Wednesday 29 May 2013

Before CrimeFest

It's Wednesday afternoon, things are winding down here at work, and I'm looking forward to my first big crime writing festival, CrimeFest.

Taking place in Bristol, the event has a special resonance for me as it's literally across the road from where I normally go to write, and is very close to several of the key locations from "Eye Contact" and "Knife Edge".

I'm lucky enough to be appearing on two panels. The first is "Fresh Blood: Debut Authors" with fellow writers Alex Blackmore, J.C.Martin, and Tom Vowler, moderated by ace crime-blogger Rhian Davies. The second is "The Power Of Authors: Are You In Charge Of Your Characters" where I'll be hosting Ruth Downie, Peter Guttridge, John Matthews and Andrew Pepper.

There are so many excellent talks that I'm looking forward to attending, and it'll be great to meet up with other readers and authors from the crime community. Somehow, it's very reassuring to find that people you know from Twitter do actually exist in real life.

And hey, I'll be in Bristol with my laptop, so I'll be able to get a bit more of book three done. I mean, it's not as if these hotels have bars that open in the evenings…

Thursday 23 May 2013


For some reason, I missed this one when it came out at the cinema, which is a shame because, now that I’ve seen it, Dredd is one of the films I’d most like to watch in big-screen 3D.

In the end, it was a stray movie trailer that brought the movie to my attention. I’m naturally predisposed to like this sort of thing as I was a fan (though not a hardcore fan) of the excellent Judge Dredd / 2000AD comics. However, my expectations weren’t that high after the unfortunate Sylvester Stallone treatment that came out a few years ago. On reflection, it was probably the haunting music in the trailer (In For The Kill by La Roux) that made me think of Blade Runner and compelled me to go out and get the DVD.

And I’m so very glad I did, because Dredd is a fantastic film for all sorts of reasons.

Firstly (mild spoiler alert) it feels as though it was made by someone who had never heard of focus groups. Defying all convention, principal character Judge Dredd doesn’t go on some trite emotional journey. The young rookie Judge Anderson doesn’t teach the older lawman new tricks or force him to confront his inner demons. And there’s no contrived love-interest.

Another welcome omission is the almost mandatory how he became section. Sure, there will be a lot of people who come to this movie without prior knowledge of the characters or the universe it’s set in, but Dredd works just fine without it. So many comic-book adaptations spend so long spoon-feeding us the protagonist’s back-story, that there’s little time for a decent story.
This does have a story, and it feels like a real, comic-book story – straight into the action, and staying with the action all the way through to the hugely satisfying end.

I loved the costumes and the production design. Often, the best science fiction has that gritty, lived-in quality – a future that might have emerged from the decay of our own present, rather than something designed by Apple. Dredd has a wonderful look – maybe the best since Blade Runner – but it isn’t all dark and gloomy. The idea of featuring a narcotic called Slo-Mo was inspired. With stunning photography and saturated, sparkling shots, the drugged-up sequences are moments of glittering beauty that starkly contrast the rest of the film.

Dredd is brilliant. It’s as good as the previous version was bad. And Karl Urban’s performance in the title role isn’t just good – it’s assured enough for him to keep his helmet on for the whole film! Grab the DVD now.

Thursday 2 May 2013

Really? No women?

Recently, our studio began recruiting for a couple of new app programmers. Initially, I was concerned that we might not find enough candidates with the right skills. Now, I'm troubled to learn that we've got more than forty applicants… and not one of them is female.

I often hear our industry accused of being sexist, particularly in terms of the relative number of men and women it employs. However, our attempt to hire new staff suggests that the industry may not be entirely at fault – part of the problem may lie elsewhere.

Historically, I know that electronic games were once perceived as "boys toys" and that doubtless skewed the number of male applicants, as they were more likely to be interested in the sector. Yet now, women gamers are the norm. Females growing up in recent years have every reason to be interested in games, so it would be something of a statistical anomaly if they didn't make up a good percentage of applicants for new jobs.

Are there other reasons? It's certainly true that a lot of the content that the industry produces portrays female characters in a less than respectful light – consider the recent GTA-V trailer if you need a reminder. And there are often troubling stories on the web about sexist behaviour and language from individuals in the games industry. Such attitudes are clearly wrong, yet I doubt that they are unique to games. Are there really no cases of sexism in law, medicine, science, or journalism? Because if women are succeeding in other sectors that aren't yet free of sexism, then perhaps sexism isn't the only reason there are so few female programmers.

I don't profess to have the answers to this issue. But I'd dearly like to see a debate, and one which isn't immediately bogged down with (understandably) outraged stories of disrespectful language and Neanderthal attitudes. Because none of that explains why we got no female applicants. And why there were so terribly few female coders on the courses that our male applicants attended.

I can't believe that young women aren't interested in a well-paying career-type like this. Something must be amiss further back down the training path – maybe at college, maybe at school, maybe at home. Wherever the blockage is, wherever girls get the idea that they wouldn't be able to do this sort of job, needs to be addressed. Right now.