Tuesday 30 July 2013

"Shut up crime"


The films Super and Kick-Ass both take as their premise "What happens when a normal person dons a costume to fight crime", although they go about it in different ways. Well perhaps we are now overdue a documentary about this as we can now interview, follow and investigate Real Life Superheroes (RLSH)




Some hand out food to the homeless and if they choose to dress up doing that then where's the harm? The bigger worry is the ones that patrol in a kind of neighbourhood watch on steroids. These are the ones that go looking for crime and are bringing vigilantism to the streets.

No surprise that there are many RLSH in the US of A but there are some here also. (see http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3443305/Britain-has-16-superheroes-patrolling-the-streets.html) and there are examples in many countries: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_life_superheroes


What motivates them? Are they just Adrenalin junkies? Are they mentally stable? Virtuous upholders of justice or masked vigilantes with no regard for the due process of the law.


What effect do they have on crime? Are they the real reason crime is dropping in our cities? This is one of many such like reports, it just happens to be for my local area http://www.thewestonmercury.co.uk/news/figures_reveal_an_all_time_crime_low_1_2293971


Is this the real reason the government are slashing funding for the police, is it the Big Society in action? Is Dave like the mayor of Gotham?, is that the reason we had elections for commissioners so there could be "commissioner Gordon" style figures bringing in Caped Crusaders to help tackle insoluble problems?


Are we set for this to become ever more prevalent, for the RLSH to become more mainstream, all it'll take is a few well publicised success stories I guess. What then? would we be headed to a public backlash, as we have seen in so many superhero films. Perhaps a J Jonah Jameson style figure will arise? At the moment there is little publicity (the Sun aside, and that's hardly a sympathetic piece) here in the UK but the founding of the RLSH enabling project shows that there are a few people out there that would like us to live in the kind of world where masked, unaccountable, vigilantes are one answer to crime. I'm sure that it will not be just criminals that don't want to live in such a world.

Monday 29 July 2013


On Saturday I went along to Library Camp SW, a conference all about libraries. Not having been to one before (and there are several around the country) I really didn't know what to expect. The format of the day was an "unconvention" with people pitching ideas for sessions when we arrived. This sounded like it could be a bit chaotic but worked really well.

There were sessions that seemed a bit specific to librarians (& information professionals) but plenty of sessions that as a non-librarian I was both interested in and felt I could contribute to.

I went to a session about e-books and learned a lot, also told everyone about Bow at REACT http://www.react-hub.org.uk/books-and-print-sandbox/projects/2013/digitising-the-dollar-princess/ who I've been recently speaking to about doing something for the festival of literature.

I then went to a session called "are libraries obsolete" which was fairly heated. It seems that libraries are always changing and obsolescence is pretty much always being called for things. I made the point that 20+ years ago when I did publishing at Uni the big question was "Are books dead" and yet more and more are published every year. Libraries are about so much more than books and fulfil a key place in the community I would think they'll never be obsolete. Different to what we knew them to be in say the 70's & 80's for sure but will they disappear? I hope not, and don't think they will.

The next session I was at was "What's your perfect library" where we split into teams and tried to think of all the things that would go into a perfect library if money was no option. The main thing I learned from that is that there is a lot of love from librarians for Cardiff Central library, which I now want to visit.

After a rather marvellous lunch (everyone brought stuff) we reconvened for a session on collaboration (very interesting & one that seemed the most relevant to me) and another on Apps. Which soon became a session about everyone saying what their favourite apps were, wrote a bunch of them down...

I met a bunch of interesting people, talked about some interesting stuff and came away happy even though it was bucketing it down when I left and I got very wet going home. A trip to the local Indian soon sorted me out though.
You can see pictures of the day here (I neglected to take any!!):
Also noted down the following useful/interesting websites:

and another blog about the day here:


Yesterday, in sunnier circumstances I went to the harbour festival, which seemed to have grown since last I went and is now seemingly more spread out. Lots of cider in the sun and some background music. Saw these guys: http://boxcaraldoushuxley.co.uk/ who did a great set, although the crowd was mostly indifferent.

Friday 26 July 2013

Below is a short story inspired by Bristol Open Doors & BLDGBLOG piece Berthier's door.

‘wherever you install a door, in any city, if you simply wait long enough, the invisible network of tunnels burrowing away in the background of urban awareness will eventually come to find it.’

Opening Berthier’s door

Yes I’m night folk, don’t be afraid. Yes my teeth are sharp and I am a little hairier than you but don’t worry, I’m not going to bite. You’ve gotten lost haven’t you? Been exploring have you? Door Open day is it? Been invited into the vast catacombs of labyrinthine networks lying under the city? Don’t mind me, I only live here. Bet you want me to show you the way out don’t you? Every year it’s the same, always one of you day folk wanders off the path; gets lost down here and we have to show them the way out. Let me tell you about last year. She was a right royal pain. Yeah I’ll take you out of here, just listen and follow me.

I’m no good at day folk ages but I’d say she was too young to vote but old enough to know better than wander off by herself. I found her sobbing away whilst I was looking for track rabbits. What do you mean what are track rabbits? Look you can’t stop me every time you don’t understand something, it’ll put me off. I’ll have to start again. You have the internet, look it up when you get back if you’re that interested. I’ll start again.

So there I was, out hunting, when I heard this sniffling and sobbing, a right wailing and caterwauling, proper full on tears of despair.  I approached all cautious like on my tiptoes, I can be quiet even though I’m a big feller. You didn’t hear me coming up behind you did you? Anyway so there I was all sneaky like and she stops crying just like turning off a tap. She gave a great sniff and then said “Who’s there?” Well I tell you I was surprised. Been out hunting in the parks and subways and in the deep dark places and I ain’t never been spotted by one of you folk before.

“Don’t be frightened” I said, just like when I approached you. Didn’t do no good then either. She jumped to her feet, her bosom heaving, eyes wide open but I know you day folk can’t see well down here.

“I ain’t going to hurt ya” I says. Well no, I didn’t know that’s what they always say on films. Not a great amount of cinemas down here is there. Anyway hush now, no more interrupting.

“I’m not afraid” she says, bold as brass. “Who are you?”

Well now, we didn’t discuss names did we? Anyhow us night folk had names once but have traded them in for monikers. Labels if you like. The other folk know me as Two-Coats. Yeah, I may tell you about that later.

“You can call me Two Coats” I says “And what can I call you?”

“I am Monica Llewellyn” She says and I guess it’s important to have two names, as above so below, they say. Who? They, They, haven’t you heard of Them?

“Lost are ya” I says, already knowing the answer

“I’m not lost, I’ve just misplaced the exit” she says

“Well let me show you the way” I says, yeah I do do it for charitable reasons, also because we don’t want the boys in blue in numbers down here do we?

“Thankyou ever so much” she said and that should have been my second warning, no-one says that do they? ‘ever so much’.  That’s gone through polite and out the other side that has.

“This way then miss” I says and start off but oh no she’s not ready to go is she, she wants to make sure her shoes are OK and other stuff. Wants to make sure that she’s in control. Wants to preach to me.

The she says “Let me tell you about how I came to be here” and boy was that a tale I had no interest in. I was just hoping to show her the door you know. But it got worse. “Jesus showed me the way” she said later, that shows you. Showed me too, try to be a good Samaritan and end up with a sermon. Wonder if the good Samaritan was at the sermon. Not sure of my Bible to be honest.

“Do you live here” She asked me and “Don’t you have anywhere to go in the city, where they’ll look after you?” (see it’s Them) and “Jesus can show you the way” and a whole bunch of other stuff that I can’t be bothered to repeat.

Anyway she was so sanctimonious, so sure that I needed saving that I decided that I’d take her the long route. It’s a maze of stairs and corridors and slopes and steps and twists and turns. Eventually we came out in the 3rd arrondissement and as she stepped out into the city I quickly waved her goodbye and closed the door. Well no, I won’t do that to you, apart from interrupting me you’ve been OK. Yes the 3rd arrondissement is in Paris. Yes I know as the crow flies that’s quite a long way from Bristol but we ain’t crows, we weren’t flyin and us night folk know a bit about how to get from one place to another using short cuts. Yes it’s possible, don’t diss me. Yes I suppose it could be seen as a cautionary tale but you know I didn’t kill and eat her, although I am powerful hungry, so that’s OK isn’t it?

Anyhow this is your stop, the Clifton Rocks Railway. What’s that? You came in here in Redcliffe caves? You never heard that the caves stretch all the way up Whiteladies road? Like I said we know short cuts. Just be glad you don’t have to practise your French. Out you go and be careful, some of the night folk ain’t as nice as old Two Coats. Hope I won’t be seeing ya. Farewell.






Thursday 25 July 2013

Colonel Barker’s monstrous regiment Rose Collis


This is a biography of Valerie Lilias Arhelt Smith who, as “Colonel Victor Barker” was arrested and sent to jail for falsifying records (a marriage certificate) to marry Elfrida Hayward in St Peters Church, Brighton. A scandalous trial with lots of coverage in the tabloids led to a life of notoriety. The central story is supplemented with examples from history of other cross dressing females. There is a good book in here but sadly there are a few problems. Firstly, and this may just be my issue, Collis drops the historical info, in very long (sometimes several pages) stretches of prose in italics. Seemingly with little thought as to breaking up the story and then will continue as though there had been no insertion at all. Drove me to distraction and a couple of chapters in I was reading the main biography and skipping the italics, which I then went through at the end. A little editorial control would have helped here. The other problem was a usual biographical one, she was working from minimal records, Barker for obvious reasons not writing much down, and extrapolating and surmising. This is Ok as far as it goes but sometimes, where the records are scant, there did seem to be an element of the author just making it up. However I’m glad I read this book even though it didn’t quite deliver and there are plenty of interesting episodes. Including the fact that Barker joined the British Fascists in the inter-war years and we see that many of the suffragettes went on to join the fascists & the fact that there were lots of fascist movements in Britain, which is a bit of history I know virtually nothing about. I’m aware of Mosely of course but not the other movements, who seemed to be formed to oppose the communists.

Overall – A little muddled but an interesting story for a biography

Friday 19 July 2013

The venue: Mr B's Emporium of reading delights
The author: Jonathan Grimwood (John courtney Grimwood pseudonymously)
The subject: Literary feasts

It was hot, the customary band were in Penzance, the windows were open, the fans were on and yet at half time most people escaped out onto the streets to try to cool down. Nic and Jonathan talked about his new book The Last Banquet - Jonathan Grimwood

It seemed to fly past but covered a wide range of topics, mostly food related, with Jonathan being erudite and amusing and a really interesting speaker. All too soon it was time to sample the food, tonight prepared by the boyfriend of a member of staff, this was high quality stuff, very tasty, with a lovely watermelon salad washed down with a few glasses of nice white wine.

After the break Nic talked books with culinary themes including one that found it's way into my bag along with the Last Banquet. (Eat him if you like by Jean Teule)

I mentioned Feeding Orchids to the slugs which sensuously talks about food & is the memoir of a zen cook. Cheryl Morgan (http://www.cheryl-morgan.com/?p=17235) mentioned 2 interesting books which I failed to make a note of and Jonathan also mentioned a book yet sadly I didn't scribble that down either. With several other audience members chipping in I hope someone somewhere either has a better memory than me or was writing it down - answers in comments if you will...

Overall a very pleasent evening, chatting with old friends and new and am now plotting something secret and exciting....

Wednesday 17 July 2013

It's been less than 5 months since I started writing and I've already learned a lot. At the moment I'm in the "enthusiastic amateur" category. I should invest in a grammar guide.  That some people in the publishing industry seem extremely rude (but are probably very very busy) but most people are lovely and helpful. That short stories are hard and I seem to be better at flash fiction. That stories are not necessarily finished even if I think they are. That there are a lot of other writers and therefore competition out there. That writing is mostly fun, but some days it feels like trying to nail a blancmange to a wall. That this is a long haul. That I should probably do a writing workshop/course/retreat. That I should join a writing group (see below).

highlights of the last 5 months:

My story White noise/Black silence getting on 1000 words http://1000words.org.uk/white-noiseblack-silence/

My story  The cat's got it getting on stories with pictures (publication date TBC) http://www.storieswithpictures.org/

My story Artifice Perdu being accepted for Airship shape and Bristol fashion Steampunk anthology

Getting a rejection from The writer's forum with a critique which included: "This is very well written and atmospheric" and "You have a lovely easy to read writing style and I hope to see more of your work." Despite also identifying what my main problem with the short story form is "it doesn’t feel like a complete short story. The ending leaves me feeling as if it is actually the end of the beginning of the story" The critique could have been much worse! and I'm encouraged by the last comment "Needs some work but has potential" which is kind of where I'd hoped I'd be at this stage...

down points in the last 5 months is every single rejection I've had, although notably The cat's got it was rejected by one place and accepted on the second place I submitted.

The North Bristol Writing Group was semi-moribund but after I approached them and have now met with the organiser I hope to kick off a regular meeting starting in September.

I am helping to organise a Reading group too with Vala co-op starting in october

Things are coming together for the BFL events I'm running

I went to see Richard Herring at the Tobacco Factory on Monday, as usual he was very funny. I found the set quite interesting as you could see that he was developing his show for Edinburgh We're all going to die some stuff worked, some he adlibbed, some didn't work.

Tomorrow I'll be at the wonderful Mr B's in Bath to see Jonathan Grimwood talk about his new book The last banquet http://www.mrbsemporium.com/index.php/info/events



Tuesday 9 July 2013

Instant Death!
So I was watching Star Trek Into the Darkness and wondering why I was wasting my money on unmitigated pap and also musing on plenty of other things whilst waiting for the infinite  implausibility generated by the film to subside. One of which is the way death is portrayed at the cinema. Now you used to be able to rely on Star Trek to not only kill people with a flashy light but also erase them from the screen with a kitsch special effect.  No more it seems, Star Trek now has laser battles that look derivative of, well, most other SF films.

When I was young the instant death format in films was generally done via a knife across the throat. Brave Tommies behind enemy lines would perform this magical manoeuvre and we didn’t really care that there was no spurt of blood or the fact that Jerry would instantly fall to the floor dead, when the reality would be substantially different. This has been replaced fairly recently with the old twist the head to snap the neck trick.

You actually have to be very strong and somehow prevent the body from moving to actually pull this off,  but it is indeed possible. It is a fairly brutal, but oddly clean way to kill someone on screen and if you immediately drop the instantly dead body and don’t follow it with the camera you don’t even need special effects. Mind you the lack of blood is possibly not a driving factor, there are plenty of TV shows and films where people are shot or stabbed without bleeding. I’m guessing that a snapped neck, unless it severs the spinal cord, would cause a sudden paraplegism and agonised screams rather than instadeath.

Anyway that’s actually preferable to the ridiculous head squeeze death used in the latest Star Trek film. Wonder how many psi of pressure it would take to crush someone’s skull? Apparently according to that ever reliable internet thingy it’s about 1400 psi. However I bet that’s with something that isn’t spreading the pressure over the surface of something as large as a palm, which is what Khan used in STITD to kill someone. He squishes someone’s head with the palms of his hands on either side of the head.  This is without breaking the skin or the eyeballs being squished out to fly across the screen a la Evil Dead. No blood is split, another clean instadeath achieved at the same time as giving us a shorthand for a) Khan is an Evil Motherfucker and b)ooo isn’t he strong

Is there a general acceptance of these silly methods of dealing death because they are bloodless, because they are “plausible enough” or is it that we’re all just fine with this lazy shorthand for then person x killed person y but because this is an action film we don’t want to dwell on that?

A few years ago I used to work on electrical equipment as a radio engineer for one of the big mobile phone firms. We had to attend an electrical safety course and the person who ran it had a line in snuff films, with the excuse that they were “educational”. One of which has stuck with me (as it would to anyone who saw it I feel) of a man in some foreign country where safety standards are probably a bit lax who is on top of a train, with plenty of other folk, which is stopped at a station. He idly reaches up and grabs hold of an overhead cable and FRAP he’d dead. One second a walking talking human being with family and friends, a second later a crispy smoking corpse. Instant death is possible but it really isn’t pleasant to watch. Perhaps we’re better off with clean instadeath?
A few quick reviews:

Darkmans Nicola Barker


“The truth” Peta informed him, baldly, “is just a series of disparate ideas which briefly congeal and then slowly fall apart again….”

What can I say about Darkmans? This has been a very hard to review to write. Barker goes on a journey into an unusual haunting with a collection of unusual characters with an unusual approach. It’s, well, unusual. I got to the end of the 800+ pages and thought that it may not have been worth dedicating that many pages to the story she wanted to tell, but also couldn’t for the life of me think of how it could have been made any shorter and kept its essence. There are some wonderful characters and situations in this book which starts and ends mid-story. History repeats itself, historical characters come to life in the modern day, it’s a father son story, it’s a mother son story, it’s a story of chiropody and art forgery, of disappearances and re-appearances, of immigrants and incompetent builders. It is a great many things. It is not a neat book, there are no explanations, you won’t get to the end and have a light bulb moment, it is dark and it is curious and it is wonderful.


Overall – A great read but one that leaves you a little perplexed and maybe even uncomfortable.


The wind in the willows Kenneth Graham



Children’s classic of Ratty, Mole, Badger & Toad. I listened to this narrated by Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame, a great narrator) who brought the tale alive. If there was no chapters about Toad’s adventures then this would be brilliant, as it were I could do without Toad (who I also disliked intensely as a child!) but I could read chapters like “Piper at the gates of dawn” or “Wayfarers all” over and over again for their lyrical beauty and their eulogising of nature.


Overall – a deserved classic


Deathless Cat Valente




A retelling of Koschei the Deathless as Koschei the Tsar of Life and his bride Marya Morevna and the city of St. Petersberg as it changes name across the years and suffers in WW2. This is, like all Valente, full of lush prose and a well stitched tapestry of a story. Marya’s house with its attendant gnome like spirits, her sisters who all marry birds (birds and eggs being somewhat central to the story), Marya’s friends in the land of the Tsar of Life, the haunting chapters set in WW2, the relationship between Marya and her husband all lovingly interweaved in such a clever way.


Overall – Another great fairy story retelling


Walking Dead volume 18




Goes in perhaps an unforeseen way from the last one, feels like he’s eking it out though, don’t like the new bad guy at all as a character, too cartoon buffoon evil, still worth reading (unless you have series fatigue) going to give it a rest though as I am now fed up of Rick and the series appears to be stagnating a little bit, suffering from the usual fantasy problem of plot escalation


Science tales Darryl Cunningham



Cunningham is obviously angry with woolly thinkers and presents a series of graphic essays on science denial. These are on the moon landing hoaxes, chiropractic, homeopathy etc. and the dangers in anti-science thinking such as the dangers of not vaccinating your children. Each is succinctly told and the art is of the usual high standard. Stands well side by side with his [psychiatric tales] and well worth a read.


Overall - These are incredibly lucid and a joy to read even if I already knew a lot of the detail.


Friday 5 July 2013

Dictionary of Bristle launch

Last night was the 10th anniversary edition of the Dictionary of Bristle launch at Stanfords in Bristol with authors Harry Stoke and Vinny Green and local "famous person" Colin Pillinger all of whom kindly signed the copy I bought myself. There was cake


and cider and good company.

authors with Richard Jones of Tangent and Colin Pillinger

There was also Gromit


Monday 1 July 2013

So last week I was really rather busy. On Tuesday I went to a meeting at the watershed to talk to some guys about doing something exciting for BFL. More on that later...

On Wednesday I went to see Eugene Byrne and George Ferguson talk about Unbuilt Bristol


although both Eugene and George's talks were individually interesting the part where I expected them to have a conversation, mediated by Andrew Kelly, was somewhat disappointing as George had to dash. Still Eugene fielded many questions from the audience.

On Thursday I went to Jo Hall's book launch of The Art of forgetting: Rider which seemed to go very well. Nice to meet the Bristol SF&F guys too

On Friday I was in the Central Library for the Griot Globetrotters http://www.yardstick.org.uk/2013/05/12/yardsticks-griot-globetrotters/

A really interesting mix of writers and poets, I especially enjoyed Warsan Shire

Saturday I was taken out to dinner and cocktails so didn't get to Sunday's event, which was supposed to start at 21:30...

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