Monday 12 December 2016

Tis the Season?

I was going to get round to wishing people a Merry Christmas, and probably still will, but this snippet of real life intervened...

Driving south on a British motorway to visit a relative this Sunday. For once the roadworks weren't actually holding everyone up, merely slowing us down to fifty miles per hour from time to time. The weather was, well, British December, ie grey to start off then foggy then wet. The other motorists could drive, only a rare roadhog sticking stubbornly to that middle lane, you know the one that's for going at least a bit faster than the slow lane?

So what jerked me out of my passenger doze?

A nondescript white car in front of us. First jolt: it had a large metal sticker above its number plate that said 'Trump' and 'Pence'.

OK, so while it was unexpected on a British road, people do have the right to their opinions, and on spending silly money to show complete strangers what they are.
On the right hand side of the boot, that spot some manufacturers add the name of that model, there were a row of silhouettes, black on white, and they were all guns, standing up largest to smallest.

And underneath them all were the words, 'My Family'

So... am I being Scrooge-like, Grinch-like if you're American, to hope that the person who did this, who presumably believes this, is only visiting and will soon be returning to the USA? Not that I'd wish this person on anyone anywhere, but I could only wish they weren't British. It's now Monday and the image is still in my head.  I'm not a very political person; pretty much an 'as long as it doesn't scare the horses' type, but this? Very disturbing, and SO not Christmassy.

Sunday 27 November 2016

Review The Great Zoo of China 4-5* :)

The Great Zoo of China, by Matthew Reilly
pub Gallery Books                                                                4-5*
"Action on a gigantic scale"

The Chinese government are about to unveil their new zoo. A party of Americans; political and journalist, are invited to the preview. CJ, a lady croc expert, tales up the offer along with her photographer brother. Needless to say the security they are allowed past hides a lot more than pandas, and it soon becomes a question of who will survive the experience.

This is a blockbuster of a novel with all the heroes, heroines and villains required for a James Bond script. Indeed, with its emphasis on action scenes, danger and good versus bad this is a very Hollywood storyline.

Add to that the characters are strong, the pace frenetic. I read this with great enjoyment, even after the opening 'spoiler' chapter screamed "I wanna be a movie" at me.

It was therefore just an enormous shame that despite all the publishers' arguments to the contrary this really is another Jurassic Park. It's a zoo. It's been kept secret till ready to wow the world. The black dragons are alternate raptors [yes, huge spoiler, or maybe enough to make you read anyway]. What more can I say, a very enjoyable book, if you don't mind it being such a spinoff, or you are a big Jurassic Park fan. Have to ask why this writer didn't produce something that was truly his instead.
I ended up wondering if the Chinese government will hack the internet - oh really?



This is where I say sorry, to the BBC
Well, half sorry.

I moaned about them accepting an offer from Nigel Farage - he who has a non English name, a home in France, but purports to speak for the Brits, even to the Americans? - to appear on a documentary about his life after politics.
Well, sorry BBC, I obviously read the wrong account. Turns out the 'Farage Show' was actually a spoof, not a serious item.

As is clear from every sighting, Farage loves media exposure, so I strongly suspect he viewed this as good publicity. [Just like hearingTrump trumpeting his name as his preferred ambassador?]

So maybe I'm not so sorry, cos BBC, you added to the celeb hype the man likes to bask in, and I'm not at all sure that was the action of a responsible impartial TV channel. Farage, and Trump, are not politicians, nor seeking to serve anything or anyone except their own egos. Why would you want to pander to either?

Friday 21 October 2016


I've just read a really interesting blog article from Fox Spirit Books on the subject of writers promoting their work at cons, or more specifically on not being afraid to.

I agree there's a general feeling, at least in the UK, that it's only acceptable for a writer to reference their own work during a con panel in very small doses, and not say, more than 3 or 4 times overall, unless actually invited to.
I've pretty much subscribed to this approach, reasoning that the audience don't sit there for an hour to listen to someone boasting about how good their book is; that doing so is more likely to be counterproductive and put people off.

But maybe that's me, who always assumes other people don't really want to hear about what I'm doing and get uncomfortable doing it. On holiday recently I had real trouble talking about my work for long, even when people went out of their way to ask questions.

But Fox propose that audiences come to hear about such stuff, and a decent writer/speaker should talk about their work until they feel uncomfortable, that being the warning sign it's time to stop. Interesting?

I thought so, and it fell on receptive ears anyway because I had just contacted the fine people on the Bristolcon panel, 'Under the Covers' which I'm moderating.

[Bristolcon 2016, Saturday 29th October, Doubletree Hotel for anyone who isn't already booked - a seriously nice con folks]

What had I just said to them? That it would make a nice change to ask them to just plain recount the real life stories behind their book covers rather than answer more general questions on the topic as is usual.

Yay, someone else out there is thinking the same way for once. I'm feeling pretty good.

Only then...
I read a snippet about Nigel Farage, he of the so-British name. Apparently he's just invited BBC2 to follow him around and film his 'return to normal life'.
To be clear, I'm not surprised that he did this, that he wants to stay in the limelight; it's obviously the thing he craves most. And maybe he's feeling the need to repair the BIG error he made endorsing Trump - was he planning to become a celeb in the USA instead?
But that the BBC said yes? Now that does surprise me. Why? The guy's ostensibly retired from public life [hurray] and yuk politics apart he's not that interesting.
Though I guess this is the age of the celebrity, where surface remains more attractive to the media than substance. And I guess it's cheap television, right?

So here I am back on the fence; is talking about yourself [all right, what you do] a good thing or a bad thing?

Maybe it depends on who's doing it, and how, and how much. Or maybe, Mr Farage, it's better to wait to be asked first?

Saturday 1 October 2016

Don't Look a Gift Voucher in the Mouth?

Just a short note, cos I need to say this, and I probably won't stop feeling annoyed till I do.

I got an email from East Midands train service that offered me TEN PERCENT OFF my train bookings. It looked good. I had used them recently, so there was reason for them to want me to return?

I decided to use the offer to book my train tickets to and from Bristolcon at the end of October, while I thought about it. After all, it's not far off now. [Anyone else going?]

So I followed the link and checked train times etc. and found the price: £75.00 approximately. Hmm, ten % off that...

I reached the payment stage; it still said £75.00. Had they already discounted it? I hadn't seen any mention.

Feeling curious, I went to a rival supplier's site. Their - not discounted - price for the same journey: £75.00!!!!!!!!!!!!

How would you feel? Rest assured I'll be checking all future special offers. And may never use that train service site again.

But maybe I'll see some of you in Bristol on the 29th when I'm smiling again? It's a very pleasant con, and I'm doing stuff too.

Tuesday 27 September 2016

Milford - And About the Two FREE PLACES for 2017!

So another Milford Writers' Conference is over and I'm back home. making some revisions to the short story and novel excerpt I submitted for comment now I've had some excellent feedback? It was my third Milford, and maybe my best yet, with a great mix of attendees and a lot of thoughtful critiquing.

What's Milford?
A residential week, currently held in Snowdonia, where fifteen writers who have made a respectable fiction sale spend most of their stay pulling each others' submitted stories or excerpts apart - with of course the object of making them better.

There is no 'teacher', this is a round-the-room gathering. Volunteer committee members simply remind us of the Milford rules - and the time. Oh, and five places are held open longer for new members to get in first, since otherwise some of us would rebook every year! Which would weaken the value to all of us since new minds avoid bad habits creeping in?

The Milford system means that we all critique say five pieces over each half day, comments going round the group, each person with about three minutes to have their say. After which the writer of each piece can reply and some general discussion may follow, before moving to the next crit. It's polite, friendly, but intended to be professional standard feedback. We want to be better writers!

As an extra incentive, the week will be at Trigonos - see more on the Milford website - where the setting is deliberately isolated from the 'rush', the scenery is idyllic, great for walkers, and the food - yes it's all-found - is usually an attraction in itself. Time permitting we try to make an outside visit as well, a castle, a local attraction etc. [This year some members hiked around Snowdon and one took the steam train, while others went to Caenarfon and a pub lunch.]

In 2017 there's an added incentive for some new members, a bursary which covers everything bar travel to and from the venue, serious money.
It's an anonymous donation, offered to anyone with a fiction sale who can describe themselves in some way as 'a person of colour' which the committee will take as pretty broad definition

Could this be you? If so, do check the website for more info, it's a great opportunity, worth about £600! and I'd hate it not to be taken up.
Or mention it to someone you know??

Thursday 8 September 2016

Why Didnt I Think of That?

Right now, I'm working my way through the first readings of all the submissions to this year's Milford Conference, which starts on Saturday.

I'll talk a bit more about that in another week or so, as there's a FREE week available for some lucky *** next year if they qualify [peers mournfully into wallet after paying up].

For now though, I'm just sliding by with a tiny trick - absolutely nothing to do with books or writing but great for people like me who actually eat BUTTER.

Hot weather means the butter has to stay in the fridge. Naturally when I want some I haven't planned ahead - does anyone? - so it's hang around for ages [well it feels like ages, yes?] or start carving shards off the bar, or dipping the knife in hot water...

OK, you get there, but it is a bind.

So when I saw this little tip I thought, 'of course.'

1 Fill a glass with hot water.
2 Remove butter from fridge.
3 Cut a chunk off, as needed.
4 Empty the glass.
5 Place the glass upside down over the chunk of butter.

6 About a minute later your butter is spreadable again!

It works
Nuff said [takes bow]

I'll be back after Milford to talk, among other things, about a bursary?

Monday 5 September 2016

Seeing Through the Eyes of an Alien.

A few days ago I took an eight year old to the theatre.

We saw 'Gansta Grannie' at the Lowry in Salford Quays - that's next door to the Manchester United Football Ground for any southerners reading this. It's probably my favourite theatre. While The West End venues have more history the Lowry is modern, spacious and very comfortable, with its own, shop, café, bar and restaurant, plus not one but two theatres, a studio space and an art gallery - what more could I want?

If you don't know the story from the David Walliams book it's about an eleven year old boy forced to visit Grannie every Friday night while his parents go ballroom dancing. He is forced to play Scrabble and eat cabbage and she calls him 'Little Benny'. He hates it. It's so boring!

Until he discovers Grannie is really a retired jewel thief. Suddenly he wants to visit, and finds his school lessons really helpful in planning how to help her steal the crown jewels.

At the end of the play Grannie dies, adding the message that no one lives for ever. I thought that might be a bit over sentimental for a child, but the script avoided that very nicely, while still making the point that grandparents are more interesting than they might seem and they won't be there for ever so make the most of them. I've seldom seen a moral message put across so succinctly, or entertainingly, so if you get the chance think about going to this? Especially if you are accompanied by a child.

OK, so I've told you the plot, and the production was as good as I expected so both adult and child enjoyed the outing. Is that it?

Well, not quite. Another aspect was seeing the whole thing from the point of view of someone not yet used to theatre. Someone, if you like, in an alien environment.

My eight year old, for instance, refused to read the programme when we were seated because I'd explained it talked about the play. He said he didn't want to know that, it would spoil it. He did however spend the time we waited for the curtain to rise on the wordsearch page which included words relevant to the play, and continued this during the interval. Some kids want ice cream, he wanted words. Hooray!

In this fast paced production all the cast bar the two leads played multiple roles. Ben's father was also a policeman, his mother was also the Queen, some played numerous cameos or walk-on parts. This I accepted as normal, and part of the fun. My guest however only saw lots of characters. When the considerably smaller cast took their final bows he asked, 'Where's Ben's mother?' When I said she was the Queen, still in the persona she'd just appeared as, it took me a while to convince him.

Later, when we were talking about the play, and the programme was now 'allowed', I pointed out the photograph of the actress who played Grannie. His mouth fell open; the dumpy, grey haired lady was really a dark haired forty-something? 'No way!'

It gave me a dual enjoyment of the visit, as if I was two people with two different points of view. A real life version of when I write and 'become' someone else for a while. And a reminder not to take what I find so much for granted that I don't also see the strangeness in familiar things.

 I guess that's why I like speculative fiction, seeing things with alien eyes?

Monday 29 August 2016

Review: The God Project, 5* :)

Review: The God Project, by Stan Lee.

published by Brash Books
Feb 2015
isbn: 9781941298428

It's the early 1990s. The newly elected President learns the CIA has a secret they've hidden from him and the military, a weapon called the God Project - but now somehow they've lost it.

It's a 'political' story. I don't usually like those, but this was an exception to the rule. The writer clearly knows the American political arena extremely well [and holds it in some contempt] so the detail is impressive. As a mere Brit I admit some of the 'real' names don't resonate with me as much as they probably do an American reader, but that's a small hitch in a big, bold story. It didn't stop me enjoying this a lot.

Happily, this is also a character-driven novel where it could have suffered from being too plot focussed, and the characters are well drawn. Though not always entirely understandable, which makes them more credible rather than less? In the end I have to say I was a little disappointed in the big reveal, the project wasn't quite what I hoped, but after that 'dip' the book carried me forward again and the ending was both a twist and a lot more satisfying than I expected. With an added 'is he or isn't he' type cliffhanger to leave me thinking.

Sadly, I understand that the author has since died. A real shame I can't find more of his work.
But that needn't stop anyone from enjoying this one?

Sunday 21 August 2016

The Following Comments....

A while ago I came across the following title in one of Chuck Wendig's blog 'rants' - which I hasten to add I thoroughly enjoy. The occasional [or not so] rants are the main reason I look.
Title: Don't Read the Comments.

Basically, and humourously, this rants about our overweening need to make a comment underneath any and every article/blog post/ video etc we see online.
Most of which are, to put it bluntly, pointless.

I've always tried not to make comments unless I have something to add to a discussion. Always assuming that if I do I should also stick to the topic in hand.

I do 'like' stuff, but regard that as a nod to say I've read it and agreed, or yes, liked.

But now I'm wondering: do I also add to the flood of waffle that so often purports to 'comment'? Do hope not.

Though I know for sure I'm not the worst offender. That goes to a friend who likes to keep the world in touch with her entire life. She's going out - look, to here. She's wearing - see? She's arrived and here's a picture of her first drink to prove it... And you thought cat pictures were bad?

Wendig said he was fed up of inane comments on his blog - not guilty - and was removing the comment feature. I could see his point.
Which leaves the question, which of the messages flying through the ether needs a comment box, and which don't?

If you like rants, the whole getting it off your chest, you might look at the blog: terrible minds. :)

Sunday 14 August 2016

Was I away?

Oh Boy!

Last September? Now I'm really feeling silly. I have a life. No, really. But I had no idea it had been almost a year since I posted here last.

I still have seven Orbit groups running for the British Science Fiction Association. I still have a part-time job that actually pays me. I just kinda forgot to find the time to blog [if anybody noticed :)]

The reviews for Ashamet are still great. I will refer you to the latest, by Narelle Roberts, an author in Australia, that someone kindly sent me. It begins: "This is a marvellous book"!!! That fed my ego for the rest of the month. And she kindly put it onto Amazon and Goodreads as well as her own blog.

 My publisher is talking about a new cover too, which will be interesting cos I think they mean to add some muscles?

And it's been made very clear to me that I'm supposed to SUBMIT stuff. Ashamet was signed without, and now I seem to have sold a short story without, cos again the publisher asked.
 The story is called Incense Shrine, and it's out now, in the anthology Myriad Lands.From Guardbridge Books.
  The theme is to collect stories none of which feature the more common western tropes and settings. the result was stories from writers in eleven countries, if you include the UK, including one from Adrian Tchaikovsky dealing with murderous flowers! To make it more fun, I was also engaged to edit several of the other stories, from five of the countries, and read a bit of mine at EdgeLit.

So I've taken the hint, and made a resolution to submit stuff in the future, which believe it or not will be a big step for me. Fingers crossed, eh?