All posts by Gareth L Powell

Guilty Pleasures

Escapism gets a lot of bad press. Some mainstream critics use it as a derogatory term when dismissing genre literature; some serious genre writers go to great lengths to  prove that their books are more than “simple” escapism. However, escapism has its place.

Part of the reason we read science fiction is to be transported into new imaginative realms, and this is especially true in cinema. After a hard day of work, what better way to unwind than with an hour and a half of relatively mindless spectacle?

As we’re bombarded with doom-laden news reports and press anxiety over terrorism, global disaster, and societal collapse, films such as Cloverfield, Independence Day, and 28 Days Later provide us with a cathartic release. They enable us to explore our fears in a secure context. While watching the film, we can wonder “what would I do?”, and take reassurance from the fact that the protagonists and their families survive whatever disaster has befallen the world.

And then again, sometimes we just want to see a fleet of spaceships blow the living hell out of famous American landmarks.

In the 1950s, they called these films “B-movies”, and they primarily dealt with society’s fears concerning radiation (The Amazing Colossal Man), nuclear war (The Day The Earth Stood Still) and communism (Invasion of The Body Snatchers). Their modern counterparts, the Hollywood ‘blockbusters’, address our modern concerns in a similar way: with the focus primarily on entertainment.

Yes, they’re sensational and yes they’re frequently implausible; but they have their place. Gritty realism cannot transport us from the day-to-day world. When I’ve been writing all day and I need something to take my mind off the plot for a couple of hours, I don’t want a film I’m going to have to concentrate on, or one that reminds me how grim the real world can be. Instead, I’d rather sit down with a bowl of popcorn to watch Armageddon, Back To The Future, or Aliens.

Do you have films you revisit over and over again? What are your guilty viewing pleasures? Please feel free to share your recommendations in the comments section below.

Gareth L Powell is the author of the novels The Recollection and Silversands, and the short story collection The Last Reef. He is also a regular contributor to Interzone and can be found online at

Advertising In Books

By most accounts, the publishing industry has been having a tough time of late, having to adapt to increased competition from the Internet and video games; falling sales; and the explosion of self-publishing and print-on-demand technologies. In addition, publishers are searching for ways to make e-books attractive and profitable, and like music publishers before them, they need to come up with new business models and new revenue opportunities.

One such opportunity is the inclusion of advertising in books, both print and electronic, and there are two ways this could happen:

  • Firstly, traditional ads could be included in the end pages of books, much as the old mail order ads for x-ray specs and sea monkeys used to be included in the backs of American comic books.
  • Secondly, and this is perhaps more interesting, interactive hyperlinks could be included within the actual text of the book itself.

If a character in the book drinks a particular brand of soft drink, a link could be included to a promotional landing page on that company’s website; or if the action takes place in New York or San Francisco, links could be included to hotels or tourist attractions in those cities.

Would this kind of advertising work, or would it put off more readers than it attracted, leading to further falls in sales? Could it revolutionise the publishing industry, or would it lead to less variety as advertisers pay only for space in books by big-name authors, leaving books by new writers struggling to attract finance?

Would you buy a book with advertising included in it, or does the very idea repulse you? Can you foresee advertising becoming ubiquitous in literature, or do you have alternative suggestions for the future of the publishing industry?

I’d like to hear your thoughts…

Gareth L Powell is the author of the novels The Recollection and Silversands, and the short story collection The Last Reef. He is also a regular contributor to Interzone and can be found online at

Stick Fighting

Of all the weapons available in genre literature,  perhaps none is more universal than the humble stick. Whether you’re writing a classical fantasy, a Steampunk romp, zombie apocalypse or urban fang-fest, your characters will likely be able to gain access to a stout length of wood, even if only a broom handle.

Sticks are among the most abundant and easily improvised of weapons. They can be broken off trees or pulled from hedges, and if well chosen they have the length to hold back assailants, and the heft to cause injury and death.

Sticks are also one of the oldest weapons in the human arsenal, and people have been fighting with them throughout recorded history.

Many readers will be familiar with Eastern stick-related martial arts, such as the Japanese art of Bojutsu, but stick fighting traditions also exist in Great Britain, Ireland, Europe, Africa,  and India.

The lengths and weights of the staffs used vary from tradition to tradition. There is even a Victorian self-defence technique for use with a walking stick, called Bartitsu.

So, wherever and whenever you set your story, it’s possible that at least one of your characters will possess a rudimentary grasp of stick fighting techniques; and who knows, the next time they find themselves in a tight spot or sticky situation, maybe they’ll be able to extricate themselves using only a little know-how and a stout length of wood?

In the meantime, I recommend you all read the excellent short story that won this year’s Caine prize for African writing: Stickfighting Days by Olufemi Terry.

Gareth L Powell is the author of the novels The Recollection and Silversands, and the short story collection The Last Reef. He is also a regular contributor to Interzone and can be found online at

How to Communicate More Effectively, Part 7 – Bringing it All Together

[How to Communicate More Effectively is a series of guest posts from Gareth L Powell. In case you missed ’em, here’s part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6.]

As writers, bloggers, editors and publishers, we’re in the business of communication. Over the last week, I’ve outlined one strategy you might use to get your message across to your audience. There are other methods, and I suggest you check out as many as possible, which is why I’ve included a list of reference books at the end of this post.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide. Personally, I’ve found the discipline necessary to write good marketing copy has helped me in my creative writing endeavours.

In summary, some final advice for you:

  • Know your audience and write for them.
  • Start with a killer title that they can’t resist
  • Hook them in with the first sentence and don’t let them go.
  • Get them emotionally involved as soon as possible. Make it personal. Give them a reason to care.
  • Use as many short sentences as possible to create pace.
  • Use evocative words that conjure impressions in all five senses – smell, taste, touch, sound, and sight.
  • Avoid clichés.
  • Use positive, action-packed phrases to make your prose come alive.

In these times of dwindling magazine subscriptions and slumping book sales, we need to use every tool we can in order to attract and retain our readership. If we put a fraction of the care and attention we invest in our creative endeavours into marketing them, I’m sure it’ll do us all the power of good.

Further Reading:

  • Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins (Free download:
  • Write To Sell by Andy Maslen
  • The Copywriter’s Handbook by Robert W. Bly
  • How to Write Sales Letters That Sell by Drayton Bird

How to Communicate More Effectively, Part 6 – Generate Action

[How to Communicate More Effectively is a series of guest posts from Gareth L Powell. In case you missed ’em, here’s part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5.]

Having got your audience wanting to subscribe to your magazine, read your blog post, or sign up to your email newsletter, you simply have to close the deal.

You have to tell the reader what you want them to do. Would you like them to contact you? Would you like them to support your cause or buy your book? Or simply check out the other posts on your blog? In order to get them to act, you have to tell them exactly what you want them to do, and how to go about doing it. Keep it simple, direct and to-the-point. You’ve got them wanting your product; all you have to do now is to tell them how to get it.

In addition, you should make sure that what you tell them to do is easy and straightforward. It’s no good asking them to fill out an eight page online questionnaire in order to access your site, because they’re unlikely to bother. Instead, make your download available with one click. Allow them to subscribe online to your magazine. If necessary, give them a phone number and an email address for queries. Make it easy for them to contact you (or take the action you want them to) and they will.

For example:

  • Order online by March 1st
  • Download the new issue FREE by clicking here
  • Send your completed order form to this address
  • Follow this link to buy “A Guide To Space Monsters” on Amazon