I’m on Bloglovin’, so come love my blog

Follow my blog with Bloglovin. I had to post that link to prove to the Bloglovin’ robot overlords that this was indeed my blog. Well it is, thank you very much, good sir.

But, since the link says ‘Follow my blog on Bloglovin”, you might as well do that very thing. Here are some reasons why this is a good idea:

  1. It’s totally an easy way of keeping up to date with my posts. I think the people who followed my blog on WordPress were cast adrift when I transferred to a self-hosted site. I miss those people and often spend days staring out of the window waiting for them to return, like an 18th century fisherman’s wife staring at the horizon for signs of her husband returning. Or Keira Knightly at the end of the third Pirates of the Caribbean film.
  2. There is many a blogger on there just waiting to be discovered. If you’re the kind of person who likes quality blogs – and you totally are, because you’re here, obviously – you’ll find a veritable smorgasbord of written wonders. Just don’t abandon me entirely in favour of other people, or I will have to get vengeance on those superior bloggers. There have been television crime dramas with more ludicrous plots.
  3. It’ll do wonders for my self-esteem. I’d like to look at a number on a screen and know that it in some way correlates to my popularity. Having a number (I’ve only just got onto Bloglovin’, so even just 10 would be a good number to start with) on the screen that corresponds with the number of people who regularly want to keep in touch with whatever it is this blog is about will make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Like a camel who has just swallowed a pair of microwaveable slippers.
  4. There are other reasons. But I don’t want to give away all the goodies right now. No, sir. So instead, go to the car park of your nearest supermarket at 3am tomorrow. I shall send further instructions.

Farewell for now. See you on Bloglovin’.

What to do with a really long book

Books in the DarkA question for all of the readers out there. I’ve just broken through the 60,000-word barrier on the follow-up to Fallen on Good Times. It’s been a long, incredibly drawn-out process so far, of which I’ll probably talk about soon. I’m heartened by the fact I’ve got so far.

The thing that finally helped me break through the barrier of actually attempting to write the book was to simply focus on the idea of ‘making progress’, rather than eyeing up an end goal. Even if I only managed to write hundred words; that’s still productive, and it’s still useful. It is infinitely better than not bothering to write anything because I know I won’t be able to make a huge dent in the total word count.

I’m not intending to abandon that attitude anytime soon. Considering the restrictions on my time, it’s the only attitude that is going to allow me to make any progress at all. If I only write when I have the time or inclination to make significant progress, or if I set myself a target for when I want the book finished, I’ll go back to being overwhelmed by the scale of the task in front of me and give up again entirely.

However, having made such significant progress on the novel so far, my thoughts have started to drift ahead to what will happen when it is finished. I’m excited to get another book out there. It’s been far too long since Fallen on Good Times was released, and I can’t wait to see it side-by-side with its ancestor.

There is, however, a slight problem, which will lead me onto asking the question I alluded to in the intro.

BOOK TWO IS GOING TO BE KIND OF BIG

I’ve arrived at the 60,000-word mark while halfway through plot point 21. The total number of scenes/developments in my synopsis is 49. If you do a quick average of the number of words per plot point, this means I am looking at a final word count of around 137,000 for book two. If I were writing Fallen on Good Times, I would be only 7,000 words away from finishing the first draft at this point, but as it stands with book two, I’m not even halfway through.

We can of course assume that I can cut down on the word count significantly with a few rounds of decent editing and some reader feedback. However, there are aspects to the novel that I know I’m going to want to expand upon. In several instances I have simply glossed over a development or description because I was more interested in getting the first draft done than making sure everything was in place. So I think it’s probably fair to assume that the additional material I plan to add will counterbalance any edits I make. Also worth noting is the fact that I did the same sums when the hit the 50,000-word mark and calculated the finished novel would be around 125,000 words.

Which leaves me with a bit of a problem. In the grand scheme of things, 137,000 words isn’t massively long in terms of a novel. If you assume a reasonably large font and 250 words per page, you’re looking at 548 pages. That’s still pretty slim compared to the average Robin Hobb, George R. R. Martin, or Alastair Reynolds book. Decrease the font a bit, or make the margins a bit narrower, so that you can put 300 words on the page and you cut out a hundred pages. 450 pages is approaching something like the average length for a traditionally published novel.

But in terms of my work, it’s very long. It’s twice as long as Fallen on Good Times. I’m not sure if that’s an issue or not. On one hand, it’s a lot more book, which is surely a good thing for people who enjoyed Fallen on Good Times, as they get to spend twice as much time in the company of the characters and inhabiting the world that they enjoyed the first time around. On the other, it is quite a drastic change of pace, and I don’t want people thinking that book two is simply the product of overstuffing description or poor editing. Obviously that’s a judgement from my beta readers, when I finally get around to sending them a copy, but I’m confident this isn’t the case.

Book two is so long because there is more plot, more characters, more nuance to the story than the first book. I believe it is going to be an improvement in every way, building on what (judging by the reviews of book one so far) is a solid foundation.

THE MANY PROBLEMS OF HAVING MANY PAGES

University Library, Basel, SwitzerlandSo that’s the first issue: one of perception. Will people be happy with a longer second book, or will it put them off? And as self-published novels go, I expect 137,000 words is actually quite long.

The second issue was one of practicality. Fallen on Good Times is available in both eBook and paperback formats. This is the way I want all of my future work to be. Not very many people buy the paperback (or the Kindle version, for that matter), but it is an important part of the publishing process for me. I wouldn’t feel the same way about my books if there wasn’t a physical copy of them available. Growing up, before self-publishing or eBooks really became a thing, I’d naturally pictured my books in paperback, piled on the table for book signings and lining the shelves of bookstores. It is therefore an intrinsic part of convincing myself that I have achieved my dreams for me to have a physical copy.

However, the costs would be prohibitive. I make very little from each sale of the paperback version Fallen on Good Times, despite the standard £7.50 retail price. I actually make more money if you buy a Kindle version. The issue here is that Amazon is offering a print-on-demand service. Normal publishers print thousands of copies of their books in one go, reducing the cost per unit to the point where they can pay for materials, production, author royalties, delivery fees, and still make a decent profit (well, the last part is arguable these days). Because Amazon prints each book as it is ordered, they are much more expensive. There is a flat fee per book and another charge based upon the number of pages, then Amazon’s royalties to think about, and finally I get whatever is left.

A quick look on Createspace’s royalty calculator page tells me that if I were to opt for the small font 450-page version of the paperback, I would have to set the retail price at £9 in order to make any sort of profit, of which there would be 20p. If I wanted to make what I think we can all agree is a not-extortionate profit of £1 per paperback copy sold, I would need to set the retail price at £10.33. In the grand scheme of things that’s not exactly expensive, but for a book, in the wider market, it is a bit. I wouldn’t even expect my friends and family to pay the extra three odd pounds over the going rate for a book for my work, let alone readers in general.

It seems there are three options available to me, which I’d like to walk you through:

  1. Publish the book on Kindle only
  2. Publish a ‘collected edition’ on Kindle and split the book into two volumes in paperback
  3. Split the book into two volumes on both Kindle and paperback.

Each has its own advantages and disadvantages in terms of practicality, value to the reader, and profitability.

OPTION ONE: PUBLISH ON KINDLE ONLY

Reading Kindle OutdoorsAs I’ve already said, having a paperback copy is quite important to me. I suppose I could still publish it on paperback, at the high retail price just to make sure that I broke even with every copy sold – buying copies through Createspace’s trade price option for authors would work out and about the average price per paperback novel anyway, including postage, so I’d still be able to get copies for myself and my family without making a real loss.

The real advantage in publishing solely on Kindle is that it cuts out the impracticalities of a large paperback. People don’t really buy paperback versions of self-published novels anyway, if statistics are to be believed. Therefore, I’m not exactly losing anything, and it’s practical for the reader to have a large book on a Kindle.

There is still a monetary issue. Fallen on Good Times is £1.99 or $2.77 on Kindle. I feel like it’s a fair enough request to ask for a bit more if you’re paying for double the book, but I don’t know if readers would agree. Some might interpret it as me getting greedy, although sales of Fallen on Good Times would really have to take off before that argument becomes in anyway realistic. Although the idea that I might have ‘hooked’ people with the first book, only to be charging them more for the follow-up, might be a little more believable to someone who doesn’t know my actual motivations.

With all the other self-published novels out there, £1.99 is already expensive compared to all the 99p deals (and that’s already a reduced price from the original of £2.50), so while I’m still an unknown, un-reviewed, unproven author, is anybody going to want to spend £3 or £4 on my second book?

OPTION TWO: PUBLISH A ‘COLLECTED EDITION’ ON KINDLE AND TWO VOLUMES IN PAPERBACK

I could split book to into two individual volumes, each one as long as Fallen on Good Times. From a consistency point of view at least, that’s a winner. It would also give Laslo Kane a trilogy of stories. Three is the magic number, after all. I was intending to introduce a new character as the protagonist of the fourth novel (I intend to follow the patterns of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, in which over time he established several pockets of different characters, each with their own plots and troubles to deal with, many of whom occasionally interlinked) and for some reason I feel as though Laslo having three books is neater before moving on to focus on someone else, at least for the time being. And most trilogies do seem to follow the pattern of having one stand-alone book to begin with, followed by two novels which work more as two installments of the same story.

On paperback, it allows me to do two things. Firstly, it allows me to make my personal bookshelf look a bit nicer, as I’ll have three volumes in the Pilgrim’s Wane collection. Secondly, it means I can actually sell paperback novels of the books at a reasonable price, for those who want to buy them. I’ll also be able to purchase paperback copies at an affordable rate to give away as competition prizes.

Of course the big picture here is that in actual fact buying these two paperbacks would add up to more than the cost of buying the one larger volume, but from a psychological point of view I think people would actually prefer that. Each volume would be treated as a book in its own right anyway, with separate release dates and marketing, so this would certainly not be a ‘profit-making’ exercise. If anything it would lose me a hell of a lot of money, as I have to pay for two separate cover designs and two lots of formatting, the cost of which I am unlikely to recover in sales for a long time.

On Kindle I could solve the problem of getting people to pay twice by offering the two volumes together as a ‘collected edition’. I’d also be able to instantly create a third product, a trilogy ‘box set’, which will include Fallen on Good Times. I’ve heard that these tend to sell quite well, and it will be a good way to introduce somebody to my work. People aren’t necessarily going to become fans after reading one book, but if they get hold of three, whether as a free giveaway, when they’re on sale, or because they liked the value that the three book edition offered, they are more likely to take an interest in me as a writer.

OPTION THREE: PUBLISH TWO VOLUMES ON KINDLE AND TWO VOLUMES IN PAPERBACK

The paperback situation would remain the same as above. Another benefit of doing this is that it would help me to create some more momentum in my marketing, something I’ve struggled to do in recent times, especially considering I’ve always known that book two would be a long way off. If I scheduled what would become book three to be released a few months after book two, I would have a goal to work towards as I (hopefully) began writing book four. It could help bridge the gap between the next Pilgrim’s Wane novel, giving me a way of keeping people interested in the interim.

Publishing two volumes on Kindle would simply be for continuity’s sake. I could still create the ‘box set’ versions mentioned above, it would just mean that volumes two and three were also available separately. Prosaically, paying £1.99 for two 300-page instalments of the same story is no different to paying £3.98 for the 600-page version. However, again, it would be easy for someone to accuse me of ‘moneymaking‘.

THE THORNY ISSUE OF CLIFF-HANGERS

Lady on Cliff EdgeThe elephant in the room is what would happen to the story itself. Because it is a complex, flowing narrative, there is no point at which I could cut it in half and neatly round it off into two entirely self-contained volumes. The only way to do it would be to leave volume 2 with a cliff-hanger ending. Now, as long as you build a satisfactory story throughout the novel, and give readers some form of resolution, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with doing this. I’ve also identified point in the story at which it could potentially happen.

But I know that a lot of people don’t like cliff-hanger endings, especially in novels, where they can often feel cheated without a proper resolution. And again, it can instantly raise accusations of profiteering, as though I’m deliberately withholding the rest of the story until they pay me more money. This can sort of be circumnavigated on Kindle at least by making both volume 2 and volume 3 £0.99, so that buying them together only costs the same as buying the first book. Of course, in paperback, this is a different problem. Although considering no one buys paperbacks, perhaps the issue is moot.

I’m not entirely sure I’d be comfortable, or feel particularly fulfilled, if I left volume 2 with a cliff-hanger ending. However, the prospect of having three Laslo Kane books and a host of different Kindle products does excite me.

It all comes down to reader tastes.

BACK TO THE QUESTION AT HAND

Which, a couple of thousand words later than planned, leads to my questions:

Firstly, which of the options above do you prefer? Which is best for you as a reader, and which would you be most happy with?

Secondly, what you think of books with cliff-hanger endings? Do you avoid them, or love the suspense? Have you come across a lot of books that do this, or is it a rare occurrence?

Do leave your comments below. This post is simply a brain dump, rather than any concrete planning and I still have half the book left to write just to finish draft one, after all – so your thoughts can shape the way in which I finish, market, and release this book.  Or books.


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Could the people running our country please behave like grown-ups?

Big Ben and Houses of Parliament

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, delivered his latest budget speech to Parliament today. It went largely as you would expect, in that the Conservative party did a lot of cheering and the Labour Party did a lot of and jeering.

My ability to watch things such as Prime Minister’s Questions or other Parliamentary debates disappeared a long time ago. The reason? I can’t stand watching the people who are meant to be in charge of our country sneer at each other like two rival gangs of schoolchildren gathered in a circle around two of their members who look like they’re about to start fighting.

Frankly I find the whole thing embarrassing. Our government is made up of highly educated, well paid, intelligent people with experience and critical judgement and supposedly all the sound mental faculties necessary to run a country. But put them in the House of Commons and they fall so far out of the evolutionary tree that they end up a couple of stages below the primates who have just discovered how to crack walnuts open with rocks.

I don’t know if it’s just the atmosphere of the House, peer pressure (unintentional politics pun), or if MPs genuinely think that’s what ‘representing their constituents’ looks like. But jeering at each other does nothing to solve the problems of this country. It doesn’t boost inflation, it won’t create new jobs, it doesn’t fund the NHS, and it doesn’t help millennial’s like me whose only hope of saving enough money to get on the property ladder is if they live so far into the future that 3001: The Final Odyssey is classed as ‘historical fiction’.

Personally I’m tired of the whole charade. I don’t need a member of the opposition to criticise every single policy, sentence, or word uttered by their political rivals. I don’t need a house full of people who supposedly have the best interests of my country at heart fighting like seagulls over a spilt tray of chips.

I want them to do the unimaginable. I want them to sit down, shut up, and listen to each other. I’m not interested in cheap shots, low blows, insults, sarcasm, scapegoating, or assigning blame.

Politicians have always had an image problem, and is it any wonder? They behave in a way that would get the rest of us thrown out of public places, or disciplined by our employers. It is made even more embarrassing by the fact that the Speaker is there to keep the mob under control, but apparently what we see on a regular basis is considered perfectly acceptable.

Braying, guffawing, and condescending doesn’t win votes, and it doesn’t help the country. So how about the people in charge spend less time acting like children, and more time trying to make this country a better place for the next generation?

Meet the 5D glass chip that makes your Kindle look like a floppy disk

Planet earth from the space at night
All the written work of this planet contained on a biscuit-sized disc of glass.

One of the many benefits of a Kindle is the fact that it allows you to carry thousands of books around in your pocket. But the next step in data storage makes the Kindle look far more old school than eReaders ever did the paperback.

Scientists based in the UK, in collaboration with colleagues from the Netherlands, have been working on new technology dubbed the ‘Superman memory crystals’ which currently blow every other method of data storage we have out of the water.

Science Fiction data storage is finally here

Compared to the vellum that UK laws are written on, I suppose a USB stick does seem rather nifty. But it never had that proper ‘Science Fiction’ vibe. While automatic doors have a ring of Star Trek to them, and pretty much everything that goes up into space was dreamt up first by Arthur C Clarke, flash drives and SD cards never felt particularly space age to me.

You can’t see the Death Star plans being delivered to the rebel spies on a novelty USB stick shaped like a wedge of cheese, for instance.

But these 5D glass chips are properly futuristic. Using a femtosecond laser (which sounds like a hair removal treatment for women), a team of scientists led by Jingyu Zhang were able to imprint tiny dots onto a piece of fused quartz glass. The process still uses the binary data system, where a dot is representative of ‘1’, while an empty space is representative of ‘0’.

After that, it all gets a bit complicated. But to paraphrase Matt Damon in The Martian, it sounds like they scienced the **** out of it.

The entirety of human history in palm of your hand

This new method is more than a little efficient compared to your average hard drive. One of these glass chips has the capacity to hold 360 TB of data (1 TB is 1024 GB). This means that on a glass disc roughly the circumference of an Oreo could hold the contents of 75,000 DVDs, which means you’d only need a few if you wanted to collect all of the episodes of The Simpsons.

Here’s the good news the Kindle lovers, or lovers of human history, or people who’d like our data to be preserved for a very, very long time; 360 TB is the equivalent of 180 million books. In the entire of human history, we have produced 130 million books, meaning one of these chips could store the entire published work of mankind (even including Robert Jordan’s the Wheel of Time series) and still be only two thirds full.

The disc that could outlast us all

One of these glass chips could very well outlive the human race. The crystals remain stable up to temperatures of 1000°C – the same temperature as the inside of the pitta bread after a minute in a toaster – and the scientists responsible believe it could endure for a million years. That would certainly make protecting your data a lot more convenient without Norton popping up to remind you that you haven’t backed up for a week.

It’s good to know that our data could live longer than we do. Legacy is important to me. The human race won’t live forever; the vast size and scale of the universe makes it impossible for us to see it through to the end. So it’s nice to know that when we have had our time, our artefacts will live on.

Like in Indiana Jones (But with Lizards)

It would be nice to flip the tables and reverse the roles in the classic science fiction stories. Instead of humans landing on a strange planet and finding mysterious temples, it could be 10-foot lizard beings that touched down on the Earth’s surface millions of years from now. They may learn some strange things about the once-inhabitants of this green and fertile land. One of them might trip over an old selfie stick.

And in the dusty ruins of an old, yet futuristic, library, they may come across a small box of glass discs. They find a device nearby which seems to have a perfectly shaped chamber for these discs. They insert one and – to their immense surprise – discover that it works perfectly. The projector flickers into life, painting pictures on a dusty wall of the time long past.

And at that moment, thousands of millennia after humankind last strode across the Earth’s surface, those lizard beings will be able to take a humble piece of glass and read the entire of Garfield.


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Doctor Who – Back on Form at Last?

Peter Capaldi as The Doctor. I don't know who is playing the explosion. Photo Credit: BBC America.
Peter Capaldi as The Doctor. I don’t know who is playing the explosion. Photo Credit: BBC America.

The only ‘it’s complicated’ reality-television style on-off relationship I’ve ever had has been with Doctor Who. Calm down fan-fic writers, I’m talking platonically. I like it because it has aliens and time travel and clever science and explosions and all the great science fiction elements. Yet as both myself and the series got older (I was only 15 when it came back), I began to realise I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I thought I ‘should’.

Warning: This post contains spoilers to the Doctor Who episodes Cold War, Under the Lake, and Before the Flood.

The problem was that many of the episodes missed the mark in so many ways. Russell T. Davies – who must be credited at least for bringing the show back in the first place – laid the foundations for a number of errors that still haunt the show to this day.

The problems I had were:

The Doctor often did very little

In many episodes he often served as little more than a glorified bus driver or tour guide, getting the assistant into scrapes so that…

His companions usually saved the day

In a lot of episodes the Doctor is either trapped, conflicted, or paralysed by guilt or fear, and as a result it is the companion who actually resolves the story. This usually happens because they are human and bring compassion out of everyone which plays right into error number three…

The villains often suddenly become nice

In the episode Cold War a crew of seamen trapped in a submarine with a fearsome Ice Warrior. At the end of the episode the Ice Warrior attempts to overload the submarine’s nuclear reactor, killing all the humans. Luckily, the Doctor ‘has a word’ with him and makes this ancient killing machine – who is so badass he has the name ‘warrior’ in the description of his species – change his mind.

He leaves peacefully, because he’s suddenly become really nice. This happens so often in Doctor Who. It even happens a couple of times to the Daleks, which is utterly ridiculous considering the whole point of them is that they are genetically engineered to remove their emotions and only feel hatred. It’s like a toaster that makes bread colder. It just doesn’t work.

Am I looking for Ninja Who? No, but…

I’m not always looking for a big fight. I don’t go in for senseless killing. At the same time, I hate it when people talk about the kind of ‘average’ violence in films as being a very bad thing. Yes, James Bond has killed a lot of people, but they were on the ‘bad’ side. While very few situations in real life are that clear-cut: this is cinema.

I’m intelligent enough to be able to enjoy a film – or a book, or play a game – in which the hero has to kill people to save the day, and understand that the victims are in many ways symbolic of the barriers they must face in order to gain victory. These kinds of things cater to our innate need to survive, to be challenged and come out on top. An action film is no different to a sporting event – they are both about creating a challenge for humanity to overcome in order to recapture that primal experience of surviving.

Which is why, although I don’t want the Doctor to become a serial killer, I don’t like it when he shies away from violence to the extent where the story just doesn’t work. It’s not realistic for a super-engineered killing machine like a Dalek to suddenly decide to be nice, and the whole point is that they are completely and utterly evil.

What’s great about the Doctor is that he always gives people a choice. Once they choose to continue in their evil ways, he puts a stop to it. That’s mercy, lenience, and clemency: all qualities to be admired, even when he has to resort to extreme measures to bring about justice.

That’s basically a huge part of his character and of the show – he does the difficult things that other people won’t, because someone has to, and because he’s a hero.

Everyone makes the Doctor look rubbish

This is basically a summary of the above three points. The Doctor is not meant to be an action hero akin to Rambo or Ethan Hunt, granted. His first line of defence should always be to run, his first weapon negotiation. But the Doctor who returned to our screens was crippled by an overwhelming mixture of guilt, fear, and a love of happy endings that he hardly ever did anything. He was basically a cameo character in his own show.

However…

I missed a few episodes of the last series, because I had finally given up. I realised that Doctor Who was always going to be – in my mind, at least – a concept that could never be brought to screen correctly. The plots were always going to be wishy-washy, the monsters ineffective, the companions too dominant and important, and the resolutions strained. I’m not saying I want the Doctor to go storming into a room with a machine gun and mow down everything in his path, but in past episodes he has often been so adverse to do anything remotely ‘naughty’ you can almost hear the show’s internal logic screeching as the plot bends it out of shape.

I think it’s worth addressing the point that DW is, technically (I guess), a kid’s show. So much of what is ‘wrong’ with it is that people think you can’t put anything remotely violent on television because all our children will grow up to be psychopaths. However, for hundreds of years our stories have followed a simple moral – bad people fail, and good people triumph. That, in itself, is enough of a message for kids. Even Disney, for crying out loud, kills off its villains. Are we really saying Doctor Who – which used to terrify the crap out of kids – needs to be tamer than The Lion King?

The trailer for the new series compelled me to try a couple of episodes. And I’m so glad I did. The first two were great, but the following two-parter by Toby Whithouse was brilliant. This episode (I’ll refer to both as one episode, seeing as they are two halves of the same story) was, in my opinion, everything Doctor Who should be.

For starters, it was bloody creepy

It had some actual monsters in it (ghosts, in fact, with big black eyes) who killed people. The Doctor and Clara are trapped in an underwater research facility with a science crew being attacked by ghostly apparitions that turn the crew they killed into others just like them. So it was ‘scary’, and it was tense.

Secondly, the Doctor did a lot of stuff

He was in charge. Clara had a big role to play – the assistant should have a big role, and I have no problem with them taking charge and leading parts of the story – but it was the Doctor everyone turned to. Because why have such an amazing, charismatic, funny, intelligent, eccentric, mad, unpredictable hero if you aren’t going to use him?

Thirdly, there was a big scary monster

And it was evil. It stayed evil right until the end, when…

Fourth, the Doctor kills the Fisher King (the main villain)

He doesn’t do it on a whim, and he thinks long and hard about it. But in the end, he decides that the Fisher King hijacking people’s souls to turn them into beacons, transmitting his location to his armada and killing more people to boost the signal, is robbing people of their deaths, and bending the rules of life.

The Fisher King has done something heinous and won’t relent – the Doctor has no choice. Had this been an earlier series of DW, the Fisher King would have suddenly realised the error of his ways, apologised, and left. Basically he would have become a different character and we’d all be left trying to work out how we’re supposed to believe that, and why he doesn’t get brought to justice for killing all those people before the Doctor had a heart-to-heart with him.

Fifth, the Doctor does lots of badass things

1) He shreds Beethoven on the guitar, 2) he does some clever trickery with a hologram ghost-version of himself, 3) he confronts the main villain without apologising, grovelling, or trying to find the good in him, 4) he does some cool timey-wimey stuff where it turns out it was him in the suspended animation pod the whole time and so he comes back in time to save the day, and 5) he kills the Fisher King by blowing up a damn and bringing millions of tonnes of water down upon him. Take that soppy, born-again Daleks.

Great television, not just great Doctor Who

One of the most impressive things about these two episodes was that they featured a deaf character and her interpreter. It was cleverly built into the story so that she played a vital role – the ghosts couldn’t make a noise, but they were mouthing a cryptic message that was broadcast across the galaxy. Who do you need to decode that? Someone who can lip-read.

There were lots of ways it was woven into the narrative, including an absolutely brilliant scene: she’s searching the corridors of the base on her own, being pursued by a ghost dragging an axe (they can hold onto metal objects). Eventually she feels the vibrations of the axe scraping across the metal floor and escapes harm. It’s a fantastic sequence, made especially creepy by the initial soundless shot of her walking while an armed ghost comes staggering up behind her.

Her character shows that disabled characters can not only be ‘accommodated’ into television shows; their ‘disabilities’ can become abilities. Her being deaf was almost a superpower in the episode. I’d love to see more of this in future episodes of DW. Writers everywhere (including myself) should take note.

A momentary blip or a return to form?

I’ve had too many instances of hoping Doctor Who was on track, only for those hopes to be derailed in the next episode. The first two episodes of this season were great as well, so maybe at the very least series 9 will have enough good episodes to keep me committed to watching for the foreseeable future.

Will this good form continue? Well, the trailer for the next episode depicts Vikings fighting huge killer robots, so here’s hoping…

Connections through time

I had one of those ‘small world’ moments today. A lady came to visit us to tell us all about what will be happening after we’ve had our baby. There was a big list of appointments that will happen after it’s been born*, and plenty of leaflets with really useful advice in them such as ‘Never smack a baby’.

*We decided not to find out whether we are having a girl or a boy so that it would be a surprise. It feels kind of weird having to refer to our child as ‘it’ for the time being though. Still, it’s better than ‘the spawn’, I guess.

I thought she looked familiar when I answered the door, and indeed she was. Turns out she is the mother of one of my old school friends. We came into contact quite a few times when I was younger, and then as friends drift away from each other, I haven’t seen her for years.

I wonder what my 15 year old self would make of that. What would I have done had I known back then that the next time I saw her, she’d be taking care of my fiancée and our first child?

It’s amazing how our lives intersect with others. People we don’t see for years pop up again without warning, and those who were in the background of our existence suddenly become central players in our own stories.

Just goes to show – you should always be nice to people. One day they might have the role of looking after the most precious things in your life.

Sir Terry Pratchett: An Obituary

Image Source: BBC News
Image Source: BBC News

These words will probably be lost amongst a sea of mourning, but that’s OK. I am just one among thousands who will be writing something like this. And in this case, perhaps it is more important to write the words, than it is to have them read. The fact my farewell to the great Sir Terry Pratchett will be eclipsed by better, more important eulogies is fitting. The outpouring of love for him following the news of his death earlier today will drown me out, and that is exactly what Terry deserves.

With over 70 books to his name, Terry Pratchett managed a rare feat – to create fantasy that even the most snobbish of literary types could love and be absorbed into. He showed the true power of the genre: the power to say profound things about every aspect of our existence, far better and more clearly than its possible when you are confined to the realms of the real.

The Discworld had such an influence on me as a writer. My work was often described as ‘Pratchett-esque’, to the point where I had to reign it in, for I wanted to be seen as more than a wannabe. As everyone does during their teenage years, I searched for a source of identity and inspiration. As a young writer, Sir Terry was a beacon of talent; a literary lighthouse that steered me towards new ways of thinking and of crafting with words. Even today I still dream and aspire to emulate his success. But never the man himself, because Sir Terry wouldn’t be Sir Terry if he was easily replicated.

His death has left a hole in the literary world. As readers, our only salve for this wound is the many wonderful novels he had left us with. But it will never be enough. It is not only his work that is beloved; it is the man himself.

Every time we turned a page, we fell in love a little more.

Five incredible space photos

I’ve just finished reading Tweeting the Universe, by Marcus Chown and Govert Schilling, in which huge scientific concepts are simplified and explained in a series of 140 character paragraphs. It’s a great read, highly recommended, but sometimes the sheer scale of the universe simply melts your brain. It’s incredible to think about what is up there, and that gave me the idea of having a look at some of the pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The images it captures are amazing, so I decided to share a few. Amazing what a book can lead you to.

1. Planetary Nebula NGC 2818

Image Credit: NASA/ESA
Planetary Nebula NGC 2818.  Image Credit: NASA/ESA

A lot of these systems don’t have particularly sexy names, although it wouldn’t be as dramatic if the stunning display above was called ‘Pete’, would it? (No offence to any Petes out there – Pete is a much better name for a human than NGC 2818.)

2. The Antenna Galaxies/NGC 4038-4039

The Antennae Galaxies/NGC 4038-4039
Source: Hubblesite.org

These two galaxies have been drawn together by their gravities over billions of years and are currently colliding. They will swirl around each other, like two marbles falling into a cone, creating billions of new stars as they merge. Of course, it probably looks a lot different now, as the light from there takes a while to get here. It could have been replaced by an Argos for all we know.

3. NGC 5866

ACS Image of NGC 5866
Source: Hubblesite.org

It may only be about the length of your thumb on the screen, but that disc in the centre is an entire galaxy full of stars. The galaxy NGC 5866 is 44million lightyears away. This photo shows it almost side on, where you can see how flat it is as a structure. Notice all the other galaxies in the background, so much further away they look barely bigger than a typical star.

4. Messier 101

Hubble
Source: Hubblesite.org

This picture of M101 took around 9 years to create, and was composed of 51 individual exposures take by the Hubble Space Telescope during the time period, as well as some images from ground-based cameras. No selfie sticks were involved.

5. Orion Nebula

Hubble
Source: Hubblesite.org

The Orion Nebula is a vast, dense cloud of gas and dust, in which new stars are being born. The matter condenses, due to gravity, and eventually becomes so heavy that it ignites. It doesn’t look like it, but there are 3,000 stars visible in this image.

Aaaand now I feel small

Anyone else feeling slightly insignificant? But look on the plus side, at this rate the universe will never ever run out of ways to astound and amaze us.

Which is your favourite picture?

Thoughts from 1.30 am

Panneau-dormir
People who can sleep easily shouldn’t give away their location. Us non-sleepers have plenty of time to plan our revenge, and now we know where you are. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons User Grondin

It’s another night of being unable to sleep. What was once a feeling of hopeful tiredness has evaporated into a couple of hours spent trying to think relaxing thoughts. Everyone else in the house is asleep. Everyone else in the house is the kind of person who could fall asleep during root canal surgery being performed without an anaesthetic. The gits.

I’ve never been a particularly good sleeper. I think I have trouble switching my brain off, like when you really need to turn your laptop of in a hurry, and that’s when Windows decides it needs to install 47 updates and then turn itself back on. Maybe a part of me is just refusing to believe that the day is over. Another part of me (specifically: my stomach) really wants some cereal. Bladder’s chiming in too, saying that, seeing as the whole body is still awake, legs might as well take us for a trip to the bathroom.

It doesn’t help that when you’re trying to get to sleep, but you can’t, normal things decide to act up just to highlight the fact you’re still awake. My pillows have developed a creak. My pillows. Those two soft objects under my head are making a noise associated with hard wooden furniture and really old bridges. I expect the mattress will start coughing soon.

So, what to do? Well, Buzzfeed wasn’t offering anything particularly inspiring (e.g. pictures of stupid Facebook statuses), so I thought I might as well write about it.

I can hear someone snoring in the next room. They might as well just learn to sleep shout ‘EVERYBODY LISTEN TO HOW COMFY AND ASLEEP I AM RIGHT NOW’. It’s very inconsiderate of them, being sound sleep at 01.24 in the morning.

It could be worse, I suppose. It’s very windy outdoor, so at least I have a roof and theoretically half* a bed to keep me comfortable and warm. There’s probably a forlorn badger outside who would love the chance to blog about his experiences.

*(You’d never think it possible to lie on the corner of the mattress like the van at the end of the Italian Job without falling out during the night, until you’ve shared a bed. I suspect this is because your lady anchors you to something, not wanting to lose the vast reserve of body heat that could be keeping her warm instead of you).

One of the dogs is clearly dreaming. What the hell do dogs have to dream about? It’s not like he can wake up and tell his brother:

“God, I had the weirdest dream last night. You and I were on the beach, but it wasn’t the beach. And that Beagle we met four years ago was there, and we were trying to bury the sand under a pile of giant bones.”

Still, perhaps I will be dreaming soon. I think I’m getting tired again. It’s off for round two. If I make it, I’ll see you in the morning.

2015 is the Year of Want

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons User Nilfanion.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons User Nilfanion.

It might seem that ‘want’ is a bad word to base an entire year’s worth of attitudes and behaviours on. Allow me to explain, however, why wanting things is the only resolution I’m making for this year.

In 2014 I set myself some pretty steep challenges. I had a massive document of goals to achieve that looked like something a CEO would give their board members. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t manage to meet these impossible targets. And every time that happened I felt like I had failed.

What I should have been doing was celebrating my achievements. I published a book. That’s a big thing. I shouldn’t have forgotten that fact because I was so focused on sales that numbers were the only thing that mattered. Sales can come later. And the reviews so far have been very positive. So not only have I written and published a book this year. I have written a good book.

When you get obsessed with targets it becomes hard to appreciate your successes. If you have a target to sell 1000 books but you sell 500, you’ve failed your goal. But have you performed poorly? Of course not.

Thinking about what you need to do forces you to use a binary perspective in which things either worked or they didn’t. The task either gets done, or it doesn’t. Goals get met, or they don’t. Things need to be done, or they don’t. Things you need to do get put off. Needing to do something doesn’t make it seem very appealing.

Which is why I have recently adopted the practice of doing what I want to. This isn’t selfish, as it first appears. It’s simply about finding the pleasure in things, rather than looking for objectives or deadlines.

Most of the things I do are still things that technically need to be done. But I do them because I want to. For instance, I need to write a regular blog for one of my freelance clients. But I want to do it because I enjoy coming up with subject ideas, sending over a finished document, interacting with the intended audience, and making my client happy. Oh, and being paid. I like being paid.

So you see it’s not a change in behaviour, simply a change in perspective. Those tasks that need doing will still be done, but now I will remember why I want to do them, and it will be for those reasons that they are carried out and completed.

If I can adopt this philosophy, 2015 promises to be a very rewarding year, regardless of what kind of ups and downs it brings. After all, what can be better at the year’s end than to look back and say aloud, ‘This year, I lived as I would have liked to.’

Happy New Year