Friday, 26 April 2013

Inspired by Dave Gullen who does a Friday flash I've done a Friday Flash too....

Wrinkly Slag Tags

The old guy in front of me was a new client. I hoped he was going to be easier to deal with than

some of my other clients. I needed the money though so was swallowing my usual disgust for the

old and was exuding zen-like patience. I wondered why so many people hitting their 70’s and 80’s

had gone for body modification. After looking at so many wrinkly tattoos and stretched ear lobes I

was genuinely baffled.

I got out a fresh intsamp and asked the old guy to get ready. Luckily he wasn’t a modder, he didn’t have a Prince Albert thank god. He also didn’t seem to have any tattoos or other piercings either. Or the tell-tale holes left behind by removed piercings.

“Try to relax. You’ve never gone in for any tattoos or piercings have you?”

“No” He said in a confused tone. “Is that linked to my condition then?”

“What? No not at all, I was just thinking that there seemed to be a lot of people your age that have. Lots of markings I’ve seen”

“Slag tags?”

“You what? Relax please.” I inserted the device and let it do the work of sampling

“mmmmfff, slag tags, women with tattoos just above their bum?”

“Never heard them called that before” I said looking at the read out on the back of the intsamp “you’ll be relieved to hear that you have an all clear” I said removing the device and ejecting the disposable part.

“Well that’s a relief then.”

“OK sir, I’ll print off a drug for you for the constipation, see you in another year”

I’m going to have to get out of the travelling proctology game I thought to myself for the millionth time.
I enjoyed the evening with Granta at waterstones with two minor issues. The first was that without PA (and I was in the second row) I had to strain to hear some of the replies/readings the authors gave - Both Steven Hall and Evie Wyld were both very softly spoken. The second issue was that i was a bit tongue tied when speaking with Steven Hall afterwards and it seemed to an innocent bystander that I had implied that he'd stolen the idea for his second book from Mark Z. Danielewski which is mortifying, I really didn't mean that at all. I've mailed him to apologise... What I said was something along these lines -

Me - I'd not read much Ergodic Lit before the Raw Shark Texts so it blew me away when I read it and had to find more things like it, so I read House of Leaves. I find it interesting that both you and he have followed an ergodic book with an infinite loop book.

Hall was very gracious but thinking back on his answer, which was basically "I was always going to write this book and although Only Revolutions came out I still thought it was worth doing and the two books are very different"

Me and my Size 10's :-(

There was a reading by each author from the books featured in the Granta edition, $12.99 available on the night which I got the three authors to sign.

There was also an interesting set of questions basically showing that although very different the three authors all shared a fascination with memory. Joanna Kavenna promised to write about sharks for her next book :-) (perhaps Perverted Detective Shark!)

Last night was the launch of Riot! by Mike Manson, a book about the Bristol Bridge "Riot" in 1793

There was an introduction by Dr Steve Poole about the fact that the book is the first to call it a Massacre and that places it almost 25 years in the middle of two other massacres.

Mike Manson talked about why he wrote the book and read a short section out.

The launch was in Renatos on King Street that Steve Poole identified as the oldest building on the street, it certainly had an interestingly tilted floor upstairs and I wouldn't like to consume too much Chianti before trying that floor...

As a bonus I got my copy of Adventure Rocketship from Tangent

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Lurgy strikes once again! Must be the lovely April weather :-(

Despite not feeling 100% I'm off out to Waterstones tonight:

The Bristol Launch
24 April, 7 p.m., Waterstones, 11A Union Galleries, Broadmead, Bristol BS1 3XD. £4, free to Granta subscribers. Call the store at 0117 925 2274 to book.
Join newly announced Best of Young British Novelists Steven Hall, Joanna Kavenna and Evie Wyld for readings and conversation, hosted by Granta’s online editor Ted Hodgkinson.
and continuing with the experimental These Pages fall like Ash especially since two of the wifi servers were sadly not working when we wandered round on Saturday

Review of the evening later tonight/tomorrow

Currently reading - Supergods by Grant Morrison which is a bit "Aren't superhero comics brilliant?" at the moment but he did kindly sign it for me in August so I feel obliged to finish it and blog my thoughts/review

Monday, 22 April 2013

Steinbeck’s pencil

It’s 1989 and I’m walking up Park Street past Forever People looking for the art shop someone has

told me is near the university. I’m on a quest  and I’m looking for a particular Holy Grail of a pencil.

Perhaps I’d best explain that. It’s been a few months since I failed my first year at university, due to

laziness not stupidity (at least that’s what I’m telling myself), and I’ve been telling people I’m a

writer. The only drawback is that I haven’t written anything yet.

So I’m sharing a house with some guys from Uni, I’m not working and we mostly spend our time

playing  board games.

“What are you writing?” Mark asks, I think he’s genuinely interested and not just trying to put me off our game of Risk.

“He’s not writing anything, he does nothing all day” says Julian the only one of us who actually works

“What do you think I should write” I say to steer the conversation away from the topic of my being

lazy and not having enough cash to contribute to the bills. Again.

“Write what you know” says Josh

“Nah, no-one wants to read a tale of a layabout that does nothing all day, where’s the conflict?

Where’s the character development? Where’s the fast moving plot?” says Julian

“You should write a SciFi story about a group of space travellers who are on the run from the law”

 says Mark

“What, like Blakes 7?” I say

“Fantasy” says Josh

“Erotica” Says Julian

“He’s going for Kamchatka and I can’t stop him” I say changing the subject, yet again my plans for

world domination have fallen through.

The next day I feel that I should write something but look at my writing desk (a second hand trestle

table with a dodgy leg) and feel that what I really need is a journal and a proper writing tool. I’m too

poor to get a typewriter so taking inspiration from the East of Eden letters where Steinbeck says –

“On the third finger of my right hand I have a great callus just from using a pencil for so many hours

every day”

I’m going to go out and buy myself a good pencil. Not just any pencil though, Steinbeck’s pencil. 
And for something like that I had to go to town.

I have a racing bike, which spends most of its life with one or other of its tyres flat so I spend the

morning patching it up and pumping up the tyres before I can cycle into town. When I get to

Broadmead I chain the bike up and go to Smiths. The lady is very helpful but they don’t have such a

pencil, she tells me that the art shop at the top of Park Street may be able to help. It doesn’t take
me long to cycle to the bottom of the steep hill and chain my bike up. With the tassels of my suede

jacket flapping in the bitterly cold wind I walk up the hill.

When I eventually find the shop, which is not on Park Street at all. I get into an involved
conversation with the person behind the counter about the weather, the state of the traffic and
Steinbeck’s writing. Eventually I broach the subject of pencils.

“He highly rated three of them; the Eberhard Mongol, the Blaisedell calculator and the Eberhard

Faber Blackwing. Do you have any of them?”

“We can possibly order one in for you” She says pulling out a large black ledger “if they still make

them that is, Steinbeck died in 1968”

“How long will that take?” I ask, already worried about how much this will cost me, but I’m already

committed to  my quest now, in order to write my Magnum Opus I need this.

“I’m not sure, come back next Saturday and we may have something in.”

I give her my telephone number just in case it comes in before I do and walk back down Park Street

to collect my bike.

On Saturday I phoned the shop, after a long conversation it turned out they had been able to order

one but it hadn’t arrived yet. The following Saturday I again phoned and it still hadn’t arrived. Again

the next week and for what seemed like an age. Eventually

“Do you have it”

Was finally answered with

“Yes we do, come in and pick It up any time”

I repeated the pumping of tyres, the long slow wobbly ride into town, the energetic walk up the

steep hill and finally had in my sweaty palm Steinbeck’s pencil.

When I got home I joined in the on-going game of Perudo. I flourished the Blackwing in triumph. The

magic of Steinbeck’s pencil is bound to rub off on me.

“So what’re you going to write?” says Mark as I roll the dice

 “Fantasy” says Josh

“Erotica” says Julian

I am confident, I am assured

“ A bestseller about…” my confidence evaporates

I realise I have yet to buy a journal.  

Friday, 19 April 2013

The Crane wife by Patrick Ness


Patrick Ness is usually a YA author and previously I’d only read the fabulous a monster calls but I do follow him on twitter and when he read out some of the novel at a Kitschies event I was at last year I thought it was interesting enough to get when it was available. Then my favourite bookshop – Mr B’s Emporium of reading delights in Bath got him in to speak about the book and I knew I had to be there. The book is based on a Japanese folk tale, a man saves a Crane and shortly after a woman enters his life and he falls in love. Through her they become rich and yet the man has a growing dissatisfaction with the woman’s secretiveness. Ness spoke about the fact that some of the episodes in the book, Minor Spoiler (like the car accident) actually happened to him and his approach to writing. If a book you are writing cannot inspire emotion in the writer, how do you expect to inspire emotion in the reader. And this story is emotional. Ness interweaves a mythical story throughout the book in 32 short snippets of a love tale about the Crane and a Volcano which really underpins and informs what happens in the “main” plot.
George is a divorcee approaching 50 who runs a print company with a deliberately incompetent Turkish assistant and makes art from cutting up old books. His marriage broke down as he was too nice but has left him with a daughter, Amanda. Amanda has a flaw in that she speaks her mind and cannot make lasting friendships, she does however love her son fiercely and is also still in love with her French ex-husband. When the mysterious Kumiko enters their lives George and Amanda are changed. Kumiko makes art out of feathers and when her art and George’s art is combined it creates something that is much more than the sum of its parts.

A story is not an explanation, it is a net, a net through which the truth flows. The net catches some of the truth, but not all, never all, only enough so that we can live with the extraordinary without it killing us

Ness has woven together two narratives and like Kumiko & George’s art the sum is greater than the parts. This is a story about love, but not just a love story, it is also about possession and loss and the nature of stories.

Overall – Highly recommended modern ancient tale

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Very short review of Days of the Bagnold Summer

by Joff Winterheart



The Bagnolds are Sue, a 50+ yr old divorcee and Daniel a 15 year old metal fan. When Daniel’s father, who lives in the USA, and his new wife have a baby Daniel is not able to spend the summer with them as planned. He spends the summer hanging out with his friend Ky, toying with joining a band and alternatively getting under his mother’s feet and spending a lot of his time in his room, like all teenagers I think. The book has a simple 6 panels per page format and black & white art which fits well. I have seen reviews that say that this is unremitting and that Sue has an awful life but there is a lot of wry humour in here.


Overall – Simple yet engaging episodic story

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

some short reviews

how to get filthy rich in rising Asia Mohsin Hamid


A self-help book written entirely in second person, present tense with no named characters. Interesting technique, very readable but somehow left me a little cold at the end. Wanting a little more, something. I don’t know. The character of “you” is born poor but makes it big eventually selling water. There is a pretty girl who’s the love interest, on and off, the parents who fall away early in the book, some siblings and the city, supposed to be any city in Asia but very much redolent of Pakistan. And I find I have little else to say about this book….

Overall - There is beauty here, in the words, but the plot, such that it is, is light.

the armed garden and other stories David B


Three stories, with the first standing alone and the other two being semi-linked. The first story is the best about a veiled prophet. The second is the armed garden of the title, where a religious cult takes refuge and the last is the drum that fell in love, about a drum made from the skin of a general. The art is the star of this book and is utterly gorgeous. For me the first story was the best but storytelling doesn’t seem to be B’s strength.

Overall – gorgeous art, so-so story

the sign of the four Arthur Conan Doyle


The book opens with Sherlock Holmes shooting up cocaine, because he’s bored, with Watson watching wondering if this time he should say something. Then a lady approaches Holmes with a case and the game is afoot. There is a pretty silly story of a treasure from the east and a pact between prisoners and soldiers and Holmes is his usual idiot savant self. The book is barely novel length and still remarkably readable although, in this day and age, a little camp.

Overall – enjoyable enough light entertainment

coral: A pessimist in paradise Steve Jones


Steve Jones again looks to Charles Darwin for inspiration and writes a book based upon Darwin’s work with Corals. Along the way we learn all about the biology and ecology of Corals, quite a bit about diamonds and earthquakes and a fairly in depth view of the carbon cycle. And it’s the carbon cycle part of the book that prompts our author to become a pessimist as he makes the case for man-made climate change in a compelling way. The Corals are carbon sinks you see, the “rainforests of the sea” and are picky about pH as well as temperamental about temperature. Liberating the stored carbon of fossil fuels and destroying natural carbon sinks and heating the seas is all pushing the carbon cycle back towards the Permian (although it probably won’t get to quite Permian proportions). The greenhouse effect, acidification of the seas, overfishing, destruction of forests, reduction of sea ice, warming of permafrost, release of methane from intensive animal farming and many other contributory factors is sobering.

Overall – fascinating and depressing

Dark Mountain Volume 3  - Various


Collected short stories, essays, poems and pictures from the dark mountain movement

Wind farms or no wind farms, the world we have known is coming to an end. To those who accuse us of wanting to overthrow this civilization, we might respond: why would we bother?

The Dark Mountain collection start with the premise that the environmental movement has failed and the world, as we know it, is coming to an end. However just because the world as we know it is coming to an end it doesn’t mean the world itself is coming to an end and they explore a concept of “uncivilsation” (as a kind of post-urbanism, post-human future). The stories, poems and essays in the Dark Mountain volumes explore this concept and on the whole the contributions are of high quality, although in this volume it’s a bit more mixed. There was a little more poetry and whimsy in this volume than in previous and although there were a few interesting essays and a couple of interesting interviews it fell a little flatter, less cohesive, than the other two volumes I read last year.

Overall – read volumes 1&2 but don’t feel compelled to read volume 3

Monday, 15 April 2013

Very happy to see a few names in this piece that I am following/have read. Lauren Beukes, Joe Hill, China Mieville, Carlton Mellick III and Cat Valente. All good picks. I am now intrigued by those on the list that I've not read, especially Aliette De Bodard who I've heard good things about.

I do think there's a few missed off the list that should be included Lavie Tidhar for example (although no idea how old he is), Jeff Vandermeer for sure (although he is over 40), Adam Christopher maybe, Nick Harkaway & Paul Cornell. I'm sure there are others.

However there are a few new up and coming authors that I hope will eventually make it to such a list - Emma Newman & Gaie Sebold for sure, Karen Tidbeck definitely. Hopefully in a few years’ time they'll be huge.

And I'm sure there are some complete unknowns waiting in the wings who will be published in the next couple of years that will be the new new movers and shakers.

Who would be in your top 20?

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Lurgy strikes!

Having been ill recently nothing has been written here, as you can see from the post dates.

Whilst in recovery I went along to the Laydeez do Comics event in Foyles with Guests: Joff Winterhart, Hannah Berry, and Rosie Faragher as well as Bristol's own Katie Green keeping the minutes in a comic book style (look out for that on the laydeez do comics website soon)

Rosie seemed quite nervous but Loaf seems quite interesting, aimed at 9-12 year olds

Joff was a very engaging speaker and I nabbed a copy of his Days of the Bagnold Summer which I'm looking forward to reading & will post a review here

Hannah was very entertaining and I'm excited that she's working on a new book as well as getting her to sign her previous books again, that's likely to run on and on so that every time I see her I'll get her to sign her books again.

There was also beer & wine (and soft drinks for those of us who were driving) and vegan flapjack.

Looking to get tickets to see Joe Hill at Waterstones

Currently reading Coral: A pessimist in paradise by Steve Jones

Friday, 5 April 2013

My review of the excellent Mary Roach is below, I've also been re-reading Sandman by Neil Gaiman along with the Hy Bender companion and am finding it a richer read, both due to the companion and the fact that I'm much more widely read than I was the last time I read it. I'm even more in awe of Neil now!

I've signed up for which is pretty exciting as a concept and the fact that it has "creative input" from two of my favourite authors makes it even more exciting.

This week I've also attended the latest Word of Mouth to watch Tania Hershman, Nick Rawlinson, Kevlin Henney and Holly Corfield Car performed with the theme of the evening being the Bristol Short story prize (there's still time to enter here best performance of the night goes to Nick Rawlinson's very entertaining The final whistle but the best short story I feel was Holly Corfield Car's Cockles closely followed by Kevlin Henney's So you think you can cook.
It was a varied and very entertaining evening.

Gulp by Mary Roach


If you were going to go on a journey along the Alimentary Canal the person you should take with you is Mary Roach. From the back of the book Eating is the most pleasurable, gross, necessary, unspeakable biological process we humans undertake and Roach takes us through pleasure, disgust and fascination usually on the same page. In this book I learned everything I didn’t know I needed to know about spit. Lots about fistulation, all about pet food science, Fletcherizing, whether dinner can eat you back, dining unto death, too much information about how prisoners smuggle things (euphemistically known as “Hooping”) Elvis’s colon and the gaseous and other products of the long strange, varied and, in Roach’s company, utterly fascinating tube at the centre of our existence. Roach is unafraid to ask questions and her enthusiasm is infectious here and she gets to speak to all sorts of folk who work in science and medicine that is of interest and she again displays the knack of bringing what could be dry science to life. She also manages to bring the often bizarre history of eating research to life.

Overall – An educational and entertaining look at the science of eating - highly recommended

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Was at the fantastic Mr B's Emporium in Bath last night to see Patrick Ness talk about his new book The Crane's wife. As usual there was great music by the Bookshop Band and great food by Ben. The theme of the evening was folk tales retold and after Patrick spoke we were treated to recommendations from the staff and other attendees (Thanks to Cheryl for her recommendation for Deathless by Cat Valente been meaning to buy that one for a while.) As usual Ed got us with his recommendations, always worth chatting with him.

I'm reading Mohsin Hamid's How to get filthy rich in rising Asia at the moment which uses an interesting permanent present with 2nd person.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

The half-made world Felix Gilman




Spirits are housed in Guns and Engines which war against each other via their Agents in an imaginative retelling of the wild west. Gilman takes and re-forges the tropes of Gunslingers and railroads. The distilled noise of the Engines of the Line take your sanity so the Agents of the Line use Noisemaker as well as poison bombs when they attack. The Agents of the Gun are always losing but never defeated. The people of the East live in the well-made stable world. The people of the West live in the newly made world and to the far West is the shifting half-made world. The Red Valley Republic warred against both Line and Gun but eventually failed. Their most famous general is caught by a Noisemaker but is not killed and just may have a secret buried in his head which both sides seek. He is a patient at the House Dolorous which is protected by a powerful spirit. Dr Liv Alverhuysen has a troubled past but is a proponent of the new science of psychology and goes West to take up a post at the House Dolorous. John Creedmore is an Agent of the Gun tasked with infiltrating the House Dolorous to steal the secret in the General’s head and Lowry is a soldier of the Line tasked with getting the general, and through a series of field promotions finds himself in charge. Gilman has woven a gripping story which seamlessly imports some Western-“ness” without spoiling a vividly imagined world building. He has also taken three very mortal, very human protagonists to illustrate the fantastic story of that world. I loved the world and I loved the characters and how they interacted so I heartily recommend this book.


Overall – Well told tale in a fantastic and fantastically weird world

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