Saturday 13 April 2013

Ding dong the wicked witch is [censored]

If you're in the UK you'll certainly have heard; I don't know how far it's travelled. Margaret Thatcher died last week, which was very inconsiderate of her because now no-one will talk about anything else and an awful lot of knickers have been twisted.

Margaret Thatcher was like Marmite: loved by some and loathed by the rest. Half the country is in mourning, searching the post for invitations to her ceremonial funeral with full military honours. The other half, according to the news, is breaking out the party hats and intending to gate-crash and kick up a hornpipe on the grave.

Actually, I think there are quite a lot of people who just wish everyone would shut up. It's just that they aren't saying anything so all we hear is the rest. Sure, it's natural that her death would spark some renewed discussion of her time in power. But when it comes to tributes to a national hero/denunciations of a psychopathic monster, all this tasteless stuff about celebrating an old, sick woman's death, and the fact that we don't seem to be allowed to stop talking about her, I for one am sick of it.

I heard one person compare celebrating Thatcher's death to Lord Voldemort's, which may not be the most ludicrous comparison I've ever heard, but I can't think of any others off the top of my head. It's not the fact that the two are hardly on the same scale. It's that even if they were, the end of a murderous dictator's reign of terror is an entirely different thing to the death of a frail old woman who hasn't been in power in more than two decades. I'm sure many people celebrated the end of her government, and that's perfectly reasonable, but Thatcher's death doesn't mean anything to anyone except her friends and family.

But the biggest issue that's arisen is over this. A campaign to get Ding Dong the Witch is Dead from The Wizard of Oz to number one was fairly successful (in the end, it just missed out on the top spot), and the BBC has made an idiot of itself over playing it on their chart show. If they'd ignored it, they would have incensed not only all the people who downloaded the song, but also everyone who dislikes censorship. If they'd played it, they would probably have offended quite a lot of people. I do sympathise with the people whose decision it was, who were certainly between a rock and a hard place, but I think their decision is ridiculous.

The plan is to announce the song as, but to only play a clip of it, along with a news report about why it's in the charts. In other words, they've elected to censor it and draw more attention to it.

To add insult to injury, there are any number of people insisting that the reason it shouldn't be played is because it's not reached number one on artistic merit, it's an attempt to hijack the charts. Which is the most pathetic attempt to dodge a question I've ever heard. The charts are not, and have never been about artistic merit. They are about popularity, as measured by sales. There's no judging, no discretion, just a straight-forward recital of the most sold tunes. When Band-Aid was at number one it was because it was for charity, but did anyone suggest that it be treated any differently? Many songs are offensive to at least a proportion of people, and many songs have to do with politics in some way, but this is the only one that's being censored.

I think there's no question but that they should play it in full, as if it was any other song. But mostly I think that they should at least go one way or the other, instead of taking the middle ground fallacy and offending everyone.

Tuesday 15 January 2013


Anyone who's read the Inheritance cycle may recall that dwarves have seven fingers on each hand. At one point, one of them explains to Eragon why their God caused this to be. Apparently, five was not enough and eight was too many.

In fact, seven is no better then five and eight would be a slight improvement,though I guess it would be rather unwieldy. You might also notice that it doesn't actually explain anything at all, but that's beside the point.

Twelve is easy to divide, and ten is easy to multiply. Which gives rise to all kinds of arguments over things like metric and imperial units, and is generally very annoying.

Twelve is easy to divide because it factors a lot of different ways, which is an intrinsic property of the number. But ten is only easy to multiply because we count in base ten. If we used base twelve, we'd have a number which was good for multiplying and dividing and there wouldn't be any arguments. So why don't we? Because fingers, that's why. The curious thing about the Inheritance reference is that if five is too few and eight too many, then there's no reason why it shouldn't be six. And six actually would be better than five.

Saturday 22 December 2012

So, I wrote a book

I don't think I actually told you guys, but I'd set the 21st as a deadline for finishing editing. The reasoning being that the world could end if it wanted, so long as I'd finished.

Well, yesterday came, and I did get it finished (!), and went, and the world didn't end. So now I have this novel hanging around that I'm not allowed to do anything to and I have to publish the wretched thing.

I'll let you know how that goes.

I have a little shortlist already of publishers that might be worth a shot. As I've said before, I'm going the traditional publishing route, but I'm going to start by trying some smaller publishers that are accepting unsolicited submissions. If I don't get any interest or don't like the contracts if I do, I'll have a look at agents, and maybe the bigger publishers, but as a starting point the small guys sound like they might be a good middle ground between self-publishing (of which I am not a big fan) and the big traditional publishers.

So I guess the next step is to start writing letters. I hate writing letters.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Fifty Eighteen Ways to Kill Somebody with a Mobile Phone

The other day I came across a file on my computer titled '50 ways to kill someone with a mobile phone'. You'll probably be pleased to know that this isn't the plans for some nefarious act of villainy on my part, or even on the part of one of my characters. It is in fact a creative writing exercise from several months ago that I'd forgotten all about.

I'd signed up to an email course on the basis that it was free, and this was one of the tasks in the first instalment. So I sat down and eventually came up with eighteen. Then I saved the file, and after being unable to think of anything to add to it for a few days, forgot about it. But here's what I got:

1.       Hit them over the head with it
2.       Break the casing to get a sharp edge and stab them
3.       Force it down their throat and choke them
4.       Create a gas leak and then ring it to create a spark (and explosion)
5.       There's got to be something poisonous in there (in the battery maybe?)
6.       Ring them while they're driving, until they have a crash
7.       Send incriminating texts to get them shot (I admit, I got this one off Spooks)
8.       Cyber-bully them to the point of suicide.
9.       Booby-trap their phone with a bomb, poison gas, etc, that goes off when they next use it.
10.   Electrocute them. If the battery doesn't have enough juice, there's always the charger
11.   Speaking of which, garrotte them with the charger cable
12.   Sticking with the charger, introduce some toxic/infectious substance onto the prongs of the plug and leave it on the floor for them to step on
13.   Have your accomplice engage them in a text conversation as they walk down the street. You could then do anything and they wouldn't notice until it was too late.
14.   Set the ring tone to sound like a smoke alarm, hide it in their house and ring it constantly until they disable the alarm. Then arson (optional: refer to 4.)
15.   Leave it at the top of the stairs for them to trip/slip on
16.   Similarly, use the charger cord as a tripwire
17.   Set a building on fire (if you can't find a convenient burning building already) and ring them, pretending to be a relative trapped inside
18.   Conceal a radioactive source inside it so it really will irradiate their brains. For best results ring them a lot over the following days.

Any more ideas? Let's see if we can get all the way to fifty.

Sunday 11 November 2012

My Crazy Overactive Imagination and Me

I can say with complete honesty, that I'm never guilty of being away with the fairies.

I don't do fairies. The vampires, dragons, Roman legionaries, kings, knights, barbarian warriors... that's a different matter. I spend half my time away with them. Possibly a dysfunctional amount of time, but there you go.

I also have a habit of overthinking things - that's why I don't do fairies, really. I have to make things make sense. It's fine in sci-fi. It worked with dragons. Even, to an extent, with wizards. It worked an absolute treat with vampires.

And I have a tendency to lean towards the dark and creepy. Don't look for too many happy-ever-afters from me.

This adds up to quite a bit of self-inflicted cannot unsee. Sometimes I scare myself. A lot of it I'm scared to write down, let alone publish, in case people think I'm weird, and not in a good way - I'm fine with being eccentric, but I don't want to be some kind of depraved crazy psycho.

The end result is an overflowing mental filing cabinet of squick. Which has been getting to me recently, so I finally decided to inflict it on you guys, somewhere I can explain it instead of just putting it in a story as though it's nothing unusual, and where my mum won't end up reading it (hopefully. Weird, isn't it, how it can be so much easier to say something to the world than one person).
This is a sort of experiment, to see if it really is weird-creepy, or just horror story creepy and it's only my usual worrying about what people will think of me that makes me scared to show it.
Anyway, here's a little showcase of the kind of stuff that turns up in my head:

Sunday 28 October 2012

A Tangled Web we Weave

I had the most brilliant flash of inspiration. Almost certainly I'm not the first to come up with something similar, but I think it's cool.

You know those stories where you have 140 characters and a ton of plot-lines? Unless you have a trick memory, it can be bl**dy difficult to keep everything straight and not contradict yourself. Events happen at specific locations and times, and letting them move around at all is a big no-no. Characters are even harder, since they can move around, but have to not only to be in exactly one place at any one time, but also to take a reasonable amount of time to get between them. Both can be hard to keep track of in a complicated story.

So here's my idea.

You will need: drawing pins (this kind are probably the best for the purpose, and ideally you want as many colours as possible), thread (again, many colours is helpful but not essential, and fairly coarse thread is best), and a large rectangle of something you can stick pins into nice and firmly without them coming loose.

We're going to make a space-time continuum.

It's helpful to draw grid-lines on your pin-board, or stick a sheet of squared paper over it. Now draw a timeline along one side of the paper, and a list of settings on the other. As far as possible, you're going to want to try to make the distance between places roughly correspond to the actual distance between them, but since you're laying out a two-dimensional world on a one-dimensional line, it's not going to work out perfectly. You could in theory do this with a 3d plot, especially if it was done on a computer instead of a kitchen table, but it would probably just turn into a tangled mess, when the point is to be able to see things at a glance. But the spacing of the locations is not hugely important anyway.

Now, for every event or scene, stick a pin in the appropriate point in spacetime. Some labelling system will be necessary. Different colours are useful to see at a glance which one is which, but not important, and you're unlikely to have enough colours to make them all different anyway.

Now, the characters.  For every character except bit-parts who are only in one scene, tie a length of thread to the pin where they first appeared in the story. Then take the string to the next scene they were in, and wrap it around the pin. And so on. If they die (or in some other way get written out), tie off the thread at their death scene.

And there you have it. I call it a plot-web. You shouldn't have any thread visiting two different pins that are level on the time axis, or two pins a long way apart in space within a very short time, unless they have access to teleportation - that's why it's good to have nearby places close on the location axis, so you can tell by the gradient.

If you don't want to bother with pins and thread, you could just draw dots and lines on a sheet of paper, but the pins are more fun, and you can move them around if you change your mind.


Wednesday 24 October 2012

The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing is a blog hop where writers can share their work-in-progress or soon-to-be-released books. I was tagged by fellow writer and blogger, Kristina Miranda, who posted about her book last week, here.

Now it's my turn; regular readers may recognise this book as the one I've been talking about for months. For anyone new to my blog, Hi! And this is the book I've been working on for more than half a year now and almost finished. It's about vampires.

Anyhow, the premise of this blog hop is that someone somewhere came up with some questions about books, and we all answer them in turn. So here we go:

What is the working title of your book?

A Lonely Road, though if I use that at all it will be as the overarching title of the trilogy (of which this is the first book). I'm seriously stuck on an individual book title.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I got the idea of writing about vampires, and my speciality is to take something magical or supernatural, or at least pseudosience, and agonise over making it realistic until it turns out to be possible. I've done it with dragons, and even to an extent with wizards. Vampires were surprisingly easy.

What genre does your book fall under?

Tough one. Dark fiction, probably. Horror is a traditional genre for vampire stories, but it really isn't horror. It could be described as science fiction, but I'm not sure if it would appeal to most sci-fi fans.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Even tougher one. I tend not to pay much attention to actors and only to the characters, so I honestly have no idea. I couldn't even go on looks, since I have face-blindness, and wouldn't even recognise my own characters in the street. I'd have to leave it entirely to the director.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Fed up with living in hiding, Alexis decides to reveal vampires to the world, and then discovers why vampires don't do that.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

By an agency. I had almost decided to self-publish, until I discovered just how much it would cost. Although I could find the money, I couldn't afford to risk losing it.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About three months once I properly started; I'd been trying to for the best part of a year before that but I didn't even get beyond the opening scene until I invented my Daily K rule and stuck my nose to the grindstone.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Well, if by my genre you mean other vampire stories, probably the nearest to it is Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles. The story has similarities, but my version of vampire lore is quite different. In that respect, it's perhaps closer to Darren Shan than to anything else I've read, although I wouldn't call it a similar book.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

My housemates were watching Queen of the Damned on DVD, and I came in half-way through. I didn't have much idea what was going on, but the scene of Lestat's being made a vampire struck me quite heavily. So I started playing with similar ideas and the whole story grew from there.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The mix of characters, perhaps. Immortal characters are great, because you can get people from cultures that never coexisted. I've got everything from Spartans to Vikings, and Barbary corsairs to modern Americans. And I hope I've managed to make them all true to their backgrounds.

And as well, every author of vampires, from Bram Stoker to Stephenie Meyer, has portrayed vampires differently, and the style has evolved a lot over the years. There are plenty of readers who insist that this is a bad thing - but whatever incarnation they cling to is invariably different from what came before it and from 'actual' vampire lore. The genre has always been changing and it will keep doing so as long as people write about it, so who knows? This is my take, and if it's successful, maybe it'll influence the next chapter of the vampires' story.

So, I hope that was interesting. And last but certainly not least, the people I'm tagging:

Eliza Stilson

J. C. Martin

Unfortunately, that's all. Seems like nearly everyone I know in the blogosphere is having a break from blogging, or plans all their posts weeks in advance like a sensible, organised person. But these two are great, so get over to their blogs next week, where they'll be answering the same questions about their books.