Sunday, 31 August 2008

Veggie Books - Tokyo

Mo Hayder's Tokyo is not a book about vegetables. Only one vegetable makes an appearance in the whole novel:

'Food arrived on the table: slabs of tuna piled like dominoes on beds of nettle; bowls of walnut tofu sprinkled with seaweed; grated radish, crunchy as salt. Bison sat immobilised, staring down at his plate of yakitori chicken, as if it posed a huge problem, his face pale and sweaty, as if he might be sick. I watched him in silence, thinking of how he'd been last time at the club, his expression of amazement, the way he'd been transfixed by the residue on the sides of Fuyuki's glass. Just like Strawberry, I thought. He doesn't want to eat the meat. He's heard the same stories she has...'

This is a book about meat.

It's one of those thrillers that has an absolute through-line of action. Every event builds to the next. The sequences set in the past dovetail with the discoveries being made in the present. It's all so logical in process that it becomes easier to swallow (sorry) the horrors being unveiled, such as the massacre of Nanking and the darkest deeds in modern Japan.

Life isn't like that, of course. One thing never leads to another. But I do have admiration for novelists who can condense in that way, so that readers are immersed in the purest form of entertainment: the thrill of the chase, whether that's to the eventual discovery, or running away from the demons that follow. Tokyo has both of those thrills.

But just the one radish.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Small press shenanigans 2

About two months ago I queried whether a story I had sent had been received by a barely-paying market. The answer was yes. The signs were good. That means it's on a holding pile.

I waited a couple of months. Then queried again. Er, no, we have no record of your story, so we must assume it's been rejected.

What a lovely assumption. Thanks, Editors.

The following may be biased:

Let's take five examples of people I think do the job well. With class, respect for the writers contributing and professionalism.

Djibril, at FutureFire, publishes probably a comparable site to the one that got back to me as above. I doubt he would ever dream of doing something similar: FutureFire pays its contributors a token (I'm sure he won't mind me saying that. Course, it probably doesn't feel like a token to him having to continue forking out), but edits contributor stories in a professional way and presents them in a manner befitting the audience. Hopefully much like Serendipity, FutureFire does small press with a level of professionalism sadly missing in the field. I have had similar positive experiences with Electric Velocipede and Trunk Stories. Going one further, favourites Apex Digest take this to another level, but that's to be expected as the mag is knocking on the door of the professionals and threatening them with a big stick.

Of the places that have rejected stories, it's the larger--and I assume busier (ie, need more editorial work, have lots more submissions to read) publications that have the best response times and the most polite staff. If you tell an author to expect a form rejection, that's what they'll expect and feel like Gods if they're given a personal response to a submission, even if it's a rejection. Strange Horizons and Clarkesworld Magazine are shiny shinys here, as is Nemonymous.

I have run two no pay or limited pay online magazines and been involved in several print anthologies. Here's the thing: if you have clear guidelines and unless you're paying rates of more than about £50/$100, you just won't get the hundreds of submissions people complain about. For Serendipity, we have a pretty nice hit rate. Believe it or not we publish about forty per cent of stories submitted. I don't know if that's because the stories we look for are of a particular quirk that no self-respecting godawful writer is likely to submit to (of the sixty per cent we don't publish, maybe twenty per cent fall into the godawful or haven't-read-the-guidelines-we don't publish-Power Rangers-slash fiction categories. It's certainly not for a lack of people knowing about the magazine. We get between 30,000 (for a sketchy issue) to 60,000 page impressions a month.

So, in brief, editors. You who pay little or no money, unless you are very special (Elastic Press notwithstanding), neither I--nor Aliya--will send you our near-unpublishable stories. Editors, if your response times are over six months and you're not Albedo 1 (just coz they've been really nice to me), we won't submit to you either. So there.

Come on writers. Take the fight back to them. Half these people--ie the bad ones--aren't editors anyway. They're just dreadful writers without the staying power to improve their craft so they're trying to get prestige the easy way, by publishing others. I should know, I'm one of them. ;)

Monday, 25 August 2008

Food for thought

As promised, a week’s worth of eating. The big question is, have I cut down on chocolate? Sorry about all the spaces. I can't be bothered removing them.


Home-made chicken Kiev with new potatoes, petit pois and broccoli

Home-made lemon drizzle cake with clotted cream


Poached egg, toast and ham

Home-made dark chocolate cup-cake

Ciabatta and salad (including home-grown tomatoes, Aliya, sorry)

Square of dark mint chocolate

Mushroom burgers in stone-baked bread, chips, homous and salad (including shop-bought tomatoes, sorry Aliya)

Organic chocolate ice-cream with raspberries

Sunday (feast day!)

Scrambled egg and mushrooms with toast

Square of dark mint chocolate


Two handfuls of wild blackberries picked whilst out walking the dog

Round the in-laws:

Roast lamb with mint sauce, roast potatoes, runner beans, carrots, garden peas and marrow

Blackcurrant pie with cream

Summer fruits with chocolate ice-cream

Back home:

Cheese and tomato (sorry Aliya) on toast


Wheat biscuits (like Weetabix)

Chocolate rice cereal bar

Ham sandwiches


Bubble and squeak potato rostis (with bacon, cabbage and carrot), with warm salad (including boiled egg, and yes, some tomatoes—sorry, Aliya)


Wheat biscuits again

Fruity cereal bar

Ham, cheese and tomato (sorry, Aliya) baguette)

Cashew nuts


Spaghetti Bolognese with vegetarian mince (and some more home-grown tomatoes, Aliya. What can I say?)

Couple of squares of dark chocolate


Can’t remember what I had for breakfast. Sorry. It didn’t involve chocolate though.

Chocolate cereal bar

Chicken and stuffing sandwich

Pepper Focaccia

Scampi with chips, peas and tartare sauce

Organic chocolate ice cream with raspberries and strawberries


Malted wheats (kind of like a slightly healthier version of Shreddies)

Raisin and chocolate cereal bar

Ham sandwiches



I can't remember. Was it fish? But there were some chunky chips in the pub at lunchtime. Saturday I made a tasty vegetable risotto for dinner. Chocolate would have been a factor on both days.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Which type of writer are you?

I'm sure Mr Cords and his gold-pantalooned friend are lovely people, but, but if no one tells them, they're not going to learn, are they?

Following Aliya's post, here's my theory about the social archetypes of writer:

Tier 5 - gregarious failures (ie, they are too get round to writing enough)
Tier 4 - introverted minor successes
Tier 3 - gregarious mainstream commercial successes
Tier 2 - literary snobs
Tier 1 - tortured geniuses

So, which one are you?

Veggie Books: Lilith's Brood

There's something sexy about a banana.

Maybe we're drawn on a primitive level. Our monkey brains might have a particular fancy for them. Or maybe it's the ease of unpeeling and eating - a fruit without hard work required. Symbolic of bountiful nature, the seat of humanity, hot days and nights. And custard.

Okay, maybe not custard.

Anyhoo, I think Octavia Butler is an amazing writer. Here's her background:

Octavia E Butler (1947-2006) was the first black woman to come into international prominence as a science fiction writer. Incorporating powerful, spare language and rich, well-developed characters, her work tackled race, gender, religion, poverty, power, politics, and science in a way that touched readers of all backgrounds.

Lilith's Brood is a trilogy of books set, initially, in orbit around an Earth that has been destroyed by warring humankind. Aliens called Ooankali, travellers who seek genetic material and information, have preserved a few remaining humans, and now they are ready to awaken these humans, breed with them, and start a whole new race.

Lilith is the main character of the first book, and although she is pretty much the only human in that book (Dawn), we do not always empathise only with her. We understand the Ooankali's viewpoint - how they see humanity's self-destructiveness as a problem that must be overcome genetically by merging with another, wiser, race. The Ooankali empathise with Lilith, but see her as a child, and she is not really given a choice. She will be seduced into becoming the mother of a new form of life, sexually and emotionally. And it all starts with the act of offering her a banana.

Darn those bananas. We can't resist them.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Food glorious chocolate

I have recently been re-reading Georges Perec's Life: A User's Manual, and remembered an article by Ian Jack in the Guardian quite some time ago. In it he points out that Perec once attempted to keep a list of everything he'd eaten over the course of a year. (It was a frighteningly diverse and at times curdling account).

After my fourth visit to the hygienist in twelve months (costs me £40 a pop for the privilege each time) I realise that I really need to cut down on chocolate, so, in an effort to curb my cocoa addiction and improve my general intake of food, I'm going to attempt the same thing as Perec, but for a week only. Unlike Tim Stretton, I'm not much of a list-maker/listmaker/list maker, but have a notebook for this very task. I'll post the results on here next Friday.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Veggie Books - Rebecca

This blog needs more vegetables.

Since I'm not veggie boxing at the moment (sounds like an olympic sport) I've devised a cunning new way to make sure you all get your five a fortnight. I've decided to blog about books that contain vegetables. Or fruits - I'm not picky.

I'm going to start off with one of my all-time top ten, Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca.

I reread this recently because it's my comfort book whenever I feel stressed. There's something so involving about Manderley that it's impossible to keep worrying about your own carpets or waistline or whatever. And it struck me that there's a wonderful bit early on where the heroine daydreams about the man she's going to marry while she eats a mandarin.

She imagines herself as a great lady of Manderley, receiving guests, being adored, fitting right into a role which we already know she's unsuited for. And her husband to be says, 'I wouldn't eat the rest of that if I were you.' She realises the segments of mandarin are hard and pale. So involved was she in her daydream that she didn't notice the sour taste.

Go mandarin! Great stuff. And Du Maurier was a friend of fruit generally. She also wrote a very upsetting short story called The Apple Tree.

Daphne Du Maurier - unsung heroine of fruit.

Friday, 8 August 2008

A novel idea

Boom boom.

I learned about this through the Snowbooks blog. What a great idea.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Just blackberry me

Mmm. The blackberries are out. And I'm talking the pippy wild ones, not the PDAs. (Though for all I know, they could be out too.) And on this very subject, why are blueberries shaped more like blackcurrants but called berries?

All you writers out there, do you query? Most of the editors I've sent stuff too over the last six months appear to have taken extended sabbaticals.