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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...

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...

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...
Timebomb – Introducing Kaz

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...
Iain Banks and deferred pleasures

Iain Banks and deferred pleasures

The first Iain Banks book I read was The Wasp Factory. I knew I was going to enjoy it, so I put it aside as a reward for finishing my finals at University. It sat on my shelf, a deferred pleasure. I remember the circumstances of reading it vividly – I had been to our graduation ball and, unable to sleep after a very drunken, flirty evening, I collapsed on my bed and picked up the book. I didn’t sleep that night at all. I devoured that story and, still awake at 6am, I went for a walk in the early morning mists, my head swimming with excitement about my future, and the strange, dislocated sense of formless dread that Banks had conjured in me. “Come outside,” the book seemed to say, “the world is far, far weirder than you could possibly imagine…” Looking back on that moment of transition, it feels almost as if it was Banks himself who ushered me out of adolescence into the wider world with a warm but slightly ghoulish grin of amused invitation. I read The Crow Road in one sitting, too, in an attic bedsit in Brussels where I hid from the menagerie of freaks who shared the house with me – the mad, snaggle-toothed landlady, her grotesquely fat son who read books about nineteenth century post codes, the alcoholic Aussie tennis coach, and the Irish girl across the hall, who I loved with a fervent, unrequited passion – they swim in and out of Gallanach in my muddled memories, no more real than Uncle Rory, Prentice, Ashley and the rest. Two...