“Role-Playing” not “Roll-Playing” (original, huh?)

“Do you like getting right up in a monster’s face and giving it what for?  Do you prefer to stand waaaay back and throw fireballs or shoot arrows?  Or maybe healing up your comrades is more your style?  Let’s discuss how to choose the right personality for your RPG character.”

It was a great honor to participate in FenCon’s “What’s my Role” panel with Chaz Kemp and Rie Sheridan Rose. Special thanks to Sarah Brigdon for successfully wrangling a panel whose passions ran to so many different yet worthy aspects of roleplaying.

Conversations along the lines of “Okay, I’m the frontline fighter. You’re the rogue. But we need a caster. And who is going to play the cleric?” are as old as gaming itself. Yet, the more analytical approach of party composition and conflation of combat role with personality is relatively recent, only making its way into the gaming community in the past 15 years or so (yes, my friends, against the long history of gaming, that qualifies as “relatively” recent).

Fourth-Edition D&D gave us the terms “Controller, Defender, Leader or Striker” and the part breakdown of “The Tank, The Damage, The Healer, The Support, The Control, The Face, The Scout” has become pretty ubiquitous. Sometimes, MMO terminology like DPS even makes its way into table top gaming.

We don’t “Murder-Hobo” anymore (much).

That this is a recent development is the more curious as, over the long line of gaming history, there is clear trend toward less time in combat and more time in other activities/challenges. There are, of course, exceptions. In seeking to emulate online gaming, 4E D&D was very much a throwback — and certain systems, including Traveler and the various Warhammer RPG products, can lend themselves to combat heavy games. But, for most gaming in 2021, it is important to look at PC roles beyond combat. Below, I take a brief look at three alternate lens for this issue.

Functionality: This lens considers a PC’s preferred approach to problem solving. Cyberpunk 2020’s use of “roles,” is a good example of this. A given “role” provides skills, experiences, and abilities reflecting an attitude and approach to the meeting the world on the PC’s terms. To cite a few examples: Yes, solos are “kill it with lead and monofilament katanas” kind of people. But there are fixers who, if they can’t do something or find something, know someone who can. Techies believe if a machine can’t solve your problem, any problem, it’s to sit down and build a better machines. Conversely, nomads feel there is no problem than can’t be solved by inviting along another sibling our cousin. This lens ensures party are well covered for a variety of challenges and settings, not only combat.

Archetypes: This lens considers the internal landscape and emotional constitution of PCs. One of the most obvious examples is the Nature/Demeanor system from White Wolf’s World of Darkness universe. Players chose both a nature (true self) and demeanor (exterior persona) from a large preset list of archetypes (Autocrat, Bon Vivant, Child, Loner, etc.) for their character. These are more than just guides for roleplaying, acting in accordance with one’s nature and demeanor is the main method for regaining Willpower, which is important in World of Darkness. Having diverse natures and demeanors in the party helps ensure that someone is always regaining Willpower. Even in systems where this is not explicitly rewarded through game mechanics, there is a qualitative advantage to party of diverse mental states and emotional constitutions to respond to a variety of situations.

A happy party…

Narrative Dynamics: Roleplaying is collaborative storytelling. So it is little surprise many of the tropes and dynamics that are effective in other forms of storytelling work in roleplaying as well. The right party dynamic, or even dynamic between two or more players within a party, can really bring an adventure to life. The dynamics between characters in other media can serve as inspiration or conversational shorthand for party composition. I’ve seen a party who, six sessions in, realized their Call of Cthulhu campaign was a cosmic horror Scoobie Doo. I’ve seen Shadowrun street samurai who might as well have been Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. I’ve seen two Vampires go “Winchester Brothers in reverse,” tracking down hunters in a black van with blacked out windows. I’ve even seen a concept campaign inspired by Sartre’s “No Exit,” with characters designed to hate each other but be unable to escape each other. Nobody wanted to push it beyond three sessions, but those sessions were fascinating and entertaining.

No one of the lenses discussed above is inherently superior. And, yes, even in combat light games, the combat lens still has its place. Most parties will get the best results from using a mix of all of them, and the doing what sounds fun. These lenses are means to an end, not ends in themselves. The goal is to create compelling characters with rich stories that allow them to engage with the world on multiple levels. Whether they gel in combat is not trivial, but is a secondary consideration. As a GM, I would happily taken on trying to design fights for a party that is sub-optimized for combat if it means I have a party full of compelling, three-dimensional personalities that let me create opportunities for rich and meaningful collaborative storytelling.    

With so many types of characters to choose from in RPGs, does playing a character that is different from your real self give you empathy for that type of person in Real Life? 

In 2015, a study administered the Davis Interpersonal Reactivity Index, a standard psychological instrument for measuring empathy, to 127 frequent roleplayers. These gamers significantly outperformed a control group.

I suppose it should be little surprise that gaming can correlate to high levels of empathy. That, I think, is part of roleplaying’s appeal for many of us – the opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes for a while. And, while people have different baselines for empathy, it is a learnable skill that strengthens with use.

Psychology and counseling make extensive use of free form roleplaying. Frequent uses include confronting phobias and managing stress, anxiety, or trauma – with the goal of patients gaining insights or experiencing emotional catharsis. In Relationship Counseling, role reversal is often used to promote exactly those kinds of insights and sympathy – the building of empathy.

Of course, just because roleplaying can build empathy, doesn’t mean it always does. Most gamers have stories about “That one player” or “The GM who delights in torturing their players.” If you’re lucky enough not to, or just want to indulge in some top quality schadenfreude, Google “Worst D&D player ever” (or equivalent), makes some popcorn, and settle in. Or, if you want more curated account of gaming with terrible human beings, check out Al Bruno III’s roman a clefThe Binder of Shame.” (TWs for just about everything).

Don’t tell the 1E Elves multiclassing is a bad idea (you’l get stabbed and zapped)

Multi-classing: Yay or Nay? And Why?

Somewhere between a “provisional yes” and “it depends.”

Personally, I enjoy multi-classing because my character concepts often do not fit neatly into the boxes of class-based which system (which is why I often gravitate to classless systems like FATE, Savage Worlds, or GURPS which are on a point-build or concept-build rather than a class-build. 

But there are things to consider before creating a multi-class character. I think the biggest one is to be sure that it’s actually your character concept…rather than that you have two concepts you’re having difficulty choosing between. In my experience, splitting the difference between two competing concepts through multi-classing is an emotionally unsatisfying compromising, giving too little of what attracted me to each class in the first place.

And while this, in itself, is not a reason to say “no,” it is worth remembering that, in many systems, including D&D and Pathfinder, a character who is Level 5 in two things is less capable that a character who is Level 10 in one thing.

But, for all my high-minded “only do it if it feels right,” rhetoric, sometimes multi-classing is a choice that is forced on you. When you’ve got two or three people around the table for a D&D game, it may make sense for someone to be the cleric/rogue.

How important is it to “stay in your lane”? Do you play your character as just a healer? Or do you try to pick the lock with the metal wire you happened to find on the ground?  

Any one of them could surprise you.

Honestly? Those are the moments roleplayers live for.

  • When the fighters are unconscious on the ground and the wizard is out of spells but manages to land that last blow, knocking the giant unconscious with a staff.
  • When the Dex 8 cleric evades an entire castle of guards to find the treasure room.
  • When the Barbarian is the only one who remembers the words to the secret chant.

Those are the kind of gaming stories that keep getting told…

In the best case scenario, such moments can serve as catalysts foe new directions of growth and development – enriching the charter, the party, and they player’s experience.

It only becomes a problem when it turns into what my gaming group always called “stepping on someone’s shtick.” Players want time in the limelight for their characters, that’s one of great appeals of roleplaying. Each PC having things they are uniquely good at helps ensure everyone gets the spotlight. So, when the party’s rouge suddenly starts dumping points in diplomacy, which, until then, has been the bard’s shtick, it can create tension and reduce enjoyment unless handled very carefully. 

Review of Rainbringer: Zora Neale Hurston Against the Lovecraftian Mythos

Six words constitute the highest praise one author can pay another: I wish I had written this.

Edward Erdelac’s Rainbringer: Zora Neale Hurston Against the Lovecraftian Mythos is rooted in a well-researched and multi-dimensional biography of the eponymous writer, anthropologist, and leading light of the Harlem Renaissance. It then reimagines that biography to include eight encounters with the Cthulhu Mythos occurring at various points in Hurston’s life, from relative youth to literal deathbed, all united by a broader metanarrative.

The tales track Hurston’s real-life wanderings, from New York City to other points in America, Haiti, and Central America – as well as a Mythos-obligatory Dreamlands sojourn. Erdelac’s narrative unfolds in an engaging style that might most properly be called “magical realism with a Mythos twist” rather than horror or supernatural mystery.

First, a curious TL;DR. Presumably most people reading my blog are at somewhat familiar with my work, including Gabriel’s Trumpet, my supernatural mystery revolving around the 1920s jazz scene. Rainbringer and Gabriel’s Trumpet are very different stories, but they play in the same sandbox and I feel confident in saying that anyone who enjoyed Gabriel’s Trumpet will enjoy Rainbringer as well.

Using a historical figure as a protagonist is a daring move that requires both formidable research and exceptional skill. If I may be forgiven one more comparative, I have some familiarity with the required chops via my pulp-mystery novella “A Scandal in Hollywood,” a tongue-in-cheek love letter both to Sherlock Holmes and Hollywood’s Golden Age. “Scandal” required considerable research and notetaking on actor Basil Rathbone. Erdelac’s portrayal of Hurston, however, goes beyond a competent mastery of the facts of Hurston’s life, moving in the direction of intuitive understanding. It feels as if he somehow has a relationship with Hurston, even if such a relationship can go only one direction in time and space. Rainbringer works because Erdelac breathes life into Hurston, makes readers believe her actions and reactions even in the face of cosmic terrors.

I also appreciate Rainbringer’s approach to the Mythos. Erdelac is clearly comfortable and familiar enough with the source material to wield it adroitly throughout the work. Readers should be on the lookout for a delightful Easter egg offering a retelling of one Call of Cthulhu’s seminal arcs…from a very different perspective (but you will need to pay close attention, Erdelac doesn’t set up a neon sign). Just as importantly, he is also comfortable and familiar enough to adroitly deviate from canon, adding his own compelling touches and engrossing sub-mythologies. Of particular note is one of the most innovative, evocative uses of Yig I’ve ever encountered.

Zora Neale Hurston

Rainbringer showcases more than a layperson’s knowledge of Voodoo and hoodoo, and is careful to delineate the two, even diegetically delivering a short primer for unfamiliar readers. Drawing on various strands from Voodoo, Abrahamic traditions, and the Mythos, the story weaves a seamless, and delightfully unsettling, cosmology.

There was a special delight for me in Rainbringer. In Erdelac, I feel I have finally found an author who enjoys a cleverly-executed historical cameo as much as I do. The rendering of a young Orson Welles at the height of his creative prowess and iconoclasm is especially memorable. And, with my background in music journalism, the appearance of folklorist and ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax warmed my heart.

While there are no weak vignettes in the collection, each reader will no doubt have their favorites. For me, three tales truly stood out:

Ekwensu’s Lullaby sees Hurston participating in a WPA field-recording expedition to the Gullah communities of St. Simons Island.

The Shadow in The Chapel of Ease plays with the ever-delightful question of what happens when the conventional religion gets caught up in the Mythos.

But, in my opinion, King Yeller is the collection’s crown jewel. If Erdelac is taking requests, I would certainly not shy away from reading a novel-length treatment of this story…and there certainly seems to be enough material to support such an expansion. The premise is delightful: what do you do when writing a Mythos story about the vibrant theatre scene of the Harlem Renaissance? Drop in a copy of The King in Yellow, of course. The devil (or the Great Old One), of course, is in the details and the delivery. And King Yeller, set against the backdrop of the Federal Theatre Project’s performance of Macbeth (one of the most celebrated productions in the history of the American stage) shoots for the moon…and hits.

As a side note, several remarkable incidents in King Yeller, including Orson Welles being attacked by a razor-wielding assailant only to be rescued by boxer-turned-actor Canada Lee and the death of theatre critic Percy Hammond shortly after a cast member stuck pins into a Voodoo Doll of Hammond, are the province of history, not fiction, which Erdelac deftly incorporates into the narrative.

As a final note of praise for this Rainbringer, Erdelac should be commended for his frankness in portraying the many layers to issues of race and racism experienced by Hurston throughout her life. He remained steadier in addressing this challenge than I did with Gabriel’s Trumpet

Rainbringer: Zora Neale Hurston Against the Lovecraftian Mythos builds a remarkable set of stories around a remarkable and very real protagonist. It will be a worthy addition to the collection of any fan of horror or Mythos, but will be especially welcomed by those whose interests also include 20th century American History, The Harlem Renaissance, and American literature or anthropology.

(Rainbringer is available for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon. Find Edward Erdelac on his website on or Twitter. Remember to rate and review your favorite authors’ works on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever you review books.)

Q&A with the Creators of Paradoxes & Possibilities TTRPG.

[NOTE: I had intended to get this out days ago but Mother Nature decided to drop a world of hurt on Austin and, after 80 hours without power, here we are.]

Paradoxes & Possibilities is a new time travel TTRPG offering storytelling as broad and deep as history itself via a unique game engine emphasizing fun, fast-paced, dynamic play that unleashes the creativity of players and gamemasters alike.

The Paradoxes & Possibilities kickstarter was fully funded in less than two hours. Since then, its stretch goals have fallen like dominos unlocking new character classes, technologies, and adventures. I had the pleasure of sitting down (virtually speaking) with P&P co-creators Sophie Iles and James Bojaciuk for a Q&A about their endeavor (for readers who may not be familiar with their previous work, short bios can be found at the end of this piece — also check out my note about its next Stretch Goal).

Q: How did the idea for P&P come about?

A: (Soph) I was interested in creating an RPG, and as I had been playing RPGs game with friends over lockdown I really wanted to try. As James’ interests and mine align, with being time travel fans from Back to the Future to Doctor Who and beyond, I wondered if there was a way to make a specifically time travel RPG for anyone and everyone, which was easy to start with, and with some cool modifications.

Q: As someone who has authored content and designed supplements for TTRPGs, I know how intricate and even brutal it can be. I can’t imagine undertaking building an entire game system from scratch. Talk to me about that process and how the two of you divided responsibilities.

“The Inventor,” one of the character classes for Paradoxes & Possibilities (original art by Sophie Iles).

A: (James) When it came to Paradoxes & Possibilities, the artist and the mathemagician took very different tracks. Soph handled the writing and the art, and ran with character creation. I took hold of what we’ve playfully called mathemagic–all the rules and math that keep the show running. Between that and the admin stuff, which I can do with my brain tied behind my back, I was able to join in on creating the game without slowing down anything else on my plate. I am very thankful for that! I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this for the world! Thank you, Soph!

Q: As P&P progressed, you brought other talent into the project (myself included) to develop content, including pre-generated adventures. Tell me a little bit about that.

A: (James) We got the chance to work with some fantastic writers–and I’m really proud of the work they’ve done. M.H. Norris, Kara Dennison, Dana Reboe, Jon Black, and John Dorney have made our game something real, and I can’t wait for people to play their adventures. I’m endlessly impressed by their creativity, and they’re going to throw players into some unusual situations.

Q: Part of P&P’s appeal is its unique engine and the streamlined, flexible rule set. Will you give us a sneak-peek at how it all comes together?

A: (James) The rules are perfect for introducing new players to the hobby. They’re easily grasped without sacrificing depth. Too many games leave new players to flounder. We worked hard to make something which is easy to learn, but difficult to master.

Q: Now that the hard part is done and your highly successful Kickstarter is in its final days, how do you feel about the experience?

A: (James) It’s been a lot of fun! I would love to do this again! We floated everything from an Arthurian game to a 1920s mystery game, before we settled on something we could easily boil down to essentials for a zine. Those may return in the future.

Sophie Iles is an artist, author, and once-upon-a-time animator who has a love for the Arthurian legends, RPGs, 80s movies, and Doctor Who. Her writing includes “A Single Wolf, Grey and Gaunt” (found in 18thWall Productions’ Sockhops and Seances) with a novel trilogy currently in process, featuring a historical sequel to the Holy Grail Legend. She has also written for Big Finish Productions. Her Doctor Who Short Trip “Master Thief” was released in October 2020 featuring the first incarnation of The Master and she also recently wrote for the Bernice Summerfield Christmas Collection. She has been a regular writer for Doctor Who Magazine as of January 2020. Sophie’s art has found internet acclaim after creating an A-Z Doctor Who Charity Stream on Twitch in support of FareShare UK and raised $4,762.

James Bojaciuk is CEO Duobus of 18thWall Productions. Obsessed by history, mystery, and the hidden corners of our world, it was perhaps inevitable he would co-create something like Paradoxes and Possibilities. He is responsible for too many short stories, a handful of novellas, and the forthcoming novel The New Adventures of Iris Wildthyme: The Vampire Mutations from Obverse Books. He won Best Steampunk Short Story from the 2017 Preditors and Editors Readers Poll. He has previously written TTRPG material for Glittercats Fine Amusements and ATB Publishing.

[NOTE: Talking about Stretch Goals, as of the time of writing this post, the P&P Kickstarter is just $116 shy of its next goal: an original adventure by yours truly, taking players to 1816 and the shores of Lake Geneva, interacting with some of the 19th century’s leading lights of Gothic and Romantic literature and poetry as characters attempt to stop a rogue time traveler from corrupting a beloved literary genre at its inception.]

The Time Travel Game Your Past Self Always Wanted

I am very excited about the Kickstarter for the new time travel TTRPG, Paradoxes & Possibilities. (Since they’re doing so well, you might want to scroll down and check out the Stretch Goals)

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a small role on its design team (more on that below). None of that negates what I’ve written here. Indeed, it’s the reason I got involved with the project.

In the Beginning

Gaming Old School: Die Before The First Session

I came of age, at least as far as gaming is concerned, in the late 80s and early 90s. While I’m not saying some of those games weren’t awesome, it was an era of the grognard, dominated by incredibly intricate RPGs that often seemed to revel in complexity for complexity’s sake, such as Rune Quest (where character creation could take two hours), Space Opera (which could take even longer), or Traveler (where, as an added bonus, your character could die during character creation). Even 2E D&D looked like the US Tax Code compared to its 5E descendant (THAC0? How was that a good idea?).

The niche for well-designed games that were fast, fun, and simple (as opposed to simplistic) was tiny. Oh, they were out there: Steve Jackson Games’ Toon, R. Talisorian’s Teenagers From Outer Space, West End Games’ Ghostbusters, Palladium’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. For the most part, however, these were clearly labors of love that never found widespread popularity or critical acclaim.

(Time travel games were also thin on the ground. Good ones, even more so. Really, FASA’s Dr. Who and the GURPS Time Travel supplement are all I can think of.)

Why Paradoxes & Possibilities?

…a literal world of possibilities…

One of the joys of watching gaming change in the new millennium has been witnessing the explosion of clever games with flexible yet minimal systems. The popularity of such games warms my heart, as does the long overdue critical recognition that well-designed simple system is at least as much of an achievement as well-designed complex one (yes, obviously I burned my grognard card a long time ago … if, indeed, I ever had one).

It is a pleasure to welcome Paradoxes & Possibilities as the latest addition to precisely that category of game. All the more so, as it plays in one of my favorite TTRPG sandboxes: Time Travel. Every aspect of P&P has been crafted to emphasize fun, fast-paced, dynamic play while incorporating the flexibility to handle a literal world of possibilities.

So what does that all mean?

  • 15 points in 5 traits and an optional class system with each class having a cool unique feat. That’s character creation.
  • All the risks and rewards of time travel mechanics accomplished with a few throws of the dice.
  • Fast-paced combat rules designed to unleash player creativity.
  • A straightforward mechanism for paradox that makes possible anything the GM’s nasty little mind can conjure.
A child’s smile. What could be more precious? Well, how about an original Jon Black adventure?

Speaking to my age, there is something else I love about Paradoxes & Possibilities. It is an excellent option for Gamer Parents looking to introduce children or teenagers to the hobby (which is not to say adults won’t enjoy it — the same flexibility that makes P&P friendly for the young also works well for elaborate, RP-heavy story lines).

So, Back to That “Full Disclosure…”

With my background in both game design and historical fiction, the Paradoxes & Possibilities team reached out to me to design one of the adventures offered as a stretch goal for their funding campaign. A good GM knows the difference between spoilers and foreshadowing, so I will simply say that hitting the $4,000 mark will net P&P’s Kickstarter supporters some primo Gothic Silliness along the Lake Geneva shoreline).

Click here to learn more about the Paradoxes & Possibilities Kickstarter (and don’t forget to check out those stretch goals!).

Edy Hurst’s Musical-Comedic WotW Podcast: Q&A with Edy Hurst

For the next in my Q&A series with creators of War of the Worlds-themed media, I had the pleasure of “sitting down” with Edy Hurst, comedian, musician, wit, and driving force behind the podcast, Edy Hurst’s Comedy Version of Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of H.G. Well’s Literary Version of (via Orson Welles’ Radio Version & Steven Spielberg’s Film Version) The War of the Worlds.

Q: Tell me a little about your podcast, Edy Hurst’s Comedy Version of Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of H.G. Well’s Literary Version of (via Orson Welles’ Radio Version & Steven Spielberg’s Film Version) The War of the Worlds (from this point forward, I think we’ll just call it your “War of the Worlds podcast”).

Towards the end of 2019, a simpler time, when all that we had to worry about was the rise of fascism across the world and the UK’s dedication to falling backwards through a bush out of the European Union, I was working on a new show to be toured around the UK.

This show was called Edy Hurst’s Comedy Version of Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of H.G. Well’s Literary Version (Via Orson Welles’ Radio Version & Steven Spielberg’s Film Version) of the War of the Worlds, because it amused me that Jeff Wayne gave the only musical version of the War of the Worlds a fairly unwieldy title. The whole show started as a throwaway joke that I thought it’d be funny to talk about Jeff Wayne and then try and do a really high budget 2 hour production with no budget and less than 10 minutes, and the whole thing spiraled out from there.

Understandably, the previews, tinkering, performing and tour has not come into fruition yet, but I wanted to continue working through the vast array of War of the Worlds adaptations, re-imaginations and inspirations.

As the book was originally serialized, this gave me a great opportunity to create a chapter by chapter look at the original book whilst also still working on new songs and jokes for the live show. It’s also given me a great excuse to work with some of my personal comedy friends and bother some genuine experts in their field.

Q: How did you first discover War of the Worlds? You mention that Jeff Wayne’s musical may be a bigger influence upon you than the Wells original. I’d love to hear more about that.

“It’s a Musical Version of a Victorian metaphor for colonial invasion with a rock disco sound track starring the lead singer of Thin Lizzy, what part of that did someone think was a surefire hit?”

I think that in a way War of the Worlds is a bit like the Beatles. Even if you’ve never actually heard the originals, you are in some way aware of its effect on pop culture, and behind the scenes there’s far more adultery than previously thought.

There’s two times where I became aware of War of the Worlds. As you mentioned, and I talk about in Interlude 2 of the podcast, Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version had a huge impact on me, as I think it does many people who cross its path. It’s a Musical Version of a Victorian metaphor for colonial invasion with a rock disco sound track starring the lead singer of Thin Lizzy, what part of that did someone think was a surefire hit?

Generally, I am drawn to and obsessed with things that are far more successful than on paper they have a right to be. I think it’s a sort of wishful thinking that no matter what ideas my fire dumpster of a brain throws out one of them might be deemed a success. And Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds ticks every box for this.

The concept is bonkers, the performers are giving it absolute stacks, and it has been a resounding hit since its release. Nobody would have believed towards the end of the 20th century minds immeasurably superior to ours would be scrutinizing a novel where nobody would have believed towards the end of the 19th century that minds immeasurably superior to ours were scrutinizing our earth.

I found it in my dad’s record collection following him buying a turn table at the start of the 2000s vinyl revival. Initially it was the artwork that brought me into it, but after listening it’s always remained close to my heart.

The second time was actually much before this, I must have been 10 or younger. There’s a science museum in Manchester that had an area where they were, for some reason, playing the Orson Welles’ radio version in its entirety. It was in the aeronautical hall with all the airplanes, and I think part of why I remember it is because it was such a weird location for it to be. Why was it there? Was it to do with radio as a form of communication? Was it because they had space stuff? It was next to a model of a Boeing, but why?

Who knows, not me, all I know is that the story of a town entering collective hysteria because of a radio show sounded amazing and too good to be true, partly because as we know now, it kind of was.

Q: What inspired you to use WotW as the anchor for a project? Is this the first time you’ve used a book as inspiration or a touchstone for a project?

I’ve often used pop culture as a reference point, either deliberately or it just seeped into the work I’ve been doing. Given how immediate stand up needs to be, you’re always going to be using some form of popular references as a means to quickly communicate images or ideas.

My last show was about how I make daft comedy songs as a means through which to mediate a history of depression, and it had a nightmare Kermit as my inner voice of doubt. So I think that the art that I love inspires me whatever I’m doing.

But this is the first time I’ve used something so explicitly. The show is a very loose adaptation, and really more about ideas of alien invasions than a particular focus on the book itself. It’s an excuse for me to be really daft and big and silly in a way that there is already an established context, which I think comes across in the title.

The podcast, however, I wanted to create something that was in my wheelhouse but something different to what other comedians I saw doing with their podcasts. I love all sorts of audio comedy projects, but I think for me this helps me to create a sort of audio scrap book, so you can listen to it as if it’s a regular (ish) audiobook, but it’s also got the cliff notes and explanations attached.

Martians, battered and fried

It gives me a great way to look further at British identity, at the basis for our pop culture (and by extension US scifi) as well as questions such as why H.G. Wells would choose for a Martian to be a weird octopus thing rather than a humanoid.

Basically, if you’re looking to do a book report, you could easily just crib the work in the podcast.

Q: Originally, you intended to use WotW as the basis for a live show and adopted the podcast approach in response to Covid. How would the live show have differed from the podcast (beyond the obvious, of course)?

The show when it’s been performed is much more chaotic and sillier than the podcast, my live shows are a mix of lo-fi props, musical comedy and messing around with the audience. The vibe of it is someone making a high-end musical with the budget of a children’s birthday party.

I think the sensibility is the same, if you like the jokes and the bits that I find funny as we read along, then you’d definitely enjoy the show.

Whereas in the live show I’m racing against the clock to cram as much alien invasion, home made heat rays, bombastic songs and homages to other adaptations in as possible, in the podcast I can stop reading a sentence and go ‘that’s weird, what’s that about?’ and then go off and gain an in-depth understanding of early colonialism in Tasmania.

Q: Clearly, your podcast involved an enormous amount of supplementary research. How did you approach that research?

It’s different with each topic, which is a rubbish answer. Essentially, I try to avoid just googling or using a search engine in the first instance. This is because a lot of the time the questions I’m trying to answer start off quite vague before getting specific (such as ‘how does science fiction predict the future?’) on somewhere that is trying to give you the most efficient answer you’ll often wind up reading articles in newspapers or magazines.

“…these particular deep dives take quite a lot of navigating and research, which is incredibly rewarding, but also not possible to do on a fortnightly basis.”

These can be really helpful for an overview, but by the time you’ve got them the writer has usually done most of their research and collated it in a particular way.

I was hugely fortunate to go to University and whilst studying became aware of a range of academic sites. Less fortunately, now I am no longer a student I can’t really afford the access to full sites like JSTOR, but they have free resources on there. These academic papers range from mega headache chunks of writing to hitting the nail exactly on the head in terms of researching, but often give a much fuller picture for me to figure out what I think about the topics they’re discussing.

Plus, they have loads of footnotes and citations which means I can go and find what they were reading.

I think it’s such a massive shame that in order to gain access to these papers as someone outside of an academic organization you have to pay a pretty large amount of money in membership fees, or track down the books yourself which is also an expensive and time-consuming endeavor.

It just strikes me as so weird that we’re meant to live in a world that encourages you to educate yourself and yet there’s so many cost prohibitive measures that stand in the way of that. It’s almost like we live in a society where some people are afforded the luxury of education and the rest are in a system designed to make it hard to have equal footing. But surely that can’t be the case, I say with a knowing cynical look at my computer screen.

As you can imagine, these particular deep dives take quite a lot of navigating and research, which is incredibly rewarding, but also not possible to do on a fortnightly basis. I try to make a mix of the deep academically focused topics and also more fun tangents like the top tripods and Extra-Terrestrial tourism.

For those two it’s a mix of things I already know about and things that I ask listeners to get in touch with me with on my social media channels.

Q: Of all your podcast’s informative tangents, amusing digressions, etc. which one did you enjoy the most? Which of those journeys took you to the most surprising place?

Some of them I kind of knew where they were going to go. I remember during a history of art course we looked at some Victorian science papers on genetics between white and black people that now is appalling and wrong, but at the time was presented as the latest research, which is pretty chilling.

I knew that if I was doing something that looked at the Victorian era, and especially with a look at the scientific, I didn’t want to shy away from these aspects of the past. Likewise with colonialism, which Britain was at the height of its rule during the book’s publication.

It would feel ingenuine of me to make something that’s meant to be looking at the original War of the Worlds book with a contemporary eye and not address these things. Whereas the tripods and the aliens are cool and thrilling, there’s a lot of underlying subtext about humanity’s (read: Britain’s) response to a more advanced civilization attacking out of nowhere, and how that information is disseminated that I think is really fruitful for discussion.

There’s a whole narrative of me struggling to unpick the tangles and contradictions of H.G. Wells. On the one hand he becomes a champion for human rights and an outspoken critic of apartheid, but on the other he can frequently use language that is less than ideal, and although spoke of gender equality, still had numerous affairs.

I think of the things that have really surprised me is the look at local newspapers during the Victorian times. I like it because it started out from a single sentence about a telegram, and revealed this high functioning system of papers that were produced both locally and nationally.

Victorians Surfing the Web

There would be reading rooms in pubs across villages and towns where one could go and hear a reading of the latest news, sort of like how you can get 24 hour rolling news now, but with a pint of beer.

It’s clear that even though there wasn’t something with the immediacy or wealth of information as the internet or television or radio, people still had a need to understand the world around them and what was going on.

No matter what time you find yourself in, people still seem to have the same basic desires that come up over and over, and that is something I wasn’t expecting to find from just looking at how someone in Victorian times might find out about Martians. I thought the answer would be they just wouldn’t, or they might a week later, but there was a pretty robust means of communication even without all the technology we have now.

Q: You’ve brought some other very talented people onto your podcast. Tell us about some of them, who are they, how did you find them, how do you utilize them?  

A lot of this is partly an attempt to bring in the aspect of guests that you can get on other shows. Being a comedian, most of my contacts are other comedians I perform with and so it gives me an excuse to spend time with them and also introduce my audience to these incredibly talents folks. These would be guests such as Hannah Platt, Josh Jones and Tom Little.

Here I get them to read out bits of the dialogue and play characters, where sometimes it will be straight as written in the book, other times like with Jade Fearnley, Bexie Archer and Tom Burgess, we’ll play around a little more to add some humor in.

“Sometimes if I’ve got a guest who’s a comedian but has a specific knowledge outside of comedy it’s a great opportunity to use their knowledge and save some precious research time.”

Sometimes if I’ve got a guest who’s a comedian but has a specific knowledge outside of comedy it’s a great opportunity to use their knowledge and save some precious research time. Alastair Beckett King and James Shakeshaft run an ace podcast called Loremen that’s all about unusual Folk Tales, so there’s a really nice natural overlap that we’re both looking at the past with a funny view.

Ross Brierly likewise is a professional horse racing expert, and an excuse to be able to invite him on and use that knowledge on something as ridiculous as Martians invading was just too good an opportunity to pass up.

Alongside comedians, I’ve been lucky to speak to, both on and off podcast, experts about particular topics. Simon Guerrier is a BBC producer I was put in contact with from a random email I sent to a presenter called Samira Ahmed, who both worked on an H.G. Wells documentary.

I also spoke with an author of a book on the Victorian news cycle for a specific question that wasn’t covered in articles. This was again just from sending an email directly, and often there’ll be no response, but it’s heartening to see how frequently people do get back in touch.

Q: Talk a little bit about yourself. In particular, I’d love to hear more about your background in comedy, influences, etc.

Edy Hurst
(c) Andy Hollingworth Archive

I started comedy in 2013 (I think, I don’t really know what counts as ‘starting’ as that could mean anything from professional which I was by no means a that point, or doing it regularly, which was also not necessarily the case then) and performed big absurdist bits.

My big influences for comedy at that time was Steve Martin, Emo Phillips and Tony Law. I guess that hasn’t changed so much, but I think I’ve discovered more about my own voice and what works with me on stage.

Performing music with the comedy has sort of crept in over time until eventually I realized that if I’m largely performing 10 – 15 minute sets it’s a lot to tell an audience ‘ok! Here’s a made-up story, and here’s some jokes and now a song and now back to a story’ there’s just not enough time for so many different threads.

Since starting I’ve been nominated for the BBC New Comedy Award in 2017 and taken my debut hour show to the Edinburgh Fringe and across the UK last year and early this year. I also do improv with Murder Inc, who do longform mystery shows based around an online suggestion.

I love stuff that is very silly and stupid but very smart at the same time. Eric Andre, Monty Python, Maria Bamford all spring to mind.

Q: You describe yourself as “a musical comedian,” tell me more about that? Who are some of your musical influences?

I think of myself as a musical comedian as in someone who is a comedian that is also musical. Maybe that sounds stupid, but what I mean is that I perform music and write songs but the focus is on them being funny. I will also use music as a means of making an observation or a joke. Real talk: I just use a guitar on stage and do jokes that involve it.

Billy Bailey, Flight of the Conchords, Tenacious D are all people who are and have been hugely influential in terms of what I’ve wanted to do. I also have massive respect for artists such as Weird Al Yankovic who does parody songs (he does write his own music too which is really great and funny), although performance-wise that’s not where I’m at.

I’ve always been drawn to songs that are funny regardless of whether they are by comedians or not. Randy Newman whilst not a comedian, writes hilarious songs, as does John Grant and 10cc. There’s a lot of humor in song writing that I think is underappreciated, but I absolutely love it.

Q: One of your interludes includes a light-hearted segment exploring what it would be like other well-known musical acts (Lady Gaga, Kool and the Gang, etc.) did a musical version of War of the Worlds. Let me turn the tables and pose that as a serious question. If you could select one other musician/group to do a musical version of War of the Worlds, who would it be? And why? 

LCD Soundsystem’s Musical Version of Edy Hurst’s Comedy Version of Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of H.G. Well’s Literary Version (Via Orson Welles’ Radio Version & Steven Spielberg’s Film Version) of the War of the Worlds

Aha! What a great question, and a tricky one too. There’d be a few that spring to mind. I always find it weird that the musicians that go into big stage musicals often aren’t really the ones that you’d think naturally fit. Like, who listened to U2 and thought, these guys need a musical, let alone one about Spiderman?

In that vein the Killers of modern bands would probably have a great bash at it, but I’d rather not hear that.

Guys that sprung to mind immediately were Tom Waits and Laurie Anderson, maybe together, but then again, I’m not sure if that’s fair as I’d just love to see them do anything together.

So having to choose one, ok, here we go. I think I’d really like to see someone like LCD Soundsystem do a concept album of the War of the Worlds. They have such a great way of wearing their influences on their sleeves, and also an ironic detachment that I think would be perfect for where we’re at now.

Q: Do you have plans for any future WotW related projects?

H.G. Wells The War of the Worlds" Mask by Glennascaul | Redbubble
Deadly microbes … not just for Martians anymore.

If we get into a future where the germs aren’t destroying us and the live show can happen, and I finish book 1 and 2 of the podcast, I think I’m ready to move on from War of the Worlds.

Although as said before, my creative output is a bit of a meat grinder of pop culture references and weird ideas my head throws out fed through what an audience will put up with, so there’s no doubt it’ll come back in some form like an unexpected belch.

Q: What else are you currently working on?

I’m making quite infrequent videos that go on my social media stuff, as well as writing new songs and bits for when I can go out into the world again.

Q: What are the best ways for my readers (if, indeed, they exist) to find you online?  

I’m on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @edyhurst (or/Edyhurst) where you can follow me for podcast news, videos and jokes.

I also have my website www.edyhurst.co.uk

And you can listen to my podcast on apple, spotify or anywhere else that podcasts are slogged.

Check out other installments of my War of the Worlds Q&A series, including H.E. Wilburson and C.A. Powell.

GUEST POST: Bloodwood – the Official Author Soundtrack

JB’s NOTE: Writing across a variety of genres Madeleine D’Este has consistently delighted me. With her most recent release, the horror/dark comedy Bloodwood, Madeleine ups the ante by offering something new under the sun: a fresh (pardon the word play) take on the undead. Knowing my fascination with how music and narrative intertwine, she has graciously shared her soundtrack for the story.

Bloodwood – how do you fight a vampire in Australia?

Bloodwood is a tale of ecological funerals and roaming revenants set in the fictitious town of Ludwood in the Goldfields region of Victoria, Australia. When I first got the idea for Bloodwood, I knew I wanted to bring a new spin on the tired vampire cliches, and Bloodwood questions whether the old world folklore would apply in a new land.

To put readers in the right spooky mood, I’ve collated an official author soundtrack, a list of dark songs from Australian and elsewhere. Although Bloodwood is not all grim – there are sparks of dark Australian humour throughout, and so I’ve thrown in a few cheesy tracks to lighten the mood.

DEAD EYES OPEN – SEVERED HEADS

An Australian dance music classic, a song which frightened many youngsters with its strange spooky vocals about the murder of Emily Kaye.

And then the dead eyes opened…

BELA LEGOSI’S DEAD – BAUHAUS

As Brigitta, the strange East European backpacker, says…‘The truth is very different to Hollywood… The creatures are not well-dressed aristocrats. Vampires are monsters. Pure and animalistic.’

TOZ – JAKUZI

During the bleak days of final edits of Bloodwood, I listened to this album from the dark synth Turkish bank Jakuzi on repeat and absorbed myself into the deep vocals.

GALLOW DANCE – LEBANON HANOVER

More gothy mood setting with Lebanon Hanover with their Joy Division meets Swiss Neko vocals sound.

A GOOD HEART – FEARGAL SHARKEY

Wait, what? A vampire book and Feargal Sharkey? Ten points for any reader who has spotted the reference.

THE CULLING – CHELSEA WOLFE

The current queen of goth indie rock, Chelsea Wolfe. Sparrow, the gothy high school work experience kid would listen to Wolfe over and over in her dented hatchback as she drove through the empty dark country roads of Ludwood in search of a revenant.

DAY-O – HARRY BELAFONTE

A song which strangely has taken on a supernatural life of its own

TAINTED LOVE – SOFT CELL

Shelley, Bloodwood’s main character, loves a car singalong to commercial radio and Soft Cell’s cover of Tainted Love is a classic pop banger.

And a song which plays on Shelley’s mind.

BACK IN BLACK – AC/DC

Where would an Australian soundtrack be without some Acca-Dacca? While I prefer old school Bon Scott era AC/DC myself, I picture Back in Black playing in the background as the kitted-up Shelley and Brigitta approach the revenant’s lair in slow motion.

“If a soul is laid to rest

With a perched black crow as its guest

And then a shadow crosses the pall

And a mourner’s tear does fall

Dry your tears and beware

Cross yourself and prepare

Below the soil, new life brews

It’s the living it pursues”

Bloodwood

Bloodwood – how do you fight a vampire in Australia?

Nothing interesting ever happens in sleepy, rural Ludwood. Not until undertaker Shelley sets up shop with her eco-friendly burials.

Her latest funeral, farewelling an environmental legend, was meant to help her struggling business – even the gatecrashing priest condemning her heathen ways didn’t damper her spirits. Much.

But when frightening screeches wake Shelley in the middle of the night days later, she finds an empty grave and things start to go wrong. Horribly wrong. Like vicious attacks in Ludwood wrong.

Were the priest’s protests of blasphemy right? Has Shelley unwittingly unleashed the undead and reduced the headcount in Ludwood instead of reducing their carbon footprint?

And where does Shelley even start? There’s no manual for hunting vampires in the bush!

Madeleine D’Este

Growing up in Tasmania, obsessed with books and the shadows at the end of the bed, Madeleine now writes dark mysteries and female-led speculative fiction. Her supernatural mystery novel The Flower and The Serpent was nominated for the Australian Shadow Award for Best Novel 2019.

Her latest release, Bloodwood is available at Amazon.

You can contact Madeleine at www.madeleinedeste.com or @madeleine_deste on Twitter.

“The Last Days Of” series: Q&A with C.A. Powell

Our Q&A series with creators of War of the Worlds-themed media continues this week with C.A. Powell, author of the Last Days novels and naval history aficionado.

Q: Tell me a little about your Last Days stories?

Author C.E. Powell

The first story came about by a happy accident. I used to attend a writing class and our tutor used to set 1200 words homework each week. Tales with a twist, a slice of life etc. One week she asked us to do 1200 words of someone else’s story from a different perspective. When I read this out in class, many encouraged me to go for a full pastiche story with a beginning leading to the actual event. This I did and it developed as a full project novel. Afterwards, other ideas came about with new story lines.

Q: How did you first discover War of the Worlds, what attracts you to using that setting for your own stories?

I always liked H.G. Wells’ many story lines. The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, The First Men in the Moon and, of course, War of the Worlds. I often wondered about the ship HMS Thunder Child and tried to imagine other things about the vessel. I also liked the 1950s movie, but liked the Victorian setting of the novel too. I saw the film before I read the book as a youth.

Q: What kind of research did you do for these stories? How did you approach that research?

I had a fascination with a British turret ship called HMS Devastation (1871 – 1903). She had a sister ship called HMS Thunderer. Each ship had a ram and sat low in the water. I tried to model the fictional Thunder Child ship on these particular vessels that would have been outdated in 1898 but still in service. I also wanted to retain old muzzle loading guns for Thunder Child. Even though the Royal Navy got rid of such guns after a dreadful accident in 1879 on board HMS Thunderer. They all converted to breech loaders after this. I used poetic licence and invented a big (whopper) of a lie to keep fictional Thunder Child more obsolete. She is the only ship overlooked for breech loading conversion in the story.

I looked up many of the ships of the day, including the paddle steamer (Southend Belle.) Many of the areas Thunder Child visits, and also the land-based characters visit, are places I know. I had to learn a few things concerning naval personnel etc, but by and large, I was containing the story around areas I know. I often get criticised by some fans who wanted the ship to be like HMS Polyphemus. I wanted Thunder Child to look like HMS Devastation or HMS Thunderer. Therefore I had architectural plans of the ship and roughly knew the vessel inside and out.

Cut-away of HMS Thunder Child (Peter Moran, artist)

Q: It’s clear you have a great interest in the technological aspects of this the Victorian world (reflected both in your stories and in blogposts such as the one on the technical aspects of HMS Thunder Child) tell me about the background of that fascination and expertise as well as how it informed the way you wrote these stories?

I knew some historical things about revolving turret ships because of a book I read about HMS Captain. A revolutionary ship that was designed by British captain Cowper Phipps Coles. It was a revolving turret ship that retained all its sails and rigging etc. It capsized at sea during stormy weather taking almost all of the crew including Captain Cowper Phipps Coles to the bottom of the sea. There were arguments afterwards in the British Admiralty. A man named Sir Edward J. Reed was part of the investigation or review of the catastrophe. He would design HMS Devastation and Thunderer using the revolving turrets like those of Cowper Phipps Coles’ HMS Captain. I twisted and used some of these things, in the story, to explain the fictional HMS Thunder Child.

Q: What was the greatest challenge of creating the Last Days stories? What aspect of it did you enjoy the most?

To be honest, there was no great challenge. I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure as it unfolded before me. I knew the ending before I started and went on an exciting journey to get to the ending. It was terrific fun all the way with ideas falling into place as I went along. The following stories of Last Days were formed in the same way. They are fun to do and I’m like a school boy reliving my version of the Victorian War of the Worlds fantasy.

Q: Do you have plans for future WotW themed stories?

I have had another idea form. However, I am doing two new projects at the moment. That all said and done, I know I have one more idea. That means sooner or later, I’m going on another Last Days – WOTW adventure again.

Q: Talk a little bit about yourself and your other works?

I’m always looking at new ideas. I have always wanted to write a novel that people would enjoy. This ambition has been with me since I left school back in 1977 at age 16. I knew I wanted to write a fictional story. I liked historical fiction and loved science fiction. Especially post-apocalyptic. I would read novels all the time and often read historical documentary books too.

I travelled from the suburbs of East London and county of Essex into the city of London every day. The fifty minuets journey each way was my reading time. I was a glutton for so many books. I was inspired by good stories and some rather dreadful ones too. I would think of the dreadful ones, “If they can get published, surely I can.” I was certain I could create something worthwhile. It was the one little ambition that always remained with me.

I started to write a story set in Britain’s Dark Ages. Then I did another set in Ireland of 1920. I also tried one about an ancient British queen called Cartimandua. She reigned in the Brigante areas of Roman Britain when Boudicca led a rebellion against Rome. Then I did The Last Days of Thunder Child and the follow ups etc. Gradually over the years things began to develop. It has been a forty-three-year journey so far. But I have enjoyed the writing quest, and continue to enjoy with new enjoyable ideas and drafts to complete.

I have a new supernatural book coming out very soon. The edit and proof reading is all but done with a cover design to follow. The novel is called:  Never Let Them Kiss You. It’s about a group of mischievous fairies living in England’s New Forest area. It is set in today’s modern times.

Q: What are the best ways for my readers to find you online? 

I have the usual blog, Amazon, and Facebook Author page, etc. I have listed the other main sites below. I usually update the sites on a regular basis and they all have links to various books.

Twitter

Goodreads

Check out the first installment of my War of the Worlds Q&A series, with H.E. Wilburson. Next week, we’ll talk with musical comedian to discuss his WotW podcast.

The Martian Diaries: Q&A with H.E. Wilburson

For the first in my Q&A series with creators of War of the Worlds-themed media, I had the pleasure of “sitting down” with H.E. Wilburson, author, musician, and creative driver behind The Martian Diaries, a soon-to-be-completed trilogy of audio dramas complete with original soundtrack.

If you’re too impatient to read the interview first, go ahead and click to listen to samples of H.E. Wilburson’s The Martian Diaries.

H.E. Wilburson and the Red Planet

Q: Tell me a little about the Martian Diaries trilogy?

My sequel to The War Of The Worlds is based on a second, more devastating Martian invasion. The astronomer Ogilvy–from H.G Wells’ original book– has kept a record of everything he has learned about the Martians, and his account becomes The Martian Diaries.

In volume one The Day Of The Martians, an unopened Martian cylinder–that had crash landed at the time of the first invasion–is discovered in the mountains of Wales in 1913 and transported to London for examination. Separately, it becomes evident that the Martians are actually on their way back to Earth, in a huge armada that looks like a green comet. Ogilvy and other original H.G Wells characters remain key to the new plot.

In volume two Lake On The Moon, we learn the back story of how Ogilvy survived a Martian heat ray attack on Horsell Common during the first invasion. Then in 1919 an unexplained outbreak of Red Weed occurs in southern England, just as Ogilvy discovers that fresh water supplies are widely contaminated by mutant alien bacteria, responsible for a sinister water borne plague that is spreading  around the world.

Ogilvy is convinced that the cure for this mutated bacteria lies within the Martian shadow-weapon carried inside the 1913 comet, and which he believes is now on the moon. His idea to locate the weapon comes to fruition in 1945 with an early manned mission to the moon–pre-dating NASA and Apollo spacecraft.

Volume three Gateway To Mars, the final title in The Martian Diaries trilogy, covers what happens on the moon in 1945 and moves forwards in time to the first human colonies on Mars. Right from the start of The Martian Diaries, it was my intention to bring H.G Wells’ story full circle and to give my interpretation of why the Martians came to Earth. To me, it is important to keep the element of hope and surprise running through the series, as it is in the original War Of The Worlds.

Q: How did you first discover War of the Worlds and what attracts you to using that setting for your own stories?

In the 1970s, when I was about twelve, I saw the 1953 film on TV in black and white. Of course the film is loosely based on the book, however I could not imagine how it would turn out for humans, after they did all that they could to defeat the Martians. Over the years I longed for a continuation of the story–but none came. In 2015  I decided to create a sequel myself and now I am always being asked ‘Does it turn out well for humans?’ It gives me hope that I am doing something right!

Q: How long has it taken to do this trilogy so far.

I came up with the idea of doing a sequel to The War Of The Worlds in late September 2015 and the first version of volume one was finished and recorded by early April 2016. After a few months doing other projects, I revisited the manuscript again and this time I lengthened it. Then I re-recorded with Harry Preston as the main narrator.

Q: What kind of research did you do for the trilogy? How did you approach that research?

My research was done using an old copy of H.G Wells’ book. I also spent many hours listening to an audio version from LibriVox which is a great place to find audios of published books that are in the public domain. Then of course there is Jeff Wayne’s ‘War Of The Worlds’ from the 1970s, which I still listen to from time to time.

Q: What was the greatest challenge of creating the Martian Diaries?

Sitting in front of three blank pieces of paper and trying to come up with something H.G. Wells would find entertaining as a sequel!

Q: What aspect of it did you enjoy the most?

No one was happier than I, hearing Harry Preston’s opening lines of volume one: “The terror of the coming of the Martians was all but a distant memory–a bad dream that had faded with time.” And later with volume two: “Are your dreams your own?” To hear his performance for the first time, together with the music I had specially composed, was definitely something. I’m looking forward to releasing a remastered version of The Day Of The Martians in the near future.

Q: You created the trilogy as an audio drama. Tell me a little bit about why you chose that format.

I have long wanted to have the opportunity to be involved with something significant, and with so much competition for projects, and with many fine artists vying for work, I decided to create my own audio sequel to The War Of The Worlds, even though I had not done much writing in the past. Having been composing music for years I felt I wanted to include some of my own compositions and so an audio drama seemed a good way to present my trilogy. Hopefully the synergy between it all–music, text and the fact that everything came from the same mind–will come through and be entertaining. Just like the composer Hans Zimmer, I love creating melodies and painting pictures with music. Given a choice between writing a book or composing film music, the music wins every time.

Q: Involving actor Harry Preston to voice the narrator in The Martian Diaries was a huge coup. How did that come about?

Harry Preston

Pure chance. I got talking to someone who loved The War Of The Worlds while waiting for my car to be fixed in a garage. He gave me the number of an actor with a great voice who turned out to be Harry Preston. Things might have been very different if my car didn’t have a problem that day.

Q: What was the recording/production process like?

I had to build my own studio and learn how to use Apple’s Logic program. It was the only way to stay within budget. Then I spent many hours learning how to produce and master my own tracks in a quest to get the recordings up to a recognised quality. The whole trilogy will be re-mastered one day. The sounds you hear on the radio, film and TV, whether it is music. films or plays, are delivered by sound engineers who hardly get a mention. It is ironic that the better they are, the less you are aware of  the amount of work they have done.

Q: Do you have a background in radio/recording/audio production?

I do now! And I feel I am getting better at it. Here are my two best tips for anyone hoping to make a decent recording, 1. LEARN HOW TO USE AN AUDIO COMPRESSOR and tip 2. LEARN HOW TO USE AN AUDIO COMPRESSOR…

Q: Original music is interwoven throughout The Martian Diaries. Tell me a little bit about that. What inspired your take on the music? Tell me about the composition and recording process. What is your background in music and some of your main influences (both for Diaries and generally)?

I enjoy musical sounds and for me they conjure up pictures. I love using a variety of instruments and putting them together in unexpected ways–it could be as diverse as a harp matched with a distorted mosh pit electric guitar. I am not too bothered about the instrument used, but rather the mood it creates.  Although most of the tracks have been composed specifically for The Martian Diaries trilogy, the music used for the ‘Arrival of the Comet’ (track 15, volume one) goes way back to 1994 and is one of my earliest compositions.

I find composing very easy and enjoyable to do, unlike writing. One of my most recent tracks for volume three, took only two hours to create and produce from start to finish and I think it’s one of my best, so I’m looking forward to sharing that.

My favourite instrument to compose with is the piano because from the tone of a single note on a given day, can come a new and finished piece. Inspiration can come in most unexpected ways and track 11 in volume one, ‘Laura Has Gone,’ was inspired by seeing a spontaneous pirouette.

I don’t have a favourite music genre–I enjoy each piece for what it is. I absolutely get the music of Hans Zimmer, and if it were possible, one day I would love to work with him on a score. (Dreamers do what they do I guess!)

Q: The conclusion to the trilogy, Gateway to Mars, is coming out soon. Do you have a release date? What can listeners expect? Do you have plans for future War of the Worlds themed stories beyond the trilogy?

I am aiming for a release date around February 18th 2021. NASA’s Perseverance Rover is slated to arrive on Mars that month and so it seemed to be fitting and rather apt for me, especially with the word ‘perseverance’ as its name.

As for future War Of The Worlds themed stories from me–well, I deliberately designed my sequel around the diary idea so that I could insert short spin-off stories featuring some of the characters. Actually, I make a fleeting cameo appearance in Gateway To Mars–as a writer–in the second half of the book, set in the year 2135 on Mars Base Three.

This last volume is going to sound rather different to the previous two, and I hope listeners will be pleased. The Martian Diaries trilogy will be released as digital ebooks later this year or early next year, so those who would prefer to read, rather than listen, can also access the story. The audiobooks can already be purchased at most online digital platforms.

Q: Talk a little bit about yourself and your other works?

Composing music has always been in the background of my life. My first attempt at a project combining text with music was my own adaptation of Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, which I did a couple of years before starting my trilogy. I am hoping to release it in the near future–perhaps later in 2021 when I have five minutes to spare. I also have several hundred pieces of music that I would love to see used in some way.

Q: What are the best ways for readers to find you online?

I am most active on Twitter which is a great place to connect with creative people of all types. s 

Joining my email list via the website is another way of getting updates and news, such as release dates and broadcasts of the titles. Volume two is going to be broadcast by Radio Woking soon, together with a re-run of volume one–dates to be finalised. Readers may remember that Woking is the town in England where the Martians first landed in H.G Wells’ original book. He lived there for a couple of years while he was writing it during 1896-97.

Check out other installments of the War of the Worlds Q&A series, including author C.A. Powell.

“Conning” in the Brave New World: ArmadilloCon 42

This time last year, I was a seething mass of nerves and excitement as I prepared to be a guest at ArmadillioCon, Austin’s long running science fiction and fantasy literary convention. I had the honor of participating in panels on the use of music in fiction and writing for roleplaying games, as well as hosting a reading of my works.

Lonely without us…

What a difference a year makes. This year, of course, there is no mass gathering of wonderful weirdos on the south side of town. ArmadilloCon has gone virtual, with more limited offerings. I respect and appreciate their concern for attendees and guests. Of course it won’t be the same, (though “Free” offsets a little of the heartache) but I’m still excited.

So, what am I especially enthusiastic about this year?

  • A reading by Usman T. Malik
  • A panel and readings by four nominees for the Salam Award for Speculative Fiction in Pakistan
  • The “Speculative Poetry for Speculative People” panel
  • A screening of “All Hail the Popcorn King,” the Joe Landsdale documentary
  • “Con Suite at Home! How to Throw a Great Party,” (Melissa Tolliver, the Queen of ArmadilloCon’s legendary Con Suite, gives tips on running a big party)

You can register for all this year’s virtual Con excitement here.

For all the Central Texas people, I know it’s not the same, but I hope you’ll join me in coming out to enjoy and show our support. Let’s give ArmadilloCon a solid foundation to come roaring back in 2021! For the rest of you, hey, this is a chance to check out what we’ve got!

History’s Mysteries

Historical fiction, it’s what I do.

A special part of that has been cameos, often rather extensive ones, by actual historical figures … whether it’s literary light Langston Hughes, actor Basil Rathbone, artists Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso, connoisseur of the weird Charles Fort, or recording engineer Ralph Peer.

But I’m about to try something different.

My steampunk/weird west novella “The Clash at Crush” will appear in the upcoming anthology Absolute War, from 18th Wall Productions, an anthology of stories set against the backdrop of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.

In real life 1896, an enterprising railroad executive named William George Crush organized an event smashing two locomotives into each other as a publicity stunt for the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas railroad. The event, dubbed “The Crash at Crush” by journalists on the lookout for a clever turn of phrase, drew 40,000 people to a lonely spot just north of Waco, Texas. If you’re curious about what actually happened,  check out the short video below…

“The Clash at Crush” imagines what might have happened if you grafted a caper story AND a Martian attack onto the Crash at Crush.

So, that’s the setup, and it’s a fairly typical Jon Black one. What’s different is the approach…

Instead of cameos, the historical figures are getting significant screen time. Three of the five members of the caper crew are drawn from history’s pages. More distinctively, I am not using the names by which they are generally known, at least not at their introduction.

The one which never gets properly named will, paradoxically, probably be the easiest to identify. For anyone with a cursory knowledge of American musical history, the name by which he is known in “The Clash at Crush” stops just short of a dead giveaway (much as if I said “Country Hank” or “Rockin’ Presley,” no one would have any doubts as to their identity). If that weren’t enough, the entertainer is commonly described using an epithet which happens to be the title of his best known composition.

While there are frequent hints dropped as to the identity of the other two, and they are most commonly thought of as a pair, those clues will likely only be useful to those with in-depth knowledge of the Wild West. With that in mind, I do reveal their identity in the novel’s final scene.

One reason I think this approach works is that, in 1896, none of the three were yet famous. Nobody interacting with them would have reacted with “Oh my god, it’s [X]” or “Be careful, that’s [Y and Z].”

I will be curious if readers enjoy this approach as much as I have.

(And, yes, maybe a couple of hints dropped in this page as well…)