Thursday, 28 July 2016

A Hundred Years To Arras: A New Blog

I have begun a sister blog to this one, concerning a distant relative who died in the Battle of Arras in 1917:

http://ahundredyearstoarras.blogspot.co.uk/


File:Usma battle of arras 1917.png

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Some thoughts about the EU Referendum...

One thing I've noticed quite strongly before and after the referendum is that Leave voters really really don't like being challenged with facts that give the opposite viewpoint. The only responses they can give mostly are repeated soundbites that they descend into personal attacks. Someone I thought was a friend has told me to go elsewhere, I've been called names for offering another point of view in what, to me, is an intellectual, discussion rather than an argument. Very very few Leave voters have a factual, reasoned thesis. Those who have, I'm grateful to them for giving me something to think about. The others, I've been genuinely surprised how poorly informed most Leave voters have appeared to be. On the other hand, every time I've seen a Remain voter challenged, they've come back with facts and been met with abuse. What this referendum has done has expose the prejudice in our society and emboldened people to publicly spout racist views. It's scary how many people harbour these viewpoints behind a tolerant facade. And it's scary how many people fall into the clichés of "make Britain great again" and "take back control" etc when there hasn't been a time of Britain not being "great" or having "control". The poor don't have control. Our rich elite have the control. The problems are within our society, not without, and the biggest triumph of this referendum is to convince 52% of the country that the problems caused by our own government have in fact been caused by distant forces outside the country.
This is where our problems lie, this is where our future looks bleak. We as a society simultaneously don't trust politicians but believe their lies when they divert the blame elsewhere. It's a bizarre cognitive disconnect that makes people not listen or not understand. Whatever you think of the EU, the facts are undeniable with regard to investment in social regeneration, community projects, scientific research and so on. We're giving that up because 52% of us either don't understand that or don't care. A lot of that 52% have suffered directly as a result of austerity cuts, and now they've voted for even more.
What hope for us when we say we don't trust politicians but we still believe what some of them say when it aligns with prejudices that enable us to shift the blame far away rather than hold them to account? The real tragedy is that nobody, even apparently most of the Leave campaigners, wanted the consequences of the Leave vote, but that's what we've got. It's not good enough to now say "let's make the best of it" or "let's pull together to make it work" when there's no money. Reality doesn't work like that. Our lives are so bound up in looking after ourselves and our families - and rightly so - that, even if we wanted to, we're powerless to help when our friend's small business goes under because dealing with the EU now costs her too much; we're powerless to help when our neighbour can't pay the mortgage because he's lost his job; we're powerless to help when the children we see every day are going hungry because their parents on low incomes can't afford proper food. These are the realities of austerity, these are the realities of what leaving the EU may do to us. And I haven't even mentioned what it will do to families and relationships and race relations. We've already seen in a few days lots of examples of racial abuse happening much more openly.
Blame is a fool's game. I don't do blame. But we as a society have failed in our responsibilities to each other. We had a chance to say that we are better off uniting together than being divided, but 52% of us blew it. We chose division.
In 2010, the electorate sent a message that we didn't trust Labour or the Tories enough to run the country, and we put our confidence in the Lib Dems to firm a coalition. At the time, it seemed that they sold out their principles and suffered for it last year when the Tories gained a narrow majority. In retrospect, we can see that they did more to moderate the extremes of the right wing of the Tories than we knew about. Their mistake was in not shouting about it enough, and now they barely exist as a party. Labour have not been any kind of opposition at all since Gordon Brown stepped down. Their long history over the last few years of refusing to speak out against Tory education policy, of not challenging the line that Gordon Brown caused the global financial meltdown, of not even getting themselves together enough to be a coherent opposition, has cost the country dearly. The working poor have lurched towards UKIP and Britain First because they've been convinced by their true enemies that their friends are the enemies. And it's partly Labour's fault that this has happened. They no longer stick up for the working class. Who does? I liked Jeanette Winterson's suggestion yesterday that we need a new party , for argument's sake, The Equality Party, that will put back into the public consciousness the values that we need for the 21st century. We either need to transform Labour or the Lib Dems into that or we need a new political party. And we need it now.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

WesterNoir:: Birmingham Comic Festival 2016 Comic Review Part 4!

And now we come to Accent UK's 'WesterNoir'. This is a proper Western with overtones of the supernatural. This is written by Dave West with artwork by Gary Crutchley, ably assisted by Andy Bloor's design and Matt Soffe's colours on the covers. The story is layered and takes its time to tell what seems like a long sprawling tale. It certainly rewards patience and reading the whole series. Having said that, the latest two issues, 4 and 5, could almost be a jumping on point, as we have mystery about what has happened to our hero Josiah Black in issue 4, which builds up to some interesting revelations in issue 5. Crutchley is a master of layouts and storytelling, and West's dialogue is gritty. Get  it here.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Birmingham Comic Festival Comic Reviews Part 3: Futurequake and Zarjaz

Imagine if 2000AD was full of one-off Future Shocks per issue. Got that? Like the idea? Then why oh why don't you read 'Futurequake'? Some really inventive sci-fi shorts in here, and some artwork of a really consistent standard. A lot of this is pro quality and wouldn't be out of place in 2000AD itself. Plus, there's more Bolt-01! The best thing is that, because very few stories continue from issue to issue, you can drop in and start with any issue, so why not start with the latest? Look at that cover! Buy here!
Talking of amazing covers... the same publishers bring us the 2000AD fanzine 'Zarjaz', which is basically more 2000AD, with small press writers and artists (and some pros!) contributing their takes on old 2000AD favourites. The latest issue concentrates on the Dredd world and Strontium Dog, but this varies from issue to issue, a lot of it (whisper it) sometimes as good if not better than what crops up in 2000AD itself these days. Perhaps it's time for me to dust off my M.A.C.H. 1 ideas and send them a script... But it here, Earthlets!

More Reviews of Comics From The Birmingham Comic Festival 2016. Part 2: Flintlock and Stephenson's Robot

I intended the reviews to come thick and fast but of course, life intervened. Next on my list to read from the pile of comics I bought from the Birmingham Comic Festival was Steven Tanner's 'Flintlock'. I like one-word titles, and this is a great title for a great concept. What we have here is essentially an anthology of three ongoing stories with three high-concept characters. The first is concerned with 'Lady Flintlock', who is a female highwayman - a highwaywoman - whose identity is gradually revealed by the end of this episode. It's a wonderful adventure story with astonishing attention to period detail from Anthony Summey's art, who is quite a find. I expect to see even greater things from him in the future. Slightly less successful artwise Lorenzo Nicoletta's pages on 'Shanti The Pirate Queen'. Again written by Steve Tanner, this is a nice original concept of a female Indian pirate. There is some really nice character design here in a bloody and brutal tale of piracy on the High Seas. She seems to have a plan, and the appetite is whetted for further adventures. Last up is 'The Clockwork Cavalier', basically a vengeful 18th century robot. The art by Ed Machiavello is reminiscent of 2000AD from years gone by - indeed it's the kind of thing that might have appeared there at one point - and for me it's Steve's most entertaining script of the three. Lettering from Bolt-01 needs a special mention as it works so well here, tying everything together in a stylish fashion. Get it here or you'll have to walk the plank. Also worth investing in while you're there is Steve's anthology 'Bomb Scares', edited by Paul H Birch, a devious and deviant collection of horror stories with an array of art and twists in the tale.

Something else that could easily have appeared in 2000AD once upon a time is 'Stephenson's Robot' by Dave West and Indio! in the main, with various contributions from others in the equally high quality back-up strips that serve to support and deepen the main story. The story concerns itself with a steampunk robot in an alternative Victorian England where Stephenson, Brunel and Babbage became more concerned with creating an artificial man than laying down railway tracks. Over the two full-colour issues published so far, we're gradually revealed the backstory which contains as much black magic as it does steam-powered science, as the robotic hero comes up against bizarre proto-Nazi villains. Dave fills this with humour and his trademark strange concepts, while Indio's artwork is a maddening assault on the senses with a vivid line in exploding heads. This is published by Accent UK and you can get it here. While you're there, do sample their burgeoning array of other titles, one of which is 'The Troll' by Martin Flink, a tale told only in pictures of a young boy who wanders off and encounters - what else? - a troll. It's beautiful and, just like Flink's previous 'Man Of Glass', quite moving. Where MOG made me tear up, The Troll made me smile with its childlike charm.

More Reviews Coming Up...

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Amnesia Agents Book 1: The Forgotten Child Special Offers on right now for limited time only!

AMNESIA AGENTS BOOK 1: THE FORGOTTEN CHILD

BANK HOLIDAY SPECIAL OFFERS

If you've been teetering on the brink of buying, you can get the book for a mere 99p on Amazon right now for the next 2 days, after which it will go up to £1.99 for a few days. It's a Kindle Countdown Deal.

On Lulu, the print edition is currently 50% off at only £4.00 until the end of the Bank Holiday. It's another great deal. :)


Reviews of Comics From the Birmingham Comic Festival 2016 Part 1: Midnight Man

Reviews coming up:

Stephenson's Robot, Westernoir and Strange Times
Flintlock and Bomb Scares
Futurequake and Zarjaz
The Rabbit

The best thing about comic conventions is being able to catch up with friends and buy their comics. The best thing about having friends at comic conventions is that their stuff is so damn good. In the case of the comics I'm about to review, the fact that they're so good has nothing to do with us being friends. It's an amazing confluence of talent and being good eggs. The best thing about buying comics at conventions is that the best of them are often created by good eggs who are amazingly talented.

1. Midnight Man:
One of the things about superheroes is that the reader is often plunged into the origin story straight away. We often need to get into the head of our psychologically disturbed hero, but it can be refreshing to be dumped straight into the action and pick up what you need to know about the character as you go along. And that's the case here. Who is Midnight Man? Well, he's a time-travelling superhero with a very very cool mask-and-trenchcoat combo who lives inside Big Ben. That's enough of a pitch right there. There's a nice line in snappy wisecracks and some well choreographed action. The script by Mo Ali zips along at a fair old pace, as if they know this is the only chance they will get to tell this story so they're damn well going to make the most of it.Andy Bloor's artwork has really kicked up a gear here, with some dynamic layouts that leap out of the page. It's a highly polished package, beautifully designed by Andy, with even a touch of David Lloyd I notice on the cover. You've got to love  superhero who roams through time crossing swords (literally) with Margaret Thatcher and Jack The Ripper. Did I say superhero? Maybe he's the villain...

Next post: more reviews from the list!



Saturday, 30 April 2016

Writing: Amnesia Agents Book 2 Begins and Book 1 on Special Offer!

The writing process is a funny old thing. Often, the only thing a writer needs to keep going is the validation that someone else likes what they're doing. So it was, then, that I've been really gratified to see two five-star reviews appear on Amazon.co.uk for Amnesia Agents Book 1. It's been a small start but feedback so far has been universally positive. I'm open, though, to constructive feedback, as any writer should be. I'm already working on Book 2 now, with the working title of 'The Remembered Man'. That will probably change further on down the line.

Currently, there is a print edition available via Lulu.com. I've used them for this edition because I've used them successfully before, but I'm looking at other avenues going forward. I want to be able to demonstrate that there is an audience for this story before I take it to agents and publishers, having had no success with seeking agent representation before. It's never about making money (although that would be nice) but about reaching readers. So... at the moment, extended for another week, the print edition of The Forgotten Child is available at the knockdown price of £4.00 from Lulu.com. 

For those of you who are enabled with a Kindle or a Kindle app on your phone, tablet, laptop, PC or even, so I gather, your TV (although quite how you'd read a book on a TV I don't know), the e-book version is available from all Amazon shops globally. From Amazon.co.uk, it's £2.82, although from 1st May for one week only, I'm reducing the price for a special promotion to 99p and equivalent in the USA and the rest of the world. You can read a preview of Amnesia Agents Book 1 The Forgotten Child and order your copy here and begin reading instantly!

This is how it starts. I tend to write long-hand in a notebook until I have enough of  handle on the structure of the chapter, then I type up each chapter individually as separate Word documents, only bringing them together later. I've learned the hard way how easy it is for a hard drive to crash and lose the whole thing. Thanks to The Great Cloud for all the storage, things are easier now! So, here's a very very rough preview of Book 2 (which will probably change a lot before I even start typing)...



Sunday, 24 April 2016

Birmingham Comic Festival 2016


I'm sitting at what passes for my desk on a Sunday morning, listening to 'The Snow Goose' by Camel and contemplating this blog. I haven't posted much over the last year or so, with what seemed like a dry creative period for lots of reasons. What can I say? I have another job. I'm a very important man. If only. 

Yesterday, 23rd April, I had a table at the Birmingham Comic Festival, organised by friends Steve Tanner and Paul Birch, and the possibly even more talented Victor Wright. Paul I have known on and off for years, during which time he doesn't seem to have aged a bit. I demonstrably have. At what was almost the eleventh hour, Paul asked me to chair a panel entitled 'Classroom Comics Capers' at the festival in Edgbaston, which I was more than happy to do. I was a little nervous as, although I'm used to speaking to groups of people, I haven't done it in this context for a while. However, it went well, with thoughtful and entertaining contributions from John Erasmus, Laura Howell and Phil Vaughan, who all work with young people in different capacities to use comics as a learning tool. Hopefully I may be doing more of that kind of thing in the future - there was some discussion later in the day about doing something at the Birmingham Literary Festival in October. Watch this space.


My new car. I didn't manage to get inside, though, before someone in a mask and cape drove off with it. Not sure what happened there. I'd better ring my Bat-Insurance. What you can see in the photo at the top of this post is my momentarily camera-shy daughter, who was with me all day to 'help out'. This largely involved taking and money that I earned from book sales and finding things to spend it on. Star Wars Pop heads are her new thing. We've graduated from Moshi Monsters to Minecraft to now (thankfully, for me) Star Wars. I hadn't been able to persuade her to watch any Star Wars movie until The Force Awakens, whereupon she's declared Rey to be "awesome" and the movie to be "amazing". Job done, JJ.


What money I managed to keep for myself, I of course spent on books. What I was eager to do was catch up on books published by friends, which I hadn't done for a while as I'd been absent from conventions and festivals for the last couple of years. It helps that the aforementioned people actually publish some of the best independent comics around at the moment. I'm a genuine fan of Dave West, Gary Crutchley, Steve Tanner, Andy Bloor and the Futurequake team. As I work my way through my haul, I'm going to post up some reviews. If you're not familiar with these, though, you must at least check out Accent UK and their brilliant Westernoir series, Andy Bloor's Midnight Man, Time Bomb Comics' new Flintlock book, and the perennial Futurequake and Zarjaz magazines. Google them all, internet people!


Well, how was the Birmingham Comic Festival? Firstly, it was supremely well organised as far as I could see. Food options are always limited at such cons, but that's down to the venue rather than the organisers. It was frustrating not to be able to get a decent cup of coffee at Edgbaston. Gawd knows how cricket-loving coffee fans cope. The restaurant offered a fantastic view of the pitch, and at least my 11 year daughter got her healthy option of hot dog and chips. She declared the body painting area as "disgusting" but they were very artistically done, even if many of the young ladies in painted-on superhero costumes looked freezing cold to me.

I haven't seen quite so many Batmans, stormtroopers, Mega-City judges and cross-dressing Supergirls together in one place for quite some time, but there is always something very heartening about seeing such a coming-together of like minds. The array of tables was impressive, but most independent comic creators reported a slow day. It seemed to take a long time for people to filter through in the morning. I peaked with sales around midday, and then things tailed off considerably by mid afternoon. I enjoyed the day and for me it was well worth doing, if only to briefly reconnect with friends and to show my daughter that side of what Dad occasionally does.

I was touched by the positive feedback on Amnesia Agents Book 1. This is certainly going to be my ongoing project now. I'm working on Book 2 and thinking about more spin-off comics. There are some 'deleted scenes' from Book 1 that, if I don't use them in Book 2, will find their way onto the blog here. Sales were slow but evenly spread, with enthusiasm for the Dracula book and, in one case, an excited youngster whose parents bought him The Legend of Tom Hickathrift because he's been studying it at school. Yay - target audience!

'The Snow Goose' has finished. Time to put on... 'The Underfall Yard' by Big Big Train. It's a prog morning.

BLATANT PLUG TIME:


You can read a preview here.

The e-book version for The Kindle is available from Amazon here at less than the price of a cup of coffee!

"With his economical but superbly vivid prose, Jason Cobley takes you on an amazing journey you won't dare to forget" - Amazon.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

The Forgotten Child: Amnesia Agents Book One

Yes, I'm back.

Have you ever wondered what happens to the things you forget? When you forget where you put your keys or an odd sock, an appointment, your homework or an idea, where do you think your memories go? Do you ever get that feeling where you know you’ve forgotten something important, but can’t remember what it is? Do you ever revisit a street and notice a missing building, but you’ve forgotten what it was? 
There is a place where these memories end up, a place just beyond what we can normally see and hear – or remember. Sometimes, when enough people forget a person, or a person wishes hard enough to be forgotten, he can find himself in this place. It is a place full of forgotten things. It is a place for the lost, the forgotten and for stray memories. It is a place full of cracks where dangerous things from other places can slip in, but also where lost sources of hope can be found. It is a place called Echo. 
Occasionally, someone is pulled into Echo who shouldn’t be, or a memory has to be retrieved. It might be for your sake, your neighbour’s sake, or for the sake of humanity. 
This is where the Amnesia Agency comes in. Amnesia Agents are people born with the dormant ability to sense the differences between the solid world and Echo. Most people are, if truth be told. Amnesia Agents could be anybody: your friends; the man down the street with the smelly dog; the woman in the shop with the flabby arms; or even you. 
You just haven’t been activated yet. 

The Forgotten Child follows new Amnesia Agent Theseus Brown and his seasoned partner Persephone Mills as they investigate a mystery that threatens the balance between the word we know and Echo. Why is Tom the only person who can remember his daughter? Why has the whole world forgotten Art except for his sister Aine? Who is Dev and what is his connection to Tom and faded rock star Milton?

Buy the book for Kindle here at Amazon.

Buy limited edition print version here at Lulu.