endlessly  upon  itself  stretching  back  across  my  life,  showing  me  how  things  would be. My  past,  our  future,  forever  orbitting  the  burning  brilliance  of  this  moment. 

Fate does not wait for you. Fate is busy and has a lot on right now. So you  must  seek  Fate  out,  stand  in  a  million  wrong  places  at  the  incorrect  time,  battle  through  the  dark  days  which  erode  your  vision  of  how  things  will  be.  And  when  you  find  Fate,  as  you  will,  hold  it,  shape  it,  make  it  your  own. Let  there  be  no  doubt  in  the  resolution  of  your  future, let  there  be  no  escape  from  this  wonderous  self  fulfilling  prophecy.
And  most  of  all,  let  there  be  love.