Singularity

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New House Journal. Day 9.

by on Apr.24, 2015, under Life with Frood, Planet Sam, Writing

As yet, communication is still reliant on either voice contact or a mobile signal that never improves beyond General Packet Radio Service.

Great news! After much patient discussion with the choirs of internet angels, we are to be reconnected to the virtual world on Wednesday the 29th of this month. This is later than we had hoped, but earlier than I have come to expect from previous experience of reinstating such nebulous lines of communication with the outside world. Better yet, the connection will be one of these ultra-modern, exceedingly quick affairs I have previously seen advertised on the moving picture box, but not experienced for myself. A wonderful woman called Christine explained to me that the standard copper cables in this part of the world had proved so inferior to the company quality standard, the company had taken the decision to replace them.

Clearly, this is where Fibre Unlimited comes from

Clearly, this is where Fibre Unlimited comes from

Such is the speed of this new connection, which I understand is made of some type of silk — Christine used the term fibre, and as this is for connecting to the web one is led to infer it must be extruded from the abdomen of some kind of arthropod, perhaps perforce, as one cannot imagine such a thing being domesticated — we are obliged to replace our now antiquated equipment with new equivalents. No more tin can attached to string, although one cannot help but note that string is also a type of fibre.

A conversation with another angel, this one from the choir of appliances, has produced an appointment with an engineer to whom the relevant spare parts for our oven have already been dispatched. In less than a fortnight we should once again have full use of our cookery station, and I greatly look forward to our first fresh loaf of bread in what is now month. A mere two days after that a gentleman from a nearby town is arriving to sweep our chimneys and inspect the wood burner with a view to offering a quote for repair.

With the arrival of a replacement steam generator, and these appointments in place, we can see the end of the initial phase of transition. By the end of this week we hope to have removed all trace of our presence at our previous locale, lest our enemies use it to find us and wreak terrible and unjust revenge for imagined slights.

I have now acquired the relevant maps for the new location, and have undertaken a small amount of exploration. The velocipedes are eager to exercise, disappointed as they are that riding to and from work each day is now an impossibility. There may be a compromise involving utilising the railway service for part of the trip, but that experiment is for a later date.

My mother has been to visit, presenting us with a magnificent birdbath. She knows how important it is to us that we rapidly form excellent relationships with the local wildlife, our first line of defence. Already the resident blackbird, a fine fellow called Edgar, has shown his appreciation for this wonderful and thoughtful gift.

I think we could be very happy here.

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New House Journal. Day 5.

by on Apr.20, 2015, under Planet Sam, Writing

Day 5 of no internet and but intermittent mobile signal.

Spiders, woodlice and centipedes have accompanied us on the move and already find new homes in the crevices and corners. Thus far no mice or rats. We have reason to believe the semi-feudal rodent society in our previous abode had reached the terminal stage of decadence. Chocolate and sunflower seeds turned gateway substances to pharmacy grade drugs, which proved, ultimately, to be too much for their tiny, furry bodies. All that remains is a stained skirting board and faint regret about man’s inevitable and inseparable influence on nature.

Our bodies are broken and weary from physical labour. Every strange noise sounds as if an alarm call of something wrong we did not notice when viewing the property. I would be unsurprised to find a crackling tape of a hitherto unknown language concealed beneath a floorboard, and can only trust I would have the sense not to play more than enough to recognise the hazard.

There is evidence the previous occupants hid their penchant for animals and cigarettes under a layer of hastily applied paint. We find feathers and fur in unusual places, wiring duct-taped as if bound for kidnapping, strange marks on and gaps in the skirting.

The stove, too — a great iron beast that has been dirtied and cracked, its interior parts disintegrated from application of heat more intense than it was intended to endure. One wonders what was burnt in there that required so intense a flame. The imagination sets forth down many twisted paths and recoils, peering out from behind parted fingers in ghoulish fascination.

The dishwashing appliance — Oh triumph of modern engineering! — is usable after focused cleaning. The laundry device is functional, but the rubber seal is encrusted with the dehydrated fossil of some black ichor I have thus far been unable to remove. One can only hope it is not the oocyst colony of some terrible, carnivorous slime mould. I almost wept in discovering the steam generator I acquired for such eventualities was defective.

The oven is worse news. Although there is power, the switch on this futuristic, overly complicated machine does not function. I lack sufficient learning to tackle the repair myself. It may require a specialist engineer, an expense for which we had not planned.

More later. I have distracted myself for long enough from the trial of unpacking.

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Last Call for Last.fm

by on Mar.29, 2014, under Planet Sam, process, Writing

avatarI’ve been a long-term paying subscriber to Last.fm. Paying, mind. I include a link to my profile in any list of social media addresses. If you look down and to the right, you’ll find a widget showing what I have most recently listened to, a service provided by a Last.fm app.

Music is important to me for my writing. As a neuro-atypical synaesthete, for whom background noise can occasionally be physically distressing, music is an obligatory defence against the outside world when I’m trying to lose myself in a story, whether writing or reading. I listen to music when I’m training. I can’t imagine life without it. I spend more than I should on music – for the shapes, for the soundscapes, for the inspiration, for the motivation, for the rhythm, sometimes for the distraction – and I love discovering new artists. I used to be a heavy Pandora user. When that ceased being available in the UK, I switched to Last.fm, which offered a similar service.

Two days ago I received an email that said the service was changing.

From 28th April, our subscription radio streaming service will come to an end. This means subscriber radio will no longer work on any platform or device. We’re making this change to focus on improving scrobbling and recommendations, while continuing our goal of being your #onemusichome. Of course you’ll still be able to listen to all of your favourite stations on the new Last.fm Player, as well as listen to your favourite tracks with our recently launched on demand playback feature via Spotify.

If, like me, you’re not sure what that means, allow me to simplify.

The last.fm streaming service ceases to be from the 28th April. You will no longer be able to open the desktop app, turn on your favourite radio channel, and have it play for as long as you like with no ads. Instead, you will have to go to the website, where you can start your radio station, but it will stream videos from YouTube, complete with the adverts.

Even if you subscribe.

As a subscriber, you can get 30% discount in the forthcoming merchandise store (woot, I’m sure) and use tags to exert some illusion of control over your ad-filled youtube stream. And your avatar will say “subscriber”, so everyone knows you’re a sucker prepared to pay for a 30% discount on a lousy t-shirt.

Needless to say, I am cancelling my subscription.

I don’t know if there’s anything out there offering Last.fm’s comprehensive level of curation and discovery. They had one of the largest catalogues on the internet for streaming music and cross-platform availability. They had a range encompassing obscure industrial ambient and popular classical. I had prog rock, opera, trance, dance, electronica, baroque… I have yet to find a genre Last.fm has excluded, whether by act or omission.

Last.fm claim that they are going to focus on scrobbling, but I have no idea where they get the idea that anyone is going to pay for a service that merely records what one has been listening to recently. Don’t get me wrong: it’s fun knowing how my musical habits are changing, but my musical habits are constantly changing. I don’t really need something to tell me that.

There are plenty of artists who have earned royalties because I discovered them on a streaming service. Artists I didn’t know, like Roly Porter (I now own his two most recent studio albums on CD); artists I knew and loved but whose catalogue included songs I hadn’t heard before, or hadn’t heard in a very long time. Streaming radio is a way for people who love music to discover new things to love, and people are willing to pay for things they love.

Yes, there will always be those who say why pay for something if it’s available for free, but they’re the hawks of Game Theory, and they’re outnumbered by those who want to reward the creator of something good. If we don’t reward our artists, they will stop making art. Most people with half a brain cell can comprehend that.

I have spent 6 years teaching Last.fm what I like, which is a considerable investment, and now starts the difficult quest for another streaming service, and the painful process of teaching it what I like.

Any recommendations?

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Change is in the air

by on Sep.21, 2013, under Geekery, Planet Sam, website, Writing

avatarToday it’s the Autumn Equinox, although autumn arrived here in the ‘shire a couple of weeks ago. We’ve been grateful for getting our first wood delivery in early; the fire has already been in use on the cold evenings as the nights draw in. It’s remarkable how quickly things change when they get going. It’s almost as if winter has attached a big bit of elastic to the sun, and while summer clings on as long as it can, eventually the strain gets too much and it snaps back. We’re in the penduluum stage right now, with cold nights and warm days, sudden showers and oddly hot, humid lunch breaks.

The weather isn’t the only thing that’s changing. In some vague effort to tidy things up and make this blog slightly less disjointed*, I have started a new blog over at ravenbait.com. I will use that to focus on my writing, leaving this blog — my home on the internet for 15 years now — for all the random stuff that fills in the gaps§. I’m not a big one for cross-posting, although I’m not saying I never do it. I doubt I’ll take all the writing away from this site as it’s such a big part of my life, but I won’t be cluttering up the writing blog with Playstation posts, recipes, triathlon, wittering about adverts, complaining about Doctor Who (unless it’s a comment on specifics of the writing), gear reviews or odes to bicycles. And Stitch. Mustn’t forget Stitch.

Writing buddy

If you come here for the velocipedes and the wittering, carry on as you were. You won’t notice much. If you come here to read what I think about writing, specifically my writing, then take yourself over to ravenbait.com where I’m slowly building up steam.

* ‘Less disjointed’ is all relative, you understand. This is me we’re talking about.
§ And it’s a tight squeeze for a lot of it, I can assure you.

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Story Sale, Chapbook Announcement, Reading, Race Results

by on Jul.28, 2013, under fiction, Triathlon, Writing

avatarI am thrilled and delighted to announce that my science fiction story When Shepherds Dream of Electric Sheep will appear in the Looking Landwards anthology from Newcon Press. I am over the moon to share a table of contents with such well-known and exciting authors, and my thanks to Ian Whates for picking my story. The book launches in October at BristolCon, and is being produced in collaboration with the Institution of Agricultural Engineers to celebrate their 75th anniversary.

Thanks are also due to my British Science Fiction Association crit group, Orbiter 6, whose harsh on writing but supportive of writers attitude has helped me enormously in the time I’ve been with them.

On the 14th September, at the Douglas Hotel, Market Street, Aberdeen, we will launch the next Lemon Tree Writers chapbook, Point of Balance, containing 6 pieces of short and flash fiction from LTW members, including me. The cover is by Alibarbarella and we are looking into making it available for sale as a print (minus the text, obviously!) at the launch.

Point of Balance cover

I can also report that my flash homage to Russell T Davies, Why Don’t You Switch Off Your Television Set And Go And Do Something Less Boring Instead has been picked for performance as part of the Aberdeen Literary Festival, New Words. I will be reading this piece at the Lemon Zest event at the Peacock Visual Arts Centre on Castle Street in Aberdeen. The event starts at 19:30 on the 15th September, which is the day after our chapbook launch, so it’ll be a busy weekend. Luckily I’ve no races planned!

Speaking of races, I’m feeling particularly kick arse today as, on top of all of the above, I won my first ever race, even though the bike leg was cancelled due to flooding. I will post a full report when the final times have been released, but I can say in summary that today is made of AWESOME and WIN.

More days like today please!

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Guest appearance on the Literature Show

by on May.18, 2013, under Writing

avatarHot on the heels of Fish coming out in print, this afternoon I will be the guest on the Literature Show on Schmu FM. I’ll be chatting about writing, synaesthesia, and music with Mark Pithie and Ian Anderson.

You can listen in on 99.8MHz if you’re in the Aberdeen area, or on the website from anywhere at all. The show starts at 18:00 BST (6pm, or 17:00 Zulu: here’s a handy converter). The facebook event page is here, and I think you can add any questions or comments there and they may end up in the show.

If you can’t make the live show, you can listen in later from the archive.

I’ve not been on radio before, so this is quite exciting. It should be fun!

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FISH in print!

by on May.05, 2013, under fiction, Writing

avatarI emerge, blinking, bleary and grumpy like a disturbed hamster, from the double insomnia fuel of deadlines and on-call, to announce that Fish is now available from Amazon.

As I’m sure you remember, Fish is the anthology from Dagan Books that contains my dark slipstream story What the Water Gave Her. This was described by SF Signal as:

…a dark, weird and lovely tale about a misunderstood girl, the fish she talks to, and the other things she sees.

Fish cover

Buying this book will not only get you my story, but will also put works by authors such as Ken Liu and Cat Rambo, Polenth Blake and Corinne Duyvis on your shelf.

Fish is a wonderful mix of new and established voices, offering a range of work from the dark to the whimsical, from science fiction to myth, and in between and none of the above. It has exquisite art by Galen Dara inside and on the cover.

I’ve been waiting to post about it because I, like many of my friends, am very much a lover of the printed form. Now you, too, can experience the thrill of new book smell coupled with the excitement of new work from authors you’ve heard of, and work from authors who may become firm favourites.

“I describe Fish as effortless, dream-like, diverse and exquisite, which certainly holds true as I consider the anthology to be a revelation, because it’s just fish. No restrictions upon genre, no neatly defined prompt to cater to specific tastes. It’s just you and the stories and the fish. Simple and yet so risky. As you read Fish, you step further into a dark and undisturbed ocean where you see reflected light dance across scales and experience ink-black beauty with sharp teeth.” – Haralambi Markov, Alternative Typewriter

Those of you across the Pond can buy Fish from Amazon.com. If you are fully committed to digital, you can still buy your DRM-free ebook directly from Dagan for $4.99. EPUB for NOOK and other readers, here, MOBI for Kindle and other readers, here.

It’s also available from Amazon UK for £3.28 (about the price of a pint, these days), Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.

Share the love!

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Summer’s End

by on Nov.01, 2012, under Writing

avatarIt’s November. I love autumn, and the November weather is always an exciting mix of cold, sharp, crisp sunny days filled with spectacular colour; wet, dismal weeks of heavy mists, mizzle and downpours; and the odd freeze bringing snow, ice and cold-hurty fingers and knees because I’ve stupidly opted for cycling mitts and shorts. The changeable weather traditionally has matched how I feel about this time of year. Much as I love the season, and birthdays, and the way the cooler temperatures mean I can train harder, for some reason life usually chooses this time of year to throw various crises at me, so I don’t get to enjoy it as much as I’d like to.

I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo twice, and failed each time as life has got in the way. I didn’t bother in 2010 because things got squirelly before I got as far as making the commitment. I didn’t bother last year, either. I had just changed job and packed up to move a couple of hundred miles north. I did not have time or mental space to think about trying to write 50,000 words in a month.

It has, however, been a pretty good year. It has had its ups and downs, as all years do, but the positives outweigh the negatives and we’re in a reasonably good place. As superstitious as I am about my birth month, I think I’m going to be brave.

Writing a book in a month isn’t brave. No. A little crazy, maybe, but not brave. No, I’m going to be brave by assuming I can make it this year: that whatever life chooses to throw at me I can get through it without it throwing me completely off track.

And I actually like my working title, which is a first. So this month, as well as the short stories I’m working on with deadlines in the next few weeks, I’ll be attempting to complete NaNoWriMo. If you want to add me as a writing buddy my name there is (as always) Ravenbait.

Here’s to November.

NaNoWriMo

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You can’t judge a book by its cover

by on Aug.19, 2012, under Life with Frood, Writing

avatarBut what can you tell about a book owner from her books?

I have been heard to complain about the amount of trashy fantasy cluttering our bookshelves. But when we moved last time, Frood very kindly bought some new bookshelves so we had enough space to put out all of our books, about half of which had been in storage for years. He worked out, using the measure of length of stacked books, that we had around 1.3m for every year we’ve been together.

Romance is alive and well and living in stacks of books

You can keep all your decomposing flowers, expensive chocolates and dubiously-mined gemstones: that’s romantic.

I have a couple of favourite exercises I do to get a firm grasp of any character I am writing. These exercises do not necessarily make it into any finished story —nor does the character, in some cases— but I find they work for me. One of them is the “what does he keep in his pockets?” exercise (which for one WIP turned into the “what does she keep in her courier bag?” exercise, as cyclists tend to keep not much in their pockets). You can tell quite a bit from what someone keeps in his or her pockets (or bag).

The other one is what the character’s living space looks like. What do they keep to hand? What do they have on display? Is it done for other people or for themselves? Why do they have those things? What meaning do they have?

Sometimes I look at what I keep around me and reflect on what it says about how I’ve changed through the years. My desk, where I write, is arranged differently from the way it was just a couple of years ago, and not just because we’ve moved twice in that period. Some things are the same —the inkpots, some of the pictures, the Penguin of Death— and some things aren’t (it’s a lot emptier now). It’s not possible to recreate a previous living space in a new environment, of course, but we also make very conscious decisions about what to leave behind and what to keep when we move house, and not just in the material sense of decluttering, or paring down to reduce the cost of the process. I imagine most people are the same in that respect.

Taken to the extreme, if a character had to keep moving, all the time, without having a chance to settle, what he chose to keep with him would be very telling. Then the two exercises I described above might become the same exercise.

I think I quite like what my bookshelf says about me these days. But then, it was Frood who stacked it for me.

Do check out his website. It has cool art and hypnotised rocks.

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In transition

by on Jan.19, 2012, under Life with Frood, Planet Sam, Writing

avatar I had hoped to be blogging rather more regularly by now. Unfortunately we’re still not properly settled in Aberdeen, and currently working with intermittent access to the internet. I’m busy with the new job and various writing projects, trying to squeeze the words in between work, food and sleep. My hypergraphia, which trundles along for most of the year but usually goes for broke in November/December, was a month late this year, and I’ve been frantically scribbling things I can’t use since just before Christmas. It does get in the way.

Hi-Ex Comic Con logo
Both Frood and I will be attending Hi-Ex in Inverness at the end of March, seeing as how it’s practically just up the road. If any fellow writers/artists/comic fans/circumstantial-cyclists want to say hi, he’s the one with the beard and I’m the one with the black right eye and the Pictish tattoo. We’d love to meet you.

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