Belatedly Witten Up. Plus Some Thoughts on Public Speaking

Nomads in Spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace

When Words Collide was a success. I enjoyed the evening and by all accounts so did everyone else.

Personal thanks must go to Barbara Melville (hail to the dictator) and her editor Matt Nadelhaft for their understanding and support which enabled me to get through a very difficult writing process.

My flash fiction Nomadic Space, about a Mongolian Cosmonaut, was well received and I am so happy with it I am currently looking for somewhere to punt it. The image in this post is one of those that inspired me.

I was surprised that so many of the readers shunned direct Science Fiction as I fully expected that everyone would go for something a bit rockets and rayguns.  Instead the readers focused on the effect of space on the individual. As Paul F Cokburn mentions it was nonetheless a thought-provoking evening.

A note on public speaking

I was very pleased that my own reading went off quite well.  I was very nervous. Over the years I’ve had to learn all sorts of tricks for dealing with psychological pressure to perform and I thought I would share a few pointers.

  1. Grit your teeth. No not when you’re speaking – that won’t work, what I mean is ‘get through it’.  Just take a deep breath, relax it will be fine
  2. Don’t get sloshed beforehand.  Being drunk isn’t a state in which you can reliably deliver entertainment. Though I did once give a an excellent best mans speech in a state which can only be called “sloshed”.  I am told it was excellent. I also don’t remember what I said.
  3. Do at least a couple of run-throughs.  Get used to the words and how they sound when you speak.
  4. Draw a line under the editing process.  If you’re sitting in the bar and about to go on it’s too late to make much of a difference.
  5. Give it a final read before you stand up. I find this fixes the words in my head.
  6. Act confident.  Who cares if you’re not? It’s only you that knows that the little horrid you that lives in your head is shouting “BE NERVOUS” in your ear.  Don’t listen to him.  See point 1.

The result is that when you fess up to being nervous people say things like this:

Hang on, Mr Big bad Gav is scared of public speaking?? This makes me giggle!

I’m not bad, I may be a bit tubby and I thought I was going to shake to pieces.

I didn’t.  It was fine.


Flash Fiction – what’s that all about?

What IS Flash Fiction?

When I started writing I was only dimly aware that Flash Fiction even existed.  Over time I’ve read it a few times and I’ve always believed that it was any work that was less than 1000 words.  It turns out that it’s anything under that limit, under 1500 words, under 75 or anything else in between – there’s no cast iron definition. In fact it’s whatever a writer says it is though the common consensus is that at 1500 words you should stop being coy, grow up and call it a short story.

I wasn’t even aware that some people could win a competition or earn a bit of extra cash with it, yet here I am on the long list for a small competition which means £50 and inclusion in an anthology.  Voting closes on the 20th of January.

My story is Ariadne  (by Gavin McMenemy) and you can read it (with voting instructions) here:  Light Reading.

While you’re there you might want to check out the Diamond Light Source site.  They do cool things with fricking lasers Synchrotron radiation* (which I won’t go into detail here).

I, for one, welcome my future-reading silicon overlord…

If we ask it the right question will we get the wrong answer?

Well the news has been abuzz with talk of a mighty new computer that can predict the future.  It managed to predict Osama Bin Laden’s location and when the Arab spring was going to happen.  The computer is called Nautilus and it’s very smart indeed.

Unfortunately it didn’t.

What it did was read the news from some time ago and then some scientists interpreted it would have predicted these events if it had been around at the time.  Now, I don’t know if I am the only one to spot the flaws in this sort of thinking…

I think this quote is particularly interesting.

“I liken it to weather forecasting. It’s never perfect, but we do better than random guessing.”

Yeah that never goes badly.

But here’s the real problem and the one that will really make me put my head in my hands if this sort of tech’ catches on.  We know it’s going to inexact.  Models of chaotic systems can never be infallible – it’s just not possible for us to build a computer that powerful, even if it’s a currently fashionable topic in SF*, even if (just if) we are actually living in that sort of simulation.   But that won’t stop poorly educated politicians and journalists making strident claims based on its output.  There was an outbreak of this sort of thinking after 9/11. A lot of money was poured into large databases at the time.  In fact it had been on the cards for a while anyway – it’s called Echelon.

Many people said at the time that if the US had a big enough database of information then it could predict what would happen.   Nautilus is eerily similar isn’t it?

I wonder what Asimov would have made of this… or for that matter George Orwell.  The sad truth is that I think of all of them Terry Gilliam was probably right when he made Brazil.  Is this really the price we’ve got to pay because of those sad events?

Here’s what Charlie Brooker has to say.

What should spaceships look like?

Good question isn’t it?

I once had an exchange over the latest Star Trek film and at one point my other correspondent said, “And another thing, I hate the way the Romulan ship looks like a big jumble of knives.”  I paraphrase but his problem was that the Romulan ship didn’t look like a “proper” spaceship.  Certainly not for the Trek universe.  I pointed out that we’re talking about a fanciful fantasy set in space… why shouldn’t the Romulan ship look like whatever it wants?

This week the BBC news service wonders the same thing, What Should Spaceships Look Like?

And today I thought I would watch 2001: A Space Odyssey again.  Kubrick‘s attention to detail in the ship designs he chose is impressive, I know that he hired staff from NASA to help.  There’s an obvious American feel to the space sections.  The machines all look as you would expect an American ship designer to turn out – almost rigidly functional – and there’s no mistaking that this is what spaceships should look like.  It’s almost a cliché.

You can even see a similar design ethos in the early Star Wars films:  clunky, rigid, spacey craft that nevertheless zip around at fantastic speeds.  It’s popularly known that they are a direct riposte to the sleek futurism of the Star Trek universe.

So what should a spaceship look like?

Well anything you like really.  It’s not like there are aerodynamic limitations in space.  There might be limitations based on whatever method of propulsion (rocket ships… need rockets and exhausts, but I think one of the most imaginative that I’ve ever seen is in the film The Fountain (of which I seem to be the only fan).  I’ve attached a pic to show it in its detail – but I think it clearly resembles the amniotic sac surrounding the Star Child at the end of 2001.. and bringing us back to the 60s once again.  Is there no escaping Stanley Kubrick?

The bubble looks a bit the amniotic sac of the Star Child at the end of 2001.

Books Belong In Bookshops…

… and in our hands.

Heather Collins over at the Scottish Booktrust writes on why Books deserve to be sold on the highstreet.  While I don’t care for the comparisons with Fairtrade and Organic food I do agree that part of the fun is browsing.  I love to browse.  I like to walk in and spend ages wandering back and forth looking in books, admiring artwork and generally enjoying myself.   The thought that this might stop fills me with a lot of sadness.

Even the Guardian asks Will Books Vanish With Bookshops? I hope not.   There’s a part of me that wonders if we’re living in interesting times.   I’ve lived through:  the fall of the Soviets, I’ve seen space shuttles explode and watched genocide happen Live on television. So will I also watch the end of one of our most important cultural artefacts?  Again I hope not.  If the future is one where we never leave our homes, where we spend our lives more connected and more distant then it’s a future I don’t look forward to.

As Ray Bradbury said (PDF):

Magazines and books didn’t sell any more. Everything went on in the tomblike houses at night now, he thought, continuing his fancy.  The tombs, ill-lit by television light, where the people sat like the dead, the  gray or multicolored lights touching their faces, but never really touching them.

What’s coming down the pipe…

I wrote some time ago that I didn’t think many advocates of ebooks and ereaders fully appreciated what the future may hold.  Well I might have been wrong.  People are thinking about it and I worry.

Authors demand drive to raise readers’ awareness of book piracy’s cost

There is a very clear difference between musicians and authors.  Where musicians are themselves the product and have a built-in revenue stream authors don’t and aren’t.  Except for a tiny minority.  Authors do not make money through performance (I wonder if that might change…) so the maths, as they are now, are clear.  Don’t pay… don’t get professional* authors.      It’s been pointed out to me by others that ebooks represent an opportunity.  Authors will be able to interact directly with their readers and perhaps provide evolving content.  Readers will be able to interact with each other.  The key word is interact.

There’s a built-in problem with that notion.  As a reader I do not want to interact with other readers while I am in the act of reading. That’s not what reading is about.  And surely one of the things we as authors do is provide a story.  An idiom I’ve heard is that poetry is always unfinished.  Poets do revise their work but this seems less common for authors.  After all, if you’ve spent a year working on a book do you really want to go back and revise it… again?  I am not even convinced that it’s desirable.  Many reworking of songs or films are just dire.  It occurs to me that these interactive stories are not books and have been around for years.  They’re called computer games.

* Amateurism is bad.

Author Declares War on Beeb

We had World Book Day here in the UK recently.  There was a lot of coverage on the Beeb*.  I don’t have a telly so only caught up later.  Something that slipped past me was that the Beeb didn’t give any serious coverage to genre fiction. “Enough!” declares the author Stephen Hunt after watching Books We Really Read.  It seems we really read anything other than Horror/SF/Fantasy.  His rant on the obvious snobbery is worth reading and he seems keen on starting a campaign for equal rights for equal books.  I agree with his sentiment even if I don’t agree with his use of Coronation Street as a metaphor.

Read Hunt’s entertaining rant here.

I should add that I got this from the Guardian article – thanks Guardian you may have redeemed yourselves after printing Mr Docx’s tedious complaints.

Interesting side note.  According to Wiki World Book Day is actually World Book and Copyright day.  I fully ‘fess up to being ignorant of that fact until today.  Wonder why no one mentioned it?

*  I did watch an excellent series on the history of books that I found on iPlayer.

A FebWri write up

Some time ago I publicly announced I was going to try an experiment.

I suppose I should say how FebWri went.

I discovered that 2500 words a day is HARD work and I won’t achieve that unless I try really hard. I’ve also discovered that having a girlfriend or any kind of life, doesn’t help unless you’re super organised – which I am not.  I’ve also worked on a bunch of stories over the entire period and now I have fragments lying around in my writing archive that I can come back to.

And I am currently working on a short story that I am quite excited about but I need to do research to finish. So I’ve joined the library – which I hope the government doesn’t decide to close.

Oz Borders goes bust ergo publishing must be doomed?

It seems that the Australian arm of Borders has gone into administration with some pundits wondering what this says about the future of the printed word.  Hm.  I think some people need to go back and do their stats again and realise that correlation does not equal causation.  The reasoning goes like this:  people can buy ebooks, ebooks are cheaper than printed books,  printed books are expensive in Oz – therefore the demise of the Borders chain in Oz must be because people want ebooks.

Maybe not.

The problem with the demise of Borders (Oz tentacle) is that their business model, which includes cartel pricing,  was seriously flawed.  Additionally, if you chuck the bizarre copyright laws in Oz which denies Australians books widely available in the US, easily  shipped across border lines to arrive cheaper than buying at the shop down the street, is it any wonder that Borders fell over.

More can be read at this article:  The Internet Ate Our Homework

People also seem surprised that Borders in the UK has fallen over – that this somehow presages the collapse of publishing generally – and I would disagree.  Again, if you look around, there seems plenty of evidence of a poorly run business collapsing when a bit of financial pressure was applied.

The obvious comparison is with the music industry –  after all many of these places are actually owned by the same large conglomerates – so you would expect to see a similar approach to sales and marketing.  When music started going digital, the monolithic music industry attempted to squash trade in these files rather than see the opportunities.  The consequence was that they became synonymous with evil in the minds of many consumers who, rightly, didn’t enjoy being relentlessly pursued for doing what they wanted – listen to music at a reasonable price (or free).

These days it seems that the music industry has finally recognised that it needs to change.  If you look behind the big players in music streaming you normally find the same conglomerates funding and lending libraries.  The deals these services supply are convenient to users and the price is invariably right.

I wouldn’t write off the publishing industry.  As the same influences that changed the music industry percolate throughout the major media companies you will start see differences in the way that books are supplied. Plus there’s a lot of small press activity out there – and it certainly seems that a lot of the interesting stuff in literature is being produced in these small businesses.

What does this have to do with ebooks?  Not much.  The convenience of ebooks make them attractive to consumers but because people want digital books does not mean that the publishing industry will fail.

Anonymous Critiquing Bonanza

Quite a productive evening tonight.  I attended my first meeting of the Inky fingers group here in Edinburgh.  It was very interesting.  Seven of us submitted sample short pieces in advance,  these were anonymised and passed around.  We read the each and then had a discussion.  I really enjoyed myself.  There was a preponderance of poetry – that’s true – but I have to say that the standard was high so I didn’t mind.   My main enjoyment came from spending time with other authors and hearing their thoughts.  Everything was constructive and fair.  No one was picked on.  All in all it had a great atmosphere and hopefully I’ve made some friends.  I came away with a fresh perspective of what I had written and some notes on improving it.

It did what it said on the tin!

Thanks to everyone who was there!


The Forest Cafe is under threat.  The charity that owned and operated it has gone into administration.  Other arts venues owned by that charity have already been shut.  The folks at the cafe have been corageous and are attempting to take it under their own wing.  It is a unique venue.  Vist their site and make a donation if you can.


The Forest Cafe is not the only place that is under threat.  The Assembly Rooms on George St are due to be closed for renovation.  The reason for this renovation appears to be an excuse to install yet more shops (that won’t be used) and a restaurant (as if Edinburgh needs more of those).  Artsy types are rightly up in arms.

Please go take a look and see how you can help.

In brief.  This is a major venue that’s part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  Edinburgh has become a mecca this sort of thing.  You’d think that the council would ensure that it’s global reputation remained but this is also the same council that really doesn’t give a toss about Edinburgh’s UNESCO World Heritage Status.