Saturday, September 06, 2008

Island In Space

Out beyond the orbit of Mars, on its way to rendezvous with comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, ESA's Rosseta spacecraft has just flown past asteroid Steins. Here's a brief movie of the encounter. We've grown so used to seeing scenes like this in SF movies that it takes a small effort of imagination to kindle our sense of wonder and remember that this is the real deal: real rock, real spacecraft.

Is it just me, or does it look like there's a face carved on the back side of the asteroid as it dwindles into the outer dark?

There Are Doors (11)

Edna Sharrow slurs and sidles along the streets like a leaf blown by the fumy slipstream of the endless traffic, through crowds of foreigners. Many of them humpbacked with rucksacks. Many coloured. As if her dear England has fallen to a foreign power while she slept in her lair. She’s hungry again, eyes children as she drifts past. Babies. Flinches from a dog that explodes into rage.

She drifts east, towards her enemy’s compass point of splintered black light. Remembering a girl. An ordinary girl telling her that Mr Carlyle wasn’t in. Telling her to go away. Sending her away. But that must be a story Edna is telling herself to cover up the hole in her memory. For a mere slip of girl could not have any power over one such as she. No, she has been tricked by her enemy, and he will pay for that, and for everything else.

When she can no further she passes through a gate into a small park and curls up under a laurel bush. She dreams of ranging through the dark clothed in the sinew and hot stink of a fox, and wakes choking on a mouthful of bloody pigeon feathers. And rises, renewed. Today she will have her revenge.
Part 1 2 3

Thursday, September 04, 2008

How Not To Write A Short Story

1) Get drunk first.*

2) Spend three hours every day in front of the mirror intoning your mantra: ‘I am bottling the lightning. James Joyce and Katherine Mansfield are ants in my afterbirth.’

3) You can never do too much research.

4) Try to work out what magazine editors want before you start to write. Study the stories they publish very carefully. Work out their average word count. Work out average sentence and paragraph lengths. Which words appear most? Which appear least? Or not at all?

5) Choose a room in your house for a study. Better still, build a custom-designed shed in your garden. Insulate it, install mains electricity, decorate it in a soothing but stimulating shade of green. Choose the perfect desk and chair. Spend several weeks in stationers and art supply shops choosing the best brands of paper, pens, pencils, notebooks etc. Buy a top-of-the-line laptop and an industrial laser printer. Build bookshelves and fill them with dictionaries, encyclopaedias, how-to-write manuals, Strunk & White, Partridge’s Usage and Abusage, The Writers’ & Artist’s Yearbook, Brewer’s Phrase & Fable, The Oxford Companion to English Literature etc etc. Read everything from cover to cover. Maybe you should paint the walls a perky but soothing shade of blue instead. Or go on a writing course...

6) It’s important to get the first page absolutely right. Don’t be afraid to rewrite it 1000 times. Did I say page? I meant sentence.

7) spelyn n punctooashun r killin creativitey man dnt b a sheap

8) You can never spend too much time on the internet mongboards, dissing published writers. The fuckers.

9) Get a bad crack addiction. When you clean up you’ll have a ton of killer material.

10) Get a life instead, and enjoy it to the full.**

*Warning: may actually work. But not for everyone.

It's A Smallish World

Last week I picked up an out-of-print novel by Paul Watkins (Archangel) in the local charity shop. It reminded me of what a good and interesting writer he is, so I did the Google thing and the Amazon thing to check out what he’d been doing lately. And for a moment it seemed that his latest novel is called The Quiet War. Except that it isn’t a novel, and it’s by a different Paul Watkins.

Sometimes it seems that the universe is trying to send you a message, but you can never be quite sure what it is or whether it really is for you.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Sometimes, just before I fall asleep, my mind unstringing itself, I’ll get ideas about the next day’s work. Solutions to seemingly intractable problems about character or plot. Last night, though, I had a dream about a short story. It was printed on a wraparound for the review section of the Saturday edition of the Guardian newspaper. Black letters on white paper. Twenty-four point type. About two hundred words a page, four pages. No title, just a name - not mine, someone I know - at the head of each page.

It was an SF story about two omniscient post-Singularity AIs passing through a black hole into the universe next door. Where the black hole was a white fountain, kick-starting creation. The pair of AIs as gods, shaping their new universe. And the smallest of the pair, quicker-witted but less powerful than his companion, saying at every significant tick in the universe’s evolution: ‘Dude, this is so like last time.’

I woke up before I finished reading it, so I don’t know how it ends. I wonder if the author does. Maybe he’ll read this and get in touch, Experiment In Time style.

Monday, September 01, 2008

There Are Doors (10)

It’s Richard’s house in the little square mews in Notting Hill. Was once Richard’s house. For of course Richard is long dead. Edna Sharrow is not so mad that she does not know that.

Poor charming courtly Richard and his coterie. She remembers the delightful evening when the Leader held court here. A splendid man, holding all of them in thrall. As powerful in his way as Edna, then just a smidgeon over sixty and sitting neat and tidy as a closed clasp knife in a corner of the room. The Leader so tall and handsome, and his beautiful wife, and his wife’s mad daughter, who whispered to Edna, I know you.

But why is she here now? She had been at the door of her enemy. His house in Princelet Street, shuttered and quiet. And here she is without any memory of transition, like finding herself on the wrong page of her own story.

Something bad happened, she thinks, and in her panic she fled and came here, looking for help. But Richard hung himself in his prison cell on the day when he and all the rest of the world learned that the Fuhrer had committed suicide, and time has taken care of all his friends.

For the first time since breaking her long seclusion and stepping out into the world Edna feels afraid.
Part 1 2
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