Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Review: Enter Shikari - A Flash Flood of Colour

Music by Rou Reynolds, Rory Clewlow, Chris Batten and Rob Rolfe, lyrics by Rou Reynolds, produced by Dan Weller & Enter Shikari and published by Ambush Reality.

It's generally accepted that a band's second album is the 'difficult' one. Thinking from the musician's perspective, I imagine that it's more the case that every album is difficult. Will the critics rate it highly? Have we strengthened or comprised our style? Most importantly, will the fans react positively? Electronic rockers Enter Shikari probably battled with all these worries, what with their experimental style and vast fan-base. However, they have marshalled their talent and creativity, and have achieved another triumph with their third album, A Flash Flood of Colour.

Let's start off with the positives. One of the most enjoyable aspects of Enter Shikari as a band is Rou Reynolds' unique vocal style. Reynold's mix of snarling growls, sneering spoken-word, and soaring melodies is showcased perfectly in this album, especially in tracks like the metal/dubstep fusion 'Arguing With Thermometers'. Leading nicely on from the former point, A Flash Flood of Colour blends and contrasts musical styles to skilful effect. Enter Shikari don't use a variety of genres just for the sake of it or merely because they enjoy those types music – they do it because it encapsulates their message. The fury of metal and punk, the swagger of dubstep, the relentless speed of drum 'n' bass – these are the calling cards that display the band's passionate beliefs and challenges to society.

My favourite thing about Enter Shikari's latest album is that it represents the natural progression of the band maturing into their style. I particularly like that the band have continued to create more chilled tracks, such as 'Warm Smiles Do Not Make You Welcome Here'. Yes, this album is a far cry from Take to the Skies, but that's not a bad thing. Enter Shikari clearly know who they want to be musically, and if you're not happy with that, then maybe you need to consider whether you're actually a true fan.

Onto the negatives. Let me say first that these are relatively minor complaints; this is a good album. However, A Flash Flood of Colour can be a little 'on the nose' lyrically at points. Yes, war is bad. Yes, corruption is bad. Yes, environmental awareness is good. We get the point. Another issue I have with the lyrical content of this album is the swearing. “What a prude,” I hear you mutter. This is a moral objection, but also one borne from my values as a writer. It's laziness to use foul language to convey a message, empty syllables that could be replaced by something a little more meaningful.

There are only a couple of other small criticisms I would level at Enter Shikari's third album. As I previously stated in my review of Common Dreads, I still think the guitars are a tiny bit lost in the mix, but there are a lot of other elements to blend so this doesn't bother me too much. I would also say that some of the tracks on this album are weak, like 'Hello Tyrannosaurus, Meet Tyrannicide', and the fact that the singles aren't included on the normal edition of record seems a bit cheap.

These negatives aren't massive hindrances in the path of Enter Shikari's latest musical offering. Despite some overly sincere lyrics and other minor flaws, A Flash Flood of Colour is a win for the band. This is a really great album for anyone who enjoys metal, electronica or a mixture of the two. I suggest you buy this album, turn the volume up, and enjoy.

Try this if you like: Chase and Status, The Devil Wears Prada, Hadouken!, Innerpartysystem, Killswitch Engage, Linken Park, Mad Capsule Markets, Nero, Pendulum, The Prodigy, Rage Against The Machine.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Author Interview: David J Pedersen

Tell us a little bit about yourself e.g. where you live, family, occupation, favourite type of breakfast cereal etc!

I was born in Racine, Wisconsin and raised in Kansas City, Missouri.  I’ve worked in sales, management and IT – which means I’m not good at anything but I can make a mess in lots of different places.  My lovely wife and editor, Angie Pedersen, is a published author of three books about Scrapbooking.  I have a 14 year old daughter and an 18 year old son.  Right now I’m trying the paleo diet, so all cereal sounds really good!

How long have you been writing and what first inspired you to pick up the pen?

I’ve been writing stories since I was in grade school, and got the bug to write a novel in High School – but was never patient enough to do it.  I’m not sure what finally made me turn the corner, if it was too much time in corporate America, or that I was finally mature enough to wait for the microwave to count all the way down to zero.  Either way I’m glad I finally did start because I can’t seem to stop and I’ve got a lot of story to tell.

I see you’ve written a novel called ‘Angst’ – let’s hear the sales pitch for it!

Angst is a story about midlife crisis in medieval times. After turning 40 Angst believes that any chance of his dreams coming true are gone. He is an overweight, paper-pushing, magic-wielder. Magic is mostly illegal and because of this he is stuck in a thankless job. His friends have drifted apart, his marriage is on the rocks, and the only person who seems to care is the teenage princess Victoria. They have become the best of friends, which upsets his wife, and makes things worse with his boss, the Queen. Angst believes that if he had just been allowed to become a knight everything would have turned out better.

The world around Angst is tumbling into chaos. Once extinct magical creatures have begun to appear, they are invulnerable and they are hungry. After pulling the proverbial "sword from the stone," an ancient sword so large people thought it was a statue, Angst discovers he can use it to kill these monsters. To rid herself of Angst, the Queen offers him what he wants the most, a title, possibly even knighthood. All he has to do is find the source of magical creatures. Angst uses this mission as a means to force his friends to accompany him, in hopes that it will pull them close together again. Unfortunately they don't know how much danger they will be facing. While his friends may be too old and out of shape to be fighting monsters, Angst is driven to succeed so he can become a knight.

One of the great things about this novel is that it isn't that traditional fantasy story of ‘a young man or woman filled with potential and seeking the path of greatness’. Angst is a guy who never found that path in his youth and has spent his life wondering why he never got the chance. When the chance is finally thrust on him, he finds that the grass isn't necessarily greener.

Do you consider your work to be in any way autobiographical – i.e. are you facing the same mid-life crisis that plagues your protagonist?

One of my best friends from High School said reading the book was like spending an evening talking to me.  While I’m not Angst, and most of the characters aren’t exact duplicates of friends and family, there are certainly more than a few similarities.  I have tried to follow Mark Twain’s great advice to “write what you know.”  As for a mid-life crisis, I guess it depends on who you ask.  I will say that if going on adventures while being surrounded by attractive young women means I’m going through a mid-life crisis – then I’m in!

Why did you choose to self-publish rather than follow the traditional route of publishing?

There are lots of reasons I never submitted anything to a traditional publisher.  The most important one was retaining control of the story and characters.  I have no doubt that a publisher could make my story more sellable, but I know what I want my story to say and really don’t want anything or anyone cut out.  For instance, there are things that happen in book 2 that may not be referenced again until book 6 or book 100.  I want the flexibility to leave those plot points and characters in place.

I also enjoy the immediate gratification I’ve gotten from self-publishing.  Writing your first book isn’t about money. Instead, my goals have been to entertain, write characters that people care about, and create situations that readers can relate to. And I love to hear that I have made someone laugh.  I’ve been told that I’ve met many of those goals, and I feel great about it.

How important is social media in the marketing/promotion of your work?

To this point it has been everything.  Most of my marketing and promotion has been done through Twitter and my blog.  I never thought I’d say this, but I love Twitter.  It’s a great way to find an audience, and network with other writers.  I’ve met some amazing people and have gotten some great feedback.  The interaction is both fun, and really makes me want to write more.

What’s the most challenging aspect of being a writer?

I want my books to be easy to read, entertaining, and relatable while at the same time being clever enough that you don’t always know what is going to happen. Readers who reviewed Angst enjoyed some of the twists and turns of the story.  I’m proud of my first book and am striving to make the sequel, Buried in Angst, as good, or better than the first.

Do have a strict writing regime or is your creative process fairly relaxed?

Not really - my schedule is crazy full so I fit writing time in when I can.  I try to schedule writing after work 2-3 days a week and feel pretty good if I get one day in -- I usually hide at a bookstore with my netbook and throw up a few pages while listening to various soundtracks.  Then I’ll edit and rewrite the mess a couple of days later at home in the evenings before handing it off to my wife for editing.

What genres and authors do you enjoy reading?

It’s unfortunate that my reading time is my writing time (and my family time, and my exercise time, etc).  I mostly enjoy fantasy and science fiction, but if I don’t have a lot of time to read I’ll pick up a comic book.  I’ve really enjoyed DC Comics’ New 52 soft reboot lately.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Write!  More than anything you need to write.  Write lots, write little, write poorly – it doesn’t matter.  Every time you write it is like exercising a muscle; your writing will improve and so will the creative process.

David J Pedersen is the author of “Angst”, available on Kindle, Nook, Kobo and other reading devices. He regularly blogs at

Monday, 13 February 2012

Author Interview: Natalie Binder

Who is Natalie Binder? Tell us your story!

I’m 26 years old. I live in rural Florida where I work as a public librarian. It’s a great job in a great community, but I’m not from here. I travel a lot. I went to Bard College at Simon’s Rock when I was 16. After I got my A.A. I went to work with AmeriCorps, which gave the opportunity to travel all over the country and meet all different kinds of people. I worked with a lot of different charities and government agencies, which is what inspired me to go into public service. In 2007, I went to Indonesia as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. It was an amazing experience that still affects me every day—especially through my writing. I recently graduated with my Master’s in information science. I now get to be a librarian during the day and a writer and book reviewer by night.

How long have you been writing and what first inspired you to express yourself in this way?

I wrote my first play when I was eight. It was about dogs. I was a really quiet and isolated kid, so creative writing was a way to express myself and connect with people. I wrote all through my childhood. But I didn’t finish many stories, and I didn’t publish any. It took me a long time to work up the confidence to show my writing to other people. I’ve just started writing real, complete stories and trying to get published. It’s been an incredible learning experience.

Tell us about your book, “New Year's Day”, Redshift Vol. 1 – what's it all about?

Redshift is a time travel story about a twenty-first century man, J.D. Mitchell, who is suddenly and unexpectedly transported into the distant future. He falls in with a group of prison escapees and ends up as a pirate, traveling across the galaxy in search of a way home.

“New Year’s Day” starts at the end of Mitchell’s story, when he’s been captured by the military and forced to confess to everything that he’s done. Eventually we’ll learn how Mitchell came to be a pirate and why he was “kidnapped” by the future.

There were two real scientific “gimmicks” that inspired the Redshift storyline. The first was that in 2011, when I was working on an early draft of “New Year’s Day,” scientists discovered how to hide events in time. The second is that we are beginning to learn how to record people’s dreams and thoughts. I love that conflict between secrets and exposure. I’m planning to really dig into guts of that with Redshift, while also writing what I hope is a fun space adventure story.

The book is the first in a series of novellas – why did you choose this particular format?

I believe in a relationship between form and function. It was a hard decision. People love novel-length stories. The biggest complaint I’ve gotten about “New Year’s Day” is that it’s not long enough—it ends before people expect it to end. It only takes Mitchell through his first set of obstacles. But for very important structural reason Redshift can only hold together the way I’m writing it. I think that will become clearer when I publish “Surprise, Surprise” and “Deal of the Century” this year. The whole thing is built like a Mobius strip. It’s going to turn back in on itself at the midpoint.

I do think that shorter forms, like story collections and novlets, are a great fit for e-readers. The only problem is that I can’t do a Redshift story every week or even every month. Each one takes a lot of time and effort.

Why did you choose to self-publish, and why did you use Smashwords in particular?

Redshift is kind of a mad concept. I believe that it can compete on quality, but it’s not something a publishing company would or could ever gamble on. And that’s OK. The world is big enough for all kinds of writing and publishing now and many different levels of success.

As a librarian and a student of books, I wanted to self-publish to prove that I could do it. A lot of this has been an experiment for me—OK, how do I make an .epub version; OK, how do I get on a bestseller list; OK, how do I get into this or that category. I spent a lot of time in graduate school making web pages and gaming search engines. Now I get to do it as a hobby. A publishing company would never let me do that.

I chose Smashwords because of their extended delivery service. They put “New Year’s Day” on iPads and Nooks. You can even download it plaintext onto your computer. The ebook market is huge. I didn’t see any reason (and still don’t) to limit my distribution to a particular format. I did format my own Kindle version of “New Year’s Day.” Kindle is a very important platform for self-pubbers. I wanted to be personally involved in that process.

How do you make use of social media (facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc) to promote your book?

I am a huge fan of Twitter. It’s my preferred social network. I’ve also used my Facebook to page to document the writing process and share news. I blog about the books sometimes on Generally, though, I’ve found social media a pretty tough nut to crack. I think it’s easy for writers get caught up in the marketing side of self-publishing when they should be focused on craft.

In the months since I published “New Year’s Day” I’ve cut way down on self-promotion and used Twitter to get to know other people, ask questions, and talk about things I like. I’ve also started a blog, to help promote other writers. I still tweet about my new books and blogs and things as they’re released, but I try not to do that too much.

How do you balance spending time writing and all the other pressures and responsibilities of life?

It’s not easy. I’m so lucky to have a full-time job that I love, and that has to be my priority. I’m also involved in the community. And there’s a lot of pressure to tweet and blog and read and on and on during my free time. I have to take my writing time in big chunks on the weekends and very late at night. 10 p.m.-2 a.m. is my usual writing time.

What do you consider the most challenging part of the creative process?


Which books/films/television shows inspire you the most?

I’ve taken inspiration from so many different shows and books that it would be difficult to say for sure. Anyone who reads Redshift, and especially “New Year’s Day,” will see Firefly and Farscape in its lineage. I can’t help that. I love those shows. I’m a very straight-laced person in real life, but my other car is a smuggler’s spaceship.

But take Farscape—the person who created that, Rockne O’Bannon, took his inspiration from Flash Gordon. So when I was writing “New Year’s Day,” I had to go back and read Flash Gordon. OK, well, Flash Gordon was created in the 1930s to compete with Buck Rogers. And without H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, you could never have had Buck Rogers. So Redshift’s great-grandparent is really Wells’ The Time Machine. That doesn’t mean I’ve rewritten “The Time Machine,” or Buck Rogers, or Flash Gordon, or Farscape—or that I’m claiming to be as good as them. I can’t make that judgement. But Redshift fits within a cultural milieu which is all around us and has a long history of literary influences.

You can trace anything back the same way. Star Trek and Firefly have a similar family tree to Redshift. You look at something like House—which is a huge mainstream hit—and it’s just Sherlock Holmes with a different name. At the same time they’re releasing modern versions of Sherlock Holmes that are clearly influenced by Hugh Laurie’s performance as House. That’s been going on since the first time Holmes was adapted for the stage. It’s very circular. So who’s to say who had the first idea? Or what will come out of it next?

What would you say to someone who wants to write and publish a book?

You should do it. If you really have that urge to write, you won’t be able to stop yourself. But I have these pieces of advice: 1) Don’t do it alone. Every successful creative work is a group venture. Get help from other writers. Get help from published writers. Let 40 people read it before you put it out in public. 2) Learn to accept criticism. If you have to explain why a character did such-and-such, or why such-and-such happened, you either need to rewrite that part, or accept that not everybody will get it and move on. You can’t convince people to like the book after the fact. 3) Study craft, not marketing. If you want to sell your story, you need to tug at people’s hearts, not at their wallets. 4) Don’t expect financial success or fame. The average book sells less than 100 copies. That’s not per month. That’s ever. Success is magic, and it’s made by audiences, not writers or publishers. 5) Be willing to spend some of your own money. At the very least you need to hire a smart editor and a talented cover designer. Rock bottom, you’re looking at an investment of at least $600-1000 per book—not counting your time.

I say these things not to discourage people, or to be negative, but to make sure they come into this with their eyes open. Some indie writers seem to take it really hard if their book isn’t a bestseller. Your book is doing OK if you’re selling just a few copies a month. Writing didn’t suddenly get easier because publishing did.

That said, there are huge opportunities and rewards out there for people who are willing to make the leap. No matter what, it’s an amazing life and learning experience. I am so proud of what I did with “New Year’s Day,” and I’m looking forward to publishing “Surprise, Surprise,” very soon.

N.V. Binder is the author of “New Year’s Day (Redshift #1),” available for free on Kindle, Nook and other reading devices. She reviews books at

Saturday, 11 February 2012

How to watch Star Wars

After listening to Kermode and Mayo's Film Review (the BBC's flagship film review programme) on Radio 5 Live yesterday, I have come to a realisation – there is a fundamentally correct order in which to watch the Star Wars films.

On the surface this may seem like a fairly trivial subject, but any Star Wars fan will understand the serious nature of what we're talking about here. Watching these movies in the incorrect sequence will ruin the viewing experience, spoiling the little magic that is left in this classic sci-fi saga.

Here's the perfect order to watch Star Wars:
  • A New Hope
  • Empire Strikes Back
  • Return of the Jedi
  • The Phantom Menace
  • Attack of the Clones
  • Revenge of the Sith
  • A New Hope
  • Empire Strikes Back
  • Return of the Jedi

Why watch the films in this order? Firstly, you need to watch the originals before the prequels so that you don't spoil the reveal in Empire (which is given away in Revenge of the Sith). Secondly, you need to watch the originals again after the prequels to get rid of the bad taste left by Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christensen. Now, for your viewing pleasure, the best Star Wars impersonator on YouTube!