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21st Aug, 2014

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Loncon3 - London Worldcon

What an experience.  Upwards of eight thousand people in London's Excel Centre (out beyond Docklands) experiencing SFF overload for five days with panels, costumes, exhibits and retail therapy. Famous names and infamous ones. And a lot of people having fun.

Excel is cavernous and impersonal but the Con Committee had done their best to humanise the Fan Village with gazebos and designated areas for kids, quiet reading, bar, enquiries, societies and all the con bids for future years - most of them offering freebies, food, drink and parties to swing the vote their way.

There was also plenty of extra seating space on the concourse, a kind of elongated food court that was also the through way from Excel East to Excel West - a half-mile hike which felt twice that long. Excel is so huge you can catch a DLR train from one end to the other. I walked my feet off.

The programme was great and I did see some panels, but not as many as I had marked in my book. Sadly some were oversubscribed and the security crew (hired in by Excel) were hot on kicking out anyone who hadn't got a chair - in some cases interrupting panely that had already started with little in the way of tact. Some panels didn't quite end up being what they were supposed to be (the post colonialism one missed its mark by not extrapolating into the future, or talking in general terms about how to write post colonialism, and seemed to take an hour to tell us which current countries were post-colonial), but some were excellent. Full marks to the one on swearing in SF. Great laugh! I did three panerls and no one threw rotten tomatoes, so they seemed to go down well.

Lovely to meet Ann Leckie at the SFWA reception. I'm delighted Ancilliary Justice got the Hugo. Well deserved.

rasfc meet1024x764There were lots of Milford people there, regulars and new ones, and a gathering of people I knew from the usenet newsgroup, r.a.sf.c ( fiction.composition) consisting of people I'd met before and some I knew only from the net from as far afield as Germany, France, the USA and Alaska (yes, I know that's the USA as well!). Great to be goven a signed copy of Bill Swears' book Zook Country. Thanks, Bill.

I got whisked off to dinner twice by my editor, Sheila Gilbert, once to a small gathering and once to the official DAW dinner with Sheila and Betsy plus Seanan McGuire, Michelle Sagara West, Tanya Huff, Fiona Patton, Kari Sperring, Ben Aaronovitch, various partners and DAW's British agent. A delightful gathering at the Gun, a historic riverside pub in the Docklands area with a private dining room on the riverside opposite the Dome. Highly recommended.

27th Jul, 2014

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Book Log 10/2014 - Donald Maass: Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook

I confess I should have read 'Writing the Breakout Novel' before going on to the workbook. That had been my intention all along, however it was thwarted by putting down WTBN and not being able to find it again, so I picked up the workbook first. What an excellent and concise book with short, apposite chapters using a number of examples from 'breakout' books, both genre and non genre to illustrate techniques for deepening character, layering plots, finding the right first and last lines. Each chapter contains an explanation followed by an exercise.

This is not a book offering shortcuts, in fact it encourages authors to go back through their finished manuscripts and revise a lot of the things they already thought were pretty darn good -- because they can always be better. It's not offering a formula. There is no formula, there's just hard work and many, many tweaks to bump up the quality of your book. In fact there are 34 worksheets, each one asking you to consider one aspect of your novel, pull it out, tweak it and slot it back into place.

Yes it's going to take time to do all that and no, I didn't do the worksheets, but I did find points where I thought, 'I can do that right now!' I certainly applied some of the principles to the book I was just on the point of delivering to my publisher and will have it all in mind while writing the first draft of the work in progress. I hope to have time, then, to apply some of the principles in more depth as I go through the editing process.
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Book Log 9/2014 - George R. R. Martin: A Feast for Crows - A Song of Ice and Fire # 4

This is half a book, the companion volume to A Dance with Dragons and therefore only has half of our beloved characters in it, those still remaining in Westeros. We don't get to see anything of what's happening north of the wall, neither do we see what's happening to Dany and her dragons. Regular viewpoint characters include: Jaime Lannister, Samwell Tarly, Arya Stark and Sansa Stark. New viewpoints go to Queen Cersei, Aeron, Asha, and Victarion Greyjoy, Brienne of Tarth, Areo Hotah, Aerys Oakheart, and Arianne Martell.

Of course this book is seriously lacking any Tyrion Lannister viewpoint and the cliffhanger we left him on at the end of A Clash of Kings is not resolved. It's almost surprising to realise that while Cersei has such a lot of on-screen time in the TV show and is instrumental in quite a lot of plot, that she's not been a viewpoint character before. Now we see her descent into instability fuelled by the loss of Joffrey, the desire to protect Tommen and the resentment that her daughter Myrcella, has been sent off to Dorne where Cersei can't protect her. Cersei makes some really bad choices, but bad choices make for good fiction.

We also get Jaime's viewpoint and having started out as the king-killer who is prepared to toss young Bran Stark out of a high window in order to protect his incestuous relationship with Cersei, we see a transformation. Martin might make a hero out of Jaime yet, a respectable one if not a flawless one.

We get to follow the two Stark girls as they each make their own (very different) way in the world, Sansa with Littlefinger finally learning a few street smarts, and Arya out on her own to learn about death and how to inflict it. At one point Arya frustratingly crosses paths with Samwell Tarly on his journey to take elderly and ailing Maester Aemon Targaryen to safety, but neither recognises the other. That's two of Jon Snow's siblings Sam has met without being able to let Jon know they are still alive.

Through Brienne of Tarth's wanderings across war-torn Westeros in search of Sansa we get to see the effect of the War of the Five Kings on the people and the countryside. Sadly we lose all element of tension in Brienne's quest because we know she's looking in all the wrong places.

There's a subplot about the throne of the Iron Islands which honestly didn't excite me, but I'm prepared to concede this may well weave into other plot strands later.

Altogether, while not my favourite book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, it's certainly still a must-read. I've only got A Dance with Dragons to read now and then, like many longstanding fans, I'll be eagerly waiting for George to finish the next one.

18th Jul, 2014

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My Final Loncon Schedule

Here's my schedule for Loncon-3. Hope to see some of you there.

Extrapolation on Screen
Thursday 18:00 - 19:00, Capital Suite 4 (ExCeL)
SF on screen, even or perhaps especially at its most political, seems reluctant to extrapolate directly from our present time. Instead, political works such as The Hunger Games or Defiance are often set after a radical change; or avoid extrapolating at all by dealing in secrets and conspiracies, like Orphan Black and Person of Interest. Possible contemporary exceptions include Continuum and Almost Human, but why are they so uncommon? Are important questions being dodged, or can the absence of extrapolation be a strength (and if so, how)?
With: Alvaro Zinos-Amaro , Juliana Goulart, Michael Morelli, Adam Rakunas, Jacey Bedford

2014 Hugos: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Saturday 11:00 - 12:00, Capital Suite 13 (ExCeL)
The nominees for this year's Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form, are:

  • An Adventure in Space and Time written by Mark Gatiss, directed by Terry McDonough (BBC Television)

  • Doctor Who: “The Day of the Doctor” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Television)

  • Doctor Who: “The Name of the Doctor” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC Televison)

  • The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot written & directed by Peter Davison (BBC Television)

  • Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere” written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)

  • Orphan Black: “Variations under Domestication” written by Will Pascoe, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions; Space / BBC America)

But which should win? Our panel will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the nominees, try to second-guess the voters, and tell you what else should have been on the ballot.
With: Ashley Pollard, Iain Clark, Jacey Bedford, Abigail Brady, Saxon Bullock

Finding an Agent
Saturday 12:00 - 13:30, Capital Suite 16 (ExCeL)
A great query letter is all you need! Write a great manuscript and the rest doesn't matter! Network at conventions and you're in good shape! These nuggets of advice and dozens like them float around the writersphere as gospel. How many of these have a ring of truth? What is the secret to finding an agent? And what does an agent do once you have one? Our agents will decrypt the process.
With: Betsy Mitchell, Jacey Bedford, Joshua Bilmes, Ian Drury, John Jarrold

26th Jun, 2014

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Movie of the Week: Belle

Not our usual type of movie event - no SF for two weeks running - but oh how this made up for the appalling A Million Ways to Die in the West which we saw last week.

Dido_Elizabeth_BelleInsipred by a painting from 1779 - the first known to show a black person on the same eyeline level and therefore equal to an aristocratic white person - and based on a true story, this is a fictional account of a few years in the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral who is raised by her aristocratic great-uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, then Lord Chief Justice of England. Set in the late 1700s.

Dido grows up in his household, becomes the de-facto sister and best friend of his other ward, Elizabeth. There's an entirely fictional love story, nicely paced and nicely played, between Dido and a young lawyer. The setting is almost a character in itself, beautifully filmed with excellent costumes.

Good performances, too. Gugu Mbatha Raw is delightful as Dido, Sam Reid plays Davinier, Dido's love interest. Special mention to Tom Wilkinson as the sometimes stiff, but always human Murray and the wonderful Penelope Wilton (Harriet Jones, Prime Minister from Dr Who amongst other things) as the spinster Lady Mary

The film is purely fictional, but speculates how the presence of Dido in his household might have influenced Murray's ruling on the Zong massacre. The case was between the insurance company and the ship owners who claimed compensation for the loss of a cargo of slaves who were thrown overboard to drown, supposedly because of a dangerous lack of water, but in reality because they'd been kept in such poor conditions that they were diseased and had no resale value. The ship owners claimed £30 per head for 'spoiled cargo' which the insurance company contested.

Murray's ruling helped to open up the way for the abolitionist movement. It's interesting to note that, although the film makes no reference to it, it was also Murray who ruled on the earier Somersett case in 1772, which held that slavery was unsupported by the common law in England and Wales, and that a person, whatever his status, could not be removed from England against his will. This was one of the significant milestones in the fight to abolish slavery.

I didn't see Twelve Years a Slave, but in a quietly authoritative way Belle makes significant points about the history and horrors of the slave trade and the first steps to overturn it. Well worth seeing.

24th Jun, 2014

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Deep Into the First Draft

If I've been quiet on LJ lately it's because I'm now 70,000 words into the first draft of Crossways, the sequel to Empire of Dust (which comes out in November from DAW) and another Psi-tech novel. My three book deal is for two psi-tech novels and a completely unrelated historical fantasy, but the deeper I get into Crossways the more I'm thinking that this will not be the end of the Psi-Tech universe.

The hook line for Crossways is: 'What begins as a search for survivors becomes a battle for survival.'

I can't explain too much of the plot without spoilers for Empire, but things barely alluded to in Empire come to the fore in Crossways, including the nature of 'jumpgate travel' and what lies in wait for the unwary in foldspace. My characters have undergone a radical change in their lives and now must become independent of the corporate empire which spawned them. As always happens in any amorphous bunch of people, some go their own way and others rise to the surface. Some take a bit of a break in this book, but are already crying out for a book of their own. Some character seeds sown in Empire are starting to flower Crossways and (to continue the gardening theme) others are almost ready for pruning.

My delivery date is August, so I need to achieve about 10,000 words a week to complete my first draft by the end of July and give myself a little time for basic revision before i send it off to my editor. That's do-able.

I'm having fun.

20th Jun, 2014

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Movie of the Week: Edge of Tomorrow

Gorundhog Day meets Starship Troopers, but don't let that put you off. This is really good. It's time-loop story in which Cage (Tom Cruise) a public relations specialist with a nominal army rank of Major gets on the wrong side of someone with influence and ends up busted to the ranks without ever having gone through basic training. That's a bit of a problem because there's a war on - a war against implacable aliens.

It's a problem for our hero because he's... well... not excatly hero material and certainly not gung-ho. He bumbles his way through the first few moments of a beach landing without knowing how to take the safety off his weapon, but the aliens are overwhelming. Predictably he ends up dead... and suddenly his day resets itself. In fact every time he ends up dead he goes back to the same point in the worst day of his life, learning as he goes.

It's extremely well done, so you see enough of the repeats to get the differences and the forward steps, but not enough to get frustrated with it. Emily Blunt plays the female lead, tough super-soldier, Rita, who understands what's going on when no one else does.

This is an inventive take on the Hiroshi Sakurazaka novel "All You Need Is Kill" with a certain amount of humour injected into a bleak situatiuon. The aliens are convincing, the battle scenes are delivered with sufficient verisimilitude to make them viscerally realistic. The special effects are good but they don't dominate the characterisation. (A bonus for me.)

Go and see it. One of the better movies of the year so far.
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Movie of the Week: A Million Ways to Die in the West

Seen A Million Ways to Die in the West? My advice. Don't! Puerile, self-indulgent cobblers. And not funny. Watch the trailer and you'll have seen all the best bits. Not only that, but trailer scenes were actually edited together in such a way that it looked as though it was going to be funny. (And some of the scenes were different in the actual movie.) Talk about bait and switch...

I hope Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson got well paid for this because it would take a lot to suffer having this stinker on your IMDB resumee. In fairness they played it straight, and it was hardly their fault. Liam Neeson was suitably menacing as the bad guy and Charlize Theron as the capable gun-toting Westerner and love interest, but Seth McFarlane wrote it, directed it and starred in it. If it hasn't killed his Hollywoord career stone dead, it should do.

I'm not surprised that Patrick Stewart remained uncredited for his two lines as 'dream voice' but he was easily recognisable and (sorry Sir Pat, but...) IMDB gave the game away.

Imagine a dud Carry On movie with added bad taste, a lot of people saying fuck all the time and subtracted humour. Of course if you like shit and fart humour, go for it...

16th Jun, 2014

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My Loncon Schedule - Provisional

Looks like I’m going to have a busy morning on Saturday at Loncon3 in August. I get to spout guff about Doctor Whoish goodness and Red Wedding gore. And then sit on a panel with: an agent who rejected me, and an agent who made me an offer but whom I turned down (with much heart-searching) in favour of my present agent Amy Boggs of Donald Maass. Should be fun.

2014 Hugos: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Saturday 11:00 – 12:00

The nominees for this year’s Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form, are:

  • An Adventure in Space and Time written by Mark Gatiss, directed by Terry McDonough (BBC Television)

  • Doctor Who: “The Day of the Doctor” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Television)

  • Doctor Who: “The Name of the Doctor” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC Televison)

  • The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot written & directed by Peter Davison (BBC Television)

  • Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere” written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)

  • Orphan Black: “Variations under Domestication” written by Will Pascoe, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions; Space / BBC America)

But which should win? Our panel will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the nominees, try to second-guess the voters, and tell you what else should have been on the ballot.

With: Ashley Pollard Ms. (M) , Iain Clark , Jacey Bedford, Abigail Brady, Saxon Bullock.

Finding an Agent

Saturday 12:00 – 13:30

A great query letter is all you need! Write a great manuscript and the rest doesn’t matter! Network at conventions and you’re in good shape! These nuggets of advice and dozens like them float around the writersphere as gospel. How many of these have a ring of truth? What is the secret to finding an agent? And what does an agent do once you have one? Our agents will decrypt the process.

With: Betsy Mitchell (M), Jacey Bedford, Joshua Bilmes, Ian Drury, John Jarrold

9th Jun, 2014

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Book Log 8/2014 - Scott Lynch: The Republic of Thieves - Gentlemen Bastards #3

In the third outing for Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen the bondsmages finally catch up with them, but not in a way Locke was expecting. Instead of instant death he finds that the immediate problem he was left with at the end of the second Gentlemen Bastards book is solved by none other than the mother of his old enemy The Falconer.

Much against their will, Locke and Jean are hired to fix an election in Karthain to the benefit of one faction of bondsmages. There are rules. They have funds, which they must spend or lose, and they are to stop at outright murder. All other dirty tricks are allowed.

There is a problem, however. There always is when Locke's around. The opposing faction has hired Sabetha, Locke's lost love, previously mentioned, but never met. Sabetha, like Locke and Jean, was brought up as a Gentleman Bastard by Father Chains. She has all of Locke and Jean's skills and a streak of utter ruthlessness. What's more she's not tongue tied and helpless in Locke's presence as he is in hers.

It's an interesting situation. While Sabetha gets the jump on them, initially, Locke is vividly reminded of their shared past and so we get two stories: the election and the rekindling of Locke and Sabetha's relationship, and the story of their childhood and the first flowering of shared passion.

And who wins the election in the end? You'll have to read the book to find out, but suffice it to say there's bound to be another book – which is good news.

Highly recommended.
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Book Log 7/2014 - Ann Leckie: Ancillary Justice - Ancillary #1

Breq was a space ship, the Justice of Toren, equipped with enough power to destroy planets and enough ancillaries to invade and conquer 'uncivilised' worlds in Radch 'annexations', however now she's just Breq, human (more or less) and alone despite her memories. She's the last surviving ancillary (corpse soldier) of the One Esk division, of Justice of Toren, and she has a self-imposed mission.

There are two stories here, the one happening in the now, and the backstory that led up to it. In one Breq is alone, in the other, she's an omnicient AI running a ship full of ancillaries and human officers.

The action opens on an icy planet when Breq, in pursuit of an artefact she needs to complete her mission, comes across Seivarden, once a lieutenant on Justice of Toren a thousand years before. Old habits die hard and without really justifying it as an act of kindness Breq rescues Seivarden and ends up acting as a nursemaid. Seivarden is a recovering junkie, driven to dark places after jumping the intervening millennium in cryo-stasis and waking up in a universe that seems to make no sense.

Breq and Seivarden hardly seem to like each other, but their paths intertwine, at first almost accidentally and then with growing reliance.

To be honest the beginning seemed a bit slow because there are so many ideas in here and the set up requires an understanding of the way all Justice of Toren's ancillaries are a part of the central ship's intelligence, each one fully aware of the whole. But once I got over the initial strangeness I found that Leckie does a marvellous job of writing this without making it too confusing for the reader. One Esk comprises twenty linked individuals and each one is referred to as I, but it works.

Pronouns are confusing too, at first. Everyone is referred to as she, whether they have a curvy or straight physique, and you get very few clues as to what gender individuals are, which actually works well in this context. Breq has problems with pronouns in the non-Radch worlds because she can't get the hang of gendered pronouns and sometimes makes the wrong call.

As an adjunct of an AI you'd expect Breq to have no emotions, and, indeed, she can and does carry out instructions from her superior officers even if that means going against her personal feelings. It's one of these actions that she's forced to carry out that drives the plot and we do discover that Breq has feelings, she just doesn't express them in quite the same way as we might expect.

This is a book with big ideas, that doesn't sacrifice characterisation for ideas and though Breq's future seems inevitable, we find that there are choices which depend on personalities as well as logic.

Intelligent, thoughtful, complex and engaging, this is one of those books that you end up thinking about long after you've read the last page and closed the volume. It deserves all the awards it's up for.
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Book Log 6/2014 - Joss Whedon and others: Serenity – Those Left Behind - Firefly

I don't read comics, I have some difficulty identifying characters from the drawings – whether that's a fault in the artwork or a fault in my perception is a moot point. However I'm a Firefly fan and a Joss Whedon fan and this full colour hardback seems to be the only way to get this story, so I splashed out. It's a beautifully presented with extras such as the pre-production memo for Serenity (the movie). And I can more or less tell which character is which, so a win for the illustrator, Will Conrad.

The story bridges the gap between the last episode of the Firefly TV series and the beginning of Serenity, the movie. It sees the return of Agent Dobson, with a grudge, and the Hands of Blue. It leads up to the departure of Inara and Shepherd Book and leads into the (unnamed) agent who becomes the antagonist in the movie. The story is hardly complete in itself, just a brief episode in the lives of Serenity's crew, but it does fill a hole – and anything Firefly is fine by me.

NHot a good starting point for Firefly, however, so if you haven't bought the boxed set TV series (and why not?), doo yourself a massive favour and  buy it now. Watch the TV series, watch the movie and then fill in the gap with this.
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Book Log 5/2014 - Scott Lynch: Red Seas Under Red Skies - Gentlemen Bastards # 2

I really enjoyed the first Gentleman Bastards book, The Lies of Locke Lamora. This one picks up where that one left off – though some of the story is told in flashback and you gradually piece together everything that's happened. Locke and Jean are out on their own, exiled from Camorr, bitterly missing dead comrades, running a major con against the powerful owner of what appears to be a mega-casino, a heavily-guarded elderglass tower full of many ways to part fools and their money. The scam is almost complete, but then fate and politics intervene in equal measures. Repercussions from their clash with the evil bondsmage, The Falconer, in the first book start to catch up with them, while the ruler of the city decides that they are the perfect people to go out and stir up a pirate rebellion on his behalf, and he takes drastic measures to ensure their compliance. Scam collapses in on scam and Locke and Jean are all at sea – in more ways than one.

Scott Lynch is an author not afraid to be cruel to his characters. Both Locke and Jean are put through the mill, physically and emotionally and the ending, while a win of sorts, is bittersweet as it leaves them in a precarious place ready for the next book, Republic of Thieves, which, of course, I had to buy for my Kindle immediately.

6th Jun, 2014

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Have a bit more local history

A couple of comments on my previous local history post got me thinking about Birdsedge.

penistone road sepiaIt's not old as English villages go. There are some old farmsteads dating back to the 1600s, and some cottages in the village show signs of having had weavers' galleries on the top floor (very recognisable by the windows), but the village as it is now didn't really spring into being until the industrial revolution brought the weaving trade out of the cottages and into the mills. I'm guessing most of the older houses (terraced cottages mostly) were built between 1770 and 1830. They were probably buit to house millworkers as the mill in the village grew. Most of them were one-up-one-down and according to the census returns people were raising families with eight or nine children in these tiny two-room houses. The ones nearest to the camera in the forst picture look to be two rooms deep, but we think they were originally built as back-to-backs. The ones furthest away from the camera are only one room deep. Yes, that's a gas lamp halfway along the row. These two pics were probably taken some time between 1905 and 1911. The building that sticks forward on to the roadside furthest from the camera is now the village hall, but it was then a school, built by two Quaker benefactors soon after the 1870 education act. It wasn't until 1911 that they built the current 'council' school.

Birdsedge MillThe River Dearne rises behind our house and there's a small dam, which drains into a culvert beneath the road and thence into the mill dam proper. The undershot water wheel (once at the extreme left hand edge of the mill photo) is long gone, but the course of the mill race is still visible. More importantly, the mill dam in Birdsedge controls the water flow into the Dearne from here to Denby Dale, the next village down the valley. The Hinchliffe family, which owns the mill in Denby Dale, also owns the mill in Birdsedge, and I suspect the water flow is the main reason they've kept it going as a viable working mill. Of course the water isn't used for power in Denby Dale, but they do still actively dam it, so I expect it's used in some kind of process.

I must ask James Hinchliffe when next I see him.

sunside cottagessepiaIn a cottage-weaving situation several families would collaborate to buy one or two hand looms, and keep them working as long as there was light to see by (which in summer, in this part of the worlc, can be from 4.30 a.m. to 10.30 p.m.). Though some weavers' lofts were individual, some spanned several houses. I suspect that might be the case with the first three cottages here at Sunside. If you look carefully there are blocked up windows at either side of the upper ones (and at the back, too). Only the first three cottages were built as housing, the rest of the row was part of a farm range which was converted to three dwellings some time between 1905 and 1911. In an earlier photo you can quite clearly see a tall barn door where, in this picture, is a lighter patch of front wall. Barn conversions are not a new idea. (The farm house is part of the same structure, but is round the back)

sunside rear 1960sYou can see blocked up weavers' windows much more clearly on this 1960s photo of the back of Sunside cottages. Imagine the light in that gallery with a long row of mullioned windows at both the front and back of the gallery. Compare the size of the domestic windows downstairs where it was more important to keep heat in even if it meant shutting light out.

Sunside farmhouseAnd here is the farm house. The photo is probably from the 1960s. It remains a farm - or rather a smallholding - to this day.

crownsepiaIt's a bit more prosperous looking, but the top floor of what was the Crown Inn was obviously a weavers' gallery. The mullions of long-blind windows are still very obvious. I can see this building from my front window. It's still lovely and is now an artist's gallery rather than a weaver's one.

Having a weavers gallery on a third floor was fairly common, giving more space to the family. The weavers at Sunside must have been amongst the poorest, probably each family living in just one room and sleeping upstairs next to their looms.
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The World Before

I responded to a post in Jaine Fenn's blog 'Tales from the Garret' and realised that it makes a perfectly sensible blog post on its own, so here it is, tweaked, and with added local history photos.

It's fascinating how the world we live in has layers from the world before.

BB and I live in a sort of cottage with later accretions, possibly built about 1800 - it's hard to tell because bits of it certainly were and bits weren't. The new extension is about 1890 - anyhow, I digress...

In the first pic our house is hidden behind the clump of trees just to the left of marker point A, which is our road. If you look very carefully you can see smoke from a domestic chiumney trickling up from just behind the trees.

village1905Step out of our front door and turn left up the lane. (The start of the lane is marked A on the first pic - taken about 1905.) In less than a hundred yards the tarmac peters out into a farm track between dry stone walls. In a quarter mile or thereabouts the far end of the track rejoins a spiderweb of narrow country lanes at Five Lane Ends which is just about on the hotrizon.

Cross over, more or less direct, and follow your nose up and over the ridge and down the steep twist to a pub (which has suffered many inappropriate name changes, but used to be called The Junction). There, at Gate Foot, the old road intersects with a newer 'turnpike' road, laid down by entrepreneurs in the late 1700s. Ignore the turnpike and cross over. Up another twisty lane (praying you don't meet a tractor because it's barely wide enough for two small cars to pass) and you crest the hill at Snowgate Head (uncharmingly pronounced Snoggit 'Ead, locally). From there you twist again and drop down into New Mill, past the church, which you can't even see from the turnpike road, the bypass of its day.

This little twisty lane used to be the main coach road from Birdsedge to New Mill and - beyond it - Holmfirth, and from there up and over Holme Moss to the Woodhead Pass, over the Pennines, an inhospitable 11 mile crossing into North Derbyshire and Lancashire that you probably didn't want to attempt in winter except, perhaps, with a native guide and a sturdy pack-horse.

The main road through our village is another turnpike road - one actually built by Blind Jack of Knaresborough (Thomas Telford) which is a name I recall from junior school history projects without ever expecting to live so close to one of his actual roads. If you stand outside our front door and look to the right, down the hill, and imagine the main A629 isn't there, you can see the tiny track that shows the continuation of this 'main road' in the opposite direction. (Just to the left of B in the first pic) There are still traces of it between dry stone walls as it passes (C) a farm of unknown age (datestone 1642, but that may have been for alterations) and continues up to Quaker Bottom (along the line of the stone wall a D) where it is lost.

fortystepsThere's a footpath continuing from Quaker Bottom, but not a 'road' suitable for horsedrawn vehicles, so at that point the new road and the old road may well run along the same track.

The past is not always another country. It's right beneath our feet.

28th May, 2014

blue eyes

Movie of the Week: X-Men: Days of Future Past

The movie opens in 2023 with the last of the X-Men being hunted by hugely powerful 'sentinels' who are systematically wiping out mutants and any humans who help them. Professor X (magically alive again with no explanation as if X-Men Last Stand never happened) gets Kitty Pryde to send Wolverine's consciousness back into the body of his younger self in 1973. His mission: to prevent Raven/Mystique from assassinating Bolivar Trask (creator of the sentinels) and setting in motion the war between the mutants and hoimo sapiens. To achieve this, he has to persuade the much younger Charles Xavier to work with his old frenemy Erik Lehnsherr, Magneto. Meanwhile Trask (Peter Dinklage) has been experimenting on mutants and killing them and Mystique is out for blood.

It's fast-paced and engaging. Young Charles is as a low ebb and feeling very sorry for himself. Having been shot and paralysed at the end of X-Men First Class, he's now on his feet again, but the drug that keeps him walking supresses his mind powers and he has a hard choice to make.

At one point they engage the services of teenage Quicksilver (Evan Peters) to get to Erik and then for some reason known only to the scriptwriters they send him home again when almost everything that happens in the final showdown could have been avoided or mitigated if he'd been on-side. Duh!

It's a fun movie, however, and we get all the big guns, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy and this time we have Jennifer Lawrence as Raven/Mystique. There are cameos from all of the X-Men regulars and a nice turn from Peter Dinklage as the scientist/businessman pushing the government to buy into the Sentinel project..

I enjoyed it - despite wondering how Mystique manages to look so good even though she is (in this version) the same age as Professor X and Magneto, and despite the X-Men timelines being irretrievably screwed. It does seem odd, however, when the Avengers and all their contributory individual character movies manage to sing from the same hymn sheet, how X-Men can't seem to decide what's canon and what isn't.

Though the time-travel reset button at the end does give many more possibilities for future movies.

22nd May, 2014

blue eyes

Massive Library Fail

Earlier this morning I listened to an item on BBC Radio4 about the importance of libraries, in particular about the importance of establishing the reading habit early and often. It's what I spent my early years pushing, firstly in Wakefield, freshly minted from Library School and then in Barnsley as Children's Librarian.

It's just come to my attention that despite a huge petition from users, Barnsley is about to close and demolish its central library - a building only opened in 1975. Apparently this is not because the library is not fit for purpose, but because it occupies part of the site, on Shambles Street, required for a new sixth form college.

civic frontWhen I first got the Barnsley job in 1972, the central library was housed in the Victorian Civic Hall (once the Public Hall), smack bang in the middle of town, on the main shopping street, just a blink from the bus station and a step or two from the market. Say Victorian and library in the same breath and you already know the sort of place. Monolithic entrance hallway (doubling up as the entrance for the theatre upstairs), polished wood, high ceilings, decorative plaster work, Victorian tiled floors. The scent of old paper permeated the whole building except when it was overtaken by the stench of decaying rat following the local council's annual purge with rat poison, which was sadly spread about without a scheme to remove the corpses from the heating pipe channels beneath the floor grills. (There are many interesting stories about the building from the Victorian disaster in which nine children were crushed to death on a staircase in a fire panic to the visiting circus which let a tiger escape in the back yard... but I digress...)

My department was the only one at the front of the building (top picture), occupying the space behind the arched windows on the first floor to the photographic left of the main entrance. There was no canopy over the front door in those days, so the huge arch was much more impressive. In truth I was comfortable in that space - it was the library I'd grown up using, never dreaming that it would eventually become mine to look after. But it was old-fashioned and we knew we could do so much better.

I worked at the old library in the Civic Hall for three years, and then the new one on Shambles Street for another three, and well remember the move from one to the other in February 1975. Because the council was too mean to pay for a proper specialised removal service the library staff had to do it (90% of us female) and we were only allowed to close for 2 weeks. We physically moved all the books in the first week (thousands upon thousands of them) and then spent the second week shelving and getting ready for the grand opening. Probably the most tiring two weeks of my working life. Those of us in charge of departments weren't exempt from hauling heavy boxes.

NewCentralLibraryIn case people forget - Barnsley's new library was - at the time - cutting edge. Just having a coffee bar in there and a children's story room, homework room, 'teenage' collection and an exhibition space, not to mention a music library and an archives section, may be fairly standard now, but it was all pretty new for libraries at the time.

I was given the opportunity to work on the design brief and floor-plan for the interior of the new children's library and though I didn't get everything that I asked for I did get most of it: my 'teen' section (in the very early days of Young Adult book publishing), a separate (quiet) homework room and an inviting shelf layout, though we all had to put up with the architect's doughnut-shaped counters. Whose bright idea was that, I wonder? (The thing about circular curved counters is that... books are square. Duh!)

Don't forget this was in the wake of the trauma of the massive Local Government Reorganisation in 1974 when Barnsley's library service had suddenly expanded from just three branch libraries to over 30 branches and a mobile service. We'd inherited a chunk of West Riding County Library Service buildings, staff and books in the local authority shuffle as Barnsley Borough had become a much bigger Metropolitan Borough with the loss of the West Riding and the creation of South Yorkshire. (Don't get me started on that one. Just dont...)

Never underestimate the amount of storage needed for books and materials. When we moved from the Civic all the books we had would not fit into the Shambles Street library due to the architects misinforming us about the dimensions of the bookshelves. We'd carefully calculated the mileage of shelves required on the information given - that the shelving bays were all a full metre wide with so many bays and so many shelves to a bay - but when we got into the new building, although the number of bays tallied, a considerable number of them were much less than a metre wide, some as narrow as 70 centimetres. That's a lot of shelf space to lose. The cumulative result being more books than shelf space. Big oops. (Thanks, Lanchester and Lodge, Architects.) Any new library building needs book space and people space - not only the public space, but behind-the-scenes work space, office space and 'stack' space for the books not on display. It needs vehicle access and a loading bay. (Hey, book deliveries are heavy!)

But apart from a few niggles, which we worked around, we did get out new library and it was mighty. We were only the 2nd library service in the whole country to computerise cataloguing and book issue (Oxford was the first). That was forty years ago. It's still fit for purpose, but now the council wants to demolish a built-to-order central library because it occupies a corner of a site they can redevelop to use for a new sixth form college. Thing is... they haven't made decent provision for a replacement. If I've absorbed the council's intentions correctly they are talking about moving their library service into what used to be the Co-op's Arcadian restaurant - another Victorian building entirely unsuitable for conversion to a library space and out on a limb on the edge of the town centre.

Hey, how about moving the library back to the Civic? At least it's nice and central. Barnsley would only be slipping back in time forty years instead of a hundred.

The Shambles Street library is a good facility, but it was always in the wrong place. The central library needs to be in the middle of town - not stuck in the old Arcadian buildings - which would be a doubly retrograde step.

I believe that petitions from library users have finally gained a promise that a new central library will be built 'in the town centre' in 'three or four years'. Well jolly good - if it happens. When it happens. I lived through the building of the Shambles Street library. The late Tom Hayes, then Chief Librarian, fought for it in committees for years, then the job was put out to tender (architects first and then builders). I still have the brochure from the opening. It says the design brief was submitted to the architects in 1968 - so by that time the council had been persuaded, set aside funds, the land acquired and the architects selected. From the design brief being submitted to the library opening took 8 years. Therefore from inception to opening took closer to a decade or more. Three or four years is more than ambitious. Besides... have they even got a suitable site in the town centre? Perhaps they could pull down some other new purpose-built building to make way for it. The Market Hall perhaps. Yeah, right!

Epic FAIL, Barnsley.

20th May, 2014

blue eyes

Guest Blog 2: Gaie Sebold - How (Not) To Write A Steampunk Novel

Please welcome the lovely and talented Gaie Sebold as my second guest blogger.

Shanghai Sparrow 200 pxHow (Not) To Write A Steampunk Novel

To start with, I didn’t actually really intend to write what ended up as a fantasy Victorian spy adventure, with a trickster heroine, set partly in 19th century Shanghai.  It just sort of happened.

I had one of those conversations, you know the way you do, about this idea that might be quite fun, which I hadn’t really thought through in any way at all, and then someone said how about you send us a proposal?

At which point I made that gulping noise, the one cartoon characters make where a big comedy bump sproings up and down their throat, and said, OK sure no problem.  Then I ran away to find a large glass of wine and hide in it.

Because I’d never done a proposal before.  And the writing sort is probably not quite as scary as getting down on one knee before the love of your life with intent to wed, or at least find out if they wouldn’t throw their arms up in horror at the very idea, but from my point of view it was pretty damn close.  I wasn’t committing myself to a life of togetherness but I was committing myself to trying to write down all the ideas that make up an entire novel.  In a few pages and fewer weeks.

Which meant I had to have them first.  And since what I had at the time of the gulp-making conversation was more a sort of tra-la-la airy sketch, not so much an embryo novel as a single lonely spermatozoa swimming around, looking lost, this was a bit of a challenge.  

I did eventually come up with something that might look like a proper professional proposal through the wrong end of a telescope, if you squinted a lot.  Amazingly, my publishers went for it.

(I haven’t dared look at it since; I have no idea how much the finished novel ended up resembling that trembling and tear-stained mess – and yes I know emails can’t actually be tear-stained, but its very pixels were, I swear, imbued with trauma).

I read a lot about C19th Shanghai and China and the Opium Wars and re-read Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor and got quite depressed, because there was a lot of thoroughly ghastly behaviour going on and many people were having a very, very bad time.  And the idea of trying to write about this and turn it into anything other than a wail of nihilistic despair – which I was fairly sure wasn’t what the publisher was hoping for - was a teensy bit daunting. 

But gradually Eveline Duchen, my heroine, started to come into focus among all the grimness.  A bolshie, determined, spiky young woman who’d survived by the skin of her teeth and developed a snarky sense of humour along the way.  Other interesting characters turned up.  I got to spend a lot of time looking up various outrageous Victorian phraseology and weird inventions and make up a few of my own, and things happened and there was stuff and somewhere in there among the rampant panic and utter conviction that I had no idea what I was doing I started having fun .

And somehow, eventually, I had a book.

And then I fell over for a few days, and then the editing notes came back, and then there was a cover, and there was a launch, and I was signing copies of a steampunk spy adventure story that I seemed to have written, still not entirely sure how all this had happened.
But it’s there, and it has a beautiful cover that I adore so much I’d marry it if it would have me.  And so far people mostly seem to like it, which is nice.

What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that it’s a funny business, this writing lark, and if you can find a way of doing it that involves less panic and slightly more certainty about what you’re doing, then you probably should, but sometimes things work out all right even when you are in a total flap about it all.

Besides, since then I’ve just about learned how to write a proper proposal.  Sort of.  Well, I had to, since they appear to be a necessary part of being a real grown-up author.   Which I suppose I am, now.  And I’m still not entirely sure how that happened, either…

Shanghai Sparrow

Eveline Duchen is a thief and con-artist, surviving day by day on the streets of London, where the glittering spires of progress rise on the straining backs of the poor and disenfranchised. Where the Folk, the otherworldly children of fairy tales and legends, have all but withdrawn from the smoke of the furnaces and the clamour of iron.

Caught in an act of deception by the implacable Mr Holmforth, Evvie is offered a stark choice: transportation to the colonies, or an education – and utter commitment to Her Majesty’s Service – at Miss Cairngrim’s harsh school for female spies.

But on the decadent streets of Shanghai, where the corruption of the Empire is laid bare, Holmforth is about to make a devil’s bargain, and Eveline’s choices could change the future of two worlds...

GaieSebold200pxAbout Gaie Sebold
Gaie Sebold’s debut novel introduced brothel-owning ex-avatar of sex and war, Babylon Steel (Solaris, 2012); the sequel, Dangerous Gifts, came out in 2013. Shanghai Sparrow, a steampunk fantasy, came out from Solaris in May 2014. She has published short stories and poetry, and had jobs involving archaeology, actors, astronomers, architecture, and art: most of them have also involved proofreading. She now writes, runs writing workshops, grows vegetables, procrastinates to professional standard and occasionally runs around in woods hitting people with latex weapons.
Find out more at 

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17th May, 2014

blue eyes

Movie of the Week: Spiderman 2

What a mess! More precisely what a storytelling mess!

With Spiderman 3 and 4 already on the stocks this doesn't even have the excuse of being the middle film in a trilogy, but there are storytelling strands unravelling all over the place like an old cardigan.

Amongst other things Spidey toughs it out with Electro, (Jamie Foxx) whose near fatal dip with a tank full of electric eels not only manages to electrify him, but also manages to fix the gap in his front teeth. The Rhino (Paul Giamatti) seems to have been thrown in as an afterthought. There's a real mishmash encompassing Peter's relationship with Gwen, his friendship with Harry Osborn, his discovery of what his dad had been up to, Norman Osborne's mad plans and, apparently, we still have the whole Mary Jane saga to come (in Spidey 3 and 4). At one point Peter finds his Dad's secret workplace/hideout and we discover that his dad's last desperate message, a message he'd managed to heroically and dramatically send in the movie opening (while in the process of seeing his wife killed and being murdered himself), actually had zero significance at all except for the purposes of being found fifteen years later by the son he could never reasonably believe would see it. And then it's never mentioned again... duh!

When the big dramatic moment in the movie happened I honestly couldn't bring myself to care. Oh dear.

I can only think that in trying to pave the way for the plot bunnies in the next two movies they've lost the plot completely with this one.

Maybe it was too soon for a Spiderman reboot. Hey, Hollywood, how about a few more new stories instead of rehashing Superman and Spidey before the previous versions have gone cold? If you're going to redo something that's been done fairly recently, you have to a) bring something new to it and b) do it better than the original. Christian Bale's Batman suceeded because it was tons better than its predecessors. Sadly Spiderman is just... a bit different.

Recommendation? Go and see 'Divergent' instead.

8th May, 2014

blue eyes

Writers Blog Tour

JB at Novacon42-2012I’ve been nominated to take part in this ongoing initiative by Neil Williamson, following on from Liz Williams, and before her Claire Weaver. Do go and read their excellent posts too. The rules are that you answeer the four questions below and then tag three more writers. Nominated next on the blog tour: Sherwood Smith, Jaine Fenn and Kari Sperring. Check their blogs over the next weeks.

1. What am I working on?
Crossways, a sequel to Empire of Dust which is due out from DAW on 4th November 2014. Both are science fiction / space operas set in my Psi Tech Universe in which mega corporations are more powerful than any one planetary government, even that of Earth. They race each other to gobble up resources across the galaxy, seeding and controlling colonies, using as their agents the implant-enhanced psi-techs they have created.

The psi-techs are bound to the mega-corps, that is, if they want to retain their sanity.

The first book introduces Cara Carlinni and Reska 'Ben' Benjamin and puts them through a fair amount of torment, setting them at odds with their former bosses and aligning them with Crossways, a huge free-trade space habitat governed by an uneasy alliance of career criminals and fugitives.

The second book is a direct sequel in which a hunt for survivors turns into a battle for survival.

2. How does my work differ from others in my genre?
I think it would be massively pompous of me to suggest that I'm writing something new and different. I'm pretty sure everything has been done before is some way, by someone, but take any one idea and give it to ten different writers and you'll have ten different stories. Mine is character-driven space opera. I'm sure there's a lot of it about, but hopefully my characters and their predicaments will engage you. I write action and adventure set on new worlds, in space, or in a version of the past that never existed. I don't shy away from relationships. My three book deal with DAW starts off with two linked science fiction novels and then diversifies because my third book is a historical fantasy set in 1800 with magic and includes a cross-dressing pirate captain, a jealous ghost, a wolf shapechanger and a two hundred year old problem that has to be solved to right a wrong.

3. Why do I write what I do?
Stories just demand to be written. And once I've started, characters won't let me stop until I've resolved their problems and let them off the hook. (or maybe until they've let me off the hook.) I write both science fiction and fantasy, anything with an element of 'made-up-stuff', whether far future, distant past or alternate worlds. I'm not a reader of 'mundane' fiction so I'd never write it. I've always been attracted to read speculative or (sometimes) historical fiction. I live in the present day, I don't have to read or write about it.

4. How does my writing process work?

I tend to get an idea for a scene on my head – an opening, maybe, though it doesn't always end up at the beginning of the book – and then I just write and let words fall out of my fingers and on to the screen. At that stage I'm writing to see what happens, who my character is and to discover the key problem that needs to be resolved. As I write things tend to coalesce in my brain and usually by the end of the first chapter, maybe five thousand words, I've started to form an idea about where the story is heading. The idea for the resolution usually follows on fairly quickly from the discovery of the initial problem, but the middle bit is usually very flexible at that stage.

Once ideas have started to fall into some kind of logical order I will start to make notes and plan though there can often be sections that are glossed over. My initial plan might not me much more than: 1) It begins; 2) Stuff happens; 3) It ends. Once I have the skeleton in place I'll start to flesh out characters, work out their backgrounds and start to explore my world. That's the point at which I can get sidetracked into endless research if I'm not careful.

Yes, even though I make stuff up it still needs to feel real, and therefore I need to hang it on facts. Even if it's not real, it has to feel as though it could be. Whether set in the past or the future I'm really looking for those details that will give me verisimilitude. For instance, my privateer ship in the historical fantasy book is based on a real ship and even though I've invented an island country in the middle of the North Atlantic, it's still 1800, Mad King George is on the throne, the Americans have fought the British for independence and Napoleon is still hammering at the gates of Europe.

Research aside, eventually I have to sit down and write. I work from home. I'm a booking agent for folk bands and performers touring the UK from all over the world so I'm at my desk for more hours a day than is strictly healthy. I intersperse the day job work with the writing. I wish I could say I have a strict system, but I don't. Sometimes there's a lot of day job work that has an impending deadline which takes precedent. Other times I might get two solid days writing. Quite often my writing happens late at night after the world has gone quiet and the phone has stopped ringing and no one wants a piece of me. I have been known to write ten thousand words in a day, though I can't keep that up for long. I have achieved fifty thousand words in three weeks, though it was a Herculean effort and I needed a few days lie down in a darkened room afterwards. I do try to write something every day, though, even if it's only 500 words.

The first draft is only the beginning, of course. After that follows extensive revision – usually after a cooling off period. I enjoy the revision process and often rewrite scenes, add in extras, move things round and remove superfluous characters and scenes. Thanks to Scrivener it's easy to work through on a scene by scene basis and then recompile it into one single doc file afterwards.

I like writing to find out what's going to happen but I also love revision. Reshaping the rough draft into something approaching usable. I find it hard to put the brush down and to know when it's finished, of course, but luckily my lovely editor at DAW now has the final say on that.

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7th May, 2014

blue eyes

Movie of the Week: Transcendence

H and I have missed our usual weekly moviegoing for the last few weeks due to a) being busy and b) absolutely nothing we wanted to see, but this week was a choice between Spiderman 2 and Transcendence and we figured Spidey would still be on next week, but Transcendence might... transcend. In fact it's already departed our local Cineworld, so we had to go to Batley to the big Showcase Cinema close to Ikea. (Which, of course, meant a quick trip round the Scabdinavian rat-run of retail delight.)

So Transcendence: some mixed reviews, but it was interesting and enjoyable, if a little slow at times. Slow is not necessarily a criticism, of course, and long as there's something to think about, which there is.

Dr Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is working towards creating an omniscient, sentient computer together with his wife Evelyn (Scarlett Johannson lookalike Rebecca Hall), but an attack on multiple fronts by a radical anti-tech group wipes out ten years of reseach at many different labs across North America and leaves Will dying by degtrees. He has barely a month to live. Desperate to preserve something of her husband, Evelyn persuades Will and their friend Max that though his body may die his intelligence and personality can be uploaded.

Uploading, or transcendence, is only the start of the story, though and when the transcended Will is let loose on the internet, you know things are not going to go as planned.

Much as I love Johnny Depp, who underplays Will beautifully, this film belongs to Paul Bettany as Max, the conflicted scientist who loves Will and Evelyn, but fears what they are doing. There's also a good turn from Morgan Freeman as the older mentor-figure. Maybe starting at the end and then filling in the blanks reduces the film's dramatic tension, but this isn't a movie stuffed full of car chases (thank goodness) but about ethics and consequences... and love.

It may not be for everybody but I enjoyed it.

3rd May, 2014

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Guest Blog 1: Ben Jeapes - Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations

Please welcome Ben Jeapes as the first in a series of guest blogs by science fiction and fantasy authors.

Infinite diversity in infinite combinations
By Ben Jeapes

phoenicia1I read Lois McMaster Bujold’s Barrayar series at various points over the 90s and 00s, out of order and out of sequence, which is easy to do as they weren’t even published in order of internal chronology to start with. Last year I read what is probably the last to be published, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which is a nice coda to the series in general, tying up the story of the hapless, much loved spear carrier Ivan Vorpatril. Much of that story is told from the point of view of a complete stranger to Barrayar, and the narrative drops in shovelfuls of references to events throughout the earlier books. So much so that I decided there was nothing for it but to re-read the whole series, in internal order, starting with Shards of Honor and bracing myself months in advance for the final 500 words of Cryoburn, which it is scientifically impossible to read without welling up. (But that’s another matter.)

And as I read, I thought … hmm.

So, that’s where I got it from.


Barrayar was settled by human colonists who were stranded on a hostile, barely terraformed planet when the sole wormhole linking them to the rest of the galaxy closed. That’s all pre-history to the series. Bujold gives us few details but it is clear that considerable social and ethnic upheaval followed until finally the planet was united under one Emperor, which was far from perfect but it stopped people killing each other so who’s complaining? But the Barrayarans clearly kept their memories alive and always knew whence they had come; hence, following their rediscovery by galactic civilisation six centuries later, within one man’s lifetime they go quite plausibly from a semi-feudal Hapsburgesque horse-powered empire to an empire of three planets, and a significant galactic power.

Which is totally unlike the hostile, barely terraformed planet La Nueva Temporada in my novel Phoenicia’s Worlds, which is settled by human colonists who are stranded when the sole wormhole linking them to the rest of the galaxy - well, Earth, there aren’t any other colonies - closes, and considerable social and ethnic upheaval follows.

And as if that wasn’t enough, my journey through the series has just brought me to the end of Komarr. The plot of which kicks off with our hero’s arrival on the titular world to investigate a possible act of sabotage that could stymie the terraforming process and render Komarr forever uninhabitable. Quite unlike the possible act of sabotage that stymies Nueva’s terraforming process and threatens to render the planet forever uninhabitable (to the considerable inconvenience of the 60 million humans inhabiting it at the time). I know for a fact that I last read Komarr in the late 90s, around the time I first began having the thoughts that would manifest themselves one day as Phoenicia’s Worlds ...

I had genuinely, honestly forgotten that. I remembered how I was influenced by thoughts of the SOE and Augusto Pinochet; I remembered the broad strokes that helped me paint the picture; but I had forgotten Barrayar.

But, hey, so what? To any eyes but mine, that is where the similarity ends. Barrayar isn’t the first reverted human colony in science fiction either, and my Nuevans have one lifeline the Barrayarans didn’t - a slower than light starship, the eponymous Phoenicia, which can carry our hero on the 40-year journey back to Earth whence the wormhole can be re-opened. All the Nuevans have to do is keep alive for 40 years. Simple, surely? And not even the most jaded eye could see the sections of the novel that are set on La Nueva Temporada as speculative fanfic set on Barrayar in the early years of the Time of Isolation.

And even if it were, again I say - cry, even - pish and tush! So what?

In a pleasantly perceptive review - by which I mean, they liked it, and they Got It, and I agree with most of their points - Locus observed that Phoenicia’s Worlds "draws on a wide range of SF conventions, tropes, inventions and machineries ... There are space elevators, orbiting pseudo-suns, matter-annihilation starship drives, wormholes that depend on quantum-entangled particle pairs, and so on. But the book seems more interested in those conventions as story enables than as Nifty Ideas in their own right - they are just there, Heinlein-style, as part of the environment the way they might appear to a character".

Got it! They are indeed just there, and they have been since I was yay high. These are the building blocks of SF that I grew up with. These are our common heritage and we can build them up in any way we like. That is how it should be. I was also amused by the reviewer’s advice to readers, in describing the Nuevan set up, to “think of John Barnes’ Thousand Cultures stories”. Of which I’ve never heard; if anything my attitude towards future human cultures is informed by Cordwainer Smith’s Rediscovery of Man - a belief that we’re all heading towards some kind of homogeneity so ghastly that we will start to invent, or reinvent from the past, exciting cultural differences to break the monotony. But all that means in this case is that I repurposed someone else’s wheel.

Barrayar itself grew out of Bujold’s early Trek fanfic. And I’ll let you into a little secret. Jacey’s novel, when it comes out - and I’m hugely looking forward to it - May Contain Spaceships. She too will have taken the building blocks available to us all, and made something new and unexpected and never seen before out of them. I can’t wait.

Infinite diversity in infinite combinations, as the man said. It’s the only way to go.

Ben Jeapes 200About Ben Jeapes
An overdose of TV science fiction as a child doomed Ben Jeapes to life as a science fiction author. He took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be quite easy (it isn’t) and save him from having to get a real job (it didn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of several novels and short stories, he is also an experienced journal editor, book publisher and technical writer. His novels to date are His Majesty’s Starship, The Xenocide Mission, Time’s Chariot, The New World Order and Phoenicia’s Worlds. His short story collection Jeapes Japes is available form Wizard’s Tower Press.

His ambition is to live to be 101 and 7 months, so as to reach the 1000th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings and the arrival – as family lore has it – of the man responsible for his surname in the British Isles. He is English, and is as quietly proud of the fact as you would expect of the descendant of a Danish mercenary who fought for a bunch of Norsemen living in northern France.
He lives in Abingdon-on-Thames and his homepage is at

25th Apr, 2014

blue eyes

Cover Reveal: Empire of Dust

So excited to get my cover from DAW. The cover illustration is by the wonderful Stephan Martiniere. The book is due out on 4th November 2014
blue eyes


Empire of Dust - a Psi-Tech Novel
By Jacey Bedford (me!)

Whoo-hoo... really jazzed to discover that my upcoming novel (sans cover illustration unfortunately) is already up at Amazon for pre order. It's not out until 4th November, but if you pre-order you get their price promise that you'll get the lowest price between now and release day.



There only seems to be a Kindle version on - that's probably because of publication territory issues

24th Apr, 2014

blue eyes

Book Log 4/2014 - Veronica Roth: Divergent - Divergent #1

All the fuss about the book passed me by, which is a pity because this is excellent. Now I'm torn... do I read the other two books in the trilogy first or wait for the movies and read the books afterwards? The movie was pretty faithful to the book, though the book adds a little clarity to the reasons behind some of the motivation and decisions taken.

Direct comparisons with the Hunger Games are going to be difficult to avoid, you only need to check out the reviews that say: move over Katniss and make way for Tris. Well, in a way it's a fair comment, but there's more going on her than a knock down-drag out fight to the bloody and bitter end. Beatrice (Tris) is a member of Abnegation, one of the five factions of a future dystopian Chicago a hundred years or more after some unnamed war. Everyone is shoehorned into one of the five factions which are based on their signature character trait. Abnegation are selfless and therefore the governing faction. Dauntless are brave; Erudite are intelligent; Candor speak the truth, and Amity are peaceful. Those who don't fit are factionless, i.e. homeless, jobless, worthless street-people.

But the Divergent don't fit either. They are a little bit of everything and as such regarded as dangerous, maybe because they have the capability to do a little joined-up thinking. Anyone found to be Divergent is likely to end up dead.

When tested at 16, Tris doesn't fit into any one faction and, warned to keep that information to herself, chooses Dauntless over her birth faction of Abnegation, thus beginning a gruelling training programme to learn how to be brave, physically and mentally. It's difficult, but she eventually makes the grade due to her own efforts and the tough-love attitude of her instructor, Four.

But that's only part of the story. Erudite is plotting to overthrow Abnegation and a smear campaign is followed by a coup which Tris must thwart to prevent her family being murdered and her friends unwittingly becoming murderers.

This includes elements of a love story (though it's not really a romance) and political intrigue while exploring the tropes of identity, destiny and self-determination. It's a rights of passage story with some tightly written action set-pieces and some interesting character studies. Four, as the love-interest, has secrets that are only gradually revealed.

It's written in first person present, which actually works in this case.  Tris at times seems older than sixteen and Four seems way older than eighteen. More like eighteen going on twenty-eight. I look forward to seeing how both characters develop in the next book.

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Book Log 3/2014 - Patricia Briggs: Night Broken, Mercy Thompson #8

Life is never dull when VW mechanic and coyote shapechanger Mercy Thompson's around. Now Mercy Thompson-Hauptman after marrying the Alpha of the Tri-Cities werewolf pack, she is still not getting her happy-ever-after, though by and large it's not her fault. This time Adam's ex-wife, Christy, comes back on the scene, fleeing for her life from an ex-boyfriend turmned stalker who [spoiler] turns out to be not only supernatural but also almost invincible.

The invincible enemy, however, is not Mercy's real problem. Adam's ex is a real piece of work who undermines Mercy's position in the pack at every available opportunity and plainly wants Adam back. And as if that wasn't enough the son of Lugh wants his magic walking stick back, but Mercy gave it to Coyote who, as usual, is proving elusive and trickster-ish.

Oh yeah, and Mercy's got a brother, kinda, sorta...

Another great outing in Patricia Briggs' excellent werewolf series. Urban fantasy at its best with not only werewolves but coyote shape-changers, vampires, fae and... that stalker. I just dropped everything to read this as soon as it arrived and I was not disappointed.
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Book Log 2/2014 - Donald Maass: The Fire in Fiction

There are books on writing and there are Books On Writing. This is one of the latter. It would be tempting to say: if you only read one book on writing make it this one, but - hey - I haven't read them all.

This is not for the beginner, it's for those who already have a grasp of the basics and probably it helps if you've already completed at least one novel. This book doesn't tell you how to write, or even how to write a novel, but it does tell you how to write a BETTER novel. The cover says it offers 'passion purpose and techniques to make your novel great' and largely I think it delivers on that promise.

It talks about character, pivotal scenes, voice, verisimilitude, humour and tension as well as that all important sense of place that comes with great world-building - but not just boring old description, rather it concentrates on seeing the world through the eyes of your characters, imbuing description with meaning. And finally it talks about the fire in fiction, weaving your passion into your words.

There are exercises at the end of each section. If you have a piece of writing you're working on, you can even use this as an instant editing tool.

Highly recommended.

10th Apr, 2014

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Movie of the Week: Divergent

I wasn't sure what to expect as I haven't read the books and I had only seen one trailer and that some weeks ago, but hey, it's Wednesday, two for one cinema tickets, so it was either Divergent or Noah. No contest.

Shailene WoodleyOK, so it's future YA dystopian SF after some kind of war, so there are bound to be comparisons with The Hunger Games, but Divergent measures up well to HG and leaves Twilight standing. My cinebuddy, H, actually said she liked it better than Hunger Games and I can see why. The emotional kick is stronger, even though it's not the most original plot-line in the world: teen discovers she is different - the kind of different that's going to get her killed in this post-apocalyptic world. She's a divergent, i.e. she doesn't neatly fit in to one of the five factions that society is divided into. Each faction is based on a human virtue: Amity (peaceful), Erudite (intelligent), Dauntless (warrior), Candor (honest) and Abnegation (selfless). Basically she's a little bit of all of these when she's required to be only one, and for some reason polymaths/divergents are dangerous because they will upset society's equilibrium.

Yes there are all the usual YA tropes of identity, self-discovery/self determination, developing romance, but they are handled well

The setting is future Chicago a hundred years after a cataclysmic but undefined war. They've built a fence to keep bad things out, or maybe to keep citizens in. Beatrice (Tris) voluntarily chooses to leave her parents behind in Abnegation and move into Dauntless, the warrior faction. After some brutal training and a few nasty brushes with auithority (because she questions) she starts to fall for her instructor, Four, who is initially tough on her, but - hey we're all pretty sure it's because he fancies her something rotten, so the developing relationship is no surprise.

They haven't been able to repair damage to buildings in this future, but they have developed technology that allows them to eavesdrop on people's hallucinations, hence their ability to spot divergents. Tris has to keep her secret and learn to think like a Dauntless thriough a series of psychological tests or she'll be killed, but there's more to it than that. Yes, there are a few plot questions such as: why Tris didn't recognise Four because it turns out that not only did they both belong to Abnegation, their fathers work closely together; and how come the impartial psychological testing lady works in a tattoo parlour and then appears to be part of the Dauntless faction. Otherwise it hangs together reasonably well.

Paul; BlackthorneTheo JamesIt's not a short movie and the two leads Shailene Woodley and Theo James (both unknown to me) carry the weight of the movie admirably. Woodley has been modelling and acting since she was four and has a string of TV credits to her name. She's good. Ditto Theo James (left), a young British actor with a face that reminds me of a young Paul Blackthorne (right) - Harry Dresden in the TV series. That's no bad thing at all.

The movie sags a little towards the end, pacing-wise, when people we haven't been given enough reason to care about are put directly in danger, but it's quickly over that and it picks up for the climax. There are two more movies currently in production (the second and third books of the trilogy). Hunger Games 2 surpassed the first movie, so fingers crossed for the next two Divergent ones.


6th Apr, 2014

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Jacey's Eastercon Panel Schedule

I hope to see some of you at Eastercon in Glasgow. I'm on a couple of panels as follows:

Writers' groups
Friday 17:00 - 18:00
Panellists: Tony Ballantyne, Tina Anghelatos, Ruth E.J. Booth, Elaine Gallagher, and Jacey Bedford

Writing, submitting, and finding an agent
Saturday 15:00 - 16:00
Panellists: Tony Ballantyne, Martin Sketchley, Jacey Bedford, John Meaney, John Jarrold

When not on panels you might very well find me in the bar with various writer-folks. If you need to find me I'm staying in the main con hotel.

5th Apr, 2014

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Movie of the Week: The Monuments Men

OK, Catching up with Movies of the Week from a few weeks ago.

Nice to see a war movie without too much gung-ho testosterone and a bit of feelgood factor. George Clooney stars and directs. It's not fast-paced but it held my interest. Yes, sure, it's not action-packed, so don't expect a lot of flashbangwallop. Nice to see Jean Dujardin in a speaking role (after The Artist, of course, which was brilliant!). Interesting turns from veteran thesps: Hugh Bonneville, Bill Murray and John Goodman. Matt Damon is the only non-geriatric member of the team of art experts sent to find the looted cultural treasures of several nations as the Second World War is drawing to a close. This is almost exclusively a male biddy movie with Cate Blanchett as the only major female member of the cast. That's understandable, given the storyline.

It's not going to set the world of cinema on fire, but it's worth a look. My knowledge of the art woirld and the true story that this is film based on is minute, so maybe I know a tiny bit more about art than I did before. Maybe...
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Movie of the Week: Captain America - The Winter Soldier

Firstly... Mea culpa, I've missed blogging a few Movies of the Week. Unfortunately - after a couple of weeks of no movie-going - I've already forgotten which movies I missed putting up here, so that doesn't say very much for them, does it? Anyhow, to resume in the middle...

After enjoying the first Captain America outing I was looking forward to The Winter Soldier, and was not disappointed.

Let me say right from the start I do  not read comics - or, at least, I haven't done since a brief foray into Superman and a few others - mostly DC - etc. aged about 13 many, many years ago. My dad bought them 'for me' and I lost them when my grandma decided I didn't need them any more and threw them out without asking. (That still hurts!) Anyhow. Capt. America was not one of the few that I ever read, so I've come to the Marvel Universe entirely without preconceptions, so the movies not only have to stand alone (which they do) but they also have less chance of pissing me off because they didn't do this or that as depicted in this or that issue of this or that comic. Whatever the film-makers need to do to make a comic into a movie is all right by me, as long as it works.

In Winter Soldier I liked the fact that Steve Rogers is still in mourning for his past while getting on with the present and trying not to think too much about the future. I enjoyed the not-so-subtle dig at America's post 9/11 War on Terror and subsequent freedom-limiting programme of countermeasures. The oft-repeated who-do-you-trust theme is always good value (hey, I've used it myself). I would have preferred a little less crash-bang-wallop, but at least the explosions were not at the expense of the characterisation, which is so often left on the cutting room floor in action movies (George Lucas, I'm looking at you!)

I also like the fact that the movie goes places that it can't easily return from. There's no magic reset button at the end of this movie and the next Marvel movie - and even Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - will have to take the events into account to remain credible unless Steve is going to do a Bobby Ewing and wake up oin the floor of the shower and it's all been a dream.

One comment, though. After Avengers Assemble, is it credible to believe that with such an upheaval going on right under their collective noses, that Iron Man and Hulk kept out of it. They got a brief mention, but only peripherally. (I'll forgive Thor for not turning up if he was in Asgard.)

Recommended. Go see it!

30th Mar, 2014

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Post about characters on the other blog

There's one of those neat little graphics going round facebook that says: Main Characters: You do everything you can to raise them right, and as soon as they hit the page they do any damn thing they please. Well, that's right and it's wrong at the same time. See my blog post here:

23rd Mar, 2014

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Dog v. humans. Dog wins.

A memory from the 1980s sparked off by several recent facebook dog posts...

When Bridie, our lovely German Shepherd, became a mum for the first time her previously exemplary habits changed and she started to scavenge any food she could get, including whatever she could steal from the kitchen counters if we carelssly left food on there. To put her off, a friend suggested making an extra hot mustard sandwich and leaving it in an accessible place on the edge of the counter when we went to bed. It had worked for his dog, he said. So this we did. In the morning the sandwich had - predictably - gone and Bridie's water bowl was empty.  So we followed the same routine on the second night and, again, the sandwich vanished and the water bowl was drained. Third night the same. Ok, we said, this just isn't working, so we decided not to keep repeating the pointelss exercise. On the fourth night as we went to bed, Bridie sat by the countertop with a look on her face that clearly said: Where's my sandwich?

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1985 Bridie on the right. On the left is Esca, the pup we kept from Bridie's first litter. (Not to be confused with the current Eska.)

28th Feb, 2014

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Book Log 1/2014 - Tom Pollock: The City's Son - Skyscraper Throne #1

A gritty, smelly, enthralling original which races around a hidden version of London introducing an assortment of bizarre nonhuman characters here in a supporting role from the pavement priests (living statues entombed in marble) and the street-lamp dancers (the orange and the white forever rivals), to the nursemaid/teacher composed entirely of rubbish, rats and maggots. And then there's the villainous Reach – the Crane King, his ever growing menace lurking in his enclave at St Paul's.

A book of monsters, street-magic and miracles, where wild train spirits menace unlucky pedestrians and a tarmac-grey boy, Filius Viae, feral crown-prince of this London, is all that stands between Reach and the memory of his long-absent mother, London's goddess, Mater Viae.

Wildcat graffiti artist, Beth Bradley, betrayed by her best friend, Pen, after an incident at school and let down by her severely depressed widowed father, goes on the run, befriends a feral ghost train and meets the City's Son, Filius with whom she has more in common that with her own family and friends. But Fil has a problem. His goddess mother hasn't been seen since he was born and without her influence to keep Reach in his place the Crane King is expanding his territory and on the hunt for Filius.

Beth throws in her lot with Fil, but things get a lot more complicated when Pen and Beth's dad get involved as well.

20th Feb, 2014

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Movie of the Week: Robocop

I sometimes feel as though the strapline for my Movie of the Week posts should be: Seeing films so you don't have to.

This week it was Robocop on the Wednesday afternoon 'twofers'.

I guess if you don't remember the original, this wasn't so bad - though it felt about half an hour too long - but... (You knew there was going to be a but, didn't you?) this Robocop lost some of its mystique of the original because you were never in any doubt that Alex Murphy, played by Joel Kinnaman, was aware of who he was and who he had been before being turned into a robot with a human brain and face. With Peter Weller's 1987 Robocop, you really didn't know how much of the man was still in there and that was the point of the movie.

OK, backtrack... Set in the a near future dystopian Detroit, Omnicorp has ambitions to put robotic cops into every city in the US. Already in use in the military, law enforcement is a tantalising and lucrative market but the American public won't go for it, until Omnicorp boss, Raymond Sellars (an almost unrecognisable Michel Keaton) figures out how to make a robot with a conscience, courtesy of Doc Norton, Gary Oldman (excellent as usual) and fastens on recently injured cop, Alex, as his test subject.

This film asks the big question about drone soldiers, and is fairly heavy handed about it, courtesy of Samuel L Jackson's caracature turn as a super-right-wing broadcaster wholly in favour of the machine, whereas the original 1987 Robocop asked the question is the man inside the machine a man or a machine? (And kept you guessing for much of the movie.)

There were bits in the original that were genuinely scary but I think I have largely become desensitised to the shoot-em-up special effects so common in SF and action movies these days. Loud, yes; scary, no. I did find some of the early scenes (footage of robot drones deployed in a future Afghanistan) genuinely nasty, however. One plus point: though there were some shots of Robocop speeding through the streets on his mo'bike at least there was no interminable car chase.

If anyone remembers the satisfying (airpunch) ending of the original movie when the 'Old Man' makes it possible for Robocop to circumvent his hidden programming - that doesn't happen in this movie, but it does get there in the end.

One thing I found quite worrying, however, was the number of unaccompanied children obviously under 12 in this 12A movie.(Half term week.) Bad form, Cineworld. Movies have age ratings for a reason. Still, kudos to the kids, they were all well behaved.
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Movie of the Week: I Frankenstein

Moderate spoilers ahead.

This is every bit as cliched as you might expect but - hey it was a slow week and we get the twofers on a Wednesday.

I am not comic book savvy. I hadn't realised this was a comic book movie, but no matter, if it's a movie it should be able to stand on its own.

OK, it's not all bad. I mean, we didn't walk out or anything - which means it scores higher than Tron 2. Aaron Eckhart makes a reasonably good Adam, Frankenstein's monster still alive in the present day, but sad to say Bill Nighy seems to dial in his performance from a distance. Scenery-chewing villainy is not really his style.

The premise: the guardians of good are the Gargoyle Order, standing against Naberius who is trying to have legions of demons ascend to be reborn into (currently dead and therefore soulless) human bodies - if only he can figure out how Frankenstein made Adam in the first place. Throw in a pretty human scientist (female, of course) and the scene is set for Adam to deside which side he's on.

Yeah, right, I guessed the ending, too.

But it was a wet Wednesday afternoon, so what else were we going to do with a couple of hours?

15th Feb, 2014

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Grow-to-eat Diary: 1 - February 2014

The last few years we've been experimenting with raised beds in the fenced off part of our garden that we laughingly call the vegetable plot. We put the fence up because our last dog, Diezel, was a digger and no fresh soil was safe from him. Eska doesn't seem as interested in digging up things as we plant them - but she's never really had the opportunity - and that's the way we intend to keep it.

So... fence. And on the lawn side of that fence we've planted 5 espalier and fan trained fruit trees, 2 eating apples, a Bramley baking apple (all espalier), a plum tree and a pear tree (fan trained). We had a small crop in their first year but last year not one sign of blossom, so no fruit. I think we had late frosts at exactly the wrong time. So we'll see how they do this year. Our neighbours have a cherry tree which dangles very tempting sweet fruit over our path. Yum. One of our other neighbours also has a crabapple tree which is a bit unloved, but again dangles plenty of fruit over the wall. It's not the best crab-apple flavour, though we did get several jars of crab apple jelly from the windfalls the year before last.

The veg garden is bounded on 3 sides by dry-stone walls and on the fourth by the fence and the apple trees. There are trees up against the south-western wall, including two huge conifers, and a mature ash tree guards the west corner. This was trimmed back about 6 years ago and doesn't get full leaf until June. In summer the trees don't shade the garden until evening.

In the border by the north west wall BB has planted an edible hedge with crab apple, hazel and cherry plum, but this is still too small to produce anything.

We have 5 raised beds in a triangular plot so ranging from a triangle with sides of about 5ft, to a long bed which is about 4ft wide and 20ft long. The two smallest plots are planted with strawberries, Marshmallo, which are supposed to be one of the finest flavours. The plants were new the autumn before last, but we had a small delicious crop in the few weeks when the rain let up and the sun came out. Hope for better this year now they are a little better established. I've also pegged down some runners, but most of the runners have had to be snipped and disposed of otherwise the whole garden would be strawberries. In the remaining three beds I plan to plant vegetables in small but intensive quantities.

There's one triangular patch roughly the same size which is currently uncultivated (grassed over).

There's another triangular patch which is full of self seeded saplings and a self-seeded willow that's grown rather large. Over the years this plot has been a dumping ground for gravelly and weedy stuff that should have gone into rubble bags or into the compost. That last patch will take a LOT of reclaiming, so for the moment, we aren't doing anything with it.

Yes we have compost - at least we do now, though we've only really looked after it properly for about 4 years. We have 3 big plastic 'dalek' compost bins courtesy of the local council and two open wooden compost bins for grass clippings and hefty stuff like cabbage stalks and roots. (There's also an old compost bin in the lawned part of the garden which could be cleared now and would probably yield dome good stuff as it's been festering for years with mostly lawn clippings in it.

Last autumn we invested in a small lean-to greenhouse which, for better or worse, is in a semi-shady section of our back yard. We figured that is we like greenhouse gardening, we'll get a bigger one and put it in the veg garden. (Though a self-seeded willow will have to go as it overshadows the plot where the greenhouse and soft fruit might go.)

So first things first. I have bought heritage seeds. We're 1000 ft up on the edge of the Yorkshire Pennines, so the season starts late here, so it's too early to plant seeds in an unheated greenhouse and there's no suitable indoor windowsill, so for now, planning is all I can do.

I still need tomato seeds suitable for an unheated greenhouse, but so far I've got:

Bulls Blood beetleaf beetroot
Romanesco broccoli / calabrese
Sutton Dwarf broad beans
Mixed colours runner beans
Sonesta Wax AGM dwarf French bean
Early half tall brussel sprout
Ormskirk Savoy cabbage
All year round cauliflower
Mixed summer sampler courgettes
Ailsa Craig onion (seed)
Norli AGM dwarf mangetout peas
Pea shoot style dwarf pea
Tom Thumb dwarf pea
Guensey demi-long parsnip
Early Nante carrot
Ruby swede

In addition I've got a pack of ramsom (wild garlic) seeds and some Alexandra Red Wild Woodland strawberry (alpine) for under the trees.

Mostly you'll notice I've gone for dwarf varieties. That's because even in summer we can get wild windy weather up here and I don't want to have to stake everything.

In previous years the cabbage whites have devastated the brassicas, so this year we'll net the cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, swede and beetroot. Slugs are also a real problem. I'm wondering about watering in some nematodes, but will also resort to slug pellets this year. Belt and braces. The little bastards love my strawberries and cabbages.

So that's the plan.


6th Feb, 2014

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Book News

The working title of my book has now become the official title - with the addition of a strap-line. The publication date has been confirmed and I can now tell you that: Empire of Dust - A Psi-tech Novel (by Jacey Bedford) will be published by DAW on 4th November 2014. The cover illustration will be done by Stephan Martiniere.

4th November is a good date. It would have been my favourite grandma's eleventy-fourth birthday had she still been around to see it.

5th Feb, 2014

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Movie of the Week: The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug

I missed writng this up - which is odd because we saw it twice, once in December and once in January. Was it that good? I think so. There was certainly enough to see second time around that we missed the first time. Though it's that difficult middle movie there's plenty in it to keep up interest. It's visually stunning with effects so seemingly effortless you don't actually stop to think, Hello, that dragon's not real.

I was a bit skeptical when they said they were going to make such a comparatively slight book as The Hobbit into three movies. The problem with Lord of the Rings as a trilogy was what to leave out. The problem with The Hobbit is what to add in. Since it's a long time since I read the book, I'm honestly not sure what's new and what had slipped my memory, so I'm taking the movie at face value. It woks for me. Of course, Tolkien purists are going to disagree with me, and that's fine.

I have to say that I'd forgotten Bard altogether, so he was a nice surprise, but - is it just me? - doesn't Luke Evans (Bard) look way too much like Orlando Bloom (Legolas) - at least when Bloom's wearing his own dark hair.

Martin Freeman is a perfect Bilbo Baggins and much kudos to Peter Jackson for casting not only Richard Armitage as Thorin, but Aidan Turner as Kili. Nuff said. My friend H also thanks him for Lee Pace as Thranduil.

Looking forward to part three.
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Movie of the Week: Jack Ryan, Shadow Recruit

Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightly and Kenneth Branagh -- what's not to like? This is a very enjoyable bit of fluff with a nicely rounded out central character (Pine as Ryan) and a good, if slight turn from Knightly. Excellent support from Costner and a believable villain from Branagh who also directed.

This is a Jack Ryan reboot. The character has been played in previous movies by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, but so far no one has played the character twice. I'm not familiar with the Tom Clancy books, and only have passing familiarity with the previous movies from seeing The Hunt for Red October and Clear and Present Danger on TV years ago, but this movie is an origin movie and takes Jack back to his medical discharge from the marines following a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, his recruitment as an 'analyst' and his first live mission to find out about (and thwart) a high-stakes economic attack on the USA.

There's plenty of shoot-em-up action and the inevitable car chase through crowded Moscow streets, but Ryan's character is believable and certainly not an invincible hero.

3rd Feb, 2014

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Cover Images

I've got a publication date for the first novel from DAW - November 2014!
There's a new post and more exciting news about the cover artist on my writing blog at

9th Jan, 2014

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So, at last, I've joined the BSFA which means I can to nominate for the awards. I only have until 14th, so, help, what came out in the qualifying period? Who's got books and stories that are eligible?
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1st Jan, 2014

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Book Logs 2013 - Roundup

I didn't manage my 50 books this year, largely due to writing - i.e. my three book deal with DAW. When I'm in the throes of writing I'm afraid reading is one of the casualties. I managed 36 books, only 33 of them novels, however, I thoroughly enjoyed discovering some new (to me) authors, especially Kevin Hearne, Benedict Jacka and Jim Hines at the beginning of the year, all books about young male magic users in urban fantasy settings, then Anne Lyle and Scott Lynch at the end of it, both writing fantasy with a historical setting. I also thoroughly enjoyed more books from favourite authors, Anne Aguirre, Joe Abercrombie, Patricia Briggs, Kari Sperring, Ilona Andrews, George R.R. Martin and Karen Traviss. Mixed in with the new books were re-reads, not previously book blogged, from Liz Williams, James Hetley and Kate Elliott.

All in all a good reading year with very few duds. I've already got more books than I can possibly tackle in 2014 lined up on my kindle and on my bookshelves. In fact if I never buy another book - ever - (and how likely is that?) I probably won't live long enough to read through my strategic book reserve unless I make it past 100. I'm not sure whether that's comforting or not! I'm looking forward to reading Gaie Siebold, Tom Pollock, Ben Aaronovitch and more Terry Pratchett in the new year.

In 2013 I read:
1. Margaret Mahy: The Haunting
2. Kevin Hearne: Hounded – Iron Druid #1
3. Kristen Callihan: Firelight – Darkest London #1
4. Ilona Andrews: Steel's Edge – The Edge #4
5. Robert V S Redick: The Red Wolf Conspiracy – Chathrand Voyages #1
6. Benedict Jacka: Fated – Alex Verus #1
7. Jim C. Hines: Libriomancer – Magic Ex Libris #1
8. David Feintuch: Midshipman's Hope – Seafort Saga #1
9. Benedict Jacka: Cursed – Alex Verus #2
10. Freda Warrington: Elfland
11. Joe Abercrombie: Best Served Cold
12. Seanan McGuire: Rosemary and Rue
13. Patricia Briggs: Frost Burned – Mercy Thompson #7
14. Kari Sperring: The Grass King's Concubine
15. Ilona Andrews: Fate's Edge – The Edge #3
16. Terry Jones: Medieval Lives
17. Georgette Heyer: The Toll Gate
18. Anne Aguirre: Aftermath
19. Douglas Hill: Young Legionary
20. George R.R. Martin: A Clash of Kings
21. Kate Elliott: Jaran
22. Cassandra Rose Clarke: The Pirate's Wish
23.  Rayne Hall: Writing Fight Scenes
24. George R.R. Martin: A Storm of Swords, Part 1 Steel and Snow - A Song of Ice and Fire #3A
25. George R.R. Martin: A Storm of Swords, Part 2 Blood and Gold - A Song of Ice and Fire #3B
26. Karen Traviss: Star Wars: The Clone Wars - No Prisoners      
27. Chris Mould: Pip and the Twilight Seekers: A Spindlewood Tale
28. James Hetley: The Summer Country
29. Liz Williams: Snake Agent
30. Anne Lyle: The Alchemist of Souls – Night's Masque #1
31. Tanya Huff: The Wild Ways – Gale Women #2
32. Anne Lyle: The Merchant of Dreams – Night's Masque #2
33. Anne Lyle: The Prince of Lies – Night's Masque #3
34. David Hewson; Writing a Novel with Scrivener
35. Zenna Henderson: Ingathering - The Complete People Stories
36. Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora
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Book Log 36/2013 - Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora

What a book to finish my 2013 reading! Thoroughly absorbing, interesting characters who are changed by events that happen to them, great backstory, twisty plot in the front-story leading to nail-biting tension. Highly recommended.

Trying not to give away too many spoilers we get to see the formation of the Gentlemen Bastards, a gang of young men devoted to the gentle art of thievery in a fantasy analogue of Venice. Through inserted backstory interludes we see them as starveling orphans being gradually educated and moulded into a five-man gang so close-mouthed that even the other thieves in the city (and the Capa who rules them all) don't know what they get up to.

Locke is a cocky child, too clever for his own good, who grows up into a cocky Gentleman Bastard devising elaborate scams to part the rich from their money. The balance of power changes with the arrival of the Grey King and his powerful bondmage, a challenge to the Capa Barsavi and his stable rule of the underworld, and an even bigger challenge to Locke and his gang who, as it turns out, are still too clever for their own good.

This builds from Locke's success through setback upon setback. There are penalties and consequences for everyone, but a very satisfying conclusion kept me up reading way later than I should.

There are two more Gentleman Bastard books and I'll be seeking them out immediately to add to my 2014 to-read list. I'm hoping that some story droplets not mopped up in the first book will soak into the pages of the next two.

21st Dec, 2013

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Book Log 35/2013 - Zenna Henderson: Ingathering - The Complete People Stories

This is a collection of stories, all but one first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from the early 50s to the mid 70s. The People are aliens who escaped the destruction of their own planet and crash landed in the American southwest just before the turn of the century. There's a deep sense of place. The stories are largely concerned with the way the people (fully human in appearance though possessing powers) make an effort to blend in with humanity, mostly in their own little isolated town, without attracting the attention of fearful and ignorant neighbours.

The original short stories were tacked together with a framing narrative to produce two separate book length narratives, both are included here.

The People are supposed to be 'like us at our best' and there's little here in the way of flashbang adventure or even grim conflict. These are of their time, gentle stories of gentle people. Some of them contain great sadness (overcome) and there's a pervading aura of melancholy.

These were recommended to me by a friend and I can see why she likes them so much, but for me a little goes a long way.

7th Dec, 2013

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A post on Timelines on the other blog

I nearly screwed up royally with my timeline of the work-in-progress (the book formerly known as Empire of Dust) so there's a post about timelines on my Wordpress writing blog: Tales from the Typeface.

OK, back to slogging through writing out my timeline.

5th Dec, 2013

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Book Log 34/2013 - David Hewson: Writing a Novel with Scrivener

An excellent clear guide to using Scrivener to write a novel. Scrivener is one of those programmes with so many possibilities that you could spend weeks learning it from top to toe, or you could just take a day or so to grasp its main features and wade in, learning as you go. Most fiction writers will never need the full range of Scrivener's facilities, so the learn-as-you-go method makes sense and this book is a tremendous help.

I've been working in Scrivener for a few months,now, ever since my friend Karen Traviss recommended it as a useful tool for writers. It doesn't help the creativity, but it does help you to organise what you write and to revise it and tease out separate threads for revision purposes.

I've grasped enough to use it, but Mr Hewson pointed out some of the features I'd missed and I've already put some of his ideas into use.

If at times this book seems a little Mac-centric, it's because there are features for the Mac version of Scrivener which have not made it as far as the PC platform yet.:
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Fifteen Significant Books Meme

This was originally a Facebook challenge, but here are the rules for anyone else who might want to try their hand at it.

Rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. 15 books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.

  1. John Wyndham: The Day of the Triffids

  2. C. S. Lewis: The Horse and His Boy

  3. Peter O'Donnell: Modesty Blaise

  4. Lois McMaster Bujold: The Curse of Chalion

  5. Joe Abercrombie: The First Law Trilogy

  6. Monica Edwards: Storm Ahead (and all her Romney Marsh books)

  7. Andre Norton: Year of the Unicorn (amongst other Witch World books)

  8. Wilbur Smith: Eagle in the Sky

  9. Eric Linklater: Wind on the Moon

  10. Ursula LeGuin: A Wizard of Earthsea (original trilogy, not the later ones)

  11. Lois McMaster Bujold: Warrior's Apprentice (and all the Vorkosiverse novels)

  12. Rosemary Sutcliffe: Eagle of the Ninth

  13. George R. R. Martin: A Game of Thrones

  14. Terry Pratchett: Night Watch

  15. Diana Wynne Jones: Deep Secrets

Some selected because they are books that won't get out of my head and others because I read them at a particular time of my life when they held relevance.
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Movie of the Week: Saving Mr Banks

H and I went to see this on a whim. It's Wenesday. Twofers day. We usually see every SF movie we can, but this week we'd not much to choose from as we've already seen Catching Fire etc. So it was a toss-up between The Family and Saving Mr Banks. I'm so pleased we picked Mr Banks.

On the surface it's the story of how Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) persuaded PL Travers (Emma Thompson) to sell him the film rights to Mary Poppins, but beneath that lies the story of Travers' own childhood in Australia and her relationship with her charismatic but troubled father, played brilliantly by Colin Farrell.

The story flips back and forth between 1906 and 1963. I've seen some reviews that suggested this was a mistake, but for me it was the whole point of the movie and yes I admit that I had to quietly wipe away more than one tear. As both PL Travers and Disney point out, Mary Poppins purpose in the book is not to save the Banks children, but to redeem their father. (That's not a spoiler, it's in the trailer!)

It's an intelligent script. Emma Thompson is brilliant as the tetchy, author determined that Hollywood will not have her star character despite her agent's cajoling as her money runs out. Tom Hanks gives a nuanced performance as Disney. I shouldn't be surprised by this as he's done some brilliant work in the last few years, not least in Cloud Atlas. There are plentry of excuses for snatches of the sings from Mary Poppins, some genuine feelgood moments and appropriate catharsis at the end.

Highly recommended, even if it doesn't look like the sort of movie you'd usually go and see.

1st Dec, 2013

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Time Management

This is my first book contract, so I'm trying to pace myself. I gave my editor a deadline date of December for the rewrite on Book One, which is just about finished now, though I need to let it settle for a few days before compiling it in Scrivener and rereading it all in one lump to see if it hangs together. I'm hopeful I'll be able to deliver it by 10th. (Then, of course, there may be more rewrites, and still more.)

Then I've given myself four months to slog through the first draft of the second book. My deadline for this is August, so I'd like to have a workable first draft by April in order to let it rest for a while and redraft by the beginning of August. With Worldcon and Milford I'm pretty sure I'm not going to get any much writing done in August itself, so I'm aiming to deliver at the beginning of the month.

Does this sound hopelessly optimistic?

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August 2014



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