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.


A New Beginning

I finally gave up trying to code the html for my website and I’ve gone 21st century with WordPress.

But it does irritate.  I have a degree in software engineering and so I feel I ought to be able to do this my way!  It also feeds into my luddite tendencies.  I have managed two near-future SF books out of this frustration, so I shouldn’t complain, but I do complain, I want to complain, I want to moan and rant and object.

I write steampunk too: is that a desire for a simpler past too?

Not really.

We went through a golden age when computers did what we wanted them to do.  As technology moves forward, so it becomes not the way we want it.  The move from 32-bit to 64-bit marked the end of an easy sound editor, the best interface of Adobe Premiere and a few others.

This machine is faster, far faster than anything I’ve had before, but it is so slow, so dreadfully slow due to all the nonsense that Microsoft seems to insist upon and everything that modern life requires to be installed.  I used to bring up the Task Manager and know what all the processes were that were running on the machine.  Now, no chance, no idea what they all do and, more than that, no idea what they all can be doing.  How is Windows 8 that much different in functionality to Windows 5.1?  It’s point-and-click, it runs programs, it plays video, has a word processor, etc, etc.

Still, never mind, we must move on.  Windows 10 beckons.  The Last Operating System from Microsoft, so with any luck all this endless change will stop and we’ll just be able to get on with what we want to do.  Hmmm, chance would be a fine thing.