Archive for the ‘Random wifflings’ Category

Nine Worlds

Posted: August 12, 2015 in Random wifflings
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Me, with a big sword.

It’s been one hell of a hectic week, so only now am I jotting down my thoughts on Nine Worlds, held 7-9th August at the Radisson Blu in Heathrow.

The first thing I’ll say is that morning of the Friday I looked out of the window at glorious sunshine and thought “Crap, the first good weekend for weeks, and I’ll be in a hotel!” After which, I was stuck in a car for nigh on five hours. Such troubles we must bear in this world of ours.

Aside from that (and I got to sit in the sun plenty anyway, so it’s all good), Nine Worlds was great fun. I managed to hit exactly none of their very comprehensive and fascinating array of panels, apart from the one I was taking part in. I did try to go to Lewis Dartnell’s talk on his book The Knowledge (great book, highly recommended) but I was confronted by a “Room Full” sign. I did however make the Gemmell awards, formally attired in camo shorts (boy did I feel underdressed), and had fascinating chat with the men of Raven Armoury, who make the replic of Snaga the axe that serves as a Gemmell trophy – the world’s heaviest, not to say deadliest, genre award!

I plan to go to a few conventions this year. Over the last few I’ve done several Black Library and Games Workshop events, but nothing else. I’ve wanted to, believe me. I still maintain that conventions are the best way for a writer to get a bit of recognition. Sure, not many people are likely to buy your books off meeting you (perhaps it may even dissuade them), but appearing at cons helps establish you in the minds of potential readers as a genuine author. There’s less chance of the immediate, widespread publicity of the social media jackpot, but as I noted a few weeks ago, that’s a hard jackpot to hit, and the relationship you can build with your potential audience is deeper.

The secondary reason for attending cons is to renew contacts and make new ones. There is no better place to meet publishers, agents, and authors, whether you’re in the industry or not. Handy for me – three of my four publishers were there, so I had to buy very few of my own drinks. Lastly, I went to hang out with my buddies and make some new ones. After many chats, I’ll say check out gamebook guru Jonathan Green’s latest Kickstarter – a dark version of Alice in Wonderland, and have a look at Nunslinger, a western written by Stark Holborn. Both piqued my interest.

My experience of conventions is restricted to my days on SFX, when I attended many. But I’d only been to a couple of Games Days before then, and I’ve never really attended SF cons purely as a punter. This one seemed better organised, more inclusive, and further ranging than most; more about the intellectual meat of SF and fantasy than about standing in line for four hours to pay an actor £20 for an autograph. There’s none of that there. It’s a more workshop-y, discursive style of event than an excuse for fan worship.

So, all in all, an awesome time was had. While Benny and Emma headed off to town to look at dinosaurs, I got pissed up and had a blast. Thank you very much for having me, Nine Worlds, I’d love to come again. And next time, I’ll be carefully reviewing your multiple strands and planning in advance what I’m going to see.

Next stop, Fantasycon!

Ant-ognising Ant Man

Posted: August 3, 2015 in Random wifflings, Reviews
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Arf! Man I crack myself up.

I went to see Ant Man on Friday. This isn’t a review. I enjoyed it, except for the selfish bastard at the back who kept up a witless running commentary all the way through and was too many rows back for me to physically assault. I HATE talking in the cinema. I don’t even allow talking during films at home, so I might have an issue.

Ant Man almost didn’t work for me. It’s funny, it’s peppy, it has that well played comedy/nail-biting Thomas the Tank Engine fight at the climax. As so many others have said, it wisely scales down the superhero action from the world-endangering to the personal. It does all the things Marvel movies do well.

Here’s why it didn’t almost work for me: the science. So the science in all superhero movies is patently raging bollocks, but they work because ordinarily just enough hand-wavium is offered to present a narrative explanation. They don’t work when they then contradict themselves, even tangentially.

If you’ve read my review of Pacific Rim, this century’s most risible blockbuster (well, apart from the last part of the Hobbit), you’ll know it annoys my writerly brain cells when a story sets out something as a reason, then goes against it. In Ant Man it is the mechanism of shrinking. This is entirely un-possible, so any explanation would do. But the film makes the error of coming up with something nearly plausible.

Ant Man shrinks because Doctor Pym found a way of collapsing the spaces between atoms. Cool idea, right? Then we’re told that a miniaturised human maintains the same mass, but at a much greater density, hence the devestating nature of their punches. Awesome!

But, er, if Ant Man still weighs 200 pounds, how can a flying ant carry him? How does he not break the fragile things he’s bouncing around on? Come to think of it, how does he even move?

Problem one, right there. Problem two, if only the atomic spacing is being compressed and not the matter of the atoms themselves, how can he shrink forever, and fall into the subatomic world?

I know, I know. Best not think of this stuff at all, but the movie made me think of it by offering a half-believable explanation. Bad move. The Incredible Shrinking Man did this better by saying, “radiation did it, get over it, we’re moving along here”.

Otherwise, fun.

Up to Galloway

Posted: June 10, 2015 in Random wifflings
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We don’t get many holidays, mostly because of my lawyer wife’s crazy working hours. But we were lucky enough to go to Scotland to stay with my cousin on Monday 25th May. After an incredibly stressful journey (cracked windscreen, near accident, open door on the motorway) we spent two brilliant nights up in Galloway. Benny caught his first fish (a pike!) we went to the seaside and did a spot of grass sledging.

Anyway, the reason for this is not to tell you the tedious ins and outs of my life, but to furnish you with the latest in my exhilarating series of pictures of rocks on hills. Here’s Benny at Bruce’s Stone in Glen Trool, a memorial to Robert the Bruce’s victory there over the English in 1307. This time, we had to make do with a short hike, but we’ll scale the hills on our next visit. Still, a fine day out.

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Small Viking, medium rock, big glen.

 


This Sunday gone (26th April), Benny and I ascended Blackstone Edge. My boy’s quite a hardy little walker, although I suppose he doesn’t really have much choice, and he had a great time clambering over the rocks on the summit. He only had one meltdown about how far we had to go, about normal for him. Once he gets over that, he genuinely can go for miles at some speed. In fact, he insists on running large stretches of our walks.

I’d been on my good pal Jes Bickham’s stag-do the night before and had consumed prodigious quantities of booze. So a walk up a wind-blasted hill was just the ticket to reinvigorate my half-poisoned organism.

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The summit of the ridge looking Northwest. The trigonometry point is visible to the right. The dark hill in the far distance is Pendle Hill, about 15 miles away. At 557m it’s the tallest hill in the area, and a candidate for genuine mountainhood.

Blackstone Edge is a high ridge topped by large millstone grit formations. I’ve never been up there, despite growing up in the area. Here the Pennines plunge dramatically down to the Lancashire/Cheshire plain, and you can see for miles. All the towns from Littleborough to Manchester are laid out like models, and in the distance is the grey band of the Welsh mountains. To the north the height of hills round Calderdale obscure the view, but you can see far south into the Peak District. The Pennines stretch off like broken teeth, giving one a firm impression of geographical decrepitude. In these brown stumps are the memories of long dead mountains.

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This is the view to the Southwest. The hills pretty much just stop here, plunging three hundred metres straight down to the plain. Blackstone Edge is 447 metres tall, and affords fantastic views. Hollingworth Lake and Littleborough are in the foreground. Rochdale beyond. If you click on the picture to enlarge it you can see on the horizon a dark bar in the haze. That’s Wales, well over 65 miles away.

This was our second attempt to climb the hill. The first time we were blasted back by a frigid wind that tortured our gloveless hands. A foolish oversight on my part, as I should have known better. The weather in the valleys has been unseasonably clement, and tricked me. Blackstone Edge is, however, terribly exposed, very high and therefore bloody freezing.

If you fancy going yourself, park by the White House pub off the A58. The walk to the top is around three miles. As a note of further interest, there’s an old paved road on the way. For many years this was believed to be Roman, but it’s now believed to be a packhorse route or turnpike dating from the early 18th century.

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A bold six-year-old explorer freezing his nuts off on Sunday 19th April as he surveys the lands of Lancashire. After restorative sausage rolls by the old road, we were forced to turn back for base camp.

Happy springtime

Posted: April 10, 2015 in Random wifflings

It’s spring! Blossom on the trees, lambs in the fields, the chatter of birds in the woods and heather, the sun showing his happy smiley face. Predictably, I’ve been miserable. My misery won’t last long, indeed it passes already. Tis only a black cloud that momentarily obscures the shining brilliance of my cheerful personality (note: this is irony). The end of winter always kills me. I love the cold weather, but four months of DARK gets too much, and by the end I am an embittered, scowly-faced hobgoblin that wants to stay in its hole, nurse its beer and spit curses at the world. Some people who know me well might say that’s me anyway. True, but only half the time. Generally, I’m that most peculiar of creatures, a misanthropic extrovert. It’s like being a bloody werewolf, honestly. This time of the year I am the goblin most of the time. So I’ve been sulkily away from the internets, plotting the downfall of the surface folk from the cold comforts of my damp, earthern cave. I don’t think my work patterns help much, all that sitting alone. And it may be that after producing fourteen novels worth of material in five years I have burned myself out a bit. But in truth, this post-winter misery used to be lots worse back in my genuine crazy-ass days (I’ll get round to writing about that). Still, as the sun burns off my entirely self-indulgent woe, I return to you now. And I bring you this by Chuck Wendig, about why so many writers’ blogs are bobbins, including, I fear, this one. I should follow his advice. I intermittently do, when I can’t be bothered. Today is not one of those days.


Terry Pratchett had a big influence on me; reading his work was one of the prods that poked me in the direction of the career I now have, so I’m going to join my voice to that of the rest of the world and mourn his passing.

I remember first being exposed to Sir Terry’s work by reading an excerpt back in the 1980s in White Dwarf. The scene was the one featuring the gnome in moleskin trousers (The Light Fantastic, I think. Aficionados may know better, please set me right if it was The Colour of Magic). I picked up his first two Discworld books on the back of that, and for several years read everything he wrote. Eventually I moved on, simply because I wanted to experience other authors’ voices and worlds. But years after, when I read some of his later books, I was delighted to see that they retained their quality and wit. He did not seem to grow tired or jaded with Discworld, it was an engine of endless creativity and satire, and in that it seemed to be as much a source of delight to him as it was to his readers. (more…)