Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Dr Who Experience

Yeah, okay, the last blog post was a bit daft. Sorry, I couldn't help myself. I got carried away with the whole Dr Who thing.
We've been to Cardiff for a few days. Lovely city by the way. If you're thinking of visiting have a look over on Travelling in a Box for some of my impressions.

Anyway, this post is all about the Dr Who Experience, on Cardiff Bay. I've had mixed feelings about visiting the exhibit for a while, but this time I decided to go with it.

First, though: What did I expect? Well, I'll be honest I expected something a bit tacky, aimed at kids, kind of shoddy and rough around the edges. I expected plywood and gaffer tape and time-worn displays, all thrown together as bait to get the punters into the gift shop. I, of course, would not be compelled to buy overpriced merchandising. I expected to come out and have a bit of a rant about the cost. I expected to flap my arms about and sulk.
Well, boy did I get that wrong!
What I got from the Dr Who Experience was a full morning of wide-eyed wonder. An emotional experience. A delight. A return to childhood. I didn't rant about the cost because it was worth every penny, and then some, which I can prove because, okay yes, you are led into the gift shop at the end of the visit, but by the time I got there I was so immersed in the whole Dr Who thing that I spent a bomb in the shop. Couldn't help it. I wanted to take something home with me. I wanted a Dr Who carrier bag.

Right, so what do you get for your money? Why was it so good?
Well first of all, you can't go straight in, you are given a time slot and sent away. We settled in the Norwegian Church that is now a coffee shop (and is the church where Roald Dahl was christened) and waited, looking at all the other coffee drinkers and deciding which of them had a mad enough glint in the eye to be Dr Who fans. At eleven-twenty the answer to that question came: because it was all of them. We all rose from our seats at the same time and wandered back over to the Exhibition building for the 11:30 timed slot.

We waited in a queuing area for our allotted time to come. I still had doubts, but I was warming to it. And then...

Well, I'm not going to tell you. There are displays that say No Photographs, at least not for the first part of the visit, the Museum of Gallifrey. Our tour guide reinforced this.
"Please, Do not take photographs. We don't want to spoil the experience for others."
This seemed a bit mean, but then we went inside and... I'm not even going to speak about it, apart from, well, two things: there's a bit of role play – nothing alarming, and also... it's brilliant. So no, I'm not going to spoil it for anyone.

But then you come through into the exhibition area and here you are allowed to take photos so I took some. A lot. Here's some.
Sarah, trying very hard not to blink
One of the early Tardis interiors
Okay so I found this hard. There's still an urge to hide behind the sofa.
Hard to tell who's the most ugly.
A more recent Tardis interior
Sarah, trying out the role as the doctor's next assistant.
So I had to take the Tardis for a spin, too.
A detail from the Tardis dashboard. How many kitchen gadgets can you spot?
Yeah, okay, I'm a bit obsessed by Daleks. 

A Postcard from Skaro

So, here I am on the planet Skaro. Don't think much of the hotel staff. They've got some sort of infestation going on and they're kind of preoccupied. A lot of shouting about getting in the exterminator. Should I be worried? The staff are all a bit grumpy, too. Must be the throat infection that's been doing the rounds. Between you and me, I think some of them could do with sucking on a Fisherman's Friend Lozenge once in a while, before it goes to their chest.
The upstairs rooms are a bit messy too. Haven't seen any cleaning staff up here since I arrived.
Anyway, love to all the family. See you when I get back... or before I get back, or after I get here... whatever.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Vintage Radio

I did another interview this week for Will Redfearn's Community hour on vintage radio picking up where we left off round about the same time last year. We had a few technical hitches in the studio, so in the end Will decided to record the show rather than put it out live. It will be aired on Saturday29 Oct and repeated on Sunday 30th Oct at 9pm. True to the spirit of high definition radio, I wore my Deep Space Accountant T-shirt especially for the interview. If you listen carefully you'll see it.

Last year we finished the interview with my making vague references to some 'exciting news' that I couldn't talk about. That was, of course, the sale of the option for turning The Last Days of Dogger City into a film. It's  good that I'm able to talk about it this time round, and it got me fired up about it all over again. In fact I just saw a tweet, tonight, from one of the production team who mentions how she's working on the script right now, so yeah, it's still progressing.

At the moment I'm working in my caravan, camped out deep in the Cotswolds, near Cirencester. We're on our annual pilgrimage down to Bristolcon where we'll hear panels on all manner of sci-fi goodness. I'm typing this tethered to my phone that has an intermittent half a bar of minus one G internet. There's every chance I'll be home before this blog actually posts. I'll pass each solitary bit of data as it is released from the candle powered servers and sent vaguely north. If that turns out to be the case: Bristolcon was brilliant! Had a great time. (How's about that, a bit of time dilation thrown in for you. Our caravan is doing relativistic speeds up the M5.)

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Untethered - 5 - The View from the Other Side

I'm now three full weeks on from the big life-changing event of retirement. How do I feel?

Well, in a word, knackered.

We decided to travel around to make the transition easier, so we had a few days in Cambridge. The photo (left) is taken just around the corner from the Cavendish Laboratories, where they probably ran out of wall space for all the blue plaques they needed. James Clerk Maxwell, the developer of electromagnetic theory, founded the lab, but then a further 29 Nobel Laureates have passed through the doors since. In the next street is the pub where Crick and Watson went to announce their discovery of the structure of DNA. To walk along this street and think about all the great minds of science that have gone before is an amazing thing.

Another amazing thing is to watch all the bicycles dodging in and out of the buses and wagons, and to think how many great minds of the future could so easily be ground to mush beneath the wheels of a juggernaut, all for want of a few proper cycle lanes. Yeah, there's a rant coming on, so I'll stay positive and move to Scarborough.

 The Grand Hotel in Scarborough was home to Fantasycon by the Sea. We went early, because the hotel rates were good and we thought Scarborough might make a good destination for a holiday.
It turns out we fell in love with Scarborough. I've always been a sucker for Victorian seaside towns, and Scarborough is up there amongst the best.
It helped that our hotel was also one of the major landmarks in the town. It stands huge and intimidating on the cliffs above the South Bay. Our room had a sea view, and we could sit in bed each morning and watch the sun rise over the North Sea. A bit of a novelty, this. We've always lived on the west coast and for us the sun is meant to set over the sea.
From the hotel it is a three minute walk to the centre of town, or, in the other direction, across the iron footbridge, there are cliff walks and gardens and coastline for miles.
This was meant to be a relaxing weekend, going to panels, chatting with friends, sitting in the bar... According to my Fitbit we walked ten miles each day, apart from the Saturday, the main day of the con, when we only managed five miles.
The con itself? One of the best I've been to. All the panels were good. Had the chance to chat with lots of interesting people from the Fantasy writing world, and even extended this on the train when we met a lovely couple heading out to catch a flight to take them on holiday, with whom we chatted most of the way home.

Here we are on the open top bus (I had to go on a bus) that runs all the way along the promenade between the South and North Bays.

So what next? Do I start taking it easy? Is it time, now, to break out the slippers? Not a chance. We arrived home on Sunday night and drove to Sussex the next morning (via a stop-off Banbury) This was an art-related mission for Sarah. I owed her this after three days of fantasy panels.

We stayed in Worthing. Another hotel. Another sea view. Another Victorian seaside town. The pier was fun, and we even won a few tuppences in the penny arcades.

So now the transition is over and it's time to produce some words. My writing schedule has been all over the place during the retirement rollercoaster, so I've been easing into the process with some short stories. My work in progress has the working title Cold Robots and Other Dead Animals, and I'm enjoying the buzz of getting some new words down.

Deep Space Accountant is now out in the world. I'm keeping the price low during this initial launch phase, and I'm cracking my knuckles ready to begin the first edit on the second in the series, The Lollipop of Influence.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Deep Space Accountant

That last item on my post retirement tick list probably needs some explanation. I didn't intend to time it this way, it's just how the pieces seemed to fall, but releasing Deep Space Accountant turned out to be a great way of taking my mind off the somewhat heavy weight life event that just happened. Here's the cover blurb:

Could this be the worst job interview in the history of the universe? Possibly. So when Elton D Philpotts lands his dream job he can’t help wondering how. And why.
Somebody in the Space Corps needs him, and they need him bad.
But the work is dull; nothing like the glamorous, planet-hopping lifestyle he expected. Then he sees things he should not have seen: A hidden ledger, dodgy accounting transactions, bogus gate receipts.
And when a whole starship disappears who are they going to blame?
A frantic race across the Sphere of Influence takes Elton and his friends into adventure and dangers he could never have imagined.

Deep Space Accountant is the first sci-fi comedy adventure in the Sphere of Influence series.

You can find Deep Space Accountant as a paperback and an ebook on Amazon. It's also on iTunes and Kobo.

Untethered 4: The End of Stinky Cheese

So there it is. The last paper-thin slice of cheese that denotes the last day of 43 years' of desk-bound servitude. I won't be seeing this spreadsheet ever again. It sits on a hard drive somewhere in the data extermination cupboard, deep within the IT department of the company for which I used to work. Had I been there at midnight on the 9th I would have seen it roll over to zero. I wasn't there at midnight.

As I've mentioned before, I got over the feelings of redundancy. It stopped bothering me that I was no longer of use to the financial world of public transportation. But the last week turned up feelings I hadn't expected at all. I started to become all warm and fuzzy. I began to think I would miss everything. I had a farewell meal with my team on the Thursday. They gave me gifts and cards. My boss and my MD said their speeches, and I said my thing and then started to choke up. Then on Friday I came back for more, but most people were off on holiday so I bought everyone coffee and pastries then did a tour of the building, chatting with friends, stopping them from doing any work.
Then I went home.
Then I turned sixty.
Now it starts.

What have I ticked off my tick list so far?

  • Spent a few days a new city (Cambridge).
  • Managed to walk 20,000 steps each day. (It hasn't rained yet.)
  • Learnt how to empty a vacuum cleaner.
  • Had the principles of toilet cleaning explained - though I tried vary hard to be stupid and thus avoided a grasp of the technicalities for that one.
  • Been to a Silver Screening of daytime cinema for oldies.
  • Launched two books...

Yeah, I just dangle that last one. More in a later blog.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

The slice of cheese is getting smaller. A mere sliver. Just one week remains of the old work-battered treadmill existence before I step through the gate into the world of retirement/self-determination. Will I miss the day job? Only the intangibles. And the people.

All my day-job work has been handed over and I’m just hanging around the place, making tea, reminiscing with people who have deadlines and don’t want to reminisce, on hand to answer any accounting-type questions; there haven’t been any. Already I’m an anachronism.

I’m in a better place, mentally, though. I’ve gone beyond all that now-I’m-on-the-scrapheap type of thinking. At least I think I have. Will there be a post-retirement moment when I start to wonder: what have I done? What have I thrown away? Will I need therapy? Right now I just want to savour the moment, move forward, and fill Amazon with books.

I’m still on target to get Deep Space Accountant onto Amazon before retiring. The contents and cover have been loaded and all the formatting issues resolved. I’m now just waiting for the proof copy to arrive so I can make a final pass and then the book can go live.

Power for Two Minutes is behind, mainly because I went away in the caravan and let the deadline slip for a few days. I woke early to get through the edits this morning, though, so I can still do it on time.

Nearly there.

Bring it on.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Untethered 2

Four weeks to go to freedom. I was always under the impression I’d be in full-on winding down mode by now. Putting my feet up. Gazing out of the office window and thinking up book plots.
The slice of cheese is getting smaller. Not long to go now.

Instead the workload has gone insane – covering for two others who are on holiday, doing my own day-job, trying to self-manage my succession and knowledge transfer (a thirty-two-second task, that one, ha ha!) I’m even scrambling up something of a steep and greasy learning curve, doing the holiday cover, delving into areas I’ve never been before. Why? Come on. I’ll be retired in four weeks!

So in the studious world of writing, my timetable and master plan made the most of the thought space I’d have from my gradual escape from workday pressure. I have my novel, Deep Space Accountant, completed, edited and crying out for a cover and release date. I have my short story collection awaiting a final tranche of editorial suggestions, due back from my editor at the end of this week. Oh, and that one needs a cover, too, not to mention a synchronised launch with DSA. Then I seem to have taken this uber relaxed moment to undertake a new program of marketing for Travelling in a Box, my nothing-to-do-with-Scifi travel book.

There we go, then. If you think I’m nuts you’re only wrong in terms of timing. I’m not gaga yet but I’m heading down the steep road to the padded cell with rocket skates on my feet.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016


In just under six weeks I’ll be walking away from a forty-three-year career in the bean counting industry and assuming the mantle of full-time author. No, I’m not taking a wild leap of faith into the void; I’m not about to retreat into a bohemian garret, wrap myself in rags and survive on oats and warm myself on half a candle; I’ll be taking my pension early to provide an income. Some might call it retirement. I call it a career change. I will not be retiring from anything; I plan to be putting in long days doing the thing I have loved doing for so many years, but without all the financial angst that comes from  the fantasy of ‘following the dream’.
I have this on my desktop - my slice-of-cheese countdown spreadsheet.
I’ve already begun the emotional upheaval: bad dreams, anxiety, doubts, sweaty palms. Will I be able to write for hours at a stretch? Will I have anything to write about with no ridiculous work experiences to draw upon? Will I still enjoy doing it?

You don’t work for the Man for 43 years and not have your brain become somewhat hard-wired into a configuration that would no longer pass the Turing test. The wilting cabbage that I keep between my ears is going to need a period of de-toxification before I can become a normal, functioning human being again. The transition might take a while, but I will have the time. I commute 1 hour, sometimes 1hr 30mins, twice each day, so there’s an extra ten to fifteen hours per week to play with just for starters.

In forty-three years I have learnt stuff. Most of it will cease to have any relevance whatsoever. I’m the go-to guy for Excel spreadsheet solutions, but at home I use a Mac. I have professional qualifications; I will have to let them go - the double annual membership subscription would put me in that garret with the oats and candles, believe me. Letting go will be hard, though. I still remember the delight/pride/relief of the day I passed my finals after more than eight years of toil and struggle. Accountancy is not a discipline that ever came naturally to me. The organisation I work for (at least for the next six weeks) is big, with a European parent. I’m a Finance Manager. I have contacts and associates. My social circle is about to shrink from one that crosses time zones to one that I can enfold in my arms.
Change. Wow. It will be interesting.

If all the above sounds negative, it’s not. I’m pumped. My writing time at the moment is shoe-horned into a thirty-minute lunch break in the coffee shop just over the road from the office, plus whatever time I can force in the evenings, and depends on how nightmarish any given commute home turns out to be. I don’t write well in the evenings. I do write well at lunchtime, but being ripped out of the flow after just half-an-hour of creativity by the call of duty, to go back and stare at numbers, is just horrible. But in five weeks and three days it will end. I’m going to make writing fun again. I can’t wait to untether.

I will document the process here: The last weeks and days of servitude. The transition. The new life. If you are undertaking or considering a similar journey, then who knows, maybe my experience of massive life change will help. Or at least it might give you laughs.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Strange Angel

It’s funny the different ways you can stumble upon a good book. Last week I was in Liverpool library. I’d done the work I needed to do, so I was hanging about in the botany section, waiting for my wife to finish researching lichens. I picked a random book from the shelf, called Strange Angel, by George Pendle. It had nothing at all to do with Botany, someone had replaced it on the wrong shelf.

The book was a biography of Jack Parsons, one of the early pioneers of rocketry in the US. I’d never heard of him. I looked at page one, just to get an overview, and...  I couldn’t put it down. I checked the book out of the library and carried on reading on the bus home. I’m now just over three-quarters of the way through.

Parsons was an odd sort of rocket scientist, because he led the field, even though he wasn’t a scientist, and he mixed his enthusiasm for rocketry with a disturbing fascination for the occult. It’s a compelling brew.

Parson’s other passion was science fiction, and his biography documents the birth of the golden age of SF, the first edition of Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories, and Parson’s connection with Robert Heinlein and other members of the LASFS, the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society.

I’ve just read a chapter about the first ever World Science Fiction Convention, which took place in 1939 at the World Fair in New York. The narrative tells about the deep political rift amongst the 200 or so members, split between the Futurians and New Fandom. The Futurians (a young Isaac Asimov was one) believed in SF being a medium to promote all that is good in science and learning. The New Fandom group thought Science Fiction should focus only on entertainment, and that the Futorians were dangerously Red. These were not just scholarly debates over a meal; the arguments had passion. Scuffles broke out, and some members were ejected from the Worldcon for fighting. It all sounds kind of familiar.

At the moment I’m fascinated by accounts of the early days of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, how it grew from a collection of tin huts located in the Aroyo Seco in Pasadena, a remote, dry river bed, where rockets could be fired without bothering anybody. I love how they adopted the term 'Jet Propulsion', just to obscure the truth that it was all about rockets, because the term ‘rockets’ had a stigma at the time. Rocketry was not considered proper science, it was grown-up boys playing with things that went bang.

A highly entertaining read. For anyone interested in the dawn of rocket science in the US, and in the early days of the Science Fiction genre, it is well worth tracking a copy down.