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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 – Second Lives

It began when three people from three different moments in history discovered that they could travel through time when they clasped hands. But the mysteries surrounding them have only deepened.

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...

Matt Helm: tied hand and foot

I picked this book up at the railway station lending library this morning and it fell open at the following, deathless excerpt. “Don’t rush me, darling,” she said. “You’re a dreadful cold-blooded, ruthless person, but I had to find you tonight. Do you understand? You’re the only person I’d care to be with tonight, whatever happens.” “Sure,” I said. “I don’t think much of you, either, glamor girl. You’re unreliable and treacherous and arrogant and selfish. If you happen to think a man’s done you a bad turn, you can’t even be trusted tied hand and foot. You’re mean and vengeful, and the only reason I love you is that I can’t hurt you, and even if I do you’ve had it coming for years. Besides, I know you’ll always get back at me somehow.” She was smiling happily at the end of this recital. “But you do love me, don’t you?” “Hell,” I said. “You know I do.” I want a blu-ray box set of Dean Martin’s Matt Helm movies right now. SORT IT OUT,...