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.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Vintage Radio

Here's an image taken from the studio cam at Vintage Radio this morning. I had the pleasure of  being interviewed by Will Redfearn for the Community Hour. A very enjoyable morning. The show ran from 10 until 11, then afterwards we continued our chat for nearly an hour because we had so many shared interests: books, caravanning vs motor caravanning, big band music...
I love what Vintage Radio are doing. They are all volunteers, and are providing a connection, not just for Wirral residents, but for ex-pat Wirral people all over the world. I was delighted to be asked to do this. How often does a person get the chance to talk about themselves for a whole hour, and choose the music to play in between interview segments. It was a great opportunity to give a plug to Travelling in a Box, too, and also Wirral Writers, who are always on the lookout to welcome new members.
The fun doesn't end here, either. Tomorrow I'm off to Nottingham, for Fantasycon, where I hope to meet up with writer friends from around the country, and then come home buzzing with a head full of ideas and even more hyper-enthusiasm than I have today.

Oh, and PS. The interview will be repeated on Saturday 31st October, times not announced yet, but they'll be up on the Vintage Radio website soon. It will give me a chance to listen to it, relive the moment, and cringe at all the things I should have, and shouldn't have said. 

Sunday, 13 September 2015


This nifty little gadget is my latest toy. It's a Fitbit, and it is part of the battle against my ever-diminishing levels of fitness (and my ever increasing waist-line). Arthur C Clarke gave three laws of prediction. The third law is the most often quoted, and states: any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Well, here we go. This piece of tech, to me, is magic. It knows how far I've walked, it knows how many stairs (or mountains) I've climbed, and it tracks my heart rate, all the time, 24/7.  Whenever I open my laptop it's there, waiting for me, a dashboard with the up-to-date stats on my well-being: how many calories I've burnt, how many I've consumed, how far I've walked and in how many steps. There's a nice coloured graph showing how my heart is performing. It's just like having the NASA surgeon (one of the key control positions in mission control with all the bio telemetry) tracking my every move. This morning it told me that I'd had a good night's sleep, that I'd slept for 8 hrs and 19 mins, and that I got up once in the night, at 2 AM, to pee. (Well, it didn't exactly tell me about the peeing, I knew that much already.) It told me when I'd been restless, though, and what my resting heart rate was compared to yesterday. My heart graph for today shows the time when I stopped walking (in the tea shop) and exactly when I started to climb the little Orme, and how much I'd had to work to get up to the top.
It seems only a small step to when it will be able to monitor when a person's heart begins to misbehave and send out an ambulance to meet them before they even know they're in trouble themselves - because yes, the more expensive models already have GPS. (I didn't go for the GPS version because I have GPS in my phone and my laptop and, you know, I can still manage to read a map and road signs so long as I have my specs.)
I guess there's a danger I could become obsessed. All those stats and graphs - I love stats. I'm also noticing that my resting heart rate is changing each day and I'm worrying about the days when it's higher, so I suppose it could make a techno-hypocondriac freak out of me. Is that the next thing, a device you wear in your bobble hat to monitor mental health on a minute by minute basis? Yeah, I could do with that. "Attention, Mjke! You are worrying and depressed that you haven't sold any copies of Travelling in a Box today. Get over it!"

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Llangollen and Analog

Friday evening, and as we hitched up for our Llangollen #caravanning weekend, a thought occurred, that while Boris Johnson’s water cannon sits forlorn and unloved in its London garage, we were assured of a more thorough hosing at the hands of Mother Nature herself, and without having to go to all the bother of rioting and civil unrest to get it. The weather was awful. The forecast was worse. Tornadoes were predicted as a side order to the riot-quelling rain. Somewhere in Wales a long-bearded gentleman had one eye on the sky while sharpening his boat-building tools and lining up his animals in pairs. As we left home, our neighbours waved us off, shaking their heads and wondering at our stupidity.
We arrived at the site, beside the river Dee… and the rain stopped. It stayed dry all night and, okay, we had a few showers in the morning, but by lunchtime the sun was shining and we were carrying our waterproofs. The moral of the story: Don’t always believe the weather forecast. It’s still just a forecast. Sometimes they get it wrong.

Anyway, no trip to Llangollen is complete without a visit to the huge second-hand bookshop that sits in the attic of the café, right on the high street. It has a huge SF section, mostly golden age stuff from the sixties.

Yeah, yeah, I know, I have enough books, but look what I picked up for just two quid! Analog from July 1976. A guest editorial by Arthur C Clarke and stories by Joe Haldeman and Stanley Schmidt. Woohoo! This will cheer me up when I look at Facebook and Twitter and read all about the whole SF community being over at Spokane for Worldcon this weekend. Loncon seems so long ago now.