Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Privilege and I

I’ve been learning a lot about the idea of privilege over the last few months, both as an increasing member of the SF/F community, and the Steampunk community.

The argument goes that, being part of the dominant culture, I’m in a position of privilege.  I’m part of the dominate culture because I’m white, male, able-bodied and Western.  I can expect the cultural values I hold to be reflected in the society around me, and I can expect ‘my’ people to be extremely visible--i.e. white, able-bodied Western men on T.V., billboards, adverts etc.  Because of the visibility of WWAM, people in my society will take my opinions more seriously, offer me more respect and more doors will be open for me.  I’ll be recognised as part of the ‘norm’, you see.  The physical and psychological world I live in will be designed more around me than people not of the dominant culture. 

I can’t deny that it’s true.  Imagine you’re, say, eight-foot tall.  You’d have to stoop to go through any shop door, you wouldn’t be able to buy clothes easily, you’d only be able to drive larger cars etc etc.  Next time you’re walking around town, have a look at the amount of steps you need to navigate and imagine you were in a wheelchair, and couldn’t do it.

As a WWAM, the theory says, I’m also not subject to generalisations that other groups are.  You know, like ‘black people are good at dancing’, or ‘women are good cooks’, or ‘Indians like curry’.  People aren’t going to look at me and assume they know things about me based on my skin colour/gender/number of limbs, the way they might look at an Indian-looking person and assume they’re from Banglatown, or look at a Middle-Eastern looking person and assume they’re a Muslim. 

To an extent, I’ve been a victim of it too.  I gave up eating meat a few years ago, and I am so frikking sick of egg or cheese sandwiches.  If I want to have something to eat that I don’t make myself, those are pretty much my only options.  Especially in motorway service stations, although the ‘vegetarian option’ offered by most restaurants is normally little better.  When I give up dairy this year, my options when eating out are petty much reduced to zero, even in restaurants. 

The trouble I find with this notion of privilege is that it lumps all white, English-speaking people together.  Everyone from Scotland, Shetland Isle, Ireland, Wales, England, North American, Canada, parts of the Mediterranean, South Africa and probably a whole bunch of places I’m not too aware off, all in one great big homogenised lump, all sharing the same cultural values and goals.

I’m told this is the sort of thing people who aren’t part of the dominant culture have to put with all the time--e.g. all black people--from every part of the world--can dance.  As an example, a friend of mine drives a very old, very beautiful, very temperamental motorbike.  She had just filled up with petrol and the bike was refusing to start, as is its want.  A man from one of the other pumps came over and told her that he would help.  The problem is that she owns the bike and is very used to dealing with it, knows its moods and how to deal with it, but the man who came to help thought he knew more about it than her because ‘women aren’t good with cars or bikes’, that unspoken assumption he probably hadn’t even realised he held. 

This is a problem in the SF/F community (and by association the Steampunk community), as Jeste de Vries points out in a kind of related post on the Shine! blog:

“On the one hand, it is extremely hard to deny that the majority of both SF writers *and* SF protagonists are white males….

That none of the 57 Hugo Awards for Best Novel have been won by people of colour (and 15 by women), is not a good sign. That all of the SFWA Grand Masters are white, and that only 3 of the 27 SFWA Grand Masters are women doesn’t help matters, either. Compare this with a literary prize like the Man Booker Prize (where 8 people of colour, and 15 women have been awarded among the total of 43 recipients), or the Nobel Prize for Literature (where 9 people of colour, and, admittedly, only 9 women have been awarded among the total of 106 recipients), then one can clearly see that SF still has way to go in that respect. OK: one could also say that the whole of western literature has quite a way to go in that respect, but I do note that the number of ethnic and women recipients of both literature and SF prizes has been going up since, say 1960 or so. If looked from that perspective, SF has much more catching up to do than literature.”

Now, Jeste de Vries’s point is that SF needs to reach out to new markets in order to survive.  It needs to engage with people beyond its WWAM fanbase.  What people don’t seem to mention in posts like the above is that this is SF/F written in English.  How does the distribution of SF/F output relate to the distribution of the English speaking audience? 

According to the Internets, there are about 375 million people in the world who have English as their native language.  The top two countries--the USA and UK--account for 275,922,205 people, or 73.58%.  In the USA, 75.05% of people identify as white, and in the UK 92.10% of people do.  So, of those 375 million people, about 60% identify as White.  Okay, so that’s very rough.  Very, very rough.  But according to that, in order to be representative about 60% of SF/F stories should feature white protagonists. 

The thing that worries me is the skew in the numbers.  As someone who’s white, I get to be part of the worldwide 60%, not part of the UK 92.1%.  I worry people are going to say, ‘he’s white and is contributing to the WWAM bias’, and not, ‘he’s from the UK and its fine for him to be a white SF writer because 9 out of 10 people in that country are white’.  I worry that I’m only ever going to be seen as a WWAM writer.

I think the answer is that I’m getting butt-hurt over the fact I’m losing my privilege.  Up until now, I’ve been able to ignore the bias--that’s been my privilege.  Now I’ve lost that privilege and I’m just like everyone else.  Like anybody who loses something they haven’t earned, I feel hard done by.

Or maybe it’s that I’m losing the assumptions I’ve been brought up with, the world I thought I’ve been living in all these years is dissipating, and I’m scared.  Strange New Worlds scare the crap out of me.  People, you see, in Strange New Worlds will hate me, taunt me and keep me ostracised.  (Yes, I do have issues.  I’m working on them, I promise.)

Either way, this is where I find myself…

My Arbitrary Numbering System is Better than Yours

(I actually wrote this on Boxing Day, but didn't have access to the Internet to post it today...)

Jeff VanderMeer and his wife Ann are putting together an anthology of Steampunk short stories called Steampunk Reloaded. The catch is that all the stories have to have been previously published, which is kind of handy for me: The only 'Steampunk' story I have presentable is Of Mice and Journeymen. So, I sent it off for consideration. It'd be nice to be accepted, but my hopes aren't high. They say they want things outside of the of normal Victorian Gentlemen in steam-powered spaceships thing, but I think Journeymen is a bit too far out.

It's not long now before it's exactly a year before the decade of the noughties closes. Apart from three major terrorist attacks in the West, two wars, a world banking crises and a global recession, what the hell has happened this decade?

When I was growing up, my family didn't talk much about the past, about who they were or where they'd come from. There was this set of rules that our extended family worked within, which they never really explained and I never really picked up. (My brother managed to pick them up perfectly though, so I must have been doing something wrong.) Now we're all older, they're a bit more open and I'm a bit more emotionally sensitive.

I spent Christmas Day with my parents, my brother and his finance, and my aunt and uncle. Everyone apart from me, my mother and my aunt (her sister) went to see where my dad works (I'd seen it already), and my aunt started talking.

When they were young, both my maternal grandparents worked. Their children--my mum, my aunt and my uncle--were looked after by a friend a few doors down who had four kids of about the same ages. I'm reliably informed that chaos--and in a few cases, bloodshed--ensued. The children grew up, my mum became a party girl, my aunt became the party girl's older sister and my uncle got into cars. The kids down the road grew up, one joining the army at fifteen, one moving to Australia, the others going their own way too.

The one who joined the army had six weeks leave, and came to see his childhood playmates. Knowing what was what, my aunt kept making excuses and leaving the strapping young lad and my mother the party girl in the room, alone together. Boys, you see, always came around to see her.

It wasn't until my mother cornered her sister in the kitchen and told her that the strapping young army lad hadn't come all this way to be left in the room with the sister of the girl he was in love with that something clicked.

And the best part is that they were married and lived happily ever after, the army lad and my aunt.

Childhood playmates becoming life-long partners. Isn't that the kind of wonderful thing you don't expect to see outside of cheap TV shows? Apparently it happens in my family, too.

(My uncle's career in the army was far from life-long and happy. It's a bit of a shame I can't talk in depth with him about it because it could be a real light on my opinions on armed forces, but I'm not going to poke old, open wounds.)

I'm not going to use that story in anything I write, because I don't want to write cheap TV shows. It's a lovely story, though, perhaps all the better because I'm not going to annex it. It can just stay as it is, a little slice of my family history.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Getting paid to work

Ever since I was about six years old, I've wanted to be 'a writer'.  On my eighteenth birthday, I brought myself a bottle of Champaign which I planned to open and drink when I got my first book deal.

What it means to be 'a writer' is a question that's kept me tossing and turning in my sleep for the past twenty years or so.  Is it when I get my first book published?  When I earn the majority of my income from writing?  When other people start calling me a writer?

By the time I was nineteen, I'd written two novels.  They were high fantasy and probably not great, but it took dedication and inspiration.  Those are the two things that have keep me plugging away at this whole 'writer' thing and kept me convinced this was the path I'm at home on.

I started writing short stories because that's where people like Asimov and Bradbury started (at least, that was my understanding at the time).  In the last few years, I've realised that science-fiction and fantasy short stories are not just an art to themselves but a whole world to themselves. 

Always with an eye on that bottle of Champaign (when I can call myself 'a writer'), I've been following this whole, 'pay rates fail' thing which has been blowing around the blogs at the moment.  How much should writers been paid, and when a writer can call themselves a professional?

The Steampunk Soiree was, financially, a bit of a disaster.  Everybody who attended had a great time and would love to come again, but everybody who attended isn't going to come close to paying for all the bands.  Less professional, and more farce.  A very fun farce, but a farce non-the-less.  We're yet to do the sums, but if we can pay people's expenses it's going to be a miracle of some description (hey, we have our hopes up--it's Christmas, after all!)  Effectively, the artists had to pay to work.

Issue #6 of Steampunk Magazine was, financially, a bit of a disaster too.  It was a lot longer than normal and there wasn't enough money in the kitty to cover expenses.  It was supposed to be my first ever payment for something I'd written, but I waived it and have already happily foregone any payment for anything I write for Issue #7.  And, of course, SPM is released under Creative Commons non-profit accreditation licence, so someone can take Of Mice and Journeymen, reprint it and re-write it as much as they like.

So, let's say a reasonable pro pay rate for a short story is 5 cents a word.  £1 is $1.1211 at the moment, so 1p is 1.1211c.  So, for every word I'd get 4.4599p.  I need about £900 a month to survive.  That means I'd have to sell 20,180 words (or there abouts).  Assuming an average story of mine is 7,000 words, that's three pro-sales a month.   That's also assuming there's no cap on pay and magazines don't mind paying me $350 for a story.  (Of course, this doesn't take into account charges for changing currency which is something that's yet to come up in the Great Pay Debate.)

There's three immediate problems I can see with this:
1) If I quit my day job, I could probably rely on writing one 'as good as I can write' story a month.  A good month could produce three, if it was a really good month;
2) Selling three pro-rate stories a month would mean an awful lot of socialising and networking for me, and people scare me;
3)  After 36 stories in the first year, people are going to get pretty damned sick of me.

There's non-fiction--which is apparently even harder than short story writing to make money out of--and workshops--which runs into 2)--which could top up my earnings.  Maybe there's other avenues I'm not aware of at the moment.  For the moment, though, I've not really got any qualms about ruling out making a living from my writing.

As a result of the pay debate, I've decided to start sending my work to pro- and semi-pro markets.  Maybe I'm not good enough yet, but I'll keep striving to get better.  Am I doing it for the money?  Well, a couple hundred quid would be more than welcome but the short answer is, 'no'.  I'm doing it because the slush pile at those magazines is huge and you've got to really shine to be picked out.  And, probably more importantly, because the people whose work I love reading sometimes read those magazines. 

When one of my stories appears in Interzone along side Jason Sanford, maybe then I'll crack open that bottle.  Or maybe I'll wait until John Reppion says, 'hey Foxie, loved the story--it gave me an amazing idea!'.  Of course, my snarky side wants to wait until one of my stories triggers its own xyz-fail shit storm.

The money=good thing is something deeply embedded in my psyche by a middle-class upbringing (I gave my Dad a copy of 'Mind Games' to read, because I thought he might like to see what his son was doing with his life, and his first question was, 'how much money did this make you then?').  Hanging around with Steampunks is really making me challenge and question that, and more and more I'm convinced that's wrong.  Is playing to a crowd of 40 at a loss better than playing to a crowd of 200 with a nice paycheck?  You can't make a habit out of it, but if those 40 people are inspired and those 200 are just drunk then, well, it probably is.

If I wanted to make money, I'd have followed my brother's lead and become an accountant.  If I want to make money from writing, I'll follow James Patterson and top my bank balance up writing whargarble for the Murdoch press.  I'm not saying these things are easy, but that's where the money is.

If I get myself in the pro markets, maybe in twenty years time someone will offer me a T.V. show.  Maybe by the time we've gone through the sixth Soiree, we'll be able to make a profit, I'll enjoy socialising and people will be saying, 'talk to Foxie, he'll make it happen for you'.  Perhaps people will be thinking, 'I need an opinion on this, what's Foxie thinking?'.  Five years down the line, yeah I'll probably still be in the day job.  Ten years, maybe.  Twenty years?  Thirty years?  I don't know.  Money is nice, but transitory.  Reputation is permanent, and it takes decades to build up one of those.  I've been at this twenty-five years already and maybe I won't be opening that bottle for another twenty-five.  I'm okay with that.  I'm a writer.  As sure as some people are homosexual or Olympic athletes, that's who I am.  That's who I'm going to be until the day I die, so I'm okay going slow and steady because I've got the time.  Hell, that's really all I've got to do with my life.

Writers should be paid a fair wage for their work, but that's never going to happen when there's so many of us.  Unless your name comes out the cosmic lottery machine, you're never going to make a living from just writing fiction.  (Oh, people win every week but you'd be daft to count on paying your mortgage with a lottery ticket.)  The underlying problem which no amount of e-ink can change is that there is not the audience to support SF/F writers.  Even with the success of Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek:  Reboot, the general public don't particularly want to read thought-provoking, innovative SF/F short stories.  They want Opera and Will Smith.  They want to give their money to franchises they can trust, actors they know and authors who entertain without challenging.  It takes a degree of imagination and intelligence to gain something from the SF/F short story world as it is at the moment, and the general public are increasingly wanting to just dumbly consume. 

So if you're arguing that writers should be able to make a living from their work, you've lost before you've begun.  There's not enough interest to generate enough money to make that position viable.  It's not the fault of the magazines or the writers or the advertisers.  What we produce simply isn't what the masses--the paying public--wants. 

We publish to talk to each other, to inspire each other.  A story in a pro magazine means that an editor with a towering slush pile has decided this piece has something to say.  That's why I'll read and think about everything in Interzone, regardless of how much I personally enjoy the story.  I don't think I'm the only one who thinks like that, either.  5c a word is the honey which brings in the bees, and the editors need to fulfil their end of the bargain by picking the diamonds out the slush.  That's their reputation and track record.  The currency itself becomes a value, a number in part of a larger equation and independent of what goods and services it can be exchanged for.

But that's just me.  If the majority of writers in the SF/F world agreed, John Scalzi and everyone else wouldn't have batted at eyelid at Black Matrix, instead just deciding that the number the equation came out with was too low and passing on to other things.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

A Bridge's Tale

Let me tell you a story.

Like many people who write, I keep a note book. I use it both to note down ideas, and to develop them.

(^my notebook^)

Yes, this story has pictures. That’s the kind of story it is. (They were taken on my camera phone, though, so the quality isn't great. Sorry about that...)

Angeline of the Woods started off as a doodle I made at the Asylum while waiting for other people to show up for the creative writing workshop. A couple weeks after getting back, I put the few ideas I’d had into my notebook and began to poke them to see how they’d grow. After a couple of pages of thought-association, I hit a wall. So, I doodled a picture of the town the story is set in:

I drew the river. Then the town and the woods the titular Angeline would be Of. Towards the top of the woods, I marked an area ‘fuel allotments’ because I grew up within walking distance of a fair few acres of fuel allotments, and they were very special to me when I was young. I drew in some trees, some houses, some roads, a little picture of Angeline…

And you see that bridge? I put that in last, because I figured that the people in town would need a way to get to the fuel allotments. Then I noticed that the river flowed from north to south, and the bridge was north of the town. That meant that the ships would have to be able to fit under the bridge. As the town was just above sea level, that meant the bridge would have to be pretty large, and significantly raised above the level of the town. People would still have to be able to get over the bridge--how else would they get their fuel from the allotments?--so that meant there would have to be ramps of some sort leading up to it.

Hey… I was beginning to think, this bridge is going to pretty much dominate the town. The town was built around the docks so the bridge couldn’t be an expansion of an older bridge (otherwise the ships wouldn’t be able to get in). Huge projects like that are prestige projects, built to make a statement more than anything else. Who would do that, I wondered?

I got distracted before I could figure that out. Would a bridge--with two huge arches like in my doodle--even be able to support itself or would physics be against it? Well, three hours of Google and Wikipedia later, I was satisfied physics would be kind to the bridge.

So, back to the question of who built it, and why. The ships coming into the town are the lost and deserted ships of all time and space. Those ships which disappear without a trace, those who end up in Davey Jones’ locker, those who sail into the mist and reappear years later… those are the ships which come through. Maybe one of these ships was carrying a Brunel-esque engineer, someone with the knowledge, vision and determination to see through a project of such magnitude.

He must, I decided, have done it to free the people of the town. To free them from whom? Well… before the bridge was built, the townspeople must have moved from one side to the other. The County Road is on the other side of the river, and that sounds like an important road. So, whoever controls travel across the river controls who gets fuel and when, and who gets through to the County Road and when. Our Brunelian engineer was enraged by this evil cartel of ferry operators and the absolute power they wielded, so he decided to free the town! Yay!

Obviously, he couldn’t rely on the ferry operators ferrying his stone from the County Road to his building site and he couldn’t just wait around and hope a ship would come in with the vast amount of stone he would need. So the stone would have to be local. From my previous time with Wikipedia and Google, I had discovered that a bridge of such magnitude would probably have to be built from granite if it was going to last.

But what the hell kind of forest would grow on a bedrock of granite, especially where there was enough at hand to blast out the ground and built a bridge of? Wikipedia failed me. I dropped all other quests, and focused. Search term after search term found themselves in my search bar to be sent scurrying across the web. Eventually, I gained enough XP to level up my Google-fu and found an answer.

(The Granite-Forest quest lead to another one about the sort of undergrowth which would grow in such a forest, but that’s another story.)

Armed with my notes

I started writing.

The bridge was only built two generations ago, so as well as dominating the town physically it’s also going to be pretty dominate psychologically. Everyone living in the town would have had a part to play in its story.

Nigel, the kind-hearted local lad Feathers recruits to help him, tells Feathers of his grandfather’s part:
“Grandfather helped to build the bridge,” Nigel said. “Happiest damned day of his life was when he took his family and walked across to t'other side…pushed his wife off the side, see. They hanged him from the scaffolding over the second arch. Told my girl he's ghost stays there, guards the county road as penance. Makes her proud, that. Great-grandfather guarding the whole town an' all.”

He’s proud of his grandfather, in an odd sort of way.

The bridge does restrict the traffic which can get to the town docks. Anything taller than a clipper would have trouble, for example. Luckily, Nigel knew the town’s ingenious solution:
“The bridgemen used to run this town,” Nigel said. “Grandfather used to say about these big platforms what used to float from one side of the river to t'other. Four bridgeman to move it, two to steer. Only way to get to the county road over the water was on the platform, so if you wanted anything--food, horses, wood, anything--you'd have to take a platform and pay the bridgemen. Then a man came along. On a big iron ship that moved God only knows how. Took one look at the bridgemen, and stood in the town square and told everyone he was going to build us a bridge. So he did. Everyone watched as he built up them banks on each side and as this thing slowly came to be. When it was finished, bridgemen went broke in a month. He was walking along the riverside, passed by a gang of bridgemen, fell in the water and drowned.”

Nigel shrugged as if that was all there was to the story. Feathers took his hands off the windowsill and linked them behind his back.

“What happened to the bridgemen?” he asked.

“One of the workers from the boat who'd built the bridge, he brought all the platforms and made them into the Grossanlegen. Everyone winds up happy.”

That’s all from the first draft. (Grossanlegen is a crude German translation for ‘Big Docks’.)

When editing, I strive to remove any ounce of fat I can find. You know how much of the bridge’s story has survived to the third draft?

Yep. None.

I mean, it was great fun to explore the bridge’s history, to literally build it up and watch as it grew and the history of the town grew with it. It was gratifying to listen as Nigel made the bridge a real, tangible thing with its own past, memories and legends. But it didn’t add anything to the story of Angeline of the Woods. So it had to go.

There are no scared cows in the editing room. Editor Foxie is a cruel, cruel man.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

A bit about writing

You know you’re in a bad place when the thought of reading through your own story fills you with a sense of dread. I’ve been getting that a lot recently, but writing is supposed to be a release, isn’t it?

Angeline of the Woods is now into a third draft and I had a moment this morning where it felt like everything came together. I dropped a few inconsequential words onto the page, there was a click, and suddenly the machine started to work. It needs a bit of tinkering, but it’s turning over and doing what it’s supposed to do.

The ‘sense of dread’ is something that’s been lingering over me since the car died. Every time I try and do something, there it is, blocking the way like some vast Internet slob, his Dorito-dusted gut lolloping over his keyboard.

Maybe I’m experiencing a temporary reprieve, or maybe it’s starting to pass. Either way, the Steampunk Soiree is this weekend and then Christmas shortly after. The Soiree, I’m reminding myself, is going to be fantastic--people I like, music I love, dancing, museums, markets… what else could I want? Christmas, well. I’m sure I saw tinsel in shops in August, but it’s almost over now. Just more three weeks of hated Christmas music in every single damned shop. I’m spending it with family this year, who at least have central heating. They’re lovely people and I’ve got no real complaints about them, I’m just not really a ‘Christmas’ person.

I have to get a move on with Symphonie Magnifique, too. Crossed Genres are putting together a ‘Steampunk’ issue, and of course I have to throw something in there. It’s about Frenchmen, and women, in space in 1869 (or maybe 1871). As well as Symphonie, I’m going to have a crack at writing an article--How Re-writing the Past is Going to Change the Future--about Steampunk culture, how the aesthetic translates to sustainable living, user-serviceable products, all that stuff.

And after being pointed to two very interesting articles there by Jason Sanford, I’ve started following Jeff van der Meer’s blog. He’s a man who knows his writing.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Property is theft. Theft is illegal. Break the law, you go to goal.

The good news from Pittsburgh is that is all changes against the Tortuga Twitter Two--good friends of Steampunk Magazine and freedom lovers everywhere--have been dropped.  Just a little bit of pressure, and the government drop the case quicker than a flaming, radioactive, Arab-looking potato.  I guess they wanted to make a statement and weren’t prepared for any sort of fighting back.

The bad news is that, not only are they not going to have their possessions returned in the near future, but the feds have been given the go-ahead to rummage through everything to see if there’s anything which takes their fancy.  They can make copies of any electronic data before returning their laptops, memory cards and other electronic gumpth.

The property was seized under a Grand Jury investigation, the purpose of which remains a mystery.  Of course, if they find evidence of other crimes during the searches, I’m sure they’ll be sure to prosecute. 

So it turns out that, if you live in the US and you do something the government don’t like, they can harass, bully and try to intimidate you, steal your possessions, invade your privacy, and search every aspect of your life to see if they can find a crime you’ve committed.  Whose freedoms are being protected here?

The idea that governments exist to protect freedom or protect people is of course a mis-conception.  Like any body with power, governments exist to protect their own power.  I guess it’s just kind of scary to see it so naked.  I guess it’s also scary because, although I believe in what the Professor was doing and I believe in the cause he’s fighting for, and although I’m in another country with another government… I’m scared that it might be me one day.  One day, I’ll be trying to do what I think is right, and it’ll be me sitting where he is.

If one good thing can come of this, it’s that they seized copies of Steampunk Magazine and a few more people out there might enjoy Of Mice and Journeymen.  Hey, if I can’t be selfish and glib, what have I got left?

Sunday, 8 November 2009

In which Foxie discards a word

Things have been a bit tough lately.  The UK Steampunk Network--which I still think is a great idea--is pushing me in all my uncomfortable areas and, although they need to be banished, it ain't easy.  And then there's the trouble I'm in at work.  I may lose my job on Tuesday and for nothing more than some manager's ego trip. 

Anyway, I was at work the other day and I just needed to escape.  You know, get out of that headspace.  So, I put my expensive headphones and listened to Free's Fire and Water.  That album is one of my happy places.

So there I am, listening, eyes closed, world screened out.  Up pops Anne and I tell her I just needed some escapism. 

“Why are the good things in life 'escapism', and all the bad things, 'real'?” she asks.

Why is a good movie, a beautiful song or breath-taking work of fiction 'escapism'?  The implication is that we're escaping from something, and the usual assumption is that we're escaping from life.  That would assume all these wonderful things somehow exist outside of life.  That's clearly not true, because they are part of life.  They exist in the real world, were created by real people and are accessible by real people without any special preparation.  They exist within the real world, therefore within life.

How are they any less real than my disciplinary?  Or my psychological hang-ups?  They all exist in the same fabric of life.

So yeah, why are all the good things 'escapism' and the bad things 'real'?  Why do I 'escape' into a song that reminds me how beautiful life can be, and 'come back to reality' for a piece of paper which reminds me how shitty people--and the world--can be?

I've not found an alternative phraseology yet, but I'm not going to use 'escapism' any more.  It's just reinforcing the human propensity to focus on the negative and discount the positive.  The 'escapism' is just as much a valid part of life as anything else.  You're not 'escaping'.  You're just changing the glasses you use to look at reality through.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Steampunk may have its first political prisoner

Not in this country, but over in the States. It’s easy to say it’s got nothing to do with me, and maybe it doesn’t. Thing is, it never does until it’s too late. We all know that where the States lead, our government tries to follow and quite apart from that injustice is international. Something is happening that I believe is Wrong, so here’s my tiny fists shaking at the sky.

Here's a report from Pittsburg's local ink presses, and it makes for kind of scary reading. Lolcats have become evidence of criminal activity now? Justice... ur doin it wrong...

And, here’s a first-hand account of what happened and details of who to contact if you want to help:

On October 1st, 2009, at 6:00am, the Joint Terrorism Task Force (a
union of local police departments and the FBI), kicked out the front
door to our home—an anarchist collective house in Queens, NY,
affectionately known as Tortuga. The first crashes of the battering
ram were quickly followed by more upstairs, as the police broke in on
3 sleeping people, destroying bedroom doors that were unlocked.

Three more people, awoken by the most unpleasant means of bounding
footsteps, splintering wood, and shouting voices, waited in the
basement—their turn at drawn guns and blinding lights came quickly.

We put our hands out where they could see them. They ordered us out of
bed. They wouldn’t let us dress, but they did put a random assortment
of clothes on some people. We were handcuffed, and although the
upstairs and downstairs groups were kept separate initially, we were
soon all together, sitting in the living room, positioned like dolls
on the couches and chairs. We were in handcuffs for several hours, and
we were helpless as our little bird, a Finch we had rescued and were
rehabilitating, flew out the open door to certain death, after his
cage had been battered by the cops in their zeal to open the upstairs
bedroom doors by force. We shouted at them, but they stood there and

And they stood and watched us for hours and hours and hours. 16 hours
to be precise, 16 hours of the NYPD and FBI traipsing through our
house, confiscating our lives in a fishing expedition related to the
G20 protests of September 24th and 25th. The search warrant, when we
were finally allowed to read it, mentioned violation of federal
rioting laws and was vague enough to allow the entire house to be
searched. They kept repeating that we were not arrested, that we were
free to go. But being free meant being watched by the FBI, monitored
while using the bathroom, not allowed to make phone calls for hours or
to observe them ransacking our rooms. Being free meant they took two
of us away on bullshit summonses, and even though this was our house,
where we lived, if we left, we could not re-enter.

Three of us stayed to the bitter end. Three of us stayed to watch the
hazmat team come in to investigate a child’s chemistry set, to see
them search the garage on an additional warrant, to sign vouchers for
all the things they confiscated as “evidence”—Curious George plush
toys, artwork, correspondence with political prisoner Daniel McGowan,
birth certificates, passports, the entire video archive of a local
media collective, tax records, books, computers, storage devices, cell
phones, Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs, flags, banners, posters,
photographs and more than can be recounted here.

The apparent impetus for this raid came over a week ago, when two
members of our household were arrested, once again at gunpoint, in the
suburbs of Pittsburgh. They are accused of being devious masterminds,
of “directing” the rollicking G-20 protests, of using technology such
as Twitter to “hinder apprehension” of protesters. The two were held
on bail, one fetching the ridiculous amount of $30,000 cash, and
released 36 hours later after the bond was posted. As of this moment,
no additional charges have been levied against the two, nor against
any other housemates in the aftermath of the raid.

As anarchists, we are under no illusions about what the State is
capable of. We are not the first anarchists to have our house raided,
and unfortunately as long as the State remains, we will not be the
last. We are, along with other targeted individuals like David
Japenga, the outlets for the impotent rage the authorities feel when
they lose control, as they did during the G-20 in Pittsburgh. We, that
beautiful we, that include Tortuga House and all who find affinity
with us, refuse the rigid forms the authorities try and cram a world
bursting with infinite possibilities into—He is not a leader, she did
not act alone, they are not being directed. Repression is a strategy
that the state uses to put us on the defensive, to divert our energies
from being a proactive force and instead deal with the terms it has
set. We will not lie and say this has not left us reeling, but as time
and our dizziness pass, we know that friends surround us. Our resolve
is strengthened by this solidarity, and we will not be deterred by
this state aggression.

We wish to thank all of our friends and comrades who have stood by us
in these difficult few days. Our lawyer filed an injunction on the
raid the next morning (October 2nd) that was surprisingly granted- it
forbids the authorities from fishing through our belongings until we
head back to court on the 16th. In the weeks and months to come we
will do our best to share developments as they occur. If you want to
keep in touch or find out how you can help please email us at: tortugadefense@gmail.com

Saturday, 3 October 2009

A Cup of Coffee and a Quick Chat

I’m supposing that people blogging about not posting in their blogs is about as tiresome as writers writing about writing.

So, here’s a bunch of things I should have written about, crammed into one post:

I have a new car.  Her name is Ann, and she’s a silver 1.4 Renault Clio.  I had to drive two hours to Manchester to view her, because there are no used car dealers in North Wales which deal in my price range.  I picked up her for £1,100 from a father and son team who prove that stereotypes do, actually, exist in the real world.  Picture father and son used car dealers in Greater Manchester, and you’re there.  She needs a few things fixing, but nothing major.  She also has remote central locking, which is a great pleasure for me.  I still grin like a schoolboy every time I press the switch.  I grew up in the eighties, and, well, remote central locking ranks up there with the Porch 911s with the whale-tail spoilers on the back.  Soon as I’m famous, I’m going to get me one of those, too.

Because I brought a new car, it transpired that Allegra and I were locked out after a night out with friends from work.  The house keys got left in Stevie (our old car) when we left him in Manchester for the tender touch of the scrapper, so we’d been  using the spare keys for the last week or so.  I didn’t pick up the spare key before leaving the house.  Normally, we leave the back door open.  However, we’d just come back from Lincoln, and not unlocked the door yet.  We normally have a Velux window open, but having just come back from Lincoln we’d shut them all tight.  Did you know there’s only one locksmith in our area?  We do, now.     After a half-hour trying to find some to let us in at midnight, we crashed on ngaio’s floor--which was especially kind of her, considering she had her in-laws staying at the time.  The morning was spent ringing around until £65 later we went to bed at half mid-day.  We now have several spare keys, ngaio looking after one of them for us.

Allegra has arranged an amazing gig in Oxford on the 14th December, with Sunday Driver, Ghostfire and The Men Who Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing all on the same bill.  Lady Spagthorpe will be giving dancing classed during the day.  As we will be too busy organising during the day to attend, we will be traveling to Lady Spagthorpe’s place in York for some private tuition. 

I have two Feathers stories in my head which need writing, Stormy Weather is where I left it last time we talked, and I still have a story in my notebook from Scotland which needs attention.  And that’s before we mention Bambi.  I’m becoming a very bad writer, and I’m feeling the shame.

I can’t tell you the reason why I’m neglecting my duties, in true Wil Wheaton style.  It’s a super-special project I’ve been working on and feeding all my time to.  I should be able to show you next week, if all goes well.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The First Annual Steampunk Convivial

Before leaving on Friday, I said something to Jo along the lines of, ‘I’ll write up the weekend in my blog. I don’t take pictures, you see, I write. That’s my way of understanding and remembering.’ Perhaps appropriately, I think I used actual film in my psychological camera and have had to send it away, and wait for it to be developed.

Without a doubt, that’s the most significant experience I had over the weekend. I’ve been back almost a week, and I’ve not put fingers to keyboard for anything other than emails and forums. Stormy Weather is still languishing and I need to find the time to work on it. I get twitchy if I don’t write for too long, and it’s been far too long; for weeks before the Asylum, I was working on my jacket instead of writing.

The long weekend itself was inspirational. It was like an alcoholic being given a free bar, and I’m still spinning.

Whitby was a lovely weekend, but people were very much, well, people. They stayed in their cliques, and talking to anyone else was awkward. The costumes were amazing, but it was sort of like shopping. Lincoln was more like...

It was so easy to talk to people. We arrived on the Friday, booked into our B&B which was some lovely old couple’s house, and made our way up a very unforgiving hill to register. We then sat in the beer garden of a near-by pub and recuperated. As the pub was near-by, other attendees came by. They sat down with us, introductions were swapped, and conversations happened. Just like that. People came and went and circulated and went off to get changed for the evening. I had a conversation with a wonderful man who turned out to be Robert Rankin.

Friday evening saw Trousseaux, comedian Andrew O’Neil and Sunday Driver play for us in said beer garden. The acoustics weren’t great, but the performers were. Andrew O’Neil told us that this was probably the last time he would be performing his ‘Absolutely Spot On History of British Industry’, and we were the weirdest hecklers he’d ever performed for. Allegra, Cal and myself danced to Sunday Driver, right up by the band. We were the only ones dancing, which I thought was strange at the time but now realise was prophetic.

We were up early Saturday to set up the stall and sell SteamPunk Magazine. Sales were slow but steady throughout the day. Again, the highlight was the people. They’d come over, and we’d talk. People would hang around the table and talk about costuming and music with us. Good friend Fozz also hung around a lot, chatting and talking up the magazine. I had a look around the other stalls, but decided the waistcoats looked too... well, neat and finished and by the time I decided to buy an opium pipe from Major Tinker, he’d sold them all. I was very impressed by his range of vegan ‘leather’ products and made sure to tell him. Terry Martin had a stall selling Murky Depths opposite us, as did a charming gentleman and his wife, selling watch parts and other sundries. I told them they were cruel because I didn’t have the time to put the pieces to good use, and they turned out to be Rachel and Robert Rankin. Terry and I talked and pawed each other’s merchandise.

There were also classes in folk dancing, a creative writing discussion, a costume competition (MC’d by Mister Rankin, in flamboyant style) and other activities I couldn’t go to because I was at the stall and not caring about not going because I was in the middle of people who wanted to talk and engage and have conversations.

The evening had Fearless Vampire Killers, The Men Who Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing and Ghostfire playing. (I should point out that Ghostfire’s myspace is no longer hideous and waits to be asked before playing music at you. Also, I had a chance to meet them on the Friday and they scared me. Poor social skills + OMG Ghostfire! + extrovert musicians who’d just driven up from London and were probably still tired from the journey + professional musicians pissed off at the sound and acoustics = Foxie trying to be a wallflower but having no way of escaping...) The sound system was terrible, only the drums and bass being audible.

I was quite happy to treat this as a normal gig. I hung around the edges and talked to people, and got up by the stage and moshed. There were a few others, but no ‘pit’. Only when Ghostfire announced they had written a song for us, and it was a waltz did the floor fill up.

Afterwards, people complained about the music being too loud and not being able to talk to each other. In their pub gig days, Dire Straights used to ask for the volume to be turned down on their equipment so people could still talk to each other if they wanted. When they came back for an encore, Ghostfire asked the audience if they wanted Vaudevillian or the waltz again, and people wanted the waltz.

This wasn’t an ordinary gig. People wanted the socialising and engagement to continue. They wanted to talk and dance and engage through the music, not just stand in front of the band and jump up and down. They wanted the chance to use the folk dances they’d learned during the day and they wanted to dance with people, not just in the same space as them. This was the point Steampunk music became something separate from anything else out there at the moment. Other gigs, you have the band, and you have the audience, and never the twain shall meet. There’s a barrier between performer and consumer, where the former produces music and the latter absorbs it. At the Asylum, there was almost tangible resentment at that barrier. People didn’t want to just dumbly consume from the mosh pit. They wanted some sort of symbiotic level ground where musician and audience were part of the same entity, creating something more than the sum of its parts.

It’s hugely exciting, and something I personally am going to work towards making happen. Mostly by supporting Allegra as she does all the hard work. More on that later.

So, since coming back I’ve been on Brass Goggles talking to people, trying to keep that engagement alive. I’ve been looking at their photos from the weekend, reading their blogs... And trying to bring some order to the bjallon new projects I now have to do.

Now, here’s a photo of me in my jacket, along with Allegra and Cal:

There’s nothing actually wrong with me, cameras just make me go rigid. It’s something to do with they way the photons from the flash interact with my hind-brain...

Thursday, 3 September 2009

StreamPunk Magazine #6

It's been a bit of a fight, but SteamPunk Magazine #6 is now out! It's free to download, or you can purchase a copy for $5 and have it delivered to your door.

From their press release ('press release'... isn't that posh?):

“The theme for the issue is 'The Pre-Industrial Revolution', offering an opportunity for us to begin explore the pre-Victorian aspects of the steampunk ethic, and the many faces of steampunk before and beyond the constraints of the Duskless Empire. It also investigates the ways in which steampunk is often an unindustrial (if not pre-industrial) revolution in its own right. All on top of a glut of regular content, such as features on:

The Luddites;
Victorian Martial Arts;
Creating your own steampunk sculptures;
Building your own windmill;
An interview with British steampunk outfit 'Ghostfire'.”

It also has Of Mice and Journeymen in it! Very proud to have a piece of fiction in this issue, especially as it's appearing along side the likes of John Reppion. Leah Dearborn's The Useless Pistol is also an amazing piece of work and well worth taking the time to enjoy. And there's some quality non-fiction in there, too, but I don't want to sound like I'm on the advertising payroll so I'll just say I particularly enjoyed the Alchemy and Romantics pieces.

Wahoo! I Is in print!

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Bagsy bagsy bagsy!

While swimming in the gym yesterday, I was idly contemplating the Bambi stories.  Trying to think of an umbrella name for them.  In Bambi’s world, there are humans as we know them today, humans grown in factories and enhanced with technology, and machines put together in factories and enhanced with organics.  The latter two have, until now, been referred to as ‘post-organics’.   In the pool it struck me--I should call them techno sapiens!  I was over-whelmed with my genius for a good few minutes.  While I was in the shower afterwards, it occurred to me it’s so bloody obvious I’m not going to be the first to think of it.  Turns out I’m not, but there are only a couple of noteworthy hits on Google; mostly Google turns up usernames and record labels and things.  So, I’m claiming it!  It’s mine.  Mine mine mine! 

Actually (and in all seriousness), it’s kind of helpful.  You get post-organics which are sentient, and those which are a bit too simple to be sentient (they’re called bots, like spam bots).  I can use post-organics as an umbrella term for things from the factories, and techno sapiens for those with sentience.  (Sapien coming Latin, meaning ‘wise’, or ‘thinking’.  Thank you, Wikipedia.)

Terribly dull I’m sure, all this ‘writer’s stuff’.  Like the tiny cogs of any craft, fascinating to the maker, dull as Dilbert to the rest of the world.

That said, here’s some more...

I’ve been playing around with a new idea over the past few days.  I thought I’d post something up here about it, because that’s not normally something I do.  I normally scribble everything into a notebook and save it for no one’s eyes but mine.  I won’t go into details, but here’s the basic idea:

I’m calling it Stormy Weather.  I know that name’s taken and I need to look into that.  It’s set in a city--maybe Brighton, because I used to live there--and the main character is Emily Swan, who’s an old roleplay character of mine I’ve been keeping in deep freeze for a while.  She has a deaf dog, and Alsatian called Benito Mussolini, or Beni for sort, and she’s a talented drummer.  The basic idea with the story is that every day or so, at night, it rains heavy and hard.  Thanks to some technobable, the rains wipe everyone’s memories.  So almost every day, the entire population wake up not knowing who they are, why they’re there, what they’re doing.  They have to figure things out the best they can based on where they are, what they’re wearing, who they wake up with.  Sometimes memories linger, but they’re like dreams.  Be interesting to see how people live like that, I think.

If it comes to anything, I’ll see if I can post up some more about it. 

Monday, 24 August 2009

True Confessions

Hm, as apposed to False Confessions.  ‘Father, forgive me, I have sinned.  I had sex with two Swedish twin sisters at the same time, while watching Battlestar Galactica.  And I filmed it.  And then put a link to in on Facebook.’  ‘My son, that is an unforgivable sin.  You will burn in Hell forever.’  ‘Woah, woah, chill out!  I didn’t really.  Just, you know, wouldn’t it be cool...’  Mind you, I suppose I could ask the Guildford Four about that...

I was reading a discussion on Fark about who would win in a fight between Spiderman and the Green Lantern.  (My money’s on Spiderman, just so you know.  I mean, Spidy always beats the odds, and the harder they’re stacked against him the better.  Plus the Green Lantern is a bit of a dick.  I’ve never really read any Green Lantern, but all-American hero with phenomenal cosmic power?  Always turns out to be a dick.  Mind you, in any fight Batman wins.  He’d just have to whack anybody with his giant adamantium balls, and game over.  Apart from Judge Dredd, of course.  Dredd nuked East Meg 1 without blinking an eye.  Dredd not only stared straight into the face of Judge Fear, but delivered an amazing one-liner before putting his fist in Fear’s face.  Different league man, different league.)

I read eight pages of people arguing about Spiderman vs. Green Lantern.  I’ve never read a Green Lantern comic.  Truth be told, I’ve never read a Spiderman comic either (used to love the Saturday morning CGI-enhanced cartoon show, and seen the first two movies... and the other Spiderman movie from the 80s.).  But I was enthralled by all these comic book geeks fighting it out, the trivia becoming more and more obscure.  And then it struck me:

I am not a geek.

I’m not.  I read Penny Arcade almost religiously, but the last time I went to buy a video game I brought a book instead, and didn’t regret it.  I use Linux but the closest I get to programming anything is putting leftovers in the microwave.  I follow Wil Wheaton on Twitter.  I love, love listening to music and talking about guitars and how they sound, but can just about manage to change from a C to a G.  I’ve seen all ten Star Trek movies (the reboot doesn’t count... I’ve seen it, and you can’t make me acknowledge it), TNG, DS9, all six Star Wars films (nothing in the Star Wars EU counts... you can’t make me acknowledge it), at least two different versions of Blade Runner, own the first to seasons of Quantum Leap and watched the whole thing back when it was on TV, can name all ten Doctors both in chronological order and in order of personal preference, can quote extensively from the first six seasons of Red Dwarf (seasons seven and eight... you get the idea) I’ve read some Asimov and love Bradley... But I don’t know enough about any of these things to have really, really geeky discussions about them.  As illustrated by the Spiderman/Green Lantern thing, I know enough to make broad judgements, but not enough to get into the meat of these things.

But I love watching the geeks.  I love watching argue and fight over trivia, digging deep into their reserves to win a point which means nothing to anyone on the outside.  I love watching them take some show they love and has been destroyed by the latest irritation, and twisting and turning, trying desperately to make it all okay again.  I love reading about them doing all their geeky things.

So, I’m not a geek, but I love to watch them.  I’m not really a geek geek, because--again--I don’t have the in-depth personal knowledge about geeks. 

I don’t play football, but I love to watch it (ah, the beautiful game indeed).  So, does that make me a geek fan?  That sounds a bit weird.  It’s also pretty self-explanatory, and we can’t have that.  There should be a degree of esoteric Gnostic cryptography about the pigeon holes we put ourselves in.  We must do something to keep the outsiders out.  So... I’m not a geek, but I love the things that geeks produce.  I consume the geek product.  A geek consumer?  That sounds way too sexual.  And, again, weird.  We should go with something a bit self-referential, I think.  Geek end-user?  Hmm....  Yeah.

I am not a geek.  I am a geek end-user.

(I’m also not a furry, I’m a furri.  But that’s another post.)

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The AR Supermarket Distress Flare

I hate shopping in supermarkets.  I mean, it’s not like I have much chance to compare it to something else, but I quite like window shopping and internet shopping.  Anyway.  The problem I have with supermarkets is that they attack some things which are quintessential to my nature.  They move things around, and I dislike new places and change.  They’re full of people, and I dislike crowds.  And they have lots of shiny things in fascinating looking packets, and I’m easily distracted by shiny things.  Allegra will send me off to get a bag of sugar, and I’ll spend hours wandering the isle in a vague funk of confusion, bewilderment and sense of purpose.  Then she gets angry at me for wandering off for half-an-hour and not even coming back with the sugar.  Which is fair enough.

The other problem I have is finding people in crowds.  You put my nearest and dearest in a crowd, and I’d be lucky to find them.  Even when I’m staring right at them. 

So, we have the Augmented Reality Supermarket Distress Flare.  (What’s AR?  It’s the new Web 2.0.  What happened to the old Web 2.0?  I dunno.  It was only a marketing gimmick anyway.)  I go off to get the sugar, get lost, confused and upset.  So, I take out my AR device, and activate the flare.  Allegra’s AR device is tuned in to mine, so when my flare goes off it rings.  She takes it out, turns on the AR display and starts scanning the tops of the shelves.  My device is giving off a signal which shows up on hers, and so she can easily find me.  And because her device is only tuned into mine, and no one else’s, everyone in the supermarket can have their own flares and only the ones you’re interested in show up when you scan for them.  Wouldn’t that be civilised?

In other news, FFM has crashed and burned.  Back to eating regular food now.  Allegra and I got sick last weekend, and we thought that when you’re body is fighting off infection, it’s a bit silly to go putting that extra pressure on it.  The thing which struck me most about my week on rice, chickpeas, nuts and lentils is just how boring it was.  I mean, really boring.  It felt like my days were one ceaseless procession of grey, rolling on down a bland and featureless motorway.  Do we in the West have such a high standard of living that we need a constantly varying diet to keep us interested in life?  We don’t need to worry about our next meal, about the next famine, about our livestock, about whether we’re going to get shot or blown up by a land mine.  So, we use our vast variety of food to keep those parts of the brain occupied.  Is that it?  Is that what’s going on here?

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

If Only I Had the Patience to Learn Patience

Sewing is a whole new mentality for me. I’m sure it’s the same mentality which accompanies any manual craft, and goes a long way to explaining why I’m so bad at things. See, I lack patience and a certain amount of self-control. When things are hard, I don’t like to do them. When I’m writing, and I come across a bit which I’m not sure how to write or don’t think I can write, I’ll put up a sort of ‘place holder’. I’ll write a scene in which my two main characters lose their tempers with each other and resolve not to speak to each other again. It won’t be the scene I need to be there and they won’t say the things I need them to say, but then the scene is done and I can go back to writing the bits I can write. Maybe the characters will say or do something interesting. Then, when I’ve reached the end of the story, I go back, take out the placeholder and put a proper scene in there, where the right things get said and done. I just want to wave a magic wand and have the hard bit done.

You can’t do that with sewing. If I fudge a seam, then it’s like that forever. I can’t go back and fix it later. My entire jacket will look that bit more tatty and amateur. So, I have to sit there, and fight and fight to get it right first time. I’ll be honest--it’s as hard as quitting smoking (and even now, years later, I still get the occasional craving). Still, I guess it’s a skill I need. Going to be useful in life as well as sewing and crafts. Not going to enjoy getting there, though. You can’t make me.

Anyway, reason why I’m posting instead of sewing is that, after an hour of pinning a seam in place, I was half-way through my first stitch when my needle broke. My needle broke!

You know what the weirdest thing about FFM is? I’m too full the whole time. I’m eating nothing but the bare minimum food to sustain my body, and I’m too full. My stomach is protesting, but I have to shove shovel after shovel of lentils and chickpeas down my throat. The foods we habitually consume in the West must be so full of calories it’s unreal. It’s no wonder obesity is such a problem.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

6 O'clock, Day One

I've eaten nothing but nuts, chickpeas, rice and lentils so far today.  I have more than 2/3rds of my daily dose left, and I'm not at all hungry.  As Allegra just pointed out to me, I need to eat more and keep pace, otherwise I'm going to fall behind and not get enough nutrients. 

The preliminary draft of Bambi VI is now done.  I need to give it a read through and edit before I can put it down, but I have the foundations.  You have no idea what a relief it is.  Although, slightly depressingly, it came out at just over 14,000 words.  I need to get rid of at least 4,000 for it to be 'in budget'.  Maybe I should split it into two stories.  You always get a two-parter at the end of the season, right?  Not such a bad idea...

You Have Taken Your First Steps into a Larger World

Well, today is the start of Fuck Food Month, hereafter refered to as FFM.  My weight on our extremely cheap and unreliable scales was 14st last night, and my last meal was a mushroom pizza.  I woke up this morning thinking about breakfast and found the only thing I could find enthusiasm for was the nuts.  I like nuts.  It’s the first few hours and I mustn’t be hard on myself.

Bambi VI is reaching its dramatic conclusion.  I have no idea how saving Lady Taylor--Bambi’s mother--is going to save the world and heal Bambi’s psychological wounds, but it’s going to be interesting to find out.  I have today set aside for reaching the last sentence, and then writing it.  My actors haven’t been feeling settled and the sooner we all know how it ends, the sooner we can all relax.

SPM #6 has been proof-read, and the corrections sent to our layout guy.  (I’m sure he has a proper title, but I haven’t a clue what it is.)  It’s a bit much to expect him to have it back to us today, given that the corrections were only sent last night, but I’m still going to be a bit disappointed if Allegra doesn’t receive a final copy tonight. 

Now, back to Bambi.  Urgh, I want a cup of peppermint tea to go with my writing.  What do I get?  Water.  It’s okay.  It’s fine.  I’m going to come out the other side a more enlightened, aware, better human being. 

If I don’t achieve Nirvana by the end of the month, I’m going to have some very serious questions for myself.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The Man in the Mirror

The hair project has been, I think, a success. I’ve had my hair in the same style for many years now. It’s been down to the small of my back with a brush pulled through it to keep it neat. I’d normally tie it back, because it being in my face irritated me. I started growing my hair in earnest when I was 14, and have only really cut it one time since, in 2003. Ever since I was in double digits, I wanted long hair. I’ve had it for a long time now. I wanted a change.

It may seem like only a small change; Allegra cut the hair forwards of my ears to chin length. The effect is that I now have wide ‘bangs’, or ‘ears’ at the front while the back is still almost waist-length.

I wear it down, and am becoming accustomed to the feel of my ears on my cheeks and the sight of them in the edges of my vision.

The first time I looked in the mirror after they were cut was an horrific moment. My first thought was that I looked like Prince Valium. My second was that I looked like I was sixteen again. Sixteen was not a happy time for me, and that was due in a large part to my chin-length hair. Seeing that face staring back in the mirror was... a challenge.

The unwritten rule is that if people don’t comment on your new hairstyle, they hate it. You can imagine, then, my fears and thoughts about debuting my new locks. Especially at the steam barbecue. And then bringing it into work on Monday. Every silence was a condemnation.

To my surprise, there were more compliments than silence. People who don’t normally notice told me it looked good and brought out the shape of my face.

It hasn’t laid that sixteen-year-old ghost to rest, but I’m seeing it less and less in the mirror.

It sounds vein, I’m sure, but my long hair has long been a defining trait of mine. When I was fourteen, I decided that society was going to hate me no matter what I did, so I would do what I wanted. And that was to have long hair. I've stuck with it, through thick and thin, fashion, impulse and accidents. It’s the one thing I’ve had that no one could take away from me or take control of. We all have our battlefields, I suppose.

So, I have a slightly different hairstyle. And I’m growing quite fond of it.

Monday, 27 July 2009

A £10 Bid for Freedom

Well, the start of next month--this Saturday--marks the start of what is being colloquially called ‘Fuck Food Month’.

This idea was born out of a rant I had one day in Scotland.  Flush with the cleansing feeling brought about by the lack of TV and internet, the fact I hadn’t even wound my watch since we’d arrived, deciding what to do that day when we woke up and congregated in the living room, I started looking around at the rest of my life.  What did I find?  Food.

You see, from before we’re born with indoctrinated with the idea that food matters.  What we eat, what we don’t eat, how much we eat, where we buy things from, how the things we buy are produced, how they’re transported... the list goes on.  Just a quick look around shows you how obsessed our society is with food.  Count how many food shops there are in your town--supermarkets, restaurants, fast food places, bakers, butchers...  How many adverts on the TV are about food?  How many shows are there about food?  Magazines?  Billboards?  People are even more obsessed over food than they are over sex, and that’s saying something.

Food aid charities keep running adverts saying, ‘£10 will feed a family for a month...’, or whatever.  Well, clearly then food is a choice, not a necessity.  When we’re eating, we’re sustaining our bodies and our brains.  Strip everything away, and that’s what you’re left with.  Anything above and beyond that is an indulgence in the experience of food.  In the taste, the texture, the preparation, the art and sensation of it.  When you look at the food you eat every day, and the way you eat it, it seems as if we’re being stiffed a bit.  The supermarkets have convinced us that choice of food is a human necessity, and have consistently lowered the standards of the foods offered, masked by an increase in choice.

I’ve decided that I’m not going to play any more.  For all of August, I’m going to be sustaining my body and my brain, not worrying about food and getting on with far more important things life has to offer.  I’m going to be breaking my psychological addiction to food.  I must have made some sense, because Allegra has decided to join me in the experiment.  Using the same tables and charts the food charities use, she has worked out our diet for the coming month.  Per day:
200 grams of rice;
250 grams of chickpeas;
150 grams of nuts;
to be supplemented with fresh fruit as and when we can.

I have high hopes, to be honest.  By the end of the month, I hope to have cleared away another chunk of the blinding smog society forces into our psyches without us even realising it.

I’ve already given up alcohol and meat.  That’s pretty mundane and, on the surface, makes me look a bit boring (or religious...).  I’m hoping I can eliminate more and more of this institutional smog my brain is so choked with.  I’m also hoping that if I eliminate enough, I will pass through ‘boring’ and into the eccentric side of ‘interesting’.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Surgery and Hacking

Just so you know, I’ve been working on Bambi VI recently. By working, I really mean ‘re-working’. I may even mean ‘re-writing’. How many words from the original work need to be left for it to be counted as the same piece? I’m taking out one half of the main story, putting in another one, putting in four extra characters who weren’t there before, changing the relationships between all the main characters... oh, yes, and tearing the whole world apart. Which includes the slaughter of millions of avatars--people who live solely in the digital world. They have souls, so they’re people. But, more significant than that, Bambi goes from tricking her mother into killing herself to convincing her to choose life and sacrifice her pedigree. That’s kind of like getting Jerry to save Tom’s soul.

Tomorrow, Allegra, ngaio and I are off to Chester for a barbeque with the 1816 Society, being the S.T.E.A.M.C.R.E.W. It’s a chance for us Steampunks in the North West to get dressed up, talk about reshaping society and who would win in a fist fight between Darwin and H.G. Wells, and eat corn cobs and sweet potatoes. And, of course, have the odd beverage and cup of tea. I made a Battenberg for the occasion. I hope it goes down well.

Maybe I can find some more converts for my ‘Steampunk Quantum Leap’ pet project. It has to be done, and it will be awesome. By ‘pet project’ I mean, of course, idea I like to get heated and rant incoherently about. Alfonse--Al--will be ‘magic lantern’ 2D projection onto flat surfaces and will chomp on a pipe, and he will communicate with the project’s difference engine ‘Bierce’ through his walnut hand communicator which gives off the occasional hiss of steam. Alfonse: “Samuel, Bierce says that there’s a 96.4% chance that you’re here to ensure Miss Feathering-Smithe attends the passing out ball on Tuesday... as the timeline currently rests, she sprains her ankle and misses the ball, and never meets Jonathan, her husband and inventor of the clockwork match-striker--which was inspired by his wife!”...and, Samuel: “I’ve leapt into the body of Charles Darwin... Egads!”

Thursday, 23 July 2009

What Did I Do Before TV and the Internet?

Been a while, I know. Stevie (the car), Scotland, my ISP and work have knocked the wind out of me of late. Work has reached the point where there is serious talk in the Fox/Hawksmoor household of quitting and moving 100 miles down the road to Chester.

While in Scotland, I read through El Sombra, the second in Abaddon Books’ Pax Brittania world. I’ve passed their first one, Unnatural History around a few people. I wrote an enthusiastic review of it for Steampunk Magazine #6. T’other Paul (we already had one Paul when he started) had it next and loved it like I did. ngaio and Allegra were less than impressed--Allegra didn’t even finish it, and ngaio only finished it so she could understand what T’other Paul and I were talking about.

El Sombra was better, in my opinion. In a small Mexican town, a masked vigilante fights to free his people from the Nazi’s. Loud, bright, explosive, no-holds-barred pulp action Saturday morning pictures extravaganza. Bereft of characters or moral ambiguities. Great fun.

Since coming back to Wales, I’ve also read Rob Grant’s Backwards. I’d read all the other Red Dwarf books years ago, but somehow never managed to get through to this one. Far better than Doug Naylor’s offering, The Last Human. Backwards had a stronger plot, better writing and one bit where I laughed out loud. I haven’t done that when reading a book since... blimey, I can’t recall a single time.

And I simply can’t forget to mention Ray Bardbury’s The Illustrated Man. Fahrenheit 451 is a book which has endured with me and I frequently say is my favourite. The Illustrated Man has some pretty good stories, and some amazing ones. The Highway, The Long Rain and Kaleidoscope are worth a mention. I find it hard to explain what I find so hypnotic about Bradbury’s writing. He’s like a magician: He’s standing there, nothing up his sleeves and you watch him wandering around on stage, perfectly ordinarily. And then he stops, and you realize he’s built this amazing, beautiful home to ideas which whisper gently to you when your brain is just running idle. If I knew how he did it, I’d be copying it. Without shame.

Scotland was an amazing experience. The most enduring part of has been the silence. We had no computers, no television and only watched one video the entire week. We had music playing just one evening, and that was it. There were no neighbours, no road and cars, no people walking around outside. Just the sea and the birds and the wind. Since coming back, Allegra and I only have the television if there’s a specific programme we want to watch. At the moment, it gets turned on at 8:00pm on Sunday for Top Gear, and back off again at 9:00pm. The elimination of just that background noise from out daily lives has made the whole world seem different.

I get +1 Geek Points for following @isaacasimov, and another +1 for buying a mobile so I can update my Twitter when I’m away from the ‘net. The mobile is a Motorola W377, a slim flip phone. I have vague ideas of turning it into something resembling a cigarette case.

The copies of Steampunk Magazine #6 are back from the layout guy. There’s a lot of proof-reading in my future. I may have only had a minor part in putting it together, but it’s going to be amazing to see it all there, together, just like a real magazine! And, of course, Of Mice and Journeymen is appearing in there. I’m very excited about that. My first paying story, ever!

Three Meme T-Shirt

It doesn't cure cancer, or AIDS, have magic powers, act as a chick magnet or any of those other fancy things the real McCoy does.

It was enough to make me smile, though

Props, of course, to the people behind the Keyboard Cat shirt. Win, guys.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Fly Me To The...

Today is the 40th anniversary of the Moon landing.

It was real, and it was worth it.

We should go back.  Test out the new tech before we take it to Mars.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

From the wilds of Scotland, back to reality

My journey home, let me tell you about it...

On the Thursday night before, my companions stayed up late and made a determined effort to finish the alcohol while I got an early night.  Fair play to them--if I wasn’t the designated driver, I would have stayed up with them even though I don’t drink.  Drain the cup to the dregs and pay the piper in the morning!

I did what last minute packing and tidying I could while they paid their dues, and got them out of bed as late as was reasonable.  Between me, the one human being and them, the three kind of human zombies, we got most of the odds and ends packed and ready to be loaded into Stevie, our car.  I went out to bring him to the door, to make the loading as painless as possible.

This is where the story starts.

Stevie wouldn’t start.  No matter how many times I tried, no matter how many prayers I sent, all I got was a clicking from.... some part of the engine.  Panicked phone calls to parents later, we decided it was probably a flat battery.  We tried a bump start.  We tried many push starts.  Have you ever pushed a car along an old, gravel country road with grass growing down the middle and rabbit holes in the way?  If you haven’t, two things:  First, it’s hard and leaves you with painful shoulders; second, you can’t get enough speed for a push start.

We called the caretaker of the cottage and told him we’d be late leaving.  He said that was fine, and he’d bring jump leads.  He was good to his word and we were very grateful.  Our bonnets’ opened, he secured the leads to his battery and, after a moment of deliberation, to Stevie’s.  Sparks few and smoke poured off the terminals.  “Try your engine!” he urged.  “Quick!”  I leapt into the driver’s seat and, my eyes on the smoke pluming out of my battery, turned the key.  “Nothing!” I yelled.  He pulled the leads off, and frowned at me.  After a few moments’ frowning, he reconnected the leads, this time to the opposite terminals.  “Give that a try,” he said.  I did, and there was the glorious sound of the starter motor firing, and the pistons moving.

Despite being behind schedule, we decided to take the more scenic route and drive around Loch Lomond.  There were still dregs to be had.  Allegra was directing me and told me to turn right at the next T-junction.  I pulled up, indicated, braked, clutch, put the handbrake on and said, “Oh.”  “Huh?” Allegra asked, and then looked up.  “Oh,” she said.  The Rest and Be Thankful Pass, through which we were looking forwards to driving, was closed.  I pulled into a lay-by and asked the lone high-vis-jacketed man on guard if there was a way around, and what had happened.  F15 Tornado crashed into the hillside of the pass.  We took the diversion, contemplating the irony and the extra hour of driving.

There a couple of hours of beautiful scenery, fiddly driving and rain before the story picks up again on the M8 just outside Glasgow--which is a shithole.  If you live in Glasgow, I apologise--no one should have to live like that.  There was a hefty tailback, and we were crawling along, my left calf getting increasingly painful (you drivers will know why).  Then Stevie stalled.  And wouldn’t turn over.  I turned the key and got... nothing.  Allegra and I swapped seats as I pushed Stevie onto the hard shoulder.  I wandered a little way off, and found out what those orange SOS phones on the side of the road do.  They put you through to a disinterested sounding man with a London accent who gives you three options:  Number one, join the AA; number two, join the RAC; number three, have the police come out and call a local garage who will then give you a stonking bill.  We deliberated, and eventually went for number two.  Now, my friends, that’s good marketing.  “Ah!  I see you’ve got a gaping hole in your femoral artery!  Well, you can join BUPA, join PPP, or the police can drop you off at a GP surgery.  Or you could just keep on bleeding.  Talk it over, you know, I’m in no hurry...”

A hundred-and-twenty quid and half-an-hour later, the RAC van turned up, jumped the battery (again) and lead us off the motorway and outside a carpet warehouse.  He did things with leads and cables and meters, and then told me to try the engine.  I did, and Stevie breathed again.  The RAC man told me it was a problem with the alternator, he had fixed it, and as soon as he had deposited his paperwork with us like a cat using a litter tray, we were free to go again.

About an hour later, we stopped to get petrol.  It was all going well until I urged Stevie to walk on.  You can guess what happened.  We pushed him away from the pumps and put in another call to the RAC.  Allegra had been the cheerfully optimistic wind in our sails all day.  At every pothole, she had a smile and a happy whimsy which made everything seem, you know, okay.  While I was on the phone to the RAC (it took a while... I waited five minutes to get through, had half a conversation, and then my credit ran out...) something happened to her.  The one hour’s sleep she managed to steal from the night before, the burning pain in her arms and shoulders from the red wine, the money we’d had to spend on a car we’re planning to replace in the next couple of months, the rain...  It all condensed into a ball of, ‘fuck you, world! Fuck You!’.  We pushed Stevie up the forecourt, and down, up, and down...  I think the universe decided to reward us for our--Allegra’s--sheer bloody mindedness.  Two-and-a-half hours of motorway later, the RAC man called to say he was on the way.  We told him he wasn’t needed.

After nine hours, we left Scotland.  The entire journey back to North West Wales was supposed to take nine hours, tops.  As ngaio said, sometimes it just takes nine hours to get out of Scotland.

We stopped... at some point so I could have a break from driving.  The motor ran while we swapped seats.  I napped in the back for an hour-and-some before taking the wheel again.  Tez was deposited without further incident, some time around midnight.  His mother gave us tea and his father jumped Stevie back into life, and we were on our way again.  Fifteen hours or so after we’d set off, we pulled into Bangor.  We parked Stevie at a local garage (because there was no way we could get him there if we stopped again), and slept on ngaio’s sofa bed for the night.

I explained the problem to a young lad at the garage, he put a couple of wires on the battery and said, “yep, you were right, dead as Jacko.  A new one is... fifty quid.”  He looked up at me, awaiting my decision.  I was caught:  Did I pay for a new battery, or did I lie on my living room floor as the blood drained out my artery?  Having taken all my tools out the boot to make way for holiday packing, I asked him to install it for me and spent a quarter-of-an-hour looking for my wallet.  I had to drag ngaio back to the garage to pay in my steed if it had been sacrificed the previous day at some point.

If I was writing this on Saturday afternoon, as I was planning to, this would be the end of the story.  I’m not writing this on Saturday afternoon because our ISP had cut us off for not paying the bill, and after Stevie’s bills we couldn’t afford to make it up to them.  Can’t afford to.

The story picks up on Monday morning, on the way to work.  There we are, on the A5, chatting about what Stevie had taught us during the trip on Friday.  There’s a clunk.  I put my foot down to accelerate, and get nothing.  So I change down, and try again.  Nothing.  As I’m pondering this, Allegra’s eyes have gone wide.  “Dylan, there’s smoke coming out the bonnet--pull over!”  She was right.  White smoke was coming out the bonnet like bad eighties special effects, and was being blown into the cabin through the air vents.  Something was dripping through the passenger’s footwell onto Allegra’s feet.  I pulled over, tried to put the hazard lights on and failed.  Opening the bonnet, I found that the battery had welded itself to it.  We called the RAC as traffic pulled around us.  The A5 is a single carriage way, tightly weaving through the Welsh landscape, and we were blocking it.  It wasn’t long before we had a police car flashing blues and twos either side of us, directing traffic.  The RAC man turned up, and gave us a tow back to the garage.

When we got there, I popped the bonnet and he took the battery out.  Acid dribbled out of it in a steady stream.  “Your battery’s fucked... your electrics probably fucked, too.”  The manager from the garage came out, and agreed with him.  “There’s no restraining bolt holding the battery down,” the manager said.  “It just bounced up and hit the bonnet.  You’re lucky it didn’t explode.  The lad who fitted it isn’t in today, but I’m going to have A Word with him...”

I’ve had a car for the last ten years.  Public transport is something of a foreign world to me.  When I was a kid, I took the bus all the time.  A lot has changed in the last ten years, including where I live.  ngaio is a regular busser, and Allegra is a smart cookie, so they arranged transport to and from work while I was hiding in the internets. 

The garage are replacing the battery and fixing the wiring for me at no charge.  It’s amazing.  They’re wonderful.  It’ll be ready to pick up Wednesday night, but we’ve already got weekly bus tickets so we’re going to bus it to work and back all week.  Between the alternator being fixed (which had been on the fritz for a while), the battery being replaced (which randomly discharged overnight in Scotland and was probably on the fritz) and the wiring being replaced (which had been on the fritz for a while), I’m ending up with a better car then when I started.

Almost.  The brakes are grinding, which I’m told is a bad thing.

So, in conclusion... does anyone know a good--and by good I mean fuel efficient and reliable--and by reliable I mean German--erm--3 door, 1.4 ltr car I can get second hand for between £1,500 and £2,000?

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Retreating and Retracing

Bertie is due to be taken out of his pot and put into a planter tonight. I hope he likes his new home. He is going to have a jam jar of stout by his side (excellent suggestion, btw Jo).

I had to take our youngest cat, Jack, to the vet this morning. It took a good ten minutes and skulduggery with food to get him into the box. When we got home, I opened the door, and that was it--he was gone. He probably won't trust me ever again.

All this preparation is so, when we’re away next week, there’s nothing to worry about. On Friday, Allegra, ngaio, Tez (a friend of Allegra’s) and I are journeying up to the wilds of Scotland for a week of meditation, writing and rambling over the hills and moors. I’m trying to leave my expectations at home so I can just go with whatever is flowing. It’s about as contrary to my nature as a fish running, but that’s not to say it’s impossible. It’s going to be interesting, as Allegra has banned me from taking my laptop. I tried explaining to her that my laptop is my main means of creative expression, and it was kind of like asking a guy with no legs to leave his prosthetics at home. Deaf ears.

The break from my normal creative process has the potential to do wonders. I just have to let it. Despite anxiety, I’m looking forwards to the break. Stress seems to be piling up and it’ll be good to be in a place where I can’t do anything about it, so I don’t have to worry about it. And a place where I can just write and do whatever. I can start something new and throw it around with everyone else, and watch it take a direction I never thought of.

I’m worried about the midges, though. I used to holiday in the Outer Hebrides when I was a kit and midges are a trauma. They love my blood. They love my sweat. They love climbing in my ears and under my eyelids and in my long hair. The only people who understand my pain are my aunt and my brother. I’m bringing two different kinds of repellent. I still feel under-prepared.

In other news, I’ve finished my first, ‘hack’. I’ve taken an old shirt I didn’t wear any more, and turned it into a new waistcoat. I’d be lying if I said it looked great, but it does okay and I’m happily wearing it today. I plan to make another waistcoat out of an old black shirt I found at the bottom of the wardrobe. Being able to create something tangible like that has an addictive quality. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d have found my new vocation.

Sewing all done, I’ve been going back to Bambi’s stories. As I’m sure you can imagine, some need more work than others. Number two in the series was a pain, number three needed some surgery, but number four needed very little work. I wrote it over Christmas 2008 and its set at that time of year. The ending is a bit sappy, but I let that stand. Five and six are the last two, but they’re also probably going to need the most work. I just sat down and wrote those, no planning or forethought. Now I’m going back and reshaping them all to be part of the same narrative, I’m not only going to have to clean them up but also remould them to fit in. Once all the stories have been put into a second draft, I can go back and refine them. The first draft is just what happens to come out my fingers when I'm at the keyboard.. The second draft is what I meant to write. Third and forth are refining. Sometimes there’s a fifth draft. Normally I’m done in four, though. It’d be nice to get the last two into draft-ii before the trip, but that’s not going to happen. Maybe I’ll print them out and bring them with me. At least I have the option then, even if I don’t take it up.