Monday, 16 January 2017

Where Do Ideas Come From?

A question asked of every writer at some time is: where do you get your ideas?
Image credit:Pixabay
I usually have a flippant answer stored and ready to use. Ideas come through the plumbing in my house, because every time I climb into the shower the ideas flow, and of course this is the moment when I’m most separated from my notebook. So many times an idea has come while showering, only to be rubbed away in the towelling process soon after. I fixed that problem. I bought a waterproof notebook.

It’s a silly answer to the question of course, because ideas come at any time from any trigger. It is rare that I can even remember what triggered any single idea.

Deep Space Accountant is different, though. It’s one of the few story prompts I’ve had for which I can remember the exact thought process that gave rise to the idea. And no, I wasn’t in the shower.
For Deep Space Accountant I must thank the cartoonist, Gary Larson. I love Gary Larson’s cartoons and I have several books of his collected work. One cartoon in particular rang bells. It shows an accountant standing on a promontory with his briefcase. The caption reads Seymour Frishberg: Accountant of the Wild Frontier. (I’m not going to infringe copyright and post the image here, but here's a link.)

Straight away I wondered what a science fiction version of the Seymour Frishberg cartoon might look like. Pretty much the same layout except that he’d be in a spacesuit instead of a business suit. And maybe there’d be the odd ringed planet in the sky.

Then I started wondering about the accountant’s story. Why is an accountant in space? Deep space? And there it was. I even had my title - originally Nathaniel D Nicholson: Deep Space Accountant, I changed it to Elton D Philpotts midway through the first draft, then I dropped the name  part when I realised I’d have a tough time cramming it all onto the book cover.

You’d think, also, that my job as an accountant might have had an influence? Not true. The idea came to me in 1985, long before I ever considered accountancy as a career. Back then I earned my crust by compiling bus timetables and duty rosters.

So, I wrote a first draft, hand written on secretary’s spiral notepads. It was horrible. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t plot. I knew nothing about accountancy. I put it away in a drawer and carried on writing short stories.

Flash forward twenty-five years. I’d become an accountant. I’d started winning the odd award for my writing. I found Deep Space Accountant in a box.

It was still horrible.

I put it back in the box and buried it. And started again.
Different plot. Different characters. Different Result.

Want to know how it turned out? Find out here

Deep Space Accountant is the first book in the Sphere of Influence series, available in paperback and all major e-book formats.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

No Such Thing as Gravity

From Sarah Sparkes' The Ghost Formula. Apologies for the
 image, it's better without the reflection of my hands and
camera included.
An exhibition running at FACT in Liverpool asks, what is the nature of scientific truth? A group of artists have approached areas of science in a way that can create unease and controversy. I went to see No Such Thing as Gravity this week and came away confused and ill at ease. But it's art, so that's a good thing, yeah?

I can say up front that I often find the exhibitions at FACT to be… challenging. A common theme is a merging of scientific and artistic thought, and it is the artistic side of this partnership that can be difficult. Having said that, I rarely miss an exhibition, and even if I don’t understand much or anything about what’s going on, the images and exhibits will be guaranteed to unsettle me and give me cause to think deeply about the ideas long afterwards. Perhaps that is my problem. Maybe we are not meant to understand. Maybe the idea is to present a series of triggers designed to send our brains  skittering off on random courses to find their own understandings.

Unsettling is the best way to describe Helen Pryor’s exhibit, The End is a Distant Memory, upstairs in Gallery 2. This is an exploration of the ‘unknowable space between life and death’ and she uses a series of video presentations using chickens, from factory farm to supermarket shelf, and even beyond, where life of a kind has been seen to continue for several days within fibroblast cells of chickens taken from those same supermarket shelves. In another part of this gallery we see a man on a table. He is unconscious and limp, and being dragged, arranged and manipulated for some purpose. His body is lifeless but the movement is constant, and it is disturbing in a way that is hard to define. Like many of the other exhibits, it left a mark, perhaps even a scar, and I have no idea why.

I would recommend a visit to FACT if you are in the area. The exhibition will make you think… about something… but I cannot predict what.

Cafe’s good too. Pretty decent veggie and vegan fare. I had a falafel and guacamole sandwich. Mmm!

No Such Thing as Gravity runs until 5 February 2017. And it’s free.

Monday, 2 January 2017

The Sphere of Influence – Audio Excerpt.

Audio books are a brilliant way of keeping on top of your reading, while driving, gardening, doing DIY... waiting in A&E. 

My daily commute is history now that I have finished with the old 9 'til 5 job, but there are still plenty of opportunities for slotting a CD into the stereo and losing myself in a good book.

I thought it would be fun to share an audio excerpt from Deep Space AccountantIt comes with a health warning related to my non-thespian roots, but with that in mind here's a link to a reading taken from early on in Deep Space Accountant, where Elton D Philpotts is en route to an interview.
It is an important interview for Elton. He doesn’t know it yet, but the outcome will also have repercussions for the whole Sphere of Influence. His journey is not going well. Elton is not having a very good day.

Deep Space Accountant is the first book in Mjke Wood's Sphere of Influence Series. Why not give the ebook a try? Check out for links to Amazon Kindle, iBooks, Kobo and Nook, and also for the paperback edition. There's a free ebook up for grabs, too.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Dr Who Experience

Yeah, okay, the last blog post was a bit daft. Sorry, I couldn't help myself. I got carried away with the whole Dr Who thing.
We've been to Cardiff for a few days. Lovely city by the way. If you're thinking of visiting have a look over on Travelling in a Box for some of my impressions.

Anyway, this post is all about the Dr Who Experience, on Cardiff Bay. I've had mixed feelings about visiting the exhibit for a while, but this time I decided to go with it.

First, though: What did I expect? Well, I'll be honest I expected something a bit tacky, aimed at kids, kind of shoddy and rough around the edges. I expected plywood and gaffer tape and time-worn displays, all thrown together as bait to get the punters into the gift shop. I, of course, would not be compelled to buy overpriced merchandising. I expected to come out and have a bit of a rant about the cost. I expected to flap my arms about and sulk.
Well, boy did I get that wrong!
What I got from the Dr Who Experience was a full morning of wide-eyed wonder. An emotional experience. A delight. A return to childhood. I didn't rant about the cost because it was worth every penny, and then some, which I can prove because, okay yes, you are led into the gift shop at the end of the visit, but by the time I got there I was so immersed in the whole Dr Who thing that I spent a bomb in the shop. Couldn't help it. I wanted to take something home with me. I wanted a Dr Who carrier bag.

Right, so what do you get for your money? Why was it so good?
Well first of all, you can't go straight in, you are given a time slot and sent away. We settled in the Norwegian Church that is now a coffee shop (and is the church where Roald Dahl was christened) and waited, looking at all the other coffee drinkers and deciding which of them had a mad enough glint in the eye to be Dr Who fans. At eleven-twenty the answer to that question came: because it was all of them. We all rose from our seats at the same time and wandered back over to the Exhibition building for the 11:30 timed slot.

We waited in a queuing area for our allotted time to come. I still had doubts, but I was warming to it. And then...

Well, I'm not going to tell you. There are displays that say No Photographs, at least not for the first part of the visit, the Museum of Gallifrey. Our tour guide reinforced this.
"Please, Do not take photographs. We don't want to spoil the experience for others."
This seemed a bit mean, but then we went inside and... I'm not even going to speak about it, apart from, well, two things: there's a bit of role play – nothing alarming, and also... it's brilliant. So no, I'm not going to spoil it for anyone.

But then you come through into the exhibition area and here you are allowed to take photos so I took some. A lot. Here's some.
Sarah, trying very hard not to blink
One of the early Tardis interiors
Okay so I found this hard. There's still an urge to hide behind the sofa.
Hard to tell who's the most ugly.
A more recent Tardis interior
Sarah, trying out the role as the doctor's next assistant.
So I had to take the Tardis for a spin, too.
A detail from the Tardis dashboard. How many kitchen gadgets can you spot?
Yeah, okay, I'm a bit obsessed by Daleks. 

A Postcard from Skaro

So, here I am on the planet Skaro. Don't think much of the hotel staff. They've got some sort of infestation going on and they're kind of preoccupied. A lot of shouting about getting in the exterminator. Should I be worried? The staff are all a bit grumpy, too. Must be the throat infection that's been doing the rounds. Between you and me, I think some of them could do with sucking on a Fisherman's Friend Lozenge once in a while, before it goes to their chest.
The upstairs rooms are a bit messy too. Haven't seen any cleaning staff up here since I arrived.
Anyway, love to all the family. See you when I get back... or before I get back, or after I get here... whatever.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Vintage Radio

I did another interview this week for Will Redfearn's Community hour on vintage radio picking up where we left off round about the same time last year. We had a few technical hitches in the studio, so in the end Will decided to record the show rather than put it out live. It will be aired on Saturday29 Oct and repeated on Sunday 30th Oct at 9pm. True to the spirit of high definition radio, I wore my Deep Space Accountant T-shirt especially for the interview. If you listen carefully you'll see it.

Last year we finished the interview with my making vague references to some 'exciting news' that I couldn't talk about. That was, of course, the sale of the option for turning The Last Days of Dogger City into a film. It's  good that I'm able to talk about it this time round, and it got me fired up about it all over again. In fact I just saw a tweet, tonight, from one of the production team who mentions how she's working on the script right now, so yeah, it's still progressing.

At the moment I'm working in my caravan, camped out deep in the Cotswolds, near Cirencester. We're on our annual pilgrimage down to Bristolcon where we'll hear panels on all manner of sci-fi goodness. I'm typing this tethered to my phone that has an intermittent half a bar of minus one G internet. There's every chance I'll be home before this blog actually posts. I'll pass each solitary bit of data as it is released from the candle powered servers and sent vaguely north. If that turns out to be the case: Bristolcon was brilliant! Had a great time. (How's about that, a bit of time dilation thrown in for you. Our caravan is doing relativistic speeds up the M5.)

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Untethered - 5 - The View from the Other Side

I'm now three full weeks on from the big life-changing event of retirement. How do I feel?

Well, in a word, knackered.

We decided to travel around to make the transition easier, so we had a few days in Cambridge. The photo (left) is taken just around the corner from the Cavendish Laboratories, where they probably ran out of wall space for all the blue plaques they needed. James Clerk Maxwell, the developer of electromagnetic theory, founded the lab, but then a further 29 Nobel Laureates have passed through the doors since. In the next street is the pub where Crick and Watson went to announce their discovery of the structure of DNA. To walk along this street and think about all the great minds of science that have gone before is an amazing thing.

Another amazing thing is to watch all the bicycles dodging in and out of the buses and wagons, and to think how many great minds of the future could so easily be ground to mush beneath the wheels of a juggernaut, all for want of a few proper cycle lanes. Yeah, there's a rant coming on, so I'll stay positive and move to Scarborough.

 The Grand Hotel in Scarborough was home to Fantasycon by the Sea. We went early, because the hotel rates were good and we thought Scarborough might make a good destination for a holiday.
It turns out we fell in love with Scarborough. I've always been a sucker for Victorian seaside towns, and Scarborough is up there amongst the best.
It helped that our hotel was also one of the major landmarks in the town. It stands huge and intimidating on the cliffs above the South Bay. Our room had a sea view, and we could sit in bed each morning and watch the sun rise over the North Sea. A bit of a novelty, this. We've always lived on the west coast and for us the sun is meant to set over the sea.
From the hotel it is a three minute walk to the centre of town, or, in the other direction, across the iron footbridge, there are cliff walks and gardens and coastline for miles.
This was meant to be a relaxing weekend, going to panels, chatting with friends, sitting in the bar... According to my Fitbit we walked ten miles each day, apart from the Saturday, the main day of the con, when we only managed five miles.
The con itself? One of the best I've been to. All the panels were good. Had the chance to chat with lots of interesting people from the Fantasy writing world, and even extended this on the train when we met a lovely couple heading out to catch a flight to take them on holiday, with whom we chatted most of the way home.

Here we are on the open top bus (I had to go on a bus) that runs all the way along the promenade between the South and North Bays.

So what next? Do I start taking it easy? Is it time, now, to break out the slippers? Not a chance. We arrived home on Sunday night and drove to Sussex the next morning (via a stop-off Banbury) This was an art-related mission for Sarah. I owed her this after three days of fantasy panels.

We stayed in Worthing. Another hotel. Another sea view. Another Victorian seaside town. The pier was fun, and we even won a few tuppences in the penny arcades.

So now the transition is over and it's time to produce some words. My writing schedule has been all over the place during the retirement rollercoaster, so I've been easing into the process with some short stories. My work in progress has the working title Cold Robots and Other Dead Animals, and I'm enjoying the buzz of getting some new words down.

Deep Space Accountant is now out in the world. I'm keeping the price low during this initial launch phase, and I'm cracking my knuckles ready to begin the first edit on the second in the series, The Lollipop of Influence.