Saturday, 21 October 2017

Vintage Radio

This Thursday, I'm to be interviewed by Will Redfearn for Vintage Radio's community hour. I've done this slot a couple of times before and I'm very much looking forward to it. I'm hoping to talk about The Lollipop of Influence, and about the Sphere of Influence series in general, as well as a host of other random things that Will might throw at me.

It's a little like a Desert Island Discs session, too, because I get to choose the four or five pieces of music that punctuate the show. I need to get searching through my CDs, right now.

You can find Vintage radio on the internet, here.

Of course if it was me listening, I'd just ask Alexa to play Vintage Radio on Tune In. Oh yeah I haven't mentioned my thoughts on the Echo and other home assistants yet, have I? I might just bring it up on Thursday, and how they're leading us to imentor faster than we knew.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Jim Baen Memorial Award: The First Decade

Writers of SciFi have another great bundle of FREE books and stories to offer. It's available now through to the end of September. Click here to access your free downloads.

Launching in November is The Jim Baen memorial Award: The First Decade. It's an anthology of 16 optimistic short stories that present a plethora of futures beyond Earth.

My own story, A Better Sense of Direction, was the first winner of the award back in 2007. It's a story I've included in my own collection, Power for Two Minutes and Other Unrealities.
I'm super excited to be included in this book. All the stories are from past winners, and I get to rub shoulders with some top award-winning authors. The anthology has been edited by Nebula-award-winning author, William Ledbetter, who has administered the Jim Baen Award right from the start.

Here's a pre-publication review by Publishers Weekly which should help the book to hit the ground running on launch day. I've had a sneak preview of the proofs, of course, but I decided to wait until I have the book itself in my hands before I read the other stories. I can't wait.

In two days I'm off to Peterborough, for Fantasycon, the annual bash of the British Fantasy Society. It's a great place to meet up with fellow writers, and has been a regular event on my calendar for several years now. I'm very much looking forward to it. But with all fun things there comes a penalty: I need to get ahead on my word count for The Spherical Trust (Book 3 in the Sphere of Influence series) so that I'm not having to play catch-up when I come back. Hey ho!

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Launching Today! The Lollipop of Influence.

Following Deep Space Accountant, here comes the second book in the Sphere of Influence series.

Bob Slicker and his navigation officer, Florence McConnachie, are blamed for the open-ended jump that dropped their battle fleet into deepest, uncharted space. 

They attempt to make amends and are pushed together into an unlikely alliance.

Can they find a way home to the Sphere of Influence? Nobody ever managed it before, so they couldn’t make things worse.

Or could they?

From villain to hero, the adventure continues.

The Lollipop of Influence is available at the launch price of $0.99 (£0.99) from 8th July. Special price for one week only.

Book Trailer

Monday, 17 April 2017

Music and Science Fiction

A few weeks ago, on a trip to Oxford, I visited the Bates Collection of musical instruments. Not just an ordinary museum, this was special. Because you get to play some of the instruments. Brilliant! This is how museums should be. What’s more, the curator doesn’t just sit behind a desk waiting to sell T-shirts, pencils and rubbers, he tells you about the exhibits – things you never realised you didn’t know. A fantastic visit and highly recommended if you're in or around Oxford.

So, anyway, I tried a couple of crumhorns, a serpentine and an ancient flute. They were all much harder to play than I expected because of the finger stretches. I hadn't realised how much modern instruments have been developed to help keep the fingers close together so you can cover the tone holes. These old instruments seemed to require some kind of genetic modification for the player to enable him to splay his fingers enough to make any kind of air tight seal. And some of them had more tone holes than fingers. How is that meant to work?

So enough of the ancient blowing instruments. One other instrument that caught my eye was a theremin.
Whoa! What's that? I can have a go at a theremin? I’ve always wanted to try a theremin.

If you’re wondering what a theremin is, go and watch an old fifties #sciencefiction film. Doesn’t matter which one, most had theremin’s in the soundtrack. It’s the instrument that makes the wobbly woo-woo sounds. It’s played by waving your hands in the air. The left hand controls volume, the right hand controls pitch. I should have recorded my laughable attempts at controlling the beast. Maybe it was just as well that I didn’t. It’s very hard.

So that takes me to the Easter weekend and #Eastercon2017.

Having “mastered” the art of theremin playing I was excited to find that the Eastercon programe had a musical treat in store: a concert by Thomas Bloch and Pauline Haas.
Thomas Bloch is a virtuoso on that other venerable #scifi instrument, the ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument like a monophonic synth, that lets the performer move the keyboard around to bend the notes.

Thomas Bloch was accompanied by Pauline Haas on harp, and together they gave us a night of genre film and TV music to feature, not only the ondes Martenot, but two other instruments with similar haunting woo-woo sounds, the glass harmonica and the cristal Baschet.
Centre is the glass harmonica. The thing on the left looking 
like something NASA would build is the cristal Baschet
The ondes Martenot is the keyboard left of the harp.

We even had a sneak preview of the music from the forthcoming film Blade Runner 2049, and yes we were warned, the film is pre-release so the music might change a little between now and when we get to see it on the screen.

It was a fascinating evening. I loved seeing how these sounds are produced, and was as much mesmerised by the musical mechanics as by the haunting music itself. My phone photos don’t do justice to the evening, which featured amazing light and smoke effects by the Eastercon tech guys (who did a fabulous job all weekend).

The concert was my finale to Eastercon for this year. I had to cut the weekend short and dash off straight after the concert, blasting north on the M6 until the early hours. I fell into bed and lay there happy and content, still hearing the woo-woo sounds as I tried to sleep.

I need to give you a flavour, so here's a bit of Thomas Bloch on the cristal Baschet, that I found on You Tube.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Music While You Work

I heard a short item on BBC Radio 4 last night about listening to music while working or studying. 

You can listen to it here, for a limited time. It was fascinating.

They talked about an app called Focus at Will, that uses different types of music and sounds to engage the part of the brain, the limbic system, that can otherwise become distracted by outside stimuli. It sounds great. I’m all for things that prevent me being distracted, and if I thought it could work I’d sign up. But music? No. I can’t write with music playing. Not at all. 

I know some writers who do it all the time, who have different soundtracks for the particular scenes they’re working on – fight scene music, love scene music, setting description… Some have whole mixes that are intrinsic to the book they are writing, and that music will be forever associated with the specific book in the writers’ minds.

Maybe it’s because I’m not much of a multi-tasker, or is it just because I’m a musician, and become analytical when I’m listening to the music? All I know is that if I can hear any music at all, then I stop work. I can't help it. I lose focus.

I’m pretty much the same in cafes and coffee shops. If the music is loud I have no chance of doing anything that involves a separate stream of consciousness. I even find it hard to have a conversation. Only last weekend I was in a cafe where they were playing a Sinatra CD. Some of the tracks were standard Nelson Riddle arrangements that I’ve played with bands myself, and others were new to me, and very nice too. Either way I found conversation very difficult, and kept drifting off, my attention switching between music and conversation, but never both.

I do like to have some background sounds when I work, though. I often use an app called coffitivity, which plays the ambient noises of a coffee shop. I'm running it now. I love it. Give it a try. There are cups rattling, espresso machines hissing and the buzz of conversation. But no words can be heard, and there is no background music.

I’m also a big fan of noise-cancelling headphones. Or I was, until mine started buzzing and popping with a regular, almost musical beat. You know how it is when you make up tunes to go with the windscreen wipers, and they keep slowing down and speeding up? That is almost more of an attention killer than incoming emails or tweets. The headphones went back.

I’m curious what you think. Can you read a book while music is playing? Can you study? Or are you like me and need some background sounds in order to feel comfortable, but nothing that requires attention?

I wonder why we’re all different. I'm sure there's a lot more to it, and more to learn.

Work continues on The Lollipop of Influence, sequel to Deep Space Accountant. I’m now reaching the end of the first editing phase, and working in a strictly zero-music environment. Coffee shop sounds only.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Tick Tock

This week saw the launch of a new anthology on Amazon, featuring the work of my local writing group, Wirral Writers. It's called Tick Tock, and it's edited by our chairperson, Lynne Quarrell.

There's a good mix of genres: general fiction, some scifi, some fantasy. There are poems, flash fiction and short stories. I have a story tucked away right at the back, out of harm's way, called Go Gentle, which I should warn comes with an advisory, NOT SUITABLE FOR THE OVER 60'S

Here's a list of my esteemed ToC Buddies:
   Arthur Adlen        Chris Black
Elizabeth Fisher      Tom Herbert
   Cheryl Lang         Paul G Mann
    Alexandra Peel      Lynne Quarrell
    Nick Rose             Mjke Wood

Tick Tock is available on Amazon as an ebook and in paperback.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Jim Baen Memorial Award: The First Decade

Details now released for “The Jim Baen Memorial Award: The First Decade” anthology with cover artwork by the phenomenally talented Bob Eggleton. The book will be available from Baen in autumn of this year. Here's the Table of Contents. I'm mega excited to be included in this stellar line-up.
"A Better Sense of Direction" by Mjke Wood
"Letting Go" by David Walton
"Cathedral" by Mike Barretta
"Space Hero" by Patrick Lundrigan
"That Undiscovered Country" by Nancy Fulda
"Taking the High Road" by R.P.L. Johnson
"The Lamplighter Legacy" by Patrick O'Sullivan
"Low Arc" by Sean Monaghan
"We Fly" by K.B. Rylander
"Dear Ammi" by Aimee Ogden
"Citizen-Astronaut" by David D. Levine
"Gemini XVII" by Brad R. Torgersen
"Scramble" by Martin L. Shoemaker
"Balance" by Marina J. Lostetter
"To Lose the Stars" by Jennifer Brozek
"Cylinders" by Ronald D Ferguson
My story was the winning entry in the very first year of this award, nearly eleven years ago. It was a breakthrough moment for me, and something for which I'll be forever grateful.
I get quite a kick from watching the contest each year, which has been coordinated right from the start by Bill Ledbetter, who is also the editor for this anthology. I'll post details of the launch date as soon as I know it.