Books, LIterature, Technology

Interview about The Horror Book Club

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a freelance features writer who wanted to ask me a few questions about the new book club that I set up and about book clubs in general. The answers that made it into her piece can be viewed here but I enjoyed writing all of the answers so I thought I’d post all of the answers in full.

Hope you enjoy. Please let me know in the comments if you agree or disagree with any of my answers.

Q. Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, has rather dramatically announced 2015 is “the year of books” and started a Facebook book club. What is your opinion of this?

A. Anything that encourages more reading and discussion can only be a good thing. Zuckerberg said he wants to move more from a “media diet towards reading books”. A book club is the best way of doing this as it causes you to engage more critically with what you’re reading because you know you’ll have to articulate your thoughts to others.

Q. What major differences do you think there are between online and in person book clubs?

A. I have tried both and there is something really magical about a meeting people face-to-face that is lacking from an online discussion. When meeting in person you express what you think, get immediate feedback and then hear from others who might have a completely different perspective. The debates, agreements and arguments that result create an amazing atmosphere that is really hard to replicate online.

Q. What do you think people get out of meeting and more specifically why should people sign up to the Horror Book club?

A. We have only held two meeting so far but we already have over a hundred people signed up as members. Whether it’s a love of Halloween, Tim Burton films or Zombie TV shows, lots of us are drawn to the dark and strange side of the world – we want provide a welcoming home for those people so we can explore weird and wonderful fiction together.

Q. Do you think simple pleasures like reading are becoming a bit of a lost art?

A. The technology of a hardcopy book might be relatively simple but the act of reading is far from a simple pleasure. There is nothing quite like reading to experience emotions, explore ideas and learn about ourselves and others, all from the comfort of an armchair. I don’t think this experience can be beaten by any other medium at the moment and things will remain this way for a very very long time.

Q. Why do you think people have such a fascination with the dark, disturbing and downright terrifying novels that make up the Horror Genre?

A. Horror is one of the oldest elements of fiction and this is probably because fear is one of the oldest emotions. It appears in different ways in all cultures – cautionary tales, folklore and monster legends all have elements of the strange, weird and scary. There are many things about Horror that means it endures so powerfully but I think the most important thing is that it confronts the fact that there are things in life can be dark, difficult and make us afraid. By acknowledging this and exploring its effects we gain a greater understanding of fear, the role it plays within society and how it’s an important part of being human.

Q. Do you think that for some people social media is replacing genuine human interaction?

A. I think that the panic around social media’s negative effect on the way we communicate is overhyped. As a rule, face-to-face communication is best but that doesn’t undermine the usefulness of the telephone, email or all of the different social media channels we now have. We even organise the Horror Book Club through a social network site called Although we eventually meet face-to-face, is a tool that allows to do this incredibly easily.

When people worry about social media, I refer them to what Douglas Adams said: “There’s a set of rules that anything that was in the world when you were born is normal and natural. Anything invented between when you were 15 and 35 is new and revolutionary and exciting… Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.” Wise words as usual from Mr Adams.

Q. Where would you go if a Zombie Apocalypse hit?

A. I would go straight to find my girlfriend – if you have to go through an apocalypse it would be best to do so with the ones you love. After that I like to think I’d be calm, rational and really good at crafting weapons – in reality I’d probably be eaten quite quickly. One thing I know for certain is that if I was bitten I’d confess straight away – there is no one worse than those people in books or movies who cover up an infected wound until they change and murder half of their friends. Not cool guys.


Secrets & Surprises – Recap & Review of ‘The Name of The Doctor’, Doctor Who Series 7, Episode 13

Summary – spoilers from the start
I had to wait to until the morning after the airing to watch week’s finale episode. I avoided online news, twitter and Facebook to make sure it wasn’t spoiled for me, and thank god I did. This episode was almost perfect and had two stonking reveals; the solving of Clara’s ‘impossible girl’ mystery and the introduction of John Hurt as the Doctor.

I may have avoided spoilers for the episode but I did look at information about John Hurt and the 50th anniversary afterwards. There are leaks that look like they explain who Hurt is and the secrets he represents. I’m not going to talk about them here but if want to find out more, here is a link.

Source: BBC

Source: BBC

Recap – huge spoilers
This week’s opening really was for the true TARDIS-blue Whovians. It began in a workshop with an alarm sounding. One of the workmen (Work-Lords?) asked the very sensible question “What kind of idiot would try and steal a faulty TARDIS?” The first Doctor and his niece Susan of course! We panned out to see Gallifrey ‘a very long time ago’ and were then treated to a fast and furious journey of Clara trying to interact with the previous incarnations of the Doctor. This as intersected with her falling down a fiery tunnel and explaining “I’m breaking into a million pieces and I know only one thing, that I have to save the Doctor”.

After the credits, we saw Madame Vastra find out something intriguing about the Doctor from a murderer and then call a ‘conference call’ with Jenny, Straxx, Clara and Riversong. The conference was held within Vastra’s dream with people participating from across time and space. Before Riversong has time to explain the murderer’s words, they were attacked by the Great Intelligence (Richard E Grant) with his ‘The Whisper Men’, and Jenny is killed. The Great Intelligence tells them he wants the Doctor to go to Trenzalore and he is keeping the trio hostage until he does.

Source: BBC

Source: BBC

Clara woke and told the Doctor about the conference. He explained that Trenzalore must be his grave and it is somewhere that he, as a time traveller, must never go. But of course, he went anyway. Once on Transalor they saw a gigantic TARDIS from the future, the Doctor’s tomb. Unseen by the Doctor, Riversong then appeared to Clara and revealed a secret entrance to the tomb.

Outside the TARDIS-tomb, Straxx restarted Jenny’s heart before the Great Intelligence and his Whisper Men turned up. Underneath the tomb, Clara’s memories of when the Doctor explained his ‘impossible girl’ mystery returned to her before they reached the entrance to see the Great Intelligence waiting for them. He wanted entry to the tomb but needed the to Doctor to speak his real name as the password. Within the tomb we saw the wasted future console room with the Doctor’s ‘scare-tissue’ suspended as glowing blue energy in the centre. The Great Intelligence entered the ‘wound’ in the universe to rewrite the Doctor’s entire timeline and ‘turn his victories into defeats’.

Source: The Telegraph

Source: The Telegraph

Clara then figured out the source of her ‘impossible girl’ nature and entered the wound to save the Doctor. We saw an expanded repeat of the start of the episode including Clara advising the Doctor on which TARDIS to take. Back in the TARDIS-tomb, we saw that Clara’s action had saved them all and then the Doctor revealed that he has always been able to see and hear the echo of Riversong. After they kissed the Doctor entered his own timestream to save Clara.

Before the Doctor pulls her out, Clara spotted a figure who is a previous incarnation of the Doctor that she did not recognise. The Doctor reveals that the figure a regeneration who broke the promise that comes with the name ‘The Doctor’.

Clara then conveniently passed out before the figure turned around and said “I did what I did, without choice, in the name of peace and sanity” and the Doctor retorted “But not in the name of the Doctor.” The figure was then revealed to be John Hurt and “Introducing John Hurt as The Doctor” was stamped across the screen.

Source: BBC

Source: BBC


Bad bits
Only two small flaws this week: 1) The terrible digital placements of Clara into old episodes felt like they were done by an A-Level student. How bad they were distracted from the fun of seeing her dotted throughout the Doctor’s past. 2) The souffle and leaf references felt very forced. I understand why Moffat had them in there but maybe they could have less corny.

Best bits
The funny parts – This episode was full of laughs, mainly coming from Straxx. Our favourite Sontaran was on top form and the highlight was his bar fight in Glasgow – a place where he now goes when he has some time off so he can spend it with the ‘pleasant primitives’.

The mystery – the explanation of why Clara was the ‘impossible girl’ was surprisingly satisfying. Ignoring the souffle references, her entrance into the Doctor’s timestream to try and all of his incarnations was exciting, made sense (enough for Doctor Who anyway) and left enough unsolved for us to still find Clara interesting i.e. why was Clara lurking in the depths of the TARDIS as a lava-zombie in episode 10?

The shock – the appearance of John Hurt in the show as the Doctor was kept impressively quiet and took me by complete surprise. It was the perfect set up for the 50th anniversary episode that comes out in November. Which takes me on to…

Next episode

We will have to wait a little while to see the trailer for this episode but so far we know that David Tennant, Billie Piper, John Hurt and Jemma Redgrave will all star and that we will see Daleks, Cybermen and Zygons. It will be shown in both 2D and 3D and will also air in cinemas across the UK and the US. It is not yet known when the tickets will go on sale, but when they do they will be the hottest geek-gold in the Universe. Expect a tough race against your fellow Whovians – it will be bloody.


Geek gathering – An evening at the Arthur C. Clarke Award

Last night was the first time the Clarke Award was open to the general public. Tickets sold out fast so here is a review of the night from a fan’s perspective for those not lucky enough to get one.

The night started with 250 geeks, nerds, writers and boffins filtering themselves into a large lecture hall in the beautiful Royal Society building off Pall Mall in London. I went just as a fan with some of the members of the Science Fiction Book Club and Postapocalyptic Book Club and we chatted through our excitement of the upcoming night.

When the event itself started it was with an intellectual bang – a panel discussion that glided around designing the ecology of a living spaceship, detecting gravitational wave direction, mathematically modelling visual illusions and virtual reality torture from experts in these unusual and fascinating fields.

We then had speeches to build the tension. At some points that tension was a little drawn out but once the head judge stared his run through the book descriptions the room went silent everyone felt the climax of the prestigious award was close.

Professor Ian Stewart of the science of Diskworld fame came to the stage with the envelope that felt like the most important piece of paper in the galaxy for the 10minutes he took to expound upon be importance and meaning of the award and Clarke himself.

Quite abruptly, Professor Stewart opened that pregnant envelope. And the winner was … Chris Beckett for ‘Dark Eden’. There was a screech from the audience at the announcement and Chris came up to collect his award. His speech was wonderful and included the memorable “I was a solitary child who spent his time reading and writing indoors. The other children might have got other things like healthy fresh air but [brandishing the award] have they got one of these? Probably not!”


The post announcement drinks reception were an interesting affair filled with mainly people from publishing houses, writers and organisers of geek groups such as the Sci-Fi Society. As someone who was there just as a fan this was an odd experience as networking events are when you lack a networking motive.

There were murmurings of displeasure from the literary agents about the panel discussion that they might normally appreciate but not when they give up their evening for what for them was work. However, overall there was a positive buzz as the free wine was downed in the hallowed halls surrounded by portraits of the great scientists of old.

After being very politely thrown out of the Royal Society a hundred strong party left for the pub and I got to spend time speaking to the winner, his lovely wife and the editor of the book. I hadn’t thought I’d get this opportunity to talk with these guys at such length but hey, when you throw yourself into the Clarke Award evening, odd things can happen.

I’m confident that next year they will find a stronger balance between appealing to the literary agents and the general nerds so when the 2014 Award comes around I would advocate every sci-fi fan try to get a ticket. It will be a tough race and you will have to beat me to one first.