Category Archives: Opinion

I couldn’t have put it better myself. (Seriously, I couldn’t)

Over at the prodigiously talented Christopher Fowler’s blog, he has something to say about the twee-ification of traditional horror monsters, as well as the impact of a certain series of novels about sparkly vampires and puppyesque werewolves. Go over there and read it. Don’t worry, I’ll wait until you get back before I weigh in with my less eloquent two’pennorth. Here’s the link:-

Has Horror Been Eclipsed?

Are you back? Good. Here’s a rambling and barely coherent post detailing what I think on the matter.

I have no problem whatsoever with books for younger readers falling into the horror categorisation. The late Robert Westall managed to scare me witless more than once, with novels like Urn Burial or The Scarecrows, novellas like The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral and too many of his short stories to list here. Westall wrote almost exclusively for younger readers and his horror work was aimed squarely into that demographic as well. The legendary and greatly missed Pan and Armada books of Horror were staple checkouts on my school library card. Youngsters like to be scared. I was reading Graham Masterton and Stephen King before I ever picked up a Charles Dickens novel (Although The Signalman was one short of his I’d read at a very early stage. Horror anthologies are great for that.), M. R. James before I ever read Shakespeare and the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe long before I picked up a John Donne collection. Just when I was hitting the age when teenagers slump into self-absorbed ennui and a sulky insistence that the old guard of any specific artistic movement or genre is irrelevant to them or the modern world (roughly sixteen), I read Fowler’s Spanky and realised that horror never stops evolving, because the things that scare us as a society change over time.

What do the Twilight saga, The Dresden Files, the Anita Blake or Sookie Stackhouse novels, tell us about our current society? They tell us that the old guard are once again, no longer relevant to the current crop of people in their mid-teens, just as writers like King, Herbert, Masterton, Laymon and Koontz (some would argue against his categorisation as horror, I won’t entirely disagree with them) ceased being relevant to me in my teens and twenties. The unavoidable fact is that the things which scared us (born after the sixties spirit had died, but before Thatcherism and Reaganomics were entrenched), simply don’t scare them. They find the fear of isolation and disconnection as silly as those of us who grew up in the eighties and nineties found fear of the Outsider, the Mutant, the one who’s Not Like Us. The Cold War was still going on, but the feelings of mutual antagonisation were rapidly cooling and we all knew it. We feared being separated from our society, from our safe little comfort zones, far more than we feared an outsider destroying it. The fears of the generation who became adults under the ever-present threat of The Bomb simply weren’t our own.

To someone who grows up often going for days without meaningful social contact outside of school, because connection doesn’t always occur face to face thanks to mobile phones and instant messenger services, to someone who grew up in the closest thing to a multicultural society history has ever known, a world where novels, music and films from our notional “cultural enemies” are readily accessible and where any sizable town or city has areas almost entirely given over to the culture our enemies supposedly come from, both fears are equally silly. A faint loneliness is an ever-present and The Outsider is just like us, for the most part, because there’s little mystery to another culture if you don’t want there to be one anymore. Our monsters are no more scary to the current younger generation than Faeries were to me. They’re the fear of the generation before last, just like my grandparents and great-grandparents were scared by the folk tales of the Dwarves of the Simonside Hills, Redcaps stalking the Northumberland moors, or the lingering presence of some unspecified evil imprinted on the very brickwork of their house.

Todays teenagers see nothing to fear in the monsters of the generation before last, except a lingering hint of danger. Enough to make it alluring, but not enough to make it terrifying. They toy with vampires, werewolves and the like, as easily as we toyed with the notion of Faeries, Redcaps and Changelings. Writers like Robert Holdstock, Neil Gaiman and Mark Chadbourn almost brought that fear back, but the cultural resonance was gone and they found themselves on the fantasy shelves, rather than the horror where they would have been in the past. That’s where the current paranormal romance/let’s chin a vampire novels will end up in the long run. The horrors of old, become toys for a new generation.

The current fascination with all things zombie perhaps suggests at an undercurrent. A faint ripple on the surface that hints at something lurking underneath. Zombies carry too much cultural baggage to ever become truly scary again, but the reemergence of the traditional symbolism of the post-Romero zombie is maybe an indication of where the future of horror lies. Fear of conformity and faceless consumerism is part of it, just like it was in the sixties and seventies, but something else is buried in there and the zombie doesn’t truly express it, just like the vampires, werewolves and various other traditional monsters didn’t quite express it for us. Our generations had Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell coming into his full bloom as a writer and the emergence of Christopher Fowler to crystallise our fears for us. Monsters old and new wrapped in layers of modern symbolism. The new generation is waiting for someone to crystallise their fears for them, a strident new voice like Barker and Fowler were for us, or one of the generation previous spotting a seam to mine which still holds relevance, just like Ramsey Campbell did in the eighties and early nineties. You won’t find three more different writers, but the thing they all have in common is that they caught the mood of what scared a generation. No-one has done that for this one yet. Sooner or later, there will be another Hellbound Heart or Books of Blood, another The Hungry Moon or The Doll Who Ate its Mother, another Spanky, Disturbia or Psychoville, but until then we’ll all just have to admit that horror is floundering a bit because, as sad as it is to say, no-one has really nailed this generation’s fears so completely that they can bust into the top of the bestseller lists and carry a new generation of horror writers behind them. Until someone can say in all honesty that their tales of terror owe little beyond a basic shared cultural history with those of the previous generation (which is the bracket the authors I’ve stated I admire greatly as the “new direction of horror” in the last two decades of the twentieth century now lie in), this will remain the case. Horror won’t die out, it never does, but it perhaps needs a new voice, or an old voice with a new story to tell to shake it out of its funk.

Of course, everything I’ve written above could just be pontification and hot air. Horror might be just having one of its cyclical slumps, when people are scared enough of the real world that they want some gentle escapism in their written fiction, just like it did from the thirties through to the early seventies thanks to a global depression, a world war and a few near misses when a third one world war almost broke out. It was being written, and written well, in that time, but people just wanted something else right then. Mostly something glossy, as the success of novels like Valley of the Dolls and the like will attest. The more worrying side of that era’s cultural and social development was dealt with primarily in speculative fiction, from writers like Matheson, Wyndham, Bradbury, Ellison and to a lesser extent Heinlein, Niven, Aldiss and Clarke. Stephen King and his contemporaries and imitators (both conscious and otherwise) captured the mixture of disenchantment with the post-war enthusiasm, Cold War posturing and paranoia and the baby-boomer’s fear of what came next at just the right time. Barker, Campbell and Fowler captured the disenchantment with Thatcherism, the cult of self and the fear of isolation at exactly the right time, while riding on the publishing coat tails of mega sellers like King, Koontz, Herbert and, in the early days of the horror boom at least, Masterton, when horror was still very close to the mainstream consciousness. Maybe it’s just a couple of years too soon for the next wave to capture post-millennial angst, disenfranchised consumerism, the terror of  sudden and unanticipated poverty and fear of the new era of conformity and conservatism (in a societal sense. Not in the sense of the Conservative Party) we currently live in. Who knows? It would certainly explain the way that for the first time in decades, written SF&F are nearer to the mainstream than horror is, why a trilogy of mystery thrillers dealing with the darker side of consumerism and corporate culture are flying high in the bestseller lists and why sales of celebrity autobiographies have never been higher. A bit of light escapism, or else unease dealt with in a manner that doesn’t seem somehow slightly ridiculous. Horror is still waiting in the wings, ready to step back into the spotlight, just as soon as someone breaks the newly installed glass ceiling and sells a metric fuckload of books, seemingly out of nowhere. Just like Carrie did. Just like The Hellbound Heart did… Just like Twilight did.

Bonus musical clip:-

Just because I feel like being a bit of a facetious dickhead (I know, it shocks me too), here’s some evidence that perhaps making monsters less scary and suitable for kids isn’t an entirely new phenomenon.

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Ten money saving tips for people who are already poor to start with.

First of all, apologies for the prolonged absence. Long, boring, story made short? Connection issues. Sorted now. Good to be back.

Anyway… I’m skint. Chances are, so are you. It’s a recession, and while the economics spods may tell you it’s over because that nebulous and barely understood thing called The Economy grew by a quarter of a percentage point, times are going to be pretty tight for those of us not suckling from the teat of the banking industry for some time yet. With that in mind I’m compiling a list of real world money-saving tips for those on the kind of budgets where switching energy suppliers isn’t really a practical option. The kind of people who can’t do that because the pre-payment scheme you’re on is always slightly in arrears and you won’t be able to pay the £50 or £60 shortfall from the last bill when the switch takes place. We’re a surprisingly large demographic, we’re just not that vocal because admitting to being poor, not cutting back on M&S ready prepared crab on the half shell poor, but actual honest to goodness poor, is something of a social stigma these days. I’m posting about not wasting money, so I’d best stop doing the same with words. Here’s the list.

1. Stop buying fancy toilet paper. I can’t emphasise this one enough. Without being too specific, we all know what it’s being used for. Why is that everyday necessity worth £2.38 per pack of four? Is your bottom really so sensitive and easily offended that it needs pampering with herb infused paper? Chances are, the answer is no. Own brand stuff is more than good enough for purpose. Your arse isn’t starring in a L’Oreal commercial, so therefore isn’t worth it.

2. Baked beans really are all the same. Shush! Yes they are. I know it and deep down, you know it too. Beanz does not meanz Heinz. It means cheap filler so you can put a bit less of that costly meat product onto the plate. Own brand alternatives are often literally half the price of the leading brands. Would you pay £600 pounds for something that’s identical to an item costing only £300? Then why do it with something costing £0.60 over something costing £0.30? Small savings mount up quickly, especially on items that get purchased a couple of times a week.

3. A biscuit is a biscuit. Accept the fact that a branded custard cream costing £1.10 a pack, tastes much the same as a saver branded custard cream costing £0.45-55 a pack, depending on where you shop. What’s more, putting all your biscuits into a barrel will prevent choosy friends or judgemental in-laws from turning their nose up at the sight of the unattractive packaging. Without the packaging to tell people which one is the fancier, a branded Bourbon biscuit tastes no different from a cheap one.

4. The television is not your friend. I know, it comforts you in times of stress. It gives you the latest instalments of your favourite shows. What it doesn’t do is tell you anything useful about living your life. Adverts are shiny things, intended to trick the weak willed into buying things they can’t afford and telly chefs have no concept of a low income life. Feeding a family of four for a fiver is not economically sound when your entire weekly shopping budget is £20. The next time a telly chef tries to make you feel like a bad parent for feeding your child a Turkey Twizzler, hunt them down and poke them with a sharp stick. Really hard. In their posh, mockney genitals. If you’re genuinely worried about the damage a chicken nugget is doing to your 5 year old’s arteries, then 1. Get a grip. They’re 5 years old! Children of that age are not in a high risk group for cholesterol problems, and 2. Put them in the garden with a football, a bit of running around will soon burn off those calories.

5. Get re-acquainted with your DVD collection. Yes, I’m aware of the fact that the big supermarket chains are selling the latest blockbuster for £8.99. I want a copy of it too. But you know what? You’ve got some really excellent films on that shelf already and you haven’t watched some of them in years. Don’t pretend you haven’t already got good films, you wouldn’t have bought them if they weren’t good films, would you? You know your taste is impeccable, since you only buy the good stuff that you enjoy. Enjoy it again. English Literature snobs will tell you that you need to read the classics three times to absorb all of their meaning and nuances. Exactly the same thing applies to Breakdance 2:  Electric Boogaloo.

6. Learn to cook properly. I’m not kidding. Not that fancy gubbins you’ll see on telly with chicken breast fillets wrapped in prosciutto, that’s no use to people in our situation, is it? I’m on about real cooking, not showing off for dinner party guests. Soups, stews, casseroles. You know, the kind of thing that gets prepared for not much money and, most importantly, lasts for more than one sitting. Everyone likes to brag about how Bohemian they are, by eating last night’s take-away leftovers for breakfast. Stop buying take-aways and cook something that lasts for several days, in large enough bulk to spread over several days. Which leads into…

7. Frozen meats and vegetables are OK. No really, they are. Put aside your silly notions and snobbery. It really is OK to use them, especially in soups, stews and casseroles. You already knew you could save a bundle by buying frozen chicken portions for about £3 for a bag containing 10 of the things, rather than the fresh ones for £2.50 for four. I’m just letting you know it’s OK to do it. When meat is cooked slowly, even the cheapest cuts are delicious.

8. Bland cereals should not cost as much as ones with honey or sugar on them. Accept that fact, deal with it and move on. If you’re paying more than two quid for individually bagged portions of porridge in batches of ten, rather than 80 pence or so for a 2.5kg bag of porridge oats that will provide your breakfast everyday for a month, you may be beyond help. The same thing applies to the eaters of muesli and corn flakes. There’s no good reason for paying a lot of money for those items.

9. Learn to shop properly. What’s that you say? You already know how to shop? It’s just a case of putting things into a basket or trolley and handing over money? HA! That kind of thinking is what put you in a situation to be reading this list and me in a situation where I need to remind myself of it by writing it all down. Certain shops sell things at massive discounts. Those discount shops where everything miraculously costs a pound often have stock of decent quality teabags, coffee or toilet rolls for a pound. That’s right, a pound. Instead of buying everything from one place because it’s convenient to do so, shop around a bit. If like me, you’re needing to implement the advice on this list, then convenience is a luxury, not a necessity. Shopping around for bargains is a good habit to form and one which will end up saving you a lot of money over time.

10. Stop buying crap you don’t need. I’m not saying don’t buy anything that isn’t essential to your everyday survival. A life without pleasure is a life barely worth living. I mean stop buying the stuff that isn’t essential to a basic but acceptable standard of living. Most people like cake, but why does it have to be the brand named lemon slices? Buy an own brand sponge cake instead. Do you honestly need that football, T.V. listings or gossip magazine? You obviously have web access, or you wouldn’t be reading this. Go to a sports or showbiz gossip site instead. Lord knows, there are plenty of them. Think before you spend, is what I’m saying. You’d be amazed how much stuff you can cut out of your weekly spend without really missing it.

Implementing the tips above can save you at least a tenner a week, easily. There are those who think that saving a tenner is neither here nor there, but that’s not the audience I’m aiming this article at. I’m aiming at the people for whom a tenner is the difference between sink and swim. There’s more of us than you think and if you aren’t one of us, you probably know someone who is, but is embarrassed to admit it publicly.

An important message for the people who make Evian commercials.

Dear whoever it is who makes this* commercial for Evian mineral water,

I speak to you on behalf of hordes of people across the U.K. and any other territories your current commercial airs in. With one voice, we all say to you… STOP IT!

It’s creepy, unnatural and has no place in a civilised society. Babies should be sitting in high chairs, giggling adorably and looking vaguely reminiscent of British Bulldogs (I mean that in a good way). What they certainly should not be doing, is rollerblading, dancing, doing Ethel Merman numbers in fountains or any of the other unnatural and freakish abominations you’ve churned out in order to make us associate your product with horrifying demon babies intent on stealing our souls and handing them over as tribute to their demon overlords. It only makes us want to drink Volvic mineral water, and I’m sure that’s not your preferred outcome.

When I see a baby on the street, my natural reaction should be one of “Isn’t he/she/it adorable?”, combined with an utter certitude that I absolutely do not want one of my own. NOT a Pavlovian response of terror and a feeling of complete certainty that said baby is just waiting for me to let my guard down so it can get on with reenacting Children of the Corn.

That is all.

* Ordinarily, I would embed a youtube video in order that all of my readers (both of them) know what I’m talking about. On this occasion I wish to avoid looking on that hideous advert each time I load my homepage.

Old dudes sing messed up lyrics. Fact!

Last night I listened to some Aerosmith for the first time in quite a while. Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing was one of the tracks. That line at the beginning? The one about laying awake to watch her dreaming? All you budding lotharios out there, take heed of your uncle Daniel. Don’t do that; seriously, just don’t. That’s some creepy shit, right there. As for kissing her eyes… Really? What were they thinking? “Hey baby, I love you so much that I’m gonna give you pink-eye.”? Anyway, the woman’s asleep, you shouldn’t be kissing any part of her, let alone her ocular cavities. Being woken suddenly to find a fish lipped O.A.P. looming over you is enough to give anyone a start. I’m just saying, that’s all.

Age inappropriate – 11 things I shouldn’t be doing at 30 years old

I’m thirty years old now. I have been for several months. Now that the shock has worn off, it occurs to me that a certain section of my behavioural patterns are no longer appropriate. I’m posting a list of them here, hoping to publicly shame myself into stopping them before my wife refuses to acknowledge me as her spouse at social gatherings, or my family disown me from sheer embarrassment.

1.) Whenever there’s a clear space in the aisle at the supermarket, pushing off with my feet and riding the trolley down the alley while making “Wheeee” noises. This problem is severe enough that Tracey no longer allows me to have control of the trolley, relegating me to little more than an autonomous fork lift.

2.) Spiking my hair. Remember that gelled, spiky look that was popular for men in 1998? The one that Angel had in the first series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? I still have that. Whenever I leave the house, the gel goes on and the hair takes on a certain electrified look. In spite of the fact that the look is no longer stylish, I never suited it anyway and that there’s a HELL of a lot of salt mixed in with the pepper these days, I persist with Sonic the Hedgehog cut.

3.) Indulging in imaginary Lightsaber™ battles, complete with noises, when I think no-one is looking.

4.) Giggling like an eleven year old boy, when I’m in the baked goods section of a supermarket and see a loaf  labelled as a “Crusty Bloomer”.

5.) Wishing my cat was named “Chairman Meow”, instead of “Oscar”.

The feline informally known as Chairman Meow

Oscar

6.) Using the “You know the word ‘Gullible’ isn’t in the dictionary?” trick. Almost all of my social circle are my own age, or older. Anyone who falls for that at this point in their life deserves pity, not scorn and laughter.

7.) Laughing out loud at couples who wear matching t-shirts, jackets or what have you. At this point in my life, I should have better impulse control. These people obviously have enough problems, without the scorn of people in their own marketing demographic to worry about.

8.) Asking people to “Pull my finger”. I still find this deeply amusing, on a level so fundamental it’s almost profound. This unnerves me slightly.

9.) Trying to grow a beard. It doesn’t come in properly, there are bald patches all over my face, my wife won’t kiss me while I have it and it’s unhygienic. I look ridiculous with it; and let’s face it, if I can’t get the full on Billy Gibbons look by now, I’m not going to. It isn’t like there’s a bit more of puberty left to go, or anything.

Billy Gibbons. Owner of the coolest beard in Rock

Billy Gibbons. Owner of the coolest beard in Rock

10.) Thinking of gardening as an unpleasant task, that happens to other people as a punishment for sins in a past life. When you’re twenty-two and the view from your kitchen window is indistinguishable from the view from a tent pitched in the middle of a bramble patch, the neighbours think “typical young ‘un. Too busy having fun to look after the garden.”. When you’re thirty, they think “When will that shiftless bastard tidy up that embarrassment he calls a garden. It’s making the whole street look bad.”.

11.) Blowing spit bubbles, or “silver bells” as I like to think of them. This isn’t dignified at any age and I really must stop. I certainly mustn’t occasionally drink milk, to achieve the correct consistency for longer lasting bubbles. Not that I’ve ever done that of course. Ahem!

There, I’ve declared my secret behaviour for the whole world – or alternately the half a dozen people who view these pages regularly – to see and revile, hopefully forcing myself to stop. These are serious problems, people. I need your help to break the chains of habit. If you catch me doing one of them, point it out to me and deliver a cutting remark to me. It’s for my own good.

Stargate Universe. Pilot episode review.

Tonight was the U.K. premier of the first two episodes of the latest incarnation of the Stargate franchise, Stargate: Universe. Like all pilot episodes, it was a stop and start affair filled with massive infodumps and establishing scenes for characters. Without being too spoilerific for people who Skyplussed it or are waiting for repeats (you know who you are), the show then goes into a flashback explaining how things ended up where they are at the first moment of the show. The current situation is dealt with, intercut with flashbacks that help to establish the characters firmly into their presently defined roles.

Despite a few fan pleasing cameos early on, the show is very quick to distance itself from previous treatments of the Stargate universe (Ooh, check out the meta implications in the title!), most visibly in the camera work. Gone are the shiny, glossy, mid-budget movie visuals, to be replaced with a shaky, often slightly out of focus handicam feel, complete with muted colours and less obvious make up. This works surprisingly well, although it remains to be seen if it will be continued in the long term. I for one hope so, since I think this approach works best for deep space sci-fi, helping to emphasise the claustrophobia inherent in the situation.

What can I say about the special effects? I didn’t notice them, which is the way an effects shot should be. It should convey exactly what the makers want you to see, without making you go “That looks silly.”, which it did admirably considering the size of the budget available to programs made for the U.S. Sci-Fi Channel (No, I won’t use it’s dopey sounding new name).

The most important thing though, is the characters and storylines. This is the case in any drama, but even more so in sci-fi drama. Without believable characters and plot development, the willing suspension of disbelief is that much harder to attain, leading to a greater incidence of people finding a show ridiculous, rather than gripping. It’s far to early to say whether this will be the case with SG:U, however the early signs are good. All the characters are engaging, helped in no small part by the excellent performances from almost everyone involved. The presence of two heavyweights like Robert Carlyle and Ming-Na helps no end on that score, along with some excellent support from Louis Ferreira and Christopher McDonald. The only character who stands out as obviously clichéd is the over the top menacing sergeant. Whether this is the fault of the actor, or the script is yet to be seen. Happily, even the “geek” character is seen to be relatively socially well adjusted, at least by Hollywood interpretations of “geek” characters.

As for the storyline? Workmanlike is the best way to describe it. This is usually the necessity in a pilot episode, before a viewer can really invest in the situation a character finds themselves in, they have to care about a character and how things will affect them. The show does this efficiently for most of the characters, while still putting across all of the information necesary to the premise.

All in all, it’s a promising start, even if it hasn’t yet grabbed the attention and made itself into an absolute must see. I’ll be watching with interest to see if it manages to hold my attention in the way Stargate: Atlantis failed to. (I still have no clue how that show ended.)

Stargate: Universe airs in the U.K. on Sky 1 at 8 p.m. on Tuesday nights.

On the matter of asking favours from the professionals

Over on his blog Whatever, John Scalzi has brought up the matter of asking established writers for favours in these three posts. I think the whole issue has been dealt with pretty comprehensively in John’s posts and the ensuing comments. I think everything he said was perfectly fair and reasonable. Speaking as an unpublished writer, I find the idea of asking a person I don’t know to invest large amounts of their time and/or personal credibility into me or my work to be presumptuous to say the least. Even asking someone I do know to do that strikes me as more than a little bit off, if that person does it for a living. It’s one thing to ask a friend who you know well to look over your work. If you know them well enough, the pair of you trust each other not to overreact to any discourse on the matter and you know that asking your friend this isn’t too big an imposition on their time, then fine. However asking someone who you don’t know/barely know/exchanged a few comments with on a blog or twitter is so far beyond the realms of normal behaviour it verges on ridiculous.

If you’re someone who does this, if by some miracle should a writer agree to look over your work, what are the various outcomes you can realistically hope for?

A.) That a writer whose skills you admire says something like “Nice job. Well done. You should submit this for publication.”… This won’t get you an “in” at a publisher. You’ll still have to go through the submission process and chances are that you’ll still get rejected several times from several different publishers. This will make you feel embittered and betrayed because you had your hopes built up after the praise from a pro. This is not a good outcome.

B.) That a writer whose skills you admire says something like “This needs a lot of work before being ready for publication. A professional editor really needs to go over this with you to iron out the problems.”… You still have to go through the submission process like everyone else, only now you’re doing it with a sense of doom and a severe knock to your confidence in your ability. You think editors are going to read it, dismiss it as amateurish hackwork and ignore it. This is not a good outcome.

C.) That a writer whose skills you admire says something like “This sucks. Really badly. It has no redeeming qualities of craftsmanship or artistic merit. It’s not even entertaining pulp. I recommend that you stick with your dayjob and never put pen to paper again, for fear of embarrassing yourself amongst people who actually understand what good writing looks like”… After a blasting like that, who would even consider submitting that work? You’ve just been attacked and demolished by someone who you admired and possibly even looked up to a little. Not only have you put yourself in a situation whereby your confidence will be torn down around your ears, but you’ve probably lost the ability to enjoy the work of a writer you previously admired into the bargain. This is not a good outcome.

If you’re an unpublished writer and you want some feedback on your work then you really have two options. The first one is to join a writing group or creative writing course. This way, once or twice a week you’ll be surrounded by other writerly types who’ll feel a vague obligation to read your work out of a sense of solidarity to the group. The other is to publish your early stuff yourself on the web and hope you attract someone’s attention enough to comment on your work, if not always in a positive way then at least in a constructive manner.

Personally, I chose the second option and for a number of reasons. The problem with a writing group or class is that you’re in a room with someone staring at you with hope in their eyes, silently imploring you to say something nice about the dull and boring piece of dreck they subjected you to after the last workshop/class and now you have to come up with something to say about it that won’t offend them or hurt their feelings. If I’m doing this with them, then of course they’re doing it with me as well. This atmosphere isn’t one that I find conducive to good writing, more towards identikit writing of the Richard and Judy Book Club variety. Unless the group is set up specifically for it, then writers of SF&F and horror will be made to feel like they don’t belong. Not consciously perhaps, but it will happen. That’s a separate issue however and not the point I’m making here.

This isn’t to say that writing for a blog isn’t without it’s problems. One of the fundamental drawbacks of writing stuff for a venue whereby people aren’t obliged to give feedback on anything they’ve read is that very often feedback won’t be given. You can be left feeling that you’re shouting into a void and no-one cares about what you’re doing. So far I’ve been unable to get my wife, my parents, my sister or any of my closest real world friends to look at the blog. I try not think about what this implies…

Poor old pitiful me, boo-hoo-hoo. You know what? Why should they care? This is my hobby I’m indulging while I hope to get good enough to turn it into a job one day, not theirs. I’m sure the majority of wannabe writers find themselves in a similar situation with their blogs and manuscripts. This is the normal procedure. If your favourite writer won’t give you the time of day as regards you begging for their help, get over it, get over yourself and keep writing stuff. Hopefully one day you’ll submit something and get published professionally, but until that day keep your neuroses and desperate need for validation within acceptable boundaries.

N.B. It occurs to me now that my blog is remarkably similar to John Scalzi’s in theme and layout. While imitation (even done unconsciously) may be a form flattery, a redesign may well be forthcoming. The last thing I want to be doing is aping what someone else is already doing very well.

Archive article #1 Ten things I’ve learned from watching The Father Dowling Mysteries.

Originally posted December 2nd, 2008.

My wife Tracey has recently been watching the Alibi channel, number 132 on the Sky EPG, during the afternoon and I must admit to being more than a little bit baffled by Father Dowling and his permanent live-in nun, sister Stefanie. I’ve compiled a list of things I’ve learned about priesthood and nunhood (nunship?, nundom?) from the show.

1:- Priests come in pairs. One junior one, to do all of that boring mass and confession business and one senior one, who does God’s true work; catching the dozens of murderers within the parish.

2:- Priests are allowed to lie. Like an Enron tax return in fact. This is o.k. though, since it is done in the pursuit of that most holy duty, catching stereotyped Italian-American murderers.

3:- Nuns=Sexaay! Apparently giving up vanity does not extend as far as giving up $100 haircuts, make -up, the taking of a saint’s name or keeping dozens of revealing, pre-Holy orders outfits. The lying to people thing doesn’t seem to matter so much here either.

4:- The police are just the worst people imaginable for catching murderers. It would seem that most detectives are unable to find their own arse with both hands and a set of directions. This explains why rotund priests and septuagenarian ladies (Murder, She Wrote) are the best sleuths around.

5:- Murderers, as a group, are a lot less violent than you might think. When cornered by a jovial, portly man wearing a dog collar, they are far more likely to spend ten minutes discussing in intimate detail how the crime was committed rather than say… shooting the interfering old fart out of hand. They may act like they’re going to shoot him, but their hearts are never in it, which allows for…

6:- Despite their criminal inability to catch murders unaided, police officers have highly developed, almost super human hearing. This explains their ability to burst in at exactly the right moment to save Father Dowling, despite the fact that he never seems to wear a wire, confronts murderers in one of three different, yet highly constrained environments, none of which are conducive to eavesdropping; namely locked rooms, warehouses or large public places such as junkyards or train station depots.

7:- Not all Evil Twins have goatee beards, some wear pork pie hats or fedoras.

8:- Illegal back room poker games populated by Mafia crime lords, are surprisingly easy to gatecrash. The crime lords in question are remarkably rubbish at spotting an outsider, despite the portly newcomers total lack of poker expertise. Makes you wonder how they got be crime lords in the first place.

9:- Priestly attire is the equivalent of a magical robe of tell-me-everything-you-know. People are always forgetting to tell the police vital pieces of evidence. Thankfully, the rate of unsolved murders is kept to a minimum by fat men in robes encouraging people to remember previously unknown factoids and important conversations.

10:- The Police Department knows it’s faults and is remarkably sanguine about letting civilians put themselves in harms way. If not for this heroically civic minded attitude, Amreica’s towns and cities would be overrun with murdrers. Hurrah, for amateur sleuths!

Thank you for listening, next time I shall reveal how Jessica Fletcher is in fact a serial killer with mystical powers of hypnosis. How else can it be explained that everywhere she goes people are murdered and her friends are framed for it. By my reckoning, her body count numbers into the hundreds.

Why am I not surprised?

The news is currently filled with stories about Conservative M.E.P. Daniel Hannan and his praise of Enoch Powell. Why does this come as a shock to anyone? Surely nobody actually bought all that hogwash that was spouted about the Tories having changed their ways? A new caring and compassionate Conservative party that believes strongly in things like welfare, social care, the plight of the common man and so forth. All of that flannel with Cameron riding to parliament on a pushbike, getting a wind-powered generator fitted to his house, that cringingly chummy “Web Cam-eron” thing, was just that; flannel. They are still the party led by Eton educated, old boy network, old school Tories.

In 2007,  another candidate was forthright in his praise of Enoch Powell. David Cameron publicly criticised the person who made the remarks and he was left in a position where resignation was his only option. In 2009, with the party sporting a healthy lead in the polls, Mr Hannan has publicly declared the NHS “A 60 year joke” that he “wouldn’t wish on anyone”, followed by effusive praise of Enoch Powell, the man responsible for one of the most racially inflammatory speeches ever given by a member of a major party in the post-war era, in the space of just 10 days. What’s next on his agenda? Informing the world how he can’t wait to disband the pension and welfare systems, to get all of those scrounging codgers and cripples off the public teat?

His party have once again done the political equivalent of chuckling and saying “What a card, eh? Bless his cotton socks.” As the lead in the polls increases, the carefully constructed mask of “Caring Conservatives” slips a little further from the public face of the party, allowing the public more frequent glimpses of what lies beneath.

In the interests of fairness, I should point out that Mr Hannan stopped short of praising Mr Powell’s stance on immigration. His quote was that Enoch Powell  “understood why you need to live in an independent country and what that meant, as well as being a free marketeer and a small-government Conservative.” That may all seem innocuous enough, but look at the content of the quote. In essence, he praised Enoch Powell for his Euroskepticism, his belief in a free market economy (look how well that’s doing us so far) and the old Tory fascination for slashing public services. Since he admires those stances, he could just as easily picked Margaret Thatcher, Nigel Lawson, Michael Heseltine or indeed any old school Tory you or he might care to name…

He chose to name-check Enoch Powell, a man whose name is -rightly or wrongly- still synonymous with knee-jerk, reactionary grandstanding and the far right wing of British politics, wherein you can find such charming people as Robert Kilroy-Silk and Nick Griffin.

At best, it was the typical buffoonery you find whenever a Brit travels abroad and mistakenly believe that what happens abroad stays abroad (Mr Hannan was in the U.S. when he made the remarks), at worst it was a peek into the mind of a typical Tory backbencher, or M.E.P.. Whichever it was, the lack of disciplinary action from the Conservative whips shows just what the current Tory front bench think in secret, even if they aren’t willing to voice it publicly yet.