The DCMS rebrand (and me)

Yesterday the Department for Culture, Media and Sport renamed itself the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. I ran digital comms for the DCMS for about a year 2009/10 (honest, I did), a period which covered the last six months of the Labour government and the first six months of the coalition. During the first half of my time there, we redesigned & rewrote the website, but we couldn’t launch our shiny new digital efforts (long since replaced by the much better gov.uk) till after the election. As the extended purdah negotiations ended, and the new government was announced, we launched the new site and rebranded our Twitter account, which at that point had a few thousand followers. Despite my presence, I often had a hard time convincing some of my colleagues in the Press Office about the importance of digital communications. This scepticism was reflected upstairs after the election. Upon being shown the department’s new digital presence, one newly minted Tory minister, who will remain nameless, asked me, incredulous, why we even had a website, let alone social media accounts, and wanted to know why we needed to ‘communicate to the public’ at all – he thought digital communications was completely irrelevant to his job or his Dept. One of the few times in my life I’ve been genuinely left speechless. Anyway, as the new ministers were appointed that first day, I monitored Twitter and saw a rumour beginning to spread. According to sources, the Dept was going to take responsibility for the Olympics (true) and was going to rebrand as the DOCMS, requiring an expensive rebranding... read more

Return to the Afterblight

My first trilogy of novels, collected in School’s Out Forever, were set within the shared world of Abaddon’s Afterblight Chronicles. They’re pretty good, and you should totally pick up a copy (hint! hint!) Ahem, anyway… this August a new Afterblight omnibus is released containing three novellas: Fall Out by Simon Guerrier, which is a sequel to my trilogy, and picks up with the St Mark’s gang a few years after Children’s Crusade – we spoke about the book in this interview Children of the Cull by Cavan Scott, which is a sequel to the two books that kicked off the series, The Cull by Simon Spurrier and Kill of Cure by Rebecca Levene Flaming Arrows by Paul Kane, which is the fourth story in his Hooded Man series (which crossed over with my books a bit) Check out the cover, and pre-order it now, if you fancy checking in on a world I had a whale of a time playing... read more

A load of old cobblers

Twenty five years ago I visited a town in Poland called Starachowice. Since WW2 it had been a town that produced trucks – Star Trucks – and almost nothing else. When I visited, in the early 90s, the factory had closed and unemployment was through the roof. The town felt lost, abandoned, the populace shocked and confused. Even today, the town receives special economic privileges, still reeling from the loss of its industrial heart. It’s not just in planned economies that towns specialise, and ultimately pay the price. Northampton, which I visited this week, was a town of cobblers, and something about it put me in mind of Starachowice. How or why a town organically comes to specialise in a particular industry without Communist central control, I don’t know, but Northampton made shoes and boots, enjoying a boom that lasted from the Napoleonic Wars until demand died away between the world wars. And even though its main industry pretty much died away decades ago, there is a feeling about some parts of the town – not all, but definitely some – that it’s still a bit lost to itself, somehow not entirely sure what it’s for now, like an old soldier sat in the corner of the pub, ignored because nobody wants to hear his stories anymore. Echoes of Northampton’s past as a town of shoemakers abound in the tangle of streets where I’m staying this week, from the abandoned factories, like Waukerz Boot Factory- an oddly punk name in 19th century stonework… …to the house names… …to this tile, randomly stuck halfway up a wall – a small, oddly formal piece of... read more

Timebomb – Introducing Lord Sweetclover

Cornwall, England, 1645 Lord Henry Sweetclover was woken by Sarah’s cries. There was a dull ache in his head, his bones felt heavy and old, his mouth gummy and foul. He reached over to the other side of the bed, but found it cold. This wasn’t unusual. His wife was an early riser and normally left him to sleep away the morning. Last night’s revelries had been particularly drunken and energetic, so he had expected that she would break her habit and lie in with him as she sometimes did on those occasions when the wine flowed freely. She had proved herself immune to most things, but a hangover was not one of them. He rubbed his forehead, which made bright flashing lines appear behind his eyes, so he stopped that, groaned and rolled over, burying his face in the pillow, trying to blot out the noise. He wondered what could have made his wife rise early after such a night. He thought back, trying to recall whether she had given any indication as to her intended business this day, but he could bring nothing to mind. Except, now he thought about it, she had seemed slightly out of sorts earlier the previous day. Her demeanour had worsened throughout the afternoon such that he was sure he was due a long evening of silent reproach and frosty disregard. He was pleasantly surprised when she produced the cards and the wine as the sun was setting, and even more pleased at what followed after. But on reflection there had been an edge to her revelry. A hint of determination, recklessness,... read more

Timebomb – Introducing Kaz

Cornwall, England, 2014 Kazik Cecka was cold, wet, tired and hungry when he finally decided to stop running and find somewhere to rest. The cloudless night was full-moon bright, the raindrops picked out in flashes of silver, and the air was fresh with the first chill of autumn. Kaz pulled his tattered jacket tight and considered his options. He was miles from the nearest town, in open countryside. He could see a copse of trees on the other side of the field, a dark interruption in a horizon which stretched away as far as the eye could see; undulations of ploughed fields and pasture. He had hoped that by now he would see the welcoming orange glow of a small town or village, but there was nothing; if there was a town nearby, the clear skies and full moon were swamping its light pollution and keeping its location a secret. Sighing, he decided that the copse offered his best chance of shelter. He trudged across the field, avoiding the sleeping cows. At least he was wearing the new Gore-Tex boots his father had bought for him before their fight, so his feet were warm and dry. Unlike the rest of him. This was not the adventure he had been hoping for when he’d run away from home. Not for the first time he replayed the afternoon’s events in his head, questioning his actions, wishing that just this once he’d managed to keep his cool and not shoot his mouth off. But even as he chided himself for his temper he found his pulse quickening and the sense of injustice... read more

Timebomb – Introducing Dora

Cornwall, England, 1640 Theodora Predennick failed to stifle a yawn. She wasn’t accustomed to rising so early. Being dressed and busy in the pre-dawn gloom felt unnatural. All her life, summer and winter, she had been woken by the first rays of the rising sun, and had retired to bed as the skies above her village turned black. Her grandmother had warned her about the things that walked abroad after dark: goblins, werewolves, fair folk, and girls with wickedness in their hearts. Good girls were safely tucked up behind stout wooden doors come sunset. Dora had always been a good girl. Her new dress pinched at her ribs. She adjusted the wretched thing to try and reduce the chafing as she worked the lump of dough on the table before her, kneading and pounding the mixture into submission. The logs on the huge kitchen hearthstones crackled and spat as the damp bark was scorched away. The newly dried wood began to catch alight, billowing fresh smoke up the chimney and casting a warm glow that lightened the gloom. When Dora was satisfied that the dough was ready she set it by the fireplace in a cloth-lined wicker basket so it could rise in the spreading warmth. It was time to light the fire beneath the baking oven. She had just lifted the iron tongs, intending to prise a log from the main fire and use it to spark the smaller one, when she paused. Had she heard something? No. Not at this hour. The master was still abed and cook wasn’t likely to rise for some time. She’d only... read more

Timebomb – Introducing Jana

New York, America East, 2141 It was only when she reached the top of the staircase and burst through the door on to the deserted roof that Jana decided to die. She’d died once before and it wasn’t so bad, but she’d hoped to avoid doing it again for a while. She scanned left and right, searching for some sliver of hope; a skylight, a fire escape, some form of cover, a discarded crowbar to use as a weapon. There was nothing. All she could see were the flat, featureless slabs of reconstituted rubber that formed the skyscraper’s top seal. At the far edge of the roof was a small concrete lip beyond which rose the skyline of New York, shimmering in the heat. The skyscraper was an old twentieth-century construction, forty storeys high. Once it had dominated the skyline, but now it was dwarfed by the looming organic skytowns that twined sinuously up into the cloud base. Even so, it was quiet on the roof. The noises of the city didn’t reach up here. Jana knew the membrane windows of the skytowns masked hives of furious activity, but here it felt tranquil and deserted. She was easily visible from a thousand offices. Should anyone glance down at the city for a second, they would be able to see Jana, hands on knees, gasping for breath, sweat-drenched, scared and alone in the middle of a flat, black roof. Would anyone spare her a second glance?    She was standing at the heart of one of the most densely populated cities on Earth, but she felt entirely alone, just as she... read more

TimeBomb Cover! TimeBomb Blurb! TimeBomb Date!

TimeBomb publishes 9 October 2014. Pre-order – paperback | ebook New York City, 2141: Yojana Patel throws herself off a skyscraper, but never hits the ground. Cornwall, 1640: gentle young Dora Predennick, newly come to Sweetclover Hall to work, discovers a badly-burnt woman at the bottom of a flight of stairs. When she reaches out to comfort the dying woman, she’s flung through time. On a rainy night in present-day Cornwall, seventeen-year-old Kaz Cecka sneaks into the long-abandoned Sweetclover Hall, in search of a dry place to sleep. Instead he finds a frightened housemaid who believes Charles I is king and an angry girl who claims to come from the future. Thrust into the centre of a war that spans millennia, Dora, Kaz and Jana must learn to harness powers they barely understand to escape not only villainous Lord Sweetclover but the forces of a fanatical army… all the while staying one step ahead of a mysterious woman known only as... read more