Facts and Fictions


Uninvited Guests rough v2

I’ve done a couple of pieces of very rough concept art for the comic I’m planning. This is version two, done yesterday. Version one is below.

Obviously, I’ve got a lot of work to do. The monster isn’t going to be the clunky lupine thing in the second drawing, nor the flat black one in the first. I think I need to get to planning some layouts, and letting them suggest how to have it sneak into full view over a few pages.

Uninvited Guests rough v1

I’m being censored! Censored, I say!

Anyone who isn’t buying and reading all my books is complicit in the ongoing censorship of my awesome ideas, and should be ashamed of themselves. It’s my absolute right to sell millions of books, and you’re infringing my rights by not doing your part.

I exaggerate, of course, but I’m only a little leap of illogic from some of the cries of ‘Censorship!’ that have been raised since Virgin West Coast announced they won’t be selling the Daily Mail on their trains. It’s nonsense, of course, but proclaiming their victimhood when people are no longer going to take their shit is a very right wing thing to do.

The ‘newspaper’* is still going to be on sale at other shops, presumably even ones on the station, and, as far as I can see, no-one’s stopping people displaying their narrow-mindedness by reading the rag on VWC trains. Virgin made a commercial decision. They barely sell any Daily Fails anyway, and were reacting to complaints.

The corner shop nearest to me stocks only tabloids. I don’t for a minute think they’re censoring the Guardian, Times and Telegraph. I live in the sort of area where broadsheets aren’t commonly read. They’re stocking what they will sell, not making political or ideological statements.

The Daily Mail is, sadly, the largest source of opinion dressed up as news. The paper has railed against all manner of far less offensive material over the years, and practically led a campaign to have Channel 4 closed down. They’re not about to collapse because they’ve lost a dozen or so sales on Virgin trains. But they can see that this decision is another example of a significant shift in public opinion against them, and they’re scared that it’s getting harder for them to get away with their bullying and obsessing over the bodies of women and girls. Which is a good thing.

[But, seriously people, why aren’t you buying my books? It’s a terrible constraint upon my freedom to be a millionaire author. I say it’s your civic duty to pick up a copy of Sounds of Soldiers, Northern Gorehouse, or any of the other great (if I say it, it must be true) books by myself or Garth Owen.]

*I don’t know whether it deserves the title, if I’m honest.

Lever Street

Lever Street 060118

Amongst this year’s plans is a comic, so I’m going to get more sketching done, to boost my confidence with pencil, pen and brush. I fully intend to improve, and this is here as much to provide a reference to check against at the end of the year as anything else.

The drawing was done in the coffee shop across from (and slightly to one side of) the building depicted. I’d have put in more details, but the windows steamed up and obscured my view.

Meet the New Year, just like the Old Year?

Well, we made it out of 2017. Which is nice.

I’m trying to imagine that we’ve now entered the third act of a bizarre tragi-comedy. 2016 was the first act, where a bunch of really bad decisions were made. 2017 showed the first effects of those decisions, and signposted potential future horrors, but it also signalled the beginnings of resistance. 2018, hopefully, is when the resistance begins to undo the damage, and gives us signs of a more positive future.

One can hope.

I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions. But I have a few aims. I had begun to hit a work rhythm that combined my freelance job with writing and other creative work, but that got disrupted in the weeks before Christmas. I’m going to try to get back into it this week.

Cycling is something I’ve been doing less of in the last few years. That’s another thing I hope to do more of.

And I’ve not been experimenting with food as much, either. So more of what I call Collision Cooking is called for. In fact, I managed tp start the year with a little bit of it.

Some of Christmans was spent in Cumbria, which meant I got to have Rum Butter for the first time in years. It’s basically alcoholic, coarse grained, butter icing, and is more-ish in that way all the least healthy foods are. As a last bit of Christmassy decadence, I had some on my porridge this morning, instead of honey.

And it was nice. The butter melted, and added a rich creaminess which was a nice counter to the dark richness of the brown sugar and rum. I’ve still got about three quarters of a jar of it left, so it’ll be appearing on porridge in the future, when i really want to spoil myself.

So, I’ve begun the year in one way I intend to go on, as well as getting some (but not enough) writing done.. Tomorrow, I’ll try to get a few more started

Minor Birthday

“Happy Minor Birthday.” Seth held his shot glass up over the table.

Frankie raised her glass and clinked it against Seth’s. “One day, soon, I’m going to make you stop forcing me to celebrate this.” she said, wincing at the clumsiness of her declaration. They knocked back the spirits, throats burning and lips strangely numbed.

“Never! You’re a first. A trail blazer! A miracle! A….” Usually, Seth had to be much more drunk before he started describing her birth in these terms.


“Not a freak. Never a freak. I mean, look at all the bag babies there are now. All those preemies who wouldn’t have lived before you. And you, the first of them.”

“The first to survive. All the ones before me died. There’s a reason my middle name’s Miracle. I know they would all have died anyway, they were so premature. But I have to wonder how I survived and they didn’t. Sometimes I imagine their ghosts looking at me, all angry because I got out alive and they didn’t.” Frankie turned her shot glass over and tapped the table top with it. “What is this stuff? Why’s it filling me with melancholy and misery?”

“It’s one of Will’s concoctions. He gave me the shots free for feedback. Wants to make up a batch and sell it across the bar. You don’t like it?”

“Maybe I’m just not in the mood. I need brandy.”

Seth turned in his seat and leaned on the bar. Will spotted him immediately, and navigated his way around the bar staff. “Well?” he asked.

Frankie unrolled her phone and checked her messages. She didn’t want to give her opinion on the drink. Seth’s hand waggled in the air, the wavering sign for so-so. Will hid his disappointment well. “Double brandy, and a pint of the Earl Grey lager, please.”

“Dinesh is stuck on a tram. Everyone else says they’ll be here in the next half hour or so.” Frankie told Seth when he put the tumbler of dark gold liquid down before her.

“Including the dishy Darius?”

Frankie blushed. “Can we not mention the Minor Birthday thing to him. I haven’t told him yet.”

“If he’s with the others, one of them will have blabbed already. And I may, maybe, have already mentioned it’s your Minor Birthday when I invited him. Just the name, not the full, gory explanation.” Seth turned to pick up his lager, avoiding her glare.

“Fucking wonderful. Everybody wants to know all about the procedure when they find out. ‘You were taken out of your mother’s womb how many months early?’ ‘Are those bags really see-through? Could you see the lab you were grown in?’ ‘What was it like?’” The voice Frankie put on got squeakier with each question. She picked up the tumbler and swirled the brandy around.

She wasn’t angry at Seth. He meant well. Sooner or later, with everyone she met, the subject of her birth came up. Everyone was interested in the process. Too many had an opinion on the ethics of bringing a baby to term in an artificial womb when they wouldn’t survive in their mother’s. The worst were the ones who thought she needed protecting.

Seth had a smile, that annoying one that meant he knew something she didn’t. “What?”

“Oh, nothing. I mean, I’ve already let out one person’s secrets today. I really shouldn’t do it.”

“What is it? Something about Darius?”

“Well, speak of the devil.” Seth pointed over Frankie’s left shoulder.

She turned quickly, and there was Darius, over by the door. He spotted them, smiled and waved. He was achingly gorgeous, about as beautiful as any man could be. Was he some sort of freak, just like her?

Oh, she hoped so. She really did.

Time Trumps

January 20th 2017

It happened just as President elect Donald J Trump went off script whilst swearing his oath of office. A figure appeared from nowhere, gun hand outstretched toward The Donald, finger already pulling the trigger.

She had come from the future, her mission- to kill the President before, on January 25th, he nuked Latvia to prove the country’s Prime Minister wrong and show that his fingers were long enough to press the atomic button.

Even before the bullet had left, she was joined by dozens, maybe hundreds of other assassins. With everything from lasers all the way down to clubs, each of them had come back with a specific mission- eliminate Trump before he could carry out the action that blighted their particular future.

It was one of the lasers, by an almost immeasurable fraction of a second, that got the job done. Which triggered the second wave of temporal assassins. These were dedicated to cutting down Mike Pence before he could institute his plans for homosexual re-education camps and sexuality snooping.

Into the middle of this already confused mess came a pair of twenty-second century Men’s Rights Activists. Angry at the unfair advantages equal wages gave females and the sissification inherent in paternity leave, they had decided to travel back and kill the first female President. Incompetence had shunted them sideways as well as backwards, but they never found that out, as they were burnt to a crisp by one of the many flamethrowers present.

With so many bodies and temporal anomalies overlapping, a critical mass was formed. A gore explosion was followed by collapses in the fourth dimension. Time went crazy.

Washington is now the flickering city, to look at it is to watch a jump cut time-lapse of the city’s past and possible futures. Buildings and people appear and flash away randomly, as the time-line tries to knit itself back together.

The inauguration was ground zero, but the effects have radiated out, and there are pockets of temporal instability all over the world. There are pockets where you can step into the past and pull people and things back. The USA is currently being run by the dream team of Kennedy and Lincoln, snatched up just before their assassinations.

It’s a crazy world, ripe for adventures and wacky hijinks. Annoyingly, I can’t think of any silly stories to tell in it right now.

The Spear

SpearThis is one odd book. It starts as one of those low-key seventies thrillers, veers into bizarre campy Bond territory, then ends with some icky supernatural nonsense that feels tacked on.

Steadman used to work for Mossad, doing wet work on former Nazis and other enemies of Israel. Now he’s a private investigator in London. Approached by an old accomplice he refuses to get involved- until his business partner ends up tortured and crucified, nailed to his front door.

Now, he does get involved, and the story wanders around aimlessly for a while, taking in diversions involving mystically controlled tanks and a hot reporter who may be working for the CIA.

Then it all wraps back to the rich, corrupt arms dealer Steadman was tasked with investigating. A long time anti-semite, his plan involves the spear of the title- the one that stabbed Jesus on Golgotha- which will be used to resurrect a high ranking Nazi (though not the obvious one).

Throw in some nastiness involving a hermaphrodite and other oddness before the rotting corpse of undead Himmler staggers around for a couple of pages. The bad guys are summarily killed off, the spear is disposed of and the grand plot foiled.

Herbert was a horror writer, but it feels like the horror and supernatural elements were crowbarred into the story. And the whole thing with the hermaphrodite is just horrible and made an already poor ending worse.

From:: Ian Pattinson Goodreads reviews

The Ants

AntsA good old fashioned monster tale set in the Brazilian jungle. It’s almost a shame that the monsters in the story are given away in the title. The author does a good job of building the mystery and giving glimpses of the terror.

Young anthropologist Jane Sewell returns to the Brazilian tribe she has been studying with her father, only to find the village deserted. All that is left of the former residents is a pile of stripped clean bones and a (temporarily) mute boy.

Before she can begin to work out what has happened, she has to rescue a pilot who crashes nearby. It turns out he flies for a local plantation owner, so the three of them head in that direction.

Only as they near the plantation is the threat revealed- mutant ants! Not giant mutant ants, as you might imagine from the cover, but telepathic mutant ants. That can sometimes communicate with humans, and they’ve enslaved other ants to help them.

There’s lots of soap opera stuff going on at the plantation- the owner’s wife is carrying on with the manager and the local workers are reverting to superstition- which play out in fairly obvious ways as, one by one, they get eaten alive.

In the end, it’s a race to the river, with a little help from a different ant colony. The wrap up is rushed, after all the build up, but it’s a fun, if occasionally predictable, journey to get there.

From:: Ian Pattinson Goodreads reviews

Engage Pulp Speed!

Pulp writers used to knock out hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of words a year, and novels were judged to be books in the 30,000-50,000 word range. My work tends to fall within that word count (today we’re supposed to call it a novella), so in one way I already am a pulp writer.

Over the last few months, my word count has shot up to an average (over 30 days) of over 1,000 words a day. If I don’t stop early for Christmas, my 90 day average will clear that soon. This includes working around my part time job and a natural inclination to get disheartened by minor setbacks. Next year, the target is a minimum of half a million words written, most of which will be published (under a variety of names). That’s still a fair way from what Dean Wesley Smith calls Pulp Speed One in this post, but I’ll treat it as a stepping stone along the way.

BBC News – Historical abuse inquiry: Police examine ‘possible homicide’

My current work in progress is another Irwin race against time chase around Manchester. One of the spurs was a Government proposal to contract out running of childrens homes to private interests. Which has always worked out so well in the past. On that hook, I hung a story inspired by some of the darker rumours about institutional child abuse and pumped it up.

Now, frighteningly, it looks like reality is almost as bad as the over the top take I’m writing.

BBC News – Historical abuse inquiry: Police examine 'possible homicide'.

Stories I didn’t write- Ebola House

I’m writing the second novella featuring the adventures of not quite completely retired MI6 analyst Irwin Baker at the moment, (the first instalment was Tiger, gratuitous plug fans!) and some of the characters in it have been with me for years, evolving through multiple other projects.

In particular Detective Kay Wood and crime scene tech Gloria date back to a comic from 1997 called The Millennium Watch. This was going to be a crime with sci-fi series following a high tech forensics team who get involved in plots involving nanotechnology, AIs etc.. I might describe it as CSI with sci-fi, but NCIS with sci-fi might have been nearer the mark because of the number of action scenes. But neither of those show existed in ’97, so I don’t know where the inspiration came from.

I found a guy who produced the pencils for the first issue (I ‘computer inked’ them) and got it listed in the Diamond comics catalogue. Then I failed to get the funding needed for printing and the project came to a halt. I think a dozen or so photocopied versions went to the few people who had ordered them, but that was it.

It was a shame, because I had the story plotted out well ahead. The first four parter was the nanotechnology tale, climaxing on New Year’s Eve 1999. Then there were going to be stories about drive by shootings and gang wars with sub plots about an ongoing foreign conflict and xenophobes on the streets which would collide when some refugees were found to have am Ebola type disease. It may not have been Ebola I was thinking of when I planned the story, but the idea probably came from reading some of The Hot Zone.

Whatever the disease, the refugees would be quarantined in an overcrowded building and the xenophobes, and the even worse racist mob they inspired, would turn up to blockade it, keeping health workers out and making the situation worse. I think there may have been plans to firebomb the house and then have a race against time plot as the heroes tried to track down refugees- infected or not- before the mob got to them.

But, as I said, I never got past the first issue of The Millennium Watch, so I never got to write the plague house episode. I’ve recycled many of the ideas and characters from the series on the way to finding something that actually got released, but not that one. And now we have Ebola in Africa and western countries panicking about its spread. With news of New Jersey implementing mandatory quarantine for health workers returning from west Africa, it seems I wasn’t so far off in my predictions of the reaction to an outbreak, either.

Running Blind

runblind Running Blind
author: Desmond Bagley

Old-school espionage.

Alan Stewart used to work for MI6, until he got sick of being considered disposable. Now, he’s been talked into helping out the service on one of his regular trips to Iceland. Just deliver a package and then carry on with his life, it should be simple.

But, of course, it isn’t simple. The Russians want the package, and they seem to know his every move. They’ve sent an agent he nearly killed after him, and it seems someone in his old firm is feeding them information. As if that wasn’t bad enough, his fiancee is with him and in just as much danger, and the Americans have stuck their oar in.

Stewart’s a no-nonsense Scotsman, and Elin, his Icelandic fiancee, knows the country well. They lead all the spooks on a chase across the country’s glaciers and hot springs, leading to a violent showdown and final reveal of the Maguffin the whole plot revolved around.

The extended chase in the middle felt a little stretched, until it became obvious how carefully the author was putting everything in place for the finale. Overall, a competent and interesting bit of espionage from the Cold War, with the ‘good guys’ of MI6 and the CIA just as nasty and untrustworthy as the KGB.

From:: Ian Pattinson Goodreads reviews

I got Running Blind in a 2-4-1 Kindle package with The Freedom Trap, which, it turns out, I’ve already read,albeit decades ago.

Projects I’ll probably never finish- Bulletproof Poets

I start a lot more projects than I ever finish, all too often running out of time or motivation, or finding that they just don’t work. The annual overreaction to some idiot burning a poppy reminded me of Bulletproof Poets.

The Bulletproof Poets are an indie rock band with a political edge. They’re just on the verge of success*, touring like mad bastards and developing all the rock ‘n roll quirks that destroy bands. Everything looks rosy, until they release a single entitled Piss on the Cenotaph. That’s when the death threats, and the deaths, begin.

This was going to be mostly about the presentation. I wanted to do it as a comic-cum-fake-scrapbook, adding depth to the graphic narrative of the final interview by adding in reviews, gossip column pieces etc. It was going to be square format, so it could be packaged to look like a special 7″ or a CD. A version did get made, but all it was was thumbnails on post-it notes. They were scanned and put up on Spinneyhead some time during the Jurassic, but having moved servers, house and PC several times since then, I can’t lay my hands easily on either the originals or the scans. No doubt some of the themes and ideas will make it into other tales, but it’s unlikely that Bulletproof Poets will ever exist as originally intended.

Snippets– The title was originally going to be Ballad of the Bullet Proof Poet, and came from a song by Dogs D’amour. For a while it was a title without a story. Piss on the Cenotaph wasn’t a song title I came up with, I stole it from someone else, I never really knew what the lyrics would be. I like to imagine they’d be something damning about the way governments fail to honour the fallen by sending ever more troops off to die for pointless causes. But the singer/songwriter character was going to be portrayed as an arrogant tosser, so he would probably have thrown in some stuff about service personnel being idiots for falling for the lies over and over.

*Success being defined as the point where the hipsters at the NME stop saying your band are the next big thing and start convincing themselves that they never liked your music, not even a little bit.

The Kindle Windmill

Hay on Wye is home to the Hay Festival, the “Woodstock of the mind”, one of the world’s most celebrated literary festivals. To get himself some attention ahead of this year’s festival, one of the town’s booksellers is calling for a ban on Kindles at event.

Apparently ebook readers are “soulless” and are destroying the written word. Or, at least, putting some bookshops out of business.

As someone who makes a little bit of money publishing books for the Kindle (and other ereaders) I’m bound to defend the little grey tablet. Ebooks and readers are a boon for writers and readers- indie writers can deliver stories to readers for less and still make a decent amount on each sale. They’re not so great for bookshops or publishers. I like wandering around a bookshop, and I’d hate to see any good ones close, but that’s not enough to persuade me to ban ereaders. If the Luddites want to find something to get really angry about which could cause long term damage to the nation’s literacy, they should worry about library closures.

A Cold Wind’s Gonna Blow

Research has shown that as Arctic sea ice shrinks so the winters in Europe get colder. It’s an odd, counter intuitive effect that makes perfect sense once explained. A version of the theory has been put forward before, and that is what inspired this story, originally writen and posted here in December of 2010.

Mia In The Snow

Sheba’s ears are floppy and triangular, and when she faces into the wind the airflow lifts them up and they stick out like little wings. That always makes me smile, and when we’re out in the wind I always try to get her to face the right way to make it happen. After a while she’ll give me a look- if she could talk she’d just say “Silly person, stop it.”- and go back to sniffing the snow banks.

In Summer, Sheba bounces around and lives up to the Springer part of her breed name. In winter, with freshly fallen snow halfway up her legs, she doesn’t jump so much. But she will still do funny things like sticking almost her whole head into a bank of crispy, fluffy snow just to get a better sniff of what’s underneath. When she pulls out she has a white beard and eyebrows- another thing that makes me laugh- then she huffs and shakes it off.

Maybe Sheba’s doing little doggy laughs when she looks at me. I couldn’t blame her. My boots are furry and warm, with a cage thing on the bottom with criss-crossing coils of wire to improve the grip. They’re deliberately too big, so’s I can wear big woolly socks that come up to my knees. I’m wearing Nana’s old winter coat, that I’m not big enough to fit yet, with fleeces and thermals underneath. My hat has a bobble on the top and cheek muffs that fold down and should tie under my chin, though I’m just holding them in place with my scarf. My gloves give me cartoon hands which can’t hold anything properly and I’m tugging the clear circular “flying saucer” sledge that Daddy made from a sheet of spare perspex. Even with the snow I think it took me longer to get ready than it will to walk up the hill.

* * * *

Mrs. Aiden is old. She’s always been old, as long as I’ve known her. She has grey hair and grey skin brightened by spidery red veins on her cheeks and is quite skinny, though you can’t tell that with her winter layers on. The walls of her cottage are very thick, with lots of insulation, so she can afford to keep it hot inside. Once I’m through the three doors into the kitchen I stand on the welcome mat as the snow melts and runs off me and I begin to sweat. I hold out the boxes I pulled up the hill on the sledge.

“Two dozen eggs Mia?” Mrs. Aiden looks surprised, “Are you sure you can spare them?”

“Daddy says the poo powered heating is keeping the chucks happy and they’re really laying. He also said that one of your cakes is worth at least two dozen eggs.”

“Did he now? Well he’s in luck, because I have one of my cakes just for you.” she bustles over to the far worktop and brings me back a plastic box with a firmly sealed lid. It’s heavy for its size, Mrs. Aiden’s cakes are dense, moist and very tasty. “Would you like some tea love? The kettle’s about to boil.”

I’m about to boil too, and getting out of these clothes will be too much work if I’m just going to get back into them. “No thanks Mrs. Aiden. Grandda was just starting to make lunch when I set off. It should be ready by the time I get back.”

Sheba is curled up outside the outer door. Through the double glazing I can see her tail start to wag as I open the middle door, but she doesn’t jump up until I’m outside again. I’d propped the flying saucer against the wall. I lay it in the middle of the road just where it flattens out at the top of the hill and carefully place the cake tin on it. I clamber on so the box is safely between my legs then I take the rope and twist it around both gloved hands.

From this angle it looks like the windmill on top of the fell is actually sticking out of the chimney of Mrs. Aiden’s cottage. I should tell Grandda that, he could photograph it. I lean back and then jerk my body forward. The sledge moves a little way and sinks slightly into the snow. I repeat the movement and I’m closer to the tipping point. Sheba is giving me a puzzled look. Once more and I’m moving down the hill. I lean back and pull on the rope to lift the front so I don’t shovel up snow. Sheba runs after me. Now she bounces.

The round sledge is very hard to control. It spins all the way around twice as I go down the hill and steers by climbing the snow banks and sliding back down them in a new direction. But I don’t need to guide it. The road runs downhill until it turns right at the end of our drive. I don’t make the turn and carry on onto the yard, coming to a stop just outside the door to Grandda and Nana’s house. And just in time for lunch.

* * * *

Nana and Grandda and Daddy say there used to be winters like this- and summers almost as hot as we have- before I was born. But they happen every year now, not every ten or fifteen. I asked Daddy what it was like when there was this much snow and people weren’t ready for it and he showed me some old video on the net. It was funny, but a little sad. All those people trapped away from their families because no-one had known how much snow they had to plan for.

I’ve got a globe with an animated skin and I can play hundreds and thousands of years of data back and forward on it and watch how things changed. I watched the temperature one and saw as there was less white and blue and more orange and red. If I look at it month by month I can see the cold winds of the Arctic get warmer and blow further South, bringing more snow to Britain, Northern Europe and the United States. The changes are quick, I guess I can see why those travellers were surprised by the weather.

* * * *

We live in the barn next door to Grandda and Nana’s house. The walls of the barn look like a huge puzzle, one of those boxes of blocks with 50,000 combinations but none you can work out. All the stones it’s made from are different shapes and sizes- the builders must have just picked one up and glued it into the pile wherever it fit. When they’re not coated in snow the stones are lots of shades, but mostly a sort of blue-y green-y grey, and they’re decorated with white and yellow lichen that has frilly edges and gets crispy and brittle in summer.

The roof on the South side of the barn has solar cells on it. When the sun comes out the exposed parts of the cells warm up quickly and even after snowfall like last night’s they can still clear themselves and start producing lots of electricity. The snow must have slooshed down while I was climbing the hill, because when we get back from lunch the meter in the kitchen is all green and we’re charging the batteries under the floor. When they’re full we’ll start exporting power to the grid again, so long as I don’t turn on too many lights.

I sort of remember how Daddy, and all the people who helped him, turned the barn into our house. I seem to remember standing on a plank on the muddy floor and staring up at the roof and seeing the under sides of all the tiles. It was so big at the time, but I was so small. Now I’m almost as tall as the snow drifts.

What’s sad is that I can’t remember Mummy. I can look at pictures of her, including ones where she’s holding me as a baby, and pretend I remember her. But I think that’s all it is- pretending I remember her. Daddy explained how we lost her to the flu pandemic, which happened just before we moved out of London to the Lake District. We visit “The Smoke” a few times each year. Mummy’s grave isn’t far from Auntie Jasmine’s home, so I make a point of going and leaving some flowers whenever we’re there for more than a couple of days.

* * * *

My job for the afternoon is to take down all the Christmas cards and decide how they should all be recycled, then put the pictures back on the wall. I’ve got a clever folding stepladder that I printed out at Easter when I decided that I should do more fixing of stuff around the house, and my bag of tools. I’ll need the hammer, because I’m going to bash a few more nails in and rearrange the layout.

There’s a pile of cards which should be recycled and another pile which can be reused as labels next year. Reuse, repurpose and recycle, those are the rules. We live well by them. The little clip together holders go into a plastic bag for next year and I can decide where to put the pictures.

I’m in all the pictures, of course. There’s Grandda and Nana holding me as a really little baby. Then there’s a picture of Daddy with me. The next picture is of me and Mummy, it’s the one that most makes me feel I can remember her. She’s holding me up as I try my best to put one foot in front of the other. She looks beautiful, with long black hair, big brown eyes and dark skin. I’ll never have the same skin colour, and my hair can get curly, but I do have the same brown eyes. Normally this one would be the third in line, but I want to add another picture, and there’s no room to carry on the sequence.

I use a plumb line to mark points directly below the existing nails, and a spirit level and ruler to make a horizontal mark so the new nails are level. I hammer the nails in gently and rub the marks off. Then I hang the picture of Mummy and me and get the new picture from my tool bag.

Anne is Daddy’s girlfriend. She lives in Manchester and works all over the world, so we don’t get to see her very often. The photo was taken last Summer when we climbed Scawfell, it’s of me and Anne on top of the world. Anne looks nothing like Mummy, she’s blonde and, what was the word that Grandda used? Buxom. I should look that up.

Daddy must have heard the hammering, because he’s come to investigate. He lays his hands on my shoulders as he examines the new layout. “Nice work kid.” He kisses the top of my head.

“When are we going to see Anne again?”

“In a few weeks. She thinks that’ll be the end of her contract. I’ve asked her if she’ll move up here and work on our projects. If that’s okay with you?”

“Of course it is.”

* * * *

Anne’s job is to find leapfrog technologies and work out where they’ll be most useful. Leapfrog technologies are the ones that let people get modern without having to work their way through the wasteful steps the rest of the world did. Like all the Africans going from no phones to mobiles and all the stuff that’s getting made on the 3D printing stalls in India. We met her when we attended a conference in Manchester on what could be done with 3D printers, because daddy was about to get one for his business. She showed me how to use a virtual 3D interface to sculpt things whilst he talked to a salesman about specifications. Afterwards she took us out for lunch.

At first I was jealous that Daddy was stealing my new friend, but I grew out of that.

Daddy still isn’t very good with the goggles and wands of the virtual interface, so I help him out with finishing designs. He jokes about child labour, but I like that I can help him earn a living.

The old cow shed is Daddy’s workshop. He makes stuff, whatever people need. He says he would have been a blacksmith in an earlier time, but now he gets to work with more than just iron and steel. I’m not allowed to use the lathe or CNC machines yet, and I don’t mind that. They look dangerous, I’ll put off learning how to use those.

The printers are safely away from the high speed machinery, inside their own room. One machine prints plastic and another can do metal. Metal bits need to be heat treated in a kiln to properly fuse, but then they’re almost as tough as cast metal. We make a lot of jigs for electric motor components for when people want to convert their old car to battery power. Sometimes I’ll watch the printers for ages as they create something I’ve designed, one super thin layer at a time. Daddy’s found me sleeping in there sometimes, the swoosh and buzz of the print head can be just like a lullaby.

Today I’m designing a weather vane. One of Mrs. Aiden’s neighbours is an artist. He paints landscapes and draws cartoons. One of them was of a man in a suit windsurfing. He’d like to know if it can be printed in plastic- for him to paint- and then mounted on a swivel to show which way the wind is blowing. This is quite a challenge. Daddy and I worked out the basic shapes on a 2D screen and now I’m cleaning it up in the 3D interface.

I’ve got to wear goggles, which are a bit big- I don’t think they expected kids to be using their system. The monitor alternates views really fast, one each from slightly different angles, and the glasses’ lenses darken and clear up so each eye only sees one of the views and the picture looks like it’s coming out of the screen. I use the wands to move the model or the view around, zoom in or out or redraw shapes.

There’s a ringing from the computer, the video call tone. I push up the goggles and switch to the VoIP screen. It’s Anne. “Hey there Mia, how’re you?”

“I’m very good.”

“Sculpting something?” she’s spotted the goggles on my forehead.

“A weather vane.” I pick up the icon for a screenshot of the windsurfer and drop it onto the video window.

“That’s cute.” Daddy comes through from the kitchen. Anne gives him a pretend serious look, “Are you forcing your daughter to do your work again?”

“It’s either that or send her up chimneys, and she’s getting too big for chimneys. How are things going over there?”

“Well, it’s not snowing. I’d like to have a snowball fight.”

“We’ll put some in the freezer for you.” I suggest.

Anne grins, “You mightn’t need to. We’re so far ahead of schedule that I’ll be back next week.”


“Then it’ll be a week of exit interviews and I want to come up and join you. I’ve got some ideas for things I’d like to make with you.”

“We can make it a family business.” I suggest.

Daddy and Anne are both looking at me. I may have said something wrong. “That would be nice.” Anne admits.

Daddy’s got a smile. I think he and Anne are trying to exchange a meaningful look over the video link. I take off the goggles and hand Daddy the wands. “Were you making dinner?”


“I’ll go and see what I can do with it.”

There’s veggies to be cut up, so I start on that. I try not to listen to the conversation in the living room, but I can’t help but smile. Not a replacement for Mummy, but a new member of the family. It’s a lovely late Christmas present.

Itoshi No Kana

Amongst the many things distracting me in the last few months has been a website called Mangafox. It’s a site dedicated to’scanlations’ of manga series- scans of the originals translated and re-lettered by volunteers. It’s not legitimate, of course, but hey.

As I have a long standing interest in erotic comics I went looking for stuff in the Adult category. Two in particular got my attention. Koibana Onsen is the ongoing tale of an inn which specialises in erotic romantic getaways- and the various hang-ups of the staff. Itoshi No Kana is a paranormal romance which inspired a story idea from me.

Itoshi No Kana, according to the scanlators, means My Lovely Ghost Kana and concentrates on the relationship between the eponymous ghost and Daikichi. As the story opens Daikichi, whose name ironically means lucky, has lost his job and home and taken to squatting in an abandoned apartment block. Here he meets Kana, the ghost of the girl who committed suicide in the room he has chosen to inhabit. Their relationship soon becomes intimate, rescuing each other from their respective hells.

There’s a lot of sex in the first Kana book- the second is more concerned with their growing connection with the outside world- and it’s a lot of fun as well as being very hot. This is despite Japanese censorship rules which mean genitalia aren’t explicitly depicted- there’s a lot of allusion and, when that runs out, erections are often reperesented by a bar of white space.

Itoshi No Kana is a naughty example of the manga subgenre known as Magical Girlfriend. The MG can be an alien princess, witch or hot demoness who makes life complicated for some hapless protagonist. Most often, the protagonist and MG never get to consummate their relationship, continuing through endless scrapes punctuated by panty shots and other tittilation (aka fanservice). Kana ignores the rule of delayed gratification to tell a different story.

I’ve been tempted to do something Magical Girlfriend-y, on and off, for a while and Itoshi inspired me again. So I’ve started the tale of a young man who bumps into a girl who isn’t there as he crosses an old bridge. Having knocked her back into the physical world he becomes her lover and they embark on an exploration of hauntings, beasts and Boggles, all the while tracking down the man who killed her.

I see an episodic series, short stories with different monsters each time, but with an overall arc- the story of the ghost’s murder and revenge. The main characters’ sex life- and the mating habits of were-creatures, vampyres and assorted ghoulies- would be a major part of the stories. Not often enough to warrant the label of Paranormal Erotica (a popular genre on Amazon), but regular and hot nonetheless. So I’m going to do this series under my Garth Owen pen name, I think.

The first story in the series is tentatively titled The Girl On The Bridge and I’m 6000 or so words into it, using it to flesh out some details of the back story and world. I’m far too easily distracted by other ideas and stories I want to work on, but I hope to have this one finished soon.

Biggles and the casual racism 2

Biggles and the casual racism, originally uploaded by spinneyhead.

We bought a lot of old books recently, including a few Biggles tomes. Biggles in the Blue was only lightly racist, with its references to "coloureds" and negroes. But five pages into Biggles Flies Again we get this little outburst from Algy- "Jungle Airways Limited, Joy Rides for Niggers, Flip-Flaps for Cannibals," when pondering running joy-rides in Guiana.
It was a more innocent time……

And now, the end is near…..

Does anyone else get the feeling we’re building towards something? It’s turning into an odd year. From the Arab Spring through riots in Britain and civil war in Libya and more. The tension’s been building all year, with the occasional release being scary and occasionally surreal.

Right now, thousands of people are occupying Wall Street, and parts of various other US cities. As Kryten re-tweeted, it’s beginning to look like the American Autumn*. As the Conservative Party are holding their conference in the city** there was an Occupy Manchester on Albert Square after yesterday’s big demo. I’m going into town tomorrow to see if it’s still there, take photos and see if I can get inspiration for a quick topical novelette.

It all feels like it’s building up to something, a grand finale I can’t begin to guess. Trying to guess has got me a little twitchy, and finding it hard to concentrate on the work I was supposed to be doing today. Most likely whatever happens next will be an anti-climax, but can it please disappoint me soon so I can get over this anxiety I’m feeling.

*Autumn is more appropriate than Fall because a. we’re British and Fall is an annoying Americanism (don’t get me started on the lazy and arrogant way that US studios don’t bother replacing Fall with Autumn in trailers which show over here.) and b. American Fall sounds a bit more sinister than I think the demonstrators’ aims really are.

**Irony may be an organisation with so many climate change deniers in its ranks starting their conference the day after Britain’s hottest recorded October day.

Thoughts on the future of books and ebooks

I posted a version of this comment on the blog of Joe Konrath, indie author and ebook guru, in response to his post about predictions for the future of publishing.

I predict that paper will go the way of vinyl- which means it’ll never die.

Go to any decent sized record shop and you’ll still see 7″ and 12″ pressings of new and recent releases. There are record fairs for collectors of old vinyl. I work for a company which sells hifi and AV (audiovisual) kit. In amongst all the 55″ 3D flatscreens and 9.2 channel, dozen format home cinema systems we still list turntables and related equipment. Most of these record players look nothing like your old gramophone, with new materials and ever more precision in their construction. Not only do some people swear they sound better but next to the kit bristling with features they do have an understated beauty.

Whilst ebooks will kill, or at least seriously injure, the plain words on paper, bread and butter end of publishing I predict a rise in books as beautiful objects. My Kindle’s convenient, and you can do some neat stuff with illustrations on an ipad, but there’s a joy to a big book on glossy paper. Add tipped in holograms, embossing etc. and I see what you might call coffee table books turned up to 11. There are also experiments to be done with the medium of words and pictures on paper, such as the recent SVK comic by Warren Ellis and Matt “D’Israeli” Booker which had elements printed in ink that only showed up when you shone the included UV torch at the page. There’ll be some successful publishers that do well from “value added” books, though they’ll probably not be one of the current big guys.

Before you start throwing stones at the Luddite can I just add that, otherwise, I think Joe’s predictions are close to the mark. I’ve been writing for ebooks since about this time last year when I discovered Brits could publish on the Kindle. The backlist and the sales are growing slower than I’d like, but I’m working on the basis that once it’s up it’s there forever and everything else just builds on it. I predict that I’ll have my first $100 month by Easter and will be looking at the prospect of $100 weeks by this time next year.