Wednesday, 24 November 2010

How to do Magic

How does one cast a spell?

When I was young I really believed it was mind over matter, and that we were all capable of performing magic if we only tried hard enough. Consequently I spent some time trying it out, and was disappointed. But I always believed that if I had enough time to really get down to it one of the methods I came across in novels would eventually work. And I really really wanted to be able to do magic. It's the coolest of abilities, isn't it? To talk to snakes, or fly, or make fire without having to rub little sticks together (because imaginary worlds in which magic is possible never seem to have got around to inventing matches).

But all of these constructs agree that magic is only a matter of application (as long as you have the germ of ability to begin with):

In David Edding's Belgariad series we have The Will and the Word. Will it to happen, and then speak the word to release the magic. Just remember that the laws of physics still apply, and don't ever will something out of existence, or you'll vanish yourself. Tricky.

Harry Potter needs a wand and a lot of knowledge to unleash his dormant power. Get the stress on the wrong syllable or wave the wand the wrong way, and anything could happen. Years are spent at school perfecting techniques, but in the end it all comes down to chance, too. Who knows why some wizards end up so powerful while others struggle to deal with a blast-ended skrewt? Is it genetics? Hm.

Middle Earth has very few wizards, and they are pretty much rock-hard from the word go. They were never men at all, so there was never a hint of having to learn anything; however, Gandalf does get a free upgrade after his battle with Balrog, which is nice. Here's a lovely Wikipedia page in which someone else with more time and energy than me explains exactly what wizards are.

Ged has to go to wizard school too, in A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin, but it's a bit different to Hogwarts. Ged has natural ability and soon masters magic, but unfortunately in the process he summons a pretty unspeakable nasty that stalks him through the world. Doh. Who knew that magic had a dark side? Um.

I'm sure you can think of many more examples of how a magician is made. I'm going to secretly continue to practice on the Will and the Word, as that makes the most sense to me... *wills chocolate hobnobs into existence*

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Veggie Books: Fantastic Mr Fox

Let's do some Veggie Books again. For those who are new to this, I have a theory that no novel can ever be truly great unless a fruit or vegetable is included within it. Just an idea. Start looking for veggies in your favourite books, and see if my theory holds up.

Here's my latest veggie book:

It turns out Fantastic Mr Fox is still fantastic. The Munchie has reached the age where she has begun to understand Roald Dahl's uniquely brutal sense of gleeful humour, and she has whizzed through Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda, and I have James and the Giant Peach lined up for her (which would also be a strong contender for a veggie book, obviously) but right now we are utterly enamoured of Fantastic Mr Fox. Not the film version, which is beautiful and funny, but not quite Dahl-ish enough somehow, and a bit too suave, in a very non-British way.

Here's a little bit:

Bean was a turkey-and-apple farmer. He kept thousands of turkeys in an orchard full of apple trees. He never ate any food at all. Instead, he drank gallons of strong cider which he made from the apples in his orchard. He was thin as a pencil and the cleverest of them all.

Boggis and Bunce and Bean
One fat, one short, one lean.
These horrible crooks
So different in looks
Were none the less equally mean.

Dahl does such great grotesques. Mr Twit is my all-time favourite. I love a grotesque character, the fascinating kind, and apparently the Munchie is no different. She loves the idea of Boggis, Bunce and Bean, and of the Terrible Tractors and The Great Feast. Who can blame her? When I was little I loved it too.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Cheerio, chin chin

As you may or may not have noticed, the Veggiebox decor has undergone some very slight alterations. This is due to me coming to the decision after over half a decade of shared ownership, if memory serves me, I will be doing the gentlemanly thing and giving the lady of the manor some peace.

It follows that I hereby declare this blog to be under the sole ownership of the great and good Ms Aliya Whiteley, so everyone for the first time in years will be able to benefit from her charm and wit without the dull and frankly increasingly infrequent batch of links and words I've posted to the site.

I've no doubt that everyone will continue to visit frequently, as of course will I, but as a regular guest rather than as a contributor of posts.

Thanks to Aliya for sharing so nicely for so long, but I feel her humour and good writing needs space to breathe, and no doubt having just one author answerable to the duties of the Veggiebox will be far less confusing for any uninitiated types reading it. I leave you with a warning: be nice or I'll be back.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Well hello, handsomes

You wait ages for an interview, and then two come along at once. One here at Run Riot and another one here, over at Nik Perring's blog. Oh, and it's Bonfire Night, so go and read my just-published story about it.

In other news, I am within sniffing distance of completing the first draft of my new novel. Go me!

In other news two, Misfits is back (on Thursday), which if you haven't seen you really should (you can watch the first series on the Channel 4 player still, I think) with Being Human (which is thankfully much better than its childish fanboy-laden website) to follow in the not too distant future, so that's winter viewing sorted then, while I await the saccharine joy of Lark Rise.

Happy sparklering. Remember - pets inside with the radio or TV on please, people. (You're probably okay with goldfish or deaf animals actually, but you know what I mean.)

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Mr Pine

A particularly fine post over on the Mr Blog blog today. It's about a pine shop in Southsea. The comments are also insightful.

In other news, here's a little story for Bonfire Night.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Happy hauntings

Just in time for Hallowe'en, a new story of mine, The Fiend in the Clouds, a slice of Victoriana noir, finds its way onto the Run Riot site, where I will be guest editor in a week or so. It's quite a carnivorous with not a veggie in sight. There are salmon, quails' eggs and spiced ham though. Tasty. If it's historically accurate enough to please Faye Booth, I'll be a happy bunny.

The above picture is by William Blake, who is in the background of the story. I hadn't seen this particular etching before, but it's a surprisingly good fit.

Run Riot will also be publishing Annabelle's Birthday, another seasonal tale of mine; this one about strange happenings in Brockham on Bonfire Night.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Fiction Uncovered

Fiction Unovered, a new lottery-funded site aimed at promoting mid-list authors, launches today, with support from retailers including Waterstones and Foyles. The lead illustration from the site (also shown here) is by my mate and yours, pen and ink illustration specialist Johanna Basford.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Working the line

For those interested in this sort of thing, a piece of mine has just been published over on Futurebook, The Bookseller's digital-oriented blog. It's mainly aimed at publishers, but might be of interest to some of you lot. Also good if you like old pictures of American prospectors.

Monday, 18 October 2010

So, pumpkins

We should be talking about them, right? Given the time of year and our vegetable-related monicker. Also marrows, various squashes, sweetcorn and those gourd things (possibly inedible). Oh, and apples too. I had stewed apple and custard last night. I saw some pumpkins, but haven't eaten any yet.

In other news, I'm still alive.

Okay, let's take it a bit more seriously then. Top horror short stories? William Peter Blatty did one about a group of toys that was rather freaky. Anyone know what it was called? Fifty points available.

Friday, 24 September 2010


Or, why I've been MIA for some time. The last month or so an awful lot of my time has been spent organising the first Creative Review tweetup, which took place at the Design Museum last night, involved lots of free LEGO and Moleskines, oh and alcohol, and praise be, went off rather swimmingly.

There are lots of photos here of people having fun. And yet more on Flickr.

Friday, 3 September 2010

The New Goodbye 1.5

For anyone owning an iPhone who wants money off of books at Foyles or free entry into their publisher days, then you need to--if you haven't already done so, be downloading The New Goodbye, as it's just been updated, and that is one of the new treats. Loads of Foyles goodies, plus a new free chapter, a short story and that animated video by Order.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Mr Blog

So. Aliya's treatment is apparently coming on well (see this old blogpost if you've no clue what I'm talking about), but as she readies herself to come back into day-to-day living, I've been advised to steer clear, so I'm off to the Whiteley motherland for a break at the end of the week, while she road tests her new-found sanity.

Elsewhere, the app update is 'in review' and should be with iPhone owners soon in all its Foylesy goodness.

For those of the Twitter persuasion, or not even, I'm currently over on PC Advisor of all places, talking about my work there.

And in lieu of my blog-mate's wit, I'll let someone else do the amusing stuff. Readers, I give you, Mr Blog.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

First night nerves

I am very much enjoying Beth and Emma Kilcoyne's Roger And Val Have Just Got In (a new sitcom/play thing going out on BBC2 at the weekends at the moment, with Dawn French and Alfred Molina, for anyone unfamiliar with it).

Beth has a nice blogpost over on the BBC concerning the first night of broadcast.

Sorry the player doesn't fit properly on the blog.

In other news, the update for The New Goodbye app has been submitted to the App Store, along with the snazzy Foyles partnership stuff. Should be live in a week or so.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Looks like we hit 88mph...

Heh, just read this in an interview I did back in 2004 where I was talking about Fragment, the PDF magazine I was editing at the time (heady days indeed--this was around the same time Aliya and hooked up). How's this for Back to the Future, from a Kindle owner now helping develop a magazine app for the iPad:
"Tell me about Fragment. And, does its kind represent the beginning of the end for the printed word, in both book and magazine form?
"...that depends on technology. I'm not much of a hoarder, so if someone devised a handheld book-sized piece of kit that had the same legibility and durability as a book, then I'd undoubtedly get one. My house is small enough* as it is without hundreds of books clogging up the shelves. Publishers are certainly keen. The Guardian is in the final stages of beta-testing its digital edition and many fiction houses offer sample chapters of their books in PDF format on their websites. But at the moment it's still much more comfortable to read from the page than the screen." 
* I now live in a bigger house but the point still stands. 

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Good luck, Ian

Ian Hocking, an excellent writer, who's had the representation of a respected agent for over four years, has recently come to the difficult decision to give up on fiction writing.

Lots of writers--and lots who are far less talented or technically proficient storytellers than Ian--say they cannot live without writing. That it makes them sad or puts them into emotional turmoil. I'm not one of those sort of writers. I can see myself coming to a point where I could give up on serious fiction writing as Ian has done, if I don't taste that success. I can see other aspects of my life positively benefiting from this, both family and social life, and at work, but for now I will keep on keeping on. But I completely understand where Ian is coming from.

Rather than telling him he's doing the wrong thing, or that he's a quitter, I hope other writers can recognise the amount of soul searching this decision will have taken, and realise too that it's the cut of the pack that has meant Ian hasn't found a mainstream deal or a publisher to champion him, rather than a lack of talent or of interesting stories to tell. As well as being a talented writer, Ian has also done well--far better than most--in promoting his work, something that I know from personal that for someone with a level of integrity, as Ian no doubt has, can leave one feeling a little tawdry. But without this, he wouldn't have had reviews in national newspapers or blurbs from best-selling authors

Please do stop by and wish him well on this new start.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Islands in the stream; strawberries and cream

Last week Scott Pack mentioned on his blog that he’d taken a couple of location-specific books with him on holiday to the Isle of Wight.

I too am off on holiday soon, and not that I’m lucky enough to be heading to a tropical island—last time I looked south Devon was neither tropical, nor and an island—but I’m just finishing up with Robinson Crusoe (on the Kindle, Tim) and have also indulged in a hardback copy of David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet, which I’ve lined up next. It’s a coincidental quirk, but, without having read The Thousand Autumns… etc.  I’m assuming there are similarities between it and Defoe’s classic, both in historical setting and in the situations the lead characters come up against. In other words, they are complementary books.

So what I’m getting at, in a roundabout fashion, is asking you this: What two books would you recommend that go together like strawberries and cream? (I would say like peas in a pod, but don’t want to set Aliya back any steps on the road to recovery.)

The only rule is recommended books aren’t allowed to be by the same author, or a second author picking up characters from the first, a la Wide Sargasso Sea or Roger Morris’ Inspector Porfiry series.

PS Talking of Scott, Happy Birthday Bookswap.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Music videos, bookshops and iPhones

So, while Aliya's undergoing some serious rehab (see my previous post), I thought I'd give you an update on what's been happening during my prolonged absence.

First things first, the nice chaps at Order have recently finished the music video for The New Goodbye. And for those who don't have an iPhone, here it is in all its stop-motion goodness, featuring the stock still acting talents of Mr Rich Watson.

The New Goodbye - Music Promo from ORDER on Vimeo.

In other news, I am due to deliver the science fiction novel I've been working on for most of this year to an agent by Christmas. Which means if I want to run it past Aliya first, I'll need to have it done by November. This is coming along nicely, so shouldn't be a problem, and it's a really nice project, so that's exciting.

But perhaps more exciting is that Foyles are partnering with me for the first update of The New Goodbye app, offering discounts, store coverage and event tickets to anyone with the app on their iPhones. More on that one soon of course. For now, I'll leave you with the dulcet tones of Mr Watson.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The Great Escape

I have made good my escape, but can’t believe you all accepted Aliya’s word of what had been happening to me. I suppose the last blogpost I wrote, about being tasked with a secret government mission concerning vegetables, which was made under threat of being buried alive in a pile of potatoes may have helped suppress any feelings of suspicion, so I’ll give you all the benefit of the doubt.

But rather than a Playmobil version of Heaven, I have been through Hell. Hell I tell you.

Several weeks ago I feel unwittingly into a trap set by Aliya and her family, who had undergone some kind of group trauma resulting in them all believing the key to the world’s salvation will come in the form of vegetables.

I was invited to their house under the pretence of trying a new recipe Aliya had arrived at due to an odd mix of ingredients in her latest veggiebox delivery. They had far too many tomatoes, and as we all know, not being a true vegetable, tomatoes are things Aliya has little truck with.

I was as much a fool in going as you have been in believing the warped Playmobil fantasies she has been playing out on this blog since my capture. (Incidentally, anyone who knows me would be aware that I’d never write iPhone with a capital ‘I’, even with the inconvenience of U’s for hands and no discernible fingers to speak of. What’s more I feel my reputation as a stern, joyless misanthrope may have been irrevocably tarnished by the ‘Neilio’ sign-offs Aliya used in her fake missives.)

So how did I make good my escape? Ironically, I turned Aliya and her family’s own vegetables against them.

As close readers of this blog will know, Aliya’s hubby is a military man. Recently he—rather than I—had been tasked with a top secret government mission concerning vegetables. But not just any vegetables. Oh no. We’re talking GENETICALLY MODIFIED VEGETABLES.

These are strange, triffid-like creatures that grow in the space of days rather than weeks. During my imprisonment—which, if you’ve ever read The Collector, you’ll have some idea of how Aliya treated me—the only times I was allowed out of doors unsupervised was to tend the GM vegetable patch. This was a sorry scrap of earth (these GM foods will grow pretty much anywhere) surrounded on three sides by fifteen feet high sheer concrete walls, and on the third side by the sad entryway to the stairwell leading down to the cellar where I was kept.

Having overheard conversations concerning a new fridge freezer that had to be ‘just so, for you know what’, I knew I had to at least attempt to escape, even if I was destined to die trying. My plan was simple, but, as you will now realise, given that I’m here writing to you, effective.

I planted my next batch of seedlings in a carefully considered pattern, so that when they had grown to their full size—within a matter of days, the mutants!—they would spell out a rescue plea for me. To whit: Help! Nutters Have Me Locked Up And Are Making Me Grow These Weird Super-Sized Rhubarbs. Send A Shrink.

Although this was quite a lot of veggie-text to fit into the small courtyard, I felt I needed to add something more, to illustrate the urgency of the situation. So did. PS Please Hurry. I Think They’ve Got A New Fridge Freezer On Order.

Now all I could do was wait. Three terrifying days passed. I had a real scare when that leaflet about the second hand fridge freezer came through, but as luck would have it I was granted a reprieve. And with just minutes to spare my rescuers arrived. As I was airlifted to safety by the Waitrose helicopter, I could see a white goods delivery van had parked up outside the house.

As soon we landed I called my good friend Professor Robert Winston and asked for his advice. He picked me up in an armoured truck and we were straight back to the military base, although it petrified me to be there. I needn’t have worried though. Bob’s crew of trained SWAT Psychiatrists had soon overpowered what little resistance was offered, mainly by Aliya armed with Munchie’s Supersoaker 3000 and a dressing gown belt tied round her head.

I’m pleased to report that the Whiteley family are now ensconced in a high security rehabilitation unit in Milton Keynes specialised in the treatment of vegetable obsessives, and are generally making good progress. Aliya’s therapy mainly consists of exposure to Rorschach images resembling squashed tomatoes.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Postcards From the Veg: Heaven

Uh oh. You know something big is going down when an angel appears in your bathroom while you're flossing.

So there I was, with the little piece of white string still wrapped around my index fingers, when a portal opened above my shower curtain and a being of light and grace popped out. You could have knocked me down with a feather. He/She/It (hard to tell) handed me a golden scroll, gave me a wink, and tootled off to more important matters.

It's bad news, guys. Brace yourself.

Dear Vegemites,

Mourn me not! For I am not dead. Well, actually, I am dead in the very real sense of the word, but it turns out there's a heaven and it's ACE! A bit like Butlins in a zoo but with room service. I've been given a lovely chalet with a real fireplace and an en-suite. I'm not even having to share, as there's no shortage of space given that this is a metaphysical state of being rather than an actual country. Marvellous.

So yes, you didn't save me from the desert island and Roary ate me. But I don't want you to feel bad about it. Life is just too short to spend in regret. However, I wouldn't like you to feel too good about yourselves either. You didn't really try to help, did you? And I'm not just talking about helping me. I'm talking about helping each other generally and being nice and good and kind and stuff like that. And growing more vegetables. It turns out growing more vegetables is the key to world peace. No, I'm not allowed to explain why. It has something to do with allotments, that's all I'm saying. You have to work it out for yourselves.

And so I bid you farewell. Ta ra. So long. Adieu, adieu, to you and you and you. Live long, and prosper. Or don't. I just hope you get lucky enough to be allocated a chalet next to me at the end of it all. I have to go - the synchronised swimming competition is just kicking off.

Angelic hugs,


Goodnight, sweet Playmobil Prince. We will miss you.

I wonder if he gets a reincarnation option. He probably wouldn't take it, though, what with a real fireplace and synchronised swimming, right?

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Postcards From The Veg: Desert Island

I was enjoying a lovely day out at Woburn Safari Park yesterday. There are elephants, giraffes, zebras, lions, tigers, monkeys, and swans. Well, giant swan boats, in fact, and while I was dabbling around in the water a small green glass bottle clinked against the side of my own sturdy little swan boat. I picked it up and examined it. I guessed it had once contained Becks beer, by the remnants of the label, but now it was home to a rolled piece of paper. A message in a bottle! How utterly exciting! And quite strange, given that it was in a boating pond in land-locked Bedfordshire.

Guess what was inside. I bet you can't guess. Go on, have a try. A wild stab in the dark. No, just have a go. Oh go on, go on, go on... yes, okay, it was the latest postcard from Neil on his travels around and above the planet. Sheer luck brought his latest ramblings to me. Funny how the world turns, innit?

Dear Vegemites,


I don't know where I am. Well, I'm on a desert island, dear readers, but as to which one I have no clue. Re-entry into the atmosphere didn't go as smoothly as one might have hoped for, and I was lucky that my capsule crash-landed near to this place. Roary the litte polar bear and I managed to swim to shore, and have found a cave and some fruit and a football that we've nicknamed Wilson for the hell of it, but no humanity. Not a single person. Not even a signal on my I-Phone.

Actually, it's quite pleasant.

At first I was confused from clinging to a floating barrel for two days with only a hungry and annoyed polar bear for company, but things are really looking up now. With nobody around to cock this place up, I can honestly say it's a small patch of paradise. Did you know banana trees grow fruit all year long? Amazing. Roary adores the yellow flesh, and I'd imagine he's the first polar bear to discover the joy of slipping around on the discarded skins. He enjoys himself immensely, sliding first one way, then the other. Marvellous.

But now I really would like to get back to espressos and Doctor Who (has a new series started yet?) and sugar free gum stuck to the pavement and all the other great things about England, so please come and find me. Please. Before Roary gets any bigger and decides that his diet needs meat in it.

So, hoping this is au revoir and not farewell forever,


Eek! What shall we do? I'm hopeless at Geography.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Postcards From the Veg: In Orbit

While I was in Devon buying surf-wear and eating pasties, Neil was having yet another adventure of his own. He's a brave one, and his murderous tendencies seem to have worn off for the time being. Which is good news for Astronuat Jip Tuckerer, who showed our very own intrepid traveller around space. Not all of it, obviously. Just the teeny bit of it above our planet.

I don't know how Neil is funding this adventure. I-Phone sales of The New Goodbye must be doing pretty well, huh?

Greetings vegemites!

Thank goodness I packed my NASA space pen! Or there would be no postcard from this location, that's for sure. I'm in space, orbiting the planet in the top secret, privately owned SpaceRace laboratory as they conduct fruit-related experiments to try to find answers to the world's many problems. Leading the way is astronaut and top fruitarian Jip Tuckerer, who explained why the SpaceRace lab maintains orbit over the Himalayas.

"When satellites' orbits degrade through malfunction, the same thing always happens; they end up caught in a constant pattern over one part of the Earth - the Himalayas. This effect, caused by stuff that is too complicated to explain to anyone without a degree in astrophysics, is known as the Himalayan Gravity Well. And we at SpaceRace have been looking into utilizing that effect to human advantage. But first we must truly understand it.

How did Newton begin to formulate the theory of gravity? He turned to the lowly apple. And if it's good enough for Newton then it's good enough for us. We have been throwing an apple a day into the Himalayan Gravity Well for the last two years and monitoring the results. Interestingly, the only solid result we have so far is the disproving of an old aphorism - since I myself have four PhDs it can definitely be said that an apple a day doesn't keep the doctor away! Ha ha ha."

Jip allowed me to release apple number 675 from the airlock. What an honour. Next time you think of the Himalayas, think of my little piece of fruit above it, and all the other little pieces of fruit - evidence of the effort that are constantly being made to unite the world in peace, harmony and understanding. Wow. Although how they will manage that remains to be seen, but let's not be picky right now.

And so, until next time, keep eating your five a day and give the sky a special wave.


I can't say I liked the sound of Jip Tuckerer much. Still, what a very interesting subject. Yeah.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Postcards From The Veg: The Arctic Circle

Right, so, for those of you not in the know, Neil has buggered off on a journey around the world to find the answer to the energy crisis (or any other crisis you can think of)via the medium of vegetables and today I received a postcard from the Arctic Circle. Yes, I know he was in Cape Verde last week; I can only assume that his geography skills aren't that hot. Like the rest of him, being in a rather chilly location. Heh.

Here's what he had to say:

Greetings Vegemites!

The dwarf pirates of Cape Verde were more than helpful - one of them, Sneezy, happened to have a good doctor friend who also treated the son of a transport magnate. Twenty-seven quick phone calls later, and I was on a flight to Norway, and then transferred to a luxury cabin upon an expedition ship headed for Longyearbyen, a port situated on the largest island in the Svalbard Archipelago.

It was pretty cold, and my luggage had mysteriously disappeared. Later I saw a member of the crew walking past in my best feather boa. Still, the crew was polite, if a little light-fingered. They pointed out many of the wonders of the area to me, including icebergs, ice floes, and icebergs. And polar bears, including a little orphaned bear we found floating on an enormous frozen celeriac. No, actually, it was an iceberg.

The little polar bear - nicknamed Roary - was delightful as long as it wasn't annoyed. I fed it cows' milk fortified with a paste made from Swedes. That's the inhabitants of Sweden, not the vegetable. Well, I don't think polar bears eat vegetables, do they? And there was a plethora of Swedes on board, attending an iceberg-shaped souvenir selling convention. Nobody missed a few.

So - world peace via vegetables not achieved this week, vegemites. But one little polar bear kept happy. Perhaps the little things are all we can really aim for. Huge happiness can only be made up of so many tiny good deads, right? I mean deeds.

Signing off until next time,



This trip seems to be taking a macabre turn, wouldn't you say? Hmm.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Crying Out For a Trained Professional

Hubby and I watched The Fellowship of the Ring again last night (definitely the best of the LOTR films, as the other two seem to get stuck in slo-mo hell every now and again) and I was struck by the way the Ring of Power (worthy of capital letters, methinks) got lost. And became myth. And then became legend. You get the idea.

When Gandalf comes across that ring at Bilbo's birthday bash, he's not sure what it is. So he goes off to Minas Tirith and, there in the cellars, he looks through a heap of unnumbered dusty scrolls until he finds a very accurate depiction of the Ring of Power and its horribleness.

The library obviously didn't have anybody in charge of it. It was a mess. It occurred to me - and I said this to Hubby before he shushed me - that it needed a properly trained librarian to bring order to chaos. And I bet if a librarian had been working there people never would have forgotten about the incredibly important ring in the first place. That librarian would have made a note of it somewhere and things that should not have been forgotten wouldn't have been.

Just saying.

Now, Terry Pratchett, he has the right idea. He's put a trained professional into his library in Ankh-Morpork university. Nobody point out it's an orangutan, okay?

Monday, 12 July 2010

From verdant shores

Just a quick one before I have to take the toucan for a walk: my post for The Bookseller's Futurebook blog went up today, talking about my experiences trying to get published and producing The New Goodbye. And I hear word the music video has gone under the editor's knife, so that should be with us soon, in all its technicolour, stop-motion glory.

In other news, I'm surprised to find they've never heard of asparagus here.

Postcards From The Veg: Cape Verde

Phew! After an anxious weekend spent wondering what has happened to m'blog-buddy, I received a letter this morning. Things had indeed got a bit hairy for him while travelling from Fuerteventura by boat, but his common sense and chutzpah carried him through:

Dear Vegemites,

I took a slow boat from the Canaries, planning to sail around the Cape of Good Hope to reach Madagascar, but after only a few days on a barely seaworthy vessel (never make your travelling decisions at 3.00am after a large amount of tapas and Napoleon Brandy, that's all I have to say) it became obvious that the captain did not have my best interests at heart. I was locked in a small cabin and fresh drinking water was only provided if I agreed to perform the Macarena every evening for the amusement of the crew. It was humiliating, and in no way helpful on my tour to find out about the top secret usages of vegetables around the planet.

At least this shameful episode did not last long. On the fourth evening the crew interrupted me mid-hip-sway; they rushed to the side of the boat and pointed at the sail in the distance. The Jolly Roger! As they grew closer I felt hope and despair in equal measure; I had to hope they were a nicer bunch with less predilection for modern dance. I stood utterly still, my hands in the air, as they boarded the boat. They were a fearsome sight - none of them over 3 feet high, and armed with fake beards, pointy hats and cutlasses, they were the dread dwarf pirates of Cape Verde. They killed every single member of the crew, including the odious captain, and I sank to my knees, which brought me level with the eyes of their leader, Grumpy.

I didn't beg. I slowly reached into my bag and took out a radish I had been saving for the journey. I offered it to him - he took it, sniffed it, licked it, bit in, devoured it - yes! He was a vegetable lover, just like me! He unrolled a map on the deck and pointed to where the best vegetables grew around here, then offered me a slice of thick white fibrous vegetable with a sweet taste, which he called Manioc. It was delicious.

Having found something in common, he was delighted to help me out; he instructed his second-in-command, Bashful, to take me to their homeland, the beautiful Cape Verde, and it is from there that I send this letter. Awesome vegetables here, particularly the Manioc. There are two types - one can be eaten raw, and the other must be pulped and cooked to remove the natural toxins. The pirates grate them and sprinkle them over every meal, just as Italians would use parmesan. What an experience!

For now, au revoir, and keep munching,



That was a lucky escape, huh?

Monday, 5 July 2010

Postcards From The Veg: Fuerteventura

Yay! Neil arrived safely in Fuerteventura as part one of his mission around the globe to see how vegetables are being used in unique and exciting ways to combat a number of worldwide problems. His first missive has arrived for us underlings - let me share it with you here. Unfortunately, he forgot to take his camera so I've had to recreate his experiences through the medium of Playmobil. Neil is the Playmobil figure in green trousers.

Dear Vegemites,

Hail from sunnie Fuerteventura! Bananas, tomatoes, oranges and olives are widely available here but you won't find much in the way of a root crop, which makes the decision by SPROUT (Society of Progressive Research On Ugly Turnips) to set up shop here quite a surprising one.

SPROUT has been working tirelessly for the last three years on the sister project of CERN's LHD in the search for that elusive particle, the Higgs Boson. There is a little known quote from top Physicist Nils Nilssen - "The Higgs-Boson could be anywhere... so why not start by looking in the easy places? Take a trip to the Canaries and split open a turnip or two." This became the inspiration for the building of the Small Hadron Collider (seen in the picture below - Aliya), which is manned by Mr Harold Trike, formerly of Kettering, and a team of trained parrots.

The SHD (interestingly enough, situated within Mr Trike's own shed) works on mains electricity. The turnip is inserted into the GST (green slidey tray), which then is rammed at great speed into a set of rotating knives. The GST is then removed to the garden area, where the parrots pick over the tiny particles in the hope of spotting the Higgs-Boson. If this was to occur, the lucky parrot would emit three piercing squawks and would attempt to hold the particle still in its beak until the arrival of Mr Trike, whereupon it would be rewarded with a little bell and a cuttlefish. There have been a number of false alarms, says Mr Trike, but no solid results as yet.

When questioned about the likelihood of the parrots spotting an infinitesimally small particle, a SPROUT representative pointed out that, "the parrots don't know that they're looking for it anyway, and wouldn't recognise it if it slapped them around the beak with a giant cuddly toy wearing a tee shirt that said HIGGS-BOSON WOZ HERE on it. This is the upper end of theoretical physics we're talking about here.'

And now, I must away to the next stage of my journey. Good luck in all your endeavours, Vegemites!


Well, he sounds very chipper, doesn't he? He must be having fun. I wouldn't have minded a trip to the Canaries. I'm just saying.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

At least you'll never be a vegetable - even artichokes have hearts

Due to having been selected by a top secret government agency to do something that I can't tell you about, I'm going away for a while. I am however--much like the gnome in Amelie, or Faye L Booth's touring copy of Cover The Mirrors--going to be sending missives of my travels onto Ms Whiteley (what I mean is, I know they didn't send missives to Aliya, but, well, you get the gist.

She has decided, in her wisdom, to share them with you on this here blog. This all has the added benefit that I get to post a pic of the lovely Audrey Tautou here. So everyone's a winner.

And before I head off, here I am going off on one on Windsor's Beat (thanks to Melanie Gow for inviting to contribute), and also discussing the art of how writers with day jobs 'keep it together', over Sam's blog. Both pieces carry a picture of me in a jumper, which seems a bit perverse seeing's as it's about 2 billion degrees in the shade in these parts at the moment.

So, for now, in the words of Ms Tautou, 'au revoir'.

Monday, 21 June 2010

One step at a time

Just a little update on my attempt to take over the world. Last week saw The New Goodbye and me popping up on the Indie Quarter and the Creative Review blog. Any words of wisdom you'd like to add to keep the story up there on the most recently commented panel are most welcome. There was also a piece on Bookbrunch, but you need to be a member to see that.

In farming news, I missed Countryfile, but did catch this lovely film on 4onDemand (not as good as the BBC iPlayer, but same principle). There were no farmers, but the last film is of 'Britain's Oldest Newlyweds' and is tip-top.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Have you heard the one about...?

I made up a joke. It’s not a very good one, but I thought I’d share it:

Why did the chicken cross the road?

To help it remember where the treasure was buried.

Maybe I should leave the humour to Aliya.

It’s funny though—excuse the pun and the following alliteration—my earliest efforts at producing proper prose as a young teenager were in the humorous fantasy vein (like any bookish fourteen year old worth his salt I read a lot of Pratchett, Holt and Rankin—Robert not Ian). That early work’s probably not stood the test of time, but I still have a soft spot for Gertrude the flying pet cow and her cohorts in the Cabbage Liberation Front.

Recently though, I’ve been revisiting both the world of humour—though it’s of a blacker variety—and another form I’ve not played about with for a while, and am not particularly practised in: script-writing. I don’t seem to have the time at the moment to bring adequate concentration to bear on my two works-in-progress, so this is an effort to keep some creative writing ticking over during all this work I’m doing for The New Goodbye.

I showed an earlier draft of the concept (loosely inspired by my years working at Battersea Dogs’ Home. Think At Home With The Braithwaites but with a lot of dog thrown in) to Aliya a couple of years ago. She hated it then, but I’m not sure if it was because it wasn’t funny, or because she despised dogs at the time. Maybe I should run it past her again now she’s all loved up with Harley.

Friday, 11 June 2010


Off to the video shoot for The New Goodbye tomorrow. Wish us luck. In the meantime, I have no pigs.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

A round up

Exciting times. For me at least. Publicity for The New Goodbye has picked up a little. Thanks to everyone who’s tweeted about the book so far. A special shout out to Patrick Hussey at Arts & Business, who went out of his way to help. There have also been tweets from Amelia’s Magazine, Design Week, Making Hay, Art at Heart and PD Smith, plus plenty others.

Plus there’s been some more general web action. The first piece was my guest blog on Catherine Hawley’s Juxtabook. Then Aliya kindly pointed all the MNW-ers in my general direction. This was followed by a piece on Web Designer magazine’s blog, then came The Literary Platform’s Showcase and another guest spot, this time on design agency Mat Dolphin’s site. Last week fantasy maestro Mark Chadbourn flagged up The New Goodbye on his blog and yesterday also saw me take up some prime space on Me & My Big Mouth, the blog belonging to Scott Pack, publisher for The Friday Project.

Monday will see a post on the Creative Review blog, and hopefully next week will bring some more coverage too. I also have a guest post to write for Sam Hayes when I get a spare moment or two. Something around the letter K.

Meanwhile I'm off work for a week and celebrating my daughter's second birthday.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Attack on activist flotilla - Lavie responds

Just a quick one. My pal Lavie Tidhar has been posting on his blog in response to Israel's internal PR response to attack on the activist flotilla. Take a look.

Child of our time

Anyone been watching this for the last ten years (obviously gaps within viewing sessions are allowed; I don't mean has anyone been watching this permanently without at least a few screen breaks for the last ten years).

Amazing, isn't it? For those who don't know, it's a study group of children whose parents--before the kids were even born--signed them up to be followed by film crews for the first twenty years of their lives, in order to show us how human personalities evolved.

Last night's programme was a bit of a mixed bag, focusing more on the studio graphics and popular science than on the children--who are all pretty wonderful, and I know I shouldn't have a favourite but how can it not be Helena (see pic)?--but the stats it revealed were pulled from a pretty impressive study. The Beeb has results from more than 200,000 Brits who took part in this personality test, which may not be available at the moment due to millions more who seem to be going onto the site to undertake the test themselves.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

You will submit!

So we did it. Today, Russell submitted the final version of The New Goodbye app to Apple.

In other news, I got my dog some prescription shampoo and ate lots of tomatoes. Oh, and Aliya, bless her little cottons, is going to be doing a bookswap not involving men in uniform of the non-RAF variety at some point in the none-too-distant future. I'm staying reasonably cryptic to help build a sense of suspense.

And Come Thou, Tortoise, yes, everyone should buy it. Forget squirrels and rabbits. Tortoises is where it's at these days.

Bring on the vegetables! (And maybe some mushrooms.)

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Bloggage and an interview

After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, The New Goodbye finally gets its own little bit of the web dedicated to it. The first proper post is an interview with its illustrator, Johanna Basford.

The New Goodbye app features some video, including this interview with Johanna.

I was playing around with the test version of the app yesterday. Needless to say, I'm absolutely delighted with it. I reckon anyone who does fork out the £1.99 for it will feel they've got a rather spiffy deal.

Meanwhile, on the rabbit front, I think Aliya is just a bit paranoid.

Oh, and Aliya and I and Mr Aliya met up for 'cake' last week (they had some over-priced chicken salad affairs). There were not pictures from that encounter, but as not everyone on here pops over to the MNW blog regularly, here's not-the-most glamorous pic of the two of us from back in February, when I almost ended up paying twenty quid for just three mushrooms.

To see some other writers looking similarly delightful, head this way.

Long Ears and Furry Feet

You may be aware that I harbour a theory about squirrels.

To recap, squirrels have a political agenda. World domination is on their hive mind. I’m seen them loitering in groups. I’ve heard that they mugged a dog in St Petersburg. There is organisation in their ranks, and there’s probably a great big squirrel wearing an eyepatch and smoking a cigar in a treetop bunker, conducting operations and demanding to be addressed as Herr General (or should that be Hairy General? Apologies…)

But I’m not interested in squirrels right now. It’s a different critter I wish to bring to your attention.


Rabbits are the equivalent of communists in 1950s America. They are infiltrating our culture, poking their fluffy little noses into film and literature, and infecting it with their hoppy little ideas.

If squirrels are the army of the rodent kingdom’s war against humanity, then rabbits are the intelligentsia.

Sometimes they promote their agenda blatantly. Think of Donnie Darko. A great big scary rabbit starts visiting some teenager somewhere. Why? Who knows? Not me, not you, and maybe not even the writer (that sicko bunny sympathiser). But what you’re seeing is rampant rabbit propaganda. Be scared of us! Beware! We can visit your children at night and mess with their heads!

And this is not a lone incident – think of Harvey. A huge invisible rabbit in that one. Think of North. Well, don’t think of it for too long, in case you get depressed about the trajectory of Bruce Willis’s career, but just cast your mind over the rabbity element of that motion picture. Think of Fatal Attraction, Bambi and Who Framed Roger The Proverbial… The proportion of bunny-related films is far greater than one might reasonably expect to find, when you compare it to the coverage the rest of the animal kingdom receives. For instance, insects rule the planet population-wise. There are bazillions of little crawlie thingies. But they aren’t interested in us humans. They aren’t secretly writing screenplays and getting them made under pseudonyms. That’s why there are no films about invisible cockroaches and strange men in praying mantis costumes.

But Hollywood isn’t even the real problem. It’s in the written word that the extent of the infiltration becomes evident. Take John Updike. Let’s Wiki him:

John Hoyer Updike (born March 18, 1932) is an American writer born in Shillington, Pennsylvania.

Sounds innocuous enough, doesn’t it?

Updike entered Harvard University on a full scholarship. He served as president of the Harvard Lampoon before graduating summa cum laude (he wrote a thesis on George Herbert) in 1954 with a degree in English before joining The New Yorker as a regular contributor.

Bully for him.

But it’s his books that give him away as a rodent sympathiser.

Updike's most famous works are his Rabbit series (Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit At Rest; and Rabbit Remembered).

I rest my case. Not one, but five books about the carrot-munching enemy. See how literature has fallen into their hands? And don’t even get me started on Watership Down.

Yet it’s in the world of fantasy that rabbits have lived up to their reputation and multiplied extensively. JRR Tolkein has a lot to answer for. Let’s examine the evidence we find in Middle Earth:

-Hobbits live in burrows under the ground (like rabbits)
- Hobbits have hairy feet (hair is a bit like fur, found on rabbits)
- Elves have long ears (like rabbits)
- Elves can hear things over long distances (ditto)
- Dwarves are called dwarves (like dwarf rabbits)
- Dwarves live underground (see earlier point)
- wizards can be white, grey, brown or blue (rabbits can be white, grey or brown – and Peter Rabbit lost his blue coat in Mr Mcgregor’s garden. Coincidence? I think not.)

And I’m just getting warmed up here. Methinks JRR must have been made an offer he couldn’t refuse by the Rabbit Promotion League.

I’ve exhausted myself now.

I had a rabbit once, you know. He was called Flopsy, but Woundwort would have been more fitting. He was the mad-eyed monster of our back garden: impossible to control, and terrifying to behold. Whenever we approached him he would rear up on his hind legs and grunt viciously. Eventually we left him to live under the rose bush – the demon in the thorns, one might say – and we all stayed in the house as much as possible. But at least he kept the garden free from other predators. Lord knows how many burglaries he foiled.

One day Flopsy simply disappeared, taken by El-ahrairah, no doubt (look it up). Or maybe he found his niche with the squirrels, and went off to organise their juntas. I wonder if Flopsy shaped my attitude towards rodents, though. Maybe, without his influence, I’d still be thinking of them as cute little hoppers. But, as things stand, I have to say three cheers for Mixie. At least the government tried to stop them from proliferating.

Perhaps, in years to come, we’ll be saying, in best Dune fashion (another rodent-influenced work, for what does Maud-Dib mean? Oh yes…) –

They tried and failed?
They tried and died.

But by then we’ll be under the direct control of the squirrels, anyway. Bury your nuts for winter, my friends. It’s going to be a loooong, cold one.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

You saw it here first, folks

Here are some screenshots of the app-in-progress, including a shot of the cover. Nice, int they?

Monday, 3 May 2010

I wonder if they're open to crime writers...

In Guardian Media today there's an ad for Writers in Residence vacancies for four of her majesty's prisons. Each position comes with a fairly decent salary, for a writing position, but I only read the ad briefly, so am not sure of the additional duties it entails, though I imagine creative writing with inmates is probably on the list.

The ad isn't online yet, but I thought some of the readers of this blog might be interested.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The Literary Platform

So this lovely, sparkly new website looking at the crossover between books and digital is live now. And here's my piece on apps and art, along with the first public outing for the cover of The New Goodbye.

Also lots of other good stuff on there.


Stress is a word that rhymes with dress and tress. It sounds a bit pathetic and girly. Unlike words such as death, pain and torture, it can’t be taken seriously.

So stress, in a similar way to smoothies, I-Pods and the Liberal Democrats, is a modern invention. Why, then, must it exist at all? What are we getting out of all this concern about working hours, climate change, and quality time? I’ve been trying hard to find the upside of stress, and this is what I’ve come up with: Stress is a pyramid scheme.

I don’t mean that it gets passed to you by other people, and you then pass it to more people in order to make yourself feel better about being involved in it in the first place (although, hang on, that’s a truthful a definition as any). And I don’t mean that it’s made up of useless ideas that you keep telling yourself are fulfilling you on some hitherto untouched deep level (although, yes, that works too).

What I mean is this: stress, when laid out in diagrammatic form, makes a pyramid.

It’s quantifiable, you see. And everyone has the same amount. If we could make it visible and solid, it would be the same size and shape for us all, and it would look like a house brick. Of course, if it actually was a house brick we could throw it into the nearest canal and be done with it, but metaphorically speaking, it’s a house brick of an exact size and shape for everyone.

I’ll give you an example. Let’s visit the beautiful (and entirely fictional, I hasten to add, in case you think it sounds like an appealing holiday destination) land of Womba Tik Tik Land. Womba Tik Tik Land has amazing foliage, impressive infrastructure, and a Death Row inside its infamous High Security Prison built specifically for traitors to King Womba the Sixty-Eighth. I beckon you, dear reader, towards cell number one, where a poor man has a crushing weight on his mind:

-Imminent Death by Firing Squad

That’s a big problem. It’s beyond the word stress. It’s more of a hideous nightmare type problem. Lots to worry about there. But let’s leave him with his nasty house brick and move along to cell number two:

-Probable Death by Firing Squad some time next week
-A Nasty Splinter in Toe that might go septic

That’s not to say that the guy in cell number one doesn’t have a splinter in his big toe too. All the floors in the High Security Prison are wooden and Womba Tik Tik Land scientists haven’t yet invented slippers. But he’s consumed with the hugeness of the worry of imminent death. He hasn’t noticed the pulsing toe, or, if he has, he’s worried out. The toe is of nominal concern.

But the bloke in cell number two has a corner of his brick spare, and splinters can really be very painful. They can cause gangrene, you know.

And so on to the man in cell number three (Womba Tik Tik Land is populated entirely by men: no wonder they commit crimes with all that pent-up testosterone.):

-Quite Likely Death by Firing Squad in the next year, but there’s plenty of time for an appeal
-A Nasty Splinter in Toe that might go septic – when o when is someone going to invent slippers?
-Possibility That Wife is Sleeping with Good Looking Milkman

Or you could rank the wife’s infidelity above the toe, depending on your priorities. The point is that once you’ve made these stresses solid, squelched them down, added mud, thrown in straw, and told your Hebrew Slaves to crush it all together with their feet, you will find all three prisoners are left with identical bricks in size and shape. Apologies for the Hebrew Slave thing but I’ve only ever seen bricks made on the telly in The Ten Commandments.

To continue with the analogy, I personally have three hundred and twenty-eight separate chunks to my brick at present, so you can be sure that in the grand scheme of things none of my stresses are very important. You see, I find the knowledge of the pyramid scheme very reassuring. It cheers me up to think that the good-looking millionaires out there must have thousands of niggles besieging them all at once in order to make up their quotas, such as slightly untidy eyebrows, calorie counting, misplaced toothpaste and a problem with the air conditioning on their private jets. Rather like being covered with a cloud of angry bees rather than being stung by three non-deadly scorpions or bitten by one King Cobra.

Once its in perspective, my stresses are really only the equivalent of one brick’s worth of jellyfish tentacles. That’s not so bad. It’s all relative.

I feel better about my brick now. It’s no longer tied around my ankles or making a start on walling me up. Instead it’s merely stinging a bit. Excuse me while I pee on my legs and then carry on about my daily business.

Uh oh. Stress number three hundred and twenty-nine: I smell of pee. That’s one more to squelch into the brick.

Friday, 23 April 2010

iPhone... therefore I am

For anyone paying close attention, Russell Quinn is the clever chap who’s developing The New Goodbye for me. He also produced the brand spanking new app for Creative Review (if you’re paying even closer attention you’ll know that being a part of the Creative Review team constitutes my day-job). Anyway, this brand spanking new app he’s made for CR is now available on the iPhone and iPod Touch for the princely sum of £2.99. Here’s a demo of it in action.

What of The New Goodbye? I hear you cry. Castles are all well and good but where’s the fiction, people? We can’t all speak Hebrew, you know.

Good point. So to the update. The cover artwork is all signed, sealed and delivered. Nicole has even created a quirky little stop-motion animation of it being put together, which, along with the behind-the-scenes video we have, gives a nice rounded package for that segment. We also have several lovely pictures of some of those women who would be Mila to sit alongside this.

As well as my novel and the Cervantes masterpiece, we’ve decided to include two longish short stories. One is new. Unless you happened to be one of the few hundred people to have a digital copy of the original The New Goodbye, when the title referred to a short story collection, you won’t have seen it. The second is Twenty One Again, which is taken from Elastic Press’s out-of-print The Elastic Book of Numbers, which won the 2005 BFS Award for best anthology.

At the moment, all the text is being typeset by the nice chaps at Mat Dolphin, and the other bits and bobs are being beaten into some form of coherent shape by Russell.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be putting together a Tumblr site which will have all things The New Goodbye on it.

Aside from my own efforts, there’s also a new website, The Literary Platform, going live this Monday, which will focus on the growing crossover between books and digital. There will be far more authoritative and clever people writing for it than me, but I’ll have a piece on there nonetheless.

I also have a feature in the current issue of Web Designer magazine, which looks at screen legibility for long tracts of text, such as those found in a novel. Alongside this I did a little timeline of type which I think is rather nice. I might have already mentioned this. I can’t remember. But either way, I’m mentioning it here. Again, or for the first time, I don’t believe it really matters.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Hello, strangers

Aliya has gone on holiday. To Wales, no less.

I meantime, am trying to bring together all the strands for The New Goodbye. We have a cover; we have a behind-the-scenes video; we even have a bespoke song and a video team to create a music promo.

What we didn't have at the crucial moment was enough coloured card. We were due to receive two deliveries, but only got one, which meant the music video, which was due to be shot last weekend, didn't happen. Now this weekend the venue isn't available for long enough due to--get this--being double-booked with a writing workshop. Damn you writers! We can't shoot after this week due to clashing schedules, and the app submission deadline, so looks like the first iteration of the app may be without a music video. Still, if a novel, two short stories, a novelette by one of the best writers ever to grace the planet, an original music track and a demo, a beautiful cover and some great additional photography and a two metre long illustration aren't enough for you, well, you're just downright demanding!

So everything is under control. Even the press releases which I've been scribbling together like mad for the lovely ladies who are helping me spread the word, but no music video. As yet. Suggestions on a postcard.

In other news, this morning, in a professional capacity, I'm going to get to nose around the archives of Faber&Faber.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Talking tables

Sadie Jones, she of The Outcast fame, talks writing and common sense over on Untitled Books.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Woof woof

My top five non-fiction books on canine companions, given that a certain someone is going to be sharing her home with a certain something soon:

Don't Shoot The Dog, Karen Pryor - this one's not really about dogs. It's about animal training using cognitive learning and positive reinforcement. Pryor was a dolphin and this book is the one that brought clicker-training out of the pool and into the obedience ring, and is a proponent of the nice rather than nasty approach to animal training. If you're wondering whether you'd like to give it a go, it reads a little like Malcolm Gladwell's cod-science books, so if you can happily read The Tipping Point and Outliers, this should be fine for you.

For similar behaviourist-edged writing, but more on traits and less on training, see also Stanley's Coren's The Intelligence of Dogs, which is one of the few places to say sensible things about breed traits.

The Philosopher and the Wolf, Mark Rowlands - I read this last year and mentioned it on the Veggiebox. Much like a canid, Rowlands is self-obsessed but not selfish. His arrogant, egotistical tone takes a bit of getting used to, but is commendable for its honesty and quite refreshing. Here's what Aimee Shalan over on the Guardian made of the book.

King Soloman's Ring, Konrad Lorenz - This is like a blend of the two books I mention above, insofar as it is a scientific book, but concerned with the topic of what it is to be an animal. There are more geese than dogs in it, but it has a lot of personality, and a strong sense of time and place to the anecdotes, which add to the interest. Lorenz was one of the fore-runners of modern ethology, which is where my own main area of interest in animal psychology lies. Lorenz won the Nobel Prize for Science and Medicine in 1973.

The Hidden Life of Dogs, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. I've only just found out that Marshall Thomas is actually a novelist. I'm keen to check out her. She's one of the modern breed of ethologist. This book is about the development of a pack of dogs, including a dingo or two, she shared her life with. Hers and Rowlands' are the most pleasurable reads here, great books regardless of their subject matter. I'd actually highly recommend The Tribe of Tiger, her book on cat behaviour, but as we were talking dogs here...

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Making pictures

I thought some of you might like to see a few pics from last week's shoot. These photos were taken by Yong Ping Loo, who also shot a behind-the-scenes video we'll be including in the The New Goodbye app.

In the third image, you can see Nicole setting up the overhead camera, and an indication of what the finished cover will look like.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010


Yesterday five heavy beach stones from Sussex and I went on a trip back to my motherland in east London. The purpose of the trip: the cover shoot for The New Goodbye, which took place at Street Studios.

I’ve only been on a couple of full day shoots before, as a dog handler. Dogs require far less preparation that human models and are far less patient. And if it’s one thing models need, it’s patience. I can see why Gavin James Bower wasn’t that enamoured with the life.

Dashed aspirations of a career as a male model aside, hopefully the results of the shoot will speak for themselves. (There’ll be a few sneak peeks up here over the next month or so, no doubt.)

Everything went extremely well, notwithstanding a very cloudy period around lunchtime. Nicole and Saskia (the photographer and stylist) had a very firm vision of what that wanted to achieve, and I think we managed to fulfill it. Nicole and I’d been discussing the shoot for close to a month, so when it came to it, everyone had a pretty clear idea of how things were going to work.

By the time I arrived (last one there, to my shame) Saskia had had already begun to lay the set, which comprised a large canvas pasted with torn-out pages from old crime paperbacks for the base. Added to this were roses, a half tonne of dead branches scavenged from the canal side outside the studio and a black bin-bag full of leaves Nicole had collected from near her home. Oh, yes, and the model of course, as the centre-piece. The title and byline were sprayed onto the canvas using stencils Nicole had hand-cut. There was also some smashed china, which helps with the light apparently. (I reckon Saskia just likes breaking things.)

We were even treated to the pleasant interlude of Johanna Basford, who has created the illustrations for the app, stopping by to ply us with Percy Pigs and Colin Caterpillars as part of her flying visit to London before she jetted back to Dundee. And everyone got to listen to the demo of the track that will be packaged with the app.

The day was documented on camera in both video and stills. The video footage will be cut together as a documentary about the process, and along with some extra bits from the day. So it’ll be almost as if you were there too. There were a number of other people involved too, so thanks to Yong Ping, Caroline, Fumi, Dave and Graham, and Alec at Street for the use of the space. I'm sure this'll be one of the first places to get a preview of the work.

Oh, and remember me mentioning lugging the stones through three counties and across the city at the start of this post? It goes without saying they weren’t used. They’re now back safe and sound on my rockery, so the woodlice had somewhere comfortable to sleep last night.

Next up, fingers crossed, is filming the music video.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

351 changes, and I'm done

The New Goodbye fast approaches a 'public-ready' state. (There are 351 minor changes to implement, and it's job done.)

It's a weird feeling, being on the verge of what is essentially self-publishing. It's not something I thought I'd ever be comfortable with, but, having read through the entire manuscript now, in an almost final state, I have to confess I've never been so confident in or so proud of a piece of writing, and I seriously think there's an audience for it.

It feels like it fulfills everything I want to achieve with my writing. Can an author really ask for more?

Added to this is the fact that it's going to be part of a very special art project, and I couldn't be happier with it. Johanna has completed work on her illustrated version of The Dialogue Of The Dogs and although it took her closer to seven days rather than seven years to complete, it is no less amazing for it: a two metre-long wordless narrative full of tiny detail. I'm not really one for superlatives, but it really is a wonderful achievement.

Monday, 1 March 2010


I guess the term blogsplash is a good idea most years, but things haven't really thawed out too much round my neck of the woods.

Anyway, I've not had much sleep and so am waffling a bit. Aliya and I are taking part in Fiona Robyn's blogsplash, but both of us thought the other was doing it, so neither are sure quite what to do. I guess the best thing is to say the book looks great, find out more about it by taking a look at the Thaw page on her website, and maybe buying/borrowing, but at least reading the book.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Five Rules for Readers

Enough of didactic statements for us scribes; what about the ones on the business end of the writing food chain? They've had it far too easy for too long in my opinion. It's about time readers bucked up their ideas and obeyed some simple rules:

1. If you like a book, tell everyone. Get tee shirts printed. Give it five stars on Amazon. Write lovely things on Goodreads. Demand that your library stocks it and ask about it in a loud voice at Waterstones at least twice a day.

2. But don't lend your copy to anyone. Tell them to buy it themselves. Full price. No shirking.

3. If you don't like a book, don't ever ever ever tell anyone. Ever. Certainly don't post a bad review anywhere, because you will be personally responsible for the unhappiness of the author involved once their Google Alert picks it up.

4. If you're reading a book in public - for instance, on the tube - can you lift the cover up a bit? It's difficult for the writer sitting opposite you to tell if you're reading their book if you selfishly keep the cover in your lap.

5. Everyone is different. Everyone enjoys different things. If you didn't enjoy a book, try to bear in mind that it's your fault because you didn't understand it, and it bears no reflection on the writer. Who, by the way, worked really really hard on it and knows a lot more about it than you do.

As an aside, I hear there's a new punctuation mark available for sarcasm. I might have to invest in that.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

More rules for writers

  • Always finish a sentence with a full stop
  • Don't make tpyos.
  • Use capital letters at the beginning of proper nouns, jim.
  • Lots of lovely mice that will hunt you down and want degrees in sociology.
  • Don't throw in dream sequences or surreality for the sake of it.
  • t is probably not going to enamour you to your readers.
  • It's doubtful leaving sentences half-finished will eith

Monday, 22 February 2010

Rules For Writers That I Have Broken

Yes, yes, I know that the only rule in writing is that there are no rules, but that's not strictly true, is it? We know if the dialogue tag says, 'he asked wonderingly.' then it's probably not the best book ever. It's not a hard and fast rule, but it's certainly in the region of being a guideline. And you do have to know what the rules/guidelines are before you can go around discarding them. Although that rule isn't set in stone either, apparently. Right. Anyway. These are some of the rules that I have broken.

- Don't have kids. I'm quite glad I ignored that bit of advice. Stupid advice. Writers have to be selfish, do they? Why? You want to write, you will. You don't need all the time in the universe. You don't need not to share yourself around with anything else. Grow up. *

- Don't use any other dialogue tag than 'said'. I quite like people to shout occasionally. Or huff. Or spit. Just to break up the monotony. But in a comedic piece you can't beat a good 'he said'. 'He said' is quite funny, sometimes. I'm not sure why.

- Don't tell the reader the moon is shining. Show them the glint of moonlight on broken glass. Yes, but what about when you've got acres of stuff to get through and you've just lovingly described their discarded wedding dress on the bed or their forgotten doll high on the shelf or some such? Sensory overload does exist, I'm sure of it. Choose what to show and what to tell. Decide what's important. Yeah.

- Don't make your main character unlikeable. Erm, guilty. Likeable and interesting aren't the same thing, though, are they? And when we first meet a character, our impression of them doesn't have to be true. We have to get to know them. We might hate them to start with, and end up loving them. Even though they're still unlikeable. I like lots of unlikeable people. Grumps are fun. Maybe don't put your reader totally inside the head of a complete git might be more pertinent advice.

- Don't use adverbs. Ah, heck. Again, in comedy, you can't beat a good adverb sometimes. She opined grandiosely.

So what is true about being a writer? You won't learn unless you keep reading and writing, I think. Not consciously dissecting it, but doing it until it gets stuck in your head and you begin to know without knowing when a piece of writing is good. Oh bum, that's pants advice too.

*I should point out that I'm not saying you should have kids. Please don't go around procreating because I said so. I'm just saying, you know, if you wanna, and you're all in a good place with it, do it. Blimey, what a minefield.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010


Doug Worgul's Thin Blue Smoke is finally coming out in paperback, and it has a luvverly cover. To whit:

In other news, Aliya and I and a bunch of MNW authors met up on Monday at Brown's in Covent Garden and a nice old chat was had by all. I'm sure Matt Curran will be posting some of the pictures he got the waitress to take in lieu of not bringing him any pudding.

And also, I suppose this should have gone at the top really, a winner has been selected to be the cover model for The New Goodbye. Congratulations to Cat Lane (she's the one in the picture below, which she also took). Nicole will be shooting the cover sometime early next month.

Also included in the app as they made the shortlist are Susie Harrison, Saroj Patel, Jaci Berkopec, Sam George and Alle Mind. Thanks to everyone else who submitted.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

What’s new buckaroo?

I thought some of you might find it interesting to know what’s been afoot on the Red Diesel app front. Well, the biggest change is the title of the book. I figured (and Aliya agreed) that The New Goodbye was a more appropriate title for the novel itself, short story collections of the same name by the same author notwithstanding. This means that The New Goodbye short story collection is now out of circulation. So the few hundred out there who actually downloaded a copy now have in their digital paws something of a rarity. And who knows, maybe a collectible.

Where we’re at now is the photo shoot for the cover is halfway to organised, there’s a lovely title track by my good friend Rich Watson with a kind of Bond-theme/Take That vibe and I’m having a final sweep through all of the prose one last time.

The contents for the app are shaping up to look something like the following:

  • The New Goodbye (50k novel, by me) with chapter plates by Johanna
  • The Dialogue of the Dogs (by Cervantes) with a very special illustrated app-thingy by Johanna
  • Three of my short stories: The Leaving Present (most bits previously unpublished), Twenty-One Again (from The Elastic Book of Numbers) and The Listening (from Gratia Placenti—I just need to check the copyright status of this one come to think of it)
  • Several videos, including a little documentary of the cover shoot and the music video

So, it’s coming together; it’s coming on. And a few months and it should hopefully have arrived.

In the meantime I’m working on a feature about text legibility on websites and in apps for Web Designer magazine. Anyone suitably knowledgeable feel free to chuck me some pointers.

Friday, 5 February 2010

I'm getting that Kindling feeling...

The honest truth about my Kindle is that I love it.

Scott Pack has been blogging about his over the last week or so too. I reckon I probably prefer it a bit more than he does, but that's not to say he thinks it's without its merits. Go take a look after you've read this. His latest post is a comparison with the Sony Reader, which might help anyone (Matt) who's considering buying an e-Reader.

I own a batch of books I love, that I'll go back to again and again and the books as objects have sentimental value. There are maybe fifty or so of them. Other books I generally give away, or they end up dusty in the loft. So from now on, that collection won't grow as much as it did. I'll be using ebooks instead, especially for my commute, for which the Kindle is ideal.

What's so good about the Kindle? The main advantage over a computer (or phone or netbook, or, yes, iPad), is that, like all the other eReaders, it uses digital ink rather than a LCD or Plasma display, which is pretty much print-quality text on a screen. (If you've not seen e-ink in action before, it looks like someone has pasted some actual printed text on an acetate to a screen.) Reading from it really is a very similar experience to reading from print (except for light reflection on the screen in dim light.)

I've tried out the Sony Reader and the Sony Reader Touch in a couple of bookshops before, and also the horrible BeBook. Aesthetically, some people, like Scott, prefer the Sony product, some the Amazon. I side with Amazon. But the real advantage of the Kindle over the Sony devices--at least at the moment for UK users--is the Kindle has wireless access to Amazon's Whispernet (using a bunch of wireless networks, including 3G), which means you can use the Kindle without the need for a computer (other than the initial setting up of an Amazon account).

This is getting a bit wordy, so let's try some bulletpoints:

Why I like the Kindle:
  • Easy to hold and don't need to hold pages open with your hand
  • Shorter width of the page than a standard paperback means faster reading
  • No headaches or eyestrain, unlike using an LCD screen
  • Can hold thousands of books
  • Wireless connection
  • Can store other file types (although I think a USB stick or iPod Shuffle is better suited to this, it's good for emergencies)
  • Free wireless inbox
  • No distractions from other programmes (such as email) while you're reading
I'm also in the middle of editing a good few hundreds of pages of work. The Kindle has saved having to print these out for the final read-throughs, as you can also use the (not-magnificent) keyboard to annotate the work if you crunch it into mobipocket format.

So there you go, my tuppenny worth on using an ereader device. There're lots of other points to consider from the point-of-view of an author, and from the point-of-view of the publishing industry, but more on that another time.

(Bonus points to anyone who can spot the TV reference in the title of this post.)

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Dream logic (or The Plot Thickened, and then thinned as if a gallon of water had been added)

In Which Our Hero Realises He Has Taken A Wrong Turning

You know when you have a dream and you're convinced when you wake up in the middle of the night that it contained the complete plot for a novel? Then you wake up in the morning and realise you're an idiot. Here are the plot elements I can recall: A man with a serious injury to his torso who has to look after a cattery with only two cats, but he needs to fly to America only they won't let him onboard a flight. So anyway, he gets to America, and there's an artifact, some museum piece... (this is how my memory returned to me this morning, in instalments, and it's sounding weird, but do-able so far, but then... Oh but then!) The museum piece is MAGIC! Oh dear. At least there was a chase through an elegantly furnished hotel to enjoy after this.

That is all.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

I'm back, and armed. En garde!

It's true - I am alive. And armed with Kindle no less. (Believe it or not, I won it from these generous sorts.) So, give me your recommended out of copyright work. I'm currently swashbuckling my way through Dumas' The Three Musketeers. (I'm sure Tim will approve.)

I'll post soon on the Kindle, Amazon and publishers, (Amazon announced today it will be handing over 70% royalties for Kindle sales given certain conditions are met by the publishers applying for the scheme), along with a comprehensive review. At the moment, suffice it to say, the thing is great. A worthy commuter's companion.