Sunday, 8 November 2015

The Last Days of Dogger City

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

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Vintage Radio

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

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

Sunday, 13 September 2015


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

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Llangollen and Analog

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

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

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

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Science Fiction Prototyping - Making it Real

I spent a day, last month, at Leeds University, participating in a joint FCCR Network and Creative Science Foundation Innovation Workshop. I have been associated with the FCCR network for a just over a year, now, and I always look forward to the buzz I get from their meetings. This is doing Science Fiction with a difference. Science Fiction Prototyping is not just fiction. SFP can, and does, make a difference in the real world.
The Future City Community Resilience Network (FCCR) was founded in 2013 by Dr Gary Graham, an academic at Leeds University, and has a mission to open up a conversation about smart cities, community resilience, and change, and I’m very proud to have been asked to play a part. Front and centre in their methodology is the use of SFP to understand the changing needs and problems facing communities as cities evolve in response to technological change.

Part of the workshop day was a live Skype presentation by Brian David Johnson, who has pioneered the use of SFP to design an open source 21st century robot, the Jimmy Project, that can be 3D printed and uses rudimentary AI code. Brian David Johnson is a Futurist with Intel, and his job is to look ten to fifteen years into the future and envision the problems and opportunities associated with tech that has yet to be fully realised. For this he uses SFP, whereby Science Fiction narratives are used to explore and work through the issues so the solutions may be in place in time for when the technology catches up. It is heady stuff.
In the afternoon session my role was to help guide and focus the workshop’s delegates through a short session of Science Fiction story outlining so that new future projects might be identified and developed before a follow-up session later in the year, where projects will be assessed by a panel of entrepreneurs, academics, political leaders and fund managers, and a small seed fund might be allocated to develop some of the ideas.

I love Science Fiction. I love writing, but when it starts to get real; when there is an opportunity to help drive change through ideas that might be little more than fantasy today, then it is hard to imagine being involved in anything so rewarding. Perhaps in a year or two some of the crazy, off-the-wall, but brilliant ideas the teams workshopped in Leeds might become as familiar as other mad ideas like Facebook, Twitter and Smart Phones. I can’t wait to find out.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

People I Wish I Could Thank

I was thinking about the people who made a difference. People who did things for me at key moments of my formative years. These are people who were doing so much more than ‘just their job’. The things they did were probably small things to them but, looking back, they were massive to me. They changed me. These are people who are no longer around, and I wish they still were, so that I could thank them.

Mrs King was my English teacher at Woodchurch High School. She was one of several teachers but she is the one I remember. When a friend, Philip Renshaw, suggested (or I suggested - I can’t remember the details, it was forty years ago) that we write a radio play together, it was Mrs King who obtained a tape recorder. This was the late sixties. No digital. No cassettes. Recording needed serious kit, and this machine was a beast of a thing - a reel-to-reel, all brown Bakelite and hot valves, and it came on wheels because it was one heavy piece of work. Mrs King said we should recruit ‘actors’ from our class and record the play. She looked at our early drafts, which were terrible and should have been shredded, and she encouraged and made small editorial suggestions without destroying any of the naivety or ownership. She facilitated the use of a classroom for our ad hoc drama club, and this kept us off the playground, where February winds were cutting through our classmates, outside, like band saws. If I remember, the rehearsal process took several weeks and often erupted into fist-fights amongst our theatrical troupe. (‘Woody’ was a tough, council-estate comp’. We were certainly not thespians of the ‘luvvies’ variety.)
Our play was called “The Time Machine” and Mrs King suggested that we read the HG Wells version to appreciate another treatment of the theme. I will concede that the Wells version was a tad better. But I still felt proud of what we had done. I wish I had kept a copy of that original script, all covered in stains of something red - probably, but not necessarily, jam. The big moment came when Mrs King wheeled the beast into our regular English class, threaded the tapes, and played our creation to the class. I can’t remember what the reaction was, so it can’t have been too bad or we’d have been murdered. What I do remember is that feeling of having something I’d taken a share in writing, that wasn’t just homework, wasn’t for marks, and having it performed to an audience. There was, and is, nothing quite like it, and it set something loose inside.

So, Mrs King. Thank you.

I was learning music. Clarinet and saxophone. Also I had a theory teacher who came to my home one evening each week. His name was Mr Shaw. He was old. He chain smoked. He sometimes folded in on himself to engage in epic bouts of coughing, and I would wait, pen in hand, for the coughing, or his life, to end. Then the lesson would continue. Mr Shaw didn’t teach about tonic, dominant, sub-dominant; he told stories about a royal-family parlour-game involving kings, queens, knights, courtiers… each with team badges, I, V, IV etc. The games had rules, and for the life of me I could not see what any of it had to do with music. I learnt nothing. Until I saw these roman numerals appearing in music theory texts, and I realised that what seemed complicated in musical terms to some, I now knew and it was easy. I still think of a perfect cadence as the queen asking the king to end a sequence of eight games. Brilliant.
Mr Shaw would never flick the ash off the end of his cigarette. It would grow longer and longer through the lesson, and I would get distracted wondering where it would go when it broke free at last. Usually it went down his jacket and shirt. Now and again there was a small fire somewhere about his person.
The lessons started at eight in the evening and ran on until ten or even ten-thirty. He loved his subject and it showed. After the lesson my mum would provide sandwiches and Mr Shaw would stay for another two hours talking about his life and his music and all kinds of fascinating things. Then he would climb into his knackered old Mk II Cortina and try to get it started, and this often took another half hour.
One week he was late. About half an hour. I worried. 
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Not been so well. I’ve had a stroke.” To make up for being late the lesson ran until after eleven. Then he ate the sandwiches and chatted until one in the morning. The stroke left him with a limp and a floppy arm for a while. But he ignored them and still gave me a full lesson every week.
When my course of lessons ended we remained friends, and kept in touch on an occasional basis. I invited Mr Shaw to my wedding and was really pleased that he came. Our contact became more and more infrequent after that, though, and then just seemed to stop. I learned, later that he’d passed away. I hadn’t known. He left me with a love for music theory and a unique way of thinking about the inner workings of harmony. I thanked him after each lesson, you know, thanks Mr Shaw, see you next week. But I never really thanked him.

So, Mr Shaw. Thank you.