Friday, December 25, 2009


My Beloved and I celebrated Christmas Eve by going to see Avatar 3D.

It had the same effect on me as seeing the first Star Wars film when it came out: it took my breath away. I've not seen anything like it before.

The special effects are perfectly integrated with the real actors. The plot is only so-so in places and with a few real holes. I could see the ending coming from a long way off but that didn't seem to matter. What makes this film extraordinary is the beauty of the alien world and with the 3D effects you feel like you're there with them.

It's exciting and tender and sad.

A major theme is the transformation of the main character. It's also a love story but not just the love between a man and an alien: the man falls in love with the whole world. And so did I.

These pictures don't do it justice. You really must see it!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Free Book for Christmas

I've just come across the latest free online book: Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson. It looks like fun.

Reading books online just isn't the same and I don't have a Kindle so if I really like a book and it isn't too dear I tend to buy the paperback. It means that offering free online books is a good way to let readers see if they want to buy. I wonder if that will change in a few years time when we all have portable book readers.

Oh, and Merry Christmas one and all.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A day late

It was the winter solstice yesterday and I missed it. Yay! That means I didn't even notice the shortest day and from now on things can only get better. Well, the days will get lighter, anyway.

It's always a relief to me when we've passed the darkest day, although at least winter doesn't mean I'm cold for months on end these days like it did when I was growing up. We didn't have central heating or double glazing and although Jack Frost patterns on the window are pretty I'm much happier not having them.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

No comment

I'm having trouble with commenting on some blogger blogs, so if you'd expect me to comment but I haven't then that's why.

In particular, I wanted to sympathise with Sarah over her poo problem. I hope it gets better soon.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Clarity of Night Contest

You've probably seen this, but the picture above is the prompt for the Clarity of Night January short fiction contest.

There's always stiff competition from the many talented writers that follow that blog so I'm not sure if I'll enter or not. One thing is certain: I won't win if I don't enter! And the discipline of writing my absolutely best 250 words is probably worth the effort. If I can think of anything to write.

Will you be going in for it?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Action scene

I've written an action scene! And it was fun!

I can't do action scenes so I'm always amazed when I do. This is why I like Nano. It stretches my limits.

1297 words to go and counting.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you who celebrate it!

For us it's just another day but I will think of all of you with your families and turkeys and too much pie, or whatever you are doing to celebrate, and I will eat chocolate in your honour. (I'll eat chocolate anyway so it might as well be in your honour.)

I wonder what it feels like to have two major feasts within just one month of each other. I have enough trouble sorting out Christmas.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The last ten thousand

I thought the last ten thousand words were meant to be the easy downhill slope to the ending? Not a bit of it. I am quarrying words one at a time. I've got plot holes and character holes and motivation holes and I kind of know where I want to be at the end but I don't see how to get there.

So, normal Nano then.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Keep slogging on

Some days the words flow, other days writing is as easy as quarrying rocks. It's tempting to give up on the bad days and assume that what I'm writing is rubbish but Tim Hallinan says
When I read the work six weeks later, I can’t tell the good days from the bad ones. In other words, I usually have no idea whether I’m writing well or badly.
from Timothy Hallinan's Writer's Resources.

I love Tim's website. It's the best writing encouragement you can get.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Watch a professional writer in action

Holly Lisle is giving away a new book one scene at a time as she writes it. If you would like to follow the process of a first draft as it emerges from the keyboard of a published writer, then you need to go here and sign up. The scenes will be sent to your email address as they are written.

TalysMana: The Gate Between Reality and Story is a collaboration between Holly and her daughter Rebecca Galardo who is producing the jewellery for the story. I've signed up.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Almost free

GUD magazine is offering its first 5 issues (nought to four) almost free. You can pay what you want, anything from one cent upwards. Buy all five for five cents if you like - that's less than 5p for those of us in England.

Is this the way forward for online publishing- letting the market decide the going rate? I don't know but I do know that this is a bargain. If you like sci fi or fantasy, you might like to head over there now.

A day off

Yesterday I took the day off and went to the London Nano meet. My Beloved came too because it was too wet to play tennis.

On the way home I sorted out some ideas for part three of the story. I've got ninja pirates kidnapping someone. It's not as daft as it sounds. OK, maybe it is then.

Just 18,000 words to go and then I can do some serious editing!

(Dan has some much better photos here.)

Lily admires the size of Dan's lens.

Tyrone takes out his anger on the chips

fairyhedgehog and Holly6000 listen attentively

Jim and our Canadian nanoer who is living here because she doesn't like cold winters

Friday, November 13, 2009

A picture is worth a thousand words

This is my novel at 28,000 words.

It's a pretty picture, anyway.

Wanting to edit

I desperately want to go back and edit my Nano story. There are inconsistencies and gaps and I want to polish it and make it pretty. But it hasn't ended yet and unless I get the story all written down I'll have nothing to edit. I tried editing as I go before in a non-Nano story and it didn't work.

So, here goes with more suckishness today. I tell myself that if I can just get to thirty thousand I'll be over the hump.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A story emerges

My story is emerging as a Diana Wynne-Jones/Isaac Asimov fan fiction mishmash.

I'm amazed I haven't been approached by a major publisher yet but maybe I need to add a few ninjas first.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Half Way

I've passed the 25k mark. I'm completely bogged down but I'm not ready to give up. Yet.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Does your story matter?

I love Chris Baty. From his latest Nano pep talk
I didn't say this in the Week One pep talk because we'd only just met and there's really only so much cornball sentiment from a random guy on the internet that anyone should have to tolerate in one month. But here's the truth: You have a book in you that only you can write. Your story matters. Your voice matters.

I'd love to believe that's true. If only my story were not so derivative.

Let's face it, some stories matter more than others.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

My dongle is broken

My internet has bust. I'm borrowing a connector from my son but only for this morning. Then I'm offline until I can get a new dongle. Just so as you know.

Thinking time

Today I've written 400+ words and that's it. I'm going to be planning the next few bits of my story and turning them over in my head. Tomorrow I'll be back at the keyboard tapping away. I think I need to do this. I can't think and type.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

In a world of my own

I've managed 2,000 words on my Nano novel today but only just. It's my lowest word count day yet. The trouble is, I'm running out of plot.

Perhaps I'd better start plotting instead of reading blogs. If you don't hear from me, I'm in a universe far, far away trying to work out what my characters can do next.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

I'm not evil

We don't like to think that we are immoral, so we make up reasons for our behaviour that make us look good. We even believe them ourselves.

A recent study found that given the choice between two magazines, one with women in swimsuits and one without, the men chose the swimsuit magazine. That wasn't the reason they gave, though. Each man was shown two magazines: one with wider sports coverage and another with more articles, and one or other of these had the bikini pictures. The men chose the magazines with swimsuit pictures but justified their choice by saying that they liked the magazine because it had more articles, or wider sports coverage. When they were told the real reason for their choice they did not believe it.

It's interesting to bear in mind when constructing villains. No one ever thinks that they are the villain.

Thanks to Mind Hacks for an excellent summary of the article.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Nano tip

Don't forget to back up your work.

I've remembered so far. As soon as I've written my 2000 words I get out my memory stick because I couldn't bear to lose all that writing and have to start again. Every Nano there are stories of people that lose their work. I don't want that to be me!

If you look in the comments you'll see that Sylvia has an even easier way to back up.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Secret

The secret of Nano is not to open my browser until I've written 2000 words. It's a better incentive than chocolate.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Sunday, November 01, 2009

You be the judge

Please pop over to Writtenwyrdd's blog to judge the twenty-one entries for the Halloween competition.

It's up to you who gets the cuddly Cthulu!

You don't have to be mad. Well, actually, you do.

There is something magical about meeting other people who are not only as mad as you are but are mad in the same way. The London Nano Weekend Kick-Off party was full of people who are mad about books, writing, science fiction,and computers and who are crazy enough to try to write a novel in a month.

We were at The Mad Hatter pub, so there was a hat competition. Silly Boy doesn't usually have Cthulu sitting on his head. Honestly. One of the Nanoers was wearing an entire bird on her head that she had knitted herself. I was impressed.

That photo is shamelessly stolen from captainmcdan's Flickr photos. You can see the rest of my photos here. Thank you Lily for organising it.


We had five or six groups of treaters and one trick: a banana left lying on the doorstep.

A bit later, some kids came and asked for their banana back. All in all, a good night.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Time is running out

Time is running out for you to enter Writtenwyrdd's Halloween Competition and win a cuddly Cthulu. Entries must be in by midnight on 31st October (although whose midnight writtenwyrdd doesn't say*).

What are you waiting for?

*Edited to add note from writtenwyrdd:
EST, and thanks for asking! You get five more hours of grace this way, anyhow. UPDATE: But by the time I get up the next morning will do. I prefer it 'postmarked' nlt 10/31 though.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Are your aliens weird enough?

they feel no pain [...]their lips are behind their front teeth, they breathe mostly through their skin, and acid doesn't really burn them

from Popsci
These aren't aliens. They are naked mole rats.

If a terrestrial mammal is so very weird, how much stranger do our aliens need to be?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Not a book. Today I'm reviewing Boo! Halloween Chocolates from Hotel Chocolat. They came today, so thank you Nicola both for the prize and for getting it to me so quickly.

The chocolates are individually wrapped so you can hand them out to trick or treaters if you like. I won't. Let them eat Haribo, these are mine.

I usually eat very dark chocolate with a strong bittersweet taste. But this milk chocolate is unusually full of flavour. It's smooth, velvety and delicious. You put it in your mouth and it melts into... Oops. Now you know how I came to write my flash story. I'm not really a chocoholic. Really, I'm not.

The chocolates come in several shapes: my favourite is the cat. What could be better, cats and chocolate. They only needed to add a book and I'd be all set. Maybe they'll do that next year.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Spam Quality

My spam count has gone up from around 15 a day to around 70 a day overnight. This is not good news.

The worst of it is that the spam just isn't such good quality any more. I was using the spam to pick up interesting names that I might use in stories. Names like Krysta Mariala, Josue U. Kerr, and Betsy Boudreaux. Now all I'm getting is Approval Department, Member Services, and Term Life Insurance Quote. I can't somehow see these as character names.

Although, why not? Thinking about it I could write a really fun story with some of those characters. Maybe I should work on it now.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I won!

Oh my God! I was one of the ten winners in Nicola Morgan's chocolate competition! I'm in shock!

My story:

Lucy eased off the purple wrapper, savouring the moment. The silver foil was harsh against her fingers as she pulled it back to reveal the dark chocolate within. Snap! She broke off a single square and placed it in her mouth. Bitter flavours melted into sweet. She held it on her tongue, allowing the heavenly liquid to seep backwards and slip down her throat. Her eyes closed.


Her eyes flew open. Her heart raced as she saw the shopkeeper pointing to the sign: "Shoplifters will be prosecuted."

"Forty pence, please, and next time pay for it first."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Editing mode

Only one week now till Nanowrimo, and I'm in editing mode. I went in for Nicola Morgan's Chocolate Competition (now ended), and I've sent in an entry for Writtenwyrdd's Halloween Competition (there's still time to enter that one) and I'm editing a story I hope to submit to 365 tomorrows. I reckon I'd better get a move on because I need to be out of editing mode by next Sunday.

Oh, and all you UK people, we put the clocks back tonight. Thanks to Lee Wind for pointing me towards this timely reminder:

I think I need a bath now but not a hot one. Or maybe I'll just eat some chocolate.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Less is not more

I was just reading about a moonless night and thought about all those words ending in less. Somehow a lot of them don't work very well for me.

Am I alone in seeing a picture of a moon in my mind's eye when I read moonless and then having to purge that from my thoughts to get to the intended meaning? When I read
The moonless night was interrupted by a bright flash of light.
the first image that came to mind was a night scene bright with moonlight. Now if the author had written dark I would have been with him straight away. I have a similar problem with spotless which brings up a picture of spots for me, whereas immaculate doesn't. (I know it comes from macula = spot but I'm not fluent enough in Latin for that to be an issue for me.)

Dauntless doesn't have the same effect, presumably because daunt isn't a word I use regularly and when I do meet it it's mostly in the negative, as in undaunted.

Mostly, I think words ending in less are best avoided, especially if the alternative is shorter and more direct. What do you think?

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Language Problem

If you were to meet a sentient being on another planet, it's not very likely that they would be speaking English. Even on this planet it's not the language with the most native speakers. (According to Wikipedia it comes third.)

In science fiction there are a few well-tried ways to get around this problem, most of them involving hand waving.
  1. Have some sort of universal translation device e.g. the Babel Fish

  2. Have the traveller live in the alien culture and learn the language over an extended period of time e.g. Out of the Silent Planet

  3. Have a reason why the language is like a dead earth language and take along an expert in that language e.g. Stargate

  4. Have the aliens intercept our radio and tv signals and decode them, despite the fact that they aren't even compatible worldwide e.g. The Simpsons

  5. Use maths and chemistry to start the communication. I'm not sure if you can get to war and peace like this.

  6. Ignore the problem, have everyone speak English and hope that no one notices e.g. Star Trek

I have to admit that this last one is tempting although I find it unsatisfying.

If you were writing about someone meeting a totally new group of sentient beings, how would you get them to communicate?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Win a cuddly Cthulu

Halloween is on its way. For me, it's the Nano kick-off party and the chance to meet some of the other crazies who will be writing a novel in a month. For you, it could be the chance to win a cuddly Cthulu.

I would love to enter writtenwyrdd's competition but I have no aptitude at all for writing horror. Now if it was sci fi...

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Slow typing

I cut my thumb last night when I was preparing dinner and I am having to use the wrong thumb for the space bar. I can't believe how slow that makes my typing so if I seem curt you know why. See how slow it is here.

I can't play the clarinet either for at least a week because of the bandage.

We didn't even get the dinner in the end because I burnt it while faffing around for plasters etc.

I'll be all healed up in time for Nano, though, so that's all right.

All grown up

Guess which cat brought in a live frog the other day?

Up till now, Bonnie's main prey has been moths, which she brings inside to eat. The other day I heard frantic mewing so I rushed to rescue my poor little cat from whatever was upsetting her, only to find that she'd trapped something alive under a desk. At first I thought it was a bird but no. I don't really like frogs but I managed to grab a cloth, throw it over the frog to get hold of it, and put it out into the garden. Bonnie took a while to realise it had gone and she was not pleased. I wonder if she would have eaten it.

My little babies aren't babies any more.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Writing love scenes

I wasn't going to have any love scenes in my Nano novel this year and I certainly wasn't having any same sex love. My Main Character Rhea is a woman with a young son and I had her pinned down as firmly heterosexual until Claire came along and fell in love with her. Something here must be fascinating me because I keep coming back to love between women. I was so sure this year I wasn't going to go there!

I'm not sure I'm going to write any love scenes as such, though. Mostly because I don't think I have the skills. As NightWings puts it:
love scenes are part of loving relationships - or can be. I've been struggling with those a bit. To be honest: I haven't been all that successful.

NightWings is a new blog that looks like it's going to honestly explore some sensitive areas. It's worth a look.

In a previous Nano I had two bedroom scenes: one was a pillow fight and the other was an argument. It's just that love scenes are so much easier to write badly than to write well.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Shop early for Christmas?

I really hate doing my Christmas shopping early but I'm signed up for NaNoWriMo again so I can write November off. I have three and a half weeks to get ahead of Christmas before the madness begins.

I'd much rather start writing now but then I'd miss the excitement of being part of the challenge. It's like my husband doing the London to Brighton Bike Ride - it's no fun doing it on your own.

So, is anyone else up for the challenge? I realise that you may be a "real" writer, someone who writes all year and has a hope of getting published. Maybe Nano would take you away from more important writing. If you're like me, though, a happy amateur, then come and join us. All you have to lose is your sanity. (I'm making a big assumption here.)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What I did on my holidays

Advice to holidaymakers: Do not go to Brittany out of season.

First Week

1. Stayed by the sea on a traffic island. We did have the beautiful view of the sea that was promised in the advertising pictures, only the owners had cutely forgotten to mention that the triangular apartment block had roads on all sides. Being at the point of the triangle, we had roads on two sides including right below our ground floor balcony. I wonder what the locals thought of my pyjamas.

2. Looked at the sea. There was a very cold wind so didn't go in. The heated outdoor pool was closed for two weeks' renovation.

3. Visited a Breton town on the only decent hot day when I might have gone in the sea. That was not my idea. I am now speaking to my Beloved again.

Second Week

We stayed in a farmhouse an hour's drive from anywhere interesting. It was a wonderful place with an old winding wooden staircase and a woodburning stove. There were horses and a lovely weimaraner dog to pet and chickens to watch. We had three days warm enough for us to swim in the outdoor pool and chat to the owners who live onsite. They were great people and we really enjoyed meeting them. If anyone fancies a country holiday in Brittany, have a look at the owner's website.

The local lake was shut for the season. Well, the lake was there but the boats weren't.

Not all the locals were friendly. We went into a bar to get a coffee and waited for the owner to appear. A couple of French people followed us in. When the owner appeared he asked "who was here first?" and when I said I was, he said "I shall serve you last." We left.

It took nearly an hour to get to Pont-Aven, which is a lovely town with a network of bridges over a river. It's full of art galleries and very pretty, so that was the highlight of our stay.

I didn't buy a clarinet. I did take it with me though and My Beloved and I had some good fun playing tunes together.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Where to find interesting book recommendations

I was looking up a favourite website to point a friend toward it and realised I had never put it on my blog. How could I not direct you towards the website that that put me onto Tanya Huff? Well, here it is.

GLBT Fantasy Fiction Resources

This website reviews science fiction and fantasy books that have a gay-friendly perspective, from the well-known to the obscure. There are also a number of articles about related topics. Readers are invited to submit their own reviews but there is a level of editorial input ensuring that the quality of the reviews is maintained.

The books reviewed include The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, Orlando: A Biography by Virgina Woolf, and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin. I read this last book a very long time ago and it seems to me that it does what good science fiction should do: it makes a wonderful story of a distant world, while questioning the way this world is.

Really intelligent science fiction these days surely has to include an openness to the various forms that human sexuality takes. There is not just a clear male/female divide; intersex conditions are unusual but they exist. And people are not swans. Although some of us make a lasting relationship with one person of the opposite sex others do not and prefer our own sex or multiple relationships or both.

Even if you don't usually read fantasy or sci fi, I would head over and have a look. It's a great place to broaden your horizons.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

How to book a holiday

We still haven't had our summer holiday yet. I forgot how much colder it is in September and we're only going as far as Brittany. That's north France so not much warmer than it is here.

My brain fog is back. (I need to get the doctor to give me B12 weekly again because monthly doesn't seem to be enough.) This made booking the holiday interesting.

The original plan was for My Beloved, my Older Son, Older Son's Fiancée and me to travel out together to a gite with a heated outdoor pool for a week. Then MB and I would move to a different gite near the sea and OS and OSF would come back and cat sit. It meant booking three separate ferry crossings but I managed it. After all, what could go wrong?

1. I booked both places to stay for the same week.
2. When one of the owners agreed to change our booking I had to rebook every ferry crossing so that OS and OSF could join us partway through the holiday rather than go home partway through.
3. I forgot that if we travel on a ferry on Sunday overnight then we will arrive on Monday, not Sunday.
4. I forgot that if OS and OSF travel on a ferry on Saturday overnight then they will arrive on Sunday, not Saturday. (Yes, even after making that mistake once I managed to make it again.)
5. I've emailed the property owners so many times with the wrong details that I just hope we're all agreed as to who is arriving when.

I got MB to check the details and he says they are now correct. I won't be sure till we get there.

We'll be away from this Sunday until the 19th September.

(Edited to add link to definition of gite.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009

Talking to aliens

When I was at High School we had assembly every day. The whole school assembled in the hall and sang hymns, listened to a Bible reading and joined in prayers followed by the headmistress reading out school notices. I used to sit cross-legged on the floor in my school uniform wondering what it was like in the French schools during assembly and what their school uniforms looked like. What I didn't know was that French schools don't have anything resembling assembly and the children don't wear uniform.

I can't help thinking that when we write science fiction about aliens we are just as blinkered as I was then. Take for example:
At least one species, the Manti, were found to be intelligent. [...] Within several months of first contact, the scientists were able to develop a common language with the Mandi.
(From Conundrum on Titan by Patricia Stewart on 365 Tomorrows.)

I'm not sure that I can believe that if we find creatures that are less intelligent than we are that we will manage to find a common language. We don't seem to have done very well with chimps or bonobos and we certainly don't treat any Earth animals as intelligent beings on a level with ourselves.

If we meet aliens that are more intelligent than us, I wonder if they will treat us as we do the chimps, yet this is assuming that their culture is in many ways similar to ours. Somehow that feels rather like wondering what hymns the French children sing in assembly.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Catching the waiter's eye

Can't catch the waiters eye? Here's why.

A study in Buenos Aires found that waiters are very good at delivering the right drinks order to the right person. Part of their technique is that on the way to give the order to the bar waiters protect their memory by not looking at other customers. So the waiter isn't ignoring you, he's trying to keep his orders straight.

Thanks to Mind Hacks for this information.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


We went to see U2 live last night. I've always wanted to because I love their early songs, especially With or Without You. My Beloved thought it was great. I was disappointed because the sounds levels were all wrong for me and I found it hard to appreciate their music in the onslaught of sound. They seemed to have focussed more on the special effects, which were impressive, than on the music.

The supporting band Elbow, on the other hand, were wonderful. Warm, low-key and purely enjoyable. They had violinists on stage for their last song.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Competition reminder

It's still not too late to enter Writtenwyrdd's competition for some gorgeous notecards.

To go to the competition, click here.

How language affects your thoughts

I've found an easy way to avoid getting lost ever again. All you have to do is to learn the Aboriginal language of the Kuuk Thaayorre and you will always know where you are.

Instead of words like "right," "left," "forward," and "back," which, as commonly used in English, define space relative to an observer, the Kuuk Thaayorre, like many other Aboriginal groups, use cardinal-direction terms — north, south, east, and west — to define space. This is done at all scales, which means you have to say things like "There's an ant on your southeast leg" or "Move the cup to the north northwest a little bit." One obvious consequence of speaking such a language is that you have to stay oriented at all times, or else you cannot speak properly. The normal greeting in Kuuk Thaayorre is "Where are you going?" and the answer should be something like " Southsoutheast, in the middle distance." If you don't know which way you're facing, you can't even get past "Hello."

Taken from: HOW DOES OUR LANGUAGE SHAPE THE WAY WE THINK? by Lera Boroditsky which is a fascinating article that explores the effects of language on the perception of time and colour as well as space.

Beats GPS every time.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How to be Happy

It's now official. The Happiness Experiment found that the best way to increase your happiness is to think about something that went well the previous day.

So now you know. Let's all get feeling happy!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The end of happiness

The happiness experiment has ended. I dutifully did my bit every day and had a slightly less than usually good week. It might have been fretting about doing the experiment or it might just have been one of those weeks. I don't think that doing things for other people in a planned way suits me, though.

I'd love to hear how you got on.

Another competition

Timothy Hallinan's latest book Breathing Water is out in three week's time and to celebrate he is offering three signed copies as a prize. All you have to do is to read the chapters he is putting up on his blog, one a week for three weeks, and answer a question each time. If the first chapter is anything to go by then the questions aren't hard, they just require you to have read the chapter.

As you'd expect from Tim, the writing is vivid and strong. If you don't win, you may find that you have to buy the book anyway. I have a feeling that Tim's book is going to be the real winner in this competition and deservedly so.

Enter the competition here.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Writtenwyrdd's competition

Writtenwyrdd (Lynn D. Frazier) has been blogging now for three years and there's a competition open to everyone in honour of the occasion. All you have to do is to comment in response to this post and you have the chance of winning some beautiful handscreened cards worth $50.

If you haven't been following her blog, I do recommend it. It's very varied and interesting with useful ideas about writing speculative fiction and lots of pointers to places that take submissions.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Roadblocks to Happiness

The Science of Happiness experiment began yesterday and already I've hit some problems.

The task I was given was to do something nice for someone else every day. That sounds so easy. I can't imagine a day when I don't do that already and I'm guessing that's true for you too, given that the suggestions include
complimenting someone, giving a friend or loved one a small gift, sending a helpful email, donating to those in need, or just contacting someone who would enjoy hearing from you
So, does it count if it was something I would have done anyway?

Let's say that I ignore that and just make sure that I count one good deed a day towards the experiment. Now here's the crunch. If I email you because it's my one good day of the day, how does that make you feel? I'm not sure I'd like to be someone else's charity project. The experiment is like a little bit of grit in all my relationships, causing me to ask myself "Am I doing this because I want to, or because it's my good deed of the day?"

I know what makes me happy. Walking in the sun somewhere with lots of greenery, petting my cats and playing clarinet.

I didn't expect the happiness experiment to be this hard. How are you finding it?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Happiness reminder

Just to remind you that the Happiness Experiment starts today and runs for a week. You can join in at any time during the week.

You can also follow it on Twitter.

Men can multitask

There is an urban myth that men can't multitask. This weekend my Beloved and I saw a prime example of how this simply is not true.

Chucklefoot is a professional busker who was playing at Losely Park Live Crafts Show yesterday. He performs as a one man band and was playing the banjo and the harmonica (mouth organ), while keeping some marionettes going with one foot, banging a tambourine and occasionally playing a horn, singing and working a cymbal. He kept the music going while encouraging the watching children to take instruments and then leading them round in a circular parade.

He was great fun to watch and very friendly. Don't let anyone tell you that men can't multitask.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Be Happy

If you've ever wanted to be happier, now is your chance. Join in an experiment to see what increases happiness. All you have to do is to fill out a short form about your current level of happiness, watch a YouTube video about a one-minute happiness-boosting technique, and then use it once a day for a week. At the end of the week you will be emailed a follow-up form to see if the technique has helped. I'm going for it.

You don't have to wait for the experiment either. The Science of Happiness Blog has ten tips for greater happiness. I already do or have done quite a few of those, although I don't stroke dogs I stroke cats. I stopped listening to the news some time ago and that certainly boosted my happiness.

If you have any favourite happiness tips then maybe you could share them.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bodacious product review

I was looking for a replacement part for our coffee maker and came across a wonderful review on amazon. I particularly liked the sentence:
Clarity and fit are indistinguishable from the original and certainly the performance is little short of normal.

I wonder if amazon will ask him to review any more products for them.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Beat this

Writtenwyrdd has a post about "The Rules" of writing which set me thinking. I'm sure writtenwyrdd is right and you can get too hung up on rules like never using a dialogue tag other than "said" but I think I've found out why that rule is needed.

I needed something to read and I picked up a book from the Oxfam shop. It was The Love Academy by Belinda Jones and in it she avoids using the word "said" whenever possible and sometimes in situations where I would have said that avoiding it was impossible. These are some of the delights that ensue:

  • "You're going to Venice?" he clarifies.

  • "I know," I whine.

  • "Well, you should never have told her in the first place," he glowers.

  • "I didn't do it entirely on purpose," I squeak, seeking mercy.

  • "Oh, that's perfect," I cooed.

Those are all from the first chapter. Other alternatives to "said" include: notes, wails, confides, teases, smiles, quips, enquires, tuts, observes, gasps, assures and prompts.

A favourite alternative to "said" which was used several times was "understates", as in
"She is not easily forgotten," he understates.

I think the editor was on holiday. Remember, this is from a published book. I'm sure you can do better.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

One small step

Today is the moon landing anniversary. I was fifteen when Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon. It was a wonderful moment and I watched it on television with my family and some of our neighbours.

Oddly enough, though, the moment I remember as being the most emotional was when Apollo 8 was the first space craft to travel behind the moon and lose radio contact with Earth. While they were behind the moon they had to perform the manoeuvre that would bring them into a lunar orbit. It was a risky undertaking because if the burn was not precisely timed it could fling them off into space or send them crashing down onto the moon's surface. We were all hardly breathing as we watched the television screen for those ten anxious minutes. The relief when they reappeared on time was amazing. We felt like the whole world started to breathe again and we were part of that.

All these years on, that moment has been eclipsed in history by the moon landing itself, but for me it will always be the defining moment of space travel. No wonder I love science fiction.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Writing Gender

Sylvia of Can't Backspace fame has found a fascinating article that shows gender stereotyping at its worst. Bev Vincent, a published male author, had a story savaged by an editor on the basis that
It’s quite a challenge for a writer of one sex to explore writing from the perspective of the opposite sex. Bev Vincent has not done a convincing job.
Bev's protagonist was male.

The story had a large autobiographical element, so every time the editor objected to something as not what a man would do, Bev had actually done it. Stereotyping wins over real life every time.

Apparently female horror writers also get a hard time as many people find it difficult to believe that they can write gore effectively. Actually taking the trouble to read their writing might provide an answer to that. I thought that the era of women needing a male pen name to get published was long past. Maybe it isn't.

Do read Apparently I Write Like a Girl, it's a very good article.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

More swearing

In case you're interested in why swearing helps reduce pain, this article in TIME has some interesting suggestions.

The one message I got from the article was not to overuse strong words or you blunt their usefulness. Damn.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lost commas

If you've lost any commas I know where they are. I've discovered that I can get three into any sentence with no problems at all. I swear I spend more time removing commas than I do writing.

Do you have any writing quirks that irritate you?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Clarinet again

I have now played a tune that someone else recognised without me telling them what it was meant to be. Progress at last.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Swearing is good for you

A recent study shows that swearing may make it easier to bear pain, according to this article in WebMD

What interested me most was the finding that using strong language
taps into emotional brain centers and appears to arise in the right brain, whereas most language production occurs in the left cerebral hemisphere of the brain

I would love to understand how certain words get the taboo status that gives them the emotional impact that some people find offensive.

At least now we know that while strong language may upset some people there is a rationale for it. We're only trying to save ourselves pain.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

For Sylvia

(Link to comic on Inkygirl's blog is broken.)

It takes courage to write when you Can't Backspace.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

A quick read

To save you reading all through Moby Dick, here is a short, graphic version:

Moby Dick graphic story copyright 2003 John Edminster
© 2003 John Edminster, posted in Unshelved blog

Friday, July 03, 2009


I had my second clarinet lesson yesterday evening and my teacher told me that I'd made progress, so my daily practice is clearly paying off. I can now play both parts of Duet for Clarinet and Duck simultaneously. Previously I could only play Duck Solo with Long Silences. I still get the silences but not as many.

When I manage the occasional good note, or even a succession of good notes, I get a real sense of achievement.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

What shall I write?

When I was growing up I loved science fiction and I was a fan of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, E.E. "Doc" Smith and John Wyndham, amongst others. All men, of course. I didn't know of any women writing science fiction at the time. I loved the rather terse and understated style of the writing and I tend to look back on those days as the peak of the genre.

More recently I've been trying to write and I've felt a bit lost as there doesn't seem to be a market for that kind of science fiction these days. I've been wondering whether it's even worth trying to write science fiction. (I know that Writtenwyrdd writes in that genre but she has her own particular take on it and she is seriously talented.)

Then I read Man in the Dark for Evil Editor's next book chat and I thought that it's the kind of book that couldn't have been written fifty years ago. It made me ask myself: "what kind of stories could I write now that I couldn't have written then?"

A whole new mental space has opened up in front of me and I'm looking forward to exploring it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Font poll results

Georgia (serif) 1 vote
Verdana (sans serif) 4 votes
Courier (serif, fixed width) 1 vote

The discussion was inconclusive but the impression I took away was that older monitors and machines do not render serif fonts well and that is why sans serif fonts have been recommended in the past for use online, although this is becoming less of an issue with newer computers. Serif fonts are probably easier on the eye for most people when they are properly rendered but as I have no idea of the age of your systems I will stick with Verdana.

Thank you eveyone who voted or joined in the discussion.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Things to do in Bath

  1. Arrive at Bath Spa Hotel. Find that someone has shaved their beard off in the en suite bath. At least, I hope it was someone's beard. Get housekeeping to sort it out.
  2. Next day, find the bath is blocked and get told that you should not have been put in that room as it is out of service. Get allocated a junior suite with four poster bed.
  3. Go to the hotel spa which has a sauna, steam room with twinkling lights and music, indoor heated pool and outdoor pool heated to bath temperature. Relax.
  4. Go to see a raunchy black comedy called Hoors. Laugh a lot.
  5. Eat in lots of different restaurants. Find a house red wine that's better than some expensive wines. Don't cook. Yay!
  6. Have a back massage.
  7. Wander round the shops.
  8. Buy a clarinet.

I didn't want to come home.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

On the way to Bath

I needed a break and neither of us was keen on the thought of a service station so we took off from the motorway. My Beloved has worked out how to tell the satnav to look for restaurants and we found that the Fat Duck was local so we set our course for it and ended up in Bray. I hadn't heard of the Fat Duck but my Beloved had and there was no way we were eating there: it's a two month waiting list. We passed the place and saw the menu. The prices are all in words, nothing so vulgar as a numeral when your main menu is ninety-eight pounds a head.

The Hind's Head was more our price range and suprisingly good. It had information about the vicar of Bray and was a typical picturesque little English pub. After eating we saw a display of Rolf Harris prints and looked around the village, which was full of old houses and beautiful gardens. It was a real find of a place to stop.

Then we went on to meet friends from the Internet. It wasn't our first time of meeting them: that was many years ago when I was dressed as a witch, my Beloved was a Roman and my friend was Cleopatra, because despite all the warnings we had turned up for a Twelth Night party and intended to stay the night with these people that we had never met before. It turned out to be a good move.

This time we had tea in their conservatory and it was lovely to see them again. If you fancy a walking holiday in Wiltshire I recommend you visit them at White Horse Walking Holidays.

We were having a wonderful time already and we hadn't even arrived at the hotel.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

I'm gone

When you read this I will be in Bath or on my way there.

My Beloved and I have been married for thirty years on 16th June and to celebrate we are having a few days on our own in a posh hotel with spa. I plan to go swimming every day and have saunas.

We've booked to see a play and we'll sit and look at the view a lot and we'll eat out and I won't cook at all. No cooking! Yay!

I'd hoped we might go on a balloon ride but I can't stand for a solid hour which is apparently a requirement. I'm packing a whole load of books just in case I get bored. I feel like I ought to pack pen and paper but it might be nice to have some time without writing anything at all.

Anyway, I shall be swanning around enjoying myself. I'll try to take some photos to put up here when I get back. Be good while I'm away.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Poll

Natalie has an interesting post on what makes blogs easy to read: not the content but how it is presented. I thought her points were very good but I was surprised to see that she favours serif fonts since I was under the impression that sans serif are easier to read online. So I thought I'd ask you what you think.

Which of the following paragraphs do you find physically easier to read (remember, we're not talking content here):

a) Gregory walked slowly past Miss Avernes' house hoping to see her but the windows stared back at him blankly. He didn't know what to do. He'd always had a soft spot for her and now he'd heard that she was moving away. Should he say something to her or should he do as he'd always done and simply smile and pass on?

b) He raised himself onto his toes to look over the garden fence as he continued to walk past. It gave him a strange bouncing gait and he hoped no one was watching. What he really wanted to do was to put his eye to a knot hole in the fence but that would look really odd if he was caught. Bouncing along, peering into her garden, he almost crashed into her.

c)"Mr Gordon, you nearly knocked me over!" Miss Avernes was laughing as she spoke and Gregory felt his face warming.

"Miss Avernes-" His voice squeaked so he coughed and tried again. "So nice to see you, Miss Avernes, and isn't it a lovely day again today?"

Or is there another font d) that you prefer? If so, could you say so in the comments.

The poll is in the sidebar and will be there until 19th June. I hope you'll vote on it and let me know in the comments what your reading preferences are.

Guessing Game

Guess which cat came in limping yesterday? *Rufus*

He was clearly in a lot of pain, hissing at me when I went near the foot but not scratching as he usually does. The vet said it might be broken so we had to pay for sedation and x-rays but luckily it was just very badly swollen. He has Metacam for the swelling and pain and is being very unpleasant to his sister now that he's feeling a bit better. I'm not going to let him out while he's on painkillers, so that means five days indoors.

Guess which cat stepped in something nasty and then trod it all over my bed? I had to change the bed, spot clean the carpet and wash the cat's feet, all before breakfast. *Bonnie*

Guess who is wondering why on earth she ever wanted cats in the first place?


Highlight the text between the asterisks for the answers.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Maria: a short story

Robin has got us recording ourselves again. This is a short story I wrote recently. It's very rough round the edges but I like the idea behind it.

Image by Colum LaVelle Photography from A Day In Hand website.

Caption Competition

What do you do when you hate the cover art for your published novel? Have a caption competition of course!

Over at Smart Bitches Trashy Books Alyssa Day has consented to a caption competition for her book cover. The prize is an autographed copy of the book to the top five captioners.

As you can guess from the title, Smart Bitches uses robust language. Just so you know.

Thanks to Judge a Book by its Cover for pointing the way.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Write a novel in a year

Every November a group of writers challenge themselves to write a novel in a month in NaNoWriMo. As a result, I've written three novellas and a short story that I wouldn't otherwise have produced. None of them is publishable but I learnt a lot in the process and had huge amounts of fun.

Now comes a more realistic challenge. Karl Green, who is one of the London Nanowrimoers, has set up a Facebook group to challenge authors to write a novel in year by writing just 250 words a day, yielding a 91,250 word novel if you don't take any days off.

The group 250 Words Per Day x 1 Year = A Novel is open to anyone and I have been asked to invite my friends. Please consider yourself duly invited.

Unlike the fearsome challenge of the Scottish marsupial, there will be no bloodied claws urging you on and you will be expected to write more than twice as much as the koala demands. I think that the challenge may be too much for me at the moment as I'm averaging around 250 words a week. On a good week.

It just seems like such a good idea that I wanted to share it with you.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Search engine

Thank to AnaG I've found a new search engine that claims to pay you for searching. Whether that works or not I have no idea but there are other interesting features such as being able to vote on and comment on the links that come up.

It relies on Google, MSN, and Yahoo results and you can choose what weight is given to each. If you want to go and look at it, it is called Scour and I'll be interested to hear what you think about it. (The link is a referral link so I get credit for your searches. If you want a clean link it's

Sunday, May 24, 2009

OneTwoFiver has grown

I haven't been using OneTwoFiver recently and when I popped back yesterday I found it had grown. You can edit your work and share it with other people. There was a recent competition, which I missed, but when the number of members goes up to 500 there will be another one. I don't intend to miss that one.

What sent me back there was looking through my short stories and ideas folder. The two largest sources of inspiration turned out to be Evil Editor and OneTwoFiver. Which is impressive as I only found it in January.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Free book offer

It's a download, which isn't so unusual, although most of the books that are free to download are in the public domain. Little Brother was only published in 2008 but the author Cory Doctorow makes it freely available online here.

He says it makes good commercial sense and it does. I read some of it online and liked it enough to want to buy the hard copy so I could read in bed and on the sofa. It's also in line with his philosophy, which is don't punish "pirates", don't even have such a concept as "pirating", make information more freely available not less. The enemy of book sales isn't downloads, it's obscurity. That makes sense to me.

The book is Young Adult and it's about what happens in the wake of a terrorist attack on San Francisco. The main theme is how the government responds to terrorism by putting in place systems that only harm the innocent. I believe that this is true. In Britain, you can't be held in prison without due process of law - unless you're suspected of terrorism.

I found the book to be a fun read but then I like near-future science fiction, computers and teenagers. Neil Gaiman says
I'd recommend Little Brother over pretty much any book I've read this year.

I don't often recommend books but this one is worth a look and it needn't cost you anything at all.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Short is better

I'm talking about people, not stories, although there's an interesting series on why to write short stories over at Electric Spec.

If you've not been reading Mind Hacks then you may have missed this article that explains that tall people live further in the past than short people. This is because perception isn't instantaneous. When someone touches our toe the signal takes longer to get to our brain than when someone touches our nose, yet if the touches are simultaneous then we experience them both at the same time. We seem to be waiting for the later signal to arrive before perceiving the earlier one. In short people the signal from outlying areas arrives sooner so short people are more up to date than tall people.

The original article Mind Hacks draws on is here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Feeling Grumpy

My Beloved is off on holiday today, playing tennis in Majorca. He had an early flight and I can now inform you 3.20am is not a good time to be woken up. He left at 4.20 and I got back to sleep some time later so be glad you don't live with me: today is a crabby day.

He has of course taken the camera with him so there will be no photo journalism happening in here until he gets back. What's the betting the cats decide to use all their cuteness up this week?

Monday, April 27, 2009

The future is happening now.

Did you know you can move objects with your mind? I didn't until I saw this video on Sentient Developments

If you write science fiction you really will enjoy Sentient Developments, including the new feature Yesterday's Tomorrow which features retro visions of the future.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cat prison

Rufus has a cut on his leg and it needed a staple to pull the edges together. Unfortunately, the staple didn't go in completely, leaving a loop that could catch on branches outside so he has to stay in for the next week. He doesn't like staying in and scratches at the catflap which we have had to board up with cardboard because he can work the catch. He also meows pitifully by the front door, comes and complains to us and attacks his sister.

Bonnie is also housebound because we can't let her out with no way to get back in but she makes much less fuss.

Things I have done to try to amuse Rufus:

  • Put his cat tree in the conservatory by an open window (carefully tied so that it can only open a smidgen).

  • Tie a feathered cat ball with elastic to the window so that he can bat it and it flutters in the breeze.

  • Use a special cat friendly mixture to blow bubbles for him.

  • Take him out for a walk using his old kitten harness and lead, cobbled together with string as it is now too small.

  • Make him a box fort.

  • Hide his squeaky toy under a cover for him to find

  • Play with him with his cat fishing rod toy.

  • Throw his toy mouse for him. And again. And again.

  • Make hidey places for him with towels and blankets.

  • Sprinkle catnip on his toys for him to play with.

And the result: Rufus liked the squeaky toy, the fishing rod toy, chasing the mouse and hunting the mouse for all of three minutes each. He tried to climb out the window that was open two inches and got stuck so now all our window are closed. He doesn't like going out if he has to be on a lead. (Who can blame him?) The catnip resulted in bliss lasting maybe ten minutes.

We have six more days to go of this. I'm taking it one day at a time.
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