Monday, 28 December 2009


There's a movie I've wanted to see for some time. It's had good reveiws. It didn't make general release in the UK, at least not up here in Hicksville, so I hoped I might catch it when I was over in the US. But I missed it there, too.
So I was pleased to see that Santa did the business this year and left me the DVD. I wanted to watch it straight away, but we had all that annoying Christmas stuff getting in the way and I had to do family stuff first. Yesterday evening, though, I got my chance. I was nervous. Maybe Moon wouldn't be as good as people had said. Maybe there was a very good reason for the film's virtual invisibility in British cinemas.
Well, I needn't have worried. Moon is the real deal - a proper SF movie. There are very few. (2001, Dark Star, er... struggling now) It seems that as soon as any kind of FX budget comes along the producers and directors get carried away with the moment and forget to hire writers. Not so with Moon. It has story. It has depth. It has atmosphere. I won't throw out any spoilers, because I hate it when that happens. Moon is a terrific film - go out and buy the DVD, because I'm not lending my copy to anyone.
But isn't it a shame there are so few movies like this. It's not as if there's a shortage of writing and film-making talent out there. I went to see 2012 last week - the special effects are fabulous, but the story - Oh dear! Why do they do that? Why do they spend so much money and ignore the script?
Which leads me to Avatar. I'm going to see it next week. I feel sure that I'll hate it. I just have that sinking feeling. I don't want to hate it, I want to love it. I want to relive that jaw-hanging moment I felt when I saw the first Star Wars movie, with that big space ship that flies over, followed by one that's even bigger - and keeps on getting bigger. I'd never seen anything like it. I know it was Space Opera but who cares when it's done like that - it was a Cinema Moment. They are very rare.
Moon wasn't a Cinema Moment (especially since it didn't make the cinema round here) but it is a good film, no - it is a Great film.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

On the Demise of Borders

There has been a certain amount of glee from some quarters (Rachel Cooke, The Observer) at the news that Borders have gone into administration. It is not a feeling I share. I agree with Ms Cooke that we need more independent bookshops – why not – but where I differ is in her optimistic view that Borders' departure will open the door to new start-ups in the indy book selling arena. The way I see it – if a giant like Borders cannot survive the onslaught of recession and Amazon combined, then there is nothing down for anybody.

I like Borders. For me they will be a sad loss. Maybe in London there is enough choice amongst bookshops to allow the luxury of being able to choose between book-shelf aesthetics, but up here in the cultural desert of The Wirral, where libraries close, the loss of any bookshop is cause for enormous regret. Borders, though - the only place on Merseyside where you can go for a coffee later than five-thirty pm; the only place where copies of Asimovs, Locus, Analog, Interzone et al can be browsed and bought at will, this is a sad loss indeed. Now, if I want a copy of a sci-fi mag I'll have to take out a year's subscription. And if an Indy shop does come along, will they stock these magazines? Will they open outside of the regular 9 till 5 zone? (which are, incidently, the same hours as my day job) I doubt it. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm thinking the days of browsing in book shops are nearly over, at least in this part of the world. Not a cause for celebration.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Acting Debut

Yesterday I spent the day on the set of LA Productions' new drama series for the BBC – 'Moving On'. It stars Corin Redgrave and Hannah Gordon and is about a trumpeter in a Big Band (hence my involvement). The Merseyside Big Band were approached just over a week ago and asked if

we could do the job after the original band had pulled out.

What a terrific day. I've always rolled my eyes when people talk about how hard film actors work. Never again. Filming started at 10:30, but for many of the actors the day began at 6:00am when they were collected from their homes. We didn't finish until 8:00pm and it was all

pretty intense (for the crew and actors – for me it was just a fun day.) It was a real insight into how a film/TV programme is made.

My big moment came with a walk-on part. I had to walk across the set while the three actors had a conversation around a table. "Just walk across", the assistant director said. "Count to eight then walk back." How hard could that be? Well, it is amazing how easy it is to forget about walking naturally. When you have to think about it – one leg in front of the other – it's quite a complex process. Too complex. I managed to walk like Godzilla. A kind of lumbering galumphing gait that felt entirely wrong. But nobody noticed

. When I'm seen on screen I will be a dark shadow that passes across the lense in about quarter of a second. But I will know it's me.

I also had a bit of an Alto solo to do in one of the band sequences. I hope they keep it in. I might even buy a DVD recorder ready for the big event.

The new series of 'Moving On' should hit our screens in the UK in April or May 2010. I will be glued to the telly.

The photo's are not very good – I only had my camera phone. If anyone is thrilled by the prospect of an "as featured on TV" band, and wants to see us live, we're at Maghull Town Hall, in Merseyside on the last Thursday of each month. Come and say hi.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Now We're Cooking

It was good to be on the radio again, last Monday. Got through the rush hour traffic without incident and arrived at reception at the Birkenhead YMCA in plenty of time. The receptionist called through to say that I'd arrived and moments later a younger guy appeared (younger than I expected - this is Vintage radio - for old people) and said, "Hi, I'm Simon, you must be Mike. Follow me."
I followed. Not up the lift, to where the studio had been last time, but though to the back of the building, out into the court yard, then in through the cafeteria, where lines of homeless people were waiting to eat. I was led down another corridor, through a door, and there I was, in the kitchens. There were a small group of kitchen workers who looked at me with relieved expressions. And Simon handed me an apron.
"Okay, you can start straight away," he said.
Wrong Mike.

Anyway, I found my way back. Headed up the lift and did the show without incident. It's strange doing radio. You just sit in a room and talk into a microphone. You have no idea if you are talking to two or two-million, (the former is probably the more likely) and you don't know whether what you did was a success or not. You talk, you finish, you go home. Job done.

So this week I'm trying something more visual. I've got the day off work on Wednesday to be a film extra. The BBC are making a drama about a trumpet player in a Big Band. My Big Band has stepped in at short notice to be the musicians. We've got a full day of filming and (we believe) our part will occupy just 30 seconds of screen time. At least this one isn't live, so I'll get to see myself in action for once. I don't know much about it except it's called 'Moving On'.
Maybe I'll be in the end credits, just below Best Boy and Grip. I'll be there as a conglomerate entity - Merseyside Big Band.
Hollywood seems such a long time ago now.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Back on the Air

I'm back on Vintage Radio this Friday (13th) with a cosy little non-genre story called 'Grimaldi Lights Up' that should be a bit of a season-opener for Christmas.
Last time I did this we found the reception started to disintegrate about three miles out from the transmitter, so I don't expect to have too many people listening in.
But it's on the internet so if you have a spare minute on Friday the show can be found on and my spot will crop up somewhere between 5:00 and 6:00 on the Marion Pygott show.
That's if the traffic allows - because I'll be leaving work at four and battling the rush hour via public transport (three buses), right across Liverpool and through the Mersey Tunnel. The show goes out live. Nothing is pre-recorded. No safety net. It should add some spice to the occasion.

Listen out for other Wirral Writers' appearances in the same time slot on Mondays and Fridays for the next couple of weeks. In all there are five or six of us having a go.

Saturday, 7 November 2009


This stack of paper is what a 94000 word novel looks like in raw unadulterated manuscript form. There’s three more like this in my drawers, three different drafts. I can’t stand to part with them. I’m just a hoarder. But I’ll have to let this one go.

Because it’s done.


Right now the sample chapters and synopsis are sitting in an envelope ready to wing their way across the Atlantic to spend their winter holidays sitting in slush. There’s nothing more I can do. For me it’s over (for now).

So I’m free. Free to dip into the notebook and look at all those short story ideas that I’ve been salting away. Where to start? I feel like a kid on Christmas morning not knowing which present to unwrap first. I’ve got opening sentences, endings, settings, characters. There’s a thousand words of opening lines for one story, even a full three-thousand worder that I brought back from America that just needs some re-working and polishing. And then there’s that idea for the next novel that’s rattling the drawers of my desk, trying to get out. Hmm...

I love this moment. I’m going to savour it – take my time.

There again, here’s Randall Moss sitting in that elegant Japanese restaurant in Chertsey with his muddy boots on. And my protagonist is about to step through the door and confront him.


Monday, 2 November 2009

Laughing Pain

There is definitely a kind of pain that makes you laugh. Cracked ribs cause laughing pain. This is the sort that hurts like hell, especially and perversely when you laugh. So what's so funny about it? One sneeze and I'm doubled up in pain and laughing like a horse. It's very weird.

I did the damage running for a bus. I've been told that I shouldn't be running for buses at my age. My age? I'm not that old. I can still say I fell over, rather than the more ageist comment – I had a fall. (I've been pondering this – what's the difference? It's just semantics, right?)

Anyway I was running for this bus on Wednesday morning and my upper body started to make more headway than my legs. The angles were all wrong, my head definitely winning the race. Then gravity kicked in and down I went. None of that smooth gliding and rolling that you can pull-off as a kid, but also nothing like the bag of dried sticks technique the characterises the aged 'having a fall.'

So, yeah, it hurt. It still hurts. I missed the bus, but then it turned out to be the wrong bus anyway. Trying to sleep is the worst. I have to sit up. It's getting better, I can get by on a gentle incline now, but no way can I move around in bed. Then the allergy kicks in and I start to sneeze – and the laughing starts.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Writing in Coffee Shops

Lunchtime at the day-job treadmill is difficult. I work in a small office; no canteen, no empty rooms. The choice is eat at your desk or go out and walk around. Usually I go for the former, but then you don’t really get a break.

“I can see you’re on lunch, but…”

On the other side of the road there’s a retail park, but how much entertainment can be had from DIY shops and sofa warehouses. I’ve tried walking along the canal and counting shopping trolleys, but somehow it just doesn’t do it for me. I’ve been here nearly ten years. It’s desperate.

And then M&S arrived, a brand new department store. No big deal perhaps, but they have a coffee shopJ.

On quiet days there’s even a sofa! Now I can take my netbook and get half an hour of writing done during lunch. Fantastic. No phones. No interruptions. Problem solved.

But, here’s the thing, I usually go to coffee shops in convoy, with Sarah. I buy the coffee, she bags the table. I’m not used to operating alone. If there’s a long queue, (and there always is) how do I ensure that you’ll have somewhere to sit when you come out at the other end?

Sarah had the answer – always take a coat or jacket, even on a sunny day, and hang it on the chair before joining the queue. A simple and elegant solution. I couldn’t wait to try it out today.

The shop was packed, but as I walked in someone was vacating a table in the corner – my favourite table – one where nobody can look over your shoulder and watch what you’re writing. I swooped and hung my jacket over the chair. I felt like punching the air in jubilation. Now I could wait for my low-fat decaf latte without fear of homelessness. My table was ready and waiting.

Just as I was being handed my coffee I heard a voice.

“Miss, someone’s left a coat.”


Sure enough, someone was unloading their tray at MY table, and passing MY coat to one of the table-cleaning staff.

“Excuse me,” I shouted.

I was ignored. It’s like this in bars. I am the invisible man.

“Okay, thank you,” said the girl. “I’ll take it down to the office.”

And in a puff of theatrical flash-powder she’s gone – and my phone’s in the pocket. And my wallet. And the girl on the till is asking me for £2.20 which I haven’t got.

“I’ll get my wallet,” I said. “…back in a moment.” And I’m off, out of the door. I can see the girl’s back, but she’s fast. She’s got all the moves, in and out of clothes racks, anticipating the abrupt browsing habits of customers, skills I have never possessed. We cover a diagonal line from one corner of the shop to the other before I catch her. I explain and I end up apologising. (I’m apologising? What have I done?)

By the time I get back to the coffee shop and pay for my (no longer hot) coffee, the tables are all gone. I’m standing like a lost soul, cup, coat and bag in hand, waiting for a table. It’s a long wait.

I got a table in the end. Next to the cutlery bench. An unloved perch in a dark and noisy corner. I have my netbook resting on my knee, because I don’t relish floating it on the tea-washed, crumb-paved table top.

Tomorrow I’ll be back – but I need a better plan.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Writers of the Future - Afterthoughts

This was the big moment - the presentation of my Writers of the Future award by Australian SF writer, Sean Williams.

Back home from my big USA adventure. Only now is my head beginning to clear after all the appearances and interviews and book signings. It was quite a week. Jet travel is more than a means of skipping between time zones, it is a means of skipping between worlds. One minute I'm being presented with trophies and making speeches and signing books - the next, after flitting across the world on a jet, I'm grumpy, sleep-deprived, cold, wet and facing a backlog of budgets and month-end accounting work. The worst of it is, the world of the sleep-deprived accountant turns out to be the real world. Unless I can do something about it. So I will keep this short, maybe pad it out with a few photos, and then hunker down and get on with editing the novel.

Here we go, on legs of wood, stumping down towards the stage. I don't remember any of this, it has been erased by the trauma. It is a good job there are photos.

This was the speech. It works well like this, a still photo. This way you see the shaking hands or hear the wobbly voice.
This is where it all happened - the Roosevelt Hotel
on Hollywood Boulevard.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Writers of the Future 25

Everything is gearing up for the award ceremony in about 5 hours. It takes place in the Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard, in the same room that hosted the first ever Oscars. There's cameras and lighting and technology and makeup artists... it is really quite intimidating. But for now, for the first time this week, I have time on my hands. Enough to rack-up the apprehension levels.
The ceremony goes out live on
It has been an intense week, with workshops and interviews and not a lot of sleep. This morning I was interview by Tony C Smith for the Sofanauts podcast, along with CL Holland and Sean Williams. The Sean Williams - Australia's biggest SF writer. The podcast goes out on Friday (or a week Friday - can't remember - brain's failing fast.) There's a link on
This week I've been tutored by Tim Powers and KD Wentworth. I've met the coolest, most talented group of hot new SF writers around, and met some of the past and present's SF greats - Robert J Sawyer, Kevin J Anderson, Steve Saville, Sean Williams, Dave Wolverton, Jerry Pournell... it's a long long list.
Five hours. Getting nervous now. Sarah's as nervous as me - she only has to sit there. I have stairs to climb in a Tux and shoes not yet broken-in. There is potential for pratt-falls and internationally recognised emabarrasment.
Deep breaths.
So, before the big prize is announced, here's the roll call for the Writers of the Future 25. I'm proud to have shared this last week with them. Some of these guys are going to be big, big names in the coming years:
Matthew Rotundo
Gary Kloster
Fiona Lehn
Donald Mead
Gra Linnaea
Jordan Lapp
CL Holland
Schon Zwakman
Emery Huang
Heather McDougal
Krista Hoeppner Leahy

Friday, 21 August 2009

Eating out in the USA

I've never really done hotels, I'm a caravan guy really. But it isn't easy to get a caravan over to California so for the last week or so Sarah and I have been living in hotels. Not that I have anything against hotels you understand – they're very nice. You get electric light and wireless internet and a bed that you don't have to construct from seat cushions every night. And in the morning you don't have to walk in sheep poop to get the water. And the toilet actually flushes. Wow!

But there are disadvantages. Every single meal has to be eaten out. No nipping out to ASDA for a quick salad or a tin of something. This is hard. There are decisions. There is expense. There are rituals. We've done the odd hotel weekend before, in the UK, and the eating-out part is never easy. You wander around comparing menus and prices and looking for the veggie options and sometimes it's fun. But other times you just want something simple and homecooked... and light. So here's where it gets hard. The food here is different. We've been touring the coast, and whenever you are on the coast you are 'tempted' by seafood. Well let me make it clear, I am never tempted by seafood. I like my seafood to be square and white and frozen - fresh from the factory floor. This stuff that arrives in nets and looks up from your plate with sad little eyes has never appealed to me. Then there's the coral-coloured aliens with claws and tentacles and multi-jointed legs that sit on your plate looking like something beamed up from the planet Zog. Faced with this kind of 'treat' my vegetarianism morphs into good old-fashioned xenophobia.

So we skip the seafood and look further afield. But everything is different in California. We've never even heard of half of the vegetables. Are they vegetables? Or are they some sort of lizard?

We've had a good breakfast so we only need a snack for lunch; a sandwich. But a sandwich in California comes in the form of a market garden between two halves of a loaf. And it's served with a side salad. We can't finish. No way can we finish. So we're given a box into which we are invited to pack away the left-overs and take them away with us. What to do with a box of three-quarter sandwiches?

Then it's time for tea. Another search for a restaurant. Italian this time. We get iced water before we've even settled. And a bowl of bread. Heavy bread with butter. More salad arrives – mountains of salad. The ice water is topped up. I'm out of the game before the pasta is delivered, a deep, heavy bowl of pasta with exotic and wonderful veggies that I can't even name. It comes with garlic bread. I love garlic bread and this garlic bread is the best. I can't even come close to finishing any of it and here come the doggie-bag boxes again. We leave the restaurant clutching boxes the weight of house bricks. What are we to do with them? It seems insulting to leave the left-overs behind; a criticism of the chef's abilities. But when are we supposed to eat the stuff? Breakfast is paid-for already and I don't want to supplement it with cold pasta. And we still have the sandwiches. And nothing looks quite so appealing when it's a day old.

It's a problem. We're building up a considerable stock of old food. We have baggage weight restrictions when we fly. What are the limits on imported pasta? If you are passing Santa Barbara and feeling a bit peckish why not stop by and help us out.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

So much for my plan to blog every day from America. After more than a week here I haven’t gotten around to it yet. (But see what's happened there with the grammar?)

So far I’ve been too tired, too jet-lagged and just too awe-struck to find the time or the words. But I’ll try.

Sarah and I have taxied to Santa Monica, walked to Venice Beach, driven to Yosemite (pictured), and San Francisco, and Monterey and everywhere in between. I’ve jumped red lights (because here I’m allowed to) I’ve been on the Bart, I’ve learned how to dance the Bolero and I’ve eaten frozen yoghurt (we have to get frozen yoghurt in the UK). Culture shock isn’t just a word any more – now I know what it really means. I love California.

We’ve just spent a few days near San Francisco at the home of my brother-in-law and sister-in-law (who are the nicest people I know). They’ve housed us, fed us, shared their friends with us, and introduced us to frozen yoghurt!! This will be a recurring theme - right now we’re in Monterey and there’s a yoghurt shop here, too.

So we’re heading south - creeping ever closer to Hollywood for next week’s Writers of the Future workshop.

Next week. Just seven days. Starting to get nervous. Starting to freak. It’s no wonder I can’t blog, can’t write, can’t think. So this will just have to suffice for now.

Maybe they’ve got internet down at the yoghurt shop.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

California Dreaming and Baen's Universe

Been invisible the last few weeks. Lots of holiday planning to do and I've been rushing to put the third draft of my novel project to bed before I leave.

Not long now and we'll be off on the big silver bird to California. I love planning holidays, and this one beats all. For once the caravan can stay in the drive. We'll be visiting Santa Monica, Yosemite, San Francisco - where we'll be spending a few days with Sarah's brother and his wife - really looking forward to that bit, they're lovely people.

Then we make our leisurely way down route 1 back to LA, and it’s off to the Writers of the Future workshop. Nearly there. It’s been a long year waiting for this one.

I was saddened to learn, today, of the demise of Jim Baen’s Universe. They are to close after April 2010. They’ve run some good stories over the years and I have a particular soft spot for them, personally, since my Jim Baen competition win in 2007. A lot of SF and Fantasy markets are closing at the moment - it's a real cause for concern. It’s difficult not to be pessimistic about the future of genre fiction when solid markets like this are closing or just shrinking away. Maybe there’ll be a Realms-of-Fantasy-type rescue package that will come galloping out of the sun. I hope so.

Sunday, 19 July 2009


Just back from a terrific day at Jodrell Bank (above) attending the ‘moonbounce’ event to commemorate Apollo 11. There were talks from a number of luminaries that kept us entertained all day .
Speakers included Sir Bernard Lovell, the founder of the telescope here at Jodrell, Andrew Smith, the writer of ‘Moondust’ (a must-read book for all Apollo buffs everywhere) and Colin Pillinger, the scientist who shot to prominence as lead scientist on the Beagle II project.
I especially enjoyed Andrew Smith’s reading – an extract from ‘Moondust’ that was set against archive film of Eagle descending to the sea of Tranquillity, and a haunting sound track by Brian Eno. The timing of the reading was perfect and it captured the atmosphere of the moment in a way that words alone could not have done. Everyone in the audience was visibly moved by what they saw and heard.
Then in the afternoon Colin Pillinger spoke, in a way that offered hope, about NASA’s plans to revisit the moon via the Ares project. There have been plans before and as I said yesterday there’s no money and these things come and go, and yes, I’m still a bit sceptical. But Professor Pillinger was so positive and optimistic and... well, wouldn’t it be fabulous if this really did come to pass.

Here's me, (in blue) standing in front of the 250ft telescope at Jodrell Bank. Yes, it really is that big!

And then it was time for the ‘moonbounce’ itself. Competition winners were invited to speak into a microphone and have their words relayed to the telescope in Cambridge, transmitted out to the moon where they bounced back to be received by the 250ft telescope at Jodrell Bank. We all heard the words as a ghostly echo 2.5 seconds later.
It sounds trivial. It wasn’t.
It was done in a way that thrilled us all.
In the end we were all invited to shout out “Hello moon,” and 2.5 seconds later the ghostly echo of our voices came back.
Wow! My voice has been to the moon and back.
I’m still smiling.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Forty Years

How about the picture? Does that stir something deep inside?

It’s been quite a week for recalling the heady days of the Apollo programme. But what has surprised me is the number of people I’ve spoken to who don’t remember it – at all! This is not because they have bad memories it’s because they weren’t even born at the time. This comes as quite a shock. Some of these children are forty! What happened there? For me all the memories of Apollo are fresh, as if it only happened a few short years ago. I’ve come to realise that I share this world with quite a lot of people who regard Apollo as a dry history-book episode rather than as that wonderous, breathtaking, live event that I clambered out of bed in the pre-dawn hours to watch live on telly.

I miss it. I hate that it’s history. I want it back.

It’s frustrating each time there’s an announcement: we’ll go back to the moon, we’ll go to Mars – and then it all fizzles out. Come on Barak, I know the globe is a bit strapped for cash at the moment, but how about another Kennedy-esque announcement that we’re going to do something big and bold and mad before this decade is out (or I suppose it’ll have to be the next decade – it might be a bit too bold to expect something by Christmas). Those who worry about the money, the cost, don’t really get it. NASA didn’t send all that money into space at all. The bits that went up into space were just a minor part of it. The real money stayed on Earth, in the US, and grew. Investment encourages investment. Just like Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 30’s it does no harm to spend a bit on grand schemes when things get are getting a bit rocky in the economy.
You’ll notice, by the way, my use of the royal ‘we’. I’m a Brit. My particular ‘we’ would be hard pressed to move a man from here to the Asda car-park (and return him safely) by rocket. Men on the moon are a bit out of our league at the moment. So we’re relying on you guys in the US to pull-off another big one. China could do it sometime soon, but then it wouldn’t be on the telly, so what use would that be to any of us. The US would have HD cameras and live internet feeds, and the astronauts would be on Twitter!
Anyway, there’s another TV documentary about to start, so I’m off to get a bit more of the space-geek out of my system. Oh and tomorrow I’m off to Jodrell Bank for an Apollo anniversary special in the shadow of the big dish. Can’t wait.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Publicity Photos - or the art of making silk purses from sow's ears

The challenge: Create a publicity photo without recourse to body-doubles.

Lesson One: Set the camera auto timer to more than two seconds

Lesson Two: Crop in close to avoid showing the desk clutter.

Use all the props. Can't afford dental work, double-chin's here to stay, so note the crafty use of hands.

Lesson Three: Lose the young and hip Animal hoodie. Black is good. And what's with this asymetric thing he's doing with the eyebrows. Keep that in. We're going for the inscruitable look.

The background though. Don't like all the bits of intruding angle lamps and wall hangings.

That's better. Lesson Five: move the writer in front of his bookcase. Make sure that at least one of the anthologies with his story in it is on the shelf. We've going with three copies here just to be on the safe side.
But there's another problem. What about the unruly, sticky-up tufts of thin grey hair, that 50 years of hard combing could never fix?

Yeah, baby. Bring on the hat!

Lesson Six: Hat trumps talent every time.

Now we're cooking. Here's where we hang a left and head down the dark and mysterious route.

Lesson Seven: Monochrome. The killer app. In one move we go all arty, we get mysterious, and we eradicate all signs of the pasty British skin pallor. And the exagerated wrinkles add gravitas.

And now, at last, we're ready for the final crop.

Look at that. Not even his own mother would recognise him.

Would you buy a used car from this man?

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Long Words

Never use a long word when a short one will do.
Hey, this is good advice, even if not exactly original. It keeps people turning the pages. So what were they thinking of when they came up with the name for this village on Anglesey?

This is the original sign on the railway station platform.

Arriva have been helpful on this, their sign offers some guidance on the pronunciation.
I could have done with this half an hour earlier, on the train. You see, it's a request stop. You have to ask the guard to stop at this station or you'll be hauled off to Holyhead.
So how do you ask?
"Excuse me, we'd like to alight at Llanfairthingy."...Nah.
So I went with: "could you put us off at the first stop after Bangor please?"
The guard smiled. He's heard every angle, of course he has. He's probably even taken a few of the extreme linguistic failures all the way to Holyhead.
So how did it happen? Years ago the local council had a meeting to decide what to call the town, and maybe some bright spark councillor stood up and said "let's call it: The church of Mary in the hollow of the white hazel near the fierce whirlpool and the church of Tysilio by the red cave," because then we can build a massive visitor centre and sell all kinds of stuff to the coach loads of tourists who come to have their photo taken standing under the sign. Only he said it in Welsh.
And perhaps the mayor stood up and said, "ie." Which means "yes".
Because a short word is always best.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Writers of the Future

It occurs to me that I haven't said anything about Writers of the Future in my blog posts. There's a perfectly good reason for this omission, and goes something like this:

There are good things that can happen to a writer who is looking for the big break. Getting published is, of course, a good step forward. Getting paid for something you've had published is, without question, a huge leap along on the rocky road. There are competitions. Sometimes they pay and sometimes they might even include publication.

And then there is Writers of the Future. For the amateur genre writer this is the big one. This one has it all: publication, payment, kudos, not to mention a paid-for week in the US hanging out with fellow writers and getting an education from the pros. WOTF is the one every hopeful SF writer wants to bag and it's the one they should try to bag. So when I got the phone call last summer to say I would be one of those fortunate few I was... astounded.

After several weeks of walking around in a daze the doubts start to creep in. They've dialled the wrong number. My name's been mixed up with the wrong story. It's all been a big mistake. They'll find me out.

Then, after a while, the publishing contract arrives and it's got the right story name on it. So then the next round of doubts can start. The global economic collapse will cause it to be cancelled. Swine flu will spread and they'll ban all international travel. Or maybe I'll just simply freak out and they'll have a rule that prevents hair-rending dribbling maniacs from boarding planes bound for California.

But really, at the heart of all this there is the simple conviction – this can't be happening to me. How did this happen? It is a dream.

So I avoid blogging about it. I shy away from even talking about it. I am terrified of putting the mockers on everything. But suddenly there has been a rush of activity. Trans-Atlantic telephone calls, discussions about flights and hotels and... oh my. This thing looks like it's really going to happen.

So there's a new countdown panel on the blog. At time of writing it stands at 75 days. I'll blog about the lead-in. If I can, and if there's time (and if I can find enough wireless hotspots) I'll blog about the event.

Watch this space.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Hay at Home

Back home after a brilliant, hot and sweaty Hay festival. It feels a million miles away already. We had one last event this morning: Dr Raj Persaud had Quentin Letts in his psychiatrist's chair as an excuse to talk to Letts about his book - 50 People who Buggered Up Britain. This was a great way to round off the Festival, it was lively and topical and very very funny. And it was over far too quickly.
A final coffee at the festival site, lunch in The Grannery (I'm going to miss it, you just can't get veggie food like this in our neck of the woods) then we packed up the caravan and left.
Three hours later we were home. Tomorrow I must don the sober tie and the grey pallour and return to the real world of accountancy.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Morning and Evening

Events at both ends of the day today, leaving plenty of time to lie around in the sun and complain about it being too hot. Never thought I'd be doing that this year.

Started the day with Deyan Sudjic talking about The Language of Things. Sudjic is the Director of the Design Museum and his talk was essentially about design. Never let it be said that we don't try different topics here at Hay. I quite enjoyed this one. It made us think about the impact of design vs fashion vs utility. He covered a lot of ground and it was interesting stuff.

But then came Alain de Botton, the novelist/philosopher. His topic was The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. This is a topic close to my heart, especially as the clock is ticking and our last day in Hay approaches. Soon the sorrows of work will be all too evident. Alain de Botton manages to look at everyday simple things and make them fascinating, funny and entertaining. He looked at jobs that don't get the publicity in fiction that they deserve. How many shows do we see about Police officers, criminals, news reporters? They are well represented occupations in fiction. Aliens might look at book shops and conclude that we spend all our days fighting, murdering or solving crimes. There are other jobs. He looked at Logistics, in particular tracking the lowly Tuna fish on its long journey from ocean to plate. He looked at the biscuit factory worker, and one that is especially on my mind at the moment, the Accountant. (Although, if the accountant is poorly represented in fiction this may soon be addressed as I have just passed 75k words on my novel – watch this space)

This accountant felt real resonance with the picture Alain de Botton painted of this overlooked vocation. Not always in a good way. It was a terrific talk, one of the best so far. I'll probably buy the book, but I'll have to work through the pending stack first because I really am beginning to suffer from books-I-really-have-to-read-but can't-find-the-time anxiety.

This evening we have Jeremy Paxman on The Victorians and an illustrious panel under the heading Dark Matter: Poems from Space. I'll let you know.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Picture from Hay

For a change here's a picture. This was on the first weekend before it got too hot to carry a camera around.


The first question from the floor summed it up. "I'm sure I speak for everyone," he said, "when I speak of the sense of gobsmackedness that we are all feeling."

We had just heard Martin Jaques' talk, the LSE lecture: When China Rules the World. He showed us graphs and tables and extrapolations that showed a Chinese economy which, by 2050, will be twice as strong as any other economy in the West. It was a remarkable and compelling talk that had the audience gasping, oohing and aahing. I can't summarise it. Martin Jaques summarized it and it took him over an hour having set off at a cracking pace. His book, of the same title, comes out at the end of June. It'll probably be challenging and it could be a jolting, scary ride. Read it or hide from it. My guess is that within ten or fifteen years the most useful tool in the armoury of any financier will be a solid grounding in Mandarin.

On a less devastating note (at least slightly) was the panel discussion: Brave New World – Rights and Wrongs in the Digital Future. This was all about the rise of the E-book reader. The panel included Steve Haber of Sony, so a good deal of the talk centred around the Sony Reader, who are also one of the sponsors of this year's Hay Festival. I remain a sceptic about E-book readers. I'm yet to see compelling evidence that the device can do any more than a book apart from the ability to carry a library around. Me, I only read one book at a time. E-readers are bigger, you have to charge them up (and with the best will in the world the day will come when you forget to charge it and it will then be just so much ballast until you find a plug socket, and always assuming you've packed your wire and transformer) and it doesn't have pictures, at least not of any reasonable resolution. I often buy books by their cover. Call me shallow, but I suspect I am not alone. Also, drop a paperback into a puddle and you have a damp, curly book. In the unlikely event that it becomes unreadable it only cost you seven or eight quid. Drop an e-reader in a puddle and you're damp from the tears you'll shed. They are a big investment. That leads me to another thing. I buy a book, if it's good I lend it to Sarah. Would we have to buy two e-readers, an e-reader each? You're looking at a £500 investment here. Sorry it doesn't add up.

    So imagine my luddite surprise when I discover they've been selling e-readers like hot cakes. I heard a podcast last week where this was discussed, (I think it was on Sofanauts, my current favourite podcast) and they have apparently been selling rather well in the US. I put it down to the Kindle having mobile internet capabilities so I reckoned it was just a blip. (The UK version can't do that, it needs a wire.) Okay, maybe it's a short term thing. I still think people will drift back to books (even if they ever drift away). When I'm on the bus I always like to peek at what other people are reading. Will it come down to – he's got a Kindle and she's got a Sony, I wonder what they've got on there? So far I have NEVER seen anyone reading one on the bus or train. Head in the sand, maybe – they'll never catch on. I bet the Chinese are still reading books.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Self-control: One day I’ll try some

No events until evening, so today we went book shopping. It's a dangerous thing in Hay – there are a lot of book shops. There are a lot of books. But tonight there are significantly less books in the shops, because a great many of them are now in my caravan. I couldn't help myself. There are whole rooms, here, filled with Science Fiction. There are whole other rooms filled with Science. There are books about subjects that I didn't even know were subjects. Strange, eclectic topics – like the memoir of a North Atlantic Trawlerman that I could not resist after reading just the first two sentences of the blurb.

When you come to the Hay Festival they tempt you, each day, with a copy of the Guardian newspaper that comes in its own canvas shoulder bag. You collect them. Then you go into Hay and fill them with books. Then your shoulders blister and dislocate and you know you've overdone it. Again. When am I going to read them all!!!

The main event, tonight, was Desmond Tutu, and the festival goers were out in force to see him. We chose Anthony Horowitz, though, and it was a good call. Here is a writer with so much drive and enthusiasm, and so many fingers in multiple pies that it makes you feel kind of guilty for ever thinking that a night's sleep might be preferable to writing. He speaks so quickly, the words falling over one another. But then he has so much to say, and all of it is worth hearing. I know of Anthony Horowitz's work as a writer of children's fiction – Alex Rider etc. But I had no idea how many TV series he has either created or written for: Poirot, Midsomer Murders, Foyles War, Murder in Mind… the list goes on and on. It was over far too quickly. Then as a bonus we wound up in the coffee bar where they had a live feed from the Desmond Tutu gig, which overran, so we got two for the price of one, almost.

Now, I have half-an-hour or so. Time to start making inroads into that hundredweight of books.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Gardens, Spaceships, Antimatter and Pschotherapy.

A packed day in Hay. We started by discovering some Welsh gardens with Stephen Anderton and Charles Hawes. Sarah and I both enjoy visiting gardens, especially since someone else has to do the mowing. This talk, accompanied by photographs, was good source material for some new days out at gardens we are ashamed to admit we'd never even heard of – some of them so mainstream I'm no-way going to admit to them by name in this blog.

Piers Bizony is a space historian. He delivered a talk to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, accompanied by sumptuous archive photos that have rarely, if ever, been seen before. I'm a sucker for all things Apollo. I was 13 when the small step/giant leap was taken and, okay, I didn't really learn anything new, but so what? I love Apollo stuff and I can't get enough of it. Apollo was one of mankind's greatest adventures, and the spirit and excitement of the time was captured so well in this talk. Tempted to buy the book… very tempted, but I don't have bottomless pockets and I'm down to the bits of fluff and sweet-wrappers already.

Then we had Frank Close talking about antimatter. A bit of a slow start, this. A lot of the intro and subsequent talk was focused on a rebuttal of Dan Brown. Yes, I know the antimatter stuff in Angels and Demons is rubbish. I know the facts are wrong. Yes it is annoying and yes it must be massively infuriating to physicists at CERN who work on the stuff. But we weren't there to hear about what was wrong with Angels and Demons, we were there to learn about the current knowledge base of particle physics and of antimatter in particular, and maybe, also, to find out a bit about Frank Close's new book. We got there in the end, but it was only when the questions from the floor began that we started to get to the meat of it. A pity. When he got into his stride Frank Close was extremely good at putting a mind-bogglingly difficult subject across to an intelligent but mixed audience of differing backgrounds. (For the record, I quite liked Angels and Demons, the book, and I do plan to see the film. Yes, Dan Brown does make it quite hard for the reader to suspend his disbelief, especially when he tries to sell some of the nonsense as fact, but you know, he can also spin a pretty good yarn.)

We wrapped up the day with an interview with Derek Draper, the Labour spin-doctor turned Psychotherapist. A bit of a filler, this. Neither of us were sure what to expect. Well, it was riveting. There were all sorts of tensions going on. Uncomfortable questions. Honest answers. Insights into psychoanalysis. Insights into politics. In fact we were moved to search beneath the fluff and sweet-wrappers and we bought the book. We'll be fighting each other for who reads it first.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Stephen Fry, Michio Kaku and cancelled Parkour

Two cracking events at Hay today. Stephen Fry was riveting. He is just so effortlessly clever, and manages to be very funny with it, too. His observations on American culture have nicely piqued our enthusiasm for our upcoming trip to California. There was so much in this event I wish we could get to see a replay. We came out thinking this would be very difficult to top.

Then came Michio Kaku talking about the Physics of the impossible. He is a scifi writer's dream. Nothing is impossible in his mind, just that some things will take a little longer than others. When asked, he said that part of his inspiration to become a physicist stemmed from reading SF, in particular Asimov's Foundation series. He spoke about teleportation, invisibility, FTL travel… After the event I rushed over to the bookshop where he was signing, but – as a measure of how his talk went down – all the copies of his book had sold out.

Parkour is where people (mainly French people) run up and down buildings and do graceful leaps and stuff. There was a Parkour event scheduled in Hay this afternoon and we all stood in the rain for half-an-hour waiting to see it. It didn't happen. Apparently they only do it on new buildings. Oh well.

Belly Laughs, Raga and Jazz

Dave Gorman was as funny as we expected him to be. His book about travelling across America by spending nothing on big corporations is probably a must-read, when I get the chance. (I have one of Dave Gorman's books on my shelf already, along with the other twenty or so must-reads that are demanding my immediate attention.)

He wasn't just funny, though. I think that is part of his appeal. Much of what he says has a core simple truth about it that is very appealing. Why do businesses have to grow to be successful? As an accountant I know the theoretical reasons, but as a human, come on, why can't a business just be? Probably the reason is that all the other businesses are working to the must-grow-to-survive model, and maybe that is why the world is in the depth of poo that it currently finds itself.

So then we rounded off the day with a concert that, on the face of it could have been a bit weird. Amit Chaudhuri is a novellist but also a musician that has put together a band that plays a mixture of classical Indian raga, jazz, rock and blues – and anything else that might drop into the mixing bowl along the way. It really works. This is spooky stuff. An hour wasn't enough and I would have bought the CD if I hadn't already blown my wallet on coffee and ginger homemade cake. The highlights of the set, for me were a magical version of Gershwin's Summertime, and one of Chaudhuri's own compositions, Foreign Education (I may have the title wrong, but those who were there will know which one I mean.)

It was a long day. We got back to the caravan after midnight, and to cap off an excellent day the sky was clear, hardly any light pollution, and we saw the Milky Way and then… shooting stars.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Hay Festival - Sunday

A glorious day. Again the sun is shining. It's mid-day and we're back from the festival site after a fascinating morning in the company of Dan Pearson and, again, Professor Martin Rees.

Dan Pearson is a garden designer who spoke about landscape and how it has influenced his approach to garden design. He cited examples of places from Yosemite to Gower that have moved him and informed his ideas when creating spaces that are personal to others.

Gardening is not my bag, but not one Latin botanical name passed lips his during the entire hour, instead he spoke about spaces and framing and transitions, and I was totally enthralled. I may even be inspired into mowing the lawn when I return home.

Then we had more of Martin Rees. Today he spoke about the possibilities of extraterrestrial life in the universe. I was pleased that he was more complimentary to Science Fiction writers than yesterday, with complimentary references to Arthur C Clarke in particular. In fact he said that he often "advised students to read first-rate science fiction rather than second rate science." I had to write that one down.

He spoke to a sell-out audience, that was moved to the larger Barclays Pavillion, so great was the interest. He expressed a hope that there might be more manned exploration of space. He spoke of the possibilities of man returning to the moon, although he felt that in all likelihood the next steps on the moon would be those of Chinese astronauts.

Some of the follow-up questions made we wonder if Star-Trek-Science was now the principle source of scientific education in this country. Perhaps Buzz Aldrin was correct when he said that SF writers had a lot to answer for in stunting the growth of manned space exploration. Wormholes and other FTL fancies are certainly more sexy than rockets these days. Maybe we ought to be more careful when we use these plot devices.

Okay, it's Dave Gorman this evening, then some Indian/Jazz fusion to round off the day. Right now I have the afternoon off for some work on the novel, sitting in the shade of a hawthorn tree beside a babbling stream. Does it get better than this? Naw.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Hay Festival - Saturday

Martin Rees, the Asronomer Royal, kicked off my Hay festival this morning with a talk about The World in 2050.

He covered much of the usual climate change pessimism that probably all of us here share. What are the solutions? Professor Rees has his own favourite, a global grid centered around massive solar power stations based in and around the Sahara. But he warned that these were long-term projects which, like fusion power would come too late. The immediate priorities should be focussed on carbon capture, because we don’t have too many years before the climate tipping point is reached. He also spoke of the threats of population growth and other mass extinction dynamics. He was concerned about the way biotech and cybertech were having an empowering effect on the lunatic fringe of society, and that “the global village will always have its village idiots”.

“There have been five great extinction events in the Earth’s history,” he said, “and humans are now causing the sixth.”

Other matters, and on to space. Only twelve years elapsed between Sputnik and Neil Armstrong, but it has now been over 35 years since man set foot on the moon. There is progress in space, but it will largely be confined to small robotic devices. He’s probably right. It is shame, because where is the passion in sending a pocket calculator to the stars.

Prof. Rees also spoke about the prospect of intelligent computers by 2050 – an indirect reference to the Technological Singularity. He didn’t really commit to a viewpoint, but hinted that he had his doubts, and anyway, how would we know what intelligence really was?

I took issue with one point, his description of Science Fiction writers as “flaky American futurologists.” This is so wrong. Some of us are British (or Manx).

Prof. Rees summed his talk up with a view that the next 40 years will see an ever widening of the gulf between what doors we can open and what doors we should keep closed.

 Other thoughts on Hay so far: well it’s hot! I’m sitting on the grass in the main square and I am concerned because a) we haven’t brought sunblock and b)its hard to see the screen of my laptop. I’m not complaining. Long may it continue.

Next up is Brenda Maddox, the biographer, talking about her study of Geoge Eliot.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Hay Festival

Hay Festival Beckons. Only two days to go. Caravan is nearly packed, wellies and cagouls are ready. Bring on the rain and the wind and the cold, because this year we are prepared, and the BBC weather forecast will not dampen my enthusiasm.
This post is a taster, a bit of a warm-up to flex my blogging muscles. I plan to blog every day throughout the festival. Most of it will be loose; on the fly. Maybe it won’t work, maybe I won’t find a good enough mobile signal, maybe I’ll be swept down the River Wye in the torrent, who knows.
I’ll be listening to Stephen Fry, Martin Rees, Dave Gorman… talks, panels, music… I went through the brochure like a lunatic – Sarah set me loose with a yellow highlighter and I morphed into a man insane. We’re there for the whole week – more than a week, we head out on Friday.
Are we nearly there yet?
Can’t wait

Thursday, 14 May 2009

To Boldly Go

When I was 12 or 13 I remember one particular day when I went into school in a state of nervous excitement. In the playground I found that everyone was the same; anxious, hopping from foot to foot, needing to talk. We had all been part of a shared experience that was far-reaching and important.
The first lesson that day was double games – this is where you have to put on shorts and go out onto the cold, wind-swept playing fields and run up and down in the mud while the other kids kicked a ball around and called you names, like Spaz and Retard.
But this day no one had any interest in football. We had other things to talk about. The previous evening a new series had just appeared on TV. It was special. It came from America, and it was immeasurably better than anything that we had ever seen before.
It was, of course, Star Trek. Forty years later, it’s morning, and I come into work feeling those same butterflies of excitement; the same sense of wonder; the same need to talk about an experience from the previous evening. Because last night I became a child again. I went to the pictures and I saw Star Trek, the new film. There was Captain James T Kirk, young and full of vigour, so too Mr Spock, Bones and Scotty.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no life-long die-hard trekky. I’ve enjoyed Star Trek in it’s various guises over the years, but not in that passionate, dress-up, learn-to-speak-Klingon kind of way that some of my contemporaries seem to favour. But really, last night, I was ready to abandon reason and buy the plastic Spock ears, don the Star Fleet uniform and join the band of the faithful. The new film is superb. In every way. I cannot fault it, and I’m a harsh critic when it comes to SF films. Oh, it’s got all the bad science and the dubious plot lines and the iffy time paradoxes of the original - but so what? It works. My goodness how it works.

And here’s the thing. It’s open-ended. It’s just the beginning. There’s going to be more – got to be.

Live long and prosper.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Motorway Moanicle

NINE HOURS!!! In nine hours I could fly to Denver. Or I could take a leisurely night sailing from Plymouth to Roscoff, in Brittany.
Nine hours is also how long it takes to travel a measly two-hundred-odd miles on UK motorways. Why? Because UK motorways are crap. Poorly designed, badly signposted, absurdly junctioned, and with service areas that merely jolly you along ever closer to that M1, M6, M25 stress-induced heart attack.
Here’s a picture of our journey along the M25. If it were a video it would look exactly the same as this, because nothing is moving. I don’t like travelling on UK motorways. Maybe you guessed. There is nothing about our motorways that is admirable. Someone is to blame. Who is he? Who is responsible for this mess? What was he thinking? I want him here. I want to tell him all that is wrong. It will be a long conversation. There may be blows.

Anyway, we are here at last, in SE London. I planned for us to arrive in time for lunch. We arrived at 7pm. Just enough time for a late tea and maybe an hour of writing. But tomorrow I’ll be better. Tomorrow Sarah and I will get the train into the city, and that will be cool, I like London. Sarah’s off to an art seminar at Westminster Hall and I will have the whole day to follow my nose and explore.

Oh – a word of explanation – what’s a Moanicle?
A Moanicle is something I introduced in my yet-to-be-published book, ‘Travelling in a Box’. It’s a bit like a chronicle... only I moan a lot.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Words and Music

What is it that makes writing and music so emotionally compatible? So many writers are often musicians and vice versa. They both demand exclusivity in terms of time-management. Often when I have a gig I’m painfully conscious of the dent that it’s making in my word-count schedule. And sometimes I’ll even turn down a gig because it comes at a time when I really do need to be writing.
But I cannot set one above the other.
I have a show this week, HMS Pinafore. I’m 2nd clarinet in the pit. It’s demanding, it’s every night, and it takes nearly an hour to travel to and from home. So the solution is: I don’t travel. I bring my home to Llangollen.
Here I am, at the end of the arrow. Instead of driving for two hours I can write, and Sarah can paint. And just look at the scenery round here. Can life get much better than this?

So, back to the initial question. What makes writing and music such comfortable bed-fellows?
Here’s my view: It’s all about validation. As a musician I love the sound of applause. You know that you have entertained people when they clap. There’s nothing like seeing a group of smiling faces leaving a theatre or club and knowing that you have been part of their experience that evening. Or playing a solo that comes together and really works, and hearing the approval immediately afterwards.
But, here’s the thing, it’s fleeting. When a solo is done, it’s done. Over. It will never be repeated. (It might be recorded, but that’s rare.) So with music you get instant gratification, but it’s gone the moment you let it out of the bag.
With writing it’s different. It takes time to create, to rework, to edit. Then it goes out to editors and you wait weeks and months for any feedback – meanwhile you’re working on something else. Often the feedback is negative (although I have noticed, since becoming a ‘Writers of the Future’ winner, that I do seem to be getting a better class of rejection slip nowadays.) When something gets published there is another delay, weeks and months. There’s no instant gratification with writing. But writing isn’t fleeting, like music. When its out there it’s out there for a long time. The feedback is no less gratifying than applause for a good improvised solo, but it has more substance, because it lasts. There’s also a better chance of it being heard by a wider audience. Maybe no more in number than the hundred or so who fit into Maghull Town Hall each month to hear my efforts with the Merseyside Big Band, but they’re more geographically dispersed.

It’s my last night in Llangollen tonight. I’m going to miss it. It’s the first time I’ve done HMS Pinafore – a terrific show, packed with good tunes and there are some great lines. It was very political in its day and it still has resonance. And it's still very very funny. Words and music, working together.

But before I put on my DJ and dicky, and go off to entertain the cultured masses of North Wales, there are other pressing duties to perform: The toilet is full; it has to be tipped out into a big hole at the top of the field. And the drinking water tank needs filling, the waste water tank needs emptying and... oh, it’s my turn to cook the tea. I’m not going to get away with beans on toast again tonight.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Eastercon Retrospective

This is me outside the caravan the morning after Eastercon LX. Notice the dark glasses which hide the bleary-eyes that half a night’s sleep hasn’t managed to fully erase.
So, how was my first experience of a SciFi convention? Would I do it again?
Well, I’ve already booked for 2010. So that probably also answers the first question.
What were the highlights?
It’s hard, but I’d have to say, for me, the George Hay Memorial Lecture, given by Dr Adrian Bowyer, about the RepRap project was the talk I’ll take away and remember. Here’s the link. ( The whole concept just blew me away.
The trouble with doing just one day is that so much is going on you are scared to miss anything, and there are so many panels at any one time. And when do you eat? You have to stop sometime and then you fret about the panels you’re missing by pausing to eat.
But then, at about six o’clock you realise that your head is filling up and there’s a data buffer overload thing going on, with knowledge escaping out of your ears in the form of both steam and ectoplasmic goo, and the latter is dribbling down your neck. So that’s when you have to stop. And so at that point you may as well eat.
But then there’s more to come. Because events go on into the night – on this night there’s a full sized orchestra playing Wagner and film theme music and Beethoven.

Sarah puts up with a lot. I thought that twelve straight hours of SF geekdom just might cause her to crack, but she surprised me by declaring that her favourite was the session on small-satellites, (because we’d recently been to a lecture on satellite technology at the Wrexham Science Fair, and this had set up the context for her).
“So, are we going next year,” she said.
“Wow!” I said.

Friday, 10 April 2009


Starting a new caravan season with a visit to Eastercon. Right now I'm sitting in the caravan on a Yorkshire hillside just outside Bradford and the rain is beating out a samba on the caravan roof. Nothing much new there, then. It rained every day we were away last year so I'm well used to it. At least I don't feel tempted to do energetic stuff like walking. I have a full car battery to power the laptop so I'll get lots of opportunity to write. Yeay!
Tomorrow we head for Eastercon, the British Science Fiction Convention. Never been to a con before. Don't know what to expect. So I figured one day would be enough to try it out. Besides, Eastercon runs for four full days, dawn 'till after midnight. I couldn't do it to Sarah, she puts up with enough. But I'm looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to meeting people who have heard of the writers I enjoy- people who know the jargon and what's happening in the field. Maybe I'll even get to meet some real writers.
Uh-oh, the winds picking up. Caravan's starting to rock and creak a bit. The rain's gone all sideways. Must be a sign. Must be about to run out of water. Time to get the wellies on again.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

It's Been a Week of Successes

First, Sarah had one of her paintings chosen for the cover of the May edition of ‘Paint’ magazine. They are also doing a profile on her as May’s featured artist.
Wooh, I’m married to a cover-girl!
It’s been a hectic few days for her, putting together her answers to a question sheet that was emailed earlier in the week - and then, and here’s the thing, she had to find a photo of herself to go with it. This was the week that we discovered who’s the one, really, who spends most of their time on the viewfinder side of the camera. We have about a million pictures of flowers. We have maybe half a dozen of Sarah, most of them in woolly hats and walking boots. So I’ve been rushing home from work on sunny days, trying to catch a good one out in the garden before the moon comes up. In this I failed her. I’m not a photographer.
But Sarah’s Dad did the business. He took some good photo’s that I’m not allowed to show here. We’ll see. Here's one of her paintings instead. Second. We have a section of our Wirral Writers’ meetings each fortnight where the chair asks the question, “Does anyone have any news?”, and that’s when we all mumble and look down at our shoes. So last Friday, when Jon Mayhew says, “Well, yes, my agent’s just got me this three-book deal with Bloomsbury, for my book, ‘Mortlock’”, it kind of raised a bit of a stir. (There’s a link to Jon’s blog, Writing in a Vacuum, on my sidebar). His book is set to come out early next year. I’ll be first in the queue at Borders. Jon’s read parts of ‘Mortlock’ to us at WW and it really is something quite special. And it shows that, despite crunchy credit and economic downturns, real talent shines and still gets noticed. Jon, you dog, I’m envious as hell, but well done.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Vintage Radio III

A quick follow-up. What a fun day. I know it's only a little radio station but it was so exciting. All the staff and presenters are volunteers and they are all pumped-up and enthusiastic.
I think it went okay. I was very conscious of it being live radio and I didn’t want to mess up. The Texan accent must have worked on some level because my Mum listened in and didn’t recognise my voice. Not sure if that’s a good thing.

Sarah did wonders recording it all for me. She used my digital voice recorder held up to the speakers, because the technology for recording straight from the internet eludes me. Everything’s gone all digital and hi-tech, and when it comes to a simple, old fashioned tape recording from FM radio we just don’t have the kit any more. It will be like this when climate change and global economic meltdown drives us back into the caves; the guy who can light a fire with two sticks will be king.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Vintage Radio II

Tomorrow is my big radio day. I've been practicing. Why does speaking with an American accent give you such a sore throat? Or maybe it's just speaking with a bad American accent that does it. Vintage Radio goes out on 87.7 FM and my live fifteen minutes of fame will slot in sometime between four and five pm.

I spent today in Ruthin, North Wales, manning a table at the Write Minds event with Cheryl from my writers group. The event was organised by Dee Rivaz from the Pinboard Writers, and she did a terrific job. It was worthwhile, well attended. I met some interesting people; other writers, other writing groups, educators... I'm not sure how successful we were in accomplishing our primary goal, ie. recruiting new writers for our group, but who knows what things may come out of activities such as this? There are always chances for unexpected benefits. The secret is just to do it and see what happens.

Anyway, back to Texas for another read-through. Then a warm mug of soothing cocoa for the throat.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Vintage Radio

I am about to make my broadcasting debut!

Vintage Radio is a community station (87.7FM if you're living in the Merseyside area) and they will be airing one of my non-sf stories, called Dancing Sailors, on Sunday 1st March, between 4.00 and 5.00 pm.

Now here's the thing - and this is where the comedy starts - the story is written in first person about a group of American sailors during the Spanish-American war. So it needs an American accent. Anything else will sound, well, silly.

So I have been practicing.

Here's what I have learned: I will never be an actor.

This is a great shame, because I'm rather proud of the story, (it came second at the 2007 Winchester Writer's Conference) and I really want to give it the best shot I can.

I recorded my first efforts on my handy little Olympus digital voice recorder. In my head I heard Kevin Costner. When I played it back I was kind of surprised to hear Ricky Tomlinson sounding like he'd suffered a glancing head injury from a passing 82c bus.

Oh dear.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Escape from the Pit

Free again!

The trouble with day jobs is they often get in the way of the important stuff, like writing. On the whole I do tend to get off quite lightly, especially for an accountant, where a lunatic fifteen-hour day work ethic is still quite prevalent. Fortunately it has been a long time since I had to succumb to such nonsense, and for this I am grateful. I commute by public transport, and although this keeps me away from home for eleven or twelve hours each day, I get to spend two to three of them reading or listening to podcasts; never knock public transport, I get through thirty books a year this way.

But the accountancy world likes to drop one little irritant onto the calendar every twelve months: year-end. This is the time when statutory accounts must be prepared. My year-end is 31st December, so at least I get Christmas.

The photo is of frozen trees in Delemere Forest on
New Year's day, my last day of freedom.

But on 2nd January it’s back to work for a run of two or three seven-day weeks, when daylight and the sight of clouds scudding across the sky becomes but a memory. Each evening I return home in the guise of a zombie, and, although I still manage to write a little, most of it will be edited out of existence during the following weeks of post-accountancy rehab.

But it’s over. I have emerged. My first free weekend. It was wonderful. Sarah and I have done museums, pizzas, gardens... and today we went to Ness, for a lecture about bugs and slugs and their sex lives. (Never let it be said that I don’t know how to give a girl a good time.)

And I’ve worked through a long list of tasks that have been on hold for a while: I’ve booked Wirral Writers a table at next month’s Write Minds event in Ruthin (28th Feb); I’ve booked accommodation for our annual pilgrimage to the Hay Festival in May (accommodation is such a classy word, don’t you think? I'm referring to a 18x6 patch of grass in a field. But it’s a very nice field, and it's one in which we’ve wanted to park our caravan for a number of years.)

This is Hay 2007. I don't have photos of 2008, my camera isn't the underwater type.

And I’ve been booked to play sax/clarinet in two shows in March and April. And I've booked a caravan site for a weekend in London...

Now just look at that, a clear desk.
Sleeves rolled up. Cup of tea. Time to push on with the novel.