Sunday 25 December 2011

Writing Tips: Leave Well Enough Alone

There are two places where a writer needs to be able to know when to stop: editing and ending.

Season's Greetings

A very merry Christmas to you all, or merry any other festival you may be celebrating at this time of year, or else just general merriness. I hope all your days are going well.

I've not forgotten my promise, that's coming in a bit.

Friday 23 December 2011

'Twas the Night Before the Night Before Christmas

It's Christmas Eve tomorrow, and over here we're just about ready for Christmas: tomorrow we have to collect the turkey from the butcher and cook the ham, but the decorations are up, the living room smells agreeably of tree, the cupboards are full of yummy things. All my Christmas shopping is done, presents wrapped and round the tree with most of the rest of the family's, and I've had a good feel and shake of most of them.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Pearls of Wisdom: Water Your Christmas Tree

It's almost Christmas and I expect that a fair proportion of my readers will be celebrating it as either a religious or national holiday. I suspect that a fair few of you will have a Christmas tree.
If it's a real one, water it. You can find stands that hold the tree upright in a reservoir which you can fill with water. We got one a few years ago, and as well as being a good stand - doesn't fall over - the tree seems to keep its needles better.
My other tip is to shop around. We usually get a very nice tree at a very reasonable price from a couple of blokes who bring a van full of them to Morrisons carpark.

If you have an artificial tree, it won't want watering, probably comes with a stand and you'll only have to buy one once. But it won't smell of pine.

Monday 12 December 2011

Things I Have Written

Since this is now a writer's blog, it seems vaguely reasonable to tell you about the things I have written. Most of it is works in progress, which I don't really want to publish bits of, but I have in the past perpetrated fanfiction (Discworld), some of which is published here: and which you can read if you really want to (reviews very, very welcome). Of my published fics, Damned Bloody Assassins is in progress, but more-or-less on hold for the forseeable, as is a one-shot not yet published.

Sunday 27 November 2011

I Think it Would be Funny

If you ever have cause to write one of those ridiculous internet/software terms and conditions documents ten pages long that nobody ever reads beyond maybe the first and last couple of paragraphs, wouldn't it be brilliant to hide a sentence in the middle of it to the effect of 'I own your soul'.

Friday 25 November 2011

A Tasty Treat

My most recent food - or rather drink - experiment has turned out to be one of my most successful: spice coffee. 
It's exactly what it sounds like; coffee with spices in.
To make it, it's best to make filter or cafetiere coffee. Instant will still be ok, but not as nice because you'll have bits floating in it. Simply add ground spices to the coffee beans, then make the coffee as normal, with whatever milk/sugar combination you prefer.
As to what spices and how much, that's entirely up to you. I use about quarter of a teaspoon each of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. I feel like sweet spices are good in this, but I would have thought a bit of chilli would go well if you like it hot.
It makes a very tasty, warming, somewhat festive drink.

Thursday 24 November 2011

The Meaning of 'Union'

Next Wednesday, members of many public sector unions in the UK will go on strike. Of course there will undoubtedly be a lot of union members who will go to work as normal.
To them I say, what do you suppose the word 'union' to mean?

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Procrastination, and Not Doing it

Regular readers, if there are any, may have noticed that I've not posted much in the last week or so; I've also made no progress on my novel. Problem: too many time sinks. Between Cracked, Cheezburger and Minecraft, I don't leave myself a lot of time to get things done, and that time has to go towards my degree and trying to find some work experience for next summer - in short, it's entirely my own fault and I need to pull my socks up and stop procrastinating. I shall try.
Top of my Christmas list* this year is more self-discipline and the ability to not lose track of time, but until someone wraps those up and puts them under the tree, I'll have to make do with what I've got.

A Thing I Found

Some funny, most true.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Good Days Happen

Often enough you have bad days, where everything goes wrong at once and the world seems to be out to get you. Mostly, a 'good' day is where nothing goes wrong, so they go down in memory as 'days' because we somehow expect things to go right. But do not despair. You do get really good days. Days where it all just works, when you spend all day thinking 'wow, what a great day'. I had one today. I won't go through it all, but everything went right, and unexpected good things happened, and I've been smiling all day.

Monday 14 November 2011

Change of Subject, and a few other things

As you may be able to tell, this is becoming rather a literary blog. I always intended it to be the blog of a person who happened to be an aspiring author, and I've tried not to post about writing to often. But a lot of what I've got to say is about books and writing, so I've decided that's pointless, and as of now this is a writer's blog, although I will not restrict myself to that subject. Anything I find interesting will still go on.

On that note, if any readers have something they'd like to talk about, drop me a line - you can now contact me by email from my profile, link to the right of the page - and if I like it you can guest-post. The only criteria is that it's something I find interesting.

Also, I am aware I haven't managed to update as regularly as I initially said I would, so for the convenience of any regular readers I might have, from now on I will tweet about new posts. If you have Twitter and want to keep updated, follow me - link to the right of the page.

Finally, I hardly ever get comments, even when I directly ask for them. Is this because people aren't interested, or are you embarrassed to comment when no-one else does? If the latter, someone has to be first.

The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Good Book to a Would-be Author

I've just finished Anne Rice's The Tale of the Body Thief and I would recommend it to anyone, but read the earlier Vampire Chronicles first, if you haven't already. I enjoyed it immensely. But oh, how much it hurt.

Sunday 6 November 2011

Writing Tips: Make it Fit

One of the commonest flaws I see in writing is words forced into places where they just don't fit.
Often, it's in a character's thoughts: a lot of writers seem to be able to keep speech in character, but when it comes to the character's thoughts it apparently doesn't occur to some people that you also think in words you would naturally use.
Then we come to what I dub Thesaurus syndrome and Mega-verbism.

New Fire Doors

The council recently inspected my house. Since it's a house of multiple occupancy, it has to comply with various regulations including fire doors. Some of the door closers didn't close the doors properly, so we had to have new ones. The landlord came to fit them on Friday.
I now have a door that I can turn the handle and lean my full weight against without it budging. It takes quite an effort to force it open. My housemate's door is in an awkward little angle that means she can't get very much leverage to pull on it; she's gotten stuck once already.
This is going to make us so much safer in the event of a fire.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Monday 31 October 2011

Do a Good Deed Today

If you click on the ads, I get paid. It'll only take a second.

Pearls of Wisdom: How to Have an Argument

Intuition says that, whether you want a blazing row or a genteel debate, arguing is an easy thing to do. Intuition is wrong. Many, many people can't argue, and for a keen arguer, it's the most frustrating thing in the world trying to debate something with them.
Oh, anyone can shout their opinion from the rooftops, and anyone else can shout a different opinion back. That's not an argument, that's a shouting contest. The person with the loudest voice, or who gets fed up last, wins.
On a slightly more sophisticated level, both (all) parties attempt to give justification for their views. This is what you might call a proto-argument: getting there, got the basic principles, but it doesn't really work. The thing is,
  the other person also has justification for their view.
You see, the aim of an argument is not merely to make your opponent stop talking, but to convince them. Once in a blue moon, possibly, someone changes their mind simply from hearing the justification for a view they don't hold.
To really get anywhere, to have a good, satisfying, fulfilling argument, you need to address not merely your own argument, but theirs. By giving your own views and reasoning, you at best show that there are two different opinions to choose from. They're not just being obstinate, it's mathematically unsound to change your beliefs without evidence against them. To change a mind, you have to show not only that your view is valid, but also
  that theirs isn't.
You need to find the hole in their argument. If there isn't one, they may be right.

Saturday 29 October 2011

Reader Response Question of the Week: Sci-Fi and Vampires

What do people think of the idea of a novel about scientifically plausible vampires?
I'm talking humanoid - externally indistinguishable, or very nearly - creatures, though mentally, emotionally and culturally very different. Immortal blood-drinkers that reproduce by turning humans into vampires. Based on more-or-less theoretically plausible science: I don't claim it to be absolutely adamantine, but firm enough to stand on, with care.
I welcome all thoughts and comments.

Friday 28 October 2011

Why an Embryo Isn't a Person

I am given to understand that the main objection to intentionally destroying an early embryo - be it stem cell research, emergency contraception, or whatever - is the argument that a fertilised egg has a soul and should be considered a person.
I shan't make any arguments for or against the existence of souls - I wouldn't change anyone's mind, and it's not necessary for my argument.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Writing Tips: let them be themselves

Characters are pretty important when writing fiction, and as the author, you often get very close to them - the number of times I've made myself cry over what's happened to my creations - but like an overprotective parent, you have to learn to give them their own space.

Walls Have Eyes

...and they're watching you. I've sat at the bus stop every weekday after lectures for over a year but I've never spotted it until now, and now I can't but see it.

Monday 17 October 2011

Reader Response Question of the Week: Teething

Any chance we can actually get a response this time?
Does anyone know a good cure for teething pains? My wisdom teeth are giving me hell.

EDIT: I've found the cure. Ice-cream is the cure.

Saturday 15 October 2011

It's the Thought that Counts

Many of the telephone boxes in Newcastle are red.
My international readership may need some explanation here. The red telephone box is something of a British institution, and people are very fond of them, but they are sadly an endangered species these days, having been largely driven out by plain, square, BT branded phone boxes. Here's a picture of that dying breed:

Oil and Water and the Arrow of Time

As you may well know, time is just a dimension like the three spatial ones, so it's odd that we have to keep going in the same direction. The rule, apparently, is that time goes in the direction where entropy, or disorder, increases - e.g. when you spill something it goes all over the place instead of landing in a neat pile, or when you drop a piece of toast there will be some butter on the bread and some on the floor (this is the real reason it lands butter side down), or when you pour two liquids into the same container they eventually mix evenly without being stirred.
Oil and water would appear to contradict this rule. Pour them together and they stay apart. Shake them up into an emulsion and after a time they will separate, the disorder actually decreasing.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

A Fundamental Law of Nature

Given any subject with more than one opposing view, people will always believe that the majority of the proponents of their view are reasonable people, whereas the majority of proponents of the opposing view(s) are militants, haters, bigots or just opinionated idiots.

> It is normal for someone to assume that that the majority of people who agree with them think and talk about it as they do, and equally natural to consider your own views and ways of expressing them to be reasonable.
> The people on any side of the debate who grab most of the limelight and make most of the noise are the haters.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Why Atheists Need to Stop Demanding I Prove the Existence of God

First off, the majority of atheists, I believe, have no beef with my belief - Christianity, if you're interested - they just think I'm wrong. That's fine, because I have no beef with their lack of belief, I just think they're wrong.
I'm addressing the minority who refuse to accept that my belief is valid or allowable unless I prove it to their satisfaction. I'm not asking you to believe in God, I'm asking you to let me believe in God.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Public Announcement

I intend to get my first novel finished and start trying to publish it by next summer.
I'm hoping that saying it in the public domain will make me get on my a*se and write the d*mned thing.

The Most Awesome Thing I've Seen Today

That's even better than Babe.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

One of the funniest lolcats I've seen for a while.


Apparently it landed in the middle of the ocean.

Pearls of Wisdom: Always Thank the Bus Driver

What goes around, comes around. Politeness doesn't cost anything, and it only takes a second, but the more people say thanks, the more likely the driver is to wait next time you're running for the bus.

Friday 23 September 2011

Reader Response Question of the Week: Islam

First off, I promise I'm not getting at anyone's religion. I'm genuinely interested and I'm sure it does make sense when you understand it properly.
I am led to believe that a certain branch of Islam (Sunni Islam?) beleive in divine omnipotence over human free will. I don't understand how that can fit with belief in a moral code. Would it not mean that if you did something 'wrong', it's because Allah wanted you to?
Can anyone help?

Tuesday 20 September 2011

A Brief Guide to Expiry Dates

It has come to my attention that many people simply panic when the date on their calender passes a date on their food, and immediately throw it away. This is silly and wasteful.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

How to render a cat (mostly) harmless with one hand

Anyone who's ever owned or looked after a cat knows that at some point you have to do something it doesn't like, like wipe its paws or give it tablets. At this point your affectionate, friendly, soft little pet reveals its other personality as a predator beautifully adapted to kill. The hair stands on end; the body that normally feels like it's made almost entirely of fluff becomes a double handful of writhing sinews; all five sets of needle-sharp pointy ends come out and blood-curdling screams from both parties fill the air.
So you need to know how to restrain it. Standard solutions are scruffing, which can be tricky and even if your grip doesn't slip, risks the apparently subdued animal returning to violent activity as soon as you start doing whatever it was you had to do; and the blanket, which I personally have never found effective. First you have to wrap the cat tightly enough that it can't get any of its limbs out, but gently enough not to hurt it. That's a very narrow window. Then you have to leave the relevant part of the cat outside, which is often easier said than done.

Sunday 4 September 2011


I saw a little girl out riding her bike the other day, wearing tight beige leggings that were almost nude-coloured. Did a double take I can tell you.

Wednesday 31 August 2011


I've never noticed before what cumbersome birds magpies are. I saw one fly slowly past me just now and I felt sorry for the poor thing burdened with that vast spray of tail.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Things That Annoy Me: introductions to novels

This is perhaps the most frustrating sort of writing known to humanity, and it's not just a case of tl;dr (I've recently worked out what that means, and I've been dying for a chance to use it) although that's a part.
OCD says I ought to read it first, since it's the introduction and all, but when I choose a book, I usually want to read it, not read about reading it. I suppose it's meant to be a sort of tasting notes, telling you what to look for if you want to be highbrow about it and not just enjoy the book, but quite apart from the tedium I'd really rather read it myself, intact and undissected.
This is but a minor irritation next to the spoilers. How often do you find a succinct synopsis, robbing you permanently of every bit of the author's painstakingly crafted suspense and mystery, should you be so incautious as to read the introduction as an introduction?
Perhaps even more infuriating is when the writer of the introduction confines themself to describing
 The most important event in the story.
It's just not fair to put that sort of thing at the start. It ought to be at the end of the book; an extroduction, if I may be allowed to coin such an absurd-sounding word.

Friday 26 August 2011

Overreaction: forecourt rage

Yesterday I was in the car with my mum and we stopped to get petrol. And this isn't quite such a boring story is the opening sentence sounds. We'd pulled up on the wrong side of the pump, so we reversed out and went to the other side. Now I'll admit that we might have been a bit less considerate than we could have (I'll also freely admit that it wasn't me driving): there was another car, still behind us, about to pull into the space we ended up in. He did have to put his brakes on. Perhaps the generous thing would have been to let him go first. But.
He got out of his car and started insisting that we'd 'put his children's lives in danger' - we'd both been moving at less than five mph - then he got back in and drove right up to our bumper and tried to stop us using the pump. He eventually went to a different pump, after we'd threatened to call the police.
He said he was going to report us for dangerous driving. I don't know what he planned to say: 'This woman shouldn't be on the road.' 'And why's that?' 'I nearly drove into the back of her.' Then he made a big show of photographing our car and writing down the number, then he tried to photograph us.
For once, I thought of the right response at the right time: I posed for the camera with a huge cheesy grin, and I wish I'd had a camera myself because his face was a picture. I thought there was nothing better I could do than show him just how ridiculous I thought he was.

Monday 22 August 2011

Excellent Quotations

Here's probably the funniest thing I've heard recently: conceived by the genius of the remarkable Terry Pratchett.

Thursday 18 August 2011

Pearls of Wisdom

If you own a cat, at some point you will give in and accept cat hair as the universal decoration and condiment. Make it easier for yourself; bow to the inevitable.

Monday 15 August 2011

This is purely academic and I am in no way suggesting anyone do this

I wonder how many night-time burglaries you could get away with using the following simple strategy:
Wait until you think everyone's asleep, then as you creep round the house keep a glass of water to hand. If no-one wakes up then fine, but if they do just mumble 'It's all right, it's only me. I was just getting a drink.' Betcha at least half the time you could make good your escape before the half-asleep victim cottons on!

Sunday 7 August 2011

Reader response question of the week

What's the best way to stop my mum from reading my blog?


How many kids with hay fever think they're allergic to rhinos?

Hello and Welcome

I've been meaning to start a blog for ages: now I have. I'll try and update at least a couple of times a week with my thoughts on life, jokes I've heard, pictures, questions, hand-crafted pearls of wisdom (amount of wisdom may vary), and anything I think is interesting.
Reader comments are very welcome, although I can't promise to read them all if there ever end up being loads (readers are warned that comments may be referred to in future posts, trolls will be laughed at).