Eventually there comes the moment when any author has to submit what they have written to the jaded palate of agencies. Friends have enjoyed what I’ve written, but one always receives a bit of a free pass from that quarter. Today I started the process of seeking representation. Continue reading
Variations in pronunciation can cause moments of concern.
While walking towards the village for lunch, I am often passed by chaps on scooters. They invariably yell as they pass, “Motorbike, white bitch?” Continue reading
Since Friday. It has been a journey. I have written more than 16,000 words in three days. 66,900 words for the first draft. The last coming out in a cleansing burst. As my heroes suffered, I was balling my eyes out. Continue reading
The small child was perched under a shelter, upon the wall of a square enclosure. “You want buy pig?” he inquired.
The author, being as he was on his way back from diving, demurred.
I can see why folks dive at Pescador Island – a small atoll only a few minutes boat ride from Panagsama Beach – it is simply beautiful. I was, for reasons known only to itself, adopted by a remora which became the surreal highlight of my dive. Oh sure, there were all sorts of colourful fish, nudibranches, sea horses, soft and hard corals, and snotty-looking things, but every time I reached for my pressure gauge, I would grab a handful of Romy (that was her name).
The giggling probably reduced my downtime a bit, but I still got an hour in. Continue reading
The only way to take a month off is not to take a month off. Today was a work day. Tomorrow is a diving day. So writing resumes on Saturday.
Still, the ocean is just over the lawn and I saw a ray leap out of the water a few metres out.
Words completed: 20,969 and 5,482 written on Wednesday, including a re-edit of work to date.
Some influences for this work include Italo Calvino (If on a winter’s night a traveller), Alexander McCall Smith (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency) and Alan Paton (Cry, The Beloved Country). They’re an odd mix for a near-future science fiction story. I love the tone of Paton’s book, the timbre of the conversation. I love the gentleness of McCall Smith’s work, the care people have for each other. I love the post-modern exuberance of Calvino, the patchwork-quilt that is a story.
I don’t have any books with me. I haven’t read a fictional work in months. Clearing my head. That doesn’t mean I’m not reading, but I’m taking care to keep an aesthete’s approach to fitness.
The clearing is important because only a week ago I was doing this: Open Knowledge Conference – Gavin Chait
Suit-to-surf in three days and then leaving the complex world of open data, metadata standards and such behind is a culture shock.
Tomorrow I go diving. That should help.
It is a 20 minute walk from Dacozy to Panagsama village through the village where the folks who support the tourist industry actually live.
There is one cluster of small houses where everyone seems to have gone made for bonsai trees. I’m not sure if it is a very enthusiastic hobby or something raised to sell elsewhere. Continue reading
I have spent years trying to come up with the first sentence and following paragraphs for the novel. I have tried every voice, even an idea of letting a group of animals sit around a camp-fire and tell the story of my human protagonists.
This morning I deleted about 2,000 words of an introduction written six months ago in favour of rewriting the second chapter. This works and captures the narrative feel I want from the beginning. Continue reading
My father passed away three weeks ago.
His cancer returned in May and I flew home for a few weeks to spend time with him and my mom. He had just completed a round of radiation therapy and was recovering his fitness. My mom was retiring early and they were hoping to go travelling together, bringing forward plans originally slated for my mom’s 70th birthday, still two years away.
When I left, only two months ago, all seemed well. But it hangs over everything. Every conversation. Each moment.
My dad’s sister visited from Australia six weeks ago and, again, everything seemed fine. Then the phone call and the hasty trip to South Africa.
I started writing my first novel, Tartarus One, when I was 12 years old on my father’s first computer. It was an IBM clone with a tiny green cathode ray screen. I wrote about 10,000 words before stopping. The story then was about a man who was unjustly imprisoned in a jail in space, who escaped by building a small craft, and crashed in central Africa before returning to exact vengeance.
It was a clever story but I realised quite quickly that the voice and approach I was writing in wasn’t my own. It was Stephen King’s. And I knew that wouldn’t do.
I tried off and on over the years but, unless one has a trust fund or a supportive, wealthy and understanding spouse, writing full-time is too expensive and the returns too insecure. I have always worked and never earned sufficient to give it a go.
Over the years Tartarus One became Tartarus Falls. The story evolved, became more complex, then simpler, then honed. But I never wrote it.
I arrived on Monday afternoon. He was in bed and hadn’t moved for a few days. He was thrilled to see me and my normally physically reserved father held my hand tightly as we spoke that afternoon. Him in short, exhausted bursts. Every word leaving him panting from the effort.
He didn’t look well. His face swollen and blotchy, pale. His skin cold, even though he said he felt warm. He couldn’t lift his arms, so I helped feed him, change him, drop water into his mouth with a syringe.
But he was cheerful. Chatty, even. He wasn’t in pain, except when we moved him.
He seemed to think that he could recover even from this. The nurse who arrived left me in no doubt how serious things were. He hadn’t urinated in days, his kidneys had stopped.
I’ve always worked hard and have taken tremendous risks with my ideas, ambitions and choices. Sometimes that worked, sometimes that didn’t. My life hasn’t been dull.
A year ago, with an awareness that life is shorter than one may hope but still long enough, I contacted a writer mate of mine. Jon Evans has written a few novels and even sold sufficient of them to pay for an expanded life-style, although he does keep a regular software job as well. He travels and writes and works.
Let’s go somewhere with a beach, sufficiently low-cost to keep us there a while, good internet access, and good diving, and let us each write a novel, I suggested. He thought it a good idea and we began hunting though island nations.
Cuba meets most criteria, except for being an evil Stalinist dictatorship. So the internet is crap. Papua New Guinea is just fucking expensive. Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand … either of us have already been.
That left the Philippines. Which consists of several hundred islands. Next question, which one?
My brother arrived on Tuesday. By then, my father could only speak a word or two before losing consciousness. I called the UK and let my wife speak to him.
They’ve always had a very special relationship, going to see cricket together at Lord’s in the UK. Could it be only a year ago that my wife made my dad run for a bus to get to the grounds?
“I love you dad,” she said.
My mom, my brother and I sat around the bed, playing music, telling stories, laughing, sometimes crying. We remembered.
My story, while being science fiction, happens to be set in Nigeria. Why? Well, when my hero escapes from an orbital jail which uses a space elevator to transfer goods and people, it has to be sited over the equator.
I was fortunate to have spent a month in Nigeria over this year, working on a local data transparency project for the Edo State government. I also took a few days to visit some of the places where the story happens. I found books on Efik culture and cuisine. I did my research, discovering I could make my villains much more terrifying than I had originally imagined.
I worked out the structure of the story, the set-pieces, the characters.
My sister-in-law and nephews arrived on Wednesday. He wasn’t able to speak anymore although, at least in the morning, he was able to acknowledge that he was still listening.
When I helped move him, or dress him, or feed him, I could see the dark splotches under his skin that must be part of the cancer spreading throughout his body. If a thing could be said to be evil, they looked it.
“Wait,” he would gasp. Short, stubby words. Every time we needed to move him.
Through the day, he got weaker.
Even as I booked my plane tickets and reserved accommodation, I was worried. What happens with my dad’s cancer? Would he live long enough for the book to be published? He was never much of a reader and the cancer meant that he couldn’t see very well, but he could know that it was written. That it was done.
I never expected the call to come so soon.
At 16h00 he asked me for peanuts. I put a little peanut butter on a teaspoon and he sucked it. Then he asked for cheese and onion chips. I couldn’t give him that. I placed some water in his mouth with the syringe.
He refused food at 17h00. Clamped his jaws shut and wouldn’t take anything. Then he slept, his mouth open, gasping.
I was already exhausted when I packed for Moalboal. I had just returned from South Africa, spending the night before working through my dad’s documents with my mom, helping her prepare for the accountants so they could settle his estate.
There had been no space to mourn yet and it would be another two weeks before I would get any rest. I still had a conference to prepare for in Geneva, several projects to close out, a number of proposals to write and submit, and a report to finish.
I stayed with him till 23h50. It had been three days since I last snatched more than a few hours of sleep and I left my mom alone with him.
She woke me at 00h28 on Thursday morning. I checked that he was no longer breathing, that his heart had stopped, and I covered him with a sheet.
We called the Chevra Kadisha and we sat quietly together. My brother, my mother, and me.
This morning I woke up with the sound of the ocean against the shore. Two-and-a-half days of travel behind me.
For the next four weeks, a novelist’s journey ahead.
It was Sun Tzu who said, “Always leave an escape route for a surrounded enemy, for a soldier with no prospect of escape will fight with the strength of ten men.” A person with no escape has nothing to lose, they have lost everything already, and so they will take many with them.
When I was very young I read a collection of horror short-stories. They were mostly childish waffle except for one which has left a life-long impression on me.
In the story, a successful author begins to receive a series of letters from all across Europe. The message is the same, “You made me and I am coming to meet you.” Signed with the name of the principal villain in the author’s long-running series of books, the author assumes a prank but calls in the police. Despite protection, one night the character arrives. Continue reading
The quote comes from American clergyman and author Henry Van Dyke, but the sentiment could’ve come from me.
I love looking into the night sky and being filled with wonder at the vastness of it all. Fewer things strike me as more beautiful, fewer things feel so profound, as when I look up and see infinity. On some nights, I can see a million stars. There are so many, maybe it’s a million million.
That’s an exaggeration. I know that astronomers have actually figured out how many stars are visible from earth with the naked eye on a clear night. I don’t remember the figure.
But for me, looking up at the heavens, science doesn’t matter one single bit. The sky is filled with a million million stars. It’s what infinity looks like. Continue reading
Well, I don’t know if he ever said that or not, to be honest, but it somehow sticks in my mind that he did. It’s the kind of thing he would’ve said.
Ditch digging is honorable work—but it’s also a hard way to make a living.
He spoke from the experience that physical labor will give a man. For most of his life, he served as a postman in the small town of Eldred, Pa., sorting and shuffling mail, slipping letters into P.O. boxes, making small-talk with customers from behind the counter. The building smelled of envelopes and stamp adhesive. It was a pretty easy gig. Continue reading
We’re on our way home to find our freedom
and I’m on my way home to find you my friend
where we can stand in the light of the people
and breathe life into the land again.
“When the System Has Fallen,” Johnny Clegg
“If you have a patch of ground the size of a door, you can feed a family of four,” rhymes my friend, John Broom. John is well over 80 and has been involved in teaching gardening and feeding schemes in Africa for the Quaker Peace Foundation for decades. I believe him.
Africa itself is a vast and fertile land. Continue reading
by Chris Mackowski
The World Without Us
by Alan Weisman
Thomas Dunne Books–St. Martin’s Press
What would the world be like if the human race just up and vanished?
â€œUnlikely, perhaps, but for the sake of argument, not impossible,â€ writes journalist Alan Weisman. Perhaps a human-specific virus wipes us out or aliens kidnap us or God raptures us away. Poofâ€”weâ€™re gone. Tomorrow.
Thatâ€™s the hypothetical premise behind Weismanâ€™s newest book, The World Without Us.
But while the premise sounds fanciful, Weisman offers nothing but cold, hard facts and a gnawing gut feeling that something is already dreadfully, dreadfully wrong. Continue reading
by Carol White
The Case of Abraham Lincoln: A Story of Adultery, Murder, and the Making of a Great President
by Julie M. Fenster
Julie Fensterâ€™s new book is not only a fascinating look at a side of Abraham Lincolnâ€”his daily life as an influential Illinois lawyer in the years before he became presidentâ€”but an illuminating study about how he and his abolitionist associates succeeded in fusing anti-slavery Democrats and Whigs and to create the Republican party. Lincolnâ€™s role as a wartime president tends to overshadow the fact of his crucial involvement not only in exposing his arch rival Stephen Douglas, author of the infamous Kansas-Nebraska act that opened the western territories of the United States to slaveryâ€”but in the nitty-gritty, day-to-day politicking that preceded, and was crucial to the partyâ€™s victory at the polls in the 1860 presidential election. Continue reading
The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli, first published in 1513, 176 pages, ISBN 978-0553212785
The worst that a prince may expect from a hostile people is to be abandoned by them; but from hostile nobles he has not only to fear abandonment, but also that they will rise against him;
In 1513, early into the Great Wars of Italy, an Italian politician, ambassador, soldier, and political philosopher was on the losing end of one of the many internal conflicts that followed the Reniassance. After being tortured and eventually released, he moved to his beloved Florence and settled down on a farm to write what is probably one of the most important treatises on politics written – Il Principe, The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli. Continue reading
By Martin Bosworth
Last night saw the premiere of the final season of “The Wire,” HBO’s long-running drama that started out as a gritty look at the cat-and-mouse battle between overworked, underpaid cops and ruthless drug dealers in the decaying metropolis of Baltimore, Maryland, but quickly evolved into a scathing, unforgiving tour of the failure of all the institutions we take for granted. This ambitious vision is married to some of the most honest, raw, and real characters ever to grace a television screen, making “The Wire” not only the best show on television today, but one of the best examples of modern American thought and commentary we have. Continue reading
I realised today it has been more than 21 years since I first came across Terry Pratchett. I was only 12 at the time; young, gawky, bookish.
His books were like the opening of a window.
Pratchett is the creator of the epic Discworld fantasy series. They started off as a light-hearted send-up of the swords-and-sandals fantasy epics of Beowulf and Tolkien. Then they became an original world.
It is one of my annual joys. This year, when Making Money came out I chortled with joy and phoned one of my best mates to gloat that I’d got it first. Instead he turned the tables on me to say how much he’d already enjoyed it. Continue reading
The dividing line between comic books and graphic novels – for many – seems to lie in the question: “Would I show this to a kid?”
Maus, by Art Spiegelman, or When the Wind Blows, by Raymond Briggs, are astonishing reinventions of the art, claiming a space in literature that defies either category. Both opened up the creation of artworks that tell human stories; allowing emotion and empathy with the images to fill the space left by the absence of words.
Taking four years to research and produce, The Arrival stands alone – not just amongst graphic novels – but amongst all art. It is like stumbling across The Kiss by Auguste Renoir placed inconsequentially at the base of the stairs in London’s Tate Modern, or hearing Pachelbel’s Canon played in the midst of a mix of faded pop-songs. Continue reading
If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino, first published 1979, 254 pages, ISBN 978-1857151381
You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!”
These are the first lines of Calvino’s entertaining novel. Welcome to the world of post-modern literature.
What is the modern writer to do? Every story, and every variation of every story, has been told. You already know the plot of virtually any movie before it even comes out. Even the final twists have all been taken care of. Umberto Eco, another of the post-modern greats, once asked the question, “How does a post-modern writer say ‘I love you’?” How, when the phrase itself is so cliched it has lost all the meaning which you wish to convey to your beloved? By saying it anyway. Continue reading
By Martin Bosworth
Earlier this month my fellow Scrogue Gavin Chait and I discussed the ins and outs of creating a centralized standard for social networking–basically being able to migrate your “online identity” from LinkedIn to Facebook to MySpace and so on. (Short version: Gavin loves the idea, but I was wary of the potential privacy and security problems.)
Yesterday I found out that Brad Fitzpatrick, the creator of LiveJournal, is also advocating for open social networking, publishing a “minifesto” on the difficulty of managing many different identities across multiple platforms: Continue reading