Thursday, 15 September 2016

Deep Space Accountant

That last item on my post retirement tick list probably needs some explanation. I didn't intend to time it this way, it's just how the pieces seemed to fall, but releasing Deep Space Accountant turned out to be a great way of taking my mind off the somewhat heavy weight life event that just happened. Here's the cover blurb:

Could this be the worst job interview in the history of the universe? Possibly. So when Elton D Philpotts lands his dream job he can’t help wondering how. And why.
Somebody in the Space Corps needs him, and they need him bad.
But the work is dull; nothing like the glamorous, planet-hopping lifestyle he expected. Then he sees things he should not have seen: A hidden ledger, dodgy accounting transactions, bogus gate receipts.
And when a whole starship disappears who are they going to blame?
A frantic race across the Sphere of Influence takes Elton and his friends into adventure and dangers he could never have imagined.

Deep Space Accountant is the first sci-fi comedy adventure in the Sphere of Influence series.

You can find Deep Space Accountant as a paperback and an ebook on Amazon. It's also on iTunes and Kobo.

Untethered 4: The End of Stinky Cheese

So there it is. The last paper-thin slice of cheese that denotes the last day of 43 years' of desk-bound servitude. I won't be seeing this spreadsheet ever again. It sits on a hard drive somewhere in the data extermination cupboard, deep within the IT department of the company for which I used to work. Had I been there at midnight on the 9th I would have seen it roll over to zero. I wasn't there at midnight.

As I've mentioned before, I got over the feelings of redundancy. It stopped bothering me that I was no longer of use to the financial world of public transportation. But the last week turned up feelings I hadn't expected at all. I started to become all warm and fuzzy. I began to think I would miss everything. I had a farewell meal with my team on the Thursday. They gave me gifts and cards. My boss and my MD said their speeches, and I said my thing and then started to choke up. Then on Friday I came back for more, but most people were off on holiday so I bought everyone coffee and pastries then did a tour of the building, chatting with friends, stopping them from doing any work.
Then I went home.
Then I turned sixty.
Now it starts.

What have I ticked off my tick list so far?

  • Spent a few days a new city (Cambridge).
  • Managed to walk 20,000 steps each day. (It hasn't rained yet.)
  • Learnt how to empty a vacuum cleaner.
  • Had the principles of toilet cleaning explained - though I tried vary hard to be stupid and thus avoided a grasp of the technicalities for that one.
  • Been to a Silver Screening of daytime cinema for oldies.
  • Launched two books...

Yeah, I just dangle that last one. More in a later blog.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

The slice of cheese is getting smaller. A mere sliver. Just one week remains of the old work-battered treadmill existence before I step through the gate into the world of retirement/self-determination. Will I miss the day job? Only the intangibles. And the people.

All my day-job work has been handed over and I’m just hanging around the place, making tea, reminiscing with people who have deadlines and don’t want to reminisce, on hand to answer any accounting-type questions; there haven’t been any. Already I’m an anachronism.

I’m in a better place, mentally, though. I’ve gone beyond all that now-I’m-on-the-scrapheap type of thinking. At least I think I have. Will there be a post-retirement moment when I start to wonder: what have I done? What have I thrown away? Will I need therapy? Right now I just want to savour the moment, move forward, and fill Amazon with books.

I’m still on target to get Deep Space Accountant onto Amazon before retiring. The contents and cover have been loaded and all the formatting issues resolved. I’m now just waiting for the proof copy to arrive so I can make a final pass and then the book can go live.

Power for Two Minutes is behind, mainly because I went away in the caravan and let the deadline slip for a few days. I woke early to get through the edits this morning, though, so I can still do it on time.

Nearly there.

Bring it on.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Untethered 2

Four weeks to go to freedom. I was always under the impression I’d be in full-on winding down mode by now. Putting my feet up. Gazing out of the office window and thinking up book plots.
The slice of cheese is getting smaller. Not long to go now.

Instead the workload has gone insane – covering for two others who are on holiday, doing my own day-job, trying to self-manage my succession and knowledge transfer (a thirty-two-second task, that one, ha ha!) I’m even scrambling up something of a steep and greasy learning curve, doing the holiday cover, delving into areas I’ve never been before. Why? Come on. I’ll be retired in four weeks!

So in the studious world of writing, my timetable and master plan made the most of the thought space I’d have from my gradual escape from workday pressure. I have my novel, Deep Space Accountant, completed, edited and crying out for a cover and release date. I have my short story collection awaiting a final tranche of editorial suggestions, due back from my editor at the end of this week. Oh, and that one needs a cover, too, not to mention a synchronised launch with DSA. Then I seem to have taken this uber relaxed moment to undertake a new program of marketing for Travelling in a Box, my nothing-to-do-with-Scifi travel book.

There we go, then. If you think I’m nuts you’re only wrong in terms of timing. I’m not gaga yet but I’m heading down the steep road to the padded cell with rocket skates on my feet.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016


In just under six weeks I’ll be walking away from a forty-three-year career in the bean counting industry and assuming the mantle of full-time author. No, I’m not taking a wild leap of faith into the void; I’m not about to retreat into a bohemian garret, wrap myself in rags and survive on oats and warm myself on half a candle; I’ll be taking my pension early to provide an income. Some might call it retirement. I call it a career change. I will not be retiring from anything; I plan to be putting in long days doing the thing I have loved doing for so many years, but without all the financial angst that comes from  the fantasy of ‘following the dream’.
I have this on my desktop - my slice-of-cheese countdown spreadsheet.
I’ve already begun the emotional upheaval: bad dreams, anxiety, doubts, sweaty palms. Will I be able to write for hours at a stretch? Will I have anything to write about with no ridiculous work experiences to draw upon? Will I still enjoy doing it?

You don’t work for the Man for 43 years and not have your brain become somewhat hard-wired into a configuration that would no longer pass the Turing test. The wilting cabbage that I keep between my ears is going to need a period of de-toxification before I can become a normal, functioning human being again. The transition might take a while, but I will have the time. I commute 1 hour, sometimes 1hr 30mins, twice each day, so there’s an extra ten to fifteen hours per week to play with just for starters.

In forty-three years I have learnt stuff. Most of it will cease to have any relevance whatsoever. I’m the go-to guy for Excel spreadsheet solutions, but at home I use a Mac. I have professional qualifications; I will have to let them go - the double annual membership subscription would put me in that garret with the oats and candles, believe me. Letting go will be hard, though. I still remember the delight/pride/relief of the day I passed my finals after more than eight years of toil and struggle. Accountancy is not a discipline that ever came naturally to me. The organisation I work for (at least for the next six weeks) is big, with a European parent. I’m a Finance Manager. I have contacts and associates. My social circle is about to shrink from one that crosses time zones to one that I can enfold in my arms.
Change. Wow. It will be interesting.

If all the above sounds negative, it’s not. I’m pumped. My writing time at the moment is shoe-horned into a thirty-minute lunch break in the coffee shop just over the road from the office, plus whatever time I can force in the evenings, and depends on how nightmarish any given commute home turns out to be. I don’t write well in the evenings. I do write well at lunchtime, but being ripped out of the flow after just half-an-hour of creativity by the call of duty, to go back and stare at numbers, is just horrible. But in five weeks and three days it will end. I’m going to make writing fun again. I can’t wait to untether.

I will document the process here: The last weeks and days of servitude. The transition. The new life. If you are undertaking or considering a similar journey, then who knows, maybe my experience of massive life change will help. Or at least it might give you laughs.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Strange Angel

It’s funny the different ways you can stumble upon a good book. Last week I was in Liverpool library. I’d done the work I needed to do, so I was hanging about in the botany section, waiting for my wife to finish researching lichens. I picked a random book from the shelf, called Strange Angel, by George Pendle. It had nothing at all to do with Botany, someone had replaced it on the wrong shelf.

The book was a biography of Jack Parsons, one of the early pioneers of rocketry in the US. I’d never heard of him. I looked at page one, just to get an overview, and...  I couldn’t put it down. I checked the book out of the library and carried on reading on the bus home. I’m now just over three-quarters of the way through.

Parsons was an odd sort of rocket scientist, because he led the field, even though he wasn’t a scientist, and he mixed his enthusiasm for rocketry with a disturbing fascination for the occult. It’s a compelling brew.

Parson’s other passion was science fiction, and his biography documents the birth of the golden age of SF, the first edition of Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories, and Parson’s connection with Robert Heinlein and other members of the LASFS, the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society.

I’ve just read a chapter about the first ever World Science Fiction Convention, which took place in 1939 at the World Fair in New York. The narrative tells about the deep political rift amongst the 200 or so members, split between the Futurians and New Fandom. The Futurians (a young Isaac Asimov was one) believed in SF being a medium to promote all that is good in science and learning. The New Fandom group thought Science Fiction should focus only on entertainment, and that the Futorians were dangerously Red. These were not just scholarly debates over a meal; the arguments had passion. Scuffles broke out, and some members were ejected from the Worldcon for fighting. It all sounds kind of familiar.

At the moment I’m fascinated by accounts of the early days of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, how it grew from a collection of tin huts located in the Aroyo Seco in Pasadena, a remote, dry river bed, where rockets could be fired without bothering anybody. I love how they adopted the term 'Jet Propulsion', just to obscure the truth that it was all about rockets, because the term ‘rockets’ had a stigma at the time. Rocketry was not considered proper science, it was grown-up boys playing with things that went bang.

A highly entertaining read. For anyone interested in the dawn of rocket science in the US, and in the early days of the Science Fiction genre, it is well worth tracking a copy down.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

The Last Days of Dogger City

I have some news. I've been sitting on this for a couple of weeks, waiting until the contracts have been signed, and that has been a very hard thing to do, but now I can talk about it.
A few months ago I had a story published in Analog called The Last Days of Dogger City. That was just about as big a thrill as I could imagine, but now the story has now been optioned, to be made into a film script, by Carylanna Taylor and Jacob Okada at First Encounter Productions.
I am giddy with excitement.
I'm one of those people who sit in the cinema reading the credits right up until the last ones have rolled by and waiting for the lights to go up. This week I've been doing it and comparing font sizes between the screen writers and the other contributors... and dreaming of the day.