The Benefits of Being a Squeaky Hinge (as opposed to being unhinged)

What a week… firstly I went with the Gollancz gang to Secret Cinema’s Blade Runner, an incredible immersive experience that I’m still thinking about now. You can read about what happened (including my arrest and interrogation) here!

I also had a great time at the Herne Bay Sci-Fi By The Sea convention at the weekend. Not only was I with my brothers-in-ink Kit Cox and Thom Burgess, but it had a wonderful family atmosphere and I sold and signed quite a few books. I hope to return next year.

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Some of you might understandably cry, “You jammy sod, how do you get those cushy gigs?” Well, one thing I’ve learned over the years is to be a bit shameless and make a bit of noise, and I’ve tried to apply this to every avenue of life, and generally it works. Back when I was starting out as an actor, a friend put me in touch with the film director Vadim Jean. Vadim was hot off Leon the Pig Farmer and, incredibly, he returned my call… but I was out. He left a message with my dad to call back. I had already summoned up all my courage to have left a message for him in the first place, and a weird crippling shyness and fear prevented me from calling him again, and so I never did… God only knows what opportunities I missed because I felt that I was being a needy pain. It’s something I did a few more times in my youth, and I never really remedied it until I had a bit of success and younger writers started contacting me for advice! I was delighted and only too pleased to give whatever encouragement I could to steer them in the right direction… They weren’t being a pain. They were starting out and were bold enough to ask for a bit of help. Ever since I’ve overcome any doubts and been the first to volunteer myself for all sorts of endeavours. It’s one of the reasons I’m presenting a podcast, it’s how I got my agents, it’s how I summoned the nerve to invite myself to various comic cons and pretend to be in Blade Runner.

The world will not come to me, so I need to make a bit of noise to attract its attention.

The same rule applies for my agents and work life: book, TV and film people already have far too much to do, but if you want their attention you need to be a bit of a squeaky hinge. Not too taxing, not rude or obnoxious, but the squeaky hinge that can be sorted quickly so they can get on with their other stuff. Just this week, I politely chased a TV production company for an update and, as a result, I have a meeting with a director next week that could prove to be life-changing (or it could just be a nice chat over coffee… who knows?).

As I discovered with the Blade Runner experience, the more you put into something, the more you’ll get out. Be bold!

Speaking of bold, if you haven’t pre-ordered my fantasy novel, The End of Magic you can do it right now and still get your name in the book. Click here!

And you can download a short story set in the same universe. In How Drust Krax Lost Two Fingers you meet the novel’s main antagonist and it’s all seen from the POV of a defeated warlord who awaits execution, but also really, really needs to use the privvy… It’s available exclusively for my newsletter subscribers, and you can sign up for that here!

Until next time!

Mark

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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…