Saturday, 3 December 2011

Ray Gun Revival

Thousand War Soldier is now up at Ray Gun Revival . Why not pop over and take a look. And if you're in or around the Wirral next weekend (Sat 10th December) I'll be at Parallel Dimensions in West Kirby, doing some reading and chatting, so please come along and say hello.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Story Sale

About a year ago I blogged about Ray Gun Revival, a cool new magazine aiming to revisit space opera and golden age SF. Well I am now delighted to reveal that they'll be publishing one of my stories - Thousand War Soldier. It should be out in a month or two. More details to follow when a publication date is firmed up.

Also some more info about Parallel Dimensions, the Wirral's own Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Festival. It takes place on Saturday 10th December at 2.00 PM at West Kirby Library and admission is free. Writers will include myself, Adele Cosgrove-Bray, Tim Hulme and Jon Mayhew, author of the children's fantasy novels, Mortlock and The Demon Collector. I have raved about Mortlock elsewhere on this blog and I'll be hoping to get hold of a signed copy of his latest offering, The Demon Collector when we meet up in West Kirby.

Monday, 14 November 2011


Just back from an excellent weekend in Nottingham at Novacon41. Novacon is the UKs longest running SF con, but it was my first visit. It was good. A lot of familiar faces from past Eastercons.

The main program was only single stream but there was a lot of quality on offer. One of the highlights was Prof Meghan Gray from Nottingham Uni. talking about Dark Matter. She seemed to pitch it just right for the audience. I got a lot of good stuff down in the notebook, salted away for later use once the subconscious has had time to turn it into something weirder than it already is.

The guest of honour was John Meaney and he gave a few good talks, including the one where he more or less hypnotised the entire audience to get us to write every day. Did it work? Well, I’m away on a conference this week, a day-job thing, and I was up at five this morning getting in a bit of writing before breakfast. First time I’ve done that in a long time. Thank you, John. I wasn’t so thrilled about the part of the session where he got everyone to pair-up, close their eyes and describe what they were visualising to their partners.  I saw nothing. The blackness that hides behind my eyelids, nothing else. What has happened to my imagination? My wife saw all kinds; fields, rivers, mountains – she felt the wind on her face and smelled the scent of the flowers. Perhaps I was in a cave, or a falling into a black hole - who knows? But I got quite anxious about it. Being unable to visualise anything at all is not a comfortable state of affairs for someone who thinks of himself as a writer. John Meaney was very good about it. “Isaac Asimov couldn’t visualise, either,” he said. Hmm. Maybe it’s just a phase; the pressure of the moment.
I tried again today during the day-job conference. Bingo! Full day-dreaming mode has been restored.

What else at Novacon? Oh yes, I did well at the art auction, coming away with a limited edition David Hardy calendar for 2012 – one of only six. It is gorgeous. 12 fabulous pictures that I will frame when I get to the end of next year. It is going to look great hanging in my study.
Overall a very successful weekend. Lots of writing ideas. Back to the keyboard with renewed vigour.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Back from Brum

The house is freezing! Not a good season to be going away. I'll switch on all the computers to try and warm the place up a bit. Okay, I'm keen to get back to my Murder Mystery (with robots) story, because I tried out the first 1000 words on my writers' group on Friday night, convinced I'd have them all baffled. Straight away one of them said, "Did XXX do it?"
Damn! I haven't even given all the clues yet. Am I so transparent? I thought this would have the readers guessing for 7000 words then crying in amazement at the denouement. So either I change the end or throw in some more red herrings. Trouble is I am (for once) working to quite a tight plan. I was very proud of it and it is going to be hard to change it at this stage. Maybe it was just a lucky guess, but I can't risk that. Just thinking out loud now, but I suppose I could throw in the murderer at the thousand word mark, then work toward a different, even weirder ending? Nah, sounds a bit iffy, that. I need to pace around the room some. Maybe ten minutes of yoga will pump some blood into the lesser used recesses of my brain. Damn!
I wonder if this ever happened to Agatha Christie, two pages in and someone shouts, "Ha! The butler did it."

Art and Aerospace in Birmingham

This weekend we find ourselves in the Ramada Encore in Birmingham. We're at the NEC  to see ‘Art Materials Live’ where Sarah has a painting in the 'Simply the Best' exhibition.

It isn’t all art, though, because on the way down we stopped off at RAF Cosford for another look around the aerospace museum. I love this place, it is one of the few museums I know that really work. I don’t always get museums. Are they educational? Are they a celebration of the past? Or are they simply a place to store old stuff in a way that allows people to come and look? I suspect the creators and curators of many museums don’t have this question fully worked out for themselves. My experience is that most museums are places to take the kids on wet Sundays, where they can take out their frustrations by trying to break the interactive exhibits.
Apart from all the fabulous planes on display at Cosford, I loved the interactive exhibit that is aimed at 16 year-olds doing their GCSEs. Unfortunately, according to the volunteer guide we spoke to, the 16 year-olds are not all that interested, so the exhibit has fallen into the hands of the under-eight equipment-smashers. Yesterday, though, only two of the exhibits were under repair after the ministrations of wet-Sunday-infants, so I had great fun fiddling with such things as air-speed indicators and wing sections that you can feed ping-pong balls into to see for yourselves how the ball is sucked up onto the upper surface when the wind-fan is blowing. It’s brilliant stuff, but I still don’t quite see how such a phenomenon can lift a jumbo jet, 400 people and all their luggage 30,00 feet into the air.
The best bit of this section, though, was a series of rods that you can bend and lift. They are the length of a broom handle – in fact one of them was a broom handle – and others of steel, aluminium, titanium and carbon fibre. These were much the same as far as torsional strength is concerned. It is only when you get to lift them that you see the difference. Okay, I knew carbon fibre was light, but I have never appreciated just how light. It just shows, it’s okay being told something, but there is real power in getting to try things out for yourself. That’s the kind of  knowledge that sticks.

Just as an aside – I didn’t sleep too well last night. The bed was glorious but we shared a hotel floor with Irish buffoons who seemed to find novelty in knocking on each other’s doors all night, all night, then slamming them with a sound like the closing of the gates of hell. They were big, liquored-up Irish buffoons so I didn’t go out and fight them. But neither did I sleep. All was quiet by 7am. I was so tempted to hit the fire alarm button on my way to breakfast. But I wanted my breakfast. I do like hotel breakfasts.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Bob Shaw

Just finished reading The Two-Timers, a Bob Shaw novel from 1968. It has brought back a lot of memories. There was a time when I would devour every Bob Shaw book I could lay my hands on, indeed I thought I had read them all until finding this one, in a second-hand book shop in Seahouses, Northumberland. I wandered in there on a wet day, a couple of years ago, while on holiday. It cost me just 60p. (Mind you, the original cover price was 25p, so it has appreciated in value over the years.)
I wondered if a Bob Shaw novel could still do it for me. Was the magic real or was it just the best of a narrow crop of reading matter that was drawing me in at the time.And the answer is: magic? - oh yes, indeed! Okay, it isn't one of his blockbusters (like Orbitsville or The Ragged Astronauts) and the settings and attitudes feel a little dated, but then that's because it was contemporary at the time of writing. This isn't a futuristic novel, it is firmly set in the quaint present of 1968, and the world of 43 years ago certainly feels like a different place. But the SF ideas in here had all the entertainment value I remember from those days when, to me, a new Bob Shaw was a big event. At a time when I was also reading a lot of Asimov and Arthur C Clarke, a Bob Shaw novel had its emphasis on realistic characters and driving plot, and I found his books riveting.
We lost Bob Shaw in 1996. Imagine what wonders he'd be giving us today if he were still around.

Saturday, 1 October 2011


My short story, “The Last Fisherman of Habitat 37” is to appear in the new FISH anthology by Dagan books. Check out this link for the full table of contents...
…and isn’t the cover illustration, by Galen Dala, just fabulous?
Very excited to be involved in this anthology. It should be out in February 2012.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Kindle Fire

Ha! Twelve months ago I was an early adopter (at least by UK standards) I was the first person reading a Kindle on my commute. I felt so cool as people craned their necks to see what this new hi-tech magic was that I had in my hands. Now... ... my trusty e-reader is about to become a quaint piece of retro steam punk.

I wonder if it will hit the UK before Christmas.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Wielding the Axe

I've been struggling with a story for the past few months, trying to find a home for it, but the response has always been - we enjoyed it but...
This week I decided it needed editing. Serious editing. It has been trimmed and clipped many times but has always come in at just over 6500 words.
I decided to be brutal.
There had to be tears.
There are a lot of markets that take stories of no more than 4000 words. For this story I've long resisted. This story is one of my darlings. Surely chopping out a full third of it would rip the guts out. Well it took me a week. First a thousand words, then five hundred. Then a few more here, a few more there and, well, the story now weighs-in at 3993. And it's better by far. Nothing is lost, save some beautiful, flowery, purple self-indulgence. What is left is the bones; a sun-bleached skeleton of a story that gets right down to it and doesn't muck about around the edges. Who'd have thought.
The story is called...
I'll tell you what it's called if I sell it.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Out of this World

It has been a good week. To begin with I sold a story to and the acceptance email arrived in the final hours of my birthday – a very welcome extra birthday gift. Dead Man's Shoes is scheduled to be published in the March 1 issue of so I will post a link when it happens.

The other thing that happened was I finally got the chance to visit the Out of this World exhibition at the British Library in London. I first learned about the exhibition when The Guardian newspaper ran a Science Fiction special to coincide with the opening, earlier in the year. It sounded good, but... well, it's in London. Everything UK is in London, and I'm not. For me it is an expensive deal to get down to the capital, so I muttered about it and hoped an opportunity would turn up.

And this week the day-job stepped up by sending me, not once, but twice down to the big city for meetings. On Monday I travelled with the laptop and ipad executives on the early train, feeling like I was important. Then, in London, I left the high-flyers and caught the tube out to Wood Green, to a tiny, overheated office, where 30+ people met in a room that was little larger than a news kiosk. But it was a successful meeting, not the least because it finished at 4.30, giving me time to dash back into London and catch the last hour of the British Library before it closed.

So, with barely a week remaining before it ended, I was able to see the Out of This World exhibition. And hey, it was worth it. Someone has done a remarkable job researching this thing. It really was very good indeed. Amongst the highlights were the hand-drawn timeline sketches for First and Last Men by Olaf Stapledon (A Wirral writer it must be said). A page of the original theme tune score for Dr Who, by Ron Grainer of the BBC radiophonic workshop, (mercifully keeping the Dr Who content proportionate) and also a real gem, a page of an early typewritten draft of John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids, complete with typos and corrections and edits. This really was a rare and special exhibition. And it was all about the printed word; books and magazines. The temptation is, so often, to resort to film media - but this time the printed word was the focal point, and rightly so for a library exhibit, and it was so good to see.

So, a big thank you to my day job bosses for bankrolling this little outing. It's nice that, for once, things actually worked out.

Thursday, 1 September 2011


Back from my holidays in France (for details of that particular fiasco you might wish to pop over to Travelling in a Box) and after all the ups and downs it's nice to see that I have a story, Call Me Murph, that's now up on Short-Story.Me
This is a tidy little on-line magazine and it publishes some very nice fiction in a wide range of genres, so I am well pleased to be up there. It's worth checking them out.

Saturday, 30 July 2011


My current work in progress is a murder mystery. No, I haven't gone all Agatha Christie, it has robots and quantum chromodynamics and stuff. But there is a strong who-dunnit element and I'm so enjoying the research, maybe even more so than the actual writing. The trouble with that is I'm doing a lot of Googling about creative ways of bumping people off, so I'm hoping it doesn't trigger something on any of the security agencies' computers, something that has bells ringing and unmarked cars arriving outside my house late at night. (Mind you, they won't find me there, I'm in the caravan in the mountains somewhere, right now, so yah boo! Enjoy the donuts) Seriously though, if the spooks do pick up on what I'm researching they're probably reading this blog, too. If you are, this next bit is for you. It's fiction, okay? It's research. None of it is real. (although the day-job boss might do well to watch his back - oops, that bit is a joke, promise.)
So there you have it. Watch out for a forthcoming story that combines Miss Marple with Asimov. Haven't got a title yet, but "I, Agatha" might be a contender.  

Saturday, 18 June 2011

The Gates of Hell

Last summer I picked up a book in a small indie bookshop in Bala. The cover art was terrible and the title could have been better, but it was a disaster story set in Wales, mildly SFnal, and I thought I might give it a try. It's taken a while to get around to reading it, but a couple of weeks ago I started on The Gates of Hell by Geraint V Jones and I've just finished reading it.
And, you know, it was pretty darn good. There were a few rough edges here and there, but it kept me turning the pages and, well, it was kind of refreshing to see the end of the world through the eyes of the residents of a small North Wales village instead of via presidents, journalists and soldiers living in LA or NYC. There was some Welsh language in here (always translated in the notes) and this was nice, because I'm a bit of a sucker for the poetry of the Welsh tongue, even though I don't know any of it beyond the dual language road signs like dim parcio (no parking) and araf (slow). Some of the place names were changed of course, but I'm guessing it was set somewhere around Blaenau Ffestiniog - I'd love to know where for sure because I spent a lot of the book trying to guess locations.
Some locations were specifically mentioned though: My own home on the Wirral peninsular, for one, was portrayed as a deserted and waterlogged wasteland. I almost felt like giving the helicopter a thumbs-up as it flew past with the main protagonist inside - I don't recall the Wirral ever appearing in a Science Fiction book before.
What particularly won me over was the realism of the eventual global disaster, especially the false hope and anticlimax in the days immediately after the asteroid slammed down into the Antarctic. Probably this had much to do with the way the catastrophe was seen through the eyes of ordinary people living in an ordinary small village.
So yes, it had it faults, but I was more than happy to ignore them because this was a most entertaining read.

The Gates of Hell
Geraint V Jones
publ. Gwasg Carreg Gwalch

Friday, 3 June 2011

Hay Festival - Intermission

I've been to the Hay Festival, but as can be seen from the fine weather that has now arrived, I am, right now, back home again. Sadly the day-job doesn't allow a full week in Hay this year, but as soon as I escape from the clutches of accountancy, on Friday, I'll be heading back for another helping, so if you're down at Hay I wouldn't put your wellies away just yet.

So what were the highlights from the first weekend?

Top of the list has to be Niall Ferguson, the historian, who so eloquently spelled out the grim picture of 500 years of Western ascendancy coming to an end, now, this week, more or less. There's going to be a TV series to follow on from the book (Civilisation, which I loaded onto my Kindle as soon as I came back into 3G range) and this promises to be a must-see.

It seems funny, me buying a history book. I am not a history person. I've never got it. I've always been one to say that we should be looking to the future, not the past. But Niall Ferguson's talk amounted to a virtual epiphany. It was an OMG moment when he unleashed (on stage and in the book) a view of what history is all about; that 7% of all the people that have ever lived are alive today, so 93% are not; and that looking to the future there are an infinite number of possibilities, but look to the past and there is only one - and wouldn't it be cool to know what that one was; and that all the great minds of the past struggled and usually failed to live beyond middle-age, and this begs the question, what if they'd lived longer, what might they have accomplished then? All this is useful, no, essential, to a writer of Speculative Fiction. So isn't it time I got off my backside and studied some of it. Woohoo!

There were other high spots, too: Allison Pearson and her David Cassidy novel, appealing to a room-full of 40/50 ish ladies, but I enjoyed the talk and I might even read the book, (albeit on Kindle minus the girly cover-art).

Anyway, it's Friday and soon I'll be heading back for more. I've got a couple of sessions at HowtheLightGetsIn, including a discussion of the activities at Cern, and top of the list, Saturday afternoon, I have tickets for Julian Assange. That should be a good one.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Eastercon (British Science Fiction Convention)

Just back from Birmingham – the Hilton Metropole, where Illustrious, the 2011 Eastercon has been held over the Easter weekend. It was a weekend of highs and lows. The lows came mainly from the hotel bed, the most uncomfortable bed in the world. It was like sleeping on a mountainside. The mattress had collapsed leaving a 1 in 4 gradient down to the wooden frame and thence the floor. It was a bed that required perpetual attention and spatial awareness – these are not attributes that sit well with sleep.

But everything else was good. Some excellent panels and some excellent people. I met up with a few writers from Codex and it was good to be able to chat face to face. I was especially delighted for Aliette de Bodard who not only won the BSFA short story award but also secured a nomination in this year's Hugos. Way to go Aliette!

Best panel was a British Interplanetary Society presentation, delivered by Bob Parkinson, about the Skylon project, which could become a viable replacement for the Space Shuttle. And it's British! I was very sceptical to begin with. The phrase 'pie-in-the-sky' kept on popping into my head. Let's face it, we Brits are ideas people. We're dreamers not doers. When it comes to 'doing', what we do is sell off the designs to other countries for fractions of their true value. It's the British way. Let us hope that for once, we can be very un-British and do this properly. Because it's good. I was especially taken with the design philosophy "How little do we have to do to make this work?" They are keeping it simple and keeping the exotica to a minimum. What they have so far is brilliant! It is also encouraging that the British Government is not involved in any way. It's an encouraging start.

The photo is one I took from our bedroom window at the Hilton. The futuristic structure is the roof of the hotel swimming pool. It occurs to me that it looks a little like the bridge of the starship Enterprise. Very appropriate, I think.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Writing with Balls

So, I've been suffering with sore feet when I get up in the morning. Doesn't last. I hobble for a few minutes then its gone. But I looked on the internet and I read how it's quite a common complaint, and that a good cure is to roll a golf ball under your foot. I didn't get golf balls, instead I bought a couple of those super-bouncy balls that kids have that they bounce over your garden wall every few minutes.
So now when I write I do it in bare feet with a couple of these balls under my desk.
And Hey! Now I don't have sore feet in the morning.
They're sore all bloody day!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Keeping My Head Down

It's been a busy few weeks. The day job has been mad, but I don't want to talk about that for simple reasons of self-preservation.

A while back I joined another online writing group. It has been transformative. My output has doubled, tripled, more. There have been writing competitions designed to fuel the idea factory and to push up the daily wordcount, and the crits I am getting back (and sending in) have completely changed the way I look at my own work. I would recommend joining a crit group to any struggling writer. I'm in three, now – two online (Codex and BSFA's Orbiter) and, of course, Wirral Writers. Right now I'm involved in a competition which, this week, required 1000 words from me. Now okay, that is not a lot. 1000 words a day is do-able so 1000 a week sounds easy. But here's the thing, they have to be good words – edited words, words that I can't go back and change; and secondly, I've been playing in a show all week. (Bugle Boy, at the Gladstone in Port Sunlight. A musical about the life of Glen Miller. Come and see it. Last night tonight) This has meant ten hours at the day job, stuff some food down, then out to the theatre. Home quite late, so fall into bed. When to write? Well, I get 30 minutes each day for lunch, and to get away from the phones I skulk off to the coffee shop in M&S. (I love writing in coffee shops – don't know why, I think it's the company minus the distractions) But there was a sale on, and for two days I couldn't get near the place. Then I had trouble getting online to upload the story. Aargh! So it went down to the wire, but in the end I made it, I got my 1000 words done with mere hours to spare. They are posted and done. Next step will be to read what everyone else has done. Loving it – even if I come last I can use the feedback.

Saturday today, day off, so Sarah and I are in Bodnant Gardens. While she sketches I blog, catching up on my much neglected social networking. Difficult because the sun is out (Hey, I'm not complaining, it's lovely) but the brightness settings on my netbook are knackered. So typos are entirely the fault of reflected solar radiation, and not the author.

Friday, 11 February 2011


I've been writing a lot of flash fiction lately. Flash stories tend to be less than 1000 words, although the definition varies. I've been keeping to a 750 word limit because I've been taking part in a comp organised by my online writers group. The challenge is to write five flash fiction stories in five consecutive weekends, then spend the intervening weekdays scoring and critiquing the other entries. The tough part is writing to prompts, and the prompts are not revealed until Saturday morning – and that means Saturday morning in the US. Here in the UK Saturday morning happens to be 2-30 in the afternoon, so really I only get a day and half to think of an idea, write the story and post it. It's great practice for working to deadlines.

The whole thing has been a lot of fun and I've had the chance of reading some cracking good stories, and it's a safe place to experiment with things I wouldn't want to try in an open market. By and large I've done okay. We are now four stories in and I'm holding position mid-table. That was until last weekend. The results are in for last weekend, story four, and I got creamed. Crashed and burned. I won't say where I came because I want to retain my anonymity. (It is a good thing the comp is anonymous. Nobody knows who was responsible for the horror of last weekend. Not yet, anyway.) I think I'll ease up on the experimentation, now. It kind of dents your self-belief. But I dont reely care. Im imune. I have a tuff skin. I know I can stil rite good.

So now is the eve of the fifth and last weekend. I'm scored on the best out of three, so story four has to be forgotten, put aside, cast from memory. This is it, the last chance to climb up the table. But here's the rub. I have a busy weekend coming up, with an anniversary party on Sunday followed by a late night train journey down to London. Chances are the two hours I get on the train are going to be the only two hours I'll get all weekend. So there. That's my excuse. My fallback position.

I will let you know what happens, unless, of course, I come last. In that case I won't mention flash fiction ever again.

Why Mike with a J?

I've covered this before, but now it might be about to become topical again.

I started using the Mjke spelling once it became obvious that I was never going to have a "Mike Wood" presence online because of the plethora of politicians, historians and sports stars who all managed to lay claim to the conventional spelling first. I took the decision to use Mjke for my by-line but then a bunch of stories were published under the Mike spelling, and suddenly it didn't seem such a good idea any more.

Well, I've gone through something of a publishing drought, lately, so maybe now is a good time to re-brand. Also I found I'd written a lot and then had become lazy about sending the stuff out, so I've had a bit of an admin splurge of late. It seemed a good idea to look at everything before it goes off, and change the by-line.

So there we have it. I'll stick with Mjke on all the new stories. I rather like it. It has a Scandinavian feel. Kind of exotic.