Saturday 29 July 2017

Your Best Side

Ah, those crazy Victorians (quite literally, what with lead in the pipes and arsenic in the wallpaper...)

Finally broke the 40,000 mark on Still Life. I would have gotten there sooner, only I took a break to write fairytales.

It's not all doom and gloom in the world of postmortem photography. Well, mostly it is, but I'm also exploring the early world of photography in general. It's quite incredible how something we take for granted today, which has become so point-and-click, took so much painstaking skill in the early days. 

Thirty years after the invention of the Daguerreotype and collodion processes, we were still taking pictures in a similar way to the way we still use the internet today. It looks a bit flashier, runs a bit faster, but, essentially, we're yet to achieve the Polaroid or the digital camera. 

It provides an interesting, and contrasting, insight into how technology moves forwards in spurts, interspersed with long periods of normalisation as existing technology catches on with the masses. 

40-45k is roughly half a novel, but it's taking a lot of time as there's so much research required. Some days you can type a couple of lines then disappear into Wikipedia for an hour. 

When I began this, I didn't really have much of an interest in photography. It was really the mortality and memento mori side of things that drew me. Since then, I've really come to appreciate just what went into creating early photographs, and what we might have lost with the invention of digital photography. 

Friday 28 July 2017


Recently finished reading an excellent debut novel, Antiartists, by author Ralph Pullins (website, Twitter):

What do you do when you don’t know who you are, when who you thought you were, who you thought you would become, is destroyed? This is the story of young man, Chris, seeking an identity after the seemingly catastrophic collapse of his life, seeking what it means to be a creator, and, ultimately, seeking a glimpse of hope and recovery after a rock-bottom event. 

During his search, he comes to the conclusion that instead of creating beauty for an ugly world, he wants to destroy beautiful things. Because of his background and education in art, Chris knows of a secret: Michaelangelo’s David has a fatal flaw, a weakness that if struck correctly would shatter the marble into fragments. What will Chris and his newfound group of society’s rejects do with this knowledge?

Antiartists is both bleak and darkly comic, playful and serious. It is about broken people doing broken things, and about trying to find a reason to carry on when there seems no escape from the downward trajectory of one’s life. It is, in the end, about redemption and hope, about finding a way to keep living when everything seems lost, about finding a light in the darkness. It is the story of an outsider coming to terms with his differences. This story is ultimately about believing, once again, that it is worth carrying on - that even after seeing rock bottom, life can be beautiful again. 

The book begins with the warning:

This is a story of broken people doing broken things. If there is anything in the pages that follow that seems like a good idea, please seek appropriate help.

I really enjoyed it. It played to my dark sense of humour and fascination at how far people will go in desperation. It reminded me a bit of DBC Pierre's Lights Out in Wonderland, in its exploration of addiction and self-destruction. 

Very much looking forward to whatever he writes next.

Thursday 27 July 2017

Freelance Report

The Creative Industries Federation in the UK have released an interesting report into the state of the creative arts freelancing industry. It explores the experiences and obstacles faced by freelancers in the creative industries, including a lot of input from writers.

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Proper Dead

Another week, another questionable search history.

I've just returned to writing Still Life, a novel about the history of photography, and postmortem photography in particular. It's been an interesting journey, but you do have to be a little bit careful. Not everything is quite what it seems.

Whereas this gentleman in the centre is absolutely dead...

...the little girl at the top of this post isn't. Though the circumstances of Lewis Carroll taking a photograph of her sleeping may in themselves appear somewhat creepy, it's not an actual death photo.

And the slightly queasy feeling you might have in your stomach right now is precisely why I've been looking into all of this. People do strange things, and it's interesting to try to work out why.

Unlike anything else I've ever researched, Victorian postmortem pics seem to have the greatest amount of misinformation. There were many photos I looked at and thought, these people don't look dead. It's been really nice to discover this Pinterest page, which lists the most commonly circulated pictures which are actually either forgeries or modern photos of people who are alive. I've seen a lot of them on postmortem sites.

There's also a helpful website about Victorian postmortem photos.

Some of the telltale signs it's not a postmortem photo:

  • The subject is slightly blurry or soft-focused, especially in relation to the furniture around them. When photography was first invented, exposure times could take over a minute. It's quite hard to sit absolutely still for that length of time, and any movement would result in blurring. The image of a truly dead person is usually very sharp compared to anyone living in the photo.
  • Because of the need to remain very still during exposure, stands were often employed: headrests for sitting poses and taller poles for standing. This was common in living photography and not to prop up a body, which was usually lying down.
  • Closed eyes don't automatically mean dead. Pretending to sleep was a popular pose.
  • Look at the clothes of the people in the picture. Mourning traditions were strict in Victorian society. If they're not dressed in black and wearing mourning clothes, the person they're posing with probably isn't dead.

It's an interesting piece of history. We've certainly got better at making people look more lifelike in death, even if we're taking fewer photos. Though mobile phones are seeing a resurgence in postmortem photographs.

Tuesday 25 July 2017


DevilHousePress, also related to Black Bile Press, Urban Graffiti and Go Fuck Yourself Press, have been exploring the theme of transgressive by interviewing authors to ask what they feel it means. Here's my tuppence worth.

Thursday 20 July 2017

The Constant Editor

Had a lovely day editing in the CasaKeza garden with cheesecake and too much coffee. Then came home to continue, but ended up sitting through a four-hour blackout. Thank goodness for Paperwhite's screen lighting. Reading a stunning book at the moment. Looking forward to posting the review soon.

These are the three novellas: Wolfish, Red & White and Skin.

"Just one copy?" I said to the guy at Right Click as I waited for it to print out.

"Yes. It's almost four hundred pages."


Going to take me a few days to get through this, in between editing jobs for other people (one of which I get paid in cat food for, so it's a top priority for the kitties). I think I probably am going back to finish off Still Life after this. Then on to something slightly different. Feels good to be creating again.

Sunday 16 July 2017

Common Voice

Project Common Voice is a really interesting idea by Mozilla (the guys who brought you Firefox).

Voice is natural, voice is human. That’s why we’re fascinated with creating usable voice technology for our machines. But most of that technology is locked up in a few big corporations and isn’t available to the majority of developers. We think that stifles innovation so we’re launching Project Common Voice, a project to help make voice recognition open to everyone. Now you can donate your voice to help us build an open-source voice recognition engine that anyone can use to make innovative apps for devices and the web.

Read a sentence to help our machine learn how real people speak. Check its work to help it improve. It’s that simple.

You can donate you voice by reading out words, and listen to what other people have recorded to vet it. Nice idea. It'll be interesting to see what comes of it.

Saturday 15 July 2017

Unexplained Podcast

I am absolutely loving the Unexplained podcast by Richard MacLean Smith. Highly entertaining and thought-provoking.

Friday 14 July 2017

Typing Burns Calories

Yes, we writers live a sedentary life. But hope shines eternal...

According to LiveStrong, citing Harvard Health Publications, whilst typing you burn the following calories in a thirty minute period:

  • 125lb/9st - 41 calories 
  • 155lb/11st - 51 calories 
  • 185lb/13st - 61 calories

If you're wondering how many calories typing burns for your specific height, weight and age, there's also an online calculator.

Thursday 13 July 2017

Haunted Futures

Just finished reading the latest anthology, Haunted Futures, from my publisher Ghostwoods. It got a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

You can't see far, and the footing is uncertain at best. Ghosts and phantoms stalk the haze around you, and their chittering will lead you astray. There are no maps to this territory, but sometimes a brave soul strides out ahead into the haunted shadows. Those who return to the campfire of the now often bear tales of the visions seared into their minds while they were out there, in the mists.

We have scoured the earth for these most daring of travelers the ones who have ventured out into the future and returned wraith-laden. Fifteen of them agreed to share their stories. Their enthralling accounts will seize you, and you might find it difficult to fight free of them afterwards, but any risks are overshadowed by the dazzling wonders that await. So muster your courage, and dive into the pages. Haunted Futures of all kinds await you, with open arms and suspiciously toothy smiles.

A collection that spans a huge breadth of styles and concepts. 

A couple that really stood out for me:

Greenwood Green by John Reppion: This one wins the award for 'creepy-arsed shit.' Extremely atmospheric. A young gardener helping to keep the graves trimmed at a long-forgotten cemetery, goes in search of an abandoned railway house which appears as 'a great cocked hat amid the mouldering bricks and twisted iron rib-work; the mortal remains of some gargantuan witch from a Brothers Grimm nightmare.' It's got everything: bumps in the night, disappearing pathways and even a scarecrow. What more could you want? Stayed up late at night to finish it, then couldn't sleep. A place straight out of Hookland.

Spy Drug by Greg Stolze: I'm going to be honest. I can be a bit of a skim-reader with anthologies. I take some convincing into a story, and sci-fi more than most. When I started this one, I was reluctant. It's based around a drug which gives you super-sleuth capabilities: the ability to lie, know when others are, and piece together clues you would usually miss. You get the gist pretty quickly, and I wasn't wholeheartedly with it - seemed a bit far-fetched (said the woman who writes about shamanic dreamworlds, ayahuasca and blood-lusting conjurers). I'm not sure what switched. Possibly just Stolze's style pulling me in but, by the end, this was the story I most wished there was more of. The implications caught up with me and he left it on an annoying cliffhanger. What if the drug were tainted? What if you picked up on all the clues, but jumped to all the wrong conclusions? What then? Highly entertaining.

Mercury Teardrops by Jeff Noon: Purely for his writing style. It's unusual and deliciously poetic. Plus it broached a subject I do find particularly enticing: the idea that we will soon be integrating technology with our bodies. Enhancing our physical capabilities. Really loved the descriptive and gave the far future a really human edge.

A really interesting read, and I loved Alex Acks's assertion that 'There are no haunted places. Only haunted people.'

You can listen to interviews with some of the authors online: Tricia Sullivan, SL Huang, Alex Acks, Felicity Shoulders and Lynnea Glasser.

Wednesday 12 July 2017

Little Sister Music

After the sad death of Greg Trooper earlier this year, my lovely friend Suki has set up Little Sister Music to promote Americana and Roots music in South East Wales. Tickets for their inaugural gig, Jess Klein & Mike June, are on sale for October. It's a work of passion, so please give all the support you can.

Sunday 9 July 2017

Scientifically Speaking

Tried a little experiment. Stopped reading the news for a week. Only allowed myself to read the Science & Environment sections. Wanted to see if it had an effect on how I felt about the world. I usually get my news through RT and BBC, I enjoy the juxtaposition of bias. I don't have a telly, so I just read it online.

Years ago, when it was much harder to get online, I went for long periods without any international news. I really liked that. Most of the stuff that is news here in Rwanda and East Africa never makes it into the Western-dominated media, and most of what happens over there doesn't affect life here. It had to be something either really important or interesting for someone to come up and tell you about it, like when Michael Jackson died. It gave news a sense of value, that someone had taken time out of their day to mention it.

Only reading the science articles has been interesting. Beyond the information about climate change and pollution, there's a lot more hope in the world than you expect. A lot of medical advances, space exploration and new things being found. Certainly gave me fodder for meaningful conversations.

The weird thing is, I have gone back to reading news again. Not for any reason other than I enjoyed the gossip. It really brought into contrast how much of a gossip column the BBC has become - every article is sensationalist: rape, murder, politics, but not for any useful political analysis, just who rolled their eyes at whom. Even a student stealing a traffic cone made most-read news one week. Though I wince constantly that the Beeb, in their desperation to create 24/7 rolling news, has surpassed The Grauniad's reputation for spelling errors.

It's been an interesting experiment, but I've discovered I'm not immune to tittle-tattle.

Thursday 6 July 2017


I have done no writing at all over the past few weeks - world of workly chaos. However, I did find time to play shufflepuck with Howl. He usually wins.