Monday, October 25, 2010

Prador Moon.

Here's the new Jon Sullivan cover of Prador Moon:


This last weekend Pandelis came up to still his raki, with the assistance of Nectarius who owns the kazani next to our house. Being English we worry about being rude and imposing ourselves there, but it’s more the case that not turning up to try some proto raki and eat brisolas, is rude. So, on the Saturday, Pandelis arrived at 8.00AM to start the fire and get to work making raki.

We went down to Makrigialos for breakfast, then on the way back stopped in at the butcher’s and bought two kilos of pork chops. We dropped those off in the kazani building then disappeared into our house for a while, doing a bit of work, whatever. At 3.00 we wandered out whereupon Nectarius stuck some brisolas on the barbecue. We then sat eating barbecued pork, baked potatoes, pomegranites etc and drinking raki.

I brought out a jar of my chilli sauce for the Cretans to try with their brisolas and was surprised, despite its heat, how much it was enjoyed. Occasionally we cleared our palates with lemon and salt – as with tequila – and then finally stumbled off to bed at midnight.

The next day Pandelis arrived at 9.00, looking slightly the worse for wear. I was too, and required large amounts of coffee and water, and some breakfast, before I started to feel human again. A Liverpudlian called Roddy came up to our house at about 1.00 – bringing two kilos of brisolas – and an hour or so after that we again went over to the kazani. The chilli sauce again went down well and I provided quite a few of the Cretans with some plants I had been growing. The local drunk turned up and bartered some sweetcorn for raki, got wiped out fairly quickly – he probably has just a few ounces of liver left – fell asleep in his chair with snot dribbling out of his nose, got up and staggered a few yards to some nearby stone steps and fell asleep on them for a few hours before later getting up and weaving his way down into the village. Pandelis finished doing his raki and left at about 8.00. We stayed there with Nectarius, his wife Eli and his son, and again didn’t get back home until about midnight.

Next weekend Nectarius is making his raki and our attending his compulsory. This next week I’m swearing off the booze in readiness. It is perhaps a good thing that we’re heading back to Britain on November 3rd, since the raki season is only just kicking off. A whole month of kazanis and I’d be the one with the dribbling nose.

Making Cigars

Here, in order, the pictures of my second attempt at cigar making!

Thursday 21st

Though fairly bright yesterday it was windy, which dragged the temperature down a bit, so I lit the stove. As Caroline pointed out, central heating is just not the same, no matter where the thermostat is set, and it’s nowhere near as fast. Within about ten minutes the house temperature had risen by two degrees. Later, while preparing food, we put the saucepans on the stove to heat up initially, only finishing the job on the cooker. Then well fed we didn’t bother with baked potatoes or chestnuts. Maybe another night.

Later still, while we were watching the last episodes of Dexter, I noted that I was feeling rather warm. The stove had taken the temperature up to 28 degrees despite its vents being closed – the wind was drawing rather well through the chimney – and thermostatic control involved opening the terrace doors. This might seem like a waste, but we have plenty of wood, like the old beams from the ruin, and heating up the inside of the house will continue the long process of drying it out. As has been pointed out, the two feet thick limestone and mud walls have been soaking up rain for years and it will probably take years for them to dry out. And, since there’s no damp course, it’s doubtful that they will ever dry out completely.

The tiling inside the ruin is now complete, but the exterior tiling has stopped until things have dried out a bit more. Tomorrow we’ll go to Sitia to buy some light fittings that I’ll probably put up next year. Maybe the plumbing will be done this year, if not it’s no problem since we’ll be here for three or four months before anyone turns up. This will give us time to tidy up all those bits that are always left after a building job, do the painting, fit the small furnishings that’ll be required, like shelves, a holder in the shower for shampoos etc, a bathroom cabinet and other paraphenalia.

Wednesday 20th

Now we’re tending not to sit outside on the terrace in the evenings, we’re watching more TV. We pay a minimal amount for Greek TV as part of a council tax that goes on to our electricity bill (the words ‘council tax’ have an entirely different weight in Britain, but I expect it will get to be the same here – the amount of government theft from the populace never goes down). However, what there is to watch on it is limited for us. We don’t know the language well enough to keep up, so we won’t be getting addicted to Greek soap operas any time soon, have just a marginal understanding of the news, and mainly turn on the TV to check the weather forecast. Cookery programs are okay, and a quizz called Fatus Olus during which the questions appear as subtitles on the screen helps us learn the language, lots of American and British series do appear, with subtitles, but our reception of Star, which shows the best films, is crappy, and the commercial breaks are long enough to make a cup of tea, cook dinner and repaint the bathroom. Mainly we resort to DVDs.

This year we had what appeared to be a nice stock of stuff to catch up on: season 8 of 24, the last two seasons of The Tudors and the latest Dexter. All of these have been immensely enjoyable. The 24 was right up there with the best of the previous seasons, though annoyingly one critical episode near the end wouldn’t play; The Tudors is a historical drama I would rank up there with I Claudius, The Borgias and Rome; whilst Dexter, which we saved for last, is as enjoyably gory as ever, though now we only have a few episodes left to watch. Next we’ll start going through The Great War, then after that the well will be dry.

I guess, at this time of year, the news and documentaries we can understand, films, police procedurals, historical dramas and thrillers are what we miss most. Also, since the TV is definitely not what occupies our time when the weather is crap outside, the lack of constant Internet access can be annoying. I’ve considered the various satellite systems both for TV and the Internet, mobile Internet and other options, but the price always seems to be in the region of €50 a month, and reports of the quality of connectivity are not so great, especially where we are. The information age is upon us an accelerating, but still has yet to reach rural mountain villages in Eastern Crete.

Tuesday 19th

After writing a blog yesterday and doing some further work on Zero Point, which has now passed my before-we-go-back-to-Britain target of 80,000 words, we headed down the mountain for our Internet session. It was spitting with rain up here but that got a little heavier on the way down. It’s quite odd being out on a grey and rainy day wearing only a T-shirt, jeans and plastic crocs. My British experience tells me I should be wearing thick socks, a jumper and a leather jacket, maybe a woolly hat and gloves too, but the temperature was about 25 degrees.

Having been kakos pethia over the weekend, we confined ourselves to orange juice in Revans (Internet bar). By email I got the initial Jon Sullivan cover for Prador Moon, then shortly after that the new improved version, which I will show here once I get a jpg of it. The air was already full of sea spray dripping off the tamarisk trees along what remained of the beach, the sea very rough (though some were still swimming in it), then the rain ramped up as this next picture shows.

We hung around a little longer, drinking a very nice filter coffee, then headed back. I did some more work on Zero Point, then turned my attention to my tobacco leaves. Here, in order, are the pictures of my second attempt at making cigars, some of which will hopefully be dry enough to smoke during the next kazani next weekend.

Monday, October 18, 2010

8 Crappy Questions

Galaxy Book Shop

Another guest blog over here:


As I mentioned before on this blog, I was given some tobacco plants by some friends and am now growing them. Now, I smoke rollies, and one of the problems with rolling tobacco, especially here, is that it dries out. There are numerous solutions to this but generally what you do is put some moist bit of vegetation in the tobacco pouch. We were using mint, because we have so much of it, but then I thought, why not stick a green tobacco leaf in? I did, and, when the leaf dried up I mixed it with my rolling tobacco and smoked it. It was pretty tasteless and only by checking the numerous tobacco growing Internet sites available did I find out why.

The leaves have to be big, sticky, starting to turn yellow and the stalks snapping like celery before they are ready for curing. When I finally got a leaf like this, which was after the plant was about three feet tall and flowering (and after I topped out the flowers), I partially dried it out and put it in my tobacco pouch. When it was dry enough in the pouch, I crunched it up and smoked it as before. The taste I got was of cigars so later, when I had a good bunch of such leaves hanging up and curing, I thought I’d try an experiment. Before the leaves were completely dry, and therefore still sticky and malleable, I cut out the stalks and with the remaining half leaves made a cigar. Later still I decided that a cigar the size of a cruise missile might not be something I would want to smoke. I took it apart again and turned it into three reasonable sized cigars. They looked rough, but the right colour...

This Saturday we had three couples round, all friends, and one of whom provided me with the original plants. After copious alcohol, I decided we should try one of these cigars. It constantly needed relighting because it was still too damp, but the taste was exactly right, very good in fact. I microwaved the next one to dry it out further and it smoked a lot better. I can’t remember smoking the third one because by then the raki was kicking in and people were dancing in the kitchen.

The next day was kazani day right next to our house. Nectarius, who was stilling raki, obviously wanted us to come over but we hid ourselves away for most of the day, quite rightly suffering a severe hangover. Later, at 9.00PM and to be polite, we popped over and had a few rakis and some barbecued pork. I told Nectarius about the cigars and he said he will provide the raki and I’ll do the cigars. This week I’ll make some more, since there’s another raki making session occurring here next weekend. Out of interest I’ll take pictures of the whole process and post them here.

Monday 18th

The tiling in and on the ruin continued all last week, including Saturday, and here’s the result thus far.

Today it is pissing down so no work is being done, since most of what remains is outside: the step on the roof of the main house, which was torn up last year to expose where two roofs nearly met over a wallm these joined with reinforcing steel including and earthquake column and the whole thing concreted again; some edging on the ruin roof followed by grouting.

Friday 15th

Well, yesterday evening I finished Under the Dome. I read just about all of the last hundred pages, then King’s afterword, and put the book aside. ‘You are sorry when you come to the end’ is the quote from the Daily Express. I wonder if there should have been an elipsis between ‘sorry’ and ‘when’ where the words ‘you even started it’ have been redacted. Apparently the editor cut this book ‘down from the original dinosaur to a beast of slightly more manageable size’. Cue hollow laughter.

Thursday 14th

You won’t see top ten book lists from me scattered with worthy titles by German philosophers, nor will you see lists of favourite films including those that are noir, French and subtitled. Generally, such lists are more about a writer trying to demonstrate his intellectual credentials, whilst shameful favourites like Lord of the Rings, which is of course no longer de rigueur, or Terminator, which is far too much fun, are carefully edged to one side.

I won’t write deeply intellectual essays on futurology. I haven’t got a clue what’s going to happen, though I suspect it might be boring and dismal. I’m more concerned with honesty than appearances, which may sound strange coming from a writer of quite bizarre science fiction. Truth is important to me, even when it hurts me or others.

This is why I’m going to ’fess up that I had an extreme ‘oh shit’ moment yesterday when I realised how close I’d come to making a huge mistake with the book The Departure and the ensuing book Zero Point. It was one of those that would have resulted in me being beaten with anoraks until blood started oozing out of my ears. I actually felt quite sick when I finally saw the mistake, but luckily The Departure has yet to be published and just a little further editorial work will sort it out:

So, on its way back from Mars, the Traveller VI spacecraft stopped at the Asteroid Belt where its fusion engine, a thing the size of a cathedral, was removed. This engine was then attached to an asteroid loaded with metals, which was then blasted back into Earth orbit.

Okay, I now leave it to all of you reading this to point out my extreme fuck up here...

Wednesday 13th

Earlier on this year we went to a ‘bring and buy sale’ at someone’s house in Makrigialos. I purchased various plants whilst Caroline picked up a copy of Stephen King’s Duma Key for 50 cents. A couple of weeks ago I picked up that book and started reading, wondering how long it would be before I put it aside again. King has been a disappointment in recent years; his books steadily suffering from an increasing case of bloat. The last I struggled through was Dreamcatcher, which I finished in the sure knowledge that a Peter Lavery pencil would have excised about a third of it. Yet I remember my enjoyment of those earlier books, like The Dead Zone, and how, in my opinion, some of his short stories are the best I’ve ever read.

It is a shame when writers think they have outgrown their editors, when writers start to think they know more than people who are effectively professional readers. It is also a shame when a publisher gives in to a writer who has grown in power or, alternatively, decides what the hell, the name will sell the book so who gives a toss about editing? We’ve all seen the products of these processes, and felt the disappointment.

Duma Key grabbed me and held on, right to the end. Apart from a bit of unclearly visualized monster silliness I enjoyed it very much and felt that King had returned to doing well the stuff he does. The book had that creepy feel with its ‘heart in the mouth’ moments, its ‘laugh out loud’ moments and its moments of ‘now that would make me cry if I wasn’t so macho – sniffle’. After I’d finished it I therefore picked up a book Caroline had bought on the strength of a recommendation from Amazon, and because she hadn’t read something from him in a while. I had been tending to avoid it, seeing as it was the size of a breeze block.

Under the Dome started well and I liked the idea behind it of a small town being cut off from the rest of the world by a force-field. I was also quite surprised when reading the the high praise from various critics to find only one ‘serious ecological undertow’ comment and nary a reference to global warming. Quite refreshing. I then roared through the first hundred or so pages hoping for a stonking good story like The Stand, which this had been compared to, but started to lose headway through the next hundred pages. Reading the hundred pages after that I began to get that ‘oh get on with it’ feeling, and these pages took me only a third of the way in. Another six hundred pages of this to go.

I began to skip bits. Did I really need to know all those details about that person’s life? Yeah, we’ve established that those guys are nasty, can we move on? Erm, where’s the thread of this story gone? Now entering the last three hundred pages I still want to know what will happen and find that reading about one sentence per page keeps my finger on the sluggish pulse. Another bloater. If Dreamcatcher had been cut by a third that would have been no loss, in fact, a considerable gain. Half of Under the Dome needed big black pencil lines through it, whole sections outlined and scribbled over and a warren of bunny rabbits sketched in the margins.

Tuesday 12th

Mikalis paid us a visit yesterday to do a bit of measuring up and quote for putting down the tiles in the ruin. I felt the price was a bit steep, but he’s putting a waterproof layer down underneath them, using an expensive elasticated tile glue and, judging by the work he’s done here before, I know it will be done right. This morning it’s all go again and hopefully the final jobs will be completed round there by November 3rd when we fly back to Britain.

In a recent post I mentioned a walk to a village called Vori. It was there, last year, that I gathered dried chillies from the ground from which I extracted the seeds to grow some of the plants we have now. I wasn’t sure whether the plant these chillies came from was the same plant, or one planted new every year (as would be the case in England where chilli plants die off each winter, sometimes never having produced chillies). It certainly sits in the same pot. This time I had a chance to study it more closely and saw that it is actually a shrub with a woody stem about two centimetres thick. Therefore, I realise that when I’m told that someone has a chilli plant two metres tall, I’m not being bullshitted. I’ll be transferring our plants into even bigger pots, and I’ll also plant some straight in the ground. I look forward to seeing chilli trees growing here!

Incidentally, on a side note to that, I must go to the village of Pefki and collect some of the fruit of a tree there. It shades the eating area of a taverna called The Pepper Tree and is, you guessed it, loaded with peppercorns. Maybe we can become self-sufficient here as far as spices are concerned.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday 11th

We went on two walks over the weekend. On Saturday, as about 3.00 in the afternoon, we walked to a village called Armeni in the mountains behind us. This took about three-quarters of an hour up and down hills but by road, so slightly easier. In Armeni we visited a couple we know there who, having been working away in their garden, were stopping for a beer. The health aspect of our walk went downhill from then. We ended up getting a lift home at about 10.30 at night. Here’s a few photos of that and our next walk: our kafenion, our house from above, one of the fequent roadside shrines, and Papagianades from a distance...

On Sunday, by way of punishing ourselves, we did the walk of a hundred staircases by road down to a village called Vori, then back up by the tracks through the olive groves. There’s few pictures I can show that are any different from what I’ve shown before (I hear the voice of John Cleese declaring, ‘Olive trees, and more fucking olive trees!’).

Today – Internet day – I feel slightly worn out, but intend to persevere with this. It would be nice to flatten out my gut a bit before the five months of being trapped in our house in England.

Saturday 9th

When I look at the stats on this blog it’s clear to me that when I post something about writing, my books, science fiction, I get more interest, more hits and more in the comments section. Quite obviously the majority of the people visiting this site are here looking for Neal Asher the science fiction writer, not the Cretan home owner, gardener, tobacco grower, chilli grower and chilli sauce manufacturer. They’re not here to see how I renovate chairs, repoint walls or really to learn anything about Crete, or what happens to me particular interest at any one time. However, I do hope that the posts I do here about things other than SF at least entertain.

You see, I have a bit of a problem with blogging solely about my writing. I can’t tell you precisely what I’ve written about, how I sorted out this plot or that, what I’ve done with any of the characters because I would be giving too much away. This blog would be full of spoilers. I can tease you, but that’s about it. I can tell you something about the process, within limitations, but really, it’s boring. Let me give you an example: this last week I sat down at my computer each morning over five days and wrote a total of 12806 words, of which 10950 were for Zero Point, the rest being blogs. That’s it really. Would you want every one of my blog posts to be similar?

Such comments are the kind of thing I save for my journal, that kind of anal stuff I outline in ink at the bottom of each half page: number of fiction words written, number of blog words written, alcohol units drunk, cigarettes smoked, other jobs completed, amount of exercise, number of spots popped, total of toenails trimmed...

Friday 8th

Yup, we got some heavy rain, the water butt is full again the garden is soaked and I’m now diverting the waste water down the drain rather than saving it to water plants. Being British I look at cloudy skies, rain, damp and dropping temperatures with a frown on my face, then reluctantly close windows and doors before returning to the bedroom to dust off my jeans and jumper. Not so with the Cretans. They love it when the rain comes because it’s good for the olives and other crops, the water table is filling again, and they gaze upon our glum British expressions with evident surprise. I try to explain that we get more rain in a British summer than they get in a Cretan winter, but that only evinces further puzzlement. Rain is good. I wonder how long that opinion would last if they experienced a few months of grey British winter with its endless days of drizzle, downpours and sitting inside with the lights on.

In the guide books we’re told that here in Crete there are 300 days of sunshine every year, and yes, that’s about right. And what sunshine it is. You simply do not get the same intensity of light in Britain. Our house here is dim inside, the windows small, and a trip outside on a sunny day renders me practically blind for a few minutes after I return inside. I would say that the light intensity on a cloudy but not rainy day here is about the same as full sunshine were we live in Essex, but then, that house is forty miles from London in a highly populated area and there’s plenty of crap in the atmosphere.

Traffic through our village in Essex is heavier than through the largest town here in Eastern Crete, and traffic in Chelmsford, the largest town close to us in Essex, is probably ten times that of the largest city on this entire island. Living here has brought home to me how big the difference in air quality is, and I suspect my lungs have enjoyed clean air for the longest period in my life. Bar the cigarettes, of course.

In an effort to beat the damp here in a house built before damp courses were thought of, I’ve acquired a dehumidifier which, when run for about eight hours, takes two litres of water out of the atmosphere inside the house. How much of that is actually coming out of the walls is a moot point, but it should certainly help and, next year, maybe I won’t have quite so much paint falling off of them. Installing damp courses would be preferable, but can you imagine how much fun that would be in stone walls that are two feet thick?

Thursday 7th

On Tuesday, now the idea of swimming is losing its appeal and we are venturing down to Makrigialos less, we decided to switch over to autumn and winter mode by taking ourselves off on a mountain walk. In the pictures here you will note the main feature of the landscape surrounding Papagianades: olive trees.

I’m told that our area of Crete produces some of the best olive oil in the world, which the Italians add to their olive oil in order to upgrade it. I’m also told that the neat oil sells for ridiculous prices elsewhere in Europe, whilst the growers here get about €2 a litre. Why don’t the Cretans here get organized and cut out the middlemen? Apparently because getting them to agree on something is like herding cats.

Caroline had spotted a path leading down from the right-hand side of our village as a route we could explore. It took us down then along to the local graveyard. It all seems rather typical: spend thousands on a marble grave for your parents, go to it frequently to light a lamp no-one will see, to plant flowers and doubtless to pray. But the leaking roof on your house can wait.

We didn’t go right down to the bottom of the gorge opposite the village, but continued along one of the many tracks through the olive groves, then turned and climbed back out up to the left of the village. This was maybe the equivalent to climbing a few hundred staircases. Cretans, we are told, are the second longest-lived people on Earth. Lifestyle magazines put this down to the Mediterranean diet of fresh veg, fish, salad and lashings of olive oil. Don’t believe that for one second. In our village a trip from our house down to the kafenion at the bottom is equivalent to the average British urbanite’s weekly cardiovascular workout in the gym. Exercise is what keeps them alive here, that is, those that actually get out of their cars.

Finally returning to the village, we collected some water from the spring and made that aforementioned climb back to our house. It seemed quite easy after what we had done (that's our house at the top of the next picture). This morning we both have aching legs, but intend to take a longer walk this afternoon.


Um, maybe not. Heavy cloud overhead and the rumble of thunder in the distance. I don’t mind a shower while walking, but this looks likely to turn into one of those vertical seas.

Wednesday 6th

To pass your Greek driving test there are certain driving techniques you must learn. Here I’ll just give you a handy guide. If there is a car in front of you it must be overtaken. It doesn’t matter if it happens to be going round a corner when you do this, nor does it matter if afterwards you slow down, thus irritating the driver of the car you have overtaken. If a car ahead is being overtaken by another car, you must attempt to overtake them both. Extra points are given if you can also do this on a corner.

When approaching a right-hand bend, you must swing out to the left to give you a better view around the corner so you can go round it faster, just like a racing driver does. This is compulsory, even if you are driving a pick-up truck in which you have yet to discover the other three gears and are travelling at 20 kilometres an hour. Also, in an attempt not to wear out your tires too quickly, you must be tardy about swinging back to your side of the road. Extra points are given here if you can drive any approaching vehicle off a cliff and into the top of an olive tree.

Let me make a quick note here about pick-up trucks. There are only two acceptable kinds of pick-up truck. The first should be worked over from nose to tail with a hammer, all the lights smashed and it loaded with crates of grapes until it is sitting down on its axel. It shouldn’t have working brakes, road tax and if at all possible should burn a pint of oil per gallon of petrol or diesel. The second is a brand new, polished to a gleam, 40,000 Euro vehicle with all the trimmings. It has the capability of climbing mountains, being loaded with tonnes of materials, the power to tow a lorry, and is used for none of these. It must then be driven at high speed everywhere, except when there are puddles in the road, which must be circumvented at two miles an hour to avoid getting spots of mud on the paintwork.

Indicators, in the Greek driving world, must never be used to apprise the driver behind of where you are going. If you must use them at all, turn them all on as hazard lights to baffle everyone, slam to a halt in the middle of the road then abandon you vehicle whilst you go and have a chat with Kostas about the price of tomatoes.

Wherever you find functioning traffic lights you must have your hand poised over the horn in readiness for when they change. Beeping your horn when way back in the queue is essential. It won’t get the guy ahead off his mobile phone any quicker, or get you through any quicker, but you can be smugly assured that you have at least irritated someone.

Double parking is a must, and extra points are given if you can gridlock a town or do so on a roundabout. Also, giving way to approaching vehicles where access is narrow, probably because of the double parking, is for wussies. Better to stop where you are and shout very loudly at the other driver.

Bonus points are given if you can achieve all the above whilst speaking into a mobile phone in your right hand, your left arm hanging out the window as you flick ash from your cigarette, and whilst you steer with your knees. It is a given for all Greek drivers that a necklace of beads and a crucifix hanging from the rear-view mirror is more effective than an airbag.

Andy Remic Guest Blog

I've got a guest blog over here:

Tuesday 5th

Since I’m now really got the bit between my teeth with the writing, and am typing out a blog post each morning as a warm-up exercise, I’ll just make the headings here as above: day and date.

I woke this morning at about 5.00, which is an occurrence all too common as I slip through the last months towards the age of 50. After a cup of tea, I realised I was not going to get back to sleep and decided at about 5.45 it was time to get up. This is all good for some of those fans reading this, because it means I’ll have done a few hundred words before your alarm clock goes off. There’ll be others of course who are up and about too, on their way to work, or working, or contemplating the journey home after a night shift.

Caroline said she was damned if she was getting up before the sun, since it brought back too many memories of the time when she had to do that. I too remember those winter days when driving to work at 7.30 on a soggy, cold and dark morning to operate a milling machine for eight, nine or ten hours, then driving home in the dark afterwards, stinking of coolant oil. I remember months passing when the only daylight I saw was a grey and insipid thing for a half hour lunch break (I worked a half hour of overtime during my break so didn’t have an hour free) or through a narrow greasy window on the side of the factory.

It’s because of memories like this that you get a book every year. It’s because of twenty-five years of doing ‘proper jobs’ that I thoroughly appreciate the position I am in now. And it is also the reason I get annoyed when I hear about writers delivering their typescripts late, maybe years late, or if I hear the effete whingeing about ‘writers block’ or, in one case, a lengthy moan posing the question: ‘Why do we do this? Why do we put ourselves through so much suffering for our art?’. I started writing because I loved it, I continued writing without recompense for twenty years because I loved it, and I write now because I love it and because I’m well aware of what the alternatives are.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Rick Kleffel Review

Nice email from Rick Kleffel:


I just did an event with Guillermo Del Toro last night; hosted a Q&A with him at the Kabuki Sundance Theater in San Francisco. I gave him a copy of The Skinner to read, which I think he will enjoy quite a bit. He loves monsters every bit as much as you and I do. Hope you saw my bit on The Technician:

You are really kicking ass. I'll let you know what he thinks of the book when next I speak with him.


Rick Kleffel

I'm thinking that Mr Del Toro might already know my name, since he's involved in that Heavy Metal movie I provided a load of material for, but The Skinner? Wouldn't that be great...


The previous posts concerning earthquakes I wrote on Saturday, then on Sunday at 6.20PM we bloody well got another one. I felt the floor lift slightly under my feet, and again that rumble penetrated right through to my bones. I assured Caroline that lots of mini-quakes in an earthquake area are a good thing, because they’re relieving whatever pressure is building up deep underground – better lots of little ones rather than none for a long time then a big bugger to catch up. She remains unconvinced.

Writing Update

Last week I emailed the edited version of The Departure back to Macmillan and, just ten or so minutes after that, Julie Crisp replied telling me she was already printing the thing up. Next the copy editor will be giving it a going over, I’ll see it once or twice more, and the Macmillan millstones will grind, Jon Sullivan will doubtless do something brilliant, then copies of the book will drop steaming off the presses. August, maybe.

Now I’m back on Zero Point. On beginning to read through what I’d already written, I felt uncomfortable with particular events in it and excised them, tightening up the plotting. I’m still reading through and know that there’s a particular section later on I may well remove. It strikes me as gratuitously violent for its own sake and turns what I think is a particularly well-considered villain into a bit of a parody. Now we all know that I’m not particularly averse to a bit of gratuitous violence, but there’s plenty of that in the book already, and definitely more to come.

The book is at 65,000 words, an extra 1,500 word section recently added to fill in a plot hole even before I reach the end of this read-through. I’m currently wondering about time, distances, radio delays, slingshots, planetary orbits and relativity, and wish I had an Alastair Reynolds on tap. As it is, when I’ve easy access to the Internet, I’ll have to do some of that stuff which in interviews I’ve constantly denied doing: research. Made-up solar systems are easy, but a hell of a lot is already known about our one and I could easily write something that’ll have the anoraks emailing me in protest.


In my previous post I talked about an earthquake and, when discussing that subject with others, it evinces some surprise when I say that our house is not insured. Why, people wonder. I’ll tell you why. There’s the language barrier of first finding out what you’re paying for and then making a claim. I guarantee that the whole process of the latter would be full of pit traps, would grind along at a snail’s pace and that by the time we got any money all the repairs would have been made and paid for and we’d be on a pension.

Then there’s earthquakes: financially Greece is a seriously fucked-up country and if there was an earthquake here on Crete large enough to collapse our house I’m damned sure that nearly every other house on Crete would be rubble too, and shortly after that the insurance companies would be disappearing in a puff of debt and bullshit. Then there’s fire. The house will not burn down. Concrete and stone and tiled floors are not exactly flammable. It could be damaged inside if the sofa or a bed caught fire, but that’s a risk I’m prepared to take. Flood, of course, is irrelevant – we’re 700 metres up on top of a mountain. I would rather squirrel the money away for that rainy day – a day that might never occur. And finally, insurance companies aren’t out to do anyone any favours. They are casino owners full of overpaid jerks who will squirm like hooked worms to avoid giving any money back.

Let me illustrate that last point. Last year, at the age of 54, my brother Martin was diagnosed with oesaphageal cancer. He told us he would have chemo, then a piece of his oesophagus removed, some further treatment after that, be back on track. He neglected to mention that at best he had five years, and none of us considered checking. Certainly my 83-year-old mother didn’t know about the odds and the survival rates you can find on the Internet. Really, you don’t expect your son to die at that age.

Whilst this was occurring, my mother booked a two week holiday in Thailand, paying out about £3,000 which included the requisite insurance. She wants to get her holidays in whilst she still has a chance. Maybe in another five years she won’t be capable which, when you consider what I just wrote above, is highly relevant.

Before she got to go to Thailand, Martin came out of hospital, but then went straight back. He wasn’t healing up and soon they discovered another cancer in his torso. He hadn’t got long to live. My mother cancelled her holiday and, of course, the holiday company refused to give a refund. She then made a claim on her insurance. Whilst my brother was dying in hospital, the insurance company wriggled and squirmed, threw paperwork at her, refused to pay. Apparently an insurance payment for the cancellation of a holiday didn’t apply if it concerned a family member with cancer. Apparently we all need to be both oncologists and precognitive when buying insurance. She took it to the Ombudsman, but no joy there either – just another bunch of useless bureaucrats feathering their own nests.

Be warned: A family member with cancer, even one with a good prognosis, might have the temerity to start dying, and you won’t be able to claim back the money you paid out for that holiday so you can be at the bedside, or the funeral.

My mother lost a son and £3,000. Obviously the second hardly mattered in the light of the first, which is just the kind of shit insurance companies rely on.

My take on all this, as regards our house, is that I would rather my money went straight to a builder or furniture shop, if needed, rather than to that bunch of besuited fucking parasites.

Tiles & Quakes.

It now being cool enough for us to have become wimpishly Greek about the temperature of the sea and disinclined to head straight down to Makrigialos once my writing is done, we’re spending more time in the house. It has also been cool enough for me to contemplate the idea of shifting maybe a tonne of tiles from where they would be delivered, which in a mountain village on Crete means never by the house and in our case means at the top of fifty metres of sloping track, after which they must be taken up steps and a further twenty metres of upwards sloping path. So last Thursday we went to the tile shop and ordered what we’d already decided we wanted. This was 85 square metres of assorted tiles, a toilet, a sink, taps and shower and a shower cabinet. They acted fast upon receiving the order and most of what we wanted was delivered at about 6.30PM.

First I helped unload the truck, then I took some of the tiles down as far as the steps in a couple of wheelbarrows. Caroline took these – the bathroom tiles – up and round to the ruin, whilst I carried the rest the whole distance. I finished at about 8.00, had to have a shower afterwards because I was pouring with sweat, then had to cool down for a while before eating anything. Two days later I got that familiar ‘who the fuck worked me over with a baseball bat’ feeling that comes after a weight-training session conducted after a long break, but back to Thursday evening...

After a meal of tempura prawns and garlic bread, we sat watching TV, first a silly American series that is growing on me called The Nanny, then an episode on DVD of Foyle’s War. During this we heard a rumble, like some massive blast from the quarry in the mountains opposite, but this rumble seemed to penetrate right through to the bones. Caroline got halfway out of her seat and paused, but it passed, no need to get out into the open. Really, we shouldn’t worry too much about Earthquakes here – our house has been standing for centuries so the chances are that it will stand for further centuries.

Later we found out that the quake was 4.4 on the Richter scale and southwest of Iraklion, which is basically where we are. It wasn’t really of great note, and it’s always a bastard explaining logarithmic scales to someone and that no, a quake of 5 is not half the strength of a 10. We did have a better one two years ago in the middle of June. This was located just off of Ierapetra and weighed in at just over 6 on the Richter scale.

At about 3.00AM I woke up to a terrible racket. It seemed to me that someone angry had got hold of our front door and was slamming it back and forth in an attempt to get in (the door is loose at that time of year – it shrinks about a centimetre). As I really started to wake up it felt like someone had just opened a branch of the London underground directly below our house and now a train was passing through. I could feel it as well as hear it, and seemed to be able to track its progress below. We didn’t know whether we should get outside – apparently some of our neighbours did – and by the time we were coming to a decision about that, it was all over. No real damage. A crack had opened up in a newly painted wall but, over the ensuing week, it closed up again and effectively disappeared. I guess that’s one of the benefits of having a house partially constructed of mud and sitting on zero foundations – it is somewhat elastic.