Wet wet wet

by on Oct.02, 2011, under Writing

avatarI returned from our soggy, windswept, noisy trip to Wester Ross to a couple of pieces of very good news. Firstly the contract for my new job arrived, so the reality of our impending move to the North-East has finally started to sink in. I’ve now got to start planning what is going to be a fairly hectic couple of weeks as we get everything sorted out for the move, and there is bound to be some toing-and-froing, which won’t be much fun as it’s a 3 hour drive, but has to be done.

Fish coverSecondly I received notification that my story What the Water Gave Her has been accepted by Dagan Books for their upcoming Fish anthology. I’m very pleased and excited to have work included alongside that of such talented writers, and thanks to Carrie Cuinn and the team at Dagan for choosing my piece. The cover art, by Galen Dara, is beautiful, with a gorgeous dreaminess that was a big part of what inspired me into a feverish flurry of writing (thank you flexi-time).

Now Frood and I are off to the Museum, because we’ve only got three weeks to look at all the things in Edinburgh we’ve been meaning to look at since we moved here four years ago!

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The written word

by on Dec.12, 2010, under Writing

avatarBecause hypergraphia is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the way it manifests can also be subject to a kind of obsessive-compulsion. In my particular case, one of the ways it manifests is that I’m hugely particular about the tools I use, and every so often those tools are subject to change.

Sometimes it’s deliberate. Hypergraphia doesn’t mean not ever suffering from writer’s block. What it means is that when writer’s block strikes it has side-effects. I learned a long time ago that there are ways to break it. I had to. Writer’s block feels like an infected wound, swelling and throbbing. The only thing that helps is to lance and drain it, and that means finding a way to get the words out of my head. I will change pens, change ink, change paper. If it’s severe I sometimes resort to pencil on loose pages, because somehow the impermanence of it makes it easier to translate the pressure into letters.

It hasn’t been that bad in a long time now, mostly because I’ve found that the combination of moleskine and Bic Cristal Grip biro with a back-up of the faithful old narrow-ruled, feint and margin keeps things flowing nicely enough. The only things I ever start on the computer are blog entries, and even those occasionally begin life as ink on paper.

Still, occasionally the urge comes to change tools, and just recently I found myself obsessing over fountain pens. I’ve always owned fountain pens. I’ve had a collection of coloured inks on my desk for years, from the days when Parker had a brief foray into the more esoteric end of the stationery market and produced a number of beautiful coloured inks in wide-based bottles that resembled ship’s decanters. I have one of each. The emerald is particularly nice, and I also like the ruby. As far as I know these inks are no longer available, and I feel a little sad about that, as I’ve often broken a threatening writer’s block by switching to one of those colours.

Not the sapphire, though. I never got on with the sapphire. There’s something wrong about blue ink, and I can only imagine there is a point where the synaesthesia and the hypergraphia square up to one another on the battlefield and agree to mutual tolerance as long as we don’t go there.

I got it into my head that what I wanted was a good pen. I have a collection of Parker Vectors, and the stainless steel model was what I considered to be my “good pen”. But I have small hands with thumbs that don’t oppose properly, and heavy or thick pens don’t sit comfortably in my grip. I like a light pen with an ultra-fine nib that produces a well-behaved line with no feathering. In the past the only pens I’ve found that will do the job are liquid-ink tech points.

Then I bought a Platinum Carbon, and I’ve been extremely happy with it. So happy, in fact, that I’ve almost run out of the Parker Ebony ink. Unfortunately it is not a pen you can chuck in a bag and forget about, as it is long and slender and has a pointy end. I was still in need of a good quality fountain pen that I could carry around with me.

Rather than taking an expensive gamble on a well-known brand, I followed the recommendation of a fellow cyclist and stationery geek and ordered a couple of Jinhao pens. I also ordered a bottle of Noodler’s Bulletproof ink.

Here, then, is what currently serves to keep my head from exploding in an unnecessary and potentially messy fashion all over the walls, floor and ceiling. Pen, ink and paper. Each is beautiful in its own right, even before it gets as far as contributing to the semiotic sanity-prophylactic that is the written word.


Of course, in looking for a replacement for the Parker Ebony, I discovered an entire new subject on which to turn my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Ink. I didn’t know it was possible to buy scented varieties. And all those colours! I’m going to need more room on my desk.

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Writing about writing

by on Nov.12, 2010, under Photography, Writing

avatar As anyone who has been unfortunate enough to spend a significant amount of time in my presence will know, I have some obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Mostly they involve mugs; or, at least, the mugs are the most obvious indication of mild OCD.

There are a whole bunch of traits that are loosely grouped under the label of obsessive-compulsive (henceforth shortened to OC, because I’m lazy). I count things, like steps, and occasionally find myself avoiding cracks in the pavement. My main one, however, is hypergraphia — handy, you’d think, for a writer. It’s not that simple, sadly.

You see, the problem with hypergraphia is that what comes out is what has to come out. It’s not necessarily marketable, or even good. Often it’s not something I have any particular desire to show anyone. More often than not the hypergraphia gets in the way of writing rather than contributing to it. Hence my failure to complete NaNoWriMo for the past three years. It’s all well and good having a declared project, but when you sit down to write your 1700 – 2000 words for the day and what comes out is 2 – 3000 words of material that has nothing to do with the project, and you haven’t figured out how to change tracks, you’re not going to get very far.

Another way I get OC about writing is in the materials. Everything I do starts as ink on paper. I can’t begin anything on the computer. The paper has to be narrow ruled. I can just about cope without the margin, although I get really grumpy if it’s not feint. Pens, too, are important. I have a desk tidy that is full of nothing but unused Bic Cristal Grip biros. Once the cap comes off and ballpoint touches paper, then the pen has to live in the other desk tidy.

I keep my writing separated into categories. The mandatory words, the ones that I have to put onto paper or else my head will explode, live in black moleskine journals. Hard-backed, large. Moleskine journals are narrow ruled, have great quality paper and are robust enough to stand up to travelling around everywhere with me. I get through about three a year. I also have a red one, which I keep for story ideas and writing down scenes or sequences when I’m away from my desk or am sneaking in something constructive when the hypergraphia isn’t looking.

Platinum CarbonRecently I became entirely enamoured of the idea of returning to fountain pens. I always used to write with a fountain pen, but as my writing grew smaller and more compact I needed a narrower, more reliable line. Also, fountain pen ink has a tendency to run, which is an important consideration for inclement weather, even though I do wrap my books in plastic bags for transport.

I asked the good folks at CycleChat, which turns out to be a veritable sanctuary for the pen-obsessed, and ended up at CultPens. I will need to visit a shop where I can try the pens before investing in something expensive, but at CultPens I found the Platinum Carbon.

The line is beautifully narrow — narrow enough that my parker mocha ink doesn’t show up very well on the off-white moleskine paper — as well as smooth and reliable. The pen is light and nicely balanced, and while I’ve used pens with smoother nibs, I’ve not used one that produces such a crisp line.

If you have a compulsion, you might as well make it as pleasant as possible.

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News and updates

by on Apr.30, 2010, under Geekery, Triathlon, website, Writing

For those of you not following along in the social networking arena, my flash piece Big Brother, Little Sister made the top twenty in the Campaign For Real Fear.

That was quite odd, as I was always in two minds about whether to enter or not. Writing has never been a problem for me, as some of you may know. Writing that other people would find intelligible is a different matter entirely. I tend to find that the pieces I write other people enjoy are the pieces I don’t like very much. For this particular piece I tried to write something with a narrative that other people could follow over the top of a different narrative that made me feel like it wasn’t missing something. Whether I succeeded or not I haven’t quite decided but obviously the competition’s organisers and judges, Maura McHugh and Christopher Fowler, liked what I produced. Thanks to them for picking my piece and also for staging the competition in the first place.

All the winning entries will be published in Black Static and they will also be podcast by Action Audio.

This is also going to be (probably) the last ever post I publish to the blog from blogger, as they remove ftp support tomorrow. I guess I’ll be installing WordPress this weekend.

Except I’m racing in the Midlothian Tri, so it might have to wait. Until then you can find me on twitter, LJ, facebook, the Clubhouse — all the usual places. Look around here, you’ll find all the clues you need. I’m not hard to find.

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Outer Alliance Pride Day

by on Aug.31, 2009, under rambling, Writing

When I was very young, my mum (whose literary taste is pretty good, even if I am biased) brought home a copy of Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed. I read it and it made enough of an impression on me that years later, with everything that has happened in the intervening decades, I still remembered enough of it to have a friend of mine identify it. I tracked it down, bought a new copy, and read it again. On doing so I realised that, not only had I been exposed to a remarkable piece of speculative fiction at a very young age, I had been exposed to my very first piece of queer fiction.

If a book describing a near-immortal, double-X chromosome shapeshifter who ends up fathering children isn’t queer, I’m not entirely sure what is. But that’s an entire semantical discussion for which I have neither time nor inclination.

My own interests are absorbed in human perception, and how our prejudices and preconceptions affect how we view and interact with the world around us. I see it everywhere, from the cyclist lit up like deep sea plankton nevertheless being the victim of a SMIDSY to blatant sexism, racism and homophobia. Take away the blinkers and you start to see into the cracks. The cracks aren’t in the fabric of the world: they exist in the fabric of our cultural norms and assumptions.

Here in the west we are largely caught in a bipolar paradigm. Light and dark, good and evil, black and white, male and female. The real world doesn’t work like that. The darkest night is the one that lets us see the stars most clearly. We are trapped by this adversarial idea of the world that has absolutely no evidence to support it.

If there is no evidence to support it here, in the real world, where the chairs and the hatstands live, then there is no place for such rigid definitions in speculative fiction, where lie the sex lives of crystalline extremophiles and the wistful desires of steampunk robots.

It was for that reason that I was pleased when the Outer Alliance was formed and immediately signed up. Their mission statement reads as follows:

As a member of the Outer Alliance, I advocate for queer speculative fiction and those who create, publish and support it, whatever their sexual orientation and gender identity. I make sure this is reflected in my actions and my work.

I don’t have a lot of work. My longed-for career as a writer is currently closer to the stage of wishful thinking than anything approaching reality. But at the bottom of this post is a rough first draft I penned in response to a prompt on a creative writing course a couple of years or so back. It’s the opening sequence of a story that would like to be much, much longer. The tutor didn’t rate it much. He thought it was a ghost story that had gone off the rails. He was very wrong, but I didn’t ever explain to him that there were no ghosts planned for this tale.

For me, the belief that there are male and female and one copulates with the other and that’s all there is to it flies in the face of everything the natural world tells us. As Mark Morford said:

Let us be perfectly clear. Not every individual animal necessarily displays homosexual traits. But in every sexually active species on the planet, at least some of them do, for all sorts of reasons, and it’s common and obvious and as normal as a warm spring rain falling on a pod of giddy bottlenose dolphins having group sex off the coast of Fiji.

Queer isn’t queer, it’s normal, and thus to fail to have it represented in speculative fiction would be not only refusing to think outside the box, it would be building a much smaller box inside the existing one, climbing inside and shutting the lid.

By the way, Outer Alliance Pride Day is, strictly speaking tomorrow, the 1st September. For various reasons I’m posting this now.

Call it thinking outside the box.


I met him/her on the stairs. It wasn’t the first time. We often passed one another, usually while I was on my way down, heading to work with my bike slung over my shoulder wishing for the umpteenth time that I’d managed to find a place that had an elevator.

I’d never worked out whether the person who lived in the flat opposite me was a male or a female. There was an utterly androgynous quality about… well. What pronoun do I use? “It” is too impersonal. I wouldn’t want it used of myself, after all. He or she was about my height, which says nothing. The brown hair was shoulder length, which again is no clue; and the clothes were never quite right. No matter what they were they always looked like their wearer was cross-dressing. I had seen her (or him) wearing everything from silk dresses to a suit and tie and nothing seemed to fit.

On this occasion I waited on the third floor landing while he — he was dressed, very overtly, as a male, so for now it will do — came up the narrow flight below, the bike digging in to the muscle of my shoulder. I was determined to ask. How long had we been neighbours, after all? I should at least find out which was preferred. At first I was impatient because my grip on the bike was slipping and I was running late — again, which would put me in the doghouse — but then I saw there was something desperately sad about him. Usually he just seemed tired. I had naturally assumed that whatever job provided rent money for my mysterious floor-mate was night shift. Maybe that was why I had never done anything more than offer a brief hello in passing. We existed in different halves of the day and our starts and ends were jammed up against one another the wrong way round. Whenever our paths crossed I was always in a rush and he was exhausted.

“Are you okay?” I just blurted it out when he reached the top of the stairs. The question burst from somewhere at the back of my chest and left me feeling a little stupid. I didn’t know this person: this person didn’t know me. Why would anyone share details of their personal life with a stranger? I mean, in all the times I had said hello there had been nothing more than a slight nod in return.

My neighbour stopped, right on the top step, one hand resting on the rail of the balustrade. It was a very elegant hand. My mother would have described it as “artistic”. I could imagine that hand shivering exquisite music from a violin. A totally unexpected chill crept over me as my gaze drifted upwards over the slightly crumpled, stained silk shirt to the eyes.

Dear gods the eyes. I no longer felt the twinge of the bike’s weight on my shoulder, or the growing panic of being late again. I looked into those soft, grey eyes and was lost: trapped, like the wedding guest.

“It is terribly kind of you to ask.”

The eyes held me. In those eyes I could see that the answer was no. No, he was not okay, and would never be okay again. Something terrible had happened, something so dreadful that it could not be voiced out loud. Yet at the same time it had been something that always might happen, and now that it had it was almost a relief.

“Can I…” I wondered why I was whispering. “Can I get you anything?” It seemed a really stupid thing to say even as I said it. There was just this… this need to do something. To help.

His face registered a fleeting expression of uncertain recognition that turned briefly ponderous before vanishing to polite neutrality.

“Thank you, but no. You should be on your way.”

The eyes glanced down at the floor, briefly and deliberately. For a second I felt dizzy. My neighbour stepped past, surrendering the stairs. I was halfway down to the next landing before I was aware I was moving.

When I looked back he — or she — was already on the next flight. All I could see was a pair of elegant boots with cuban heels climbing slowly and oh so wearily onto the fourth floor.

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