Friday, 28 September 2012

The Desman

Started writing a new novel this week and have been snowed under with other stuff, so this is one of those 'filler' postings about my favourite creatures: those with elongated snouts.

But what a find this is!

The Russian Desman - described as having a body like a muskrat, a nose like a hedgehog, and feet like a duck-billed platypus (which in itself is an amalgamation!). Not only do I WANT one of these, I want to BE one of these!

There's an excellent article about them here

Bit of a spoiler for that article, but I have to post another one of their pics from that site. Just look at the length of that snout!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

55 Reading Questions

I came across these questions over at Little Words and thought I'd have a go. I've linked all books mentioned to Goodreads.

1. Favourite childhood book?

The first novel I read was Five On A Treasure Island by Enid Blyton. It certainly got me into reading - even now I can remember sitting on my bed and looking at the cover for the first time - so I would say it's my favourite even though I haven't revisited it.

2. What are you reading right now?

A State Of Denmark by Derek Raymond and The Silent Cry by Kenzaburo Oe

3. What books do you have on request at the library?


4. Bad book habit?

I can't stop buying books! I have about 250 to read not including the titles my girlfriend owns that I should also be reading.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?

Nothing. Even though I work at my local library on alternate Sundays (the busiest UK library in fact: The Millennium Library in Norwich) I prefer to own the books that I read.

6. Do you have an e-reader?

No. I prefer the physicality of an actual book in my hands.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?

I usually read two books at once. One at home, and one when I get the opportunity at work. I do this because if I only read one book I'd forget to take it to work or I'd forget to take it home again. Two books at once make more sense.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?

As I don't blog specifically about each book then no. I do also review at Goodreads, but this doesn't affect my book selection.

9. Least favourite book you read this year (so far)?

Checking on Goodreads there's a couple of books I've given just two stars to this year. Angela Carter's The Magic Toyshop which bored me thoroughly and Iain Banks' The Business which was below par and unengaging.

10. Favourite book you've read this year?

Again, according to Goodreads, I've awarded maximum stars to The Pleasures Of The Damned by Charles Bukowski and The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?

I'm not sure if I have a comfort zone, but I'm unlikely to read a straightforward romance novel or a hefty fantasy trilogy

12. What is your reading comfort zone?

Anything that engages the mind as well as being a pure good read. Currently I've been reading more pulp crime than anything else.

13. Can you read on the bus?

I could if I took the bus, but I cycle to work and don't read on my bike.

14. Favourite place to read?

In bed.

15. What is your policy on book lending?

I'll lend my books to my girlfriend because I know she'll take care of them. I've lent books to friends before and haven't got them back.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?


17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?


18. Not even with text books?

I might have done that in the past, but I haven't used textbooks for a while now. Having said that, if I did need to mark a page I think I would use a coloured sticky note which can be detached without damaging the book.

19. What is your favourite language to read in?

English. Although I wish I could read French.

20. What makes you love a book?

Some kind of connection with a character that identifies me with the book.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?

If I think the person I'm recommending it to will enjoy it. Sounds like a daft answer, but different books will appeal to different people. For example, I recently recommended a book to a fellow writer not because I particularly liked it but because I thought he might appreciate it (even if he might also not like it).

22. Favourite genre?

This is a tricky one to answer - I guess I prefer literary fiction - even if that fiction also happens to be SF or crime or some other genre.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did)?

I'm content with everything that I read.

24. Favourite biography?

I'm going to include autobiography and have My Last Breath by Luis Bunuel

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?

I read Dreamweaver for Dummies if that counts, although I worked out most of what I needed to know from the programme itself.

26. Favourite cookbook?

This would be 500 Indian Recipes that I bought recently. I now make a fantastic sweet and sour balti chicken curry.

27. Most inspirational book you've read this year?

Inspirational isn't a word I think of with regards to fiction, so the above cookbook would take the prize as I can now cook Indian food easily.

28. Favourite reading snack?

I don't like eating when reading in case I mess up the pages with greasy fingers.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.

I'd so heard many good things about The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart, but whilst the concept of the book was great I think it's dated over the passage of time. I'm not one for remakes of anything, but in this instance I think the book should be remade for modern readers.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?

I don't read that many reviews of books, although when it comes to genre work I generally find I agree with Pete Tennant who reviews for Black Static magazine

31. How do you feel about giving bad or negative reviews?

I feel you have to be honest about what you're reviewing because the integrity of all your reviews depends on you being consistent in your approach. What I try and do is balance the review with the things which worked well with those that didn't. Or - if nothing worked - explain why it didn't work for me. It's just a personal opinion, after all.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, what language would you choose?

Oh - I see I answered this above. French.

33. Most intimidating book you ever read?

Intimidating is an odd word. I can't think of a suitable response.

34. Most intimidating book you're too nervous to begin?

Again, not sure about intimidating. For me it wouldn't be subject matter, but as I prefer shorter novels then anything over 400 pages is going to put me off even if I like the author; but I will read it eventually.

35. Favourite poet?

I've recently been introduced to the work of Charles Bukowski and have to say he's my new favourite poet. Not that I normally read any poetry, even though I assist with Fur-Lined Ghettos magazine

36. How many books do you have checked out of the library at any given time?

None - as stated above, I prefer to own the books I read.

37. How often have you returned books to the library unread?

Never. I'd have to get them out first.

38. Favourite fictional character?

Humbert Humbert from Lolita and Alobar from Jitterbug Perfume

39. Favourite fictional villain?

Well, you could make a case for Lolita from Lolita being the villain of the piece.

40. Books you're most likely to bring on vacation?

I choose my books at random so it could be anything. All my unread books are numbered and when I finish one my girlfriend selects a number for another without sight of the list

41. The longest I've gone without reading.

It's probably been a few weeks, although I've been reading steadily now for the past few years so can't recall when that would have been.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.

I rarely give up on a book, but did so with The History of Danish Dreams by Peter Hoeg, even though I loved Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow. And also something by Robert Graves that I can no longer remember the title of.

43. What distracts you when you're reading.

My girlfriend.

44. Favourite film adaptation of a novel?

I really enjoyed the film Norwegian Wood from the Haruki Murakami novel of the same name.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?

The film of Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife which trashed the book and changed the ending. I'm afraid I was rather vocal in the cinema.

46. The most money I've ever spent in a bookstore at one time.

Probably around £30. Probably at the Astley Book Farm.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it.

Only the blurb and interior reviews and maybe an introduction if it's not a spoiler. Never the actual text.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book halfway through?

It's very rare, but boredom. Also I stopped reading a Simone de Beauvoir novel when I realised pages were missing and others were duplicated in the edition I had.

49. Do you like to keep your books organised?

Since my girlfriend moved in with me all my books are on the shelf author alphabetical chronological.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you've read them?

I always keep books. They establish my identity.

51. Are there any books you've been avoiding?

If I don't think I like a book I won't buy it. There might be some on my shelves I've had for a while which I might not have chosen to pick up next , but that situation is changing now I have the random selection procedure established as mentioned above. Now I have to read whatever book is chosen for me.

52. Name a book that made you angry.

I think I'd find it hard to get angry about a book. A friend got so angry at the ending of Paul Auster's Oracle Night that he threw it against the wall. Then he lent it to me and I loved it.

53. A book you didn't expect to like, but did?

The previously mentioned Time Traveller's Wife. I thought it would be a 'woman's read' but it grabbed me from start to finish.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn't?

I'm a great fan of Tom Robbins but wasn't keen on Half Asleep In Frog Pajamas. I think he phoned that one in.

55. Favourite guilt-free pleasure reading?

Pulp crime fiction - short, direct, great prose, and an easy read.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Proof That There Is A Dog

I'm a big fan of coincidence. Coincidence implies that there might be some interconnectedness to the universe. It doesn't imply there's any meaning, of course. That would be silly. But sometimes coincidence can wrap around you and surprise you and take your breath away.

Some coincidences can be easily explained. You see a word you never heard of before: suddenly that word is everywhere. All that's happened, of course, is that you have become attuned to seeing that word. It was always there, you just weren't seeing it.

Other coincidences are visual. Again, given the limitless permutations of reality it's hardly surprising these things can happen. A little more surprising is that somewhere is there to take the photograph, but even so, as I firmly believe, anything is possible given time. So whilst these are coincidences, they can be easily explained away.

With other coincidences, there isn't an easy explanation. Here's something that happened recently: at home we have a way of reading our massive collection of books whereby there is a numbered list on the PC and when one book is read another number is selected at random. The other day I picked a number for Sophie and as a result she began reading E M Forster's "A Room With A View". So far, so good.

The following day I happened to be browsing Smashwords after seeing that someone I knew had uploaded a book they had written to the site. Whilst I was there I searched for crime novels - not to buy anything, but because I've written a couple and I've been looking for publishers. I bookmarked one crime e-book publisher to check out once I've exhausted the print options, but then happened to see the name Craig Forgrave. The name rang a bell with me. But I couldn't place it. I clicked on his profile and the picture also seemed familiar, but again I couldn't pinpoint why. It was quite a distinctive photo.

Anyway, I forgot all about it. Later the same day Sophie told me she was giving up on the E M Forster book. It just wasn't grabbing her. Fair enough. I took the book off her hands and went downstairs where I placed it back on the shelves. Our books are all shelved author alphabetical, and - you've guessed it by now - I slotted it back into it's position immediately to the right of this book:

Let's just examine what had to happen for this coincidence to occur. Of course, I could start with every event since my birth (and indeed, before it), but perhaps the obvious place to start would be the publication of my 2004 novel Moon Beaver by ENC Press. ENC Press also published Devil Jazz, which is why I have this - probably obscure - book on my shelf. Next, let's fast forward to Sophie moving in last year and deciding to put all our books in alphabetical order. Then let's remember that E M Forster's "A Room With A View" was chosen from a list of around 350 books at random. I'll remind you that the following day I came across Craig's name on a site I have never previously visited. Then, perhaps most importantly, the fact that Sophie gave up on reading "A Room With A View" and so I had to replace it next to the Forgrave on the same day. That's some coincidence!

Then I get to wondering, maybe it isn't a coincidence. Maybe I've created the world that I live within and therefore there are only a finite number of possibilities for events to happen - those that are limited within the extent of my imagination. I've written a short story recently - "The Aniseed Gumball Kid" - where the main character muses in a similar vein; for example, why does every office always contain the same mix of similar looking people with similar interests? And in my novel, "And God Created Zombies", the main protagonist is thrust directly into a world which he seems to have the key to.

Ultimately, whenever a cool coincidence occurs I think to myself: 'maybe this proves there is a dog after all'. I'm not religious in any sense to believe there might be a god. But a dog, well, that could just about be possible.

Meantime, let's embrace coincidence. That usually happy set of circumstances which make life worth living for the sheer joy of happenstance.

Friday, 7 September 2012


This week - from Tuesday through to Thursday - I'm planning on losing a little weight. I'm going to write this blog over the next three days as I go but will only post it on Friday morning, so if you're reading this you'll know the result before I do (of course, that doesn't quite work, but I like the sound of it).

So, why the weight loss? I'm reasonably fit, I cycle 6 miles a day to and from work, and I currently weigh 12st. But anything over 11 and a half stone always makes me feel uncomfortable - the clothes don't quite fit right, my belly extends like a starving child, and if I'm not careful I have the feeling I might end up like this:

I'm following a diet which I've used before - a handful of times over the past ten years - which could mean I lose 10lb by the end of the three days. It's known as the British Heart Foundation diet, but it's not endorsed by them and its origin seems unknown. There are also warnings on the internet about it, because essentially I'll be having no more than 700 calories a day. However, it works. Or at least, it has worked for me, and even to do it just this week should hopefully bring my weight down to a more comfortable level.

So, here we go. Weigh in Monday night was dead on 12st. Breakfast Tuesday morning:

Black tea
½ Grapefruit
1 slice of toast (no butter/margarine)
Small tin of baked beans

This is actually more than I usually eat for breakfast. I'd normally have a couple of pieces of toast maybe with jam together with a mouthful or two of milk. So far, so good. Incidentally, I don't often drink tea or coffee. Usually I'll have milk or water. On this diet, I must drink lots and lots of water.

Mid-morning I'm hungry and drinking a lot of water. I usually have a banana at first break at work, but nothing today.

Tuesday lunch:

4oz tuna
1 slice of toast (no butter etc)
Black tea

This is so dry to eat! Normally at work I would have a granary bap with meat, cucumber and tomato, a packet of Walkers Crisps, and an apple. Occasionally, I might succumb to a chocolate bar. But it was quite tasty - even though I missed the mayonnaise. Also at afternoon break at work I usually have another banana, but not today.

Tuesday dinner:

2 slices roast pork
1 cup of string beans
4oz beetroot
1 small apple
40z vanilla ice cream
Again, this was quite filling. I did have two slices of breaded ham on the menu instead of the pork, but it had turned green and my partner forbade me to eat it (I have a habit of eating gone off food). I steamed the beans and they were ace. The ice cream was also filling - it's rare I have ice cream so it felt like a treat. Later, around ten, I was getting pretty hungry again, but had some water and was fine.

Wednesday breakfast:

Black coffee
1 soft boiled egg
1 piece of toast (no butter etc)
½ a banana

Wasn't particularly hungry when I awoke - no more than usual, in any event. Which seemed quite hopeful. Again, this is more than I would normally have for breakfast, so I enjoyed it. At work I didn't even miss my usual banana at break time.

Wednesday lunch

Black tea
4oz cottage cheese
5 saltine crackers (mine are Tuc)

Must admit this is the lunch I've been dreading. I am no fan of cottage cheese - it looks like the posset my 3 month old daughter has been bringing up. I imagine it tastes the same. Anyway, having eaten it it's surprising how tasty stuff can become when you're quite hungry. Lunch wasn't bad at all - BUT IT WASN'T ENOUGH! Drinking water to compensate.

Wednesday dinner

2 slices honey roast ham
4oz broccoli
2oz carrots
½ banana
4oz vanilla ice cream
I steamed the broccoli until it was soft. Not a huge fan of crunchy vegetables and not a huge fan of broccoli unless in a curry, stir-fry, or covered with gravy and mashed potato. Eating it was a bit of a chore, but eat it I did. Felt pretty hungry until I ate the ice-cream which more or less filled me up. And I've been nowhere near as hungry during the day or evening as I thought I would be. Drunk less water in the evening than I did in the day. Feel thinner.
Thursday breakfast

Black coffee
1 slice of cheddar cheese
5 saltine crackers
1 small apple

I'm not really getting terribly hungry unless I smell food and I wasn't particularly hungry overnight. Makes me wonder why I've been eating so much. In some respects I'm thinking that eating makes you hungry! Once the diet is finished I'm hoping that I don't put the weight back on. I'll certainly have a think about what I eat and how often during the day. Only annoyance was that I have a boiled egg to look forward to this lunchtime and with three eggs in the fridge this morning I actually weighed them to see which was the biggest - then I dropped the bastard thing and cracked it. Lunch looks even more minimal than on the other days...

Thursday lunch

Black tea
1 hard boiled egg
1 piece of toast

Well, there wasn't much there. Ate the egg slowly with the occasional bite of toast inbetween. Yet again - surprisingly - whilst I've got a bit of an ache for food I'm not frothing at the mouth for it. Mid-afternoon my water intake went up to quell some hunger, and I find I'm automatically clenching my stomach muscles regularly. Anyway, just the final meal to go and then nothing til normal breakfast tomorrow before which I'll weigh myself.

Thursday dinner

4oz cauliflower
4oz beetroot
4oz tuna
½ melon
4oz vanilla ice cream

Compared to previous evening meals this was a feast. Again, I steamed the cauliflower until it was soft enough for my taste. I had a Galia melon. And again, the ice cream certainly seems to take the hunger pangs away.

Slept well. Woke at 6 and couldn't get back to sleep (not for excitement, just one of those things). Before my usual breakfast I had the weigh in: 11st 7lbs. I have therefore shed 7lbs, half a stone, in 3 days. Result!

To keep it that way I'm not going to snack much, will cut down on what I take to work (because it's there I will just eat it) and will probably do the same thing again next month. You can do it week in week out, but 11st 7 was my goal and I made it (although apparently 11st is the ideal weight for my height).

So, now, I can hopefully remain like this. To Sophie's approval :)

Monday, 3 September 2012

Why Don't Even The People You Expect To Read, Read?

I attended a local SF convention over the weekend, NOR-CON, where I had a dealer's table selling some of my own books as well as a lot of brand new paperbacks and hardbacks that I'd managed to accrue over the last twelve months. I must admit I wasn't expecting to sell much - it was a media convention and the large dealers room contained everything from lego spaceship toys, to displays including Robby The Robot and R2D2, to make-up artists, memorabilia specialists, comic books, and figurines. In fact, those stalls selling books were few and far between - not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it's better to sell books without competition, of course. Anyway, the thrust of the convention was its special guests from Dr Who, Star Wars, and Red Dwarf. This photo will give you an indication of what it was all about:

As well as the special guests who were genuinely from the TV shows and movies, there were a large number of lookalikes (or dressalikes in the cases where the costume concealed the face) either attending professionally or just for fun. We saw Predator, a short and stocky Batman, Superman, various Stormtroopers, Power Rangers, a couple of Supergirls, and Capt Jack Sparrow (aka Johnny Depp aka someone who looked a bit like him). Naturally, many of these costume-wearers took themselves seriously, which was hilarious. I even donned my penguin mask in an attempt to fit in.

Now, forgive me if I'm naive, but I had a feeling that those people inclined to be interested in the aforementioned TV shows and films, those people open to SF and therefore open to new ideas and mind-blowing concepts, those people geeky enough to celebrate that geekdom by narrowing their love of genre down to monogamous desire, might - just might - read books that were SF-related. Does that sound too much to ask?

Well, apparently it is. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't expecting people to flock to buy books by Andrew Hook (although there was a certain amount of interest in And God Created Zombies and I sold some of those), but I did expect the brand new books I had for sale by recognised SF/F/H writers to get some attention. What tended to happen, however, was for people to glance at the table with books on it, and then wander off. My only assumption is that it was the books themselves which weren't the attraction (in fairness, I sold two - Zoo City by Lauren Beukes to someone who picked up the book on three separate occasions before buying, and Kraken by China Melville by someone who only deliberated over it twice). Some people looked at the top book, but didn't peruse the spines of the rest - why is that? Only a couple of people actually looked at everything I had (other than the handful that bought).

So, why the aversion to books? In our visual media saturated society has television (or any of the contraptions upon which images can now be viewed) won out over books? Or is it something that is perhaps more worrying, in that many readers will only buy books by names that they know? Is no one willing to take a risk anymore. To find a gem by looking at a cover and reading a blurb without knowing the author who wrote it. I remember as a kid I would buy books and music based on visual appeal or intriguing blurbs. And in a genre which by it's very definition should be forward thinking and open to new ideas, the disinterest in books seems a tad radical.

And again, more worryingly, if mankind does not seek out new and unusual books other than those spoon-fed or familiar, then as a readership we will enter a narrowing cone of mental stimulation. Our choices will become less and less. For without some kind of market, the writers will give up. It's evolution in reverse.

So - please - read outside your boundaries, extend your feelers beyond your comfort zone. After all, we can't all be photographed with copies, can we? Where's the attraction in that?