Thursday, September 30, 2010

Long time, no meme

Haven't done one of these for a while, but as my friend Mr Bookzombie points out, it's a little more grown-up and assumes a little more life experience than the usual round. So without further ado:

1. What bill do you hate paying the most?
As I no longer have to pay printers' bills and all the usual domestic ones are comfortably covered by direct debit, none of them hold much terror for me.

2. Do you miss being a child?
I miss the excitement about (what I now realise are) really quite mundane matters, but that's all. The tingle of opening that week's Countdown/Warlord/2000 AD; the warm glow of anticipation as a good Saturday evening's TV viewing hoves into view ...

3. Chore you hate the most?
Picking with tweezers through someone else's badly written HTML.

4. Where was the last place you had a romantic dinner?
Well, we dined out every evening in Gothenburg this summer, which was quite high on the him-and-her scale. If you're talking a properly constituted duly certified romantic dinner(tm) that would probably be our anniversary dinner at Kitson's ... Um, that's last year's anniversary.

5. If you could go back and change one thing what would it be?
Probably nothing. What hasn't killed me has made me stronger. On the other hand, 10 years of compulsory rugby led to the need for regular chiropractic adjustment, probably for the rest of my life, so that is something I could do without whilst still retaining my essential character.

6. Name of your first grade teacher?
"Grade?" The first sign that this quiz was dreamt up by an American. Anyway, Miss Barker. I think.

7. What do you really want to be doing right now?
Putting down the flow of words that come effortlessly to me as I write my next novel.

8. What did you want to be when you grew up?
Time Lord. Or a pilot.

9. How many colleges did you attend?
The second sign of transatlanticality. I attended just one higher education institution, thank you.

10. Why did you choose the shirt that you have on right now?
It's Thursday.

11. What are your thoughts on gas prices?
Quite reasonable really for a very convenient but rapidly declining resource. Oh, you mean petrol prices, right? Ludicrously high.

12. First thought when the alarm went off this morning?
The alarm has gone off.

13. Last thought before going to sleep last night?
I often spend this time thinking of what to do with the next morning's writing slot.

14. What famous person would you like to have dinner with?
I once had dinner with the Northern Ireland Commander of Land Forces*, the Chief Constable of the RUC, the Northern Ireland Secretary and the head of MI5 in Northern Ireland, so I'm not that easily impressed. (Though I was still quite nervous about having dinner with Terry Pratchett ...)

* In fact I have spent quite a lot of time with this guy, one way or another.

15. Have you ever crashed your vehicle?

16. If you didn't have to work, would you volunteer?
Probably. To do what?

17. Get up early or sleep in?
Depends on day of the week, dunnit?

18. What is your favorite cartoon character?
Shouldn't that be "Who is ..."? Not to mention "favourite". Anyway, Calvin's dad.

19. Favorite thing to do at night?
Those few seconds as you sink into the mattress with a good book and the duvet settles around you and the day is over.

20. When did you first start feeling old?
I have always resisted the feeling, though it gets harder when you're older than the Doctor, the vicar, James Bond and the leaders of all three main parties. Or when you realise that children of friends, who you knew before they were babies (if you see what I mean), are now an age that you remember being quite well.

21. Favorite lunch meat?
What on earth is lunch meat? Is there an animal bred specifically to be eaten at lunch?

22. What do you get every time you go into Wal-Mart?
I have been in a Wal-Mart exactly once, and while my host bought some cat litter I remember goggling at the guns and thinking "My God, it's true."

23. Do you think marriage is an outdated ritual?
That implies marriage requires a ritual. The sense that it does is probably on the way out, and what we currently (for legal purposes) call "marriage" and what we call "civil partnership" will blur more and more into one. I suspect the pairbonding instinct will always be there and hopefully lifelong partners will require fewer hoops to jump through to attain legal recognition of this fact.

24. Favorite movie you wouldn't want anyone to find out about?
Operation Petticoat. No, stuff that, it's a comic classic - everyone, watch it. "Today we torpedoed a truck ..." [Breaking news: think of it as a memorial to Tony Curtis who died today.]

25. What's your favorite drink?
A good red wine - or (for its rarity value) a G&T, but that's really a one-off whereas a good red wine you can have seconds of, and thirds, and fourths, and fitfs anbd si-... sh- ... wh'ver comsh neksht.

26. Who from high school would you like to run in to?
Run in to as in walking along the pavement, or run in to as in driving a car while he walks along the pavement? Different questions, different answers.

27. What radio station is your car radio tuned to right now?
Classic FM.

28. Sopranos or Desperate Housewives?
Sopranos, because (a) it's the only one I've seen and (b) nothing about Desperate Housewives, from the title onwards, really interests me. If I want more Teri Hatcher in my life then I just watch repeats of Superman.

29. Worst relationship mistake that you wish you could take back?
There is one moment the memory of which makes my toes curl still - but the sheer joy of actually comprehending the scale on which I am loved and forgiven probably means I wouldn't change it. Plus it means I probably won't do it again.

30. Do you like the person that sits directly across from you at work?
I face the window.

31. Have you ever had to use a fire extinguisher for its intended purposes?
Other than the basic training I had to do when I started my present job, no.

32. Last book you finished reading?
Silverfin by Charlie Higson.

33. Do you have a teddy bear?
Only by marriage. I do however retain the Clanger my mother made me following instructions from Valerie Singleton on Blue Peter. He was made out of a grey sock, because we only had b&w TV and didn't know Clangers were meant to be pink. (Technically, as a spherical object orbiting the sun, the planet of the Clangers must have tropics and an equatorial region but observation suggests there are no environmental factors leading to selection of a darker skin in those areas for ultraviolet protection.)

34. Strangest place you have ever brushed your teeth?
Not strange as such, but I do remember getting stuck into it at Knutsford M6 motorway services at 3am, shortly before discovering they turn the water off for the night.

35. Do you go to church?

36. How old are you?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Game plan

Pay attention because I'm going to talk about writing, which I don't often do. At least, not my current writing. Not my actual work in progress stuff.

It weighs on me more with every passing year that there hasn't been a genuine original Ben Jeapes novel published since 2004. And guess what - following yesterday's meeting with my publisher this doesn't look immediately set to change. But there is a renewed sense of purpose in the air, which makes a pleasant change.

I haven't exactly been twiddling my thumbs in the meantime: 3 Vampire Plagues, 2 Midnight Library collections and 3 $INSECT_EATING_TV_GUY ghostwriting gigs bear testimony to this. Time's Chariot was also reissued in 2008, which was nice.

Part of the problem is precisely all that hackwork, which pays bills nicely but gets in the way. I'm happy to be in a position now where I can turn down such offers without regret, unless they pay really well (like $INSECT_EATING_TV_GUY did).

Part of the problem was that when I put the last full stop at the end of New World Order that was the end of the stories that had been burning inside me for years. Thereafter I had to start writing new stuff from scratch rather than just giving voice to pre-existing collections of thoughts. Ideas I can come up with until the cows come home, but plots ... plots! Don't talk to me about plots! Sticking needles in my eyes would be preferable to cudgelling my brains to work out what the £$%& happens next.

So with New World Order out of the way I started on a work which we will call for convenience Untitled Space Opera, or USO. The set-up for USO had been bubbling away for a while but it soon appeared that a satisfactory plot wasn't going to develop, and anyway I had other distractions like getting married and what with one thing and another USO did get finished, after a fashion, but was never really fit for release into the wild. And anyway, in the meantime I had rather gone off space opera so my heart wasn't in it. My heart was in a complete change of direction: taking an old short story of mine, "The Grey People", and stretching it and expanding it backwards and forwards and generally developing in into a novel - a present day urban fantasy set in Salisbury with a present day slightly geeky teenage hero. Called Ted, so call this book Ted1. Even then the plot fairy wasn't entirely beneficent and it did a lot of bouncing back and forth between me and the publisher, who correctly identified a lot of what wasn't working and which lead to a lot of rewriting.

(I mean, a lot. Imagine if Rowling's publishers had said "Well, we like Harry Potter & the Philosopher's Stone but the Philosopher's Stone bit doesn't really work - can you fix it?" That's the kind of lot I mean. Eventually I had to write up a list of scenes, essentially delete anything with $NON_WORKING_ELEMENT and fill in the gaps with added Plot to make it work better. Which it did.)

It was meant to be standalone but a sequel did suggest itself within the last pages, so while Ted1 moldered with the publisher and in between the hackwork I started on Ted2, which is now almost finished. And guess what, it was meant to be standalone but a sequel is suggesting itself so there could well be a Ted3 and I'll have committed trilogy for the first time. But trilogies are good. Trilogies are sellable. I also want to do another alternate history fantasy which we will call N, possibly because that actually is what I might call it anyway.

Cut a long story short, fast forward to yesterday ...

He likes Ted1. A lot. He also thinks it's such a departure from my current track record with Random House that he could buy it but RH wouldn't really be able to do it justice. In a couple of years he might (for currently undisclosable, but good, reasons) be in a position to do better, but not now.

BUT over the last few years USO has also been bubbling at the back of my mind, and it's had a couple of very useful critiques from friends. I now think it's fixable, and what's more we both agree it's more in line with my other titles.

So, I have a game plan! This is exciting and makes me feel all grown-up.
  • Finish Ted2
  • Rework USO
  • Sit on Ted1 pro tem
  • Write N and/or Ted3
  • USO gets published
  • Teds 1, 2 and possibly 3 are published in short order
  • N gets published
This all assumes 1 publisher - it would get more complicated if another publisher were to show an interest in a Ted trilogy, which can't be ruled out if my agent cogitates in that direction. You could probably draw a flowchart but for the time being I'll keep it in my head.

So, there we are and here I am. Onwards!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Not impressed, Vale

From the official Vale of the White Horse literature on Abingdon's new bin system:
"Live in a flat or communal property?
You will still be able to recycle more and have your food waste collected although your new service may not start in October. We will be in touch with you to let you know when the new service will start."
Oh good, I thought, because I live in a flat and the thought of one grey + one green wheelie for each flat all stacked up in a row is just too silly. It will take up too much room. Still, October is getting close and no squeak from them yet; maybe I should drop them a line to ask what service we will be getting instead. A nice automated reply tells me that I will get an answer from the appropriate authority. Oh good, I think, anything but a row of bins, one per flat.

So guess what we come home to today:

Well, that avoids confusion.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

More than MGs and Morlands

Today was Abingdon Heritage Open Day, when the nooks and crannies of our own little hometown are opened up to the public gaze. It's the kind of thing a future Neil Gaiman could write a story about to flex his muscles before going on to write something like Neverwhere.

Descend into the very bowels of the earth beneath the town hall ...

... and encounter a Mamod enthusiast's wildest dream, the gas-powered engine that used to pump water to north Abingdon. "North" being, of course, a relative term that nowadays could more accurately be described as "central" - the Vineyard, St John's Road, Swinburne Road, that sort of area.

Sadly not working or even moving, though apparently that will change after the forthcoming museum restoration. This was one of the few solid facts to pass the lips of the lady guide down there, who must have said variations on "I don't know how / why / if ..." more times per minute than any other guide I have ever met.

Onwards, and a more mobile relative of the water pump lurks beneath the Abbey archway. Anyone who knows me more than passingly well will detect another reason for photographing it. Anyone who doesn't will be left dangling in tantalising speculation.

The Abbey Baptist church is Tardis-like, much bigger inside than the exterior would suggest. The main doors rather appropriately follow the Tardis motif.

(Unfortunately, this visit meant I had a variant on a classic hymn going through my head for the rest of the day:
"On Jordan's bank the Baptists cry;
If I were Baptist so would I.
They do not drink, they have no fun,
I'd rather be an Anglican.")
Behind the Abbey buildings and on the other side of the Long Gallery lurks this secluded little garden, backing onto the millstream which is far too dirty and obscured by overgrowth to be worth photographing.

An exhibition in the undercroft includes a vital reference map for any (alternative) historian of what the old Abbey layout might actually have looked like. I can see myself coming back to this.

Lunchtime beckoned and so we thought we would leave the attractions of East St Helens Street and the Long Alley Almshouse for the afternoon, which as it turns out with one thing and another will have to be another day in another year. Instead we wondered home via the Abingdon School chapel. Some quite attractive modern stained glass ...

... and an eagle lectern apparently modelled on Sam the American Eagle.

Don't say you can't see it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?

My no. 1 favourite American clergyman of all time is our former vicar. My least favourite is still Fred Phelps, I think (hey, everyone should have a list like this) but pasta-brained Terry Jones has shot to the penultimate position. Both have a lot in common, not least a total absence of anything in their ministry that resembles something Jesus Christ would be proud to see his disciples doing. (Edited to add: this will change if TJ actually backs down, turns the other cheek etc. which actually would be vaguely Christlike.)

I confess I have now lost track as to whether or not Jones intends to proceed with his burn-a-Koran-day plan tomorrow. I think he has, too. Anyway, people seem to have forgotten, or probably not noticed, that Phred was apparently way ahead of him back in 2008 (there's a link on his, ahem, "church"'s site: if you're curious enough you can find it but I ain't putting it here) and intends to repeat the stunt himself. Never try to outshow a showman.

Back to Jonesy: what has been so repellent about the whole thing has been watching this vile little man - well, little in every conceivable way except for his moustache - relishing his position as the cameras of the world turn on him and even the President of the United States has to ask him not to, please. The scale of his self-delusion and aggrandisement is staggering, really; imagining that he is now a world player, able to affect the siting of the New York mosque at the cost of a few hundred ordinary lives - which won't be his fault, no sir, no. Even Phred isn't quite that big-headed, but only because he has officially given up on the entire world except for his congregation and has no intention of trying to influence anyone.

There is however a Facebook group apparently run by Muslims: INTERNATIONAL BURN A QUR'AN (onto a CD) DAY. Nice one.

Back to Jones again and, ooh, scripture: that reminds me. I can do that. 1 Corinthians 10.23. Also, Matthew 7.22-23, and since I'm in the zone a bit of Romans 12.17-21. So there.

Shame Obama couldn't just stand up and rattle those off. Bartlet would have. He's my no. 1 favourite American President, you know.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Guess who's back on Facebook?

I don't know how it happened. Well, okay, I do. A confluence of influences. Influence conflued.

Apart from the general grumpy old mannish acceptance that it really isn't going to go away no matter how hard I ignore it ...
  1. A friend (real-world meaning) whose blog I enjoyed reading, but which hasn't been updated for months, admitted he's pretty well given it up and now just uses Facebook. So if even intelligent people regard Facebook above all others, and there's a whole generation out there who wouldn't think of looking for me anywhere else, and I am (as ever) poised on the brink of worldwide fame ... that's where to be.
  2. And then another friend (also real-world meaning) tells me he's said something online that, from the nature of our real-world meaning friendship, I know I'll find interesting, but it's on Facebook ...
... and that was what did it. I just sort of slipped in. Being a Gmail user, I clicked on his message and found myself being invited to join up through my Google account. So I did. And then it kindly read my contacts list and showed me all the ones who are also on Facebook. Maybe I would like to invite them to be friends? (Well, maybe they already are, so nyah. And in some cases, maybe I would pay money not to be friends with them but I still need them in the contacts list. This is grown-up life, children: the ying and yang, push and shove, give and take, awareness that we live in a world where all is not sweetness and light and it sometimes just pays to smile and be polite - deep, adult concepts a world away from the pimple-ridden adolescents who designed Facebook in the first place. [No offence intended to any pimple-ridden adolescents reading this, who will be real-world-meaning friends and therefore lovely by definition.])

So, here I am. It's a clean break with the past - a new account as opposed to reactivating my old one. I let the old one get out of control. This one I will keep a tighter grip on and just use as a means to guide people to more erudite pensées such as this. It means I'm no longer the first Ben Jeapes on Facebook ... well, technically I suppose I am since that account is still there, just dormant. But anyway. And any former Facebook friends - is there another way of saying this? ffriends, with a silent eff? Well there is now - any former ffriends who want to stay ffriends will have to renew the invite, though I won't just blindly accept invitations from anyone; there are people I can live without being ffriends with even if they happen to be friends. No offence, just ... you know. And if you don't know, learn.

Onwards with the big adventure ... and I'll try to ignore Twitter. Really, really hard.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


So we got a letter from persons acting on behalf of our electricity supplier, bzztpower PLC, saying they needed to replace our meter. I know from previous attempts to do this that our meter and the meters of our neighbours above and below are connected in a stack with ours at the top, so disconnecting us will also disconnect them. So, I let them know the work is going to happen: you're getting a 20 minute power cut on Wednesday morning. Any problems? Excellent.

Meter Man arrives. We turn off everything in the flat. He mounts his ladder. He gets to work on the collection of meters in the porch. He removes a very large fusey type thing. Downstairs Neighbour sticks his head out of the door and shouts that his equipment is smoking. I can't see his face in the gloom of the hall and assume he's joking.

He isn't ...

It's not only smoking, it's smoking quite excitingly: clouds of strangely clear white smoke as if someone inside is spraying out very fine talc. Playstation, TV, laptop all fritzed.

Supervisor is called, from Somerset via Reading so I'm impressed by how soon he arrives. Eventually establishes that not only are the meters wired up in series, they're also non-compliant. Rather than each having a neutral feed of their own, they share a single neutral feed that goes through all three meters. This is the kind of thing frowned upon by the better class of meter man, as disconnecting the neutral feed from our flat therefore also removed it from the other two flats and they got the full blast of 415 volts. Top flat has a breaker which immediately tripped (astonishing; last year's East European cowboys that caused us so much entertainment and diversion did something right) and so the flat was protected, but downstairs flat started tripping in quite another way. And if Meter Man had touched the end of the neutral feed, he too would have started smoking; at least, in the brief period of contact before he got thrown thirty feet away, but his passage through the air would probably have extinguished any flames.

NotNorthernLeccy, who supply the other two flats, are called as our guy isn't allowed to open up another supplier's meter and together they make a go at rewiring the whole meter caboodle, before working out that they're outclassed by the needs of the wiring. To cut a long story short, after much head scratching and discussion, we will need a local electrician to do quite a bit of rewiring (the meter guys only do meters), plus representatives from bzztpower and NotNorthernLeccy to rewire the meters, and this will all need to happen on the same day, starting quite early, if it's all going to be done during hours of warmth and daylight. Meanwhile the insurance companies of bzztpower and NotNorthernLeccy are expected to have a pleasant game of pingpong with Downstairs Neighbour's claim for the slagged gear. Fun, fun, fun.

It occurs to me that plumbers might get cold and wet sometimes, but they would have to try very hard to die just by touching the wrong pipe.