Saturday, September 30, 2006

Back From Crete.

Okay, I’ve just been on holiday yet again (but I was writing stuff on the beach, and not in the sand) and, as before, I wasn’t going to announce that fact here to the Internet-cruising burglary community.

I wondered what it would be like in the airport, after recent events. We arrived early at Gatwick check-in and there was no queue at all. Wonderful. Then we saw the vast mass of people slowly tramping towards hand-luggage scanners. Having seen and read the signs, we had already removed all potential liquid explosives from our hand luggage, all pointy objects and all cigarette lighters. Coming up to the scanners we then found we had to remove our belts and shoes so they too could go through the scanner. While this was occurring, I noticed a chap in uniform having to go through the same process and wondered if the set of wings on his uniform jacket might be considered a dangerously pointy object. Obviously pilots as potential suicide bombers are more dangerous than, say, pilots who might feel inclined to make a short diversion to drop their plane on Canary Wharf.

On the way back from Crete we again carefully put all potential liquid explosives, lighters and pointy objects in our main luggage. Greek security pulled me over, pulled on gloves (thankfully only as a precaution against the skiddies in the case) then after a brief search ordered me to return all my cigarette lighters to my hand luggage.

Funny old world.

Time for another medical rant. Anyone who suffers from acne rosacea will know what miniocin minocycline capsules are. They’re the pills that can stop your face breaking out in postules or taking on the jolly red glow of a bottle-of-whisky-a-day Santa. In Britain, you need a prescription for these capsules and then have to pay the prescription charge of £6.95 for 14 of them. Guess what? In Greece you can buy a pack of 12 of them over the chemist’s counter for about 4.60 euros – about £3.00.

This turns me to thoughts of other inequities. Set up a still in Britain and Customs & Excise will be kicking down your door and pinning you to the floor with the barrel of an assault rifle in the back of your head. In Crete the national drink is raki (not ouzo, surprisingly) and it is not produced by big corporations but by little, unregulated family concerns. Perhaps this continues because of the Cretan attitude towards central government in Athens. In mainland Greece gun control is very strict, almost British. In Crete, if government rules go contrary to custom, they are ignored. Just about every family has illegal firearms, which they fire into the air during celebrations. Perhaps we should learn from this: perhaps if we all had guns in our houses nanny government would be reluctant to interefere in our lives.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Writing News

Good news on the selling front. Via Jeremy Lassen’s blog (I think) I’ve learnt that Prador Moon is in the trade paperback top five at Borderlands Books and that this is not the first time it has been there. Checking there myself I see that the month before last Brass Man was in the top ten paperbacks too. Shiny.

Also, in a break between books, I decided to sit down and produce some short stories. Maybe because I’m now more used to writing at length, these stories grew in the telling so I ended up with Alien Archaeology at 21,000 words and Owner Space at 18,000 words. I hesitate to call them ‘short’ since the stories I have submitted to magazines have usually fallen between 5,000 and 15,000 words. The good news is that though it’s long, Sheila Williams at Asimov’s has accepted Alien Archaeology.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Little Darlings.

A few items on the Breakfast TV caught my attention today. One was an excerpt from a program called ‘Super Nanny’. It showed the house the nanny would be visiting: harried mother not bothering to control two little brats who were knocking the shit out of each other, chucking around toys and having tantrums. Next was a news story about a nine-year-old who had been tortured in a playground by being burned with cigarettes and lighters, then stripped naked and made to cycle across a burning field. Almost certainly the latter was attacked by examples of the former – feral children who’ve been raised by parents too bone-idle and thick to instill some discipline, parents who made a rod for their own backs by not doing so early with consistent rules and discipline, and who believe that any problems in their lives are due to somebody else and that ‘somebody should do something’ or ‘we don’t get enough help’.

You see the children produced by such an attitude everywhere: hard-faced little shits who gaze at you with hostile estimation while supping on a can of Stella, children who know that if they do anything wrong there’ll be no punishment and the child psychologists will be wheeled out with ADHD excuses, and that if they continue doing wrong the authorities will give them ineffectual ASBOs they can brag about to their brat friends.

Later, there was a news snippet about the large increase in young single mothers in this country. When asked by the presenter why there were so many of them in sink estates and other such delightful areas, the government cockroach explained how things are ‘improving’ and ‘more assistance is available’ and that ‘the figures show’ and that ‘government initiatives are’ etc. Just once I’d like to hear someone answer such a question honestly with, “Well, you find such people in such locations because that’s where the welfare scum live, and we’ve found that by making more ‘assistance’ available, more of these scroungers take advantage of it. In other countries, where ‘assistance’ is not so readily available, there’s a lot less of these scroungers, but we can’t make the logical move of reducing ‘assistance’ because that would be politically incorrect and not permissible under the daft rules of our ideology.”

Monday, September 11, 2006

Grass Cutting

Before getting into this writing game full time, I was one of those guys you see driving around in a truck with the back stacked up with hedge cuttings or the best part of a tree, or I was the guy chugging around on a big mower on your local playing field. I did this for about fifteen years: worked hard during the summer then when things cooled down in the winter I did a bit of writing. During the winter I used to put on about a stone in weight, then come the spring and early summer I would dump that weight in about two to three months. Of course, that ain’t happening now.

It’s something people don’t realised about manual workers who move into a sedentary occupation. You’re fit, you have acquired the eating habits to support that level of activity, and you’re used to being out in the sun, sweating. One problem is that the reduction in exercise, and sunshine, can make you more prone to depression. Another is the weight. I found that the stone I put on in the winter wasn’t easily going away and over the last five years my weight has been edging up. Exercise goes some way to alleviate this, but no amount of exercise can match five days of manual labour each week. I once worked out that on my ‘walk-behind’ day – when I went out with a couple of walk-behind mowers and cut private lawns – I was walking over twenty-five miles, fast, often carrying a heavy-duty strimmer or big mower bags of grass cuttings.

For the last few years I’ve been fighting the flab with low carb diets and, per week, nine miles of dog walking, 24 to 40 miles cycling and a few sessions of weight training. It ain’t enough, so now I’ve come up with a new diet plan. It’s not healthy, but I’ve been growing tired of being a fit fat bastard with and ever-increasing waistline. It goes like this: you work on the theory that if you keep shoving food into your gob and not burning it off you are going to get fat, so stop it. I stopped eating for two days and thereafter confined myself to one small meal a day. Feel hungry? Well, my stomach has shrunk so that’s not so much of a problem, when it does become a problem I smoke a cigarette. Feel tired and lethargic? Drink a triple espresso.

Eleven pounds in twenty-two days – half a pound a day. You’d think I would feel knackered, but I don’t. I actually feel a lot better and am doing more. Think of the weight in 2lb bags of sugar. Five and a half of them would certainly strain the handles of a supermarket carrier bag, and I’m no longer carrying that. I might write a diet book…

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Year's Best SF 11

A story called Mason’s Rats appears in here. I wrote it ages ago, then went on to produce Mason’s Rats II & III. The first two were published in issues 2 & 4 respectively of Orion ('92 & '94). All three stories were then released as a booklet by Graeme Hurry's Kimota. When in 2000 I finally got into ‘big publishing’ I had the pleasure of meeting an author whose books I’d enjoyed for about a quarter of a century – Tanith Lee. We met, chatted, exchanged books, and some time later I also gave her a copy of the little Mason’s Rats booklet. She loved it, and asked if I minded her sending it to Gardner Dozois at Asimov’s. I didn’t refuse.

Interestingly I’d already sent a short story to Gardner called The Veteran, which he accepted and published in the Asimov’s of June 2004 (also went on to be published in Japanese publisher Hayakawa's SF Magazine, May 2005 issue). He also accepted Mason’s Rats I. It’s a tight and very short little story, amusing (I think) – something to enjoy but certainly not something to write huge dissertations about.

Yet here’s the weird bit. When the first story first appeared I found a review on the Internet – of the political ramifications and deep significance of this or that – that ran to more words than the story itself. When the story appeared in Asimov’s, a reviewer called Dave Truesdale slammed it in an editorial on his site Tangent somehow infering from it that I was a left-wing PETA-supporting animal activist, and demanding to know who accepted it because ‘readers have a right to know’. Of course my reaction was bewildered hilarity. A little bit of a row developed on the message board there, and now it seems that whenever rats are mentioned on the Asimov’s message boards, that story is often refered to.

It was all very strange.