Blade Runner Secret Cinema – MASSIVE SPOILERS

I was lucky enough to be invited by the Gollancz gang (pictured above – photo courtesy of Kate Williams) to the latest Secret Cinema immersive experience, and this one was based on one of my favourite films, Blade Runner. I had been tempted by Secret Cinema in the past – particularly the Star Wars one last year – but the expense and commitment to costume and character was always offputting. But, as a guest of Gollancz, there was no way I could refuse the opportunity.

For the uninitiated, Secret Cinema offers an interactive evening where you essentially become part of the film. An extra in the movie’s universe. And it begins from the moment you sign up. They email you with the name of the character you’ll be playing and your role in the greater story. You’re given instructions on how to dress and a selection of props to bring. I was Nathaniel Woodville (spooky, as I went to a school called Woodville and the name ties into one of my forthcoming books). I was scavenger and chose to bring photos (precious currency in the Blade Runner universe), and an umbrella. I wore a paper suit, covered with a plastic poncho, decorated with fairy lights borrowed from my daughter, and topped off with my wife’s snood and some goggles. It cost about thirty quid in total and I have to say I looked rather fetching…

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From the moment you arrive, the immersive experience begins. We were abused by the LAPD outside the venue (a warehouse near Canning Town tube), the security bag checkers inside, and the ticket inspectors. They tore up my ID and stole one of my photos! It was clear that we were scavengers. The lowest of the low.

This is where you have to make a choice. Sit back and enjoy the silliness and retain your own identity, or go full method and immerse yourself in your character. Well, I bloody went for it, dodgy American accent and all. I gripped by umbrella with both hands, shuffled aroud, hunched up and twitchy as Nathaniel Woodville. Poor Nathaniel had been ground down by the system and he just wanted to get offworld. I was into it, exercising acting muscles that had been dormant for some time and loving it.

Once inside, we became embroiled in a mission to overthrow the powers-that-be and create a blackout. We had to go to Taffy’s bar and find a singer called Luna. She gave us a photo to deliver, and a message to pass on, but we were busted by the LAPD and thrown into a cage. Then I was singled out and interrogated by the cops. They were led by an actor who kept the scene on track with the story, but all the dialogue was improvised. They wanted to know why I had been speaking to Luna, and I told them I was a fan. “Then sing one of her songs…” So I then started a nervous rendition of “One more kiss, dear” from the film’s soundtrack. That seemed to help things and I continued to deny everything. Then, after bribing the cops with two photos, I was set free… But they were tailing me and I had to lose them by doubling back, scurrying into a crowd and turning my fairy lights off. This was thrilling stuff.

I sort of lost track of the story at that point, but by then I was already immersed in the world. All around me were sights and sounds familiar from the movie: ads for off-world colonies, sweeping searchlights, and a rain machine that doused Chinatown in “acid rain”. The sets were incredible: Taffy’s bar, the police station, and various eateries were all pretty faithful facsimiles of the film’s originals.

The anticipation to the promised blackout was building and we poor, oppressed scavengers began to gather in the main square, dancing in unison, raising our umbrellas in protest and getting absolutely drenched. I never went raving in my youth, but I imagine it must have felt something like this: a crowd chanting and moving as one, and thinking that anything was possible.

Once the story was over we were directed to the three movies screens where we watched the Final Cut of the film. This for me was the least successful part of the evening. The sound and picture wasn’t the best I’ve ever seen, the crowd was restless, a few were inebriated, many got up for drinks, stomping up and down the metallic seating.

Actors moved about in front of the screens and the scaffolding during key scenes, miming the dialogue – erstaz Roy Battys and Rick Deckards… It didn’t really work for me. Stage acting and film acting are two different disciplines and it all seemed a bit silly and unnecessary after what we had just been through. The flashes of lightning and red pulsing lights as the spinners flew over the Tyrell Corp buildings were much better at building the atmosphere, but it was pale in comparison to the intensity of the main event.

I had a long journey home, and lost patience with the boozed-up chatterers behind us, so I left about an hour into the film, returned to my locker, got out of my costume and put on some dry clothing. Then came the strangest bit of the evening… returning to the real world, walking through Canning Street tube station knowing that if I tried to interact with any of the real people in the same way that I had interacted with my fellow Secret Cinemagoers, they would have veered away from me, called the police, or thumped me. Part of me wanted to turn around and go back in.

From talking to friends who have been to a few of these, the Blade Runner Secret Cinema had the most successful version of the interactive element. My scavenger story was competing with the cops’ stories, with the replicants’ stories, and yet it all came to a head with a transformative moment where, for a moment, lost in time, we were all in the Los Angeles of 2019, seeing things that you people would never believe…

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Surviving your first year as a debut author with Ed McDonald

I had the pleasure of speaking to the superb Ed McDonald on the podcast this week. Ed talks very honestly about his first year as a professional author, achieving his dream of getting published, and then he asks the question, “What next?” It’s a very revealing chat and you can listen here.

I was over the moon to see my friend Deborah Haywood’s movie Pin Cushion premiere at the East End Film Festival last weekend. It’s funny, dark, and cat lady mad with a brilliant cast. Have a look at the trailer here.

And if you’re looking for a major time suck, the BBC have opened up their sound effects archives for non-commercial use. There’s some really freaky stuff available for your delight. Listen to this doll singing Oranges and Lemons and tell me you won’t be sleeping with the lights on tonight…Oh, and I’m 77% funded on The End of Magic with less than a month to go! If you’ve not pledged already, now would be a wonderful time to do it. Just click here and hit that lovely blue pledge button.

Till next time, happy writing!

Mark

Gollanczfest and a gatecrasher…

This week’s episode of the podcast is enhanced by the good folk from Gollancz talking GollanczFest, and by a very special gatecrasher…

 

It was all good chaotic fun and not one person asked why I was wearing that hat (it was to celebrate Stephen King’s 70th birthday).

Oh, and if you want a chance to win a couple of tickets for GollanczFest, get a clickin’ over here…

My First EasterCon – My Writing Diary Ten Years On – Easter Sunday, 8th April 2007

Ten years ago I enjoyed/suffered/endured my first ever Eastercon as part of the Gollancz team. Looking back at my diary it’s interesting just how little of the actual conference I chronicled — mostly because I was away filming authors — but I must have liked it, as I’ve been back for more several times since, even getting to attend as an author a couple of years ago! It’s generally a slicker affair these days, but some of that ramshackle charm remains. I won’t be going this year, but I’ll always have Chester…

Easter Sunday, 8th April 2007

I’ve spent the last couple of days in Chester for Eastercon – the British science fiction convention. There were engineering works on the trains all weekend, so I decided to drive the 240-odd miles to Chester. Points of interest along the way included a sign directing tourists to a Secret Bunker, and a pub called The Headless Woman.

I arrived at around half-six and made contact with the rest of the Gollancz gang. We had dinner at an Italian place called Piccolino’s. The author Roger Levy was there with his wife Tina. Roger is a very pleasant guy, quiet-spoken, but with a quick wit. Also with us was Dave Bradley, editor of SFX.

On Saturday morning I was up fairly early for a stroll around Chester to film its more interesting bits (I had come along to film our authors in conversation, and I thought I might need some links). Chester is completely charming. It has wonderful two-tiered shopping arcades with plenty of independent shops. Even the chains look more interesting, although once you get inside they reveal their usual indentikit selves. One highlight was an evangelist busker who played a five-string bass guitar while singing Amazing Grace at the top of his voice. He was joined by a man with a harmonica, another with an acoustic guitar and a woman in her seventies with a mandolin. They looked like the worst Led Zeppelin tribute band ever.

(Gollancz publicist) Jon Weir grew up in Chester and gave Gillian Redfearn, Sara Mulryan, myself and Marcus Gipps (lovely guy from Blackwells… looks like Paul McCartney circa Let It Be) the grand tour. We saw the ancient walls, the excavations at the amphitheatre and had lunch by the River Dee, which looks a lot like Putney and Richmond, but less crowded.

In the afternoon I filmed Richard Morgan in conversation with Ian McDonald, followed by Roger Levy and Jon Courtney Grimwood. All were great and very pleasant to work with. I like that they didn’t shamelessly plug their books, but instead discussed the issues that inspired their writing.

In the evening we had a Chinese meal at a restaurant called Raffles which had French airship murals on the walls, so we figured it hand’t been Chinese for very long. There was a heated debate between Richard Morgan, Jo Fletcher and Ian Drury on the historical accuracy of the film 300. I was way out of my depth and just listened, learning an awful lot about ancient Greece and Persia.

We followed the meal by attending the British Science Fiction Awards. It was a fairly ramshackle affair, with more in common with a village fete raffle than a glitzy awards ceremony, but that seems to be how the hardcore SF fans like it.

Today we ended the conference with a trip to Jodrell Bank. A very pleasant way to spend an hour or so. We took a 3D trip to Mars, then stood and stared at the mighty dish.

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From L-R: Me, Sara Mulryan, Jon Weir, Bragelonne’s Stephane Marsan, and Gillian Redfearn

I drove with Jon Weir back to London. We discovered a mutual love for John Williams’ movies scores and sang along with Muppets and Disney show tunes. In all the weekend was less a conference and more of a weekend break. Chester is a lovely place, though, and I’d love to go back one day.

Getting a poster signed is harder than you think.

Please note: this competition is now closed!

As part of Gollancz’s wonderful advent calendar giveaway for Christmas 2015, I am delighted to be able to offer a very special prize of a Robot Overlords quad poster signed by myself, director Jon Wright, and some of our lovely cast including Craig Garner (Mediator 452), James Tarpey (Nathan), Ella Hunt (Alex) and Gillian bleedin’ blinkin’ flippin’ Anderson!

Getting these signatures was no easy task. Jon, Ella and I attended the MCM Comic Con in Birmingham in March, and we signed a few for punters then, but they were all gone before I  could grab a spare.

And this was the first I had seen of the posters, which meant that when I was in the company of living legend Sir Ben Kingsley the previous week for his publicity stint, I didn’t have one for him to sign!

I did get manage to get some for EasterCon in April, and clung on to the three I had left over with a cunning plan to get as many of the Robot Overlords stars to sign them over the coming year of cons and festivals.

Next up was the London MCM in May, and this was when I hit Robo-star paydirt. We were interviewing some of the actors for DVD extras, and I was lucky enough to nab Craig and James in between shooting and they were gracious enough to sign my posters. Next up was Gillian Anderson, but her schedule was so incredibly tight that there was no guarantee she would have the time to sign. Indeed, the very second after she arrived, she was swept away for a series of interviews, such is the nature of these high-pressure press days: everything is timed to the minute, and I would have to choose my moment carefully if I was to crash in. Next she had a panel with Jon, where she received fan-love, chocolates, and a proposal from James…

And then after that she was swept away for an interview with James for the DVD. By now, her car had its engine running (she was about to fly off to make something called The X-Files… you may have heard of it), and my window of opportunity was rapidly closing.

Luckily, our publicist Marek came to the rescue and somehow found a gap of 76.5 seconds in the schedule. We threw the posters on the floor, threw a bunch of silver Sharpies at Gillian and while I held the posters flat she kneeled down and scribbled her autograph on them. There was even time for a fanboy pic…

I haven't washed since...
I haven’t washed since…
… and then she was gone!

I carefully rolled the posters into their tube… But I wanted more!!

My other targets were Ella, Callan McAuliffe (Sean) and Milo Parker (Connor). But they were all off making other movies: Callan’s made five films since Robots, Milo was away with Gandalf making Mr. Holmes, and Ella had a big costume drama lined-up… But then it got bumped to next year! Her delay was my good fortune, and she kindly popped into the Gollancz offices where we put the world to rights over tea and brownies, and she signed the posters.

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So there you have it, fair reader. If you are the lucky winner of this poster, please bear in mind all the times I had to lug a poster tube on the underground, all the miles and miles of Sharpie ink, and all the nerves and tension wondering if I would get those rare signatures. Frame it, prostate yourself before it every morning, give it a dust every now and then, and then flog it when you’re old and grey and I’ve won all those Oscars.

Click here to go to the Gollancz blog to enter (UK-only, I’m afraid, but I’m sure you overseas folk have friends in the UK who can enter on your behalf, and if they win they can pop it in the post after they’ve first gazed upon its awesomeness, yes?)

Good luck!

 

The GollanczFest is a go-go!

gollanczfest

Gollancz Fest 2015: 16th-17th October – Manchester and London, events tbc

Not sure what I’ll be doing yet, but there will be an awesome line-up of talent (and me!), so you’d have to be some sort of weird anti-geek to miss out…

Last year tickets were sold out in three weeks, so to get yours click here.

My EasterCon 2015 schedule

If you’re coming along to Dysprosium 2015 (EasterCon to the rest of us!), then here’s what I’ll be up to on the Saturday and the Sunday.

Saturday 4th April:

10-11am Build your awesome robot – Wright room

Described in the brochure thusly…

Build Your Awesome Robot: Child-friendly activity. Priority is given to children 17 and under. Children under 16 must be accompanied by a responsible adult. Using cardboard boxes, egg boxes, toilet rolls, metal food trays, cereal boxes etc, plus some coloured card, tape, and glue, you can build your own ready-to-wear robot. Zandy has an incredible book that gives suggestions on things you can put on your robot. We’ll make sure to copy the relevant bits and people can draw their own signs on card. Zandy Hemsley, Mark Stay.

Yup, Zandy and me will be helping kids build their own robots. What could possibly go wrong?! Assuming that we haven’t all been enslaved by the children’s automations you can always come to…

12.30-1.30 Author reading (following Jaine Fenn) – Johnson room

This hardly seems fair: I have to follow the awesome Jaine Fenn! She’s a proper science fiction writer with a garret and everything! I’ll do my best and maybe read the bit from the novelisation with the exploding head.

Sunday:

10-11am Robot Overlords from script to screen – Bleriot room

This will be great fun. Myself and Paddy Eason (VFX supervisor on Robot Overlords) will take you on a journey from a page of script right through to a finished scene from the film. It’s also a great way to show just how an indie Brit sci-fi film gets made these days (with great difficulty, as it happens). This will be a multimedia tour de force with never-before-seen concept art and behind-the-scenes material.

11.15-12.15 Gollancz Room party

This will be where all the cool kids will be hanging out. So be there, or be a giant robot cube…

Robot Overlords Cube concept art by Paul Caitling
Robot Overlords Cube concept art by Paul Caitling

A Goodreads Robot Overlords book giveaway – ends 1st March

Those lovely people at Goodreads, in association with those equally lovely Geeks at Gollancz, are giving away – yes! Giving away! – ten copies of the Robot Overlords novelisation.

Ten copies! That’s (taps calculator)… lots of money I won’t ever see because of their insane generosity. It’s called “marketing” or something.

“But how do I stand a chance of winning?” you ask. Simple, just click here and then click on the ‘Enter to win’ button. Yes, it’s really that straightforward: two clicks… You’d be insane not to give it a try.

But hurry, it ends on the 1st of March!

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This thing of beauty for no pennies!

PS. Be sure to check the Ts&Cs, as this offer is only available in Great Britain.

Robot Overlords – The Book of the Film!

Hurrah and huzzah, now that the PR gods have finally announced it from on high – for we must all wait upon such things in these times of heightened, super-whizzy media – I can now talk about the film tie-in novel of ROBOT OVERLORDS wot I wrote.

First of all, let us gaze upon the awesomeness of the cover art…

It's a robot... a big one!
It’s a robot… a big one!

The Sentry robot was kindly donated and posed by the good folk at Nvizible (laser weapon, model’s own), and the rest was co-ordinated and designed by Nick May of the Orion art department and the wizards at Blacksheep Design, who’ve won awards for all sorts of cool covers, not least Adam Roberts’ JACK GLASS, one of my favourites of last year.

The book has been huge fun to write and, in the tradition of my favourite tie-in novels, will expand on scenes and characters from the film, as well having plenty of new material completely original to the book. My hope is that the book and film will complement one another, so if there’s a moment in the film that leaves you wanting to know more, you’ll find it in the book.

Tie-in novels are usually a late addition to a publishers’ schedule, often written in a rush by an outside writer. So I am very grateful that Gollancz took a punt early on in the process, and gave the go-ahead to this while we were still shooting the film. It’s given me the time to write the book I wanted to and, thanks to the brilliant editing of Gillian Redfearn and the copy-editing skills of Lisa Rogers, it’s become a much better book than I could have hoped for.

It’ll be available in paperback and eBook, and there might even be an audio edition. The publication date will be as per the release of the film. We’re saying February 2015 at the moment, but that will almost certainly change. There might even be a special edition with some top secret added extras. I’ll be sure to update here with any news as soon as I get it, and be sure to follow @Robot_Overlords on Twitter for news about the film.

 

Elite is back! A guide for the uninitiated…

A version of this first appeared over at the Gollancz Blog.

I was delighted to hear that classic game ELITE was making a comeback this year, and even more delighted when I learned that Gollancz would be publishing a trio of tie-in novels. But what is thing you call ELITE, you cry? You mean you don’t know?!

Well, I had a similar reaction from some of m’learned (or not) sales colleagues at Orion Publishing, so I put together the following to help them sell it in…

 

Morning all,

It has come to my attention that some of you are struggling to get your heads around the Elite books, so here’s a quick guide for you norms…

Elite was a space trading game launched in 1984. The player could pootle around the universe, going from space station to space station, buying and selling goods. Of course, after a while this got boring and the player would be tempted to sell weapons and narcotics to make more money to buy cool stuff like docking computers (docking was really bloody hard), but this would usually get you blown up by the space fuzz.

It was massively addictive, and I, like many others my age, spent hours hunched over my BBC B computer staring at simple graphics like this…

 

That triangle thing is a spaceship, the dodecahedron thingy with the letterbox is a space station.
That triangle thing is a spaceship, the dodecahedron thingy with the letterbox is a space station.

 

It was a huge influence on gaming, and for years afterwards men (mostly) of a certain age would talk whimsically of Elite and the hours of pleasure it gave them (this was years before internet porn).

Well, of course, nothing stays dead forever these days and now Elite is coming back. Only now it looks like this (click to enlarge for the full cor blimey experience)…

Holy crap! Explosions!
Holy crap! Explosions!
Big space stations! Space ships!
Big space stations! Space ships!
More explosions! More spaceships! Where do I sign??
More explosions! More spaceships! Where do I sign??

The new game has been brought to life via Kickstarter – that is, paid for by fans who will get first dibs at the game.Gollancz saw this and, as part of the Kickstarter, bought the rights to the books. The books are all set in the Elite universe and are quite different:

Elite: Wanted by Gavin Smith and Stephen Deas (writing together as Gavin Deas) is the action-packed one:

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Action. Packed in like a contortionist in a steamer trunk.

Elite: Nemorensis by Simon Spurrier is the sexy, violent one:

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I don’t know what word means, but it sounds cool!

Elite: Docking is difficult by Gideon Defoe is the funny one:

He wrote the brilliant Pirates in an adventure with... books. And he's not wrong about docking.
Gideon wrote the brilliant Pirates in an adventure with… books. And he’s not wrong about docking.

The current plan is to release the eBooks on 15th May and the three HBs on October 16th.

I hope this all helps and let me know if you need any further info.

All the best,

Mark