December 29th

It’s a beautiful sunny day. The early mist has lifted from the lake and the customary ducks and swans are bobbing about. There are a few people out walking, dressed up as if we were in the midst of a cold snap instead of another mild December day. It’s the perfect time for a spot of reflection on the year.

I’ve just paid the yearly renewal for the blog. WordPress have been chiding me to do this for about six weeks but I just wasn’t sure if it was the thing to do. It’s not been a very active blog over the past year, over the middle months I scraped in one post a month and I’m kind of bored of saying the same thing: I wrote stuff, I submitted stuff, it got rejected.

meh

So what will I write about next year? Probably much of the same. Writing’s hard, and words don’t flow easily for me, they need hewn from the rock face. Allowing self doubt to not be crippling is difficult and weirdly, I find it even harder when I’ve received any sort of recognition.

2016 has been another year that I’ll forget about, but it’s another brick in the wall of my life. For next year I’ve set some targets that are physical, emotional, and tied to my health and happiness.

I’m mid forties, overweight, and drink too much with a family history of heart issues. So the booze and fat need to go, maybe I’ll let some insecurity go with them.

November 12

#CoverForSix

Apart from writing I love cooking. I’ve done it as a job, at a low level, and several times thought about pursuing it as a career – I didn’t, thankfully.

I love watching cookery programs, and trying out recipes from them. But more than the recipes are the techniques I’ve learnt. My two favorite shows are The Great British Menu, and Masterchef: The Professionals. I’ve learnt loads from watching these shows (I’d put my raspberry & chocolate ganache tart in sweet almond pastry up against Michel Roux Jr’s).

Cooking in a home kitchen, without access to the tools, gadgets, and gizmos a pro chef has is a challenge, but it’s worth the effort to keep pushing.

When we moved, a year ago, one of the compromises made was on the kitchen. The current house has a narrow galley kitchen, without a lot of workspace. While we’ve had friends over for meals I haven’t had chance to stretch my chefy tendencies and prepare a proper extravaganza.

On one our friends has a suitable kitchen. I expressed my appreciation for the workspace, including a nice five ring gas hob and double oven at a raised level. My friend declared her lack of cooking prowess, and offered me free use anytime I wished. We came to an agreement where I’d cook, she’d host. Tonight was the night.

We coordinated to ensure the menu could be enjoyed by all six partaking which led to some changes. One guest has an allergy to dairy, so ice-cream was removed form the dessert. One hates bones, so I decided on scallops for the fish course to ensure bones would be no issue.

The final menu was:

Starter:  Satay Chicken, Peanut Sauce, Pickled Cucumber – Drink: Asahi lagermeal1starter

Fish Course: Scallops, Samphire, Pickled Heritage Carrot, Oyster Consommé. Drink: Chablis.

meal1fish

Main: Cocoa rolled Beef, Celeriac Puree, Parsnip, Carrot, Potato Fondant, & Pea Puree. Drink: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Meal1Main.jpg

Dessert: Filo wrapped Cookie Dough & Dark Chocolate Ganache with Cherry & Amaretto Sauce. Drink: Dessert wine my friend had.

Meal1Dessert.jpg

Having done this once, I’ll do it again. I may even do it as a paying sideline. But I will change some things. Mainly, I’ll use my own dinnerware, and cutlery, and serviettes. I also need to work on presentation, these were adequate, but clumsy and gauche.

For the menu I need to give due credit. The Satay Chicken recipe is almost entirely Sally Abé’s. The dessert is Ina Garten’s and comes from an old Barefoot Contessa episode so old, it’s not listed on the Food Network website. The idea of coating the beef in cocoa also came from a show, I just can’t remember which one.

But not all the ideas are filched. I pickled my own baby cucumbers, same with the heritage carrots – they are amazing, I used raspberry vinegar and it gives a really subtle sweetness.

My biggest brag is the oyster consommé. I looked for a recipe, but could not find one. Oyster soup recipes seemed to either contain cream, or be little more than oysters and a few veg in hot water. The first attempt, earlier in the week, gave a thin overly vegetable flavored water. In the end I diced heritage carrot and shallot and marinated them with mussels, prawns, and squid in rice wine, fish sauce, my secret special salt, and pepper. To make the consommé I used 9 fresh oysters and their liquor, the marinated mix, 3/4 a bottle of Pinot Grigio, and 1/4 a bottle of water. The gamble was cooking these together from the start, instead of cooking the main ingredients in a little oil. It worked. When drained, and put through a cloth, I was left with a richly flavored, clear consommé. The purple color from the heritage carrots adds a lovely extra visual element to the dish, and complements the pickled carrot.

Another winning element was the cherry and amaretto sauce. I added palm sugar, cream, and a spoonful of melted milk chocolate. This was reduced to a thick, sticky sauce which soaked into the filo pastry deliciously. Also I pan fried a couple of amaretto soaked cherries, they were most excellent.

And here’s the great thing. For six people these four courses, with an aperitif (prosecco, amaretto, & cherry brandy) to start, came in at about £15(US$19) per head. Obviously if I was charging I’d set it at something like £30 (US$38) per head, but that’s still massively cheaper than a restaurant, where your drinks would be more than £30(US$38).

You can see other things I cook at my twitter feed.

The upshot of all this cooking (and my brother being down for the weekend) is two days of zero writing, with limited opportunities for the next day or two. NaNoWriMo is suffering. It was so worth it.

 

 

November 3rd

WANTED!

Reviewers. All comments welcome, just be willing to leave a review!
As I mentioned, in my last post, This United States  -Volume I is now published.

But I really need some reviewers.

It’s 11 stories, its about 33k words.

As a reviewer I’m not looking for ‘Oh My Gunderwalt!, Give this guy a Pulitzer.’ Just honesty. If you read all eleven stories and didn’t enjoy them, give it a low rating and say what you didn’t enjoy. If you only love one story, say that in the review. But please, please, review it.

Now, to sweeten the pot, not only will anyone who responds to this post with a “Sure, I’ll give you a review” get a free .mobi or .epub version of the book, the first person will also get a subscription to Gamut, the new new-noir speculative publication that opens in January.

It’s not so much me begging (which I am) as using naked bribery. C’mon, have a read.

And while you do, I’ll carry on with NaNoWriMo. Which is madness. I wasn’t going to do it, having failed three times previously (though signing up last year, when I was moving 600 miles was stupid). Infant it was 18 hours into November before the madness struck. After 2 days, I’m on target!

The result will be a very rough first draft for Volume V of These United States. Yup, the last one will be a novel. It will follow the format of moving from state-to-state, which will make the story episodic in nature, beyond that I’m not 100% sure. The first episode is in Alaska, and there’s a mountain climbing accident. That’s all I know so far. There is already a steampunky element involved, though steampunk isn’t really the correct word. maybe it’ll become the hippypunk story I wanted to try a few years ago – if Stormville Epsilon D’vore becomes a character, it definitely will.

Beyond that, I’m still editing stories for an SF collection, and I have further stories set aside for a darker, gorier, collection. However, there is much editing to do. Some of these tales have significant flaws in structure. It’s the reason I’m doing NaNoWriMo, it’s a distraction/displacement activity to prevent me spending real thinking time on fixing the issues.

The reason for that is two-fold. 1) I’m a lazy oik who’d rather not think hard. 2) My ME is bad at the moment. I’m losing words mid-sentence, my arms feel like they have lead instead of muscle, ten hours of sleep leaves me needing another ten, my eyes look like I’ve spent three days partying and am auditioning for the role of Death in a remake of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.

That’s a reason though, not an excuse. So, I’d better get on and do it.

Oh, by the way, are any of you artists or graphic designers? Fancy having your work on the cover of a book? Money is an issue, but I promise we’ll come to arrangement where ‘exposure’ is not you’re only reward. Hit me up. I need two book fronts by the end of the year and, as you can see from These United States – Volume I, I’m no artist.

28th October

An auspicious day.

I pressed publish on my first collection of US state stories. Eleven obsessed over pieces of me presented to the world to be generally ignored (though ideally I’d like about 250,000 paying readers 😀 ).

These United States – Volume I will shortly be available on pretty much every major reading platform.

Naturally, there was a typo in the blurb (now corrected – thanks, Cheryl), and I’m sure I’ll have missed some in the text. Ho, as they say, hum.

Now I expected to be full of cheer and bravado on this, but all I have is trepidation and doubt. I was ready to press publish a couple of days ago, and couldn’t do it. I needed the time to reflect on what it means for me. This all makes it sound like I’m laying claim to deep meaningful work of immense importance in exploring the human condition, while one of the stories is about alien invasion, and another is about spies. But that doesn’t mean the stories don’t mean something to me. They represent hours of research, writing, editing, proofreading, and formatting. One of these stories was the catalyst for a recent relocation.

What I’m saying is, these are part of me. My worry is not about whether they are read, nor is it trepidation of poor or non-existent reviews. It is worry about letting them go instead of holding them close and continuing to gnaw them, like a troll with a femur in a dark hole.

We’ve been having a clearcut at home recently, moving out things which are liked, beloved even, but not used or useful in this house. There is an element of catharsis in such action and I hope to get the same from putting these eleven stories out there. It’s time to do new research, think new thoughts, explore new states, write new words. Volume I has been three or four years in the making. My aim for Volume II is four to six months (I have 3 stories ready).

Publishing has been done with Pronoun. What a joy! Getting a hang of the formatting interface would have been easier had I read the friendly tuition guides up front, but that’s on me. Everything has been provided. I really love the fact that the release will be done across Amazon, Apple IBooks, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Kobo. Whatever your device, you can get my book!

I look forward to building a nice virtual bookshelf of published works over the coming years.

Next up will be a collection of my SF stories, but there’s still a chunk of editing work to do there, so it might be December before that’s ready.

Lastly, if you would be willing to provide a review (good or bad, just the truth) then hit me up for an advance copy.

f48ebf2e-6ad7-4d89-9c29-6b9a2218dfb9500x

 

 

20th October

I’ve been here before.

That’s the title of today’s post, and a chunk of it will be about cycling. First, a primer of the situation at present. Team Sky are a professional cycling team. Formed a few years ago they were sold as the antithesis to the US Postal team which proven cheat Lance Armstrong cycled for. They would take the excellence of incremental enhancements which saw Team GB’s cycling team sweep all before them at an Olympic level, and add to it an avoidance of improprietous drug usage.

WOW! They were effective. Choosing riders for races, sacrificing well known names for the overall progress of the team. And they won the Tour de France. More than once. Awesome.

Then, because of the ban on a majority of Russian athletes being allowed to compete at the Rio Olympic games, a group of hackers set about looking for drug impropriety in other nations. To be fair, most of the releases have been nothing outstanding. But they did find details of the use of TUE’s by Team Sky riders, including Sir (now) Bradly Wiggins in 2001, 20012 (his Tour de France & Olympic time trial winning year) and, 2013. And today there is a story about a Team GB cycling flying an unidentified medical package from Britain to France. Begging the question of what medicine could not be obtained in France?

What’s a TUE? A Therapeutic Usage Exemption. It allows for a specified us of otherwise embargoed medication. And I want to be very clear here, we are talking about medication. this is not the days of Tommy Simpson where amphetamines, or la bomba, were in common usage. TUE’s are designed to allow an athlete to compete on a level playing field that would otherwise be impossible due to an underlying medical condition. Sir Bradley’s condition? Asthma. I have asthma (because I’m a fat chuffer), many people have asthma. Not many of us are Olympic gold, tour de France winning knights of the realm.

And that’s why today’s post is called ‘I’ve been here before’. Because I have. I was here when Lance Armstrong was accused of being dirty, and he stood and called out his accusers, sued his accusers, and was vindicated in court. Then he admitted to being the cheat he was accused of. Suddenly all those people who had been reviled by him and his defenders, who had been driven to the brink of ruin by him, who had been defrauded by him, were proven to be right, truthful, and honorable. I remember the evening Lance tweeted a picture of himself with his framed even Tour de France maillot jaune and a tag of ‘Just chilling’. The was after the USDA had produced their report detailing his cheating. I’d read the report, I was already convinced of his guilt (I didn’t need to see him admit it to Oprah) and was sickened by his blatantcy.

Now I’m seeing similar denials and prevarications. I’m parsing the words of other cyclists and hearing ‘yeh, I thought it was dodgy as hell’. It’s horrible.

If it’s true he should be stripped of all his awards and prizes. Team Sky are already shedding senior staff, they should be disbanded (which is gutting).

Going forward, all cyclist need to have an open blood passport (as should all professional athletes) and any TUE should be open. The current system requires, I believe, three separate doctors to sign off on its usage. That is robust, the only thing missing is transparency. Any request should be linked with the blood passport and extra blood testing for those using a TUE must be part of the process.

It’s the only way cycling (actually, road racing) can be revived and given credibility.

And that’s the end of part one, the cycling bit.

Next, I write you know!

And I’ve been here before. Or there, that is. Earlier this month I wrote about looking at my stock of written and part-written work, and then making a decision on how to move forward. I did this. I was surprised by what came forward.

Most of what I write is SF, to some extent. But I also have another passion project. Writing a story unique to each US state, along with a few stories about other areas unique to the US. I’ve spoken about getting the first volume out before, and not done it. But now it’s moving forward. My first 11 stories, about 37,000 words, are nearly ready. What do I mean by ready? Each story is as I want it to be. now I’m combing through for irritating typos, formatting for publication, ensuring that curly quotes are used throughout (instead of a mix of straight and curly quotes as was there at the start). I’ve got a couple of people signed on for beta reading, but would love some more.

Let me know.

Lastly on the theme of ‘I’ve been here before’ there was a problem blew up in the SF community last weekend. A well known writer was revealed as a manipulating, creepy, bastard. It keeps happening, not just in SF, but more than I want to see in a field I love and am involved in.

Can I ask a favor? Could men is SF stop being creepy bastards? It really isn’t all, or even a majority, but it’s enough to make things horrible. I really don’t care if you have strict views on what a person may or may not do, just don’t try to impose them on someone else. I don’t care if your writing is mono-colored, just stop demanding non-white people have no place in our non-real fiction writing field. I don’t care if you are a creep who believes women are beneath you, and that people are only useful if they can advance your career, just ,please, sod off and stop being a bastard round here.

I don’t want to be here again.

 

 

 

 

 

10th October

Not much to report.

My Chronic Fatigue has been bad this week. Holding a coherent thought in place has been a struggle.

One thing I have realized is how many unfinished projects I have. This need addressed, so I’m trying to do that. Sort the wheat from the chaff, the stories that do have solid underpinning from these that are just a collection of words arranged into some pretty sentences.

The intention is to produce a list, and then work through that in a methodical way.

October 3rd

Last year I started a short story with a working title of Epecuén. The name is that of a town in Argentina which was flooded out of existence in the mid-eighties. In my head the story is a tale of magical-realism, the town is sacrificed to save the nation. The details of this were hazy, but it felt like a good hook to work with. After about four and a half thousand words I was running in to walls and couldn’t find a way through, under, or over. I set it aside.

At the weekend I re-opened the file and read through it. I love the writing. It is sweet, and emotional, at least I think so. I have aspergers, emotion isn’t an easy reach for me and I’ve been fighting with adding it in for a couple of years now. Reading back Epecuén was a valediction of the work I’ve been doing. And I realized why the story was blocked for me. What I have written – about one-third of the final tale I reckon – is actually a sweet coming of age story. No magic anywhere in sight.

Now I have a problem. Do I continue with it as is, which is very much not my œuvre, or go back to the initial idea. I really can’t figure it out yet.

And as I’m not writing enough at the moment, I’m not rushing it it.

That’s not saying I’m not writing, or editing, or submitting. I am. This week I submitted a new story to one of my top target markets. The final edit made me really happy. I go to places that are uncomfortable in both subject and execution, and I’m happy with the way it has come out. I’ll see what comes with the submission.

Now, I need some help.

I have another story I love. It’s about an elf, and a vampire, and a murder. It’s set in snowy Nebraska, and there’s not a human in the world. Think Jessica Fletcher, as an elf, solves her first small town mystery. But can I get anyone to sniff at it? No. Where do I send it?

I’ll leave that here. It’s early October. I hope to write again in a few days.

 

27th September

Time for the monthly update.

I need to change the monthly update.

Really, it needs to be more frequent, but I’m not sure it’ll happen.

I had a great holiday this month, 2 weeks right next to the beach, swimming in the sea every day, shooting the breeze with family and friends, reading, & writing. Now I’m having a clear-out at home, and putting a bunch of stuff on eBay & Gumtree & the like.

On the writing front I had a disaster yesterday. My son has a 2 hour class twice a week about 20 miles away. Just far enough to justify staying and waiting  instead of driving back and forth. On Thursday I found a terrific coffee shop and spent two hour writing. It was some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever written, lyrical, soulful, honest. I worked on it some more over the weekend and had about 2k words.

I didn’t save it.

Not sure how, I thought Scrivener kept the last item for you. But I’m not blaming Scrivener, it’s my bad.

It threw me somewhat when I sat to write in the same coffee shop yesterday.

grrrrrr

However, I wrote. The story is back up to the same place plot wise, but 900 words shorter. Wouldn’t you know it, it’s all the really soul revealing stuff that’s gone. Some of it I just don’t remember, other parts I don’t see how they belonged in the story. I’ll need to find somewhere else for them to go.

On the upside, the first part of the story has already received a ‘kill your darlings’ edit. Silver linings, silver linings.

On other writing related things, I joined a group for people who self publish, and it kind of worries me. Some writers are putting out an enormous amount of words at incredible speed. I’m wary of reading any of it because it’s either terrific, and my confidence can’t take that right now, or it’s poor, and I don’t want to read that.

I’m definitely going to SP some things, but I can’t see me doing it at the rate many in the group are. For a start my first drafts are always stinky slimy things, with massive amounts of typos and huge plot holes.

And with that, I’m away to take my multi-vitamins, beetroot tablets, & anti-depressants.

 

30th August

So, no regular updates during the month.

I’ve re-written and edited 16k worth of my novella. I now have a good handle on what else I need to write, and how.

I’ve also done a whole bunch of First Reading at F&SF. What a joy this gig is.

On Thursday (1st Sept) I’m away on holiday for 2 weeks. A long drive to the north of Scotland. I’m going to do a lot of swimming, a lot of sauna-ing, play some Firefly tabletop, and write a bunch.

So my guess is, I’ll update this about the same time next month.

29th July

or: Leaving this month’s post to the last minute, and other procrastinations.

A strange month in all. Let’s start with a highlight.

I got a new First Reader gig. With Fantasy & Science Fiction. Charles Finlay put a call out for applicants, I applied, my application was accepted. The team got to work just as the submission hiatus ended and have worked through nearly a thousand of the over eleven hundred submissions received. I’ve read some awesome stories. I look forward to some appearing in future issues.

One of the things I have noticed is more than a few stories where sirens of some sort are a key feature of the tale. I blame Rhonda Parrish. Her Magical Menageries collection Sirens is now out, and that means there are a few related tales that weren’t included still available. I myself wrote two stories for the anthology. One never got as far as submission, the other never made the cut. I hope to do better with the Equus call – though I need to get my finger out and finish writing the story.

Which means I need to be busy writing because over the next four months I am challenging myself to write a 40k word novella. To be fair, I have about 15k of early draft work done, but it will still be my biggest challenge. This is a story that has been with me for some time. Elevator pitch? The crew of a small salvage ship scraping a living on the fringes of the solar system find a derelict space yacht. It’s been drifting for two hundred years. What they  discover aboard sends them on a journey back to all the things left behind, and will change Earth/Mars relationship forever. How does that sound? I’ve never done one. The reason I’m undertaking this is to submit it to the Ab Terra call being edited by Yen Ooi.

In other, non-writing related news, I was at the hospital on Wednesday. I received official diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue. This wasn’t a surprise, but rather the culmination of a couple of years deterioration in my health. I had hoped my most recent malaise was a recurrence of glandular fever I suffered three or four years ago, but the blood work all came back as negative. The frustrating thing is on Wednesday I really needed to be sat at home with my foot up, as I couldn’t I have now strained ligaments. The constant pain is sapping. Imagine bad toothache, in your foot, for three days. Of course, as the family carer I’ve had to do more than I should, thought today and tomorrow should be days I can rest. If I’m sensible I’ll do some writing, or editing. It’s all highly annoying as I’ve just purchased a bike (2nd hand) to try and rebuild some strength, and have been swimming at the local beach (Cawsand).

Next month I hope to move back to weekly updates to help keep track of my novella progress.