Breathlessly Back to Acadamie

The alarm rang at 5.30 this morning – yes, it’s Summer term. Having done a 58-hour week last week (some holiday) it’s hard to notice any difference.

I left the house at 7.30, and caught the train into Bath, where a charming gentleman at the station refused to sell me the Plusbus part of the ticket I caught for uni, on the principle that I should have bought it in Keynsham. My argument that the station can’t actually issue PlusBus tickets cut little ice with him. Finally, he relented after consulting his supervisor– and I just about caught the orange bus into campus in time for the lecture. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, since missing this one might have affected my mark…

After much more rushing around I managed to get home at about 2.30, and even now I’m still catching my breath…

I shall return -hopefully less out of breath than today- tomorrow!

• May 9th, 2011 • Posted in Interviews • Comments: 0

Is It Just Me?

Everywhere I turn this morning, I seem to be confronted by bits of technology not working as they’re supposed to, or in many cases not working at all. I’m starting to wonder whether I have some mysterious aura that fritzes machinery and electronics.

We have BT Vision which -in theory- allows us to tape and watch TV programmes at a later date with a simple press of a button on the TV Guide. Except that a significant  proportion of said programmes cut out after 5 to 10 minutes and insist that the recording has completed. BT told us some weeks ago that it was known problem which had been resolved. Not on our set it hasn’t.

Yesterday I thought I was close to completing my last film assignment; I’d written the text, all that was left was to upload said text to Blogger and paste in the links. Er, except that Blogger keeps crashing my machine when I switch from HTML mode to standard mode; then last night it refused to preview beyond a certain point; then it simply refused to save. I suspect that the blog post has reached a certain permissable size, but that’s only a theory, and Blogger Help is as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike.

Is anyone out there an expert on Blogger, by the way? If you, feel free to get in touch via but put ‘from the website’ in your header. I’d hate for the spam filter to chomp you up.

In the meantime, I shall have to break the blog post into three and hope that that doesn’t contravene the assignment isntructions, and it also calls for yet more links to be inserted. With breaking the original assignment into three equal-ish parts that isn’t going to be a short job — and it may turn out to be due to some other problem entirely.

Lastly, we recently switched to British Gas. We are obliged to provide a meter reading online. Guess what? That didn’t take, so they asked me to call in via an 0800 number. And when I did, I got a “sorry, there is a fault” on the line.

Perhaps I have unrealistic expectations, but rather than being more convenient and saving time, as the ads claim, it’s actually considerably less convenient, and has added probably an hour two to my working day in each of the last couple or three days. Seriously, is anyone else having this level of technology fail?

• May 7th, 2011 • Posted in Uncategorized • Comments: 0


E-books? I can almost hear you groan and mutter “Not that old chestnut again!”

Yes, I know, it’s almost been done to death. Is the traditional book doomed? Will e-books supplant them? Etc, etcetera, etbloodycetera. In fact, some of you may read some of the points below and get a certain feeling of deja vu…

Well, it’s popped up in the news again with a BBC item on how e-book sales shot up last year. Which is good news for me as an author, since Winter Song and all my other titles are available in both formats.

And as a reader I think that it’s a good thing in principle. I don’t use up as much space as for dead tree books, for one, and while I’m not entirely sure about the environmental benefits,   I’m willing to be convinced.

But I’m hardly messianic about it, as some are (There’s an organization called EPIC made up of  e-book authors who are positively desperate to be proven right, that the traditional book is doomed – I’m not quite sure why they’re such zealots), and I don’t buy into the idea that the book is doomed.

For a start, the book’s demise has been prophecised since some bloke called Wells at the end of the nineteenth century mentioned it in The Shape of Things to Come, and it hasn’t happened yet. I seem to remember that with the advent of videos, pundits were gleefully predicting a similar death for cinema. What happened was that cinema changed its approach, making going to the films a social event.

Author readings at bookstores may be the first wave of a similar adaption in the book world, although that particular aspect may affect e-books every bit as much as traditional ones.

But while as a reader I approve in principle of e-books, I have several problems with the way they are at the moment, which is what has prompted this post. Increasing numbers or e-copies for review have caused me to scale back my reviews, and I only see the problem worsening.

E-books are being plugged because they represent a way for manufacturers to prise money out of you the consumer. You can’t upgrade a book – you can bring out new editions, but there’s no onus on you to buy it. Based on every piece of new technology of the last twenty-five years, that won’t be the case with e-readers; instead there’ll be a new version which probably won’t be compatible with the old one. So all these people who are gleefully converting their libraries to virtual will almost certainly have to do the same again with someone brings out The! All! New! NookPlus! But it’s a great way for publishers to cut costs, especially for reviewers.

Second, I’m still not absolutely convinced about the environmental case. Doesn’t the manufacture of Kindles and Nooks and iPads use up resources? And do downloads really have absolutely no environmental impact? I suspect that like the use of ‘clean’ fuels, we’re simply moving demand for resources from one area to another, as has happened in places like Indonesia when bio-fuel took off. And any environmental impact will only worsen with increased demand.

Lastly, and most importantly for me as a reviewer, I find reading e-books anything but the immersive experience I get with traditional books. In perfect light and sitting at the right angle, I can see the screen of my netbook, but that determines how and where I sit.  To have the print at 100% on pdfs, I find pages have to go across screen, so I continually have to back up to check I haven’t missed anything. Reducing the size to where it fits on a page makes it so small I struggle to read it. Printing pages out costs money, especially if it’s a 400-page book, for example.

As I get older, I’m becomingly increasingly oriented around what I can find in the local library, which in the case of Bath, is nine Kate Wilhelm novels I’ve never read…

I’m sure that future generations won’t have these issues, but I suspect that enough people will to secure the future of traditional publishing in some format or other.

Expect to see more posts when the BBC -or someone else- highlights the issue in the news again.

• May 5th, 2011 • Posted in Books • Comments: 0

The Alarm Clock Returneth

Ugh. Drat that alarm was my second thought this morning. My first was actually aaagh!! wassat? Before I remembered where I was, and more importantly, who I was. I hate that moment of dislocation more and more with each passing week.

Yes, Kate was back to work this morning, and despite the fact that it’s still officially the Easter holidays for us studenty-types, it’s back to work for me. So I posted something on the Film Mumblings blog, and I’m writing this, my 500th post here.

Most of this week -I suspect- will be given over to the final MAF blog, which is worth either 6 or 12 marks (I can’t remember which — it’s bloody important, though) and trying to whip the Genre critical piece into shape.  Although some thoughts about e-books are bubbling away, prompted by a news item about their burgeoning popularity, and I have some critiquing to do.

So I’d better get on with it…Abyssinia!

• May 3rd, 2011 • Posted in General • Comments: 0

The Paragraph

By a happy coincidence, since I wrote the basic outline of this a day or two ago, my fellow author Joanne Hall has posted this article on editing over at Writer Revealed.

It seemed particularly timely, since this week –and the last two or three weeks before that- I’ve done a lot of editing for Transtories (yes, the one without a cover, so I’ve used Andy Bigwood’s cover for Dark Spires).

I’ve probably spent about sixteen to twenty hours a week on the process, which might not sound a lot, four hours a day, but because of the concentration that it calls for, it’s probably one of the most tiring activities concerned with writing.

What’s I’ve drawn from this is that many semi-pro writers, those easing toward their first professional sale, are quite capable of writing fine turns of phrase, even individual sentences; where they struggle is to convey information through organization of paragraphs.

There are two theories of organizing paragraphs. The more basic one is that each character’s actions and speech should be separated and given a paragraph to themselves.

Then there is the Chip Delany view, that the paragraph is the unit of emotional currency, and that it’s okay to group related activities together.

When I looked through my various books on writing this morning (Damon Knight’s Creating Short Fiction;  Kate Wilhelm’s Storyteller; Orson Scott Card’s Characters & Viewpoint; Steve May’s Doing Creative Writing) none of them -that’s none, note- have an entry on paragraphs.

I find that significant. Are budding writers supposed to learn by osmosis? I’m all for learning by example, but it helps to know the theory.

So, with the agreement of one of the contributors to Transtories, I have selected a short story at random and reprinted a paragraph from it, and then edited it. It’s my opinion only, and will probably vary from day to day, but it’s a useful exercise to perform.

This is the first version:

Settling back into the polished leather, she pulled her small, rough purse nearer, giving it a reassuring pat in the process.  A wedding present from her uncle, its texture felt comforting, the familiarity soothing.  The cab smelled damp, its dim illumination cast by two oil lamps making the purse look dowdy and old.   The memory of her uncle brought forth a renewed desire to escape, and with mounting resolution she settled back as the coach moved off.

So here’s the summary of the series of actions.

1) She settles back in the seat.

2) She pats the purse.

3) Background on the purse

4) Description of the cab, smell, illumination etc

5) More on the purse

6) More on her uncle

7) She settles back in her seat (again)

 Notice at least one action recurs – her settling back into the seat. If you have to repeat something -unless you’re doing it purposefully, for emphasis, it’s a sure sign that there’s something wrong with your paragraph structure. Notice how the author (and this is not intended to make them feel bad, I’m just as guilty during first drafts, and sometimes beyond) flits from purse to uncle to cab

And this is the same version after I’d edited it.

She gave her small, rough purse a reassuring pat.  A wedding present from her uncle, its familiarity soothed her, although the lamplight made it look dowdy. Thoughts of her uncle loaned her bravery and she settled back into the polished leather as the coach moved off.

It’s 40% shorter, because all the elements are grouped together and flow logically one into another.

I may post more such entries, where I think that the standard textbooks are neglecting key points, but for the moment it’s a one off entry, but for any of you struggling with your writing, I hope that it helps.

• April 30th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 0

On Holiday…Or Not

I realized yesterday as I posted the review of Interzone that it was my first post for a week. Given that I’ve been fairly quiet on other venues as well, a few of you might be forgiven for thinking that I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole.

You should be so lucky.

As I write this, at the same time last week I was on my way over to Gareth‘s place, to set off for Eastercon. Two days of long periods of relaxation, interspersed with frantic running around to get to and from signing sessions to promote Damage Time. Six of us ended up coming back from Birmingham Waterstone’s in a taxi to get back in time for the Illustrious signing.

That should have sounded a warning – the railway station was in chaos, which was only going to get worse by the evening. I duly found myself stranded by the chaos, although I eventually got home only an hour late by leaping in a taxi at Bristol Temple Meads.

So off on holiday on Sunday morning down to Poole. On the plus side, we were going on holiday. On the downside, I had a shedload of work to get through, and was suffering from tendonitis, preventing me from walking more than a few hundred yards without having to take painkillers.

In a way that injury was a blessing. Unable to go out, and with minimal distractions -since I couldn’t go for our usual long walks in the Purbecks or on the beaches, I had no option but to buckle down to editing Transtories. (More about that tomorrow) And since the weather was so good, I was able to read in the garden in the afternoon.

But it’s meant for a strange, claustrophobic existence that doesn’t really feel like a proper holiday at all. So I shall have no option but  to take another one, later this year…

• April 29th, 2011 • Posted in General • Comments: 0

Guest Blog

Award winning author Aliette de Bodard was kind enough to offer me the chance to guest post on her blog. For reasons that I make clear on the blog, I decided to talk about Winter Song, which proved to be an interesting exercise. It’s been so long since I’ve worked on the book that it was like revisiting an old home. The actual blog post is here — do drop by to read it, and while you’re at it, have a poke around the rest of Aliette’s site, which is one of the most fascinating on t’net.

• March 30th, 2011 • Posted in General • Comments: 0

The Ides of March

On Friday I wrote the first part of a blog post, just before heading out to the theatre to see Alan Bennett’s The History Boys (which was terrific, by the way):  

“This will be the third blog post in as many days, and it feels as if I’ve finally got back into the swing of things. I still have to post something on the film blog, but that can wait another day or two. Meanwhile yesterday felt like one of those rare days when you can go through the ‘to do’ list, ticking stuff off.

I finished reading Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm at something of a gallop, having been struggling with it a little — I think it was the cold, fogging my brain.

I survived my six-monthly visit to the dentist yesterday, and shot into Bath to get tickets for Alan Bennett’s The History Boys at the Theatre Royal.  Tomorrow is going to be spent mostly watching televised sport, and reading subs for Transtories, my next anthology. I may post some stats tomorrow or Monday. Or even Tuesday…Tuesday sounds good, as it’s halfway through the submissions period.

Sigh. So much time. So many choices.”

Hah. I should have known better with the Ides of March just around the corner….

Instead I woke up on Saturday with the most blinding headache…every time I coughed, it felt as if my skull was literally being split with an axe. On Sunday I started to see shadows moving out of the corner of my eye, and decided that I had to go and see the doctor.

Luckily the combination of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories is starting to take effect, and I seem to be over the worst of it. With any luck, I’ll get back to work tomorrow But that’s not definite — I must remember not to make any plans in future before the Ides of March. …

• March 15th, 2011 • Posted in General • Comments: 0

Bradley P. Beaulieu Interviewed

Bradley P Beaulieu came 2nd in the 2004 Writers of the Future contest, and has subsequently sold short stories to Realms of Fantasy and Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. His first novel, The Winds of Khalakovo will be published in April 2011 by Night Shade Books — it is the first volume of The Lays of Anyushka trilogy. He’s stopped by to answer a few questions.

So to begin, if you could pick anyone at all, who would you most like to meet?

Anyone alive? I’d probably pick Cate Blanchett. She’s such an interesting actress. She’s so good at her art, and I think it would be fun to talk to her about her process, how she prepares for roles. And I suppose it doesn’t hurt that she’s beautiful, nor that she played the part of one of the more interesting characters in The Lord of the Rings.

Anyone at all? This may sound a bit easy, but I’d love to talk to J.R.R. Tolkien. He came from a different time, and has paved the way for so much that followed. It would be interesting, not only to talk to him about his writing, but to let him know how much he means to so many others, including me.

You like spicy food. What dish do you most like to cook?

My favorite recipe is one I haven’t tried before. I love cooking, but I still have a lot to learn. There are a ton of things I haven’t made yet, even mainstays in traditional western cooking. When I was living in California, I fell in love with fish tacos, especially Ensenada style fish tacos. The fish is deep fried in light batter and then put on a bed of white cabbage or lettuce over fresh corn tortillas and topped with a light sour cream sauce and cilantro and light Mexican cheese. I tried quite a few places until I found the on I liked the best, and then I tried recreating the recipe. I’m pretty close now. The batter’s tricky to get right, as is the frying of it, but I’ve experimented with a few sauces, and I’m pretty happy with the recipe now. The traditional recipe doesn’t have a ton of spice, but I have a spicy tomatillo sauce and I add chipotle puree to the sour cream sauce to add some zing. When I get it right, it’s one of the best meals I make.
Tell us about your fantasy kingdom – what cultures and/or countries have you drawn inspiration from?
The Winds of Khalakovo draws heavily from Muscovite Russia and ancient Persia (and also a bit from the Ottoman Empire, though that has much more play in Book 2, The Straits of Galahesh). Perhaps not so obviously, I draw heavily from Buddhism as well. It was the central belief system I started with when I was in those earliest of brainstorming sessions. I’d determined early on that the most common form of magic would be commanded by a select few people, and that because of their beliefs they would be used by others who are not so caring as they. From this mindset sprung the Aramahn, the peaceful people who draw their beliefs from Buddhism but their culture and customs from ancient Persia. The Russian influence came later as I was using the portraits I’d collected at the Royal Gallery in Edinburgh to try to figure out who they were and how they fit into the story.
As the story began to evolve, it became important to have one culture be imperialist in some way, and the other welcoming, almost to a fault, as the Native American peoples were to the colonialists. And then it was important to put these two cultures in conflict. The most compelling way for me to do that was to have one culture be ruthless in their grab for land and resources, but to also keep the other culture relevant in some way—and this is one of the more interesting facets of the story to me: the Aramahn are necessary to the current way of life on the archipelagos that comprise the Grand Duchy of Anuskaya. They provide for commerce and trade not only among the islands, but with the large, neighboring continent of Yrstanla. It was very intriguing how the Aramahn both detest what the Grand Duchy has done to them and the islands and yet also help them in the hopes that they will one day come to find enlightenment.
I read with interest your influences, which include the usual suspects like G.R.R.M, but less obviously, Glen Cook. What particularly draws you to epic fantasy?
I suppose at this point it’s ingrained. Check that. It was probably ingrained by the time I left junior high—long, long before I started thinking about writing as a career. The earliest novel I remember reading that affected me to any great degree was The Hobbit in third grade, followed quickly by The Lord of the Rings. I read various others in the years that followed, like David Eddings’ Belgariad, and Fred Saberhagen’s Book of Swords, Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant, and later, Glen Cook’s Black Company, and C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy. I read various other things, including Science Fiction, but I was always drawn to the scope and grandeur of epic fantasy. I was drawn to technology at an early age, and I suppose even then, like now, I was a bit of an escapist. The epic fantasies seemed so romantic and wondrous, I couldn’t keep away from them. And so when I started to work out stories, dabbling in writing in college and then more seriously in my early thirties, my mind was naturally drawn to these same types of stories.
I noted that you’ve written a number of first novels of trilogies, with the possibility of sequels. What’s next after this trilogy? Any ideas? If things aren’t firmed up yet, what would you like to do? 
I have two possibilities that I’m mulling over right now. (I like to let things germinate for quite a while, so it’s important for me to get my hindbrain working on these as early as possible) The first is a science-fantasy called The Days of Dust and Ash. Think Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind meets The Coldfire Trilogy. I’m excited about this story, because it’s a departure from what I’ve written in the past, though it will still be fantastic and wide in scope. The story focuses on a young girl who is summoned from the dust, a global consciousness that was created as the last great age of technology fell under a nanite plague.
The other is called From the Spices of Sanandira. I sold a novella with the same title to Beneath Ceaseless Skies last year, and it will be appearing sometime this spring. It’s a story that springs from Sanandira, a large desert oasis known for its caravan trade and spice bazaars. It’s got a strong Thousand and One Nights feel to it. The novel is not so much an expansion of the novella as it is a re-imagining of it. It will probably focus on a pair of twin sisters, one of whom is sold to one of Sanandira’s famed assassin rings at a young age. The other girl (the protagonist) finds her sister by happenstance years later, and because of this chance meeting is drawn into the world of intrigue her sister walks every day.
Thanks for stopping by Brad, and good luck with the launch; enjoy the moment.
• March 10th, 2011 • Posted in Interviews • Comments: 0

Catching Up

The nice thing about conventions is the opportunity to catch up with friends, old and not so old. It was good to see Richard, Chris, Doug, Julius and the others from the Exeter SF Society again, and to meet the newer attendees for the first time. As usual a curry was disposed of on the Friday night, and we spent far too much in the Impy, but hey, taht’s what cons are for…  

What isn’t so good is what a convention does to one’s writing ability.

My last post here was last Wednesday, and what with a bad cold, Reading Week (during which one is supposed to catch with reading — and I did, so I at least managed something!) and Microcon, it’s been a real struggle getting back into writing mode.

This semi-rambling effort marks the first hurdle surmounted. Later this week, I’ll post an interview with Writers of the Future award winning author, Bradley P. Beaulieu, whose first novel The Winds of Khalakovo is published by Night Shade Books in April, and maybe revisit that hoary old topic, self-publishing.

Meanwhile,  I have a film blog to update.

See you later.

• March 8th, 2011 • Posted in Appearances, Events, Writing • Comments: 0