The Wish Demon Limited Edition Comic Book — Just a Few Left…

There are just a few copies of the 10-page Witches of Woodville comic book left. You can grab your copy (one per customer!) by clicking here.

I was at the MDC comic con a couple of weekends ago and a few people spotted something on my table that they hadn’t seen before…

No, not the skull… behind the skull… No, not my skull. The other one…

If you’re a newsletter subscriber, you’ll know that THE WISH DEMON is a free ten-page comic book about how a simple wish on Faye’s 18th birthday goes disastrously wrong. It’s illustrated by the brilliant Emily Stewart, and here’s page one…

Emily and I decided it would be fun to create a print version, which we’ve limited to 50 copies. They’re all numbered and signed (which you can see us doing here)…

Most have already gone to newsletter subscribers (they get first dibs on everything, so if you want to subscribe you can do that here), but we still have a few left and if you want one, they’re just a fiver (plus P&P) and you can get yours by clicking here.

I’ll Be At The MEDWAY LITERARY FESTIVAL Thursday 8th June

Sunyi Dean and Mark Stay
AUTHORS TALK: 7pm-9pm.
Chatham Library and Community Hub, Dock Rd, Chatham ME4 4TX

Fantasy authors, Sunyi Dean whose Sunday Times bestseller ‘The Book Eaters’ is a unique take on the vampire myth, and Mark Stay (The Witches of Woodvile series), whose film ‘Robot Overlords’ starred Gillian Anderson and Ben Kingsley and is available on Amazon Prime, will be in conversation with Sam Hall.

Sunyi Dean is a biracial fantasy author who was born in Texas, grew up in Hong Kong, and now resides in the UK. She writes speculative fiction with a weird slant.

Mark Stay is a novelist and screenwriter. His Witches of Woodville series is published by Simon & Schuster, and his new film Unwelcome premiered at the Sitges Festival recently, and was released by Warner Bros. in 2023.

Free, book with Medway Libraries in person, phone 01634 337799, or via your SPYDUS account.
Chatham Library is fully accessible.
Nearest bus stop: Chatham Bus Station

Ten Years Ago Today: Robot Overlords and the Shoot Begins…

Long time readers of this blog will know that I’ve been looking back at my diaries from ten years ago, during the filming of Robot Overlords. From now on the diary entries you’ll see are the ones featured in the back of the film’s novelisation (and if you want a signed and dedicated copy of the paperback, then please step this way and click here).

Here we go. Day one of the filming of Robot Overlords. You’ll note from the image that I didn’t write my diary entry until 1st June. To be fair, I was a very excited little puppy as you’ll see…

Friday 31st May

Belfast – First day of the shoot

The first day of filming couldn’t have gone better. We were at the Belfast Metropolitan College, an abandoned edifice, now mostly used for filming. Gillian Anderson’s TV series The Fall shot there and we even re-used one of their sets for the File Room.

The day started with shots of the VC guy coming down a stairwell, followed by the gang, then lots of sneaking around and running down corridors. Then, in the afternoon, the file room scene.

The rehearsal paid off: the kids work so well together and they look so good on camera.

I snuck off to a nearby hotel lobby (the Fitzwilliam) where they had a nice open fire (it was quite chilly for June) and worked on the rewrites. Both Chris (Clark, executive producer) and Piers (Tempest, producer) are worried about the number of line changes for SBK (Sir Ben Kingsley), so I made sure to list them separately.

It was good to see Jon in action again. Very calm, very sure of what he wants and very good at getting it out of his young cast. They can be inconsistent, as young actors often are, and I think Jon is driving our continuity guy mad with his choices of performance over continuity.

As I watched all this unfold, I wanted to go back and tell my 10-year-old self that I would get to make a cool movie… and that the next 30 years would just fly by.

After the wrap, me, Matt (Platts-Mills, editor), Paddy (Eason, VFX Supervisor), Piers (Tempest, producer), Aidan (Elliott, co-producer) and Jon had a drink at the Duke of York pub before Matt, Paddy, Jon and I went for a meal across the road where we got very excited at the results of the first make-up tests for Craig (Garner) who plays the Mediator. They’ve given him black hair and strange contact lenses and he looks like Gary Numan.

And so we’re off! They have a night shoot on Monday – rather them than me – and SBK and Gillian will join the cast.

I have rewrites with Jon today – hopefully the last major pass – before I fly home later tonight.

Let’s begin with the line changes for SBK… and yes, that’s how we referred to Sir Ben in all our emails, and yes, we were asked to address him in person as Sir Ben. I know he’s had a lot of stick for this over the years, but if that’s how he wants to be addressed then fair play to him. I didn’t meet him till much later, and all I can tell you is he is everything you want him to be: a gent, no nonsense, and completely committed to the craft of acting. We were bloody lucky to have him on board.

Separating out his line changes was a curious exercise. I thought it was a complete hassle at the time, but it was later explained to me that SBK learns the whole script. Everything. And it’s all there in his mind ready to go when the cameras turn over. So any changes can disrupt this process, and he likes to have any changes in plenty of time so that he can compare them with the original lines and incorporate them into his memory and deliver a performance with confidence. It’s a method that’s made him Academy Award Winner Sir Ben Bleedin’ Kingsley, and who was I to argue with that?

Being present for the first shot of the film was a real privilege, though I very nearly fluffed it by sticking my iPhone too close to the monitor to take a photo and distracting Jon, who almost got irritated with me. Jon is completely unflappable and focused on set. This film was a step up in budget and scale for him and he must have been under tremendous pressure to deliver, but he never showed it… despite my best efforts.

Every now and then I would be struck by the scale of the production — the crew, the trucks, the gear, the cast — and realise they were all there because of some words that Jon and I had committed to paper. It’s an odd feeling. Both empowering and terrifying. But one I like.

Stay tuned for a report on that night shoot on 2nd June…

Ten Years Ago Today: Robot Overlords and I’m in Charge for a Day…

Long time readers of this blog will know that I’ve been looking back at my diaries from ten years ago, just as we were prepping to shoot Robot Overlords. From now on the diary entries you’ll see are the ones featured in the back of the film’s novelisation (and if you want a signed and dedicated copy of the paperback, then please step this way and click here).

After the previous day’s debacle with the chunky implant props, Jon was called away from rehearsals to sort it out. Which left me in charge of rehearsals. What could possibly go wrong…?

Wednesday 29th May

Belfast – Rehearsals

Jon had a frantic day sorting out the implant situation, so he asked me to run today’s rehearsals, while he popped in and out. 

We kept off the script and improvised scenes not featured in the film – little moments before or after key scenes on the film, so the actors could get an idea of their characters’ lives outside of the script. I was worried I might become the kind of hippy-dippy workshop-happy drama teacher I hated at school, but actually it all went really well. Callan (McAuliffe) didn’t completely buy into it — he’s a very no-nonsense kind of actor, but the others seemed to really enjoy and benefit from it.

Had a good one-on-one session with James (Tarpey) going through his lines. In the middle of our meeting he got a call from M&M World, his current employers, whom he had to inform that he was quitting his job to make the film.

The kids got to try out the quad bikes today. Great fun if their excited squeals were anything to go by.

Our new Executive Producer, Chris Clark, arrived today with an armful of script notes compiled by him and the BFI. Chris is an experienced producer who’s worked with Gillian Anderson and SBK (Sir Ben Kingsley) before on films like Johnny English and Thunderbirds. I was worried by the number of notes he had, but none of them are drastic, mostly to do with clarity, and Chris’s objectivity has helped focus on a few weak spots.

I like Chris a lot. He’s very calm and methodic. When I first heard we were getting an Exec Producer to look at the script from a creative perspective, my writer’s paranoia kicked-in and I was concerned that he would sweep in and demand huge changes or you’re fired. I needn’t have worried. All of his suggestions have so far improved the script.

The only trouble we had was pinning Jon down to go through the changes. He’s so busy with the implant issues and other shoot prep that if we’re going to do this properly I might have to extend my stay until Saturday.

Jon Wright (director) and Piers Tempest (producer) checking out the implant props during pre-production.

Thursday 30th May

Belfast – Rehearsals

A frantic day for Jon, an odd one for me. I wrote some additional dialogue for a scene at around 9.30am this morning, but couldn’t get Jon to approve it till around 6pm (it’s for tomorrow’s shoot). He was around for some rehearsal this morning, but also had to visit the set for tomorrow, look at the finished implants (much improved), and then had to go clothes shopping with Callan because they couldn’t find him a suitable outfit (and Jon hates clothes shopping).

Rehearsals were okay, but Callan wasn’t that interested, and the others were giggly,— they just want to get on with the film and I don’t blame them. But it was nice to hang out with Jo Donnelly again, she’s a lovely person and a fine actor.

Paddy (Eason, VFX supervisor) turned up in the afternoon and I was happy to see a familiar face. He showed us a few pre-viz VFX clips which were just terrific. Some of the images and framing seemed to have been plucked directly from my brain. Paddy kindly put them on a memory stick, so I can show the kids when I get home.

And tonight we finally finished our script notes with Chris. Jon and I will use Saturday to do the final rewrite.

This has been a great week. Tiring, sometimes worrying (the implants), but a great learning experience. The team at the production office have been friendly and helpful and it’s been humbling to watch all these people work so hard to bring this story to life… and the shoot starts tomorrow.

Poor Callan, James, Ella and Milo. Suddenly their director is called away and they’re left with the bloody writer to run rehearsals! No wonder they were all a little antsy. We did a few games and bonding exercises, but by the Thursday it was clear that they were all ready to rock and all anyone wanted to do was start filming.

The sessions with Chris Clark were terrific and I wish we’d had him earlier on in the process. He challenged every scene in the script and there’s no question that he helped make the story stronger. I don’t recall how much sleep I got that night. I doubt I got much. It was the night before filming and I could hardly believe it… We were about to make a bloody movie!

Scarlett Brade on the Bestseller Experiment | Can You Be Too Young to Write a Novel?

I first heard Scarlett Brade on Nadine Matheson’s excellent podcast The Conversation and immediately got in touch to see if she would come on our podcast. There’s something brilliant about her journey from a six-year-old girl demanding that she’s old enough to read the first Harry Potter, to self-publishing at 23, to having a hit with her thriller The Hive.

I also go on a bit about ‘living a little’ before writing a novel. Apologies if I come across as a crusty old git, but that’s mostly me wincing when I look back at the plays, sketches and half-arsed attempts at novels that I wrote in my youth. I could string a sentence together (just about), but I had nothing to say because I hadn’t really lived yet. It wasn’t till I hit my late 20s/early 30s that I’d experienced love, rejection, grief and existential angst that I felt there was enough gas in the tank to actually write these things convincingly. Of course, your own mileage will vary. I had a perfectly happy childhood with very little trauma, so of course I was a guileless goon (still am to some extent). Anyway, Scarlett is amazing and you’ll definitely be inspired by this week’s episode.

And in the extended version for Academy members and podcast Patrons, me and Mr D discuss if it’s essential to be an author on social media, life pivot moments, the importance of friendship groups and mentors, how to generate hooks and high concepts and much more! You can get all this extra stuff and hundreds of hours of exclusive material by supporting the podcast here.

Ten Years Ago Today: Robot Overlords and Rehearsals Begin

Long time readers of this blog will know that I’ve been looking back at my diaries from ten years ago, just as we were prepping to shoot Robot Overlords. From now on the diary entries you’ll see are the ones featured in the back of the film’s novelisation (and if you want a signed and dedicated copy of the paperback, then please step this way and click here). However, there were a few things that I left out of those book entries, that I’ve reinstated here (mostly me moaning about money!). We’ve got three entries in this post, just as we started rehearsals with our young actors including one new addition to the cast, James Tarpey, who brilliantly played Nathan in the film…

Sunday 26th May 2013


Staying at the Crescent Townhouse Hotel, ready for the start of rehearsals tomorrow. Met with Jon tonight to run through the schedule and work on ideas. We’re both still smarting from not getting our deferred fees, but at least the extra money we need for VFX is now in place, and the movie won’t look like a bad episode of Doctor Who.

In the paperback diaries I changed that last line to “like a bad episode of Blake’s 7”. I clearly thought I was in with a shout of getting a Doctor Who writing gig and didn’t want to offend anyone. Looking back at interviews from the time I say that I’m a big Doctor Who fan. Actually, it turned out that I’m a big Russell T Davies fan, having lost interest in the show after he left as show runner.

Monday 27th May

Belfast – rehearsals

Read throughs. We’re in a room in the production offices in an industrial estate on the edge of town. It’s bare, but we can work in relative peace and everyone’s raring to go. I had already met Ella and Milo at the audition stage, and was probably more excited than they were to start rehearsals.

Met Callan (McAuliffe) for the first time. Nice guy, and our new Nathan, James Tarpey, fits right in. For him, today was as much an audition as it was a rehearsal. Happily, Jon offered him the part at the end of the day. We needed a couple of adult actors to read-in the other parts, and we got the fabulous Jo Donnelly and Lalor Roddy (who would also play Swanny). Jon loved working with Lalor on his previous film Grabbers. He’s huge fun, and, it turns out, worked with Declan Mulholland back in the day (an actor/director I worked with at Unity Theatre about 20 years ago, and was the actor who originally played Jabba the Hutt in the first Star Wars movie). Jo was terrific, such a good actor and a delight to be with through the long days.

I was taking notes throughout the day and we have some minor tweaks to make to the script, which I started tonight.

One fly in the ointment. A guy called REDACTED brought in the prototype for the implants and, frankly, they were shit. Bulky, with poor illumination and not at all what we need. They look like roller disco earrings from the 80s. Jon wants to investigate a CG solution, if we have the budget.

I know creative types bang on about this all the time, but our cast really was a lovely bunch of people who had an excitement and energy about them that comes across in the film. It was important for the four kids (Callan and James were adults by this point, but they’re playing kids in the film, so I’ll refer to them as such: sorry, gents) to feel like real friends, so the next few days were crucial.

Having Jo and Lalor around was such a great help. And Lalor returned to play Rory in Unwelcome where he gives one of my favourite line readings in the film, ‘Big feckin’ hole in the roof.’

And yes, the implants aren’t great. The ones in the film are a slight improvement, but not much. Not at all what Jon and I imagined — we needed something small, battery-operated, that could flash and change colour — but it all came down to the lack of time and budget in the end. I think we’d definitely do those differently if we were making it today… That said, when people talk to me about the film now they almost always mention them, ‘Oh, yeah, that film where they’ve got those lights plugged into their necks!’

Tuesday 28th May

Belfast – Rehearsals

Read throughs. We got to the end of the script today. James is really making the part of Nathan his own.

There’s still no easy solution to the implants issue. We might resort to single colour devices that we can tweak in post. Not ideal.

Got to the end of the script today and finished around 4:30, giving me time to visit the Belfast Titanic Museum.

Belfast is a beautiful place to film. Having grown up in the 70s/80s I’d always associated it with the Troubles, but you could not ask to meet more friendly and welcoming folks. The city is a great mix of old and new and yes, definitely take the time to go to the Titanic Museum. The real awe comes from going around the back where they’ve marked the slips for both the Olympic and the Titanic. The sense of scale was quite moving.

It was great to see James take ownership of the role of Nathan, as you’ll see from the next entry (coming on Monday!), this was a big deal for him…

Ten Years Ago Today: Robot Overlords and my Last Day in the Office

Long time readers of this blog will know that I’ve been looking back at my diaries from ten years ago, just as we were prepping to shoot Robot Overlords. This entry is from my last day in the day job (I was a sales manager at Orion Publishing) before taking a six-month sabbatical…

Saturday 25th May, 2013

Up early. Too many things rattling around my head. Not least a £1000 VAT demand for money we’ve not received. I’ll have to sort that out with the accountant, pronto.

Yesterday was full-on. It started with a text from Jon. The BFI are coming in to save our VFX and shoot budget, but not our deferred fees. Jon’s really pissed off.

Meanwhile, my agent Katie was apologetic, but at least had news of a meeting with someone at Left Bank in a couple of weeks (they liked Myths & Magic and want a general meeting).

It was also my last day in the office before rehearsals next week, so I was trying to tie-up all sorts of loose ends, while also enduring a launch meeting, and putting together a presentation to Gollancz. All done, though. Now it’s in Jennie’s hands.

To be clear: I got the VAT sorted! You don’t muck around where the taxman is concerned. And the Jennie I mentioned there was my colleague Jennie McCann who is now a managing director at a major publisher and is one of those people who is brilliant at whatever she turns her hand to. I had no qualms about leaving all my accounts in her hands.

Jon and I were so angry about the deferred fees thing. Not least as it was done without anyone giving us the opportunity to properly protest it. You can read more about my thoughts on that here

I don’t recall if that Left Bank meeting happened, but the project they liked — Myths & Magic — was an early version of what became The Witches of Woodville series. Back then, it was a TV series idea set in a modern day village, but I could never quite get it to work. It took years of going round in circles before I realised that writing it as a series of novels and setting it in the Second World War is what it needed to click into place.

Leaving the Orion office on a sabbatical was a big step and the first time I had ever done anything like this. I had fantasies that this was it, and I’d never be coming back, and it was a thrilling and liberating feeling. I was a writer. One who’d been paid to write a movie and a novel, and they were now flying me out to Belfast to rehearse with amazing actors on location. We were off! More on that tomorrow…

Ten Years Ago Today: Robot Overlords and Losing a Cast Member at the Last Minute

Long time readers of this blog will know that I’ve been looking back at my diaries from ten years ago, just as we were prepping to shoot Robot Overlords. We needed more money to make the film and it looked like the BFI were coming to our rescue…

Thursday 23rd May, 2013

Jon (Wright, director) says the BFI thing is looking good. They want to give us a creative director to look at the script. Basically someone to be their eyes during production, and in return we get our VFX budget and writing fees back. Sounds good to me.

We might be losing Eros (Vlahos, actor who was originally cast as Nathan). His agent can’t get the dates to work with filming for Da Vinci’s Demons (a show that Eros was working on at the time). Be a shame to lose him, but Jon’s already looking at other kids.

I resumed work on the (Robot Overlords) novel. Still waiting for the nod from Gollancz… But it’s good to be writing again. I get glum when I’m not.

Katie (my then agent) has sent my stuff to the Doctor Who people! Were were both doubtful they’d even consider me, but they seem to be quite receptive.

We were assigned a creative director — he was credited as an Executive Producer — in Chris Clark, who was terrific when it came to honing the script in the frantic days before the shoot began. More of that soon.

And yes, sadly, we did lose Eros who was a terrific actor, but we did get the brilliant James Tarpey to play Nathan and now I can’t imagine anyone else doing it. But if you’re curious, you can see some pics of Eros on our test shoot day here.

I have no recollection of the Doctor Who thing. Needless to say it never happened. I’m not a huge Whovian, but it felt like a good after Robot Overlords… Though, let’s be honest, it’s the only original* science fiction show on the Beeb, so it’s not like I had any other options. I have a theory that the BBC treats science fiction like religious programming: they have one original show (Doctor Who… and when that wasn’t on it was Red Dwarf) and that’s it. Doesn’t exactly seem fair when there’s countless gritty dramas about cops, but such is the fickle nature of televised drama.

*Original being the important word here. Don’t come at me with ‘But they did His Dark Materials etc…’ That’s based on a bestselling book series. I’d love to see more new and original SF&F on the Beeb, but it’s not going to happen while Doctor Who is fulfilling the geek quota.

Sue Watson on the Bestseller Experiment | Do Writers Get Second Acts in their Careers?

Once a writer gets published there’s always a concern that either they’re a flash in the pan, or that in order to be successful they’ll have to write the same thing again and again to feed the publishing marketing machine until they’re driven mad and end up curled up in a ball under their desk, eyes twitching as they wonder how they’re going to make something feel fresh and original for the eighteenth time. Or… you can do what Sue Watson did. There’s a great moment in this week’s podcast where she admits that she was tired of trying to be funny and so switched from romcoms to murdering people for fun and profit (in fiction, I hasten to add). She also hints at a third act in her writing career too.

As always, this is available on all the usual podcast providers, and there’s an extended version where me and Mr D discuss how publishers define genres, when things don’t work out with an agent, self confidence, digital first publishers, success in the US, pen names, and much more! You can get your mitts on that by supporting the podcast here.

Ten Years Ago Today: Robot Overlords, Spitfires and Letting the Grass Grow

Long time readers of this blog will know that I’ve been looking back at my diaries from ten years ago, just as we were prepping to shoot Robot Overlords.

Pre-production was in full swing with location trips by the director Jon Wright and the production team. I could only sit at home and dream of such exotic locations…

Thursday 16th May, 2013

The Robots production and VFX team have been on recces to Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man this week. Some great 360°/180° photos from Paddy (Eason, VFX Supervisor). The one sticking point is the Spitfire: we can’t afford to park a real antique in the middle of a wood, and we can’t — apparently — afford to build a model. Thinking caps on…

The script had the Spitfire hidden from robot drones in a woodland clearing. Here’s the page in the script as the gang chase a boy through the wood and discover the Spitfire…

In the end, we set the scene on the edge of a wood and put the plane under camouflage canvas. Can’t recall who came up with the solution, but it works really well in the finished film…

From L-R: Milo Parker, Ella Hunt, Callan McAuliffe, James Tarpey

Friday, 17th May, 2013

Apparently the BFI are making noises like they might come in with extra dosh. Jon also reports that the locations and crew are great — he’s in good spirits.

A nice report from Screen International today — mostly on the finance, but a mention from Tim Haslam (Producer) on the strength of the script. Another piece on an Isle of Man news site looking forward to the start of production. It said the grass around the castle is being allow to grow after a request from the production.

See, we were into No Mow May long before it was fashionable! The grass had to be overgrown because no human had tended to it since the invasion, and gardening was not a priority for the robot invaders. They were more into harvesting minds!

Here’s that Screen International story. Not sure that ‘strength of the script’ quote is quite what I make it out to be. I guess we all see what we want to see!

The next entry will be on 23rd May where we lose a cast member and discover if the BFI are able to give us the extra money we need. Subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss out…