Wednesday 29 February 2012


I was trawling round Los Angeles on Google Maps streetview the other day, location scouting for my novel, and I found this:

Thomas and Betsy: Because I said I Wouldn't Talk About my Cat

But I made no such promise about anyone else's.

Thomas and Betsy are two cats who live in a house on a street next to the University, which I usually walk down on my way to and from Uni. Thomas is a chunky black-and-white tuxedo, and Betsy is a dainty little calico. I met their owner once - he came home while I was petting them, and he told me their names although not his own. While I'm away from Poppy in term time, they are my substitutes.

They are very friendly: Poppy takes an interest in everyone indoors, but outside she won't even come to me (she's my little Wild Thing). Betsy on the other hand, came right up to me as soon as I showed any interest. Thomas took a little coaxing the first few times we met, but now he comes running to see me, although he needed a little more encouragement the first time I saw him after being away for the Christmas holidays.

Their owner says Betsy bites, but she's never bitten me, even when I once tried briefly to pick her up: she didn't like it, but she only wriggled until I let her go. If she did bite or scratch me, though, I'd just call it an occupational hazard of petting strangers' cats. Or any cats: I have had plenty of blood drawn over the years by my own little darling.

I've been a little worried about Betsy lately, since I'd not seen her since before Christmas, and I'd wondered if something had happened to her, but she was there today and although it's the best part of three months since she saw me, she came running from halfway down the street.

Tuesday 28 February 2012

Greatest Hits

Nothing new today, I'm afraid. I want to post something today, but I really can't think of anything. So for new viewers or anyone who missed it, here's what you (or your pageviews, anyway) said you liked best:

Writing Tips: let them be themselves the first of my Writing Tips series, and my all-time most viewed post, by some margin.

The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Good Book to a Would-be Author second most viewed post ever: ramblings about reading and writing.

Reader Response Question of the Week: Sci-Fi and Vampires number three, and the only question I ever got a response to. If you have any thoughts, they are more than welcome.

Writer: Definition equal third, although it's only a little one, and has been collecting views for a fair while less than the three above it.

Productivity Rules how I finally got on with writing. fifth most viewed, and a few people have said they think it's a good idea.

You like Horror Stories? some recommendations for those who do: most commented post ever (because more than one person besides myself commented).

Sunday 26 February 2012

The Best Way to Wear Headphones.

Headphones are very useful, but they have a tendency to get in your way, or to get caught on stuff and painfully ripped from your ears just when you had finally settled them comfortably and just when you were listening to your favourite song. At least, that's what I (used to) find.

But never fear: there is a better way. Here's my patent method:

Just put it behind you. And if you're walking about, up your shirt as well.

Instead of having the wire in front of you, in your way, it goes behind you, out of your way. The earplugs go over each shoulder, and when you want to take them out you can just drop them and they'll stay there. If you have one of those adjustable slidy things on the bit where the wires separate, it's best to leave it down while you put them on, then slide it up until you just have a comfortable amount of slack even when you turn your head.

If you're sitting at a computer or whatever, that's it. And if you get up for anything, unplug from the computer and take the headphones with you. It;s easier than getting them comfrtablesettled again.

If you're going out plugged into your iPod etc, run the wire down the inside of your jumper or shirt so it won't get caught on anything. Best way is to drop the whole thing down the back of your neck, keeping back the earplug end, and wriggle until it falls out the bottom. If possible, put the device in a pocket on your top, not your trousers: this is much easier if at some point you need to go to the loo.

One thing to note is that it's harder for people to tell that you're wearing headphones - if, like me, your hair covers your ears, you can't tell at all. This might be useful (if you're not supposed to be wearing them!), or it might not. If you would like to be left alone, you want people to notice the 'phones, and if you're doing an a crapela version of your favourite song, you look even more crazy/annoying.

Friday 24 February 2012

Could it Be... A Circadian Rhythm?

I have always been an insomniac: when I was younger I used to suppose that all the stuff they put in books about 'She was asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.' was not even hyperbole but pure nonsense; although it seems not, since the average person, apparently, falls asleep in fourteen minutes. Seriously? Half an hour is unusually swift for me.

And probably as a result, I am not usually an early bird. I usually wake up still tired and just want to doze for ... as long as possible, really.

But I seem to have overcome this by a simple solution:

Thursday 23 February 2012

About Me

I now have an 'About Me' page, instead of a paragraph in the sidebar that wouldn't let me put any formatting in. You can see it if you look up. It even has pictures.

No Sh*t, Sherlock

I've been re-reading Sherlock Holmes over the last few weeks (actually, I started writing this about a month ago, and never finished it, but I did finish the book) - my brother got me an omnibus edition for Christmas - and I'm not certain he's quite the genius he thinks he is.

Some of his deductions are plain silly, whatever he says. Of course, they turn out to be right. Of course they do: Conan Doyle makes it so. And then some of it is hideously obvious and yet he spends days barking up a tree in the wrong forest or just lamenting that it doesn't make sense at all.

I know that hindsight is 20-20, and I've read the books before, but some of them I distinctly remember thinking the same about first time round, and even making every possible allowance for prior knowledge I still can't understand why someone supposedly cleverer than all but perhaps three people in the whole country - his brother, Moriarty and possibly , the police detective in Wisteria Lodge - should not even consider the solution that turns out to be correct.

Spoiler warning.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Writing Tips: B*gger Embarrassment

This is the one I couldn't remember on Friday. I remembered it (obviously).

Sometimes, your characters say or do things that you wouldn't. Or they do something in hot blood that you have to write and eventually, hopefully publish in cold.

For instance, I wrote a sex scene - sort of: vampire sex means drinking each other's blood - for the first time last week, and it was ... awkward. Not least because I was writing part of it in uni in a gap between lectures, and my computer screen was a bit exposed. Everyone else in the room was either social networking or doing something maths related, and there I was writing ... that.

But even at home, in privacy, it was just out of my comfort zone. I don't think I'm exactly a prude, but I don't generally go around talking about sex in all the gory - literally in this case - detail.

But I had to do it. The story demanded it, and when the story says jump, you say 'how high?' And then you spend an hour or two researching how high and what colour and anything else you can think of plus several things you would never have expected to have to know. Thank goodness for google, is all I can say. But I digress.

What I'm saying is, if you think you need to write something, or write in a certain way, or whatever, that you find awkward or out of your comfort zone, do it anyway. B*gger embarrassment.

Friday 17 February 2012

On Dressing up Pets

The only things that are acceptable for dogs to wear:

Actual functional dog things e.g. collar, harness.
Dog coat. That is, an actual dog coat: one of those things like a miniature horse blanket. Not baby clothes adjusted to fit a quadruped. In bad weather only, except for hairless breeds, which might need one most of the time.
Boots, if the dog needs them.
Hats and deely boppers, to pose for a photo only. The dog can get them off in three seconds, and if you didn't get a picture, you missed your chance.
Those neckerchief scarf things. They are acceptable.

The only things that are acceptable for cats to wear:

If the cat is supervised and confined to indoors, hats and deely boppers are acceptable as described above.
Similarly socks, which are applied at your own risk.

Harness (or puppy collar, but a harness probably works better), which is only for walking it on a lead and must not be left on when the cat is unsupervised.

Specially designed cat safety collar, with release catch. This is the only thing that it is safe to ever let a cat wear outside, unless under the control of a lead.
Cats climb, and any clothing or accessories may become caught on twigs etc and unless it has a safety catch the cat could be strangled.
You may find that the cat disagrees with you about wearing this, and soon works out how to pull it off. If so, you will either give up on the collar, or buy a new one every month (sometimes less). This will continue until you either give up, or for a few collars after you buy an electronic catflap because the neighbourhood bully, a big black and white thing appropriately named Arnie, keeps coming in and stealing your cat's food. In the latter case, the cat will soon learn that without its collar and attached magnet, it is locked out.

Forgotten Post

I had something good to write about today, but I couldn't start writing it until the evening because I had to write 1000 words of my novel first, and now I can't remember it and I can't think of anything else. So here's a post by Fishducky, who posts interesting things on Elisa Hirsch's blog on Fridays, about not being able to think of anything to blog about.

WHAT IF I RUN OUT OF IDEAS?; Fishducky Friday

Monday 13 February 2012

You like Horror Stories?

I'm partial to the odd one or two myself. Anyway, here's a few horror writers I know that I think you might enjoy:

Lake Lopez is a little over halfway through a really rather good horror novel about a rather ... interesting guitar, which he's publishing on his blog in weekly instalments, along with various short horror stories. Well worth a read, IMHO. Take bug spray.

Dacre Stoker, author of Dracula the Un-Dead, a fantastic sequel to his great-uncle's book. Loved the ending, and loved the way he treats the title character, who (the historical non-vampire version) has had more than enough bad press.

Rick Gualtieri, author of, amongst other things, Bill the Vampire and Bigfoot Hunters, neither of which I have read but both of which sound excellent and both of which I am intending to read if I can find them in paper versions (since I am a philistine who doesn't have an e-reader) and get around to buying them. Anyway, he tells you more about them on his blog.

A couple of people I follow whose books I can't recommend only because I don't know much about them, but sound very interesting:
Guido Henkel, who's written some ghost hunter stuff.
Rob Cornell, who writes crime and horror. There's definitely some vampires in there.

If you have any recommendations, let us know in the comments.

Friday 10 February 2012

A Brief Guide to Coffee

I've posted about coffee a couple of times before. At the risk of making you all think I must have a caffeine addiction, I'm going to again.

The important basic kinds of coffee:

Instant coffee: this time last year I'd have said 'bog-standard, ordinary coffee'; I used to drink it every day in term time and only had anything else when I went home for the holidays. Now I possess a cafetiere, the definition has changed to 'swill that I only drink when I've run out of real coffee and the shops are shut and I'm really desperate.' It's funny how your tastebuds adapt.

Takeaway coffee: comes in a cardboard (occasionally plastic) cup from a shop/stall or vending machine. Invariably either takes the skin off your mouth or is no better than lukewarm. Usually either too strong, too weak, wrong amount of milk/sugar, or has gritty bits in. Good when you're out and about and need a hot drink or an energy boost.

(Traditional) Coffee shop coffee: comes in a selection of configurations, such as latte, cappuccino, mocha, espresso... There is usually an ordinary option, generally called 'coffee' or 'filter coffee'. Latte is yummy, but not significantly different in taste from ordinary coffee to justify the difference in price. Cappuccino has chocolate sprinkles. Mocha is combination coffee and hot chocolate. Espresso is discussed in detail below.

Real coffee (also, inspiration juice): coffee made by one of the people drinking it, from beans, usually in an electric filter machine or a cafetiere. Yummy; essential mind fuel.

Espresso: the vodka of coffees. Can be diluted in various ways to make different coffees, but is consumed neat by the foolhardy, the bravado'ed, or those concerned solely with intoxication. Hyperconcentrated caffeine: a tarry black liquid so foul and potent it can only be consumed in shots.

Iced coffee: a slightly rarer creature, it does what it says on the tin. Very refreshing in hot weather. If buying it, ask fr it without ice-cubes: it's cold enough anyway, and you get a lot more coffee in the glass.

And some more exotic kinds:

Civet coffee: made from beans eaten by civets and collected undigested from their faeces. I wish I was kidding, but like most things you can't believe, it's a delicacy. I have never tried it, and I hope to keep it that way.

(Modern) Coffee shop coffee: Approximately seventy thousand bewilderingly-named subspecies, more continually evolving. A true example contains a minimum of three ingredients besides coffee and acceptable additives (e.g. milk, sugar...). Also characterised by size, both of portion and price-tag.

Spice coffee: yummy winter treat, an invention of mine. Recipe here.

Slightly mocha: this is when the last thing you had in your mug was hot chocolate, and you couldn't be bothered to wash it up. Quite nice, actually.

Extra-strength brain juice: double-strength coffee. Make as usual but add double the amount of beans/instant coffee granules.

Ultra-strength brain juice: double strength coffee with 2-3 caffeine pills dissolved in it (best way is to put the tablets in the mug and put a tiny bit of boiling water on them, and stir until they dissolve, then make coffee as usual). Not suitable for children or the infirm. Use at your own risk.

Thursday 9 February 2012

Writing Tips: Research and Research

Research is a bl**dy pain - pardon my Klatchian. You've found out pretty much all of what you ought to need to know, then suddenly some minor character whose existence you weren't even aware of yesterday requires you to know the finer points of American football, purely so that he can relate an anecdote that has no real bearing on the story. Well, it does explain his limp, but he could easily have just said it was a football injury.

It was worth it though: he's a great character, and might turn out to be more than a walk-on part.

And that's my point: it's worth it. The devil's in the detail, and if you don't do your research you can't put the little details in.

If you don't put in the time scrutinising maps and entering journey after journey into a ticket-booking widget until you finally work out that the only train route southwards out of Wisconsin is to start from Milwaukee and change at Chicago, and how long the various stages of journeys will take, you can't write a believable story of  of crossing the US by train.

If you don't put in the graft until you know and understand all the details, you have two choices: don't let the reader get close enough to see they're missing, or make them up. If you keep readers at arm's length they won't engage, and if you make it up they'll call you out on it.

To some extent, making stuff up is fine: It's fiction, after all. I'm not going to look through records to see what the weather was like on the day a certain scene was set in - but I do make sure it's reasonable for the region and time of year. I'm not going to worry if the street I described for a certain setting doesn't correspond to a real one in the city; some writers do manage this, but usually only if the setting is somewhere they know well, and I don't think many readers will mind if you don't: since I needed to invent a building that fitted my story, I see no harm in inventing a suitable street to put it in.

So there's a line somewhere. It's hard to say exactly where it is, and it's probably one of those lines in the sand that aren't quite straight and have to be redrawn whenever someone walks past, and occasionally get washed away by the tide; but a good general rule is artistic licence good, laziness bad.

If altering or inventing something will improve a part of your story, or make something work that otherwise wouldn't, go for it. But if you're making up details or leaving them out, to avoid putting in the work, pull your socks up! No-one said this was going to be easy.

Sunday 5 February 2012

Writer: Definition

I've heard it said that a mathematician is a machine for turning caffeine into theorems. I'm pretty sure you could say something very similar about writers.

Coffee comes from a bean right? How much do you think I need to drink for it to be a portion of vegetables?

And there's an added bonus that constantly getting up to deal with the diuretic effects means I don't spend hours at a time in one position.

Productivity Rules

Since I've been so bad at not procrastinating, I've made myself a new set of rules for getting on with writing. So far, I've stuck to it and it's worked.

I'm not allowed any recreational internet, and I'm including social networking and blogging in that, until I've written at least 1000 words in the day. I'm allowed to play freecell while I wait for things to load up, but no other games, and no internet use besides work, novel research and checking my email.

When I get to 1000, I'm allowed internet, but I've renamed my Minecraft shortcut as '5000 words or no Minecraft'. If I ever get to 5000 words in a day and still have some day left to mine or craft I'll let you know.

There are two things that I think are making this successful. One is that it's concrete: I have a set minimum, rather than something like  'write more' or 'do as much as I can'. The other is that I won't be forced to compromise on it, because I'm only restricting non-essential things. I'd strongly recommend to anyone who's struggling to get something done to make themselves a productivity rule - make sure it's attainable, though - and  do their d*mnedest to follow it, because productivity rules!

UPDATE: those of you who tweet, I've made a new hashtag: #dailyk

Friday 3 February 2012

Pearls of Wisdom: Silence is Golden

The only thing more awkward than an awkward silence it the stilted conversation between two people trying to fill one in.

Only Twenty-Five in the Alphabet

A chap called Perec wrote a novel (in French) entirely without the letter ‘e’. Another fellow named Adair rendered it in our language, again without ‘e’. I’m not certain I could manage that, but maybe I’ll have a go at leaving out the twentieth letter of the alphabet. You know the one I mean, between ‘r’ and ‘t’.

I have to decide more than one thing though, like whether or not I’m allowed to do it the American way. They write with more of the letter ‘z’ than people from Britain. But that might be cheating. And can I write, for example, 17? And how bad can my grammar be?

You know, I think it might be even harder to exclude than ‘e’. Do you know how hard I found it to even write up to here? ‘E’ might be more common than any other, but with letter twenty, they come at the end of one form of nearly any verb you care to name. And how am I meant to form the plural of a typical noun? It will be harder than I initially thought.

How am I doing?

Thursday 2 February 2012


I am a member of the resistance. I like books, and I don't yet have an e-reader. But I'm doing my best to give them a fair chance. I've tried one, and I have to admit that it was better than I thought it would be, and I am sensible of the advantages.

So here's a discussion of e-readers from a sceptic who's doing her best to be fair.