Where did this folk tale come from? Well, in the spirit of lazy recycling of old web articles, I thought I’d stick in a previous December blog entry. It’s from an article I wrote a few years ago on the big guy in the red suit. Here goes… Read More...
The amazing Blackstone came to town when I was seven, and I saw how he came alive onstage and thought, God, I want to grow up to be like that! And I ran up to help him vanish an elephant. To this day I don’t know where the elephant went. One moment it was there, the next — abracadabra — with a wave of the wand it was gone!
In 1929 Buck Rogers came into the world, and on that day in October a single panel of Buck Rogers comic strip hurled me into the future. I never came back.
It was only natural when I was twelve that I decided to become a writer and laid out a huge roll of butcher paper to begin scribbling an endless tale that scrolled right on up to Now, never guessing that the butcher paper would run forever.
Snoopy has written me on many occasions from his miniature typewriter, asking me to explain what happened to me in the great blizzard of rejection slips of 1935. Then there was the snowstorm of rejection slips in ’37 and ’38 and an even worse winter snowstorm of rejections when I was twenty-one and twenty-two. That almost tells it, doesn’t it, that starting when I was fifteen I began to send short stories to magazines like Esquire, and they, very promptly, sent them back two days before they got them! I have several walls in several rooms of my house covered with the snowstorm of rejections, but they didn’t realize what a strong person I was; I persevered and wrote a thousand more dreadful short stories, which were rejected in turn. Then, during the late forties, I actually began to sell short stories and accomplished some sort of deliverance from snowstorms in my fourth decade. But even today, my latest books of short stories contain at least seven stories that were rejected by every magazine in the United States and also in Sweden! So, dear Snoopy, take heart from this. The blizzard doesn’t last forever; it just seems so.
Here’s the announcement of the competition results from Simon Ings, the editor:
Today we are delighted to announce the results of the first Arc/Tomorrow Project short story competition. While we are a quarterly we have virtually no room in Arc for writing that comes at us from odd angles. The competition is the one chance we have at the moment of developing new talent. So how did it go? Pretty impressive, I'd say: we received around a hundred proper stories (none of your "flash fiction" here), representing thousands of hours of effort and struggle (and, I hope, at least some fleeting pleasure).
Was choosing the shortlist difficult? No. The first rule of judging and reading fiction (and saying this puts the fear of God into new writers - but it's true) is that you can tell within seconds if a story is alive. It's something to do with the way the prose and the ideas lock together. It's a rhythm, a cadence, something you only pick up by constant practice - and it's unmistakable. If the competition hadn't gone well, we'd have been wading through passable stories for days. As it is, our shortlist is made up entirely of stories that sing.
And while we were reading, half a world away in San Francisco, the Tomorrow Project was building our new website. Together, Arc and the Tomorrow Project will be generating conversations around our winning fiction, giving writers an exciting, inspirational platform and valuable feedback on their work. All Arc's shortlisted stories are here.
I thought that was a very encouraging comment from Simon. Insightful criticism is probably the most important feedback - so a writer can improve their work - but I never say no to a whopping big compliment.
The story is available to read as a pdf from their website. You can also read it on my webpage.
I’ll let everyone know about any more related news when it comes out.
Enjoy your day!
Until then, here's the emblem/logo I came up with for the collection: Read More...
Science fiction and fantasy novels; aren't they lame? Well, not necessarily, although the genre is often seen as the domain of nerds and fans of mediocre literature. In some cases that view's probably understandable. When a novel is a piece of escapism, when the story is purely designed to give the reader fun and thrills with little in the way of thoughtful insight, such literature can be seen as little more than pulp fiction. The problems for sci-fi don't end there. Many readers are reluctant to read any story that has lots of technical references and descriptions and are worried such content will make the novel incomprehensible, confusing or just plain boring. As a result, large sections of the reading public avoid sci-fi and fantasy like the plague with the more high-brow dismissing it as shallow and the rest dismissing it as nerdy tech-fetishistic junk or social-inadequacy-fuelled escapism.
But there are science fiction and fantasy books out there that defy such categorisations. They do this because their purpose is not escapism or a glorification of technology but a piercing and insightful analysis of the human condition and our place in the world. This, essentially is what all great literature is about. The stories that linger in our thoughts, that we treasure, are the ones that give us a moment in time where we look at ourselves with clear eyes; sometime with a heavy heart, sometimes with a spark of joy.
Here's a list of ten science fiction and fantasy novels that, I think, do just that. They are all still clearly science fiction and fantasy novels, containing technology and mythical characters respectively, but those genre elements are vehicles, tools that are used by the author to talk about subjects all great literature is concerned with; love, loss, identity, morality, fear and hope.
Off we go... Read More...
A news article has appeared in this morning's Independent newspaper reporting that methane has now been discovered bubbling up from the open arctic ocean, appearing through cracks in the thinning ice. To quote: Read More...
Here's the video. I'll be honest, it makes me want to go out immediately and buy a huge Lego Technic kit.
Dr Marcy believes that if alien civilizations do exist, some must be sufficiently advanced to be communicating between stars. To do this, they would logically use lasers, since lasers enable tight, focussed, information-rich communication. We on Earth have been sending out lasers and radio waves into space for a while now and Dr Marcy suspects that alien civilizations may target us as a result. As he states in the interview: 'maybe they are studying us with their own lasers, for whatever reason, and we should be looking for that. And that's what I plan to do.'
The reason I'm mentioning this is that, based on the evidence I uncovered in my book 'The Golden Web', such an event may have already happened.
It’s coming, filling the horizon like a great dark storm cloud with a massive advertising logo stuck on the side. The new James Bond movie is out this year and I’m dreading it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a huge fan of Bond movies my whole life, from the dark weirdness of Dr No, through the snazzy kit and cool style of Goldfinger, all the way to the visual panache and charisma of Goldeneye. I even like Timothy Dalton’s ‘The Living Daylights’, which, if you give it another go, is a really enjoyable action movie. But I hated Quantum of Solace. I hated it with vengeance. For months afterwards, I made voodoo Quantum of Solace dolls and stabbed them repeatedly with home made stilettos (which originally referred to a thin dagger by the way, rather than women’s shoes). I cursed the name ‘Quantum of Solace’ aloud on moonlit nights in the centre of standing stones, hoping for demons to do my bidding and remove it from reality, or alternatively a Chthulhu-like beast to come from another dimension and suck every square inch of its footage into the nether voids of space. Either would do.
While hunting around for reference material for a graphic story, I stumbled upon a very enjoyable site called Kuriositas. It's full of great visual material. I found it through its article about an artist whose made Minas Tirith out of matchsticks and it's a most impressive sculpture.
Kuriositas's current entry is a visual exploration of abandoned buildings; always great for fascinating and inspiring images. Here are a few examples:
I am planning to attend one event, the Olympic road race, but this is only possible because the competitors are travelling around an eighty mile loop and the organisers probably assumed it was too costly to try and charge everyone in South West London fifty quid to stand on their own street corner.
Overall, it’s weird. Why would any city decided to spend eleven billion pounds to find out who can throw a stick the furthest? Or who can run in a straight line the fastest? Even if it’s supposed to be a recreation of the Ancient Greek Olympics, they all took part naked and no one was on a BMX. The connection is pretty tenuous.
But I've now realised what's going on. Possibly because of some deep unconscious previous life regression, or the chance of being incarcerated without access to a lawyer for a month, I can see that the London Olympics is basically a medieval royal visit. Everything is the same. In the medieval event, once every few years your town and its castle is visited by the crown; a bunch of unelected, violent freeloaders and all their hangers-on. The boss of your area kow-tows to them and breaks the bank feeding them, housing them, lavishing them with gifts and generally treating them like royalty, which is what they are. The years of lean living that are going to follow such a visit are quietly ignored. Talking about that is plain un-patriotic.
Amid frantic construction and rising budgets, the visit approaches. Some years are worse than others. If the crown is unpopular, there’s talk of plots, potential assassinations and other shenanigans. Some of them might be real threats, others would be concocted by the crown themselves with the plan of fingering a particular religious minority or foreign power. You’ll either get dragged into a real plot or fingered for a non-existent plot. Either way, it’s red-hot poker time.
You watch the king arrive and try not to shake too much. It wouldn’t be so bad if you actually got a look at the king when he was in the castle, or got to nibble on a roasted lamb-shank, but you may as well nibble your own leg. If fear of assassination was in the air, there’d be soldiers around the castle and on the roads ready to kill anyone looking suspicious. The highways would be cordoned off, the guards out; best to hide inside a hollow log for the duration of the visit.
There are some differences between London 2012 and a crowd of fat, jewelled people stuffing their faces while watching an archery event. For example, there may be an aircraft carrier moored on the Thames this summer; that’s way more impressive than a catapult. London 2012 has also got a very memorable logo and lots of plastic memorabilia. You never saw anything like that in the fourteenth century! Apart from that, there's... er....
The design is inspired by the fact that there are an awful lot of instruments in folk music. Not only does that make for more variety, but it's a great excuse to buy more instruments! I can't decide whether to call the design 'mutant guitar' or 'instrument splat!'. For interested parties, the design was done in a vector art program (I use Lineform for the Mac which is not being updated but still does a great job). The font is Lucida Bright Demibold.
Enjoy your day!
War is a great subject for a movie. You've got danger, heartache, drama, scenes of great intensity; all the emotions you could wish for. There is, though, the tiny problem that war is a horrible, monstrous event that brings nothing but despair, sadness, pain and loss to everyone apart from psychopaths and people in administrative positions.
A lot of war movies skirt over this problem. They also gloss over the fact that people, in every country, behave in unexpected ways in war. Some people who are supposed to be good behave horribly and some people who are supposed to be bad behave nobly. This is the reality of war, alongside the large amounts of weapons, injuries, death, suffering, atrocities, acts of self-sacrifice and flags. Read More...
I wrote a short story recently for Arc magazine. Part of it contains a futuristic pastiche of listening to a record player:
"I did try, once, to get away from technology, move away from the latest kit. I took a therapy class; they called it a 'record player' class. Weird. They had this collection of 'vinyl records'. Have you heard of them? They're black discs made from alcohol and tree sap that had been carved so that a needle makes a sound when it's dragged over them. Very ethnic. Anyway, a group of us sat down in a room and then one person put one of these black discs on a sort of potter's wheel. She lay a moveable stick on the disc and music came out of vibrating cones that were standing nearby. We had to sit, in silence, while the device played four songs, one after the other, with no breaks. It was just audio and we couldn't stop it, or watch an accompanying video, or change anything. It freaked me out!"
Probably, in forty years time, people will regard a record player as a piece of history, a relic in the attic that about as likely to get used as a wooden tennis racket. If they do, they might be missing a trick. I think there's another angle to the record player; a very important one. When you listen to a record player, you have to sit down and listen to some music for twenty minutes and do nothing else. It's almost a form of meditation, at least in comparison to flicking between songs or flicking between channels or talking on the phone while paying for the groceries and herding your children and moving your trolley out of the way of someone else who's also talking on the phone...
I remember when I switched to storing my music on iTunes and an iPod, many years ago. I was over the moon; I could listen to music immediately. I could select from my entire music library at the click of a button. I listened to lots of songs that I hadn't bothered with, songs that had languished in albums that I was no longer interested in sticking on my record player or loading into my CD drawer. It gave my music library a new lease of life.
There was, though, a downside to this digital immediacy, a downside that became clear to me recently when I was at a friend's house. He has a large record collection and, one morning, he suggested we listen to U2's 'The Joshua Tree'. I agreed. I sat down on his battered sofa while he made some coffee. When it was ready, he handed me a cup, then walked over to his record cabinet and slid the album out. He took the record out of its sleeve and passed me the gatefold album. I looked at its atmospheric cover, large enough to fill my vision, then opened it up and gazed at the interior art; Anton Corbijn's photography of four moody blokes in a great expanse of desert and mountains. While I read the lyrics to 'Running to Stand Still', sipping the coffee by my side, my friend carefully placed the record on the player, took out a brush and carefully wiped the record's surface. When the surface was clean and clear, he put the brush away, turned the stereo on and let the valve amplifier warm up. Once it was ready, he put the needle on the record, sat down in his armchair and, together, we listened to side one.
That is so slow! And you have to listen to all four songs! But it isn't a bad thing, is it? A huge part of the enjoyment is that it's a ceremony. It unfolds at its own pace. You can't hurry it. What's more, you don't want to hurry it because the pace of it, the focussed, singular quality of it creates a bubble of quality, a short piece of sanctuary time. The process also gives that bubble structure. You don't just sit somewhere for half an hour, listening to four songs. That would feel like a gap, a lull. The record player ceremony is an event, with its own components and atmosphere and value. I touched on this idea in my article 'How owning a DVD ruined my evening'. The Record Player Ceremony is a little like the Japanese Tea Ceremony, perhaps not as rigidly structured but it shares, I think, the same ethos. They are both a structured period of time that can create a state of mind different to everyday life.
The Record Player Ceremony also used to be part of a larger process. You didn't just download the MP3 file from a remote internet server. You went to a record shop, with its atmosphere and smells and eclectic staff and fascinating customers. Inside, you browsed while listening to the music playing in the store and you bought your album and held it in your hands and slid the record carefully out. You looked at its shiny, scratch free surface and your head filled with the anticipation of listening to it, sharing it with your friends and losing yourself in the music it contained. The lack of immediacy wasn't a problem because it created anticipation and that can not only make the upcoming event more exciting but often be more exciting than the actual event itself.
I miss that. I think a lot of young people now probably miss that too. This might explain why vinyl record sales are actually increasing, and have been doing so for years, reaching a six year high, with a 55% increase last year and an almost fifteen-fold increase over the last twenty years. That's great to hear.
Let's enjoy the ceremony.
For example, a few years ago, my mum heard some strange noises from outside her front door. It sounded distinctly like quacking. She opened the door, stepped out into the street and looked around. There was no one there; there certainly weren't any ducks there. She heard the quacking again. This time, she realised, it was coming from somewhere close to her head. She looked up at the hanging basket she'd hung beside the front door. The quacking came again, from inside the basket. She went back in, got her step-ladder, came out and climbed up on it. This is what she saw:
There was a duck nesting in her hanging basket. She looked at the duck. The duck looked at my mum and quacked, looking quite relaxed and pleased with herself. Mum climbed down off the step-ladder, went back inside and left the duck to get on with her day.
Not long after, the duck's eggs hatched. There was now a duck and several ducklings sitting in a hanging basket right next to a busy road.
This is, quite patently, ridiculous. Why on earth would a duck nest in a hanging basket by a road that's on two bus routes! The nearest patch of grass is a hundred yards away! But she did.
Eventually, it was time for the ducklings to leave. They jumped off the hanging basket on to the street. Fortunately, mum and a helpful neighbour shepherded the duck and her ducklings to the river nearby, stopping all the traffic in the process.
Isn't life weird?
The staff at New Scientist have brought out a new digital magazine called Arc. It's a mix of articles about the future and short stories and is available on the iPad (which I don't have), Kindle (nope, don't have that either) and Mac (hooray! I have one of those).
They've also asked for short story submissions for the next issue. The theme of submissions is 'The Future always wins'. Being a big fan of science fiction, I've put together my own contribution. Initially, I thought about writing a serious narrative story describing loss of identity, invasive technology, the sort of stuff elegantly described in books by William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and Philip K. Dick, but I didn't really come up with much.
Instead, I decided that it would be fun to write a dialogue exposing the banality of peoples' use of technology and how it still can't help them understand their partner. We have incredible kit at our disposal, such as the modern smartphone, but most of us have no understanding of how it works and we use smartphones for the dumbest of reasons. It's a strange world where a GPS satellite network, thousands of gigabit processors, clocks that lose a second every billion years and other marvels are employed so someone can pass around a video of their mate throwing up. The future, I think, is highly unlikely to be like Star Trek. As Scott Adams perceptively pointed out in 'The Dilbert Future' and Terry Pratchett has stated in various articles, it'll probably be a lot more cringeworthy.
If you'd like to read my short story, ''18% happier' then click on the link.
Share and Enjoy.... share and enjoy...
I've completed another television comedy script. This one's about four male teenagers who wake up in their school library to find that something strange and terrible has happened, leaving everyone else in the world either unconscious or missing. Unlike more traditional disaster movies, they're not thinking about how they can rebuild society, help other survivors and find a cure for what's happened. Their main questions are 'have any attractive females survived?' and 'if they haven't survived and have become un-dead instead, is it okay to get off with one?'
Here's the script. I've sent a copy and an episode synopsis to Dominic Lord at the JFL agency who asked to read any new scripts I created. Last year's script, 'just the two of us', hasn't yet been commissioned but it's early days yet. I've also added 'aftermaths' to my scripts page.
I'm in the process of self-publishing my non-fiction book, The Golden Web. I'm following the self-publishing route for the book because the standard non-fiction publishing route isn't really available to me. Since I'm not a television presenter or senior scientist or academic, it's unlikely a publishing house would want to commit funds to try and sell my book. I also don't have any personal connections in the UK publishing industry so I can't call on any favours or phone any ex-school publisher friends asking them to add The Golden Web to their list. That's okay though, because you don't have to be well known person to get a non-fiction book published and sold nowadays. Hooray!
Hmm... I think I'm definitely procrastinating here. Maybe I should go and sit in the reference library? It's cold out there. Don't want to move. Actually, I can't move because this conservatory is about four degrees above freezing. Fine motor control is one of the first things that go as a person drifts into hypothermia. Then they get sleepy.... zzzzz. Only joking! Anyway, that wouldn't make any sense. Why would someone type 'zzzz' after they'd fallen asleep? Then again, maybe that would be sleep-typing? Perhaps my sleep typing would be better than my awake typing? Is my conscious mind getting in the way of my creative flow? Am I lying in bed at night, my thoughts in dreamland while my body desperately searches for a laptop to pen a brilliant opus? That's embarrassing; as a writer, I'm better off unconscious.
This is definitely procrastinating. I did wean myself off playing with my new iPhone, well, fairly new, it was second hand but it's still got its internal compass, accelerometer and pseudo-GPS. I wish I had those things, well, I've got an accelerometer but I don't have an internal compass. Birds do. They've also got some kind of GPS and they can fly. So, ranked in terms of ability, it's birds first, followed by my iphone and then me last. Nuts.
I'm definitely writing a stream of consciousness blog entry here, like Jack Kerouac but without the magical atmosphere of late fifties jazz, bohemia, the wide open plains, friendship, exploration, sadness, disillusionment and, in the end, an early death. So this blog entry hasn't got anything in common with Kerouac's writing apart from its long, unwieldy sentences and complete absence of a plot. Hmm... need to work on that. Then again, this blog is probably a healthier version of Kerouac. It's not as memorable or inspiring but you'll live longer; sort of a Beat-writer lite. Low fat Beat-writer. Family filtered Beat writer. Tory party approved Beat writer. This is making me nauseous.
What was the point of this blog entry? Oh yes, Simon's cat; it's good. Time for an EMBED tag...
This has really got nothing to do with writing but I still enjoy watching this video even a year on from when I first saw it.
Unfortunately, I read an article in the Independent at the very beginning of this year which I think is of huge significance. In the article, to quote, 'Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane - a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide - have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.The scale and volume of the methane release has astonished the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.'
Last year, I wrote to Rupert Sheldrake, a fascinating man who developed the theory of morphogenetic fields and is the author of books such as 'Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home' and 'Seven Experiments That Could Change the World', both of which I recommend. I wanted to make him aware of the intriguing research that Luc Montagnier has been carrying out with water and DNA. He very kindly replied and agreed it was very interesting and threw up a lot of questions but he couldn't see on first glance how it could connect to his theory of morphogenetic fields. Here's my reply:Read More...
Happy New Year everyone!
The updated manuscript for 'Faery Engines' is now complete and is wending its way to the literary agent. It's been fun to update it; I've learnt a few more things (I think!) about writing just from doing the update. This latest version of the fantasy comedy is now much more character driven than it was before. Previously, everything in the story was aimed at the fun ideas. Now, I've made the relationship between the main characters an important part of the book with the fun ideas as a backdrop to their interactions. Hopefully, these changes will improve readers' enjoyment of the story.
Now the fantasy comedy update has been completed, at least for now, my next tasks are getting 'The Golden Web' available for purchase and writing a new script for the television script agent. I'll post any important news regarding those projects as and when they occur.
Have a great 2012!