I love this picture tweeted by the lovely EarthPix. It makes me smile whenever I see it. I’m afraid I don’t know who took it but it’s wonderful and it just begs for captions, so any takers…?
The thing about carrying a hardback book from one room to another when you’re on crutches is the problem of the dust jacket. Or problems. In the wee hours of Valentine’s Day morning I slipped and broke my ankle. My body went one way, my foot the other, and my ankle was in between. There was an operation, a metal plate and screws, and crutches. So now I’m laid up with my books and my laptop and my painkillers. And the problems of carrying a hardback from one room to another. I have a lot of hardbacks. I don’t know why, but I do like them.
Anyway, the thickness of the book causes problem number one, but once you’ve twisted your fingers into shape around both book and crutch, that problem’s solved. The inflexibility of the cover is both a blessing and a curse – it gives you a good solid grip but if you drop it, it’s going to get a dented corner. The weight is tricky – hardbacks are heavy – and it’s with this that the dustcover is no longer the protector of the book, the saviour against the smudge, the paladin of the pages; it becomes the glossy, slippery, unattached thing that means the book is slowly slipping from your grip with every jerky lurch forward on your sticks. You find you’re holding your breath between lurches and glancing between the carpet in front of you and the dangling pages trapped between your little finger and the grey handle of the crutch. You want to get to your sofa with everything intact, including the book. Then you think, ‘well, if it falls it’s just a dented corner, if I fall it could be the other leg!’ So you stop worrying about it. A friend suggested a Kindle or iPad and I thought, ‘aah, but if I dropped that then my books would have more than just a dented corner.’ I’m safer with the hardbacks for now.
And with ebooks on my mind, I think a little unashamed promotion will be okay. Dark Peak is finally out on Kindle. There were some design considerations to translate from the paper to the ebook (me and my typographic gubbins and doodahs!) that took a little longer than the publisher thought, but now it’s up there and available (at half the paper book retail price) from Kindlestore http://ow.ly/hRsDe. It’s all quite new to me, and my book feels a bit bionic now! But then, I’ve got a metal plate in my leg so maybe I’m a bit bionic too. No? I did say a bit. Oh, okay, maybe not then. Back to my hardbacks.
As part of World Book Day, 7 March, I’ll be reading from Dark Peak at the lovely Buxton Library, Derbyshire, UK, from 4.30 to 5.30pm. This is a free event open to readers aged 12+ and you’re all welcome to join me. I’ll also be jibber-jabbering about the book and signing copies.
Please contact Buxton Library 01629 533460 to book your place. Buxton Library, Kents Bank Road, Buxton, Derbyshire, SK17 9HW
a word that does not appear to mean what it thinks it means
There should be a word for those words that don’t at all sound as if they represent their actual meanings (and, in fact, are sometimes the opposite of what you’d expect). You may well think there aren’t many of them, but there are. They’re legion! And they sneak up on you. I will give you a few examples: Factitious. You may well imagine that this innocuous little word has something to do with a thing being truthful – full of facts, perhaps – but no, it means exactly the opposite: if something is factitious it is false, fake, a lie. Hmmm…. Factitious feels factitious to me…
Until recently I was chained to academia – until I broke my shackles and ran freeeeee! – but one of my colleagues – an intelligent man, an articulate man – explained to me one day that his slightly haphazard in-class teaching methods might be scatological but they enabled him to communicate better with his young students. I’d never seen him teach, so I didn’t know if he actually was shit, but I suspect he wasn’t. It took a second to explain what scatological meant and his reply was, ‘Really? It doesn’t sound like it means that!’ No, it doesn’t! It does sound like it’s describing some slightly scatty logical process, though.
Etymologists the world over will be telling me the root of these words are sound, and I don’t doubt it, but it’s easy to see how mistakes can be made. Another topical favourite is spendthrift. Thrift! Thrifty! Both words that describe being frugal, careful with money, yes? This is what we were always taught at school and at home. Having not much money growing up, I always saw it as code for ‘poor’. But no, actually, thrift means to accumulate wealth and you’re thrifty when you don’t spend it. Even the Queen can be thrifty! (and probably is a lot thriftier than I am!). I see the logic of spendthrift (someone who spends the thrift) but it just seems so backward to me!! And I am not alone because most people I ask think a spendthrift is a miser!
I could go on because there’s squilions of them, these pseudologisms – I even have my suspicions about ‘innocuous’ – but there’s only so much linguistic jibber a reader can take (or a writer too come to think of it!) But I would like to know if there is a synonym that describes these kinds of words, and if anyone knows it, please pass the information on, although to be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if it sounded like it didn’t mean what it meant at all – if you get my meaning?
So, when you’re given a question like ‘Do you have a favourite alien?’ your first impulse, if you’re anything like me, is to list all of them. It’s not a bad impulse. Go with it. You have to spend a little time on it, though, don’t just reel off a list of aliens and interstellar-beasties – that way you might end up with David Bowie or even the Blob (the re-make, not the Steve-McQueen-scarred-me-for-life-Blob!) on your list.
Up there at the top, of course, is the Daleks and especially Davros, for every evil machination they delivered (and a childhood full of sink-plunger fun and buzzy voices – although, to be honest they scared the crap out of me too – ahhh, good times…). And there’s Zaphod Beeblebrox, and not just for inventing the Pan Galactic Gargleblaster, but for piloting (sort of) the Heart of Gold (after nicking it). Oooh, Pilot, from Farscape, I almost let him pass without mention. He’s the calmest alien (except for my favourite) in the multiverse – even when he’s pissed off, he’s polite. And you can’t mention Zaphod without Ford Prefect, who showed us all the importance of always carrying a towel and knowing what cars are in fashion. And I have a soft-spot for the Craig Raine Martian because, well, he sends postcards home and his first word is Caxtons…
One of my favourite Martian films when I was a kid was Santa Claus Conquers the Martians – it’s so bad but, by God, it’s good! And the Martians look like they were costumed by Blue Peter! Great stuff. I need to track it down again.
But this listing isn’t really addressing the question of my favourite Martian (or alien – the blog hop remit is very generous, here). It’s Klaatu. The Michael Rennie Klaatu. Here is an alien that showed us (the viewer) that we could be other than we are, or than we are perceived to be. He saw in humanity a propensity for violence, prejudice and destruction, but also, eventually, kindness and compassion. And hope. He made us look inwards and admit to these things. And he gave us the opportunity to do this. He came to Earth intent on eradicating a disease, as he saw us – something like a bacteria or virus that would travel the universe destroying regardless – and he left understanding humanity to be childlike and still learning. Klaatu left us an idea that people, races, species, could be Other without being a threat. That’s impressive in my book. Of course it’s not as impressive as the thing we really remember Klaatu for. He MADE THE EARTH STAND STILL!!!
(Afterthought… hmmm… I saw an article the other day about Martian watches – I think I could easily become favourite friends with one of those…)
The 10th December already! I think I closed my eyes for a second and a whole year zipped by (and I’m probably not alone in thinking this!). The second week of December always brings with it a kind of loose, free-floating anxiety (a sort of Velcro-covered angst with wings) that comes from spending any time in the hectic supermarkets or trawling through the endless emails from Amazon telling me what I should buy people for Christmas (maybe a cup of Starbucks!). Give it a few days and the angst’ll pass. But this year, it’s got me thinking about patience.
I am, by and large a reasonably patient person, but there are some things I’m rubbish at: I’ll eat bananas while they’re still not quite ripe, I’ll paint wood without a proper undercoat, I go mad waiting for seedlings to sprout, I get pissed off in queues. But when it comes to writing, I let it bide. So, I’ve been thinking why? What is it about writing that allows this godly virtue to bound (or maybe stroll) into view? And what keeps coming back, floating up like belly pork in stew, is that everything gets down to relationships, to connections.
When we write, whether it’s long or short fiction or poetry or biographies (or blogs), we spend a lot of time in one space filling ourselves with words (bit like human relationships, really). And we talk to one another, the writing and us; we work out structure and flow because the characters we’ve created, the worlds they occupy, act and react in very specific ways, talk in very specific diction, and when we try to get them to do something out of whack then they challenge us and, nine times out of ten, the writing stops until we’ve listened to them.
This takes patience.
It isn’t just a matter of cringing at a bit of dodgy writing, it’s understanding why it was dodgy in the first place. We shouldn’t be afraid to interrogate the things we write and we shouldn’t be deaf to what they have to say. Especially if we like the writing. In an early draft of Dark Peak, I had Jake expound on the horrors of climate-change. A nice, tidy bit of writing that got a point across well, and was absolute bollox coming from Jake – he’s a questioner, an everyman (everyboy?), he doesn’t really have answers, he’s looking for them. And the voice was all wrong – more William than Jake – and so, I listened to the bit of writing, nodded, pursed my lips, and then murdered it.
And a good novel, a poem, a story, is also an environment, a biome – almost everything is connected and when we alter one thing, we have to be prepared for some feedback (positive or negative) to happen. Jake had to care about what happened to the world and, most importantly, the people around him. So, when I took out the exposition on climate change the feedback was: how do I show Jake caring about these things? I went after his family. It wasn’t my fault m’Lord, the story made me do it! Honest, guv.
Today Dark Peak is officially released. It feels weird. Even though I have the book in my hand, and I’m getting kind texts and emails from eager friends and family already well into chapters three or five (the perks of the early author copies!), it still does not feel real. It feels like I’m still sitting at my MacBook thinking about how to solve the problem of A caused by including B into the narrative (don’t worry I did solve it!). But I’m starting to sound like Jake himself! Dark Peak is here, it’s real, it’s solid and in the immortal words of Leonard Hofstadter it’s “My Physics Bowl Tropheeee!”
I was very pleased it came out in November, my favourite month. November’s filled with many yummy things for me: Bonfire Night, The Leonids, my birthday, the first Sunday of advent (I’m not Catholic but we always light the Adventskrantz leading up to Christmas), and the most amazing mix of days (bright and sunny but chilly, cold and damp…) and colours (nuff said about the beautiful but clichéd autumn leaves but we had an amazing double-rainbow over the town the other day) and sounds (the tawnies are a-calling) and smells (Mmmmm…fried onions, candied nuts and the damp mushroomy tang of the forest!).
But for those affected by Superstorm Sandy, (across the US and the Caribbean) November has been, and still is being, a time of misery and devastation. What is heartlifting is how we rise to take action in the aftermath of such disasters, but what is worrying is how many people still believe that the effect we have on the environment doesn’t influence what’s happening to our weathersystems (there’s some amazing models to be seen at the London Science Museum http://ow.ly/f1xg6 ). That said, we need to do whatever we can to help people in Jamaica, Haiti, USA, Cuba and there are various sites you can donate to. People need to know they’re not alone, so text, tweet, sign support-books, facebook… you know what to do, you’re probably doing it already!
And when you’re not online, I hope you find a quiet space to enjoy Dark Peak. Let us know if you like it and send us a photo of you reading the book because we want to build up our gallery of readers. If you have an unusual or interesting place you like to go to read, all the better! – but please, no toilets; they’re neither unusual nor interesting! Funny though! (but they still won’t make it into the gallery!)
July/August 2012 – Posted on August 28, 2012 by admin
Dark Peak has gone off for the first formal round of proofs. It feels weird because I’ve had the book in my life for what seems like forever that now there’s a small manuscript-shaped hole in my daily being. It feels like Jake and Stone are getting up to things that I know nothing about. I hope they’re enjoying themselves.
My focus is now divided between researching British folktales for a story project and working on the second Elemental book, which at the moment is called All My Colours, (this might change because of copyright and permissions). But this is a long way away yet. If you can find out where the working title comes from, you’ll get an idea about the second elemental. Jake and Stone are in it too, in case you miss them.
The research for the folktales is fascinating. I’ve been interested in folktales since I was little – preferably the more local ones and the ones with lots of blood and bones in them – but just thinking about definitions of folktale and the subgenres/branches throws up all sorts of conflicts and ideas that sets the grey cells throbbing. I’ll let you know how it goes.
In between research and writing, I’m looking up at the skies – especially after midnight – hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive Delta Aquarids meteors. So far no good. I might have more luck on the 11th/12th August with the Perseids. If you can find a patch of dark sky, and a patch of safe ground to pitch a deck-chair, then get out and start counting, and forget your circadian clock – meteor showers don’t happen every day!