Tag Archives: author

Songs with the Liars

“I only said how I want to be there and I would sing my songs with the liars,and my lies with the singers.”
Anne Sexton

inktober 12

Here we are at the start of another year. I’m not going to bother with all that revisionist malarkey that everybody does. Why repeat that when others have done it better?

Instead, let’s look at what’s ahead. What are your plans for 2016?

I sold my science fiction novel ROSEWATER to Apex Books. Tentative release date is September 2016. Watch this space, as there may be a promotional website.

Also in September 2016, Secret Project X, a novella. I’ll discuss this with its real title when the embargo is lifted. All I can say is, I’ve finished the novella, including rewrites and editorial input. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I’m working on two projects, LABOURS, an urban fantasy novel set in London, and painting an internal illustration for a short story collection.

My 2015 novel MAKING WOLF is still getting good reviews. You’ve bought it, right?

“The British Yoruba author Tade Thompson was previously known to me as a creator of speculative fiction, so I was rather surprised to discover this excellent writer’s intriguingly titled debut novel, Making Wolf, is non-spec mystery/suspense.  Set in the fictional West African nation of Alcacia, this is a novel well aware of the Bond mythos, and there’s a moment where I thought Bond’s path was the one the plot would take.  Then Thompson smashed that notion to smithereens, and kept smashing.  I was not only surprised repeatedly, I was made very aware that my ignorance of what goes on in parts of humanity’s home continent was by choice.  Brutal, unsparing, brilliant.  Find Thompson’s work and read it.”



Available at all good interwebs!



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Pieces (or Bits)

With everything that’s happened in Paris this week I just want emergency kittens. Jeez.


I just returned from a writers retreat. For the uninitiated, this means a venue where writers are secluded, fed and watered, then left to concentrate on writing and sleeping to the exclusion of all else.

I’d never been to one before, but I found the experience positive. I got a whole lot of writing done, I met some interesting people, and the food was scrumptious. I’d definitely do it again.


My story Honourable Mention in the anthology Dangerous Games seems to be doing okay.

“In many instances, you are left wanting to know what happens next – Helen Marshall’s highly creepy tale, Paul Kearney’s Civil War re-enactment story and Tade Thompson’s effective updating of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, are prime examples”

I’m glad it seemed that way, but in fact I’ve never read the book or seen the movie of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? , but I’m now hunting down a DVD version because the synopsis looks interesting.

Full review here.


Today I’m finishing up rewrites on a story called The Monkey House for Omenana Magazine. I just need to merge two characters into one and prune some unnecessary interactions and I’ll be good to go.

After that I’ll work on a story titled Bootblack for Hidden Youth. After that, I have to complete Mystery Project 1 (more on this later).

Other than these three, my only writing this year will be long-form.

That’s all the writing news.


I’m currently reading Hell’s Angels, by Hunter S. Thompson.

I thought I had read it before, but it turns out I only got half-way before I was seduced by new books.

Intense, with high re-read potential.


Be good.

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Some news: World Fantasy Convention

So…my story ‘SLIP ROAD’ will be part of the anthology “Unconventional Fantasy, A Celebration of Forty Years of the World Fantasy Convention.”

I’m pleased.

Meanwhile, stuck in rewrites, but I will be in and out of this place.

Tip your waitresses!

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‘Dangerous Games’ cover reveal

Over at Solaris Books they’ve revealed the cover for the upcoming ‘Dangerous Games’ anthology, edited by Jon Oliver (who just won a British Fantasy Award a few weeks ago), and which contains my story ‘Honourable Mention’. Available Dec 2014.




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Unfocused Thoughts

I was reminded of something I read a long time ago today.

Ray Bradbury said this:

“Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it acting, writing, painting, or living itself, which is the greatest art of all”

Many other great artists have said something similar. The bare bones of the idea is that you must create something honest and that the honesty in question will expose you but paradoxically save you as a creator. You must not fear the exposure or vulnerability that any creative act brings along with it.

You must not fear the jibe of those who say you are not good enough. You must not fear the pedantic who says you did not get it right.You must not fear the derision of failed artists who consistently tell you that you look like an idiot for trying to do what they could not. You must not fear even though you may not be good enough, may not get it right, and may in fact look like an idiot. 

The trick is not to be perfect the first time out, but to just be out in spite of imperfection. 

Who wants to be perfect anyway? Flaws are much more interesting…



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Mental Illness Primer for Speculative Fiction Creators: Contents page

I wrote the primer from slides that I prepared for a talk. I know this is doing it backwards but someone requested a Table of Contents so:

Part 1: Why Should I Care?

Part 2: What is Mental Illness

Part 3: How to Assess Mental Illness

Part 4: Mini Case-Study: Buffy

Part 5: Electroconvulsive Therapy

Part 6: Suicide and the Sandman

Part 7: Hush and the Freakshow



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Mental Illness Primer for Speculative Fiction Writers 7: ‘Hush’ and the Freakshow

Key Learning Points So Far:

The portrayal of mental illness by writers/creators affects stigma. Stigma leads to negative treatment once individual is identified (‘marked’) as mentally unwell.

Mental illness is difficult to define but is socio-culturally determined. Cultural context is important when depicting a character as mentally ill. There should be no drug/alcohol intoxication or organic illness. Behaviour/experience also needs to be sustained in order to attribute it to mental illness.

The assessment of mental illness should draw information from as many sources as possible (self, others, mental health workers), and should consider a change from the baseline.

Examination of Buffy s6ep17 shows superficial attendance to reality of mental illness. 

Electro-convulsive Therapy (ECT) has a troubled history, but is both safe and effective.

Be sensitive. Suicide should not be a punchline or plot device. Remember that what you write affects real people with real lives. The suicide of Morpheus in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was nuanced.

 Trigger Warning: Up to 1 in 4 people can be affected by mental illness so if any of the topics discussed here affect you contact your health professional (General Practitioner in the UK).

Scope: This is for creators of speculative fiction. The idea is to improve depiction of the mentally ill in narratives like film, books, music videos etc. It is just a primer, therefore it will not go into too much detail.

Spoiler Alert: Here there be spoilers. Deal with it. I will try not to reference anything currently showing in cinemas, but I make no promises.

 Part 7: ‘Hush’ and the Freakshow

 For the final part of this primer we’ll talk about Buffy again. ‘Hush’ is the episode 10 of season 4.


Before we get to this a few points about the freakshow tradition by way of Bedlam.

There was a guy called Tom Rakewell who ended up in the notorious Bethlem Hospital a.k.a Bedlam. Except that’s not true. Rakewell never existed, but he was a satirical invention of William Hogarth who painted a series of depictions titled ‘A Rake’s Progress’ in 1735. Plate number 8 is Tom Rakewell ends up in the Bethlehem Hospital Madhouse


I’m not going to go into the details of very clear poor care. One particular touch is the inmate carving the name of Betty Careless, a famous sex worker, on a step, perhaps an allusion to neuro-syphillis (General Paralysis of the Insane).  What I would really like to draw your attention to is the two high class ladies incongruously placed. Note how the light falls on them in the painting. Hogarth wanted us to see them in particular. They were there to entertain themselves watching the suffering of the mentally ill. This was very common. The well-to-do would go to asylums and people with mental illness would be put on display.

The treatment of mental illness moved in seizures and spurts towards morality, but the use of psychiatric disorder as amusement continued and survives to this very day, though transmogrified into tropes such as the ‘psycho-killer’.  Historical freak shows such as those promoted by P.T Barnum in the 1800s used mostly physical deformity as a form of entertainment, but shows also included oddly-behaved people who may have been mentally ill. They key feature is the use of physical or mental abnormality as exhibition.

Which brings us back to ‘Hush’.

The monsters of the week are the Gentlemen.

The rhyme about them goes Can’t even shout, can’t even cry, The Gentlemen are coming by. They arrive in a town, steal all the voices, then come at night to carve out hearts from seven people.

The horror of this episode is about failed anaesthesia. If you consider the semiotics, the Gentlemen are doctors (they wear suits, they use scalpels, they have doctors bags, they keep their extracted hearts in specimen jars, they congratulate themselves after successful heart extraction, and come across as genteel). The victims are unable to cry out, which would be the normal way to express pain or to indicate to the doctor or dentist that your flesh is not numb. It’s a great episode and one of my personal favourites. So what’s the problem?

These guys:

guys1 guys2

The assistants, familiars, servants, minions or whatever. They aren’t even named in the nursery rhyme or the episode. They do not matter. They are unnamed, and hence unimportant. While the Gentlemen are doctors the symbolism of these minions screams psycho-killer or mental patient.

They wear strait jackets, their faces are bandaged from psychosurgery, they act brainless, their crouched, almost simian movements and the weird jerky hand movements evokes the extreme side-effects of antipsychotics or some of the problems of Huntington’s Chorea. Interesting side note: the shirts used by the Gentlemen are not contemporary. They would have been used when asylums were around. These minions are made to seem more pathetic by the comparison with the Gentlemen who have graceful movements and who glide about a foot above the ground.

This is the essence of freak show: they are there to entertain by virtue of being mentally ill. The message to your subconscious is the mentally ill do not matter.


What I hope to do (or to have done) is inject some curiosity about the facts of mental illness. Most media representations are largely inaccurate. As writers, artists, film makers or creators of any kind do not shy away from the uncomfortable truth, but find it. You may discover that real mental illness is not sensational, but you must make an effort because with time what you write has the potential to change the experience of real people.

At least, that’s my hope.

(P.S. I know I’m going to regret this, but if you’re creating something and you need an opinion on the way you have portrayed mental illness feel free to contact me. I don’t charge a fee and it all leads to a reduction in stigma.)




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