Monday, March 28, 2011

And so it begins

And bidding is open! Bids are placed in the comments box at the end of each item and bidding runs through until Sunday night.

To remind you, you can bid for TIME'S CHARIOT (US hardback edition) here ...

...or, there's plenty more sfnal goodness to bid on too.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Genre for Japan

Nerds for Nippon! Scifi for Samurai! Shpaceships for Shinto. Or in this case Genre for Japan. Many worthies of the sf&f field, and also me, are auctioning off sundry goodies in aid of the good people of Japan. In my case it's a signed copy of the US hardback of TIME'S CHARIOT. Get bidding, people. In fact, go to and get bidding lots.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Day 30: a picture of someone you miss

Bruno, 1984-1998. This is a fairly typical picture. "Why yes, I'm perfectly comfortable, thanks for-... Sorry, you want to what? So why can't you just use your own spit like everyone else? Freak."

He's been gone for almost as long as he was here, but still occasionally missed, especially those times I'm tucking into something I know he would have liked and I feel the voice in my head saying, "Please note, I am indicating the precise position on the floor where you should place your plate; why yes, it is right in front of me now you mention it, kthx."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Day 29: a picture that can always make you smile

Yes, it's Alan Rickman. Rickman himself is not always guaranteed to make me smile - though many moments in the movie from which this picture is taken will have that effect. No, it's his part in Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells II that does it. On the original Tubular Bells, each instrument was introduced by Vivian Stanshall, who frankly to me always sounds a bit like he's putting it on. (This is probably heresy in some quarters, but Stanshall and indeed the entire Bonzo Dog Doodah Band were just a bit too aware that they were wild and whacky and therefore funny.) On Tubular Bells II, that role falls to Mr Rickman, and whatever mood I'm in, and no matter how many times I've heard it before, hearing his bored drawl utter "Grand piano ..." always, yes, makes me smile.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Day 28: a picture of something you're afraid of

I give you the triumph of dogma over truth. Reaction ranges from minor irritation to pants-wetting terror, depending on who is displaying it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Clearly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty

Dropped Bonusbarn off at the station this morning so he could head off to $Welsh_city_where_they_film_Torchwood for an interview. For peace of mind I’m trying to forget that last night we had a conversation which included the words, "oh, is it by the sea?"

And of course it makes me remember my own experiences all those years ago ... 1983 to be precise. Philosophy & Politics at Warwick. I stayed overnight in Coventry at a b&b, watched Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence at the cinema (I was the only one in the auditorium; staff kept trying to sell me the benefits of the other movies available) and arrived for my interview half an hour late, though it was the correct time as shown on the letter they had sent me. Thus I got the interview but missed out on the campus tour offered to other applicants, so afterwards I wandered around for a couple of hours on my own, on a drizzly grey November day.

While I was a-wandering, they were considering my answers to the test questions they set to check to confirm that the candidate is suitably philosophically minded. Apparently they used to set questions based on Bertrand Russell but no one dared contradict him, so the questions were now more general. There were at least two, which I can remember.
  1. You are walking in the woods and you come across a dead animal in a trap. It obviously died slowly and in much pain. You think what a bad thing this was. Would it have been a bad thing if you hadn’t come along and found it?

  2. Person A says, "birds can fly, you cannot fly, therefore you are not a bird." Person B replies, "birds cannot understand logic, I cannot understand logic, therefore I am a bird." Discuss.
And all he had to look forward to was a team-building exercise. Hah, kids today.

Must ask if he learned how to pronounce Cyncoed.

Day 25: a picture of your day

I really wasn't sure what to put for this so I went for my lunchtime walk to think about it, and saw some guys taking down the fence to the nuclear licensed site boundary, a.k.a. the several acres of empty fenced off wasteland in the centre of the campus that is what I generally walk around at lunchtime. Well, I thought, that makes my day, which is close enough.

I have now stood inside the nuclear licensed site boundary. Because I could.

Unkind theories have been expressed in the office that they are sending the fence off to Japan, hoping it will do as good a job in blocking the radiation there as it has obviously done here all these years.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Day 24: a picture of something you wish you could change

I would like to change the speed of light, or failing that, the fact that you can't go faster than it. I find this fact quite serially inconvenient.

What I love about this shot, incidentally, is Han and Chewie's total non-reaction to what is happening outside. Han doesn't even look up until after the effect begins, a bit like a driver might pull away from the kerb before properly looking at the road ahead. In reality this could be because both actors were staring at a blue screen beyond the cockpit windows - but in terms of the story it underlines just how unspectacular and normal a hyperspace jump is.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Day 23: a picture of your favourite book

Well, there were so many to choose from and even after much thought I might not have hit on my absolute dead favourite of all time, assuming such a creature exists anyway. But this is certainly up there at the very highest levels of the Top Arbitrary Number.

It's certainly my favourite of all the Narnias. I remember the thrill my infant mind felt when it worked out the concept of a prequel from first principles. That's the white witch! They're in Narnia! (The presence of the lion was a bit of a clue there.) So that's where the wardrobe came from ...

Also, the creation of Narnia is one of the most beautiful passages in fantasy fiction ever, and the fact that much, if not most, of it is set in the real world - even the real world of 100 years ago - also gives it that much more resonance.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Day 22: a picture of something you wish you were better at

Is no contest. I wish I was better at this. Not necessarily as good as John Williams, but ... better. I started learning around 1994 or 1995, and then rather foolishly stopped, or that is to say, very wisely gave my priority to writing. So I could have been quite good by now, if I'd stuck at it. As it is I've probably even forgotten "Polly Wolly Doodle" and "Michael, row the boat ashore."

However I can remember how to do my favourite chord, which is E minor and always makes me think of Ennio Morricone.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Day 21: a picture of something you wish you could forget

This was hard because I'm not in favour of forgetting. Even moments of my life that have been sheer hell on earth have helped me to be better after.

I thought of those videos of yesterday's tsunami ... but no, that should never be forgotten for the same reason that schoolkids for the next 1000 years and beyond should be made to watch Schindler's List.

And then I thought of ... no, not the Chicken Song specifically, but every single irritating earworm that has ever got into my head and kept me awake until 4 in the morning. The kind of thing that the Chicken Song lampooned, in other words.

In the interests of full disclosure I should probably mention that I too bought a copy of this when it came out. Much funnier was the B-side, I've never met a nice South African.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Day 20: a picture of somewhere you'd love to travel

To stand on the edge of the Valles Marineris. To descend into the caldera of Olympus Mons. To explore those caves that got picked up from orbit a couple of years ago. To wave into the camera of the Opportunity rover and go "cooee!" ...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Day 19: a picture and a letter

I'm not quite sure what today's challenge means so I'm reinterpreting it. Here is a picture of many letters, and they're all rejections. After I graduated I knew I wanted a job in publishing ... somehow, somewhere. And so I bought a copy of the Writer’s & Artist’s Yearbook and sprayed letters at every publisher I could find. For future inspiration and to give myself the occasional giggle, I kept the collection.

Some are actually typewritten, which is a real trip down memory lane.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Day 18: a picture of your biggest insecurity

Yup, drinking coffee. No but seriously.

I am getting there. I no longer feel the occasional disagreement means that the divorce court is the next inevitable step; in fact I never believed it was. I went into marriage with full knowledge of the statistics, but also the knowledge that while most people still stay married, most don't get a book published, and I accomplished that so how much more likely is staying happily married?

Shame insecurities are not rational.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Day 17: a picture of something that has made a huge impact on your life recently

The fact that I now work in marketing has made a considerable impact and overall I feel it's for the good. I appreciate the new sense of drive and purpose, and the amount of writing required of me at work has tripled, if not more.

Meanwhile ...

Monday, March 07, 2011

Day 16: a picture of someone who inspires you

Juan Carlos Alfonso Víctor María de Borbón y Borbón-Dos Sicilias, a.k.a. King Juan Carlos of Spain. He inspires me greatly.

Spain today is a surprisingly stable constitutional monarchy and a Parliamentary democracy. For forty years, overlapping well into my lifetime, it was a fascist dictatorship. However throughout that time it was officially a monarchy, the king having been overthrown in the 1930s, and Franco carefully groomed the heir to the throne as his personal heir. When Franco died, Juan Carlos took over with all the powers of the former dictator.

Which he then proceeded to give away. Within two years, elections to a new parliament; within seven years, a socialist government, and an attempted coup en route which failed largely because the king publicly announced support for the legitimate powers that be.

It can be argued that even if he had tried to keep the dictatorship, he would have failed; the time for those things had passed in Europe. Spain now would probably be a republic, eventually democratic after a lot more blood and tears. But that happened peacefully and without tears, except for maybe a few on the far right sobbing into their sangria, but who cares.

What a guy.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Day 15: a picture of something you want to do before you die

This actually kills two birds with one stone, because that is (of course) the ISS in the foreground, and behind it, less obviously, New Zealand - both places I would like to visit.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Day 14: a picture of someone you could never imagine your life without

Okay, I dodged the bullet a few days ago but now it catches up with me. I simply cannot imagine not being Christian. And believe me, I've tried. Too much has happened to me in a strictly subjective, non-predictable or reproducible and hence strictly non-scientific way for it to be otherwise.

Y'see, this is the point the Blessed Dawkins and his ilk simply cannot get. They think all Christians are ultimately credulous fools and if only they could Have the Truth Explained then they would abandon their primitive superstitions and be happy and released. It never occurs to them that our beliefs might actually have been thought through and weighed against the evidence, and that while Dawkins et al argue from theory, we argue from experience.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Day 13: a picture of your favourite band or artist

Problematic, as it's hard to get a decent picture of Sky, especially from the time when Francis Monkman was in the line-up, which was when they produced their second and best album. So here's my second favourites, Genesis.

Sky (and to a lesser extent Genesis) were my gateway into decent modern music, taking me out of the commercial comfort zone of the charts and into new unexplored territory. I was familiar with Bach's 'Toccata' as it was a staple of the chapel's voluntary repertoire, and then I heard Sky's version – fast, pacy, with synths and electric guitar and a thunderous drum beat. This was pop, but a pop version of an accepted classical staple, and one of the group was a world-famous classical guitarist,so that made it okay. And while I have always instinctively shied away the hip and trendy, even when I was in my teens, these guys were ancient. I mean, they must have been at least in their thirties. (By which age, incidentally, Genesis were completely off the boil.) So that all made it even more okay.

I saw Sky's Westminster Abbey performance in aid of Amnesty International on TV and was intrigued enough to buy their second album, the impenetrably named Sky2. This remains the best of their albums, for its sheer quantity of material and its variety: 'Toccata' and classical guitar duets and a six minute harpsichord solo by Francis Monkman ('Gavotte & Variations') and a piece played entirely by drummer Tristan Fry on various percussion instruments ('Tristan's Magic Garden') and the humorous little squib of 'Tuba Smarties' by Herbie Flowers and heavy, pounding electric guitars ('Fifo', 'Vivaldi') that wouldn't be out of place at a prog rock gig. Sky were also the first group I saw play live, one night at the Bristol Hippodrome.

Further Sky facts: my present CEO was involved in the production of the Westminster Abbey performance, and tells me that one of the band claimed to have been the first man ever to smoke a joint in the organ box. Possibly an optimistic claim, I don't know. I also gather one of the band subsequently did jail time for getting over-creative in the accounts needed to keep his recording studio going. See, they're bad boys after all.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Day 12: a picture of something you love

I love the gnocchi bolognese recipe we got off a card from Waitrose.

Paraphrased, the instructions on the back say:
  • 500g beef mince
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic (aka lots)
  • 250g mushrooms, chopped / sliced
  • 440g jar tomato and herb pasta sauce
  • 500g gnocchi (potato is best)
  • 350g tub cheese sauce
  • 50g grated mozzarella, or whatever tickles your fancy.
1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C / gas mark 4. Fry beef, onion and garlic until onion starts to soften.

2. Stir in mushrooms and cook for a further 5-6 mins until meat is browned. Pour the pasta sauce over, bring to the boil, season with black pepper, then cover and simmer for 15 mins.

3. Meanwhile cook the gnocchi according to packet instructions. Drain well.

4. Spoon half the Bolognese mixture into an ovenproof dish. Top with the gnocchi. Add the remaining Bolognese mixture, spoon the cheese sauce over the top, sprinkle with the mozzarella/whatever.

5. Bake on the top shelf for 30-35 minutes. Serve with salad and an excellent red wine.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Day 11: a picture of something you hate


I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate people using the fact that I'm a writer to start conversations. I know, I know, they're just trying to make small talk, they're not really interested in the answer, it's all part of the glorious round of social interaction ... but fer crying out loud, if you want small talk, talk about the weather.

I will gladly talk about my writing to an audience likely to understand the subtexts. Someone in the know will probably ask "what are you writing on" or "what is your current project", which is very different. That has scope for a meaningful answer.

But this ... this, quite innocently (I understand that, which is why I don't thump them) suggests something that means so much to me is but a dilettante hobby. The questions are so clueless, so utterly without understanding of the basic facts; our starting points are so far apart there can be no hope for reconciliation within the context of small talk.

"Are you still writing?" Why, yes. Are you still breathing? The answer is ALWAYS. Why can't you get that into your head?

"How's the writing?" Fine, thanks. How's the marriage?

"Have you written any more books?" This is the one that so gets me. Would you ask an architect if he's built any more houses? A mother if she's had any more babies ... since you saw her last week? In the popular imagination, books just slide out like wet concrete off a trowel, at about the same rate as Ernie Wise churned out plays. There is no conception that if you asked this question last week and ask it again today then chances are good that nothing will have changed. It takes time to write a book.

Rant over. For now.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Day 10: a picture of the person you do the most ****** up things with

Why hello there!

I try not to ****** up things at all, but when I do **** up it tends to be a fully collaborative and cooperative effort between me, myself and I. So.