Spambot Roundup

Over on Twitter, the spambots just keep coming.  I've only actually had three of them since I last blogged on this subject, and one of those wasn't really trying - what sort of a name is Coffee Edd?  But lots of fellow Tweeters have been rounding up their own spambots and herding them in my direction, so here's another collection of potentially useful names.

Troublefield 2 

Yes, despite terrible viewing figures and career-worst performances from the whole cast, maverick cop drama Troublefield has been commissioned for a second season (the producer was at Rodean and Oxford with the head of BBC1). This time around, Troublefield and Glaspie are on the trail of international villainess Velda Kjar, and Troublefield's tangled love-life gets still more tangled as he is drawn to both glamorous local nite-spot owner Harmony Dance and feisty coroner Lawanda Cavison. He's also having a love/hate relationship new partner Gillian Hirlockir, a chunky-knit Icelandic detectress on secondment from Reykjavik PD. In a surprise twist that we can all see coming from the moment the first trailer airs, the real villain turns out to be suave business tycoon Tiffin Wilson.

The Name of the Spambot

Meanwhile over on ITV, a mediaeval whodunnit is unfolding. Be-wimpled sleuth Illuminada Wordlaw, Mother Superior of Spambotte Abbey, must solve the murders of Meagan Bess and Abbigal Gray. Suspects include brown-toothed Mummerset peasants Lance Goatherd and Willow Tuf, and local widow Dolores Cull, as well as prosperous merchant Mathew Wool.  A surprise twist reveals the real villain to be none other the squire, Sir Marlin de Boursiquot.

I've also discovered that Twitter is where the producers of the James Bond films find the names for their female characters.   Future Bond Girls will include Profeta Breed, Sabina Ballard and Missy Fujisama.  Other names which might prove useful in a high octane thriller include Chaya Gorenflo,  Xiomara Sodiman, Latrizia Hinostrosa, Lilia Hydrick and Shemika Stinsir.  But possibly not Rafaela Hefti.

Thanks to all the twitterers who have sent me these.  If you use Twitter yourself, it's well worth following @TinyLocomotive @ianarchiebeck, @gilibugg, @SaffronKim @TheCCaptain @jondwill @hierath77 @bahtocancer @NosyCrow @suzebain @CTD @JulieBertagna @shmack72 @frankwkelly and @kjstansfield

Apologies if I've missed out anyone, or any good 'bot names - Twitter is an ephemeral medium, and haven't had much time this week to keep an eye on it.

I won't have much time over the coming week either, as I'm off to MicroCon at the weekend, and then to exotic Twickenham for World Book Day.  Reports on both those soon...

Hester Shaw drawn by Lindsy Silva

It's always nice when the world of Mortal Engines inspires somebody to draw or make something.  Here's a portrait of Hester Shaw by Lindsy Silva.  I like the way she's managed to make Hester look quite cool and attractive without shying away from that horrible scar.  I suspect the real Hester has flowing auburn tresses like those only in her dreams (she has problem hair as well as problem everything else) but I'm all for a bit of artistic license, and this pretty much captures the spirit of Hester in the later books. 

You can find more of Lindsy's work on Tumblr, on Deviantart (where she's known as Shenli) and follow her as @elleoser on Twitter.

MicroCon Exeter Update: Book Signing.

There's just over a week to go till MicroCon, so here's a quick word about my book-signing plans, or lack thereof.

The convention doesn't appear to have an official bookseller, although I was offered a table from which to sell copies of my various works.  I'm not sure what other guest authors will be doing, but I'd rather attend their talks and events than sit watching tumbleweed roll past while I wait for people to buy Mortal Engines, et al  - added to which, I couldn't carry very many with me on the train. (Curses! My advice to would-be authors: LEARN TO DRIVE.)

So if you are attending MicroCon, and you'd like me to sign copies of any of my books, I'll be more than happy to oblige, but you'll need to buy them in advance and bring them with you.  Most high street booksellers should have a few, including Exeter's two branches of Waterstones, and of course they're all available from internet retailers.

Even if you don't want stuff signed though, do come and say hello!

Troublefield vs the Spambots

Imagine my delight when I noticed that I, @philipreeve1, have over 700 followers on Twitter!  And then imagine my lack of delight when I noticed that about 600 of them weren't real followers at all, but pesky spambots!  How the people behind these made-up twitter accounts hope to profit by following me, I'm not entirely certain.  It's something that seems to happen to all Twitter users, and most regard it as a bit of a blight.

I'm not so sure, though.  I've noticed that, while most of these 'bots take on the outward form and semblance of pneumatic young ladies in bikinis,  a lot of them have really strange names.  Names which are almost like real names, but not quite.  The sort of names that aliens might choose if they wanted to pass unnoticed among us but knew of our culture only from really crackly and distorted audio broadcasts.  They are the sort of names, in fact, that a lazy author could usefully hoover up and give to minor characters in his next book...

So while the twitterati grumble about the torrents of spam, and suggest that Twitter adds captcha to its sign-up process to put them off, I prefer to look on these little robot followers as cogs in a massive Character Name Generator.  Here are the best ones that I've come across so far:

Braziel Troublefield was the one who started it.  He's clearly a maverick cop in one of those rubbish dramas the BBC show at 9pm on consecutive weekday nights.  He has a dour but philosophical Glaswegian DI called Glaspie, underlings named Sinion Ridders and Calvir Stoddard, and an on/off romance with sultry Tawnya Fillheart.  Troublefield is on the trail of the notorious gangster Dovie Spangitti, but in a shock third episode twist that everyone saw coming from the start, the the real villain turns out to be that suave cad Shankland Bushwell MP.

If maverick cop dramas aren't to your taste, there are also some more gothic-sounding spambots, like sweet, innocent Esmeralda Lyke and her villainous governess Clarissa Harshcape.  Will heroic Branagan Boots dash to Esmeralda's rescue? And if you prefer pure fantasy, then Lang Stonis has a good swords-and-sorcery ring to it (isn't he in The Game of Thrones?)

Best of all is the magnificent Dindy Wibs, but I'm not sure what story poor Dindy fits into: she may need to have a whole new genre constructed around her.

Further spambot character names as we get them!

With thanks to my fellow spambot-spotters @JulieBertagna @jondwill @ianmcque @frankwkelly @Afterwish and @sculduggery

Jenny Agutter reads A Web of Air

Talk on Twitter yesterday turned to Jenny Agutter, which reminded me that I don't think I've yet mentioned the audiobook version of A Web of Air.

Scholastic don't seem to publicise the audiobooks much, so even I tend to forget about them. I read Fever Crumb myself, but it wasn't an experience that I felt inclined to repeat, so I was delighted when they suggested Jenny Agutter as the reader for A Web of Air; she has a lovely voice, and adds a distinct touch of class to Fever's adventures.  She'll be familiar to most people of my age from such films as Logan's Run and An American Werewolf in London, and a lot of English men seem to have a soft spot for her after seeing Walkabout at an impressionable age.  I didn't catch that one until quite recently, but I remember being very taken with her in the children's classic The Railway Children when I was seven or eight...

The Railway Children has also been on my mind for another reason lately.  I've been worrying about which films I should let Sam watch and which ones might give him nightmares, and thinking how hard it is predict the things which an individual child may find frightening.  One of the scenes which scared me most as a little boy was this.  It contains no monsters, no menace, nothing that would make the British Board of Film Censors award it anything stronger than a U certificate - and yet even now I find it peculiarly unsettling.  Landscape on the move!


The audio version of A Web of Air is available here, or from wherever you usually get your audiobooks, I guess...

Microcon Update: David A. Hardy

'Wheel' by David A. Hardy
Here's a reminder that I'll be speaking at MicroCon at the University of Exeter on the 25th and 26th of this month. And as if you needed another reason to go, I've just learned that one of the Guests of Honour is to be the legendary space artist and SF illustrator David A. Hardy, who has been painting images of our solar system and beyond since 1954.  Here's a link to his website.  I remember poring over David's pictures in books that I read as a schoolboy, and I'm very much looking forward to his presentation.

'Tau Gruis' - an (actual) extra-solar planet, as visualised by David A. Hardy

Visits to Guildford and Portsmouth

Be a writer, see the world: sunrise from the windows of the
 Travelodge, Guildford.
I've had a busy week, with two school visits, plus a stop in London.  And the whole lot seemed to be in jeopardy last Sunday night, when Dartmoor suddenly suffered its first serious snowfall of the winter.  Luckily it had mostly melted again by Monday morning, so I was able to get off the moor and catch a train to London, where I stayed over with Sarah McIntyre and her husband Stuart.  Sarah and I have been working on a four-page comic strip, Jinks and O'Hare, Funfair Repair for the new Phoenix comic.  It's Sarah's story, but I've done the drawings, and we spent Tuesday morning scanning them into her computer and tidying them up a bit ready for her to colour.  Here's a coloured rough which appeared on the Phoenix website a few weeks ago.  (Read more here.)

If you haven't seen the Phoenix yet, track down a copy: it's great.  You can subscribe via the website or pick up individual copies from Waitrose supermarkets.  My son Sam, who's never been a keen reader, loves it: it's always an exciting moment when the new edition arrives, and Sam's been inspired to write and draw his own comics.  I'm not sure quite when Jinks and O'Hare... will be appearing, but I'll let you know as soon as I do.

After that, I headed down to Guildford, where Mrs Odell, the lovely librarian at Lanesborough School, has been trying to get me to a visit for four years, apparently. (I'm not really that hard to get, it's just that none of her requests had actually reached me until late last year.)  In fact, Mrs Odell has been waiting so long that she's retired and handed over to a new lovely librarian, Mrs Loveridge, but they were both there to look after me on Wednesday.

My PowerPoint slideshow features Sam's bedroom floor farm
as an example of world-building...
This was my first school visit of 2012, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable one; four sessions in which I did my best to explain how I turned into a writer and how the worlds of Mortal Engines and Larklight came about, drew a Gollark or two, and answered the boys' questions, which were plentiful and intelligent.

One of the Lanesborough pupils, Tom, did this great drawing
of a Hoverhog from Larklight.
At the end of the day I hopped aboard a south-bound train, and hopped off it again in Portsmouth, where  the station is right next door to the historic dockyard.  I emerged to see a lovely sunset behind the masts of HMS Warrior, Britain's first iron-hulled warship.

 Smokestacks as well as masts - Jack Aubrey would not approve.

It was icy cold, so I didn't hang around for too long at the harbourside but scurried as fast as I could to The Retreat , a great B&B in Southsea.  Thursday started with a very good cooked breakfast courtesy of Sian and Mark, the Retreat's owners, and then they pointed me in the general direction of Portsmouth Grammar School.  Pupils there have been doing a week-long project on Myths and Legends, and Colin Telford from Hayling Island Bookshop, who was helping to organise it, had suggested that I might like to come in and talk about my King Arthur novel, Here Lies Arthur.

The banner that greeted me at PGS. Airship images at the bottom
are by Ian McQue, I believe.
Then I watched the pupils present some myths and legends which they had created themselves.  Mrs Bell and her colleagues in the English department had asked them to come up with a creation myth for Portsmouth, and they'd risen to the challenge with a lot of hard work and some excellent ideas.  In one version the whole of Portsmouth had been created as a gigantic prison by the 'God of Punishment'; in another it had been built underwater as a castle for Poseidon (resplendent in beach shorts and flip-flops) and raised to the surface later; others had it being built by stone men, fought over by rival gods, and haunted by the souls of dead sailors in the forms of seagulls.

Portsmouth Grammar School featured in several of these new-minted myths - in one it was a dreadful labour camp, in another it had been built as a palace for a goddess.  In fact it's a rather impressive complex of buildings, some of which date back to the Napoleonic wars.  One of its more famous old boys was Percy F Westerman, the author of hundreds of adventure stories, who enjoyed huge popularity with schoolboys from 1901 until well into the 1950s.  The school's Memorial Library has a couple of big, glass-fronted book-cases full of Percy F Westerman novels; handsome hardbacks with titles like Standish Gets His Man, To The Fore With The Tanks, A Dreadnought of the Air and A Lad of Grit.  I was particularly taken with The Flying Submarine, which looks like an idea worth pinching...

Many thanks to Mrs Bell and her colleagues for showing me around, and letting me take these photos.

Now I'm home, and guess what - it's snowing.  It may be quite a while before I can get off the moor, so I shall have to while away the time by doing some writing...

Another morning on the road, this time the breakfast room at
The Retreat.