Wednesday, November 14, 2007

My novels #1: The Savage Amusement

JUDGE DREDD: The Savage Amusement (Virgin Books, 1993)

'It's election day in Mega-City One, and Judge Death is leading the polls. He's running for mayor on the All Life is a Crime ticket. But if the Psi-Judges' predictions are right, the BIg Meg may soon be a crime-free zone.

Out on the streets, the city's top Lawman is doing his job. A robot-torturing maniac has taken over Weather Control - but Judge Dredd can handle it. Then he finds out that a satellite housing development is heading straight for the ground, and someone has let the supervillains out of Iso-block 666. Meanwhile, a clone-killing virus is spreading through the ranks of the judges.

Even for Mega-City One, it's shaping up to be a bad day.


In the early 1990s it was announced Sylvester Stallone would star in a feature film adaptation of the British comics character Judge Dredd. The fiction editor at Virgin Books, Peter Darvill-Evans, secured a license to published original novels based in the Dredd universe - but he needed authors to write them. At the time I was editing the fortnightly Judge Dredd Megazine, but had always wanted to write a novel. When the Virgin editorial team asked for possible author names, I suggested myself.

This was the result, my first novel and something of an enthusiastic mess. Being fairly clueless about structure and never having attempted to write a novel before, I threw as many plot elements into the mix as I could imagine. Dredd was given seven tasks to perform in a futuristic version of mythic quests by heroes, a scheming villain behind it all and a strictly limited timeframe to solve the problems. More by luck than judgement, I correctly identified several structural imperatives that still serve me well today. However, I over-stuffed the novel with plot and struggled to fit everything in.

The book was written on a semi-electric typewriter, one step up from a manual. I didn't own a computer at the time and couldn't afford to buy one. As a consequence I only had one copy of the mauscript. Lose that and I lost everything. I wrote the 70,000 word novel in ten weeks, while working 9 to 5 at my day job. I got up at 5am and wrote for ninety minutes, until I'd completed four sides and about 1000 words. It was January, the dead of winter, and crawling out of bed to write a novel wasn't much fun, but I wanted to make a decent job of it and already knew the importance of hitting a deadline. If you can't be a great prose stylist, at least be professional.

I also wrote at weekends and threw a few sick days to get the novel finished. It was bashed out in a single draft, no rewrites, no going backwards. The end results are enthusiastic and all, but not a work of shining subtlety or wit. Some nice moments and a few interesting characters. I was writing from a place of excitement and panic, a heady cocktail that doesn't guarantee great work. I foolishly agreed to Virgin's offer of an all-rights buy-out, so I never got any royalties on the book, even when a Finnish language edition was published a few months later. Live and learn.

Despite the shambolic nature of my plotting and stubborn done-in-one no-rewrites attitude, Virgin still hadn't found enough other authors to keep the Dredd novel line going. So I was asked if I wanted to write another in short order. The results were a considerable improvement, and made me think I had some glimmer of talent as a storyteller, even if my prose would never be much more than functional.

No idea if this book sold, as I didn't get royalty statements for the reasons stated above. The book's been out of print for mroe than a decade, but can be purchased for pennies thanks to the marvels of eBay and online reselling.

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