Monday, 19 February 2018

Stepping stones to happiness


Happy birthday to us!  This blog is four this month.  We can stand up without messing ourselves, and we remember to put the lid back on when we've been thieving from the biscuit tin.  Ah, those happy few months between nappies and glue sniffing...

As a birthday gift from me to you, here are number of links for you to click on, dear reader, apart from the one above that takes you to my dystopian thriller, 2084, which you will already have bought, of course.  Think of them as stepping stones to happiness.

Firstly, Terraform have my story, A Second Opinion, live on their site.  All my own work, as it were.

Third Flatiron, via their newspage, have launched their Monstrosities anthology, which includes a modest contribution from me.  I think that link will move with the times; you may find this link to Amazon to (pre-)order it more stable.  Go on, you know you want to.

Martin Greening's Tales of Ruma's kickstarter campaign is up and running.  I have a slightly less modest story somewhere within.  Invest $50 and get yourself a limited edition hardcover.

And this, Images Across a Shattered Sea by Stewart C Baker, in which I have no hand at all, but stumbled across and really rather enjoyed.

Monday, 5 February 2018

A reader writes

A review!  Of 2084!  A real review on, a four star review to boot:

It was an interesting story but I totally did not understand the ending!!!??? What?? It was like I had changed books or something. I was with the story till then. Was I missing some pages that explained how the main character's life changed??

Thank you Millie.

I’m pleased with that.  One of the books that sticks most in my mind is The Getaway by Jim Thompson, a great read, but a story with an ending that smacks of being written in a panic and on so many drugs that the author was probably as surprised by the denouement as his readership.  And I’d argue the clues as to where my story goes are pretty clearly laid out - in fact, I wouldn’t even describe it as a twist ending.  But it’s good to know that I’ve wrong-footed a reader at the death, without leaving anybody with a twisted ankle.

I’ll gloss over the fact that Millie tends to give five star reviews - she’s that kind of girl (no, I mean glass half full, not lacking in critical faculties).  Four stars is a long way from shoddy, and even Thompson gets 3.98.

Of course, The Getaway was filmed, with a more run of the mill ending, with Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw.  Me?  I’d settle for Sanjiv Bhaskar and that girl from 3-Headed Shark Attack...

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Unknown unknowns


I was recently reading an interview with the legendary sage Eric Cantona where he was asked what his favourite emoji is.

Favourite emoji?  Is that a thing?  Am I meant to have a favourite letter of the alphabet?*  Never having tweeted or Facebooked I had no idea that I was meant to build up an emotional connection with these twenty-first century morphemes for idiots.  What next: what's my favourite spoon?

In other, less ranty, news, Third Flatiron have taken my flash story 'New Shoes' for their Spring 2018 Monstrosities anthology ("such a good idea it could have been longer"); and Terraform one called "A Second Opinion" ("wonderful").  Half way through January and I'm two thirds of the way to my annual target of three stories sold.  Which is nice.  Pro rates too, even if together they add up to a mere 1500 words or so.

* Clearly "@"

Friday, 5 January 2018

End of term report

Last year I moved the recording of my story submissions onto the Submissions Grinder, so it's dead easy to tell you that in 2017 I:

  • made 214 submissions of
  • around 45 short stories and flash fiction,
  • including seven new stories,
  • to around 85 publishers and publications, garnering
  • five acceptances, and
  • 173 rejections.
And it doesn't take Professor Hawking to conclude that 37 pieces are still out there, elbowing their way up the slush piles.  Hopefully.

The five acceptances:

On the subject of stories yet to appear, the second outing for Litterpicking on the Moon in Indie Authors Press' Chronos Chronicles is now due in the next month or two.  Hope nobody's been holding their breath.

So that's a first 'best of', a first podcast sale, a second reprint sale, and repeat business with Daily Science Fiction.  Two sales at professional SFWA rates, albeit for flash fiction.  2017 also saw the first time I've decided that it would be better for me to decline an offer to publish.  A pretty good year - my standing target of three sales met - but I'm as determined as ever to write something that'll make it to the hallowed ground of Clarkesworld, F&SF or Asimov's.  This year, this year... 

Otherwise, I had the tantalising possibility of dressing like a penguin in the heat of Los Angeles dangled before me before being snatched away, as a losing finalist in Ron L Hubbard's Writers of the Future competition.  I also scored an honourable mention later in the year.  (And, yes, I have carefully read the entry criteria, and I'm still amateur enough to qualify).

Of course, the real victory was the publication of my first novel, 2084 by Double Dragon Publishing.  This was sold in 2016; I had hoped to follow it up with a second novel sale, and the drafting of a third novel, but neither happened in 2017, even though my YA sci-fi adventure remains 'selected out of the slush pile for closer examination' by a major and well-respected SF publisher.

And, naturally, I'm still awaiting that kill fee from Carrie Cuinn at Lakeside Circus.  'Nuff said.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Star Wars flavoured


Contains spoilers

I'm still not sure what to make of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  I'm left with a sense of something Star Wars flavoured, rather than real Star Wars.  Nothing wrong with being Stars Wars flavoured, of course.  It's just not quite the real thing.

This isn't my main problem, but I'm going to flag up the laws of physics as my first suspect.  When Rose's sister, Paige, bombs the First Order fleet, those bombs definitely drop.  Like out of a Flying Fortress over Berlin.  Not like something in deep space, which tend to bobble about amusingly.

I'm not even sure they drop towards the planet they're orbiting, which would be at least explicable.

But they're sufficiently in deep space to make going into warp drive (or is that Star Trek?) safe.  You would have thought all that gravity would have made the ships' computers fall over doing the calculations, given that Vice Admiral Holdo later has to remain on board a near-dead ship to... to do what, exactly?  Until she does have something to do, of course.  In which case, damn lucky she's there.

And, if it's so easy to take out a star destroyer or dreadnought, by flying through it at light speed, why haven't they developed drones, flying bombs, that just do that?  They clearly have the technology.

And that takes me to my real gripe.  Even more crucial than the laws of physics are the laws of story.  I get the impression that in the Harry Potter universe there are a strict set of do's and do-not-do's, and the characters act within those parameters.  Here?  Like children playing make-believe, rules and loopholes are created as and when needed.  Those flying bombs were only dreamt up when it became the most poignant direction for the story to go in.  Nobody said, if they could do that wouldn't they have done it before, and what would the world look like?

Leia as Superman?  Yeah, why not.  Luke projecting so he's solid enough to fight with a light sabre, but not enough to take a hit.  (Or is he using the Force to hold the light sabre at a distance, in which case how did it survive General Hux's onslaught?).  Explosions that kill all those wearing body armour, but not rebels in mufti.  

Maybe I should go more gently and just enjoy the ride.  After all, this has always been a children's playground game writ large.  Look at the supposedly cute animals that pop up jarringly in every episode (nadir: the funny as waking-up-to-find-you're-living-in-so-called-Islamic-State-and-you-have-terminal-cancer Jar Jar Binks).  And the aliens that are patently standard issue bipedals with rubber masks.  And the silly names.

And in children's games logic is fluid.  You're dead; no, I'm not.  Yes, I can, if I want to.  Goals always go in if you're the striker, those jumpers provide absolute ambiguity.

But, possibly, there's no bending of the logic at work here at all as Star Wars has always been a religious, rather than rational, experience.  To subject the Force to secular empiricism, to expect to work out its limits through some double blind experimental procedure, is completely missing the point.  Just as Louis Armstrong may or may not have said about love, or jazz, or maybe it was Fats Waller: if you need to ask, you ain't never gonna know.

So, I guess it comes down to belief.  Well, in that case, I'll stop trying to analyse, assess and justify.  I'll just stick with my belief that this is Star Wars flavoured...

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Read all about it! Earth-shattering news!! (See page 12)

I wanted to make this posting about the possibility of making an owl's eyes pop out if you slap it on the back of the head - seriously, google 'owl skull', they have their eyeballs in tubes that resemble early mortars - but there seems to be limited research on the matter out there, and limited scope for field tests to boot.

So, instead, I'll focus on the biggest story to break in decades.  Which I found tucked away on page 12 of The Times.  Yes, we seem to be one step closer to performing human head transplants.

My head, your body.  And all without the fiddly need to download Photoshop.

There's a potential take on Frankenstein where it's not a cadaver that's brought to life but you, your head, on the body of a corpse.  You've popped in for something routine, wake up from the general anesthetic feeling a whole new man.  Or woman.  Who's fussy?

Stories have been written from the monster's viewpoint, but I'm not sure there's been one quite with that take.  I might let that one mull in the dark recesses, see what emerges.

Actually, I wasn't going to blog about Frankenstein's monster at all, but about self-driving cars, which seems to be this week's flavour of the month, and how this is going to make The Knowledge a thing of the past.

And that got me thinking.  If black cab drivers are simply learning a near infinite list of locations and routes, even some that go sarf of the river, aren't doctors just acquiring a relational database of symptoms, conditions and interventions by educational osmosis?  Aren't they as ripe for replacement as cabbies?

Of course, doctors have stronger unions than drivers, at least in the UK, so I fully expect GPs still to be running late, even when my driverless taxi has dropped me at the surgery door on time.

And, of course, the more senior the specialism, the more difficult it will be to be replaced by an algorithm.  I suspect head transplants may be one for the specialists.  Doctor Frankenstein chose his career well.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Cezanne or Picasso?

2084 by Robert Bagnall, now available from, or direct from Double Dragon, for your enjoyment.

I recently took in an episode of Malcolm Gladwell's brilliant Revisionist Histories podcast called Hallelujah.  It's on the subject of why genius takes time.  Or, sometimes, it doesn't.

He contrasts the slap-it-together, finished by lunchtime ethic of Picasso or Bob Dylan with the drafting and re-drafting of a Cezanne or Leonard Cohen, where works are never finished, merely abandoned needing to be monetized.  Sometimes it even takes another person to pick up what you thought had been taken as far as it could be to reveal the gold beneath the tarnish, just as Jeff Buckley, John Cale and a host of others did with Cohen's Hallelujah.  Or, like Elvis Costello reworking Deportee, it takes an older you revisiting what the younger you had declared as good as it was ever going to get.

Why mention this?

Well, I see myself as a Cezanne.  I have stories on my spreadsheet which were first drafted in the last century, western crime capers rewritten for the edge of space; flash pieces that have grown beyond their original intentions; longer pieces that have been boiled down to not much more than a flash.  I'm a honer, an editor, a re-writer.

So, you'll understand that it is with a tad of bemusement that I look back on the year so far and realise that my two most recent sales are both for pieces freshly drafted, with virtually no rewrites, and certainly no opportunity to take a mental step back.  Picassos.  Bob Dylans.  Not Cezannes.

One, I've already mentioned: 'They Have Been to a Great Feats of Languages and Stol'n the Scraps' in Daily Science Fiction.  As I put in the author comments:

Some stories have a difficult gestation, the product of long walks and hot baths, always just out of reach, more stared at than written over the course of weeks or months, until they emerge into the light, never quite as good as that elusive first idea that you loved, now lost sight of.

This story wasn’t like that.

Its genesis can be found in a jokey posting on my blog suggesting that Shakespeare’s famous lack of books could be explained away if he was actually a time traveller, and challenging somebody to take the idea and run with it.  Suspecting nobody would, I picked up the gage that I myself had thrown, as Shakespeare would have said.  The tale was written on a single damp spring morning and polished over a latte after lunch.

I know many of you would like to think we suffer for our art.  Not this time.  Sorry.

Well, added to that I can let you know that my story 'Storm Warning' will be appearing in Azure Keep's Tales of Ruma sometime early next year.

Which is nice.  Even if it leaves me not really sure what kind of artist I am.

(Who said 'piss'?  Come on, own up, who was it...)