Tom Jones

Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller fame hosts a weekly podcast called Penn’s Sunday School and recently told an anecdote about Tom Jones which has some bearing on the recent Jonathan Ross/Hugo Awards spat. I’ve transcribed it (abridged) below. :


Penn: Jonathan Ross did a show like Letterman in the 80′s. It was very, very smarmy, very, very ironic, uh… often cruel. And he would have people on, and he would often have people on ironically.

Now this was the top show in England at the time and he had a very, very hip audience, college age audience, and everybody played on that show, you know I mean everybody. If you had a song in the charts you played there. And he had booked Tom Jones.  Continue reading

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Another Day, Another SWFA Bunfight

Oh goody… It must be at least ten minutes since the members of SWFA (The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) jumped aboard the outrage bus.  This time it’s bloggers protesting about a petition that protests the way certain members were treated after bloggers protested about an article they wrote in a trade magazine… or something.  So its a protest against a protest against a protest.  Seriously, who has the time?

One of the downsides about social media is that it has made all media social. Continue reading

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The High Frontier #3: Plotting

OK.  No spoilers here because we’re at a very early stage.  But I do want to talk about how we go from the initial concept to a fully fledged story.

When I started this project I knew that I wanted to write a young-adult, near future science fiction story: something that dealt with humanity’s first steps into our solar system.  But I had no characters other than a vague concept about a young boy from Earth finding his feet in a new colony.  I also had no plot.  The great modern epics, from Star Wars to the Lord of the Rings have the eternal battle between good and evil.  What did I have apart from a few pro-science platitudes?  I had nothing to engage the reader.  Nothing mythic.

But I did have a blank page and all of space to work with… I had the freedom of life on a  frontier, I had the romance of exploration, of the hard-wired human desire to see what’s out there.  If I could create some engaging characters and put them at the absolute extreme edge of the human habitat, I was sure I could keep the reader’s attention.

I don’t want to give away key plot points, but I did come up with a conflict that fitted well with my overarching theme.  I was creating a story that was fundamentally about freedom and what you do with it.  When you have freedom, real freedom, then your actions are a reflection, not of outside constraints, social mores or the rule of law; they come from within.  Freedom includes the freedom to act badly and brings the whole good vs evil theme back into play.

I had a young man growing up in a suddenly expanded world and deciding what kind of person he was going to be.  I had characters, a setting and conflict.  I had a story.



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The High Frontier #2: The “How” of It

Finding time to write is never easy, all amateur writers know that.  I suppose everyone would like to spend more time on their hobby, but writing is a particularly slow process.  (At least it is for me.  No doubt the pros can sit on a crowded train, or at the back of a lecture as I have seen Rob Sawyer and Kevin Anderson do, and rattle out a couple of chapters.)  I find it’s best done when I have multi-hour-long chunks of uninterrupted quiet time.  Now I’ve written before about how I’m hoping to write this novel at the same time as looking after a young child so how am I going to square that circle?

The answer –I’m hoping– is Scrivener… Scrivener is a computer program created specifically for writers.  It’s a word processor that allows you to write in chunks and move them around at will.  The chunks can be chapters, scenes, anything you like really, but the main idea is that you can get the copy down and then re-arrange and tinker to your heart’s content.

The plan is to get the whole story down in dot-point form as much as I can before the baby arrives.  In every chapter I want to know what scenes I need.  In every scene I want to know which characters are involved, what they’re doing and why, and what I want to achieve in terms of the overall story arc.  I want to add snippets of dialogue, sketches of conversations and anything else I can so that when the time comes to write the scene I know just what needs to be done.

I know that life as a house husband will not be a walk in the park.  But I’m also hoping that there will be times when the washing is done and the baby is sleeping that I will be able to grab half an hour for myself to write.  In that time I want to be able to go to my chapter list and pick up just where I left off and hopefully find a chunk that can be written in the time available.

I don’t know if this strategy is going to work.  But I do know from past experience that I’m a planner rather than a discovery writer so I’m hoping that this will help me to get the words down.  Time will tell…

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The High Frontier #1

2014 will be an interesting year for me.  As well as taking a year-long sabbatical from work to raise our second child, I’ll also be trying to write my second novel!

This is the first of a series of blog posts that I’m planning to write, detailing the process from blank sheet to (hopefully) a finished and (even more hopefully) published novel.  The process of raising Johnson No. 2 will have to be saved for a different blog.

So where to start…  I’m already a fair way into the planning stages so some of this will be backtracking but here goes…

The Spark

Every story comes from some initial seed.  It might be an idea for a character, or a snippet of dialogue.  It can be pretty much anything, but for The High Frontier the spark was a little more esoteric.  For years I had seen publishing phenomena like the Da Vanci Code and the Harry Potter books and thought, wouldn’t it be great if that kind of energy could be harnessed for a science fiction novel?  Imagine if, instead of learning the rules of Quidditch or searching old Scottish churches for signs of the Grail, people got behind a story that explored the real possibilities of humans in space: something that could actually be done in the lifetime of those reading the book!

After reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, I image every kid wants to be a student at Hogwarts.  But unfortunately magic isn’t real, and however hard you look for Platform 9 3/4, I’m afraid you’ll never find it.  But if a kid wanted to become the hero of my story, they could!

Now of course every writer wants to be as successful as J.K. Rowling and Dan Brown.  And in their heart of hearts every writer knows that is a long shot at best.  But after the daydreaming passed I was left with the desire to write a near-future, young adult sci-fi novel.  I wanted to write something that could inspire the next generation of NASA engineers.  That’s where the High Frontier came from.

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And the Lion said Shibboleth

Wow… I seem to have forgotten to mention that my space opera short story, And the Lion said Shibboleth, has been accepted by Abyss and Apex.

Not sure exactly when it will come out, but watch this space…

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Midnight Chimes for the Cinderella Man

There is a great scene in Cinderella Man, the excellent movie about Depression Era boxer James J. Braddock, where Braddock visits the home of Joe Gould his longtime manager.  Times are hard and Braddock is shocked to see that Gould has sold much of his furniture.  Gould never let on how much he struggled to get by.  Later on, Braddock uses a portion of his prize money to pay back the welfare he received from the government while unemployed.

Those times have long gone.  I was disappointed recently to see a fellow writer resort to crowdsourced funding, not to get a project off the ground, but simply to pay debts and allow them to continue what can only be described as a worthy but unprofitable career.

Sadly this is not the only example of such panhandling.  Even Hugo and Nebula nominated writers (no names no pack drill) have put out pleas for help with basic expenses.  I have no objection to raising money for worthy causes like David Farland’s recent fundraising for his son’s medical expenses.  It’s great when social media allows us to help friends in need.  However it does raise my hackles when writers rattle the tin simply to allow them to keep writing.

There are many part-time writers out there.  I’m not struggling financially, but my writing career is certainly less than stellar because I spend most of my time at my day job to pay the bills.  Very few writers make a living from their craft and even well-known names find they have to supplement their writing incomes.

Yes it is difficult to make a living through your writing, but it is not our job to do it for you.

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Well Done, Pat!

Hearty congratulations to Patrick O’Sullivan who has taken home this year’s Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest.  I can’t wait to read his story.  If it’s anything like his Writers of the Future winning Maddy Dune’s First and Only Spelling Bee then it will be an absolute cracker.

Detail of this great competition can be found here:


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Avoiding the Faulty Transporter

Thought for the day:  there is a difference between what the eye sees and the hand draws.  An artist can look at a bowl of fruit and create a painting that will make your mouth water.  I am not an artist.  I can look at the same bowl of fruit, but between my eye and my hand something goes horribly wrong.  My brain is the artistic equivalent of a faulty Star Trek transporter and the thing left on the page is best left undescribed.

The same thing happens in writing.  All of us can have good ideas, but writing is more than just that.  The craft of writing is the equivalent of what happens between the eye and hand of an artist.   Great writers can take a mediocre idea and make it sing.  The rest of us can just hope that the story that arrives on the page bears some relation to the idea that formed in our minds.

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In Apprehension…

I’ve finally got round to making an e-book of my Writers of the Future winning story, In Apprehension How like a God.  

At the moment it’s only available through Smashwords but it should be available on all other platforms in a couple of weeks.


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