Saturday, September 27, 2014


I think it was 1995 when I first got internet access. I was living in Japan at the time, and it opened up the world for me. I was suddenly able to research stuff, something I've always loved doing.

Take XTC, for example. During my time in Tokyo I fell in love with this band and their albums. I'd heard a track or two in 1982, but nothing since. A friend recommended them to me, and I was hooked. Of course I knew nothing about them, where they were from, their history. And so I signed up for The Little Express, a fanzine out of Canada.   It arrived a couple of times a year, I devoured it from cover to cover, and then read them over and over.

It was through these pages I was first contacted by Danny, my penpal and friend.

Once I got the internet, I found Chalkhills, the online equivalent. Their mailing list kept me up to date on news, information and releases. At its height I would receive updates a couple of times a day. (Particularly during the late 90s French Trombone scandal - yes, I was there for that.)

In 2009, when I first met Paul Haines, we realised we were both XTC fans. We also discovered we'd been reading each others posts on the Chalkhills mailing list for 15 years. This was one of the shared reference points which resulted in us becoming friends, and Paul becoming my mentor.

In the past few years the frequency of updates had fallen to only a couple a year. This was partly due to the sheer amount of information available on the web, but mostly due to the band (and its members) having pretty much gone into musical retirement.

Which is a shame - both the mailing list, but also the cessation of releases.

And so, last month, Chalkhills buried the mailing list. The website, which is a fantastic archive of all things XTC, is still active.

Thanks to the Chalkhills community which kept me entertained and informed all those years. But mostly thanks to John Relph for running the whole show.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Two Deadlines.

I'm currently working on two stories, both of which I need to finish by the middle of next week.

One of them is fine - it's sailing along nicely. I'm expanding it, because it needs to be a little longer than it currently is. It's been critted by some of the scariest minds I know and their comments have been taken into account.

The other story, on the other hand, is causing me headaches. I know roughly where I want it to go. I've decided to just write it and see what happens. Let the details take care of themselves. Unfortunately I'm only 1500 words in, and I'm kind of stuck. I know what I have to write, I know the scene I want to write, but it's just not writing.

Lunch, some coffee, and back into it.

With deadlines, these things have a way of working themselves out.

See you on the other side.

Saturday, September 20, 2014


This week I've mostly been playing old albums, albums from the early 70s - a time when I was first getting into music. As a kid I was in a youth group, and so had a bunch of friends who were a few years older then me. These friends introduced me to their music, which often meant I was the only kid in class who listened to these bands. Of course I listened to what was popular as well, but mostly it's those older ones that have stuck with me.

I've played some Deep Purple, some Mountain, some Ten Years After and some Free this week. Musicians playing real instruments, who could play the crap out of them. Drums with tone and timbre, keyboards that sounded analog, not digital. Guitar solos which make you want to weep cos you can feel the pain. Singers with range, melody and voices.

I watched Jeff Lynne's ELO concert, which was Jeff and Richard Tandy, and a bunch of hired hands. His first show in 28 years. I cranked it, loved the opening tracks - but about halfway through I was getting bored. Why? Because the versions had no drive, no oomph, no punch. Those hired hands sounded exactly like hired hands. Technically perfect, but they weren't invested in the music. I later threw on an ELO disc, and the difference was night and day. It rocked.

Yeah, I know I'm getting older. And I know that music speaks to me because I was there. I recognise all that - but it's my music and I love it. There are some modern bands who manage it, who speak to my soul. But I still love my past.

I've also become a little obsessed with the image of a jigsaw puzzle I once owned. I used to do them quite often, when I was younger, and there was one I had which I wish I still had. My memory may be imperfect, but I remember it like this. It's a photograph along a cobbled street in Europe, with an outdoor cafe. Set in the late 60s, I think. I think there was probably a harbour on the right, with boats and yachts. Everyone is simply enjoying the sun, eating, drinking. I remember a few people wearing RayBan style sunglasses. No one pays any attention to the camera - except one kid who is gazing directly at the lens, and therefore, at me.

I've tried hunting for this photo online. I'd love to see it again. And there'd be a tip of the hat to anyone who could point me in the right direction.

What does all of this mean? Nothing, except I've had a week of nostalgia, and it's been great.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scottish Independence.

I haven't previously posted or commented on Scottish Independence. Mostly because I didn't feel it impacted on me enough to entitle me to a say.

But I've come to realise it will affect me and my family.

I was born in Scotland but we emigrated when I was a year old. I still have citizenship and possess a European/UK passport. My parents receive a British pension.

How would I vote if I could?

I don't really know. I'm not up on all the information. I haven't thought about it in those terms. I think I agree with my father, though. "My heart says 'yes', my head says 'no'."

Scots, think wisely on this. It's a big decision and affects a lot of people.

Good luck.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Swings, Hits And Misses.

I was fortunate enough to attend Worldcon this year. I've decided I don't write con reports as well as others, so apart from saying London was great, I met some fantastic people and had a fun time, you won't get a report out of me.

I returned a couple of weeks ago, and have since been catching up on my teaching,  marking student work and writing reports for the end of term. Despite this it has been quite a busy time on the writing front.

I went through the edits on The Last of the Butterflies, the story Coeur de Lion will publish in two weeks time. (Dimension6 #3) I wrote the article that will accompany it, rewrote it, then wrote it again until I was happy with it.  I subbed two stories, received a rejection, and made a sale.

The rejection was unexpected (and undeserved - ha), while the sale was even more unexpected. More news on that when I'm permitted. It is such a very good sale, too.

But I finish teaching for the term in a couple of days, and then I have two weeks off. And I have plans. Writing plans. Lots of writing plans.

I can't wait.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Revisiting The Past.

I recently decided I wanted to revisit some of the series of novels I loved when I was younger. I looked at my Julian May (The Saga of the Exiles) series, my E.E. 'Doc' Smith (Lensmen) series, Stephen Donaldson (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant) series, my Stephen Lawhead (Pendragon Cycle) series, my Christopher Stasheff (Warlock) series, my Isaac Asimov (Foundation) series, and more. I also realised it has been years since I'd even touched a fantasy novel. Far too long.

Fantasy books are renown for being ridiculously thick. And I must admit that's one of the things that has deterred me from reading the fantasy series by George R.R. Martin or Robert Jordan. I want to read the newer Thomas Covenant books, but first I have to go back and re-read the original six. I also want to read the newer Hitchhiker's Guide book, but first I need to go back and read the first five. In the end, I opted for alternating between Hitchhiker's Guide by Douglas Adams, and The Belgariad series, by David Eddings.

Firstly, neither series of books are too thick. All eleven books are about the size of two novels by George R.R. Martin. Secondly, I have fond memories of reading them, although my memory of the Belgariad is limited to the first few chapters. And thirdly, I love the covers on the Belgariad series I have.

I'm tearing through them quite rapidly. The Belgariad is nowhere near as heavy as I recall - it's a gentle, easy read. Yes, the world-building is a lot more flimsy than Middle-Earth, but that's fine. I'm really enjoying them.

I suspect Thomas Covenant may be next. But you never know. One day I may actually tackle one of Martin's chihuahua killers.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

WSFA Shortlisting.

Congratulations to some friends on their nominations for the WSFA Small Press Award.

David McDonald is a crit buddy and a friend. I'm thrilled his story, Set Your Face Towards the Darkness, published in Tales of Australia: Great Southern Land (Satalyte Press), has been shortlisted. Congratulations David, and to Stephen Ormsby, the publisher, who struck twice from the same anthology. Sean McMullen is also on the list.

Tehani Wessely, publisher of FableCroft scored a shortlisting with a story by DK Mok, from the anthology One Small Step. Congratulations, Tehani and DK.

Eric J. Guignard won the Bram Stoker Award for editing After Death. Now Jonathan Shipley has been shortlisted with his story from that collection. Congratulations Eric and Jonathan.

And congratulations to all the others on their nominations.

This annual award, administered by the Washington Science Fiction Association, is highly regarded. According to their press release:
The WSFA Small Press Award honors the efforts of small press publishers in providing a critical venue for short fiction in the area of speculative fiction. The award showcases the best original short fiction published by small presses in the previous year (2013). An unusual feature of the selection process is that all voting is done with the identity of the author (and publisher) hidden so that the final choice is based solely on the quality of the story. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Be A God.

"If you want to succeed at writing, you make it happen."

We're sitting in a restaurant on the banks of the Bosphorus. We're in Turkey, in Europe. Across the river, less than a kilometre away is still Turkey, but it's in Asia. There is a gap in the land opposite, the entrance to the Black Sea. Ships emerge and enter at regular intervals. I sip my beer again, as Erdal continues.

"You're a writer. I'm a writer. We're gods. You're writing, and you need a town." He mimics typing. "You create one. You need a person. You create one. You don't like someone." More typing. "You kill them."

We pause. I'm thinking. Erdal is drinking his raki.

"You want to be a successful writer? Be a god. Make it happen."

I first met Erdal Güven in Japan twenty years ago when he was the Asian Bureau Chief for The Hurriyet. We soon became good friends. I have fond memories of evenings spent in his company in the streets of Tokyo. Since then he has become a respected author, both fiction and non-fiction, in his homeland.  We lost touch for a few years, but reconnected. And now I'm in Istanbul, we're catching up.

"You want it? You write it. It's all up to you."

My wife nods sagely. I'm still deep in thought.

"But it's not that easy," I counter.

"It is that easy, and that difficult," he says. "After all, it's only words."

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Do The Knee Jerk, Baby!

Whenever I relate a story to others, whether it be colleagues, friends or one of my classes, I'm usually asked where I heard/read/saw it. If it's a story that seems unlikely, I'm also questioned as to its authenticity. And if it's with my students, at least one or two will tell me the story simply cannot be true.

And sometimes they're right.

I've told some whoppers in my time. I used to tell Japanese students that I had a pet kangaroo named Fluffy, which I rode to school on a daily basis. I've told students that James Cameron, the film director, is my uncle - but we had a falling out and he won't talk to me anymore. I've told students that I used to be a hitman for the CIA, and my life is still in danger.

Although some seem to fall for some of these tales (OK, none have fallen for the CIA one), most either question me or laugh at me. Ahhh, kids. I do, however, continue to teach them to question things, to read between the lines and not believe everything they read.

Things seem a little different in the adult world. One troubling trend that seems to be on the increase is the lack of discernment by people on social media. Adults who believe and share everything they see without questioning. Or are simply outraged by some article- from zero to fury in seconds.

The latest is a story about a school teacher in the U.S. who was suspended from teaching after it was revealed he'd written a couple of SF books under a pseudonym about school massacres 1000 years in the future. Articles and comments appeared about how the authorities were concerned by these dark leanings, by the use of an 'alias', and how he'd been suspended from work, arrested and confined for no actual crime. His sales at amazon skyrocketed as a sign of support. Petitions were started, and blogs and posts were written about this injustice. and now it has been revealed they've known about his books for two years, and he was not arrested. He was suspended pending examination my mental health experts after sending a four page letter to the school board, and other odd behaviours.

Knee jerk, baby!

I saw a number of posts last week about Lego creating a female scientist character but limiting production, thereby making it difficult for little girls to obtain this piece. Outrage, calls for boycotts, demands and petitions. Except it seems as though Lego do have a number of female pieces already in existence, and this one character everyone is upset about was always intended to be a limited edition collectors' piece - something Lego create and sell on a regular basis.

Knee jerk, baby!

I've posted a couple of items on facebook recently, one about Breaking Bad returning for a 6th season and another about North Korea informing its citizens of a series of wins in the recent World Cup. Both turned out to be faked - something I wondered about when I shared them. In fact, I mentioned as much when I did post them. I did some research at the time to try and confirm the stories, but could find nothing. The Breaking Bad story appeared to confirm an earlier interview with Bryan Cranston where he hinted the show may not be done yet. It was later proven, however, to be someone's idea of a joke, which was neither funny nor satirical. I pointed this out as soon as I became aware of it. The North Korea story I figured was probably a fake, but it was funny, so 1984, so close to something they might try (remember all those North Korean photoshops?) that I put it up anyway. I got pulled up pretty quick on that one. Again I pointed out I figured it was fake.

And in both these instances I was accused of not doing my homework (which I had actually done). These were minor, mostly funny stories. There was no outrage, I made no threats to boycott, no one's business was going to be harmed. But that cannot be said of some of these other knee jerks.

He said this, she did that, this company did this, he was arrested for doing nothing.

Yes, sometimes, and sometimes not. Sometimes these things do happen. And we should rightly be outraged when they do occur. But check them out first. Don't just click and share.