Friday, July 28, 2017

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

After a long hiatus I’m back to reading and enjoying (sometimes) books. And really, rather than occasionally mentioning them on FB, I should start putting some reviews here.

People debate about what exactly a good book is. For me it’s did it engage me, interest me, did I care about the characters, did it satisfy me and simply, did I find it enjoyable. When I picked up The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi I already had a good idea how it was going to go, since I haven’t read a bad book from him. So it was again with this book. It’s the kind you sit down and read in the early evening, then find yourself halfway through before bedtime. It’s about as difficult as eating chocolate mousse –  it just glides down.

In the far future, humanity has left Earth to create a glorious empire. Now this interstellar network of worlds faces disaster - but can three individuals save their people?

The empire's outposts are utterly dependent on each other for resources, a safeguard against war, and a way its rulers can exert control. This relies on extra-dimensional pathways between the stars, connecting worlds. But 'The Flow' is changing course, which could plunge every colony into fatal isolation.

A scientist will risk his life to inform the empire's ruler. A scion of a Merchant House stumbles upon conspirators seeking power. And the new Empress of the Interdependency must battle lies, rebellion and treason. Yet as they work to save a civilization on the brink of collapse, others have very different plans


Update: And I have to congratulate him on getting 'cockwomble' into a book!

Get Over It

There is a perception, amongst some, that the world is going to hell in a handcart. A terrorist bomb goes off, the US dumps excess stock of cruise missiles in the Middle East, Putin does some sabre rattling and oh my God World War III is going to start! A tornado picks up a tractor in the US, a small town is flooded in the UK, climate activists issue another ‘it’s worse than we thought’ report and oh my God Earth is going to become Venus and we are all going to die! Corbyn got more votes than expected and Britain is going to turn into Venezuela! Students and opportunist thieves burn cars and break into shops in Hamburg and fascism is on the rise! Brexit will cause the economic collapse of the UK! We only have (select preference) days to save the NHS! The ice caps will all melt by 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 etc. and we’re all going to drown! While Trump is a fascist dictator!

It’s bullshit, mostly.

We like to join the dots and recognize patterns, even if they are not there. We like to tell stories. And the internet is perfect for these because more news is available and it is immediate. But you need to be selective if you want to put together a story. We are all addicted to confirmation bias. (I’m as guilty of it as anyone, and I’m guilty of it in this post.) You fear Islam? Well it’s easy to find numerous stories of Islamic atrocities all around the world and put those together as the fall of Western civilization. You dislike Brexit? Plenty of stories of how bad it is sure to be from partisan news media. You dislike socialism or capitalism? Easy to cite their catalogues of failures. You’re into the modern version of original sin? Plenty of stuff out there from the Church of Environmentalism to confirm for you how you are destroying the planet.

No, we are not descending into chaos. Shit happens. Shit has been happening forever. Natural and human-caused disasters have not, I would suggest, increased, while the political madness of the past with its putsches, exterminations and stomping of jackboots is not on the rise, in fact has been steadily declining since the World Wars. A hundred years ago religious fanatics were killing people, there was always a war somewhere (in fact WW1), natural disasters and diseases were wiping people out … only what you heard about these things was limited to newspapers, usually sometime after the fact. For example, if a tsunami had washed up on Sri Lanka back then would we have even known about it? Probably – a few column inches on page three of the Times a month after it happened.

And there’s another aspect to all this: bad news sells and is propagated while good news gets lost in the noise. People like bad news, probably because it’s life-affirming for them: hey, this terrible shit is happening … elsewhere and to someone else.

The reality: we are living longer more comfortable lives – compared to people a 100 years ago we in the Western world live like kings. Global poverty and starvation are steadily declining. Medical advances are steadily ridding us of diseases. Mind-blowing technologies are rampant and radically changing the way we live.

Life is good. Get over it. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Larsen C Ice Shelf

I remember the Cockermouth flood in 2009 when, without delay, protestors had their green wellies on and 'save the planet' signs up and were marching down the flooded street. It was global warming you see. As I have been doing on and off for 20+ years since I realised something stank, I did some research. Oh right, the earliest recorded flooding was in 1761 (when they were catching salmon in the high street) since then flooding had occurred in 1771, 1852, 1874, 1918, 1931, 1932 , 1933, 1938, 1954, 1966, 2005, 2008.

Now a huge iceberg is breaking off the Larson C ice shelf in the Antarctic and, oh my god, the planet is melting. But context is all. That ice shelf was only discovered in 1893 and we have only been looking at the Antarctic properly, by satellite, since the 70s (just as world temperatures have only been measured accurately since then). The berg breaking off of Larsen C is an example of calving, which has been happening forever. Buried in the hype you will discover little details like … the thing was getting thicker before it broke off, which of course doesn’t fit the narrative. So, if you're buying the hysteria and think this calving of huge icebergs has never happened before, think again (Thanks to Steve Goddard):

We are also told that warming is a long term thing and that we must ignore the last 20-year hiatus in it. Don’t get me wrong. The increase in CO2 does increase the greenhouse effect and does have an effect. It has, for example caused a greening increase in leaves on plants and trees equivalent in area to two times the continental United States. The real debate is not about whether this increase is true and causing warming, but about whether it is catastrophic. Catastrophists cite positive feedbacks that never happen, they cite computer models that are never right, they blithely tell us the ‘missing heat’ has, in defiance of simple physics, gone down into the ocean.

Take a chill pill.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Space Battles

So, if you wanted to see a picture of space battle scenes from the Cormac books, which ones would they be? Maybe Dragon hammering into Hubris in Gridlinked? The Occam Razor destroying cylinder worlds over Masada in The Line of Polity? Jack Ketch 'shitting laser beams' in Brass Man? Battle Wagon charging Erebus's formation in Polity Agent? Orlandine directing a black hole matter fountain in Line War? What do you think?

Facebook Catch up

Few bits from FB over the last couple of months...

June 6th
How many here have tried this online dating lark? I've just about given up now. No dear, clinically obese is not 'a bit curvy' and 20 or 30 is not 'a few extra pounds'. And seriously. In this age when just about any bit of hardware takes a picture, claiming you don't have a recent one is a bit of a joke!

June 8th
Right, election day is here and now I breathe a sigh of relief. I will not be posting anymore party political stuff - too divisive, polarising. I can't be doing with seeing the responses of 'friends', or some of their posts, and thinking 'wanker'. Back to science, books, writing and occasional embarrassing details about my personal life. 

13th June
I had a stinking cold starting the week before last and extending into last week. During that time my focus was mainly on trying not to feel like crap. I had some other work to deal with too and didn't get much of the latest novel done. Looking on the bright side, one of my escapes from feeling like crap (beside stuffing my face with comfort food) was really getting into reading again, which is great. But now I'm back on it: 2,000 words done yesterday and 2,000 done today.

29th June
Ooh, snippy. 'I don't like your opinions therefore I won't read your books anymore'. *sigh* Hell, if I took that attitude I would have missed out on a lot of great books, films too. I guess I'm as guilty, but people really need to look outside their sociopolitical bubbles sometimes.

3rd July
Aaargh! Bloody computers ... or in this case printers ... I think. Y'know, I've got a job of making up stuff, writing it down and keeping readers entertained. I really REALLY don't want to spend hours pissing about, searching the internet, trying and failing to load firmware etc ad nauseum. I really don't want my printer unilaterally deciding that, for one file, paper must be fed in manually, and then telling me about a non-existent paper jam! Aaaargh!

5th July

2,000 words yesterday but the word counts are dropping now. At 116,000 words I've reached the stage in the middle-of-a-trilogy book where I have to deliver a satisfying ending but also maintain the overall story arc of the trilogy. This has made me realise that something I have been signalling, even from the end of the first book, needs to be toned down. This ... event ... is the ending of the second book but it needs to be more of a surprise. Today I'll copy the document and start tearing it apart, excising stuff and sticking it back together again to see how that works out...

Corporatism and the TPD

Catching up with some blog posts. Here’s one I started some while ago and never posted:

Corporatism is defined asthe control of a state or organization by large interest groups’. Unfortunately it is one of those words whose meaning has been blurred by misuse (sometimes deliberate) and you can find lengthy articles about it. The best I’ve found, which simplifies and covers what I mean, can be found here.

 “Corporatism is the merger of state and corporate power with each side helping the other grow larger. Governments own, invest in, or heavily regulate every single company in this country and have enormous influence in business. Politicians and bureaucrats have their own friends and cronies in those firms as well. It’s the same for corporations as they have lobbyists in government to make sure that all those investments and regulations benefit them. Both are intertwined to form a government-corporate state that prevents capitalism from functioning efficiently.”

“That marriage has grown big government and big corporations at the expense of individuals, their small businesses, and the free market.” 

Corporatism is what we have now, not capitalism. Even Noam Chomsky, that darling of the Left, when asked what he thought about capitalism, replied, “I think it’s a great idea if we were to ever try it,” (Chomsky, 2002). 

The TPD (Tobacco Products Directive) out of the EU is a perfect demonstration of corporatism in action. In the development of ecigs there was massive innovation, numerous products from numerous small companies, and it's been a real game changer. Only the special interest groups - big pharma, big tobacco, those sucking on the teat of 'public health' - didn't like that. So, allied with an authoritarian regime seeing tax revenue disappearing, they pushed for regulation that kills innovation, kills those small companies that cannot afford to adhere to it (also by generally shoving up other costs), and, by reducing the nicotine strength of eliquids, kills the effectiveness of ecigs themselves.

It is still continuing with attempts to ban eliquid flavours because children might be attracted to those that have the flavours of sweets, despite the fact that children who use ecigs usually smoked before and that ecigs have consistently been shown to be a gateway OUT of smoking. The cry ‘think of the children’ is often an excuse for heavy-handed legislation.

And of course all this is working because now there are people out there who seriously believe it is better to continue smoking than use ecigs. I’ve met them and been baffled by such ignorance. I lot is being said about ‘fake news’ recently and the finger of blame points at the internet. In reality this is just a magnification of what has always been happening across all news media.  

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Took a Walk

Last weekend I decided, rather than sit in the house and arse around on Facebook, that I should head off and walk somewhere pleasant, maybe have some lunch out too. I got in my car and drove to the village of Althorne, abandoned my car and headed down to the River Crouch estuary.

A stroll along the edge of here has been part of my walking routine but, from my house, that involves a lot of walking along the sides of the roads, which ain’t that great. Though I have to admit to some enjoyment since this is the first English Spring I’ve seen in 10 years.

So I headed down and along the edge of the estuary to Burnham-on-Crouch. It’s pleasant down there and I was reminded of the time when, at about age 20, I was training myself for a walking holiday in the Lake District. I had someone drive me out and dump me by Bradwell power station and walked back in, following the sea wall to where my parent’s house was located. This was about 20 miles.

I was of course writing stuff at the time and I made plenty of notes while tramping along and afterwards turned this into an article, which I sent to a walking magazine. I was young and naive then and unfamiliar with the ways of the writing world, so made the common mistake of becoming impatient and sending off a snotty letter when I hadn’t heard something for a while. The editor sent my article back telling me to shove it. Apparently he had been about to go and take pictures of the area to complement the article, which he was going to publish.

That would have been my first publication success had I not been a dick. I wonder now what course I would have taken if it had been published. Maybe now I would be a jobbing writer turning out articles for various magazines and newspapers while yearning to be a novelist.

Anyway, back to the walk… I arrived in Burnham after an hour and a half. My plan had been to have lunch there, but most of the pubs were still closed and, really, it takes a little while to cool down after a good walk and actually feel hungry. Instead I found a cafĂ© and had a cream tea. All very English and, I admit, the first time in my life I had ever eaten a scone with clotted cream and jam.

After whiling away a pleasant time I then headed back. A search on the internet told me this walk was 5 miles so, with the return journey, 10 miles. Others told me it was 3 miles but I thought no. Average walking speed is 3.1 miles (though dependent on a lot of factors) and I was walking fast. I plumped for 8 or 9 miles. Now having traced the route on Google Earth I find it was a total of 11 miles.

Yesterday I decided to head the other direction along the Crouch to a place called Fambridge. Again the internet told me this was about 5 miles. It took me 2 hours to reach a pub called the Ferryboat where I intended to guzzle a pint of something, but when I got there it was closed for refurbishment. Following directions I headed to a nearby marina bar and there drank a pint of Thatcher’s cider before heading back. My estimate of 10 miles was again upgraded by Google Earth, this time to 14.8 miles. I thought I felt a bit knackered.

And here I am writing an article in a different way. No waxing lyrical about crab shells stuck to the sea grass, dry and papery and rising about me like confetti as I walked through them. Nothing about sun and salt bleached driftwood taking on the appearance of alien creatures that had hauled themselves from the depths. Aliens and things of a crabby nature are elsewhere now.   

Friday, March 31, 2017

Vaping Rules

New laws on vaping in the EU coming in next month. A prime example of the aphorism ‘the Devil makes work for idle hands’ when it comes to a bunch of paper-shuffling bureaucrats whose only reason for existence is to make laws.

Maximum refill containers cannot exceed 10ml
This means more plastic waste, an increase in costs due to packaging, an increase in costs due to eliquid wastage (because you don’t get every last drop out of the bottle), wasted time and effort buying, refilling and generally buggering about.

Maximum nicotine strength of 20mg.
This means people can no longer buy base nicotine to mix up their own liquids. It also means that the eliquids available will not be strong enough to properly help you give up smoking. Since not smoking cigarettes was rather the point of the exercise this is a bit fucking stupid isn’t it?

Maximum tank capacity of 2ml
This means much more buggering about refilling your ecig. It means you’ll probably have to carry around one of those 10ml bottles too. It also means a lot of the higher performance vaping tanks will be unavailable

Product approvals, Packaging requirements, customer notifications and data reporting.
This means increased costs for compliance therefore increased cost to the customer. It means less variety, little innovation and, as with all the above, effectively hamstringing an industry that has been saving lives.

Congratulations to that bunch of misinformed, authoritarian butt weasels in the EU.  

Sunday, March 26, 2017

On Vaping...

I am constantly surprised by the prejudice I find in some against vaping – the unthinking bias and the fact-twisting. It’s taking millions of people out of a lethal habit, it’s saving lives, and in social situations it produces only the smell many already have pumping from numerous kinds of scent makers and air fresheners in their homes. My personal experience has been the loss of a smokers cough, a large increase in lung capacity (after a winter of vaping I was able to swim a mile non-stop whereas when I was smoking I could only manage a few hundred yards before stopping to cough my lungs up), loss of a skin condition, and no need to keep a Ventalin inhaler on hand so I could get to sleep at night and to jump-start my lungs in the morning. My risk of cancer, COPD and numerous other conditions is now in steady decline. In fact (though there are other factors involved), I am fitter and healthier now than I was 10 years ago.

But I shouldn’t be surprised by the prejudice.

The dislike of vaping is rooted in a dislike of smoking. Simple. Smoking is being made socially unacceptable and the tar brush (sorry, couldn’t resist) has smeared vaping too, understandably, because the second would not exist without the first. Many people find it difficult not to conflate vaping and smoking. Some are like people who have grown up in a heavy drinking culture, maybe seen friends and family turned into alcoholics, and learned to hate everything about it. Next moving on into life with a puritan attitude they now frown at someone sipping a glass of red in the evening. Others are ex-smokers whose hatred of smoking (and anything remotely like it) is a necessary part of their psychology to stop them smoking again. Still others are merely the product of decades of anti-smoking social conditioning – social engineering – and simply swallow whole and unquestioning much of the nonsense spoken about vaping, because, of course, it confirms their biases. They see something in the mouth and a cloud of something coming out and, to their simple minds, that equals smoking.

Another problem here is the inability of some to separate two things: nicotine and smoking. This is again understandable. Maybe for some of you this is before your time, but I remember adverts depicting a disreputable and nasty top-hatted figure handing out wads of cigarettes to children. He was called Nicotine. This has been the whole zeitgeist about smoking for decades: smoking is bad and the prime actor in this is Nicotine. Well, it isn’t. Nicotine in and of itself is not particularly harmful, but it’s problem was that it is addictive, and the further problem was that for centuries the main delivery system of nicotine could kill you. Nicotine is not the problem, cigarettes are. Taking burning leaves, tar, carbon monoxide, heavy metals and a number of carcinogens into your lungs (from 50 to 150 depending on your source) is the problem. Vaping doesn’t do that.

Vaping is drinking coffee from a cup. Smoking is injecting caffeine with a dirty needle.

It is sad that many in the medical profession, and many of our law makers, have responded with a knee-jerk reaction – the prejudice I mention above. Without thinking very much, without actually looking at the growing evidence and, in many cases, falsifying stuff to confirm their bias, they moved to stamp on vaping. They want every ecig development put through expensive medical trials, they want the nicotine strength of eliquids limited to levels that make them ineffective – they want to limit, control, socially ostracise and stamp vaping out of existence.

There are other reasons here: pharmaceutical companies making millions from NRT are not exactly pleased about vaping, cigarette companies were not pleased either (but soon jumped on the bandwagon), and governments are not pleased (Oh my god, how do I put sin taxes on something that is stopping people smoking!) and also instinctively want to seize control of and legislate for anything new. But it is some in the medical profession for whom I have the greatest contempt. They’ve had careers telling people to ‘quit or die’ and now cannot quite comprehend this level of harm reduction. I can only style their reaction as not only prejudice, but jealousy.

But the evidence is coming in despite them. Even some medical organisations that were at first completely against vaping are now agreeing that it is 95% less dangerous than smoking. Grudgingly, I suspect, because they are having to respond both to the evidence and the ‘wisdom of crowds’ – those millions who are now free of cigarettes and feel very strongly about the vaping that freed them, and are vocal about it, like me.      

Friday, March 24, 2017

Forbidden Planet Signing

Okay, book signing in Forbidden Planet…

I headed up to London aiming to arrive at the bookshop at around 4.30 where I was to meet the Macmillan publicist, Jamie-Lee Nardone, outside. The trip was fast so I ended up wandering down towards the shop at about 3.45. Not wanting to hang about there I stepped into a nearby pub and whiled away the time with a few whiskies.

I then met Jamie outside the shop and we crossed the road to eat burgers and drink a couple of beers before going into said shop. First order of business was to sign maybe 30 or so copies of Infinity Engine people had ordered. I managed to put a pen through the page of one copy, then spilled coffee on someone’s computer mouse. Maybe those whiskies hadn’t been such a good idea.

Out in the shop I signed plenty of books. I’m told there were about 30 people there but everyone had more than their copies of Infinity Engine. This I guess is my fault since I don’t do signings very often. Of particular note was the stack brought by Sharon Sasaki from Canada – it stood about four feet tall. And thanks for the pen Sharon!

Jamie took lots of pictures with people’s mobile phones and all was good. Thanks too to Adam? Gerard? ( Sorry, but while I can remember most details of 140,000 word book, I forget people’s names) and his wife who brought me a gift of a bottle of gin. Checking the label I see that it’s 57% proof so that’ll be an interesting experience when I start imbibing (not yet, I like a big space between my hangovers).

After signing the books people had bought and brought I then signed the bookshop stock. That was a nice quantity so if you want a signed copy get down to Forbidden Planet now. Next was a venture around the corner to The Angel where various fans plied me with beer. I don't think I was too disgraceful ... then again there are pictures yet to appear. I did my circulating but sorry if I missed chatting to any of you.

At about 10 I buggered off to catch a train. I got aboard determined not to fall asleep and end up in Southend like the last time. A guy sitting opposite me was having a similar problem – talking on his mobile phone with earphones then slumping sideways in his seat and snoring. 

I was fine and got out at Wickford. I then asked a woman sitting in the station about the train to Althorne. Apparently there wasn’t one but her brother was picking her up and that’s where she was going. Amy and Lawrence gave me a lift and dropped me off near my home. The kindness of strangers eh?

This morning I’m not particularly hungover. Maybe that was due to the ‘organic’ beer in The Angel. I just went for a 3-mile walk to collect my car and shall now slide back into the day job. Y’know, space ships to blow up. Ho-hum.

Cheers to those who took these pictures, which I swiped off Facebook. And my thanks to the staff of Forbidden Planet.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


When I say that I don’t plan, that it all happens at the keyboard for me, that is perhaps a little bit Inaccurate. I do have vague plans in my mind that are usually related to images. There’ll be something there for a conclusion to a book somewhere off in the misty future and then plans for the nearer future when I start writing and consider what section to write next. The ‘happens at the keyboard’ bit is what determines how or if I bring them to fruition. Sometimes I do, sometimes I destroy them completely and go in a different direction. Sometimes I find something I’ve completely missed.

Take for example some highly dangerous and irascible assassin drones. These actors were on scene and, while I was concentrating on other matters, I left them twiddling their thumbs … or perhaps other more lethal appendages. You can’t do that. Yeah you can provide some make-work but that’s pretty difficult when the characters concerned are so effective. The thing to do then is throw them into the fray and see what happens.

It’s a bit like strategizing a battle between horse cavalry then having a tank roll onto the scene, then deciding to make some of the horses pacifists and then have all of them sprout wings when you abruptly turn the battlefield on its edge, and then note that the tank has Velcro treads. The word I’m groping for here is protean. I make plans and I plot but the work in progress is often derailed and always falling into a new shape. Corrections and new ideas constantly alter that shape. Sometimes I chew on the edge of my desk in frustration. Sometimes a solution and epiphany appears in just one sentence, like, for example:

She had just rail-gunned the prador fleet, and the other Polity ships opened fire a moment later.    

I wonder what the shape will be after that?

Writing Routine

I've just been writing out some bits and pieces for publicity, specifically 'Top ten things about me I'd like my readers to know' for a website called Female First. Like all this stuff it then went into my 'Articles' file. There's a lot in there so I took a look. I found this one, which appeared somewhere or other. There have been a few hiccups along the way, but not much has changed...

Writing Routine

When I started out I didn’t have any writing routine, I had a job. Writing was a hobby I indulged in over the weekends or in the evening when I wasn’t: too knackered, watching TV, reading a book, or up the pub. I only ever started counting words upon discovering, in John Braine’s Writing a Novel, that this might be a professional approach. This was probably when I was in my early twenties, and then I used the old technique of working out a line average and from that a page average. It wasn’t until I had been writing on and off for maybe ten years that I started to establish any kind of routine, thought I couldn’t put a finger on an exact date, and this routine relates simply to the aphorism ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’

When you start word-counting you realise that the pages you have written ain’t adding up to a book (and here I’m talking about the time when the average SF novel was a mere 70,000 words). The prospect can be daunting, and my approach was to ensure that I wrote something every day. That’s all.

The next routine I established was when I went self-employed. Getting tired of working in factories on milling machines and lathes, I looked elsewhere. This was perhaps because of a boredom factor creeping in when I was either on production work (Neal, we want a thousand square aluminium blocks this size with a hole drilled in them) or pressing the start button on some computerized machine. I tried building and then, as a result of some work I did clearing up the mess left by the storm of 1987, ended up doing tree-work, hedging, contract grass cutting and just about anything else I could turn my hand to. The bulk of this work was during the summer, so I had plenty of spare time in the winter. I spent most of my free days during those winters writing, almost as if this was a real job.

I started writing down my daily word-count, then I got the stunning idea that maybe I should set targets for myself. Well, I think it was my idea, though it’s just as likely I picked it up out of some ‘How to’ book. I can’t remember the target I set, but suspect it might have been about 1,000 words. It was during this time I discovered the small presses, had my first short story published in Back Brain Recluse then a series of stories elsewhere, then Mindgames: Fool’s Mate, The Parasite and The Engineer. Then came the big hit when Gridlinked, The Skinner and a third book as yet written were picked up by Macmillan. Sensible word-counts briefly went out the window when Peter Lavery wanted Gridlinked expanded from about 65,000 words, (I took it up to 135,000 in two weeks – and added Mr Crane) and The Skinner expanded from 80,000 words (I was a little bit more leisurely over that as I took it up to 150,000 words).

I gave up the day job a year or so after this – after Gridlinked and The Skinner had been published and while The Line of Polity was growing nicely – and began to establish a proper routine. Here I was at an advantage over many writers in that I’d been self-employed for 15 years, therefore knew what it was to motivate myself. I knew how to get up and get to work without the driving fear of a clocking-in clock, angry foreman or written warnings. The cuts to the pay packet were there, of course, in that the moment I stopped working, even for a cup of coffee, I would cease to earn.

I started the new job by being up at 8.00 and writing until 5.00. I aimed to write 1,000 words a day for five days a week (the words were of course now much easier to count with a word processor program), but after a year found myself way ahead and knew the target was just too easy. I upped this to 2,000 and still found it too easy, but then this was all my words, so next I discounted journal entries, blog posts, and stuff I put on message boards (yes, I even counted the words in them) and reset my target to 2,000 words of fiction. This is what I’ve stuck to ever since. When I get started each day I read through and correct the previous day’s 2,000 words, then start on the next. As I reach that figure I try to simply stop, and not go on until reaching a natural break. If you just stop while you know what you’re going to write next, it’s easier to get going again the next day.

Now, those of you with a mathematical turn of mind will be thinking, where’s the 365,000 word novel every year? Unfortunately, turning professional brings home to you the importance of other aspects of writing that can take up many weeks. And now, I no longer feel guilty when I simply write the word ‘editing’, in my journal, where I usually note down my word-count.

That’s it really: the glamorous life of a writer.

Monday, March 13, 2017

We're Physical

Weird the trials and tribulations my body has been going through lately. I started weight training and gained weight. A lot of it was muscle but there was also a fair quantity of fat. I dieted and fasted losing getting on for 20lb. Also at this time I started walking again so was walking 7 miles every morning and hitting the gym for an hour plus every afternoon. I also increasing repetitions at the gym. Then I had two days of walking and mainly leg exercises at the gym and goodness me the DOMS would not go away, and I felt really tired. I took a couple of days off without much in the way of recovery, went to the gym again. That was okay, but over the next couple of days I was completely pooped. I’d hit the overtraining, under eating (and hydrating) wall. Oops.

In retrospect it was inevitable. I made some calculations. My Base Metabolic Rate is about 1650 calories. Roughly, a 7 mile walk eats up 700 calories while the gym sessions (hour and a quarter minimum) does 500 calories. This is beside what my authorial brain burns while making shit up over a number of hours. Anyway, minimum total of 2850 calories. I was eating a couple of stir fries that added up to about 700 calories. Then there was fruit, veg and peanut butter on Ryvita biscuits. The total there could be high but no matter how I work it, that evening binge eating still left me at a minimum of 1000 calories short every day.

I decided to reintroduce bread, crumpets, malt loaf and butter back into my life. This started to make me feel better but the big step up came when I started drinking pints of cordial. Obviously endless cups of tea weren’t doing the job. Silly sod. Time now to apply my brain to this. I need rest days and I need those carbs. I can’t go through life perpetually knackered else I’ll have no mental energy to spare to write those books!     

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Signing Event

Okay, there you have it. Thursday the 23rd of March between 6.00 and 7.00pm. Be there or be square, or some such. At Forbidden Planet in London.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Fast Words

Well that’s good. I tried out this fasting and did four, then two then three days, with the days in between eating my usual amount. I’ve lost 10lb+ in that time, but hard to judge precisely since when you eat again that’s a pound of so of food plus the fluid you retain while digesting it. Doesn’t take a lot – a cup of tea weighs half a pound. If I were to measure it from a month ago, when my weight hit 192.8, then I’ve lost 20lbs. I do feel a lot lighter! Anyway, fasting is a damned sight easier than trying to diet. Near analogy would be the difference between feathering the clutch while in traffic on a hill or putting on the handbrake. But I’ve gone on enough about this already so … writing.

I finished up the first book of the Jain trilogy a week ago then turned to a file marked Jain2. Here I’d dumped sections I’d excised from the first book. I had a few little hiccups when starting the new book – lot of checking and reiterating – but soon things were running strong. This week I’ve been clearing my 2,000 words a day. Today I looked at one of those previously dumped sections where I introduced a new character. I then realised it would be better to make this new character an old character, this being a (sort of) renegade prador from the previous book. It made it more interesting and allowed for better continuity. However, I then had to go back to the first book and make some alteration there. Glad I didn’t prematurely hand it in to Macmillan.

So what else can I tell you without giving too much away? There’s a Polity assassin drone nailed to an anti-gravity disc. There’s a very dangerous alien with its … manipulators on some serious weaponry. Orlandine is having an existential crisis, and a lethal war drone called Knobbler has a crucial mission. And then there’s the Clade, ooh let me tell you all about the Clade. Maybe I should start with how it –   

What was I saying?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

One Week Fast

When I came back from Crete in August, still suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, I was pretty slim from kayaking, swimming and walking and weighed about 175lb. However I wouldn’t have styled myself as fit and healthy. A year and a half plus of anxiety and cortisol overload hadn’t left much in the way of reserves and I was frequently exhausted. After I settled back in here I decided I needed some other exercise of interest besides walking so I joined a gym. Since unaccustomed muscle groups were involved and I was still exhausted I found this hard at first. I had to give up my long morning walks and just go to the gym.

Over a number of months I put on weight and it mostly seemed to be muscle. I had to go up a shirt size because of restriction about my shoulders and even a bangle I wear on one wrist started to get tight when before it hung loose. However, in the last month or so I could not deny that I was running out of holes on my belt, had developed a male muffin top and that the 192lb I reached at one point wasn’t due to my brawny arms.

I started dieting. Potatoes, bread and pasta ceased to go into my shopping trolley, while the pork scratchings were definitely out. On stir-fries I dropped about 5lb. Not so exhausted now I started walking again (in the last couple of weeks), doing 7 miles every morning. I then considered something else I had done in the past, which was take a day off every now and again and eat nothing at all. But I didn’t do anything about that.

On the day before my birthday I went out for a meal with someone. I ate a scallop starter, spaghetti carbonara followed by a sweet of profiteroles, washed down with a couple of gin and tonics. But even as I was eating I felt unhappy with the way my midriff was pushing against my shirt.

The next morning my weight was 184lb and I kinda fell into not eating that day. Because, obviously, I’m an avid reader of what interests me, I started reading up on fasting. My last post here tells you much of what I got from that. But I’ll reiterate:

Your body has evolved to store fat in times of plenty then burn it when there is no food about. We live constantly in times of plenty and that’s why so many of us are fat. The mechanism is this: over a few days of fasting your body burns through its reserves in your liver. It then starts burning fat (ketosis). The idea that you burn muscle and store fat is, in my opinion, apocryphal. Autophagy accelerates during this time breaking up those cells that are redundant and yes, some of those are muscle cells – useless, damaged inefficient cells. However the meme has been promulgated by people who have fasted seeing their biceps or whatever shrink and think, ‘Oh my god it’s true I’m burning muscle!’ Wake up. One of the closest animals to us physiologically is the pig and, bearing in mind that pigs are less well-fed than us, how much fat do you see in pork? Your muscles are getting smaller because they’re losing the fat in them. This story is also promulgated by those who stop exercising when they fast. Yes, you’re losing muscle BECAUSE ITS REDUNDANT IF YOU DON’T USE IT – autophagy taking out what is surplus to requirements. Also, consider this: if your body is carrying 10lb of extra fat – the equivalent of five bags of sugar – then logically it requires muscle for that, which becomes redundant as you lose it. That is my opinion anyway.

The next day my weight was down 4lb, almost certainly all of it was the stuff in my liver, in my gut and fluid. Because I had not quite understood the above and feared ill effects I ate a banana and two satsumas in the morning then spent the rest of the day without food. The following morning I was down 1.6lb and the day after a further 1.4lb. The day after I was out for dinner again. I ate something at about 5pm to prepare my stomach for that (and the gin and tonics) and the following day my weight had gone up 2.6lb. And no I was not rapidly putting the fat back on because that was almost certainly the weight of the food and the fluid retained to digest it – no food again for a day and I dropped 3lb.

Throughout this I have continued exercising, walking 7 miles each morning and going to the gym for an hour and a quarter every afternoon. I had a couple of small dizzy spells at one point but mostly I’ve felt sharper mentally and had no problem exercising, quite the reverse in fact. Over four days my ‘love handles’ reduced by about half while my belly shrank about the same amount. My arms also shrank, but to give better muscle definition. Hunger was an issue but, three or four days in, it was no different from how it was on day one. It wasn’t constant either – I didn’t wake up hungry and I certainly wasn’t hungry while exercising. It was patchy throughout the day. And it wasn’t so severe I wanted to eat a raw buffalo liver or eat a fish while it was still wriggling (from the film The Revenant). I guess that kind of hunger occurs when ketosis is over – no fat left – and you do start eating your own muscle – protein starvation.

To sum up: Over a period of a week I lost 10lb. An awful lot of that has been around my waist. I have lost from shoulders, arms, chest, bum and legs but I like that there’s less to pinch under the skin and my musculature is more defined. I’m now going another day without food but not exercising. It’s snowy outside and cold and grey, but I also want to take the opportunity to see if there is any change in the hunger pangs and whether I’ll keep up the constant loss average of 1.5lbs a day.        

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Burning Muscle

I posted this on Facebook yesterday and there was quite a response – debate, agreement and even outrage:
Interesting. I've been reading stuff about weight loss and exercise etc for quite a while now. Some of the things I kept coming across are, 'Don't eat too little or your body will go into starvation mode! It'll burn muscle to preserve itself! It'll retain fat!' I raised an eyebrow at this because it made no logical sense. The body is a fast machine for the transmission of slow genes. When food is plentiful it stores it as fat. When food isn't plentiful it burns that fat. Surely? Yes it does. Starvation mode is a myth, probably from people who inhabit that world where squirting coffee up your bum is a good idea.
Note: I mean here 'starvation mode' in the world of the fad diet whereby some believe the body burns muscle in preference to fat.
So, apparently, the theory is this: if you fast, your body undergoes changes to utilize its resources more efficiently. It burns up the supplies in the liver and then turns to glycerol in the fat and amino acids in the muscles. After two or three days it switches over to ketosis i.e. it stops burning any muscle and instead burns up fat stores. Or … it starts laying down fat and burns muscle. Or just within a day it starts doing that. Or…

You see the problem.

This stuff is rife with contradictions and fallacies and my goodness you mustn’t go into ‘starvation mode’ and experience ‘muscle wasting’. When I start reading emotive terms like that my bullshit radar comes on and starts beeping. The immediate mental image that arises is of people staggering out of Auschwitz or skeletal children in some African village. The problem here is that the internet is a breeding ground for the apocryphal and that ninety per cent of what you read is from somebody who has an angle, or a repetition of the same. Try the turnip and mealworm diet to avoid starvation mode and muscle wasting! The majority of the stuff you’ll read about diets, nutrition and exercise sits on the borderland of real science where self-appointed experts sell their snake oil. And all of this gets promulgated by people repeating stuff they want to believe (confirmation bias) and thus creating memes that are not necessarily true.

In the end you have to go back to first principles. What are we? We are fast machines for the transmission of slow genes evolved over millions of years by and for that purpose. The biological machines that are us take in energy to power us (food), ensure that we are capable of simply staying alive and gathering more food, and breed. That is all evolution requires of us. So, apply that logic to the above.

Is it logical that we would burn off muscle before fat? That we would experience ‘muscle wasting’? Does it make any sense to sacrifice the machine in preference to the fuel supply?
No, not really. Yes there might be a small loss, but in that respect I would go with the school of thought that says your body starts catabolising cells that are damaged, not functioning correctly or redundant (autophagy). That makes sense – there was no imperative to deal with that mess while our guts were providing a bounty of nutrients.

Yes, muscle wasting does happen, and it happens when your body runs out of its usual food, that is, what is in your guts, liver and fat stores. It happens when you go below minimum body fat, which, beside the relocation camp victim, is something that can apply to body builders too. Your body does start eating itself to stay alive – almost certainly in order of importance i.e. the muscle in your biceps will go before the muscle in your heart. But this is irrelevant to the world of the fad diet and Joe Public (very few of whom are at the low end of body fat and very few of whom are likely to go without food for days on end), and the ‘burning your own muscle’ meme is an overblown scare story.

I think the reality is this: Strict diets and fasting in the healthy will only cause problems in THOSE WHO DON’T NEED THEM.  

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Kill Your Darlings

So, anyway, I think I’ve promised to post here more regularly about four or five times over the last couple of years, so I won’t be doing that again. The reasons behind my lack of posting are various: private, professional and finally due to a degree of boredom and irritation with the social media.

A little while ago I decided that in the mornings (rather than sit in my living room with a cup of tea, with my Ipad open while farting about of Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere) I would go straight into my office and get to work. I also decided that in the evenings I would again avoid social media and read and watch more TV. In these the only one I haven’t stuck to is the reading – must make more of an effort there.

My working day now usually runs like this: I am at my computer by about 8.00 AM, I warm up my brain by reading about 10 science articles from various sites across the internet, then I get to work. At midday I stop to cook and eat (a stir fry is usual now), then at about 4.00 – 4.30 I head to a local gym for about an hour or so. There I do 20 minutes on a cross-trainer, 30 – 40 minutes on free weights etc., finishing off with 2,000 metres on a rowing machine (I have four routines I do and intend to add more, because I’m getting bored with them now).

My aim has been to do my 2,000 words each day. I had a week or so when I was doing more than that – continuing to work after I got back from the gym and not stopping till 8.00 in the evening – but generally it has been less. The results? I’ve done a couple of short stories titled Grawl and Logan. The first is an elves and orcs siege while the second is a Polity story loosely based on High Plains Drifter. I intend to write some more short stories soon since doing so is something I have wanted to get back to for some time. Then there’s the book…

As I have noted here before, the latest book for Macmillan was a bit all over the place, having been written in spurts over a couple of years between periods of anxiety and depression. I’d ripped it apart and stuck it back together again many times. When I finally figured out where I was going with it, a few months back, that was after I whittled it down from 110,000 words to 90,000 words, while it sat in a file named ‘Jain’. Further work brought it back up to 110,000 words, then I hacked it down again moving sections from it into a file named ‘Jain2’ for a second book. More work, which involved further deletions and the diversion of a black ops attack ship called Obsidian Blade, resulted in the file name ‘Jain1’. Next I decided I had too many character POVs. I removed the POV of one character along with about a chapter of work on the same and this resulted in the file name ‘Jain1a’. I then decided this character was superfluous, so I killed her, and this resulted in ‘Jain1ab’…

‘In writing, you must kill your darlings.’ – William Faulkner

The quote is quite apposite in this case. I found myself writing more and more about the character I mention above, and drifting away from the main thrust of the story. She had to go, so I whacked her. Maybe it was doing this that led on to what happened next. The end of the story in this book was in sight. I had three plot threads I needed to tie off in a satisfying way, while also keeping them open for the next book. I worked with two of them, thinking to myself that maybe I needed to do more. I then moved onto the third yesterday, wrote another section and then finished it with three words. I realised that this was enough – that because of those three words I didn’t need to do anything more with the other threads. There is more to do – tidying up, some sections to be expanded, additions to be made – but I looked at those three words for about 30 seconds then after them wrote: