Friday, 21 April 2017

Armenia



Just saw this nice article on the BBC about Armenia. Many years back, I did a short stint out there with a charity, popping over a couple of times. It wasn't somewhere I'd ever really thought about. I couldn't even place it on a map before booking the tickets. 

Having been, I would absolutely recommend it. A beautiful country with so much to see. The first country to turn Christian in 301 AD, but also home to the last remaining Pagan temple in Transcaucasia.

On my days off, I managed to get round most of the things mentioned in the article:

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Lynnea Glasser



My publisher, Ghostwoods Books, has been letting their authors take over their Twitter feed recently. I spent a couple of hours talking about my own work last week, and this week I was in time to catch a fascinating lady, Lynnea Glasser.

I've spoken in the past of my love of text-based roleplay. How books like Fighting Fantasy and the world of MUDs helped shape me as a writer. 

Well, as well as contributing The Star that is Not a Star to Ghostwoods's Cthulhu Lies Dreaming anthology, Glasser is also an avid text-game author. You can find her work over on her website Made Real Stories. She is best known for the award-winning Coloratura:

Coloratura was a fun way for me to combine three of my favorite passions: science, music, and horror into something truly novel and exciting. It also was a great exercise in game design and planning. It won first place in the 2013 Interactive Fiction Competition and the "Best Game" award in the 2013 XYZZY awards, along with several other rewards. - from blog

You can play and download all of her games via her website. It's so wonderful to see text-based gaming alive and well in this age of gratuitous graphics.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Piano Addict


I've just written an article for Piano Addict about the Kigali Keys project

We're almost at £1,000 after just one week. Apparently if we can reach 20% funded, we stand an 80% chance of reaching our total. I've posted an update on the project page explaining how you can help us get there.

Don't forget, you can also follow the project through our blog, Facebook page and Twitter.

Help us to build pianos in Rwanda.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Piano Love


Sorry guys, you're not getting anything about writing out of me for a couple of months. Not unless you support the crowdfunder. I promise, building pianos won't mean no more writing - it'll just mean writing and music.

Here's an old piano I found in a field several summers back. Left over from a festival.


I was reminded of this after seeing a very cool article on public pianos around the world. I think we need one in Kigali.





I put my newly acquired piano mending skills to use yesterday. A few weeks back I got a call from the Korean church in Kinyinya, not far from where I live. Someone had accidentally managed (still not sure how) to cut five of the bass strings. I helped identify what they needed and the new strings arrived yesterday. Everything's back in working order and sounding great.






A couple of other fun piano-related things I found online: two screen pianos, one operated by mouse, the other by keyboard. Simple, but cute.

Then there's this wonderful online piano museum. The website is made out like an actual place you can walk around. Lots of pianos from throughout history to ogle at.

Finally, back to the crowdfunder. Any help spreading the word, and of course, any donations, hugely appreciated.


Thursday, 13 April 2017

Indiegogo Piano Project



Hi everyone.

We've finally gone live with our piano project. We want to build the first pianos in Rwanda. We have about 60 days to reach as many music lovers as possible. Any help sharing the link to our Indiegogo campaign would be hugely appreciated. You can also follow our blog: Kigali Keys.

We'd also welcome any opportunities to tell people about the project through guest blogs and interviews.

Visit Indiegogo Page

Please also connect via:

https://web.facebook.com/KigaliKeys/https://twitter.com/KigaliKeys
 

Saturday, 8 April 2017

All Lies and Jest


I've just finished reading All Lies and Jest by fellow Ghostwoods author Kate Harrad. You can check out Kate on Twitter (@katyha/@fausterella) and in The Guardian.

A dark, sexy subculture romp, All Lies and Jest is a novel about belief, delusion, and the dangers of being so open-minded that your brain falls out.

When the USA becomes a fundamentalist theocracy, one of its first actions is to round up all the queers, atheists, deviants, geeks, goths and other undesirables it can find, and throw them out. The United Kingdom welcomes more than its fair share. But Britain is no haven; the Christian United States wants the Old Country to follow in its footsteps, and the fundamentalist tides are rising.

Elinor Rosewood is a habitual non-conformist. As British as tea and spanking, she flees her small-minded home town for the dubious joys of London. It’s only after she arrives that she discovers that the greatest isolation can come from being in the middle of a crowd of strangers. Refusing to be defeated by a mere ten million people, she resolves to track down some interesting weirdoes whilst they’re still around to be uncovered.

Her first discovery is a lettuce-eating vampire named Stefan. He’s far too pretty (and silly) for his own good, but he’s a stellar introduction to the Jesus’ Blood Church, and to the sprawling morass of subcultures lurking in London’s cheaper pubs. Elinor plunges into the chaos, little suspecting that her quest to avoid boredom — and maybe save the world a little — will bring her into contact with crazed cultists, devout flat-Earthers, were-mosquitoes, psychopaths, Otherkin, elves, vile plots, and more corpses than you’d normally expect to encounter on a pleasant evening out.

The novel is set in a time when the US has been rebranded the CUS (Christian United States) by the God'n'Guns party, when all alternative subcultures have been banished, when people give up their iPhone for an iTem, and when it's surprisingly easy to get fitted for a pair of fangs down a back street in King's Cross.

This was a fun read, and perhaps the first time I've read a book that alternates between first and third person with such ease. All Lies and Jest was originally published in 2011, and re-released by Ghostwoods last year with a gorgeous new cover by Gábor Csigás.

If you're easily offended by digs at religion and mental health, this isn't the book for you. If you revel in that sort of thing, you'll enjoy it. It reminds me a bit of Jane Lovering's Vampire State of Mind, another good urban fantasy read. 

There's a really major plot twist to this one, and it took me a moment to get my head around it. As another reviewer put it: hilarious and then horrible. But horrible in a good way. Definitely entertaining.

More recently, Kate has been the editor of Purple Prose: Bisexuality in Britain published by Thorntree Press.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Kwibuka23


Kwibuka means Remember, and the number is how many years it has been since the Rwandan genocide - 23. You can find out more on the Kwibuka Memorial Site.

The 7 April marks the start of 100 days of mourning, from the time President Juvénal Habyarimana's plane was shot down to when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) ended the genocide and took control of the country. The end of the genocide is marked by Liberation Day in July, and the RPF remain the ruling political party today.

Some thoughts and resources to share over this time:


It is a tragic chapter in Rwandan history, and still affects many people today, but please don't be put off visiting Rwanda because of it. There are also many beautiful things such as gorillas, royal cows and lakes. Check out this wonderful video.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The Complicated Language of Brexit


I can't take credit for this, it was  @FordTimelord:

This "bring back Imperial measures/the blue passport" talk from ridiculous Brexiteers reminds me of my favourite Terry Pratchett footnote.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Author Taxation


Just thought this was worth mentioning. There are some proposed changes to the UK tax system that will have a big impact on authors. If you are a British author, it's worth checking out the situation.

The Society of Authors has issued a letter template which you can send to your MP. Even if you're not a member of the SoA, you can simply change the line: 'As a resident in your constituency, a self-employed author, and a member of the Society of Authors,' to 'As a resident in your constituency and a self-employed author...'

If you're not sure who your MP is, or if you'd like to submit the letter by e-mail, head to WriteToThem.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

How to Make an Author Happy


I recently read on Twitter that Rosy Hours was in stock at a local bookshop. I decided to pop in on my way home from town. In the past, stores only tend to stock my stuff if I'm doing an event nearby or if someone goes in and orders. This was a really nice surprise. It really is a strange and wonderful experience walking into a high street bookshop and seeing yourself on display. Thank you Haepi Bookstore. Made my month.


Friday, 31 March 2017

The Poignancy of Old Pornography

ADULT CONTENT

I'm putting this warning here because it's one post, and I don't want to turn my whole blog into a click-to-enter site. So, if you continue reading, keep your cool.

My friend Tracey showed me this video when I went to visit her in Nairobi recently. She thought I might like it because I've been engrossed in researching photography for Still Life, and this has a lot to do with how photographs have influenced the way we document sex.

For my book, I'm actually interested in how we document death (and if you want to see something modern about that, and have a strong stomach, click here), but in watching this video I realised that the two subjects are extremely similar in terms of why we take photographs of taboo subjects.

It's a really well made short, and it helped me to articulate a few things I'd been thinking about. The more historical fiction I write, the more I realise that it is the similarity between ourselves and generations gone that we pay attention to. Our interest lies in how people similar to ourselves cope with circumstances that are very different. We focus on politics and war when writing historical fiction, but within that, we focus on ourselves as characters. My belief in difference left me when I started travelling. Yes, we live in different circumstances, and there are a few quirky ideas between cultures, but we share 99.5% of the same DNA globally and people are people. Africa isn't the Dark Continent, there was never a Golden Age. Peel back those illusions and it's not so difficult to connect across time and space.

The part about a photograph being 'a frozen moment in time, rescued from the dissolving force of the years,' plays a huge part in what I'm researching. There was a wonderful point, just before photographers discovered how to fix images, where you could make a photograph but the image itself would disappear after a few moments. You could watch that dissolving force at work even as you tried to preserve someone from it.



Thursday, 30 March 2017

Haunted Futures


Huge shout out to my publisher Ghostwoods Books. Their latest anthology, Haunted Futures, just got a starred review on Publishers Weekly - which means they really liked it.

Jones has compiled a fascinating collection of 15 stories that explore the connections between the living and the dead... There is an entry for every speculative genre... and each story lives up to or exceeds its genre’s expectations.

You can find the full review here.

It is due for release on 2nd May, and you can find all preorder  options on the book's Ghostwoods page.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Musicality


A few months ago, I started a new hobby - piano tuning. It's since blossomed into mild insanity, and I now want to see if it's possible to build a piano in Rwanda. Yesterday, we started making the Indiegogo video by interviewing everyone involved and taking a look at the workshops where our piano will be born.

I've copied the post direct from my project blog, Kigali Keys. You can sign up to follow along by e-mail. I'm hoping that the video will be ready by the end of next week, and I'd hugely appreciate people sharing it once it is.

*


Meet Gaston.

We've just spent the entire day racing around Kigali filming the team who are going to try to build the first Rwandan piano.

It's been a long road to get here. My friends who were going to help me make the fundraising video suddenly found themselves in the centre of a personal housing crisis, so didn't have any free time. I met a fantastic guy from South Africa who's a really accomplished film maker, but he was a bit out of my price range. Then Gaston was recommended to me as he'd done an Indiegogo film for someone else. I was really impressed by his work and he was within my budget, so we're making it happen.

We started out with a return performance by Paco, who is one of Rwanda's foremost pianists. I asked him to come along to show what a piano is capable of. Even a fifty-year-old upright. Lirika is a 1968 Russian instrument, and she will provide the template for our own model, effectively becoming the mother of all Rwandan pianos.
 
 
 

video


It was a blazing hot day, so we were all sweating by the end of the interview. I slathered on sun lotion and we hopped motos (public motorbikes - main form of transport in Kigali) over to Karabona's workshop.

 
 

 
 
 
Alex Karabona is a Rwandan metal worker with a small foundry. Essentially, everything rests on him, because if we can't forge a string frame, we can't build a piano. All pianos have a string frame, or harp frame, inside, and some hold up to twenty tons of string tension. If it bends even a fraction, everything is lost. The first thing we'll do if we raise the money is take Lirika apart and give the frame to Alex to see whether he can recreate it. He's feeling confident, and he smiles all the time, so I'm confident that he's confident.



From there, we continued on to Desiré's workshop on the other side of town. Desiré is the carpenter who is going to try to figure out the piano action. If we can build both string frames and actions in Rwanda, we might be able to produce an affordable instrument. For every part we need to import, the price goes north. But along with the string frame, the action is extremely complicated. We won't know for sure that we can do it until we take Lirika's action apart. 



 

We had a very funny conversation when I asked whether Desiré had any jacaranda wood we could show, because I was hoping we could make the piano from jacaranda. It's very strong and very light in colour, which would make for naturally white keys without having to resort to plastic coverings. 

Desiré looked at me and said he didn't know what jacaranda was, but suggested we use umusave.

I didn't know what umusave was, but it looked right.

I said I liked it.

Gaston smiled and explained 'umusave and jacaranda are the same thing.'

Always reassuring when two people speak different languages but still understand what the other is thinking.

 Umusave/Jacaranda (left), Pine (right)
Both Locally Sourced

Finally there was me. Mostly I'll be trying to stay out of everybody's way, but I hope to rock up at the end to string and tune the new piano. I hate being in front of the camera, so we did my interview last, racing against the setting sun so that I didn't have too much time to think about it. Hopefully it'll be okay. We've got a few last things to shoot in town tomorrow to provide some filler for the video - make it recognisably Kigali. Hoping to have the finished short ready to roll next week. Watch this space. 

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Haepi Bookstore


Last month I wrote about this cute bookshop I bumped into below Ubumwe hotel in Kigali. Turns out it's run by Rwandan author Happy Umwagarwa who owns @Haepi_Bookstore. We've had a few back-and-forths via e-mail, but then I tuned into Twitter and completely wasn't expecting what I saw.

I really am extremely grateful to Happy. Not only running a lovely indie bookstore, but going out of her way to support and promote local and resident authors. It's bookshops like this that make all the difference to writers like myself. Hugely appreciated.


Sunday, 26 March 2017

Greg Trooper


Carrying on from yesterday's post about Poet's Corner, a little more sad news.

My friend Suki is currently in New York for a celebration of the life and music of Greg Trooper (website/Wiki). As much as Poet's Corner was a part of our lives, so was Greg Trooper. Suki was a fan and friend, and dragged us along to see him play The Musician in Leicester. We all became firm fans.

Very sadly, he died of cancer on 15th January, two days after his sixty-first birthday.


All of his songs were wonderful, but my top ten are probably:

  1. Lovin' Never Came That Easy (Straight Down Rain)
  2. This I'd Do (Backshop Live and Live at the Rock Room, recorded Make It Through This World)
  3. I'm So French (Between a House and a Hard Place)
  4. Every Heart Won't Let You Down (Popular Demons) 
  5. Lucky That Way (Floating)
  6. When I Close My Eyes (Popular Demons)
  7.  Hummingbird (Floating) 
  8. Once and For All (Between a House and a Hard Place)
  9. Halfway (Between a House and a Hard Place)
  10. Dream Away The Blues (live version Backshop Live, recorded Make It Through This World)
You can find his albums on iTunes. The Backshop Live is my favourite. Really great live album, as is Between a House and a Hard Place. I can't seem to see it on iTunes at the moment, but if you can get hold of a copy it's excellent. There's also his fnal album, Live At The Rock Room, which I haven't heard yet, and there's a great live set uploaded on YouTube - Good Luck Heart.

Please buy his music, keep it alive.

About six years ago I took a trip back to Cardiff to catch up with some of the old gang. Caught up with a wonderfully pregnant Suki and a slightly less-hairy-than-before Gedge. It coincided with a Trooper concert. Suki couldn't go because of baby commitments, but I took dad along and Greg was good enough to sign a baby romper for the new arrival. Gone far too soon, but left some wonderful music behind, and a lovely message to all us artists trying to scrape a living.


Cardiff Crew