Dear Supernatural, I Love You. Why Do You Treat Me So Bad?

Dear Supernatural,

I love you, I really do. You’re handsome, you’re funny, you’re clever and you’re playful.  But I’m starting to fear that we’re in an abusive relationship.

When I first saw you, it was a passing glimpse of a Destiel video, and I fell head over heels. Now here I am with your entire box set and I’m really getting to know you at last. I love your cheeky meta analysis and your pop culture references. I love the the fact that your main characters are complicated and not always admirable, or sometimes entirely likeable.

So what’s the problem? The problem is the things you keep saying about people like me.

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What I Did on My Holidays 1: Nine Worlds. All the Fun.


Nineworlds only got started last year, and it’s already my favourite con. It’s just so much fun. Right from the start, the organisers set out to create a friendly, inclusive, safe space for everybody to do their thing, and it shows. Bronies, Whovians and steampunks mix with authors, editors and publishers.  There are academic tracks and panels and discussions; but for me this is very much a con for making and doing things, dressing up, and getting inspired. You can steampunk your nerfgun, learn to knit, participate in a writing workshop, taste weird and wonderful alcohols, LARP, strut your best costumes all day and all night, boogie and generally have a splendid time in a totally non-judgemental atmosphere.

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It’s a Con! And Then Another Con!

I’ve just got back from NineWorlds, which was friendly, inspiring and so, so much fun. More on that soon, but at the moment I don’t have time for a long post because I’m getting ready for Loncon3, which starts on Thursday. Eep. Just enough time to eat some salad and vegetables after a weekend of random bar food and snacks, catch up on my tea deficit, get all my geeky T-shirts through the wash and do any running repairs to my gorgon hat.

Here’s what I’m up to at Loncon3:

  • I’ll be helping out here and there with the pirate programming. (Arr, but I be but a mere deck scrubber. The Pirate King be leadin’ the crew.)  If you’d like a 10 minute slot to read your own work at Loncon, you can find out how to get involved with the pirate program here and follow the updates for the pirates on twitter and Facebook. You don’t need to be published, all are welcome!
  • Friday 1pm – 6pm T Party Critique Workshop
    Places for this are now fully booked.  I’ll be joining others from my writing group, and authors who have sent in their stories, in a guided critique session.
  • Saturday 12pm – 2pm “Getting Ideas” (free) writing workshop with the fabulous Gaie Sebold.
    We’ll be playing lots of different games to get you writing, sprinkled with a little writing theory. Sign up at the info desk to come and join in. Numbers will be limited.
  • Sunday 1pm – 3pm  “Creating Characters” (also free) writing workshop, also with Gaie.
    What is a ‘good’ character? Where do characters come from? What is a character made of? This workshop will answer these questions and give you tools and exercises to create proactive, memorable and engaging characters. Again, if you’d like to join us, please sign up at the info desk.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to write a very long and thorough list of things to pack. And if you’re going too, may your con be a good one!

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Five Things Tag

I’ve been tagged by the marvellous Mr. David Gullen in the latest writers’ Hive Mind message – ‘Share 5 Things About Your Current Work in Progress’. So, here goes.

  1. It’s a novel called Blue Shift. The title didn’t come to me until I’d been working on it for ages.
  2. It’s about a mildly psychic courier who is hired/kidnapped by a vampire to look for his missing wife… IN SPACE! So it does have vampires, but it also has 8 foot space goats, and a bimorphic fishy detective, and giant lizards who just wanna dance.
  3. The main character in Blue Shift is called Monday Morning, and she came from a short story written with the deliberate aim of fitting in as many terrible puns (are there any other kind?) as possible. Then I decided it should be extended to be the fun weekend novel to work on to take a break from my *ahem* serious novel. The serious novel was the dreadful thing I wrote longhand in 8 school exercise books about fairies in space*. I started trying to rewrite it, and eventually abandoned it because a) it was crap and b) I’d outgrown it and I no longer had any interest in the story.
  4. I have been (re)writing Blue Shift for a truly embarrassing length of time without ever completing a draft. I used to believe that it had to, and indeed ought to**, take a writer years and years to produce a book. I was disabused of that idea by my writers’ group. The T Party (nothing to do with American politics) now includes many published authors, who are expected to produce at least one polished book a year.  I’m currently at about 72,000 words and pushing on to the end before I do any more rewriting.
  5. Right now, I’m at the stage where the novel and I aren’t speaking and I’d rather do the housework than figure out what happens next. According to my published friends this is entirely normal. I usually fix this by opening a new document and talking to myself on the page, typing questions and answers and random thoughts and what ifs until I see an idea and a direction I like. This can go faster if you can do it all in your head, but I find my mind wanders off, which is why I type to force my brain to stay on mission. If you see me logging a daily plot witter word count in my twitter updates, that’s what I’m talking about.

I’m rounding up the next batch of tagees, and as soon as I have some volunteers, I will add links here.

* It mostly involved my Mary Sue getting together with a cross between Han Solo and Indiana Jones. But I did take it INCREDIBLY. SERIOUSLY. for quite a long time.

** I’m not sure why.  I think I absorbed some ideas about artists having to suffer.


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How “Hannibal” Makes You the Pyschopath

Hannibal is up there in my list of TV programs I would still watch if  I was actually a productive member of society (even if I do have to go away and watch something else afterwards where happy fluffy animals play perfectly safely and nobody eats anybody). It’s TV to make time for, not TV to pass the time, and I think it’s a work of art. A profoundly disturbing, beautiful, twisted and deeply considered work of art. I believe that nothing in this program is left to chance: not the writing, the sets, the lighting, the cinematography, the casting or the soundtrack. So, after watching for 1 and 3/4 series, here are my theories about how the program makes you, the viewer, watch from the point of view of  a psychopath (some spoilers after the jump).

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Showing, Telling and Hating Oblivion

Dear Oblivion, please shut the fuck up*. (And you Pacific Rim. And you Lawless**. And probably plenty of other films I can’t remember right now.)  Really. You annoyed the shit out of me from minute one.

Here’s a guideline from writing 101:

Show, don’t tell.

If you have to have a sodding voice-over that spends 10 minutes yammering on about the back story of your plot, before your story even starts then EXPOSITION – YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.***

It doesn’t matter how pretty/CGIed/3D what I’m looking at is. You’ve just employed author’s voice to convey information. It’s boring and lazy.

Anybody seen Red? Remember the opening scene where Bruce Willis tears up his pension cheque before he phones up the office to lie to them that it’s gone missing in the  post and has a long chat with the customer service person about how his avocado is getting on? Do you need Bruce Willis saying, “It all started when I was bored and lonely and so desperate for human conversation I was lying to people I’ve never met to get them to talk to me about my houseplant?”

Do you need two other people standing around saying, “I’m really worried about Bruce Willis. He’s an honest guy, but he seems so isolated and a bit odd since he retired.” (This is just another form of telling.)

No, because all the details are there for the audience to read and put together. It’s showing not telling and it’s a far more satisfying experience than having the writer boring on in your ear.

One of the reasons I’m so ranty is that Oblivion could have been a much better film, and some of the fixes are easy. [Spoilers below the jump.]

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Start Where You Are

It’s been a pretty hellish work week for both me and my partner this week. I haven’t done any writing, and thinking back, I haven’t done much of anything else except work, eat and sleep.  When I feel like this, I find this works as a mantra:

Start where you are.
Use what you have.
Do what you can.
– Arthur Ashe

Beating myself up about not achieving everything just makes me feel worse. Doing something small and manageable makes me feel better and starts recharging my batteries for the bigger things.

So, today, I started where I was. I went for a walk with my partner and my ageing compact Fuji. And there was a kingfisher where we were. And an otter. And the sun was shining. The photos might not be as great as I hoped, but for me they captured something of the day.

lakes3 lakes2 rowan swan

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This is the Droid You’re Looking For

Most writers I know love stationery shops.  I go in, browse through all the notepads (no matter how many I have already) and get obsessed with finding exactly the right one.  That’d be the one that magically allows me to effortlessly write my novel and turn it into a best-seller, of course. It has to be the right size, with the right kind of hard cover, the right kind of binding,  and the right kind of closure.  If it turned my handwriting into something I could read after scribbling my cryptic notes, that’d be perfect. Then one of my friends asked a question about finding a lighter alternative to her netbook, and I got obsessed with finding the perfectly portable digital writing device in just the same way.

I own a trusty Samsung netbook N130 which I bought cheap second hand from ebay.  It has a nice, almost full-size keyboard, comfortable to type on. It just fits in my biggest handbag and it only bends my shoulder a bit.  The battery lasted about 4 hours (but has now died) and it runs a cut down version of sturdy, reliable old XP.

But hey, that was a few years ago and smaller, faster, lighter, better, more, right? I saw the Google Nexus 7 at the end of last year and fell in instant geek lust. Quad core processor that seriously kicks arse,  a 7 inch screen small enough to take everywhere and big enough to be usable.  It has 32GB storage (not expandable) and day long battery life (battery not replaceable), wifi and 3G.  Latest Android operating system with option for future updates, no bloatware. I knew I was going to get it anyway, but first I had to find a way to justify it to myself as a writing device.  So I did.*

But you can set up any Android device you already own to do your writing on for around £30. It just needs a screen that’s big enough for you to read what you’re typing. Details of my setup below the jump.

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Stop Getting Your Girl Ickiness on My Boy SF

So, there seems to be a certain amount of this going on in various places recently. Firstly,  SFWA had complaints about sexism in their recent bulletins, relating to both content and the cover, which led their editor Jean Rabe to resign. (A full apology was issued by the president of the SFWA, John Scalzi.)  There was some discussion as to whether any of this constituted sexism or not.  Quite a lot of people had something to say about this, publicly, despite the accusation of  the complaints being made anonymously. Jim C. Hines rounds up a list here.

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February’s Project – A Piece of Pi

I’m a software engineer. Unfortunately, despite what TV and movies would have you believe, this doesn’t mean I can  automatically hack into government networks, intuit passwords, understand complex cryptography and forensic accounting, or apply field medicine. (I’m looking at you, Arrow.)

Among the many things I can’t do is system admin. I have a total mental block on it. Programming, fine. That’s building mental models of the world, deciding which bits are important, and writing the code to get them to interact with each other(1). But getting tech to behave? Zero to enraged in under 10 seconds.

I’ve been programming professionally for over twenty years. I want to shake myself up a bit, find a way to use my experience in a way that’s fun and creative. I need to pick up some new skills, or be left behind. I want to play about with some system admin somewhere I can’t cause a disaster. And there’s nothing like learning something new to give creativity a kick start. Enter the Raspberry Pi(2).

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