The Doctor’s No Longer Male!

I am bitterly disappointed by the casting in Doctor Who.

David Wake (two)Don’t get me wrong, I happen to like female protagonists.  I write them after all.  Indeed, I think there are positive advantages in doing so.  I thought Joanna Lumley and Barbara Benedetti both did excellent interpretations of the Doctor.  I particularly liked the latter’s interplay with her companion.  So, the Doctor being female can work.  It all depends on the stories.  Any character needs good writing.

There are always pros and cons to anything.  (Well, not Brexit, obviously.  Have you tried to get someone to give an argument for leaving the EU that isn’t a slogan, platitude, soundbite or a lie?  I have, so far, not heard a single one and I’ve asked.)  So, this isn’t a rant that the Doctor should be male, it’s a complaint about something else.

You see, I have an argument as to why the Doctor should be male.

As young girls everywhere are pumping their fists and shouting “yes!” in pleasure, the boys are losing a role-model.  Indeed, one of the very, very few male heroes who doesn’t rush around shooting everything with guns.  There aren’t many examples of a main man who uses his wits, wins by knowing stuff and has a clear moral code.  I remember the Fourth Doctor solving a problem using chemistry and I thought I’d pay more attention at school as all that “mix this with that” in the fume cupboard might actually be useful in the future.  We do live in an age when young lads need better role models.

I’m a traditional Doctor Who fan, so it’s required dogma that the previous Doctor was better and to loathe any suggestion of change.  We proclaim which version we saw first as best in a game of onebackmanship.  (I have a time machine in my front room, so quite soon I’ll be bagging the opening episode back in 1963.)

I just hope the next series isn’t suddenly all about gender issues.  Like all that fuss about Chekov being gay: who cares?  It’s not that fantastic; I mean, you meet gay people all the time, but – come on – he pilots a starship!

So, good stories, space battles, monsters, aliens, strange new worlds and proper science fiction please.

And my bitter disappointment at the announcement?  It was like watching the lottery results live.  There’s a strange figure in the woods, TARDIS, pulls back hood, close-up…. and it’s not me!

Look, it’s always been other people!  Next time: definitely my turn.


You mean it’ll be… Captain Tartan’s Redemption?

You should always sail into the sea of the unknown on a voyage of discovery.

I go to Science Fiction conventions, events full of… well, everything. They’re a maelstrom of activity that washes over you in a sea fury?

16999007_10154436347912709_2952900993454084050_nRecently, a convention up in Sheffield. ‘Redemption’, asked me to be one of their Guests of Honour.  Quite something.  My fellow guests included a senior lecturer on ‘War Studies’ at Sandhurst, a videogame developer, an artist and a film historian specialising in silent cinema.

It was fantastic to be there, but I missed most of it.

There was, apparently, Fight Choreography for Writers (which I think I’ve now missed at three different conventions), Lock picking, Ration Roulette (a tasting session for survival rations) and talks on The Prisoner at 50 and Star Wars at 40.  You could be involved in the cabaret, the play, the ceilidh, Morris Longsword dancing or a publishing project.  There was a sewing workshop, Victorian martial arts lessons, cookery through the ages and the now obligatory Tea Duelling.

Lectures and discussions ranged from historical re-enactment, Artificial People (a talk on robots and androids in media and reality), on dystopian fiction (perfect for those studying English), What Are E-Sports?, Post-Apocalyptic Survival, Where Next for the Large Hadron Collider, How Safe Are We Digitally to Victorian Costuming,

That covers subjects like English, Physics, History, Media, Sport and Home Economics. I can’t think of any environment, even University, that offers so much intellectual stimulation in such a short span of space and time.

Myself? My guest talk was on writing and I starred in the play, Captain Tartan – Redemption.  I also ran a panel discussion called Where Have All The Heroines Gone?, which, due to last minutes changes, turned into just me, a bloke, mansplaining feminism to a room full of women.

I sold some books.

And it had a pirate theme.


Books you won’t find in bookshops

Joel Stickley of How to Write Well Badly (very funny) says writers write books that they think agents will buy; agents buy books they think publishers will publish; publishers print books they think supermarkets will stock; supermarkets stock books they think customers will buy; and, finally, readers wonder why the shelves are full of celebrity books.

I wrote I, Phone in 2009 and dutifully I sent it off to publishers.  I’d talked to the editor at a convention, so I was hopeful (it was a warm call) but realistic.  Two years later, after some reluctant pestering, they admitted they’d lost it.  I resubmitted and, after another year, they said it wasn’t their cup of tea.  Fair enough.  So, time to go cap in hand to another publisher to beg pathetically.

Wait a minute – no, it isn’t!

Now Indie Publishing is here, the rose-tinted glasses I used to view Traditional Publishing have fallen off. To send a manuscript without receiving an acknowledgement is rude, to take longer than a reasonable time to make a decision (say 3 months) is unprofessional and to lose a manuscript is plain useless.  You wouldn’t get it in other professions.

I, Phone predicted Google Glass.  I’m sure others did so before me, but you know, I was in the game, but 3 years twiddling my thumbs meant that that cutting-edge prediction became passé.  If it had been accepted then it would have been another 2-3 years before it reached Waterstones.  A development process that takes 5 years means that near-future SF is not a sub-genre that exists any more.

You may think I’m just ranting due to sour grapes and a chip on my shoulder. You many think that, and you’d be right.  But I have a point.

So, the following don’t exist in traditional publishing any more:-


Near-future SF.  (Traditional publishing is too inefficient.)

Novellas.  (Too short, even if you could get twice as many on the shelf.)

Poetry.  (No market for them, apparently.)

Local interest books.  (All decisions made at head office.)

Books in more than one genre.  (Where do I put this?  Ah, yes, the returns bin.)

Books the marketing department doesn’t know how to market.

Books by authors, whose previous two books in the trilogy sold well, but not in the J. K. Rowling or E. L. James league.

Books that you really, really want, but you’ve been busy and missed the three month window of opportunity and they’ve all been returned to the publisher on a sale-or-return basis and have now been pulped.


So, if you want to read anything above – tough: enjoy your celebrity books.

Or try an Indie Publisher.


Fan-Fic versus Fan-made

At the recent SF meet in Birmingham, I tried talking about… well, I’m not sure exactly what I wanted to discuss.  The difference between ‘Fanfic’ (bad) and ‘Fan-made’ (good) perhaps.  It was pointed out that it’s ‘Fanfic’ (good) and ‘Fan-wank’ (bad) (thanks to Simon for that one).  However, labelling it doesn’t reveal the difference that’s bugging me.

You see, I read a couple of articles (thanks to David for finding them again) suggesting that Doctor Who and Sherlock were fanfic.  (See and – both including Stephen Moffat as writer.)

That Doctor Who episode when the Doctor recruits all his past companions to fight off Davros and the Daleks is just the sort of thing that a seven-year-old (or, to paraphrase, what’s the point of being grown up if you can’t be childish, and make up stories that would thrill you as a seven-year-old) would come up with.  Now Moffat (Gattis, Abrams, Lucas, etc) are in that situation where they can, so they do.  Moffat can write, any episode of Coupling proves that, Blink is a work of genius, etc, etc, but maybe he cannot resist the excited yapping voice of his inner seven-year-old…  and that’s probably why I shouldn’t be allowed to write my planned sequel to The Trial of a Timelord (just to sort out a couple of issues, you understand).

But, I’m comparing this with some fan-made Star Trek, that seem to ‘get’ Star Trek more than Paramount do.  The recent Star Trek reboots kind of illustrate this.  Simon Pegg, who was writing Star Trek Beyond, III in the series, had issues I believe with Paramount wanting to remove all that Trekkie stuff.  (“I think the studio was worried that it might have been a little bit too Star Trek-y.” – Simon Pegg.)  If you are worried about making something that’s too Star Trey-y, then don’t make Star Trek.  They are failing to realise their own USP.

Star Wars is another one.  The original trilogy, IV to VI, was marvellous, and then George Lucas somehow didn’t ‘get’ his own series and made the prequels, I to III, that weren’t ‘Star Wars’.  (Cue clip of Simon Pegg burning all his Star Wars memorabilia in Spaced.)  The Force Awakens, episode VII, felt like Star Wars.  (It’s only afterwards, upon reflection, that some problems became apparent.)  The upcoming Star Wars Rogue One really feels like fanfic: “oooh, oooh, I’ve a theory about how the rebels got the plans in the first place.”  We’ve ‘Han Solo, the Early Years’ appearing, which again has running through it like seaside rock the word ‘fanfic’.

Ridley Scott failed to understand his own Alien when he made the appalling Prometheus.  Coming soon, Blade Runner II, which fills me with fear and dread.

The advice is always to write what you want to read: so writers have to be fans of their own material, surely, but then isn’t everything just fanfic?


Life on Other Earths: episode 1 ‘All These Worlds’.

Life on Other EarthsI caught Attenborough at 90 on BBC1 the other night.  (A good advert for the strength of the BBC and a need for it to be preserved from the greedy philistines.)  There is a series I’d like Sir David Attenborough to present.  He has the right gravitas and expertise for it.  Basically, Life on Other Earths.  Think Life on Earth and Walking With Dinosaurs in spaaace!!!

A proper examination of SETI is long overdue and we’ve come a long way form left to right across the Drake Equation since it was first formulated in 1959 (around the time David Attenborough was first presenting Natural History). The estimates back then were hand-waving guesses.

To paraphrase the equation somewhat, the number of stars in this galaxy is about 300 billion stars and all of them have planets. The ‘all of them’ is really me sticking my neck out, because it seems that we are discovering them all the time.  You just need to look at all the complexity of the Saturnian system to realise that stuff naturally goes around other stuff.  Newton, as he rubbed his apple bruised head, could have predicted rings, gaps, shepherd moons, braids, spokes, etc, etc.  So, every star system has planets, I say.  However, a more sober analysis of the Kepler mission data reckoned about 40 billion planets in the habitable zone.

(There are about 200 billion galaxies, so… er, I make that 8 septillion. We do need words that are orders of magnitude larger than ‘astronomical’.  ‘Astro’ means ‘star’, so it’s appropriate for the huge numbers associated with those stars we can see with the naked eye.  Above that, it all becomes ‘galactonomical’, ‘clusternomical’, ‘superclusternomical’ and ‘observanomical’ all the way to ‘universonomical’.)

However, let’s ignore those too far away to chat properly by radio telescope.

So, 40 billion rolls of the dice for life developing, then intelligence, civilisation, communications and then that their window of survival is open now. (Given the climate deniers and greedy capitalists, it doesn’t look like our window will be open long.)

So, episode 1: stars, planets, large numbers… all narrated by David Attenborough.


Blast and Gasp

I must thank Steven C. Davis and LM Cooke for allowing me on their radio show and for all their plugs of the Derring-Do Club and New Street Authors. It’s on (I’m listening to it now as I type) Blast 1386 and GASP is Gothic, Alternative, Steampunk and Progressive. It’s If it turns up on download or Mixcloud, I must post a link. Strange to hear myself whiffling on about things, I’d quite forgotten what I’d said when it was recorded. Now the Englishman in me has to add some put down: it did almost sound like I knew what I was talking about at times.

There seems to be a renaissance in audio, podcasts and so forth. It makes you wonder what everyone is listening to on their earphones. It might not be mindless pop, but could be explanations of quantum mechanics, 18th century bread making, yak breeding in Tibet, or, gosh, someone whiffling on about science fiction.


One Million Words

Million words

I read that Alan Moore’s second novel, Jerusalem, will weigh in at a million words.  To put that into perspective, I’ve published four decent sized novels and a novella, and, adding the forthcoming doorstop The Derring-Do Club and the Invasion of the Grey, to my total, I clock in at 0.8 of a Jerusalem.  It’s significant, because there’s a theory that you have to write a million words of crap before you become a good writer.  It’s another way of measuring the 10,000 hours to be an expert: it’s a drabble an hour.

Clearly, no-one writes a million words to have their millionth and first word declared a work of genius: the first ‘the’ in that sentence is rubbish, but, half way along, that second ‘the’ is beyond wonder!

The 10,000 hours theory says that you gradually become a master of the craft reaching it at the 10,000 hour mark, but you are ‘good’ and ‘better’, long before you are ‘best’. Also, it should be pointed out that Alan Moore has written an awful lot of words in his descriptions for the graphic novels, he’s known for the length of his instructions, so he’s well over the million by now, I’d have thought.

And all writing counts: shopping lists, ranting blogs… I’ve written a diary (or journal) since 1977.  The first years were all long-hand in school exercise books.  The problems I had finding a source for exercise books after I’d left school.  Anyway, in late 2001 to mark the new millennium, I went digital.  Basically, I couldn’t read my own handwriting and my typing speed was competent.  (Hmmm, another skill that I must have spent 10,000 hours on.)  Each of this millennium’s is novel length and adds up to 1.3 million words, which brings my overall total to two Jerusalems.

Does this mean I’m a Master of writing?

I am, literally, on the grounds that I have an MA in Writing.

But the point is that if you plug away at something, suddenly you’ve spent a lot of time on it and achieved something. So, keep at it, until you have built a Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land.


Fox News

I’ve just been interrogated on Interview Foxseat, a blog site:  by Mercedes Fox.

I’ve done a few of these now and they are fun. The questions arrive and then I try to be spontaneous, witty, informative, controversial and, more often than not, somewhat bemusing. I managed to turn a question into a piece about gender in fiction – tee, hee. It’s a battle I have to fight, because I’ve a series with three sisters, who can hardly be expected to stay at home doing embroidery and crochet when there’s an adventure to be had, and why not female protagonists?

It’s a good format as it’s much better to have a conversation than to simply whiffle on about yourself. Marketing just seems as un-British as using the expression ‘un-British’. It’s the big challenge for authors on the old side of the pond: how to blow your own trumpet without coming across as an ego maniac? Interviews put the onus of the brass section onto the interviewer. So, thank you Mercedes.

But are people interested in what authors do? It’s not exactly a spectator sport.
Will Self wrote a novel as part of an art installation once, but it hardly made him eligible for sport personality of the year. What is writing a novel, except sitting in front of a computer until you’ve pressed the keys half a million times? In chess, at least they occasionally move something.


Two keyboards for twice the writing…

Mind you, who’d have thought back in the days of Pong and Snake that video games would become a multi-million dollar sport. There’s a saying that people don’t understand that when a writer is staring out of the window, they are working. Imagine that with exciting music and over-enthusiastic commentary. There must be more than one comedy sketch using this idea.
It’s what I do, though, so it’s good to talk about it. The exciting stuff goes on in my head and if I do it right, it then goes on inside the reader’s head. It’s telepathy with a fair amount of computer hardware and even paper in the brain-to-brain transmission of memes.

We’re travel agents for mini-breaks from reality.




I’ve been co-writing a book on Indie Publishing.  As part of this, I’ve produced a paperback book template and thought I’d use it myself for the next novel as a way of testing it.  It’s also a good opportunity to revisit every procedure and hone it to perfection (or at least betterness… which isn’t a word, so ‘perfection’ will have to do).

The problem is that I started writing on a manual typewriter.  It cost me £35 – a lot of money back when I was student – from Woolworths.  I used to bash away into the early hours driving my flatmates up the wall no doubt.  You had to press ‘tab’ to indent.  With modern word processors, it’s a key press you don’t need to do – just set the paragraph first line indent to 0.5” or whatever.  This is the new ‘best practice’.

But my fingers are programmed to go ‘…blah, blah-blah [return][tab][shift]Blah, blah…’.

I’ve been using a Logitech EX110 keyboard for years or rather I’ve been using two Logitech EX110 keyboards, one at home and one at the day job.  Their feet gradually cracked and subsequent repairs made them mostly blobs of superglue, but the keyboards themselves carried on doing sterling work… until one didn’t, and you just can’t get replacements any more.  There were some on ebay, but they mention cracked feet and dodgy mechanics, so that was a ‘no’ then.

I like their arrangement of Home, End, Page Up, etc keys, so, after some research, I invested in a Logitech K350, a curved weirdness and, as soon as I was confident my fingers would like it, I bought another.  They’re an expensive necessity claimable off tax.

My fingers are finally getting back up to speed, flying about, turNING THE WRETCHED CAPS LOCK ON (why is that key in such a stupid place?) and thwacking the tab key… or not.

Some documents require a tab, others don’t, which isn’t a good recipe, so today I decided I was going to detabulate.  I write a diary and I just deleted 2,737 tabs from it before reformatting the paragraphs to look exactly the same.

       So, no more – oh, rats!


The Festival of Drabbles 2015

“It’s Alive!!!”

I was asked on Facebook if I knew the monster I had created.

A good few years ago, I was at an SF convention pottering around the dealer’s room and I saw a collection of Drabbles.  Of course, my curiosity was piqued and the woman behind the table saw her chance.

“They’re drabbles,” she explained, “stories of exactly 100 words.”

I nodded and she went on to explain how they are used in education, competition, as writing exercises and so on and on, positively gushing about the form really.

“Have you heard about them?” she asked, finally.

“Well… er… I invented them,” I said.

It was way back in the 1980s and someone at the Birmingham University Science Fiction & Fantasy Society mentioned the competition that Lord Byron, the poet Shelley and a few house guests had embarked on one rainy day near Lake Geneva.

“I know,” said Byron (probably), “let’s all write a novel.  Last one to finish is a big girl’s blouse.”
The blokes all gave up, but Mary Shelley finished hers: Frankenstein.  According to Brian Aldiss in A Billion Year Spree, this was the start of Science Fiction.

We at the BUSF&F Soc decided to do the same… no, hang on, novels are quite long, how about something shorter?  Novella… still rather long and so on, until I suggested stories of 100 words – exactly.  I wrote the first two: Drabble Rules: The One Hundred Word Variant Rules and Rubbish.  (Gosh, that’s the first non-fiction and first fiction one by me!)

There is a variant, 50 words exactly, but this strikes me as just condensing your idea continuously.  A hundred is a greater challenge, because you can under-write.  I remember that revelation when trying to complete Rubbish and ending up with 98 words… and anything else I added looked like what it was: padding.

We had enough at University, we thought, to do a small booklet, say 10.  Ooh, how about getting someone famous to headline?  We wrote to three authors, they all replied; we tried some more, they did too, and Roger Robinson of Beccon Publications suggested a collection of 100 drabbles in a hardback sold for the charity Books for the Blind.  Rob Meades and I edited the first, The Drabble Project, and then another Double Century and then David J. Howe and I edited a Doctor Who themed one, Drabble Who.

But others have taken the idea and done far more: just consider the collection on the dealer’s table.

How do I feel about it all?

Utterly chuffed, of course, and, to be completely honest, bemused.

As a writer, you want your creations to have a life of their own, see the world and end up chasing you across the arctic wastes.

But a Festival of Drabbles!!!  Wow.

Advice on Drabble Writing 

Some advice from the creator: don’t trust the word processors word count, count them yourselves and count your words backwards; when doing it forwards you tend to start reading it and thus lose count.

Do I write drabbles now? 

Good grief, no; I can’t get down to 100 words!!!

I tried a number of times to write SF short stories (5,000 words or so), but I was ham-strung by the need to be original.  Later, I joined amateur theatre and started writing one-act plays (about 9,000 words) that won awards at drama festivals.  I went pro, touring full length plays (about 18,000 words) and going to the Edinburgh fringe.  I did an MA in Creative Writing (20,000 words plus a 5,000 word essay on the process) before publishing my novel I, Phone (80,000 words).  I’m currently working on the third of The Derring-Do Club steampunk novels (120,000 words).  You can see the trend, can’t you?

According to my spreadsheet, I’ve written 817,360 words on novels and the novella.  That’s over 8,000 drabbles.

But each one is written a word at a time; a single, hopefully perfect word that fits just so: and not too many, and not too few, but… exactly.

I wrote a Drabble 

Quite bizarrely, and by chance, I was writing a chapter on how to write for a book and I wrote the following:-

David, deciding to be a professional writer, set himself the challenge of writing 1,000 words a day.  Professionals write 1,000 word a day, so he would.  But he couldn’t; he failed miserably. So, he set the goal at 500, but again, he failed. So he said, I’ll write 100 words a day.  Just a paragraph, this one, look at it, 100 words (a drabble) exactly.  Every day. And that worked.  And often beat that goal, beat it well and was writing 1,000 words a day. If that hadn’t worked, he’d have set himself the challenge of ten words.  Or one.