Sunday, 26 December 2010

Christmas Stuff

I'd like every day to be Boxing Day. Feet up on the sofa, laptap on my lap, couple of hours writing, eat some leftovers, read a bit, watch a bit of classic 50's SF on the telly... It will end soon and I'll back into what is traditionally the hardest three weeks of my day-job year. (And this year is set to be the worst ever)

But I'm not going to worry about that now, I'll just enjoy this while I can.

Here's a run-down on the Christmas gifts:

I am in awe of my wife, Sarah, and her ability to buy gifts. She is not a SciFi fan but she is supportive and knows what is hot. She gave me "How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe" by Charles Yu. I am 50 pages in and already this is a strong, runaway contender for my Best Novel Hugo vote. (I love the cover, too, with all the little ray guns.)

What else? Well she bought me a stack of DVD's – fifties SF classics: This Island Earth, When Worlds Collide, The Day the Earth Stood Still (the proper one with Michael Rennie, not the rubbishy remake). Okay so some are a little thin in places, but I love them all the same, because I grew up with them. It's interesting that I hadn't realised that This Island Earth was filmed in colour. I thought it was in black & white. This must be because last time I watched it I had a black & white telly. It will probably be the same with HD. I won't get an HD TV until our steam model expires, and I reckon there's 20 years left in her yet. I just need to find a good valve stockist.

So, next on the agenda, make some tea (because Sarah worked her socks off in the kitchen, yesterday) then another classic DVD. And time for another 1000 words before bed.

I LOVE Boxing Day.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Spooky Robot Dog

Okay, so this is quite old tech, 2008 would you believe? but I hadn't seen it before, I've been watching it again and again and I'm kind of spooked out by it. Is this really a robot? Or is it two guys rehearsing for a role in panto. (If it is, they're very good.)
Here's the thing - if this was 2008, what can it do now, at the back end of 2010? It's the bit on the ice that gets me. This is artificial intelligence! Here in the UK we've had a bit of snow and I've already been on my arse, twice, crossing the car park at work.What does that say about biological intelligence - mine at least?

Friday, 10 December 2010

Ray Gun Revival

It’s always good when a new magazine/webzine comes along. Even better when a good friend is heavily involved. So I’m pleased to be able to give a plug to Ray Gun Revival, appearing soon, on a computer screen near you. It’s weekly and it’s fun and it sounds like just the tonic for these dark and economically depressed times. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what they have on offer in the first issue. Enough from me, here’s what they have to say for themselves:

Ray Gun Revival (RGR) is an online magazine dedicated to fun stories, grand escapism, and good old sensawunda. RGRl provides just that, a throwback publication that revisitsspace opera and golden age sci-fi. Their stories focus more on character development than hard science and sail all the wide-open waters between science fantasy and harder SF. Think of the original Star Wars stories, Doc Smith's Lensman series, the Warlord of Mars tales from Edgar Rice Burroughs. Think of everything from John Carter and Gully Foyle to Kimball Kinnison and Han Solo. They are bringing out the deepest elements of what has traditionally been rather superficial fiction and updating them for a new generation of fiction enthusiasts.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Moving On

Photo credit: Stephen Whalley and LA Productions/BBC.

This week I've been on the telly as an extra in the BBC series called Moving On. (I'm the one with the arm up in the air.) My role lasted about seven seconds. It took us an entire day on set to do our part, so I see now why films have such large budgets. We ate a lot of doughnuts, too. It was a good plug for the Merseyside Big Band, though, and I'm hoping that, as a result, we get a few more music fans coming along to our regular gig at Maghull Town Hall on the 25th. November.

Here's some more photo's:
 Photo credit: Stephen Whalley and LA Productions/BBC.
This one shows off my ex-Writers-of-the-Future Tux, recycled and put to good use whilst helping to keep down the cost of the BBC licence fee. 

Photo credit: Stephen Whalley and LA Productions/BBC.

And here's the whole band. What a fine collection of manhood.

Moving on was produced by LA Productions for the BBC and starred Hannah Gordon and the late Corin Redgrave.

Sunday, 7 November 2010


Ah, Sunday morning, and Bristolcon is over. It's been a brilliant con and I'm sad that it has come to an end so quickly. Highlights: watching fantasy writer Juliet E McKenna chucking fantasy writer Joe Abercrombie all around the room in a Martial arts display, filling the notebook with ideas during the Future Science panel, and of course meeting lots of friendly people who love SciFi. It was especially good to meet up with Adam Colston again, one of this year's WOTF winners. He kindly passed me a copy of his WOTF 26, and although I've already read it on my kindle (a terrific read it is too) I was chuffed to bits to get a hard copy, and signed by Adam.

Well done to all the organisers, a slick and friendly event – can't wait for next year. I will certainly be coming.

And now for breakfast (I love hotel breakfasts) then off up the M5 to Birmingham for the 'Simply the Best' art show at the NEC, where Sarah has a painting on display. (It's the one that was recently in 'International Artist' Magazine - available at WH Smiths and all good magazine sellers throughout the world).

Thursday, 4 November 2010

On the benefits of Crappy Jobs for Writers

A little while ago a writer friend of mine stressed the importance, for a writer, of having a crap job. Boring and routine are particularly helpful traits, so that one's mind can be stifled and imprisoned and bursting to break free at the least provocation. I didn't really believe this view, but then I was fortunate to be trapped in exactly the right kind of job. No, I thought he was being foolish – that a job with demands on the intellect must be... rewarding.

Since the time my sage friend passed on this advice things have changed in my circumstances, and it was tempting to hope that they had changed for the better. First I was told that my services would no longer be required, and this was a blow, because even a crap job is better than no job. Then my employers did an about-turn and realised they couldn't manage without me, so they bribed me with toys – they gave me a Blackberry, a laptop and then a fancy car. So yes, I can be bribed with such trappings. But then they slipped another part of the deal into the equation, something dark and unwelcome: They expected me to do some work. Not only work, but cerebral work, hard stuff, stuff that demands the need to think. And they sent me away to places like Luton and London and Leicester to do it.

So that's my excuse for not having filled these pages for nearly two months. It has become hard to write. Time has been stolen away from me. My brain is being overclocked leaving nothing in reserve for quality prose. I need to reboot. I need to get back to writing.

I need a plan. I need to do this systematically. Here's my plan:

Tomorrow I'm off to Bristol, for Bristolcon on Saturday. Surely here I can find inspiration and ideas and people who have more interesting things to talk about than balance sheets and financial instruments.

And then I will restart work on my CERN story, which, I promise, here in public, I PROMISE, will be completed to at least first draft stage before the end of the month.

So there.

Now – lunch over. Back to balance sheet reconciliations.

Friday, 17 September 2010

An E-Reader-Sceptic Reviews his Position

I hate the concept of e-readers. This is something I have felt strongly about for some time. I mean, what's wrong with a book? You don't need batteries, you can read it in the rain, or the bath. It is portable. It is an age old design that does not need any modification. If it aint broke don't fix it – this is a valid rule.

But, I suppose, when something is out there you should try it before you can really rip into it with gusto. And it's geeky tech, and I suppose I am a bit of a sucker for geeky tech. Up to now, though, nothing has really fired my imagination. The Sony looks okay, but okay is just not good enough when it comes to parting with two-hundred quid. But when the new Kindle was launched in the UK I thought about it for about ten seconds, then pre-ordered on the first day. Because it looked kind of cool.

I've been driving the Kindle for about two weeks now. I had a raft of imaginative and colourful metaphors ready for a sizzling blog-attack on all the things it did badly... and I can't use any of them.

Because I like it. No, that's a bit tame. Oh dear, the truth is I LOVE my Kindle. There, I've said it. After just two weeks I don't know what I'd do without it. I have books for research. I have samples of books I may buy, probably will buy. I have some of my own stories on it, because, hey, it is wonderful for reviewing post-edited drafts that need a final read-through. If I'm writing a story that needs a specific area of research (and UK libraries are generally about 15 years out of date on its cutting-edge research material) well then I just buy the book. There and then. Within 15 seconds I'm reading it. Technology is a wonderful thing. (Mind you, I shudder to think what my Amazon account is going to look like next month.)

But there's another thing.

When Borders went bust my sole source of US SF mags like Analog and Asimov's went with it. Yes, I could subscribe for a year, but I don't want to subscribe, because I don't want the stress that comes from being buried by the things popping through the letter box after I've just gone and bought Interzone, or when I'm three weeks behind on my New Scientist reading and there's three second-hand novels that I just bought while on holiday. It can be overwhelming. With Kindle I can pick and choose. I can make notes on which stories I liked and why. And they don't pile up in dusty corners of the house.

So there. Damn it all, I've switched camps. I'm a convert.


Sunday, 5 September 2010

StarshipSofa Wins a Hugo!

There we go. It is official. StarShipSofa has become the first podcast, ever, to win a Hugo.  It was announced today, at the award ceremony at the Worldcon in Melbourne. I've been a huge fan of this podcast for a while now and I am so pleased for Tony C Smith.  --And of course one of my stories was on the Starship earlier this year, so does that mean I played a small part in it? A 1/104th part? (two stories that week). It would be nice to think so. (A 104th part of a Hugo, woo-hoo, that's probably the closest I'm ever likely to get to one.)
It's worth seeing Tony's reaction when the awards are announced. I've put in this link to the live video feed. I've watched it a few times and I'm still smiling.
Tony C Smith, Way to go, squire!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010


Nice to see Jupiter Magazine dropping onto the mat this morning. (Issue XXIX: Thyone) Once more I'm very proud to be a part of it. It includes my story, 'The Bottle Garden.'

And it's a good source of some summer reading, with stories like Rosie Oliver's 'Agents of Repair' (I read that one on the bus coming in to work this morning, it's a real cracker) and tasty offerings from Emma Knight, Nigel Fisher and James Lecky. I'm clock-watching the day away, tied to the day-job desk just looking forward to five o'clock when I can escape and get back to reading them.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Back from Holidays

Back home after two weeks away in the Caravan ( and I'm all full of vigour and new enthusiasm. My notebook is bulging with a crop of new ideas – after a visit to the Bakelite Museum, in Somerset, I'm thinking about how Bakelite Punk might be an interesting place to go. Hmm.

I also had a musical awakening. I've found it very hard, recently, to like any of the music I've been hearing. Everything seems derivative. There's nothing new out there. I've been thinking that maybe the twelve notes have, after all, been used up in all the possible combinations and that there really might be nothing new under the sun. Then, yesterday, we were strolling around Bath, enjoying the sunshine and the wonderful buildings and in the square a solo guitar player was just starting up. From the first notes we were hooked. This was something special. We stayed for the whole set, couldn't tear ourselves away. He was selling CDs. I bought one. Had to. I'm listening to it now and it is fabulous. His name is Ben Powell. Remember that: Ben Powell, and you can hear him on or even buy his CD, called Preliminaries, which I cannot recommend highly enough.

What else? Oh yes, they're selling the new 3G Kindle in the UK from 27th August. A week before my birthday. Well, that does it, doesn't it. Can't help myself.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

When the Idea Takes Hold

I'm thinking I might have to break the rules. To be specific, one rule. Heinlein's second rule. I don't like to do this. I've always been loyal to Heinlein's five rules (or six if you include the extra one that Robert J Sawyer added, which I do) and they have each served me well. But sometimes... well.

Heinlein's second rule: You must finish what you write.

It's a good one. It stops you flitting about all over the place and ending up with a half-dozen fragments of novels/stories. But you see, I've got this idea. My CERN story. It has an ending and has taken wing. But I'm part way through another that's going stale on me and, well, do I ditch the stagnant story and dive into the CERN story? Or do I act all professional and craft some life into the stale story?

(OR do I procrastinate and spend an afternoon blogging and twittering and thus break every rule, Heinlein's and everyone else's)

The CERN story came to me about six months ago. Just a thread – a concept. So I went to CERN in June and had a look around. How cool does that sound? Real research, hey? Actually, the truth is, we went to Geneva for a weekend break on a cheap Easyjet, and while we were there I persuaded Sarah that an afternoon at the LHC would be solid entertainment, which it turned out to be, for both of us in fact.

Here's me outside building 33, reception, trying to look like some kind of cool particle physicist who knows what the hell's going on in there.

So, having seen CERN I have setting. But the story then evaporated, because our guide told us stuff and the disillusionment monkeys came swinging in, the basic core concept of the story was rubbish.

Then we went to the Wrexham Science Festival and attended a lecture by Prof. Jeff Forshaw, loosely based on the book he's written with Brian Cox called why does E=MC2. Really good stuff. CERN got a mention, as it does every time you go to any lecture on any scientific subject these days, if its only when they're talking about the size of science budgets. But nothing to do with my CERN story, which was, at that point, cold and dead and lying on the mortician's slab.

Then next morning I took a shower. Nothing strange in that. Basic hygiene. But the shower is my idea factory. I have a direct line to the idea reservoir plumbed into the house via copper pipe and the ideas come squirting out of the shower head each morning. (This is, I think, because the shower is the one place on earth where I cannot take my notebook.) So after jotting down the idea on my whiteboard while naked and dripping on the carpet (Sarah is used to this, it happens a lot. She's very patient) the CERN idea took hold, almost fully formed.

And I'm excited. It is a project that I want to start working on right away. I think this is The One. (Actually I think most of my story ideas are The One. This is a feeling that usually persists right up until the third or fourth rejection slip.)

My current project isn't The One. I can grind out a workmanlike effort, but I don't want to grind I want to fly. So, Heinlein #2, I'm sorry, you are a rule I'm about to break. But not forever. I will finish the current project. I will turn back to grinding-out and professionalism and craft.



Sunday, 20 June 2010

Geneva Airport

Ahh, the logistics of air travel. The hire car had to be back by 5pm. Being of a nervous disposition I had it back by 4:15pm. Our flight home is 21:50. So five and a half hours to kill. Can't even go for a walk. Airports are not laid out for it, unless dodging across motorways with loaded suitcases is what you do for laughs.

No worries, I have this nice sofa and a free hour of internet courtesy of Swiss Air - Just so long as the laptop batteries hang in there. I brought dozens of cables for charging mobiles and laptops and satnavs... but I didn't bring the adapter plug. I thought about it. Then I forgot about it. So I have been rationing my ampage in a way that is reminiscent of Apollo 13.

It has been a good weekend. I've already blogged about CERN. Yesterday we went to Chamonix to walk in the Alps. Didn't walk much because it rained and the cloud ceiling was just above the rooftops of the houses, but it was nice to reminisce about the last time we were there, and we did get a bit of a wet walk, even though we'd only brought summer clothes.

Today we did the Jardin Botanique - mainly for Sarah, but I always enjoy a garden visit, too - and then we took a walk along the south bank of the lake. Very windy. Quite cold. A phone call home to wish our Dads a happy father's day revealed that in the far northern climes of frigid England the sun is cracking the flags and hitting 80F. C'est la vie.

You like the French? I've been determined to speak French this weekend. I so want to be able to converse. I thought I was doing okay last night in the Tutti Spaghetti at Archamps until my request for the bill brought a second cup of tea. Nice guy, though. Seemed thrilled to be able to practice some of his English on us. We were very polite, we smiled and nodded, but we couldn't tell which bits were French and which were English. I'm certain he had the same problems with our attempts in his language.

Two hours to go. Getting jumpy, now. There seem to be a lot of Easyjet cancellations on the PA. Not ours, though. Not yet. Don't want another night like Trevisio, although I've found myself spying out the best floor spot for a night on the lino. There's a nice corner behind Starbucks with radiators to keep us warm.

Okay. Two hours. Batteries fading fast. Time to join the shuffling masses into departures. Won't be any sofas there, I guess. Or free internet.

Geneva: The LHC in The City in the City

I've just been reading China Mieville's The City in the City. What a stunning book it is. The concept is so simple and believable and yet so strange all at the same time.

Right now I'm in Geneva, just outside the city on the French side, and I'm struck by the similarities between this city and that in Mieville's book. I'm a Brit driving a Swiss car staying in France. Every day we pass across the border only ten minutes from the hotel. Yesterday I paid for a car park in Euro's and the machine gave me change in Swiss Francs. For the locals it is all so normal, so... business-as-usual. The border crossing is the real deal where you can be stopped and grilled and searched, and there's one particular car lane that is so narrow and twisting you have to creep along in first gear, threading between vicious cones that look like they could do serious bodily harm to your shiny hire car, for which you have a scary 1500 euro damage excess because you are a cheapskate.

Don't want to sound negative, though, because I love Geneva. It is a real cosmopolitan city and it feels so comfortable. Yesterday we did the tourist stuff, you know, walking out to as near to the Jet d'Eau as possible without getting totally soaked, then the wind changes and you get totally soaked, and it's fun until you have to walk around town in wet clothes. It was sunny though, and I dried quickly enough.

In the afternoon, the real highlight for me: a tour of CERN. When I booked this, a month or so ago, I knew only that it was a tour, in English. No other details. What we got (for free) was a film show, a fascinating guided tour of Atlas (one of the four detectors on the Large Hadron Collider) and a 3D film presentation about the building of the LHC. Our tour guide was one of the physicists whose day job involves working with Atlas. He was knowledgeable (as you'd guess) and full of infectious enthusiasm for the project. The highlight, for me, was seeing the Atlas control room. Okay, it was a quiet day, there were no collisions scheduled, but two beams of protons were being circulated around the LHC to test the systems, (over 10,000 laps per second). Every now and again the detectors would pick up something that looked like a collision but was, in fact, just stray cosmic rays zapping through the detectors, but hey, it was exciting seeing all the displays light up every time it happened. CERN is impressive. Way impressive. There are statistics, numbers, bandied around during the presentation and they make the mind boggle.

I came to CERN with the mind-set that this was research; that a story would come. A story didn't come (not yet). Instead I spent the day in slack-jawed awe of the place. I bought a CERN T-shirt. The note book never came out of my bag. I was a tourist. Loved it.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Hay Festival

Back in Hay for the Literary Festival. Left just after lunch and had a trouble free journey down. It takes about three hours when we're towing the caravan. It's been sunny all the way, despite gloomy Met office predictions, but we've hedged – we've packed everything: wellies, sun-block, woolly jumpers, shorts and T-shirts. This year we will not be caught out, the weather can do what it likes.

We've already had our first talk, all about the rise of Islamic calligraphy, by Alain George. It sounds heavy but was actually very interesting and there are a lot of things in there that I might be able to use in future stories. This is what Hay is all about – learning about strange esoteric stuff and never knowing when something might just come along and poke you in the eye and get the ideas juices flowing.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010


What a fine weekend, Tranmere Rovers avoided relegation, an excellent gig with the Big Band on Saturday, and then Monday... well...

Monday night is band night, always has been, and so I give myself a night off from writing. In compensation, though, I’m in the habit of getting my weekly fix of StarShipSofa while driving out to the club were we play. So on this week’s Aural Delights, what do we have? Woo Hoo! Tony has served up my Writers of the Future story, Risqueman. It’s done as a head-to-head, new vs old, Mike Wood vs Frederic Brown. Hmm, time to acquire a thick skin, methinks I might be about to get my ass kicked. The Frederic Brown story is really spot-on, tight, concise, and a time-travel story that hasn’t dated one jot.

If you don’t know about StarshipSofa ( then you should pop over and have a listen. StarshipSofa is the first ever podcast to be nominated for a Hugo, and deservedly so. Each week her brave Captain, Tony C Smith, serves up an entertaining brew of fact articles, SciFi news and classy fiction. I’ve been hooked for a long time, at least a couple of years. Last summer I was honoured to be teleported all the way from Hollywood to the bridge of the good Starship, along with Sean Williams and CL Holland, for a chat. (And come on, how often do you get the chance to blog a line like that?)

Monday, 3 May 2010

Worldcon 2011

Just signed up for Worldcon 2011 in Reno. Woohoo! I sneaked in just before the cost went up on 30 April. All I have to do now is figure out how we're going to afford it. Shouldn't be too bad, inflatable raft across the Atlantic then hitch all the way across the US, sleeping rough beside the road. There again, Sarah might insist we fly and, you know, stay in hotels and stuff. So I'd better start saving and maybe staying clear of bookshops. (Dang! Too late. Just been in a good one in Llangollen. And the Hay festival is coming up at the end of the month.)

For more on Llangollen you might like to take a look at the sister blog at which I'm trying out at the moment. It's an experiment to keep my SF and writing stuff at arm's length from the Sofatravel. Writers and SF fans probably don't want to read about 'the science of emptying chemical toilets' is my guess.

Right now the SF world is quite slow. Lot of character-building rejections coming in. Lot of stuff going out. I've been working through the backlog of short-story ideas that have accumulated in my little black book, but maybe it's time to start on the next novel, because it's certainly cheaper in postage, at least in the short term.

And I really do need to save for Reno.

Friday, 23 April 2010

SBA Awards in London

Spent the day in London, before attending the SBA diploma awards at Westminster. Here's a picture of Sarah receiving her diploma for Botanical art.

We're staying on a camp site in Chertsey, in the caravan. It's our first time away in the van for nearly a year and it is good to be back on the road. The weather is bright and sunny. No mud. It's funny how it goes - this is our fourth time back to London in only two months. We were here, at Heathrow, for Eastercon, only a two weeks ago.

This time it's Sarah's weekend, though, and the course has been a tough two-and-a-half years for her. She's happy to get to the end but also a little sad, she says, as it leaves a big hole in her life now that the work is finished.

Mind you, I'm sure that the picture she sold in the exhibition, here, will help to cheer her up a bit. We have a bit of friendly rivalry, picture sales vs story sales, and right now she's winning by a mile.

Sunday, 11 April 2010


Went to a book signing this weekend to see my friend, Jon Mayhew, signing copies of his YA novel, Mortlock.

Here's a picture of me getting my own copy signed.

I'm quite excited about Mortlock because I have a feeling it is going to be big. Really big. It's a fine shiny hardback, and they've done something funky with the page edges. They're black. And when you open the book the first page is completely red. It's all very very funereal and eye-catching.
I've heard some of the story already - Jon has read parts of it at Wirral Writers - and from what I've heard so far this book is getting bumped right up to the top of my waiting-to-be-read pile. It's a good 'un.
And it's not just me plugging a mate, Mortlock is getting some rave reviews, including this one in the Guardian: And on Saturday there were queues of eager kids winding out of the door of the shop. I had to wait my turn.

Mortlock is published by Bloomsbury.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Eastercon – Afterthoughts

Back home after a truly excellent Eastercon weekend. Stepping out of the hotel there was a certain amount of blinking and squinting at the unfamiliar sight of natural daylight, and the process of starting the car seemed to have become a complex and overly fussy operation that I barely remembered having mastered before the con. The journey home was okay, but there is a lingering and inevitable sense of displacement on re-entering the real world.

Enough of that – what were the highlights?

Top of the list was Writers and the Web, a panel that featured Joe Abercrombie, Maura McHugh, John Meaney and Mark Charan Newton. I didn't know any of these writers in advance (there are so many out there) but as a result of this panel I will be making a bee-line for their books, because they were, each one, thoroughly entertaining - the only disappointment being the moment when the hour came to an end. It just goes to show, a talent for live interaction with an audience can be so useful. (Note to me – you do not have this talent, do not try it. Ever!)

Oh, and as well as entertaining they gave out some useful advice, like keep your blog up to date. Or a least be consistent about how often you up date it. And if you can't keep it up to date, don't start one. (Bit late for that now.) And blogging is okay for a writer but it's more important to do the actual writing. Yeah, I've just noticed that scribbled note and I've strayed from the advice within an hour of getting home. So this will now be a short blog. In fact I'll switch to bullet points. Then I'll do some actual writing.

So... Other highlights:

  • SF/F and social media (in which some of the veil of mystery attached to Twittering was revealed to me.)
  • Non-Euclidean Geometry – Nicholas Jackson. (Because I almost understood some of it.)
  • Pyrotechnics display by Stephen Miller (because he didn't raise the hotel to ground, especially as Sarah and I were in it at the time.)
  • Fusion Power by Anthony Webster (because I have a thing about fusion, something to do with not wanting to go back to a manual typewriter any time soon.)
  • Writing for Audio, (Jack Bowman, Paul Cornell, James Swallow, Philip Palmer and Martin Easterbrook.) I love any radio that avoids music and jingles but especially radio and podcast drama, so this was a gem of a panel. The Wireless Theatre Company is one to subscribe to. (I might even try writing a bit for this medium some time.)
  • The Hugo Nominations (Yay, go Starship Sofa.)

And some honourable mentions:

  • Tax and Royalties – bit close to the day job, perhaps, but could save me a few bob in the long run.
  • GoH Alastair Reynolds' talk, especially his ability to wing it for a while when the tech failed.
  • The little cubes of fried potatoes at breakfast. Loved these. Probably loved them too much. Probably love hotel breakfasts too much in general.

And now Odyssey2010 is over and I'm thinking about Birmingham next year. But I really have gone on a bit and I'd better do some proper writing – the kind with plots and grammar and some of the words spelled right.

Friday, 2 April 2010


Taking a few quiet moments to clear my head. I'm on my second visit to London in two days. On Wednesday I came down on the train for a meeting at work, I stayed overnight then straight back home on the train next day. Sarah collected me from the station, I dumped the contents of my case into the laundry, repacked - then, 4am alarm, quick shower and we're in the car heading down the M6 for Heathrow and the 2010 Eastercon.

Arrived late morning and we've had a full afternoon and evening of panels. Probably the best so far was the smallest – a panel about podcasting. I picked up the names of a couple of new ones I hadn't heard of before and they'll go straight onto my itunes subscription list as soon as I'm back home. (Ghost in the Machine sounds especially tempting.) All I need is about ten extra hours each day to listen to them all.

What's in store tomorrow? Oh, I don't know, I'm going to wing it. Depends if I wake up before tea time.


Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Abandoned in Italy

So, yes, Venice was very nice. We enjoyed it. But, regrettably, it will not live long in our memories. Because then we tried to go home, and that is the part that will live long in our memories. We're not home yet. Right now I'm sitting in a hotel somewhere in Northern Italy, to the best of my knowledge somewhere near Milan or Bergamo.

I'm jumping ahead. Wind the clock back 24hrs. Our last day in Venice was misty and quite cold. We watched Johnny Depp making a film near the Rialto. We bought our souvenirs. We had a bad meal that left us with the ever-present threat of that other Italian-sounding place, salmonella. Then we boarded our coach to Treviso airport and hoped we'd stay vomit-free for long enough to get home. Fortunately the food poisoning didn't kick in – a near miss.

Treviso airport was foggy. Two flights prior to ours were delayed. There were no seats because the airport was full. Nobody seemed to be flying anywhere. Nobody seemed to be telling anybody anything. But then our departure gate opened and we were sent down into the basement where the heating did not reach, the lights didn't work and information was a TV screen that said our Ryanair flight to Liverpool was delayed. Okay, delayed isn't so bad. It stayed delayed until midnight, just long enough for the public transport back to Venice to stop for the night. Then the flight was cancelled.

So we queued at a desk with a hundred others and waited to hear about our options. Those options were few. We could wait until morning and fly to Stansted, or Dublin or Alicante. Quite what we do at these places was not clear, and it was not clear what would happen if the fog didn't lift, which it showed little sign of doing. It was up to us.

The best option seemed to be a flight back to Liverpool from Bergamo in two days. TWO DAYS! And it would be left to us to find our own way to Bergamo. We found a nice piece of airport floor and tried to turn it into home. It had come to this – sleeping on the floor. I thought of leaving out a little plastic cup as we'd seen so many others doing, outside churches, in Venice. Perhaps this is how they got their start in the begging career, a patch of floor in Treviso Airport.

Then someone said they'd found a coach driver who'd take us to Bergamo so long as there were ten of us, and so long as we paid 25 Euros. We paid, we went. And the financial evaporation began. (Mind you, not to the extent of one of our fellow travellers who'd had his wallet and possessions stolen from his room immediately prior to the flight fiasco.)

We arrived at Bergamo airport at five am. We went to the check-in desk and tried to get onto an earlier flight. Nothing. But here we picked up a useful snippit. We had to print our boarding pass prior to arrival at the airport tomorrow OR RYANAIR WOULD CHARGE US 40 EUROS EACH! This is a kind of fine to discourage us from not using the internet properly. So that's 80 Euros. Seventy-five quid! A penalty for not taking a printer with us as part of our measly 10kg baggage allowance. Need I rant more?

So, is there a hotel nearby?

Oh yes, a couple.

Can we walk there?

Easy. Five minutes. One is just opposite the airport.

Yes. The one just opposite the airport is on the other side of a motorway (autoroute? Autostrada?) Whatever the word it was an invitation to death.

So we elected to go by taxi, and being unwilling to call a taxi to take us across the road we chose the other hotel that was "only five minutes away." It took the taxi quarter-of-an-hour, and he barely let his speed dip below 100. It cost us 20 Euros. 20 Euros for a "five minute" walk!

This is where things improved, though. They allowed us to check in at 6 am rather than noon for our single night. We suspected we'd have to pay for two nights. We were willing to pay it. We wanted sleep.

We slept.

We rang our respective employers and told them why we weren't in work. We rang our families. We bought food. Money evaporated.

And now here I am. Somewhere in Italy. In the lounge of a vast hotel with no other guests. There is nowhere to walk. The road outside is long and straight and fast. We've walked both ways and there's nothing to see in either direction. There's a mozzarella cheese factory, and a petrol station and a small grocers' where we bought chocolate just to practice our Italian. The two shop girls were friendly. They seemed excited to meet two English people. I don't think they'd ever met English people before. Or was it that they never met pedestrians?

It's frustrating. We can see the Dolomites, topped with snow. I'd love to go there and walk. But we haven't got a car. And it's a long walk.

And we wait and see what more delights Ryanair have in store for us tomorrow. Liverpool airport, also, is a long walk.

Saturday, 13 March 2010


Here I am in Venice. Me and Sarah took a budget flight for a weekend away. I was a little dubious about using any airline that uses a harp as part of its logo, but all was smooth and hassle-free, and the pilot seemed to find his way here okay. Arrived in Venice in the dark and managed to find the hotel without falling in any canals. Venice is mind-blowing. Everything is strange and strangely familiar. Okay, so it’s been in a few movies, but more than that, it’s been in a few paintings. Old paintings. And it hasn’t really changed much since then.

What you need here is hard feet. Walked miles today and the old legs are suffering tonight. You also need a hard grip on the wallet. The state that sterling is in at the moment means you don’t get many Euros to the pound. About one. So eating out is... eek!

There are odd things, like the only public toilets in all of San Marco cost one Euro fifty per pee. (about £1.45 so you’ve got to be really desperate). There’s a turnstile and you have to have the exact change. But here’s the thing, there’s a man in a booth who gives out change - but he’s on the other side of the turnstile. The side you can only reach after you’ve paid. We had only one 50 cent coin so one of us had to go first, get some change, then pass the change through the railings so that the other could go also. How weird is that? Only in Italy? (I dunno, I’m still smarting after that sixteen quid car park in Reading.)

Came back to the hotel on a Vaporetto, a water bus, when the legs gave out. Just can’t keep away from public transport, can I.

Friday, 26 February 2010

London, trains and art

Sarah just got three paintings accepted for the SBA's annual botanical exhibition in London. This is a big deal. It also means we get to go down to London. Again. And it means that if she sells any of them I won't be able to describe her as a 'talented but penniless artist' in any of my writer bios any more.

Two weeks ago we had to deliver the pictures (five in all) to the Central hall in Westminster. The cost-saving plan was to stay a couple of nights at a swanky hotel just outside Oxford, and between times we drive to Walton-on-Thames to pick up a train to Waterloo. No need to go to any great lengths with the bubble wrap and cardboard because Waterloo is only a ten minute walk from Westminster. What could go wrong?

So we hit the queue for London before we even reached Reading. We parked on the M4 for an hour. I swore a bit. Then we devised plan B.

We drove into Reading, parked the car, and picked up a train from there. Why hadn't we planned to do this in the first place? – much easier and only a few pounds more expensive. (Except for later when we paid for the car park - over sixteen quid for just half a day. OMG!)

We had to stand up on the train, but then that's UK train travel for you, you pay for a seat and then you stand up for forty-minutes, but then as often as not you don't get a train to stand up in, either, so we were still on a winner.

So, good plan. Adaptability is the key. Think on your feet.

Except the train from Reading went to Paddington, not Waterloo. We had to get the Circle Line to Westminster. So did a million other people. Only they didn't have five, quite large, quite fragile, glass picture frames with them.

We went through Monopolyesque places like Notting Hill Gate, South Kensington and Sloane Square, and every time the tube stopped more people squashed inside. We gritted our teeth and hoped that a glass catastrophe might be avoided through the power of jaw muscles alone.

And of course, jaw action prevailed. You already know this, because, as I've said, three out of the five have just been accepted.

I hope Sarah sells them. Because if not, in March, we have to bring them back again. But we'll take more bubble-wrap with us next time.


Postscript – we also got to visit Oxford the day after. Fascinating city. Lots of good book shops. Lots of history. We especially wanted to see the Ashmolean museum, but according to the guide book it is closed on Mondays. Also closed on Mondays, said the book, is the History of Science Museum that had a Steam Punk Art exhibition that would have been worth seeing. What kind of town closes it's museums on a Monday?

So we went home.

Then, when we got home I realised that it was Tuesday.


Saturday, 13 February 2010

Murky Depths

It has not been the best of weeks after learning that my day job has been eliminated. But I am not going to moan, though, because a lot of others have come off far worse than I have. I will, at least, get the chance of applying for another job. It will be within a different finance structure but at least it won't involve the two-hundred mile commute that some are looking at right now. But let's just say it's a good way of cultivating ulcers and I could do without the uncertainty.

But good things still happen. This morning Murky Depths dropped onto my doormat. This is issue number 11 –the one with my story, Loose? And what a fine magazine it is. It's glossy and meaty and full of weird and wonderful art work. This is a magazine that didn't flutter down onto the door mat, it dropped onto it with a meaningful thump, and I'm well chuffed to be part of it. The art work for the story is by Caroline Parkinson, and fine job she has done too.

Right now I'm off to pack my bags. We're heading to Oxford for a few days, with a flying visit to London thrown in for good measure.

Sunday, 24 January 2010


I'm probably the very last person to see Avatar. It's taken a while.

The first time we set out to see Avatar was about two days after it opened here in the UK. The queue for the car park started on the motorway. After half an hour or so we still weren't in sight of the cinema so we went home.

We tried again another night. The night when the UK went arctic. We'd have been doing well just to get the car out of the driveway.

Third time lucky? We set out early. Not early enough. Sold out. Yeah, yeah, we could have booked in advance but then we wouldn't have been able to avail ourselves of the Wednesday night two-for-one offer. So we watched 'Did you hear about the Morgans' instead. (Oh my, was that a film worth missing.)

So this week we bought tickets three hours early, then went out for a meal, then reported back at the cinema thirty minutes before show time so that we wouldn't be sitting in the crappy seats eighteen inches from the screen. It was a close call. Five minutes later the theatre was full.

So, there has been some... anticipation involved in getting to see this film. Already it's an event. I am steeled for disappointment. I am ready to be dismayed. I am not going to be easy to please. The cold and unforgiving cynic is ready to rant.

And within thirty seconds my jaw is hanging open and I am the epitome of gobsmacked. Just the scene where he comes out of hibernation, he's in microgravity and it is so damn realistic. This is wonderful. And were not even down on the planet yet!

There are gripes: The story is simplistic and obvious; mountains don't hang in the sky unless you're a Yes fan with a thing for seventies album covers; the antagonists are cardboard villains straight out of Marvel comics (or government office). But who the hell cares - because the visual spectacle is so... complete. There are so many things to see it almost hurts. When I leave the cinema I stagger!

So there we are. I am not disappointed. It's the first true cinema moment since Star Wars IV, (the first one with the big ship going overhead at the beginning).

And I was there!

Imagine what miracles they could perform with a good script.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Having a Fall

At what point in life do you move from Falling Over to Having a Fall? I seem to be floating around the borderlands of the two states at the moment. Having fallen over during Christmas someone said (someone being a medical professional at A&E) 'Oh, dear, you've had a fall?'

No. I did NOT have a fall. I fell over. The distinction is not subtle. Having a fall implies passivity. It is a thing that happens to you; creeps up on you, like illness and age. But to fall over you have to be a participant. You have to be, in some important way, engaged in the process. I was engaged. I was running up the stairs without bothering to put my slippers on properly. I was at fault and I was doing something active to cause the incident. And again this morning, when my bottom made intimate acquaintance with the icy pavement following a spectacular one-legged shoe-slalom (no injury this time) the act of falling was precipitated by my own stupidity. I am proud to say - I Fell Over!

I am willing to believe that I am still 30 years away from Having a Fall. Zimmer's gonna get me, I accept that. But not just yet!

Monday, 11 January 2010

Being an Accountant

I haven't been blogging much lately. This is because I have entered the annual dark zone that we accountants call Year-End. This is when all other personas must die at the hands of the almighty pound. The accounting year for my organisation has reached an end and I and my colleagues have about two weeks to put the statutory accounts to bed.

Why such a tight time-scale? Because that's what we do – that's how we do it. We love this. We feel important. We work every weekend and stay late at night and eat pizza. We talk around imbalances and deferments and accruals. This makes us feel like we have a proper job with seat-of-the-pants excitement as part of the mix. I am, of course, using the 'Royal We' here. I'm not really a part of the Let's-stay-in-the-office-until-midnight-because-it's-cool brigade. I'm more of a Let's-get-the-bloody-job-done-and-out-of-the-way-quick kind of accountant. To me, Year-End is a necessary evil that keeps me away from my laptop. I suppose I could find some time to write, but it would be bad writing, and I have found that it's best to declare Year-End fortnight as a kind of involuntary holiday from writing. Holiday or jail sentence? I'll stick with holiday. This way I can recharge the writing batteries and I manage to avoid much of the stress and depression which comes from being kept away from the things I want to do against my will.

So I'm just over a week into Year-End. Then I get to do tax packs, and then The Auditors arrive and I have to be nice to them. (Actually, that's not so hard, most of them are okay, even likeable.) And to make all this extra deep-down fun, we are, in the UK, in the clutches of deep winter. Snow is on the ground for the first time in yonks and I don't even get to go out and play in it. This really sucks – it will be grey in-your-shoes slush before the accounts are done.

Hey ho. Tea break's over. Back on your heads.