Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016

Well, I’m sorry this post is later than I’d hoped. My flight back up home from Star Wars Celebration Europe was cancelled and wiped out the brief window of time I’d hoped to use to write the day up before going on holiday. Still, here we go now.

The weekend of 15-17th July saw the return of Star Wars Celebration to Europe; London’s Excel Centre to be precise. I was there on Friday (the first day) and for my first ever Star Wars Celebration. It. Was. Amazing.

You're a wizard, harryAfter flying into London, I immediately met up with other people going to the Celebration walking from the airport to the conference centre, a German father and son. Quite apart from the fact that meant I was less likely to get lost, it was also just nice to start the day off chatting about where we were going and sharing a joint interest.

Once we got there, my sense of humour was immediately tickled by a chap in a Starfleet uniform and slightly muddled sign! Hey, who says you have to pick between Star Wars and Star Trek?
[Read more…]

Small Gods and Good Omens

Well, aren’t blog posts just like busses? You don’t see any for ages and then a group of them come along at once.

I need to add something to my previous post about the Terry Pratchett Memorial, and clarify something that I discovered I had picked up wrongly.

Small Gods

Small Gods Graphic Novel CoverFirstly, I accidentally missed out one of the announcements from the memorial evening. There’s going to be a graphic novel of Small Gods!

Small Gods is a great story about the origins of a monumental religion, and what would happen if the god at the centre of it all actually turned up. You can guess it doesn’t exactly go the way you would think! It’s one of the best Discworld stories (yes, I realise that’s a subjective statement) and should make a great graphic novel.

Small Gods will be available from all good bookshops and comic stores, or can be pre-ordered on Amazon. It is due out on the 28th of July.

Good Omens

The thing I want to clarify is the story of how Neil Gaiman came to be screenwriting Good Omens (which, it seems more and more, is definitely going to be a 6-part series).

The way the story was presented at the memorial made it seem very much like Sir Terry had written a letter asking Neil to take on the project, and that letter was presented to Neil after Sir Terry’s death. It seems I misunderstood (from looking at the newspaper coverage of the evening, it looks like I wasn’t the only one) and Sir Terry made his request in person before his death.

Neil clarified this on his own blog, so I’m pretty confident I’ve got the story straight this time!

However it actually happened, the good news is the Good Omens screenplay is happening, being written by one of the original authors, and with the blessing of the other.

I think that’s everything cleared up… but you never know :)

Remembering Terry Pratchett… and looking towards the future

Terry Pratchett

© Rob Wilkins

Last night, the Barbican Theatre in London was filled with people for the Sir Terry Pratchett Memorial, gathering (obviously) to celebrate the life of Sir Terry Pratchett. The theatre holds over 1,000 people, and demand for the tickets outstripped supply by more than five times! I was one of the very lucky people to be selected for a ticket, and I can honestly say it was a great honour to be there.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the memorial of such a man as Sir Terry. It’s still a hugely sad thing that he’s gone, but with his amazing wit and constant poking fun at the reality (as well as the character) of death, it couldn’t be an entirely sombre affair, could it? Definitely not… the evening was a glorious mix of sadness and humour, alternating between moments that had me sitting with tears in my eyes and then laughing out loud.

Discworld statue

The Discworld Knight, by Paul Kidby

The memorial began with a montage of Sir Terry’s books passing through a life-timer, while chamber choir The Epiphoni Consort sang a beautiful rendition of Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis.

Sir Terry’s assistant, business manager, and friend Rob Wilkins took a leading role throughout the evening, sharing amusing anecdotes (often at his own expense) and touching stories from his time working with the man himself. It was very obvious at times that Rob didn’t just have a working relationship with Sir Terry, but a real friendship as well.

There were contributions from Sir Terry’s daughter, Rhianna, who read a eulogy she wrote in The Observer, and Neil Gaiman who read the introduction he had written for A Slip of the Keyboard. Again, both of these had us (I say “us” because they seemed to affect me and the group of people around me in much the same way) alternately smiling at some amusing recollection, then sniffling at the shared sense of loss. A big “lump in the throat” moment came when, at the end of Neil Gaiman’s contribution, Rob asked him to stay on stage for a moment and presented him with Terry’s hat! I’m serious when I say there were gasps, and even Neil looked a bit thunderstruck.

Larry Finlay, MD of Transworld Publishers, shared his experience of publishing Sir Terry’s books, including his reports on which bookshops did the best signings, and which hotels were the best to stay in. Apparently he had a star system of bookshops, ranging from those that had no idea how to stage a signing (1 star) up to those who did exceptionally well (4+ stars). No bookshop ever got 5 stars, although Neil Gaiman did reveal there was one that ended up with zero when the number of people wanting Sir Terry and Neil’s autographs far exceeded what they expected… and the staff locked themselves in the back of the shop in a panic!

Sir Tony Robinson, who I hadn’t realised was such a captivating speaker, read a lovely piece written by Sir Terry called “A little advice for life”. The advice can perhaps be summed up like this: Squeeze every little bit of goodness out of life while you can. Enjoy it. Discover your passion, and go for it.

Bernard Pearson, one of the founders of Clarecraft (remember those little Discworld figurines that were out during the ’90s?) and Dr Pat Harkin (lecturer in pathology at the University of Leeds) came onstage together to share a fun collection of memories of Sir Terry’s many phone calls… often to ask things like, “How much force would it take to pull a man’s head off?” or on matters of police procedure. There’s always a danger that things like this can become quite maudlin, but Bernard and Pat intertwined their memories of Sir Terry with stories about each other as fans of his work… and with a few jokes just for the sake of it.

Coming back to music for a moment, there were two spots by folk-rock band Steeleye Span, who played at one of Sir Terry’s birthday parties and produced an album based on the Wintersmith Discworld novel! They performed brilliantly, singing Thomas the Rhymer, The Making of a Man, and The Dark Morris. I had never heard them before then, although I had heard of them, and they really were fantastic. What made it extra special, though, was knowing the band had a genuine association with Terry… they weren’t just the entertainment, they were part of the tribute. It was particularly touching to learn that lead vocalist Maddy Prior had sung by Sir Terry’s bedside towards the end of his life.

Three of Sir Terry’s editors, Philippa Dickinson, Jennifer Brehl and Anne Hoppe gave us some small insight into what it was like trying to edit his work. Philippa told us that, when she suggested a change, there would be a pause… followed by a sigh… sometimes followed by, “Well, I suppose I could make things really clear for the hard of thinking”. In one case she suggested a change which Sir Terry was at first reluctant to do, and when he came round to her point of view she asked him, “So, does that mean I was right after all?” The reply? “Oh, I wouldn’t go that far”!

Anne Hoppe’s words really hit home when she spoke about how Sir Terry was pleased to know some people had been influenced by his writing to produce books of their own. It meant that, when the torch was finally dropped, someone else would pick it up and carry it forward into the future.

The Future

So, the future. There were some big announcements made! Firstly, the creation of the Order of the Honeybee… members of which were selected by Sir Terry and were those who had had a significant impact on his life. Each was to be presented with a custom-made piece of jewellery in the form of a honeybee and, of course the “queen bee” of the order is Sir Terry’s daughter, Rhianna.

Then were was a number of quick-fire announcements about projects that are upcoming. There may not be any new Discworld stories, but the franchise is far from dead. So what’s to come?

  • The creation of a Sir Terry Pratchett Scholarship between the University of South Australia and Trinity College Dublin, to run in perpetuity.
  • A biography of Sir Terry, written by Rob Wilkins. Rob suggested the title could be “The Write Fantastic”, although he did say that was just a mockup and a bit of a joke for the evening. Still, it has a nice ring to it!
  • The Discworld Encyclopaedia – again, we were shown a mocked up cover for this that suggested the first volume would be titled “Death”, but it sounds like it could be a while coming. Rob told us, “When will you get to see this? Well, we don’t know, because we don’t know when we’re going to start it!” You’ll understand why he might have trouble scheduling it in when you see the rest of this list!
  • The Discworld Colouring Book, featuring the art of Paul Kidby and adapted by the artist himself for colouring in.
  • Wee Free Men will be adapted for screen by Rhianna Pratchett! This is a great story, and I’m looking forward to finding out more about this. There were no details of whether it will be a movie or a TV release, but more details will be revealed at the San Diego Comic-Con.
  • Mort! The first Discworld book I ever read! It’s going to be adapted for the big screen by none other than Terry Rossio! Who? He’s only the 2nd highest grossing screenplay writer in the world after George Lucas. Seriously, look him up on IMDB and you’ll be sure to have seen his work.
  • The Troll-Bridge fan film is still in production (actually post-production) and from the shots we saw looks like it’s going to be amazing.
  • A brief glimpse of an Anhk-Morpork City Watch helmet on screen was the jumping off point for information that the rumoured police procedural The Watch is still in the pipeline, which I’m very excited about.
  • There will be a BBC documentary (the 4th in the trilogy of Living with Alzheimers, Choosing to Die, and Facing Extinction… yes, they really did say it was the 4th in the trilogy) about Sir Terry’s last days, including conversations with Rob Wilkins and at least some footage from last night’s memorial. We saw some of the conversational footage, and I found it quite difficult to watch. You could see Sir Terry was starting to struggle a bit, but his character did shine through.
  • Right, this one is huge, and I’m going to write a bit about this. The screen showed Good Omens… everybody cheered. Rob said he had asked Neil Gaiman to write the screenplay, to which Neil said (and Neil said this bit himself), “Absolutely not”. Cue a slight slump in the audience. Rob makes a show of trying to convince Neil there and then, to which Neil replies that he can’t because he and Sir Terry had an agreement that Good Omens was an entirely joint affair. Everything they did was to be done together, even down to producing little bookmarks. So, for that reason, the answer is “No”. You know what? I could respect that. I would be sad about it, but I could respect it. Then Rob tells us that’s not the end of the story; that Sir Terry had in fact prepared a letter to Neil asking him to adapt Good Omens for screen in his absence! Long story short, Good Omens will be adapted for screen by Neil Gaiman! Details were a bit short beyond that. I’m not sure if he was serious or not, but Neil did say, “Can we tell them it’s a 6 part TV adaptation?” Time will tell if that was a red herring or not, but YAY! [I have left this story as originally reported, but it seems I (and others) picked it up wrongly – please see this post for clarification]
  • The last announcement was a little bittersweet, but actually quite comforting. It was this: There will be no more Discworld novels. Sir Terry didn’t want there to be more after he had died, and his family and business colleagues feel the same way. There are, in fact, up to ten unfinished novels… and these will be locked away and left alone. Why is that comforting? Well, because I don’t think another author could do them justice, and simply because it’s nice to see the Disc is in the hands of people who will respect Sir Terry’s wishes.

Terry Pratchett Memorial goody bag Last thing… I promise. If you’ve read this far, well done! There was a goody bag on every seat in the theatre; a lovely black tote bag which contained a packet of hankies (because tears were more than possible!), a bottle of “Ankh Water”, a box of Dried Frog Pills (boy am I glad they didn’t look in that bag when I came through airport security on the way home), an envelope of postcards, a beautiful lilac ribbon/badge, and a commemorative book containing Rhianna, Neil, and Sir Tony’s contributions, as well as an introduction from Rob and some of Terry’s own pieces. They are really nice mementos, and I can tell you they will be treasured.

And here we are; nearing the end. I didn’t intend to write so much, but there was so much to process. The evening was something of an emotional rollercoaster… sadness, laughter, meeting people of like-mind. I am very glad, honoured even, that I was given the opportunity to be there.

OK… last thing. Yes, I said that earlier, but I mean it this time. We ended with a video message from Eric Idle, the voice of Rincewind in the first Discworld video game, who started us off in a mass-singalong supported again by The Epiphoni Consort:

…always look on the bright side of life…

Thanks for all the fun Terry, and the thoughtful moments. You’re sorely missed.

Pixels: so bad it could be good?

Pixels the movieI’ll be honest; when I watched the trailer for Pixels I had to check the date to make sure it wasn’t April 1st. Even now, I’m not sure whether it’s going to be absolutely brilliant, absolutely terrible, or that strange mix of the two where a movie can be so bad it’s actually good.

Anyway, here’s the idea: Aliens misinterpret humanity’s attempts to contact them… seeing our video games not as entertainment but as a declaration of war. The result? They come to earth to attack us with the very games we played!

It looks like they’re all ’80s classics, which really appeals to my nostalgic side, but will it actually be any good? I guess there’s only one way to find out :)

Have a look at the trailer below and then hit the comments. Will you be watching this? Is it just a terrible idea? It is the best thing you’ve ever seen? Let us know what you think.

Sir Terry Pratchett – 1948-2015

Terry Pratchett

About 20 years ago (oh my goodness that makes me feel old) my best friend told me about an author he was reading and thought I would like. He lent me one of his books to see what I thought, it was Mort by Terry Pratchett. I was hooked almost straight away and went on to read as much of the Discworld series as I could lay my hands on before starting to read the Bromeliad.

I was captured by Terry’s ability to take elements of modern society and reframe them in a fantasy setting, as well as his characters, and general humour and storytelling.

Even now, at the grand old age of 36, my mother in law buys me the latest Pratchett book each year for my birthday, and I still love them.

So I’m very sad to read that Terry Pratchett passed away today. I think we all knew it was coming, as did he, after his diagnosis with PCA (Posterior Cortical Atrophy) but it’s still a shock and still immensely sad. I genuinely believe we’ve just lost one of the greatest authors of current times and someone who could both make me laugh out loud and transport me to far off lands on a regular basis.

I’m not really sure what else to say except that, despite not knowing him in any way other than through his books, I’ll miss him.

My condolences to his family and friends.

Are you a fan of Terry Pratchett’s writing? Why not share your favourite quotes or memories in the comments?

LEGO Minifigures Series 12

LEGO Piggy GuyThe new series of collectable LEGO Minifigures is out (released 1st October), and this time there’s a techie twist. The first 11 series’ came in sealed packets that meant you never quite knew what you were going to get until you opened them… unless, that is, you had some friendly shop staff who opened them first and labeled them like one of the shops did in our local town centre!

Well, series 12 is much the same – blind purchases (enterprising shop assistants not withstanding) but this time each pack also includes a code to unlock the minifigure from inside the packet on LEGO’s free online multiplayer game.

I’ve enjoyed collecting some of these figures over the last few years, and my daughter particularly likes the bride that came in series 7.

This time we have figures from history, like the Battle Goddess, Swashbuckler and even a Hun Warrior. If you’re feeling a little more down to earth there’s a Pizza Delivery Man and Video Game Guy, while the series rounds off with some more “out there” figures.

The full list is:

  • Battle Goddess
  • Swashbuckler
  • Hun Warrior
  • Pizza Delivery Man
  • Video Game Guy
  • Rock Star
  • Genie Girl
  • Wizard
  • Dino Tracker
  • Jester
  • Fairytale Princess
  • Piggy Guy
  • Prospector
  • Lifeguard
  • Spooky Girl
  • Space Miner

LEGO encourages you to collect the set and bring with you on grand adventures as you explore colourful worlds with thousands of other players online.

LEGO Minifigures Series 12 packs cost £2.49 each and are avaiable from various high street shops. LEGO Minifigures Online can be found by visiting http://www.lego.com/minifigures

Minifigs Series 12

Champagne iPhone 5S on the way?

Three cases purported to be iPhone 5Ss in black, grey and champagne.This is a guest post by Will Judd.

Since the dawn of time*, the iPhone has come in two colours: black and white. This year, it looks like that trend is finally set to be broken with the release of both the colourful iPhone 5C and the flagship iPhone 5S.

Surprisingly, it’s not just the iPhone 5C that will be offered in new colours, reminiscent of Apple’s iPod lineup. The iPhone 5S will also be offered in a couple of new colours, if recent rumours are to be believed.

The first rumour is that the phone will be available in a new gold colour. Earlier rumours pointed towards a rather eye-catching full gold colouring, but as the potential announcement date of September 10th has grown near it seems that a more mature champagne colour seems more likely. Regardless, swag-bound personages are likely to welcome the new option, although makers of gold iPhone 5 cases and respray operations will likely resent the loss in business.

Sim trays in multiple coloursOur second rumour is more recent, stating that the iPhone 5S will also come in a graphite colour between the traditional white and black. The evidence for this seems a bit thinner, with only hearsay and a grey coloured sim tray being posited as proof the colour option. Regardless, if Apple are set to unveil a new colour then a second isn’t really too unbelievable.

Either way, the first time we’ll really know for sure will be when  Apple have their iPhone event. A lot of rumours have pinned this on September 10th, but with no press invitation as of yet that date can’t be relied upon. Typically invitations are sent out with a week’s notice, so we’d expect to hear about it by next week, on September 3rd.

What do you make of the new iPhone colours – would you buy one? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading the article and have a great day!

*a slight exaggeration

Peter Capaldi is The Doctor

Peter CapaldiIf you like our Facebook page, you’ll already have seen a quick message about this: the identity of the twelfth Doctor has been revealed. Matt Smith is leaving the role and the next actor to take over the TARDIS is Peter Capaldi.

Peter is a tad older than the actors who have taken on the role of the Doctor in recent years – he’s 55 years old, the same age William Hartnell was when he was cast as the first Doctor. Personally, I’ve been wishing for an older Doctor for a while now. The trend has been for him to get younger with each regeneration but I think an older Doctor will bring some gravitas and, most likely, a change in tone for the show.

I’m looking forward to seeing Peter as the Doctor. How about you?

Here’s the full press release from the BBC:

In a special live broadcast, the BBC today announced that the role of Doctor Who would next be played by Peter Capaldi.

Amid much hype and speculation, Peter Capaldi was unveiled as the next Doctor during a special live television event on BBC ONE tonight.

Widely regarded as one of the biggest roles in British television, Capaldi will be the Twelfth Doctor and takes over from Matt Smith who leaves the show at Christmas.

Peter Capaldi says: “Being asked to play The Doctor is an amazing privilege. Like the Doctor himself I find myself in a state of utter terror and delight. I can’t wait to get started.”

Steven Moffat, lead writer and executive producer says : “It’s an incendiary combination: one of the most talented actors of his generation is about to play the best part on television. Peter Capaldi is in the TARDIS!”

Doctor Who companion, Jenna Coleman says “I’m so excited Peter Capaldi is the man taking on the challenge of becoming the Twelfth Doctor. With Steven’s writing and his talent I know we’ll be making an amazing show with an incredible incarnation of number 12. I can’t wait to start this new adventure!”

Charlotte Moore, Controller BBC One says : “Peter Capaldi has all the genius and versatility needed to take on the mantel of the great Time Lord and make the role his own. He’ll bring his own particular wisdom, charisma and wit to the Twelfth Doctor and take the show into an exciting new era.”

Ben Stephenson, Controller, BBC Drama Commissioning says : “We started thinking Peter Capaldi might be the right person to take on this iconic part a few months ago. But it was only when he did a secret audition at Steven’s house under the cover of darkness that we knew we had our man. He’s an extraordinarily talented actor who can seemingly turn his hand to anything. We can’t wait to premiere his unique take on the Doctor on Christmas Day and we are sure he’s going to become one of the all-time classic Doctors.”

Doctor Who is produced by BBC Cymru Wales

BIOGRAPHY

Peter Capaldi is an award winning actor, film maker and lifelong Doctor Who fan.

He has enjoyed an illustrious career to date in both film and television.

Before securing the coveted role of the Twelfth Doctor, Peter first appeared in Doctor Who in 2008, playing Caecilius in the episode “The Fires of Pompeii”.

Peter grew up in Glasgow and attended the Glasgow School of Art, while studying there he secured his first breakthrough role in Local Hero (1983). He has also had roles in Dangerous Liaisons, The Crow Road, The Devil’s Whore and Torchwood: Children of Earth.

It is his role as Government spin doctor Malcolm Tucker in the BBC comedy series, The Thick of It , that has earned Peter both international and award success. In 2010 he won the BAFTA Television Award for Best Male Performance in a Comedy Role and the BPG Best Actor Award. In both 2010 and 2012, Peter won the British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actor. A film spin-off from The Thick of It, entitled In the Loop, was released in 2009.

As well as appearing in front of the camera, Peter is an award winning film maker. In 1995, he won the Oscar for Best Short Film (Live Action) for Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life. He also wrote Soft Top, Hard Shoulder, which won the audience award at the London Film Festival, and wrote and directed Strictly Sinatra. Peter’s stage credits include Professor Marcus in The Ladykillers at the Liverpool Playhouse, which saw the play transfer to the Gielgud Theatre in London.

2013 has been a busy year for Peter who has been seen on screen in the film World War Z and in BBC Two drama series The Hour, for which he was BAFTA nominated. Not only will Peter film his first scenes for Doctor Who this Autumn, but he will appear in the forthcoming film The Fifth Estate and the Disney film Maleficent.

Peter is currently filming new BBC One drama series The Musketeers, in which he plays Cardinal Richelieu which will launch in early 2014.

Apple updates developer site in wake of intrusion

Apple LogoApple developers have been contacted by the company to inform them that, last Thursday, an intruder attempted to secure personal information of registered Apple developers from the developer website.

Apple assures us that sensitive personal information is held in an encrypted form, but they are unable to rule out the possibility that some developers’ names, mailing addresses and/or email addresses may have been accessed. They aren’t advising a change of password, but rather just keeping people informed.

To prevent any similar security breached in future, Apple say they are completely overhauling their developer systems, updating their server software, and rebuilding their entire database.

While, as I mentioned above, they are not advising people to change their passwords at the moment, if you have an iTunes or Developer account it might be worth keeping a close eye on it for the next little while. It may be unrelated but, today, I received an automatic notification from Apple that someone had requested a password reset for me. If you see any strange activity on your account, a password reset is usually a good idea.

solBAT II Solar Powered Battery Pack [Review]

I’m what I like to think of as a ‘reluctant environmentalist’. I get the idea of saving energy, but my primary driver is to reduce the amount of money I pay out. Sure, I’m interested in saving the planet too, but it’s the monthly bill rather than the polar ice caps that make me wander round the house turning off the lights in empty rooms!

The thing is, life is so saturated with technology these days, and all of those pieces of technology need to get their power from somewhere. My smartphone isn’t too smart when the battery runs out. So what if I were able to charge my devices using a readily available power source that doesn’t have any ongoing costs? I’m talking about the sun, of course, and the guys at Mobile Fun were kind enough to send me a solBAT II solar phone charger to try out.

solBAT II solar phone chargerFirst impressions were good – the solBAT II comes with a window mount for, er, mounting it on your window, and a carabiner for attaching it to a bag or rucksack while you’re out and about. I’ve tried it in both situations and found that having it on a bag makes it charge more quickly (I guess it gets more direct sunlight?), but it really spends most of its time on my office window. That’s no biggie, since the office gets direct sunlight all morning, but I thought it might be useful to know.

So, does it do the job? Well, sort of. It certainly works, and seems capable of adding several hours worth of charge to my iPhone, but the solar panels do take a very long time to charge the solBAT II up. We’re talking days when attached to my window, which means it’s not a viable option to use the solBAT as my phone’s only power source. It is, however, useful when you’re out and about and realise your phone is about to die… I’ve had the solBAT take my iPhone from 13% battery back up to just shy of 40% which, for me, takes it back out of the panic zone!

It’s worth noting that the solBAT also has the option to charge via USB. While the solar panel can take days, the USB cable will take the solBAT up to full capacity in just a few hours. In that case, it becomes a spare battery. Handy again for emergencies.

And that’s the key, really: the solBAT II is a great emergency charger. It does what it says on the box and, if you charge with solar, that’s free energy. But it’s not viable as your phone’s primary charger, which means I won’t be getting rid of my mains iPhone charger just yet.

The solBAT II solar battery pack is available on Mobile Fun for £23.95 (at time of writing).