Saturday, April 22, 2017

Advice

- Look both ways before crossing the road.
- Be prepared[1]
- Be yourself
- To be yourself you have to know yourself[2]
- To be yourself you have to know your place in the world which means you have to know enough of the the world to find your place which may not be obvious
- To be yourself you will have to have been other people
- If you love someone you should probably tell them
- If you love someone you should probably tell them soon
- If you love someone you should probably... look I'm not the person to tell you when is the right time, my qualifications are more on the wrong time, and waiting too long, and maybe one day finding yourself with one hand full of regrets and the other holding a beer, sitting dry eyed while someone tells you about someone you loved once and how that story is pretty much over
- A hat can keep your head cool in summer
- A hat can keep your head warm in winter
- A hat can keep your head dry, even when there's a lot of wind that would turn your umbrella inside out, though a hat with a brim, which keeps the rain off you, can also catch the wind and go flying down the street where you'd lose it except a friendly passing motorist runs over it so you can catch up
- The right advice at the wrong time can be as bad as the wrong advice at the right time, though it's never the right time to give wrong advice
- The timing of advice can be as important as the quality and often people don't want advice they want someone to listen or just sympathise with them
- Maybe think a bit before offering advice as even good advice at the right time might not be welcome or the best response to the situation
- Maybe measure twice, cut once is what I'm saying[3]
- If someone says they have one piece of advice they probably have more
- If someone says they have one piece of advice and they actually only have one then it's worth listening to if only because it's what they think is important
- If someone says they have one piece of advice and they write a rambling essay on their blog they've probably got something on their mind and even if the advice is terrible or irrelevant or impossible to tease out from the tangents it may still be worth reading because they think it's something they want to say
- Try to get some sleep and eat a couple of meals every day, and keep hydrated.

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This is an entry for the Thanet Creative Writer's Writers Writing Competition responding to the prompt  The one piece of advice I feel qualified to give. In real life I have many qualifications, both official and otherwise, and as this piece no doubt shows if I am shy about giving advice based on them it is because often advice is not as welcome or useful as we might hope. If you have a comment or, indeed, advice on this piece then you can do so either below or at this subreddit.



[1] This is of course the Scout motto. "Run a team like a Scout patrol, run a meeting like a game of D&D" is advice I'm qualified to give but may be over-specific.

[2] "Know Yourself" was carved on the Oracle at Delphi, as was "Everything in Moderation." Presumably when they say everything, that includes doing things to excess, so long as you're moderate about it; after all even moderation should only be taken in moderation.


[3] An old woodworking proverb I first came across in Neuromancer.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

I Read Books: Nailbiters

Full Disclosure: This copy of Nailbiters was provided by Steve Shaw of Black Shuck Books who I have known for not quite thirty years and may have once hidden a bottle of Bishop's Finger in the cistern of my parent's toilet.

This is a collection of Paul Kane's short fiction, ranging from mundane crime to outright fantastic horror, but mostly lurking somewhere in between as psychological thrillers. As is the case with these genres, and with short stories, most of them depend for their effect on a twist, a subversion of expectations, a sudden revelation. As such I should try and avoid spoilers. In addition a simple list of stories with a brief description is not usually the best way to review an anthology. So obviously, let's get on with it.

Stalking The Stalker - A poem that uses the form to reveal an amusing and slightly over-clever story.

Grief Stricken - Revenge gone wrong. Lots of twists and turns for such a short piece - perhaps too many although as I saw some coming in fact the right amount?

Check-Out - Janet works in a supermarket and also lives inside her own head. It may end badly if someone buys beans.

The Opportunity - More stalking. Another twist.

Cold Call - Strange things happen in a call centre, which is odd as when I worked in one it was extremely dull.

The Torturer - Kidnapped, tortured, Andy Brooks can't answer his interrogator's questions. The answers may be in his dreams.[1]

Remote - Remote viewing leads to emotional distance.

Gemini Rising - A strange story about twins, murder and growing up.

The Anniversary - A story of a couple's thirty year marriage.

1,2,3... 1,2,3 - Obsessive compulsive counting and fairytales.

The Greatest Mystery - Dr Watson commits a murder and Sherlock Holmes grapples with death.

Baggage - The metaphor of carrying around baggage from previous relationships is literalised.

Graffitiland - A small time criminal finds himself in a deadly game. This story, although one of the longer ones, feels as though it could do more; characters have more to say and because of the structure the epilogue doesn't fit. I think this is an interesting failure.

Protégé - Pride in a child.

Nine Tenths - A story of thefts.

At The Heart Of The Maze - A man has an horrific fantasy.

Blackout - Kelly is afraid of the dark. One night it comes for her.

Cyclops - Possession and violence.

R.S.V.P. - A job applicant asks for a second chance.

Nightmare on 34th Street - Christmas is New York can be trouble if you're a cop.

Sin - A fairytale turned upside down, inside out, and quite as nasty as the original. My favourite of the collection.

Suit of Lies - Lies, or perhaps fabrications, take on a literal life of their own.

A Suspicious Mind - Riffing off the Elvis classic.
As noted this gets quite grim at times though the cover should give you a hint on that so don't say you haven't been warned. I found quite so many twists and shocks in one go exhausting, so I would recommend dipping in and out rather than sitting down and consuming them all at once. That said the reveals were never less than competently executed and occasionally truly disturbing. The minutiae of sad and gritty lives is always well observed. I did like the fairytale inspired ones a lot, though that's me and fairytales.

Read This: For twists, turns, shocks, scares and most especially if Steve hands you a copy.
Don't Read This: If murder, rape, mutilation and the tension in the expectation of something horrible doesn't float your boat.
Also: Check out other books Steve has published. See if there's something you like!

[1] This one was pretty grim in a book full of unpleasant things happening. Still a title like The Torturer, you can't say you haven't been warned.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

What Stops Me Writing

This is an entry for the Thanet Creative Writers Writers Writing Competition which this week has the topic:

What Stops Me Writing

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was famously interrupted by a visitor from Porlock while writing the poem Kubla Khan and lost the thread. We should all be so lucky as to get that far before being distracted. He would have found the twenty-first century a terrible time to write, and not just because opium is now illegal[1].

Interruptions however are not my personal Achilles heel. As I said in What Gets Me Writing; or I am Easily Distract... “Is all this over-analysis of kid’s cartoons a distraction? Well yes. It’s also what gets me writing.” Kid’s cartoons, or Coleridge poems, or mummies and hieroglyphs or, (checks open tabs on the web browser) a 1908 “true” account of a visit into the Hollow Earth[2]. It all goes into the pot.

My usual method is to write, or more properly type, in bursts of 100-300 words after which I pause to consider the next section. I have distraction built into my writing process. In part this is because my ideas don’t always come linearly. I’ll be nicely describing a room, blue curtains, comfy leather armchair under a reading light, and a neat garden out the window, when I have the idea of a super villain building a pyramid with an eye on top. (Famously on the one dollar bill, it’s the Eye of Providence. Look it up). I could just let it go. Ideas are cheap and this isn’t all that great – using well known imagery (linked to various conspiracy theories) for a sight gag, especially when I don’t really have an artist to collaborate with.

On the other hand I had been throwing ideas at a friend for a superhero, the Siege Engineer, who fights crime in the most inconvenient way possible, namely by using a trebuchet. This seems like a good match; a trebuchet would initially seem a good device to use against a stationary building, but the pyramid would obviously turn out to be super-strong and the slope would help resist thrown rocks. And perhaps most importantly I already have a page in my notebook for Siege Engineer.

So I come to the end of the paragraph, flip pages and scribble the idea down. Have a drink of water. Flick over to the web browser to look up the Eye of Providence (maybe the pyramid is a bank? Bank of Providence?). Check messages. Have another idea for a siege engineer plot[3]. Write that down.

(The things in the notebook are often of use later, though sometimes they come too late. I didn’t write for Who Do I Admire, mostly because of lack of time, but also because I didn’t have a good idea to write about. Later though I saw an especially stupid comment on a YouTube video, made a note and was inspired; no matter how poorly thought out my writing is it is infinitely better than that guy’s so I’ve improved the quality of online. I can only admire a guy who can make me look good.)

By now my subconscious has got on with, if not actual composing, certainly putting the pieces together so I can write the next few paragraphs more fluidly. I can grind it out when it’s not coming naturally but it’s hard, it’s tiring, and the result isn’t as good. I don’t get blocked though sometimes I get the message that I should maybe take a break – ten minutes for coffee, or a day, or a month even to let things fall into place.

Now we’re finally getting to the point, the actual title of the essay, Why I Stop Writing. You see...

I’m sorry. There’s somebody at the door. I’ll come back to this[5].
--

[1] Unless, of course, one is licensed to possess it or has had it lawfully prescribed.

[2] The Smoky God by Willis George Emerson. It is not very good.

[3] Basically use this video for Miike Snow’s song Genghis Khan[4] as the back-story for a three way stand-off.
[4] Kubla Khan’s grandfather of course.

[5] SPOILERS: I didn’t come back to it.
 

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Solving 3000 Year Old Crimes

How do you solve a 3,000 year old murder?

A writing project I am planning involves mummies and I thought a fun sub-plot would be for our heroes to find out how they died, essentially solving a 3,000 year old murder. This presents some problems; would it actually be possible? Not solving a murder can make an interesting story, but not as cool as finding out what happened in Ancient Egypt.

The first question is what do I mean by solve? Here's four questions that, if answered properly, would "solve" a murder:

WHO is the victim?
WHO is the murderer?
HOW was the murder committed?
WHY was the murder committed?

(WHY, the motive, is not strictly needed but is probably desirable in a fictional crime. Note that the killer being insane is a perfectly good explanation: see The January Man for example. Similarly the identity of the victim is not required though it is more satisfying, as well as giving detectives some people and places to investigate.)
This is probably a name but I don't know whose.
This is probably a name but I don't know whose


Ancient Egyptian names would be written in either hieroglyphs (yay!) or hieratic script (boring). The demotic script was not developed until 650 BCE so later than the time period I intend to focus on. Earlier time periods also have sketchier history allowing me to, perhaps, slip more unlikely ideas into the gaps in the record. Stone monuments and objects (also metal and ceramic) exist that have hieroglyphs on; also papyrus from this period still can be read (they have often deteriorated rapidly with handling and transport, and in the damper climate of Europe). These would have to be the sources of the identities. Presumably then they would be royal (or noble, or priestly), which might give a handle on motive.

As for the cause of death, how do we learn such things from mummies without destroying the evidence of such fragile remains? MRI scans or X-rays would be best.

Did I mention that the story is set in 1902?

That still leaves an autopsy. Of course the process of mummification involves removing several organs, like in an autopsy, so the clues might have been erased... or preserved in a canoptic jar.

A final note: just as designing a mystery story with the crime first can lead to our detectives making dubious leaps of intuition to solve it, designing the solution first can lead to a crime that makes no sense at all and relies on several far-fetched coincidences. This is fine in real life, which is full of nonsensical crimes and ridiculous coincidences, but people hope for more coherence from fiction. It is my intention to run through the sequence of events, of both crime and detection, and ask at each stage - is this is a stupid thing for the characters to do? If so, then I need to give them a reason for being such idiots.