Saturday 31 December 2022

Oath, Boast, Toast 2022


Hi guys, please don't be too annoyed with me, but as I've neglected my blog in favour of YouTube this year, I decided to do my oath, boast and toast on YouTube as well. I'm not proud of myself. I hope to find a better written/recorded balance in the New Year.

In brief:


I'm making two:

1. To complete a creative project this year (either the audiobook of Children of Lir or my Sargon manuscript).

2. To go visit friends in Europe - a long overdue ambition.



I learned to ride a moped! So damn proud of that.



To my friends Harris and Rob who are coming to visit in the New Year!


Monday 19 December 2022

Musical Interlude: IV League Jazz

Hanging out with my friend Pacis and his jazz band
IV League in Kigali. 

Thursday 8 December 2022

Google Translate v. Rwandan Folklore

I just discovered that the Google Translate app can read straight from the page, so I put it to the test on my favourite Kinyarwanda fairy tale, the story of the warrior Maguru and the shapeshifter Insibika.

Thursday 1 December 2022

Disfluency, like.

Oh, phew! Ever since starting YouTube, I've realised I use 'you know' fairly constantly (I get it from my mum). I've also noticed that, when speaking on delicate topics where I'm afraid of offending people, I become much more disfluent than when talking about a technical topic. Nice to know this is normal and a sign of conscientious speech. 

Friday 18 November 2022

Good Omens


Ah, loved this. 

Terry Pratchett was one of the first adult authors I tried to read as a kid. I turned up to my reading session aged ten with a copy of The Light Fantastic because I liked the woman with big boobs on the front. I think I was hoping to shock my teacher with the cover art and my ability to read out loud. Kind of worked. I had a very good vocabulary for my age, I was an avid reader, but I have to admit I had no real idea what was going on in the story. In my teens, I think I devoured almost all of the Discworld books, and I was privileged to get to see Pratchett speak at the Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2012. The guy was a legend, as is Neil Gaiman. Loved MirrorMask, The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch, The Graveyard Book, Sandman adaptation... what's not to love?

It's been years since I've read Pratchett though. I've heard so much about this one, so when it came up on Audible I went for it. It was just what you'd expect of a Pratchett-Gaiman collaboration. Wonderfully silly at every turn.

Satan (A Fallen Angel; the Adversary)

Beelzebub (A Likewise Fallen Angel and Prince of Hell)

Hastur (A Fallen Angel and Duke of Hell)

Ligur (Likewise a Fallen Angel and Duke of Hell)

Crowley (An Angel who did not so much Fall as Saunter Vaguely Downwards)


They always are. That's the whole point. Two of them lurked in the ruined graveyard. Two shadowy figures, one hunched and squat, the other lean and menacing, both of them Olympic-grade lurkers. If Bruce Springsteen had ever recorded "Born to Lurk," these two would have been on the album cover.


At night, Nanny Ashtoreth sang nursery rhymes to Warlock.

Oh, the grand old Duke of York
He had Ten Thousand Men
He Marched them Up To The Top of The Hill
And Crushed all the nations of the world and brought them
under the rule of Satan our master.


It might have interested Newt to know that, of the thirty-nine thousand women tested with the pin during the centuries of witch-hunting, twenty-nine thousand said "ouch," nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine didn't feel anything because of the use of the aforesaid retractable pins, and one witch declared that it had miraculously cleared up the arthritis in her leg.


London was not designed for cars. Come to that, it wasn't designed for people. It just sort of happened. This created problems, and the solutions that were implemented became the next problems, five or ten or a hundred years down the line.


A screaming, glowing ribbon of pain and dark light. [NB: Not actually an oxymoron. It's the color past ultra-violet. The technical term for it is infra-black. It can be seen quite easily under experimental conditions. To perform the experiment simply select a healthy brick wall with a good run-up, and, lowering your head, charge. The color that flashes in bursts behind your eyes, behind the pain, just before you die, is infra-black.]

It is now my ambition to learn to lean like an attractive yawn on legs.

The only thing is, when you've been away from that type of wit for so long, it's so fast-paced you sometimes miss large chunks, especially as an audiobook. There's some clever wordplay and a pun every few sentences. Even though it's a comedy, it's not one of those you can easily drift in and out of and keep the thread, so maybe best in book format, though it was very well narrated. Really enjoyed it.

Wednesday 9 November 2022

Women and Madness

Well, it's been a while. Bear with me. This is going to turn into a book review blog for a few weeks, then maybe I'll talk about other things. If you wan to see more regular posts by me, I'm over on YouTube more nowadays. That in itself is a whole other discussion and I will explain at a later date. Meanwhile, there's a heap of reading I haven't reviewed, so here goes.

I took a heap of notes during this one, and now I don't think I can comb back through them all, so I'm going to go off memory, which might be slightly hazy as I read it a few months back now. I truly have been shocking at keeping up with my blog.

The key points:

Most of what it covered wasn't a big surprise. It shone a light on how mental health has been used over the generations to repress women and twist them into believing that quite normal emotional reactions and desires are somehow wrong and warped. That they are hysterical, over-reacting, irrational and angry. As it quotes another author, Nzinga Shaka Zulu: 'therapists are often the soft police of the dominant culture.'

It refers a lot to Greek mythology, which I enjoyed. Looking at power dynamics and relations between mothers and their daughters. It reminded me a bit of Charlotte Keatley's play My Mother Said I Never Should, in that respect. She also goes into the mother/whore dichotomy.

There were many examples of how a predominantly male system, and male therapists, abused their power to elicit sex and other favours from female clients, often turning against them or casting them aside at a later date, yet strangely, both men and women generally prefer male therapists and spend longer seeing them. 

I appreciated that Chesler devotes quite a bit of time to discussing the difference in experience between straight and gay women, and between white and black women. All of the lesbians she interviewed had been classified as sick by therapists and psychiatrists, some given shock therapy. Chilling stuff, considering how very recent that history is. 

There were a few statements I didn't agree with, none of which I can remember offhand at the moment, but I think they generally revolved around slightly outdated stereotypes of women and their place in society. The book was originally written in the 70s, and it does have a bit of a didactic quality to it which niggled occasionally. 

I'm not entirely sure if this was the book itself or the audio narration. I have to say, I did struggle with this one as an audiobook. The only way to describe the tone of narration is sardonic. At first it feels a bit nudge-nudge, wink-wink, we're all in this together, aren't these people who hold such outdates views ridiculous, but after an hour or two it just starts to grate. You feel like saying, 'just talk to me like a normal person,' rather than trying to rile my outrage. I picture the narrator sitting in a leather-sofa library, narrating with a bourbon in hand and a cigarette in a foot-long holder, ruby-red lips curled in distain between puffs. The questions never come across as genuine questions but always rhetorical. 

That's not to say that the book isn't good or insightful, just to say, probably best get the tree copy. 

Monday 17 October 2022

NSW Flood Song

My beautiful cousin Sali wrote this song during the NSW floods in Australia earlier this year. She's been helping out, especially with animal rescue. Show her some love.

Wednesday 12 October 2022


The most fascinating record of how the London accent has developed from the 14th century to today. Very interesting, and I wish I could hear more about the lady in the pub. That's the start of a story if ever I heard one.

Monday 26 September 2022

Patchwork Second-hand Bookshop

My lovely friend Maja, in Gisenyi, told be about a second-hand bookshop that has just opened in Kigali, so I decided to go and take a look. It turned out to be the most delightful place. Home-made fudge, big mug of coffee and hours of book-browsing on a rainy afternoon. If you're ever in Kigali, check it out.

Monday 19 September 2022

The Secret Garden

Last week I went to visit my friend at Bugesera Nursery (Instagram) about an hour south of Kigali. She has quite an incredible garden, so I thought I'd share.

Wednesday 14 September 2022

Whisper Down the Lane


I picked up a copy of this after seeing a Twitter recommendation.

Inspired by the McMartin preschool trials and the Satanic Panic of the ’80s, the critically acclaimed author of The Remaking delivers another pulse-pounding, true-crime-based horror novel.

Richard doesn’t have a past. For him, there is only the present: a new marriage to Tamara, a first chance at fatherhood to her son, Elijah, and a quiet but pleasant life as an art teacher at Elijah’s elementary school in Danvers, Virginia. Then the body of a rabbit, ritualistically murdered, appears on the school grounds with a birthday card for Richard tucked beneath it. Richard doesn’t have a birthday - but Sean does....

Sean is a five-year-old boy who has just moved to Greenfield, Virginia, with his mother. Like most mothers of the 1980s, she’s worried about bills, childcare, putting food on the table...and an encroaching threat to American life that can take the face of anyone: a politician, a friendly neighbor, or even a teacher. When Sean’s school sends a letter to the parents revealing that Sean’s favorite teacher is under investigation, a white lie from Sean lights a fire that engulfs the entire nation - and Sean and his mother are left holding the match.

Now, 30 years later, someone is here to remind Richard that they remember what Sean did. And though Sean doesn’t exist anymore, someone needs to pay the price for his lies.

A short review, but an appreciative one. I really enjoyed this atmospheric period horror.

They found Professor Howdy spread across the soccer field. What was left of him, anyway. His chest cavity had been carefully cracked open, his rib cage fanning back as if it were the glistening crimson trigger hairs on a Venus fly trap, patiently waiting for its prey to wander inside its gaping maw. The entirety of his intestines, large and small, had been gingerly unspooled to the end of their connective tissues across the lawn, in some sort of luminous pattern. 


His kids formed a ring on the floor, knees touching. Mr Woodhouse would ask his students to talk about their favourite part of the day and least-favourite part of the day. "What's your rose and what's your thorn?"

Its author, Clay McLeod Chapman, writes books and comics, described as, 'a horror-drunk storytelling virtuoso master idiot' by Time Out New York. Not much else to say than, if you like dark, Satan-worshiping psychological horror, this is worth picking up. It's good fun.

Monday 29 August 2022

Fun Month in Kigali

Hi guys.

So, I've mentioned my struggle before. I've been getting into videos more and there's only enough time in the day to write and edit or take videos and edit, I can't do both consistently. As I've spent several years blogging, and as Blogger itself is getting a bit blah (so many layout and template bugs it's horribly annoying), I've decided to post my latest video updates rather than write them all up.

So, here's what's been going on lately:

More about that hash:

And there's also been a lot of talk lately as a young woman, Liliane Mugabekazi, faces two years in jail for wearing a revealing outfit to a music concert. If you want to hear more about that, you can click here.

So, I know that people who have been following my blog might not be as interested in videos. It's certainly been a turbulent transition for me, as I've always preferred being behind the camera, but I think I'm settling into it now and, although there's a lot less writing content, it is fun to show you around my neighbourhood. Let me know what you think, what you'd like to see more of, and, if you wouldn't mind awfully, consider subscribing to the channel and liking the videos you enjoy. 

Tuesday 9 August 2022

Six-Minute X-Ray


Short review as I've got a few books that I've finished recently and falling behind.

In Six Minute X-Ray, you’ll learn the most powerful people-reading system in the world. Chase exposes and unpacks simple techniques that come together to allow you to see beyond the mask that anyone is wearing.

I fell into this during the Depp v. Heard trial. Like a lot of people, I thought I'd have no interest in that at all, who cares what celebs get up to in their personal life? (No, don't answer that, as I suspect it might be 'a lot of people'). But I became engrossed when it turned into a case of 'bloke accused of abuse' becomes 'victim of abuse.' A very interesting revelation and one that challenged a lot of social preconceptions. 

I do enjoy a bit of behavioural analysis, and read Joe Navarro's book What Every Body is Saying, years ago. I recommended it to my English students when I was lecturing, to try to raise awareness that not everything we communicate is verbal. 

During the trial, I stumbled upon The Behavioural Arts channel by mentalist Spidey. He had the author of this book on there, analysing body language, and recommended Six-Minute X-ray a few times, so I thought I'd check it out. I was a bit surprised to discover Chase Hughes was American, as the audiobook is narrated by a Brit. 

I enjoyed it, especially the chapters on language, as I am a linguist. I did an MA in Language & Communication Research, which covered a lot of sociolinguistics (how languages is affected my situation and culture) and forensic linguistics (idiolect and identifying linguistic patterns). Some interesting stuff in there about linguistic distancing and use of pronouns. 

I knew quite a few of the body language indicators, but there were definitely a few things in there I wasn't aware of. I think, with body language, a lot of it is very instinctive, because we've been watching for boy language our entire lives, but because it's so natural we tend to miss a lot. Books like this just bring things to the forefront. By listening to them a couple of times, we become naturally more aware of the way people speak and move. It can just give you a little heads-up sometimes.

I enjoyed this and would recommend if you're interested in body language. As Spidey regularly points out, there's no one action or reaction that definitively tells you someone is lying, but there are clusters of behaviour that increase that likelihood. 

I have to admit, I was sceptical once upon a time, but Joe Navarro convinced me. I'd just finished reading What Every Body is Saying and there was a part in there that said the direction someone's feet are pointing are usually a good indication of where they intend to go next. I was down the village pub with my mum and some friends. One of our friends was saying his goodbyes, but his foot was pointing towards the main room in the pub, not the door. I looked at this and thought, 'well, that's bollocks isn't it.' But just as he was finishing his goodbyes, he said 'right, I'm just going to pop to the loo before I go,' and walked the way his foot was pointing. I honestly believe he indicated that he needed the toilet before he was even consciously aware of it. The direction of his foot really was the direction he went in, even though everybody expected him to head straight for the door from his words. I've never forgotten that. It was kind of fascinating. 

You can download resources from the book here.

Tuesday 26 July 2022

Motoing Around Kigali

Hi guys. A non-book, non-writing related post!

I've been spending a bit of time videoing moto journeys around Kigali. It started with this trip:

And then people suggested other places to go.

So far we've been to Rebero, Nyamirambo and Gikondo.

This is mostly what I've been doing instead of writing lately. I try to upload in 4k but the internet can be a bit prohibitive, so the larger ones are regular HD. If you enjoy, subscribe to my channel and bookmark this page. I'll add more trips as they occur. 

Sunday 24 July 2022

The Pig that Wants to be Eaten


It's been a while since I posted, so here's a review. This one was very interesting: 

Perfect for gifting to lovers of philosophy or mining intelligent ice-breaker topics for your next party, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten offers one hundred philosophical puzzles that stimulate thought on a host of moral, social, and personal dilemmas. Taking examples from sources as diverse as Plato and Steven Spielberg, author Julian Baggini presents abstract philosophical issues in concrete terms, suggesting possible solutions while encouraging readers to draw their own conclusions:

Lively, clever, and thought-provoking, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten is a portable feast for the mind that is sure to satisfy any intellectual appetite.

It's packed with very short chapters, each starting with a quote that poses a thought experiment. Something to cogitate over whilst stirring your morning coffee, sitting on the loo or drifting off to sleep. The subject matter is extremely broad and rather deep, covering everything from the existence of God, abortion, and personal identity through to freedom of speech and conspiracy theories. Some of my favourites were the discussions on faith. I feel that one of the more horrific aspects of monotheistic religions is the way they take away an individual's belief in themself as a moral entity from birth. This idea that we are not born with a moral compass, and that this is only bestowed upon us when we listen to this preacher or that preacher, read this passage or that passage, go to confession, take communion, cover your face... whatever. Morality isn't the dominion of religion, it goes far beyond that. People may be drawn to religion because they have been brought up that way or because a particular religion aligns with moral values they already hold, but generally speaking, religion itself doesn't appear to define an individual's moral values in and of itself. That's my personal assessment. People are as likely to be 'good' people or 'bad' people regardless of whether they follow, or do not follow, a given doctrine. This concept of sin, especially original sin, and terrifying children from a young age with the idea of eternal damnation, makes my skin crawl. The world is a fascinating, beautiful, comedic, tragic and oft-times unfathomable place with complexity and nuance at every turn. We were born to navigate that. So, the question of whether [insert name of deity here] makes a difference to the course we steer is an interesting one to me. There's a well-reasoned argument against the authority of religion over morality:

When I was at school, we used to sing a hymn in which God was equated with virtually every positive attribute. We sang that God is love, God is good, God is truth, and God is beauty. No wonder the chorus ended ‘praise him!’. 

The idea that God is good, however, is ambiguous. It could mean that God is good in the same way that cake is good, or Jo is good. In these cases, ‘is’ functions to attribute a quality or property to something, such as goodness or blueness. Equally, however, ‘God is good’ could be a sentence like ‘Water is H2O’ or ‘Plato is the author of The Republic’. Here, ‘is’ indicates an identity between the two terms: the one thing is identical to the other. 

In the hymn, the ‘is’ seemed to be one of identity, not attribution. God is not loving but love; not beautiful but beauty. God doesn’t just have these fine qualities, he is them. Hence ‘God is good’ implies that the notions of God and goodness are inextricably linked, that the essence of the good is God.

If this is so, then it is no wonder that many believe that there can be no morality without God. If goodness and Godness cannot be separated, secular morality is a contradiction in terms.

However, our imaginary conversation seems to demonstrate very clearly and simply that this cannot be so. If God is good, it is because God is and chooses to do what is already good. God doesn’t make something good by choosing it; he chooses it because it is good.

Some might protest that this argument works only because it separates what cannot be separated. If God really is good, then it doesn’t make sense to pose a dilemma in which the good and God are distinguished. But since it seems to make perfect sense to ask whether the good is good because God commands it, or God commands it because it is good, this objection simply begs the question.

Even if God and the good really were one, it would still be reasonable to ask what makes this identity true. The answer would surely be that we know what good is and it is this which would enable us to say truly that God is good. If God advocated pointless torture, we would know that he was not good. This shows that we can understand the nature of goodness independently of God. And that shows that a godless morality is not an oxymoron.

And what are we finally left with? A God who leaves no trace, makes no sound and interferes not one jot in the progress of the universe. A few miracles are claimed here and there, but even most religious believers don’t seriously believe in them. Other than that, God is absent. We do not see as much as his fingernail in nature, let alone his hand. What then is the difference between this God and no god at all? Is it not as foolish to maintain that he exists as it is to insist that a gardener tends the clearing Livingston and Stanley discovered? If God is to be more than a word or a hope, surely we need some sign that he is active in the world?...

As a response this can seem unsatisfactory. For what it adds up to is the claim that, if ever we are presented with rational reasons to doubt the existence of God, we simply have to accept that our intellects are finite and that what might seem irrational or contradictory does make sense from the divine point of view. But that just means dismissing the role of rationality in religious belief. And you can’t have it both ways. It’s no use defending your belief using reason on one occasion, if you don’t accept that a reasoned argument against belief has any force. 


Morality is a higher authority than the law. That is why we approve of civil disobedience when the state’s laws are manifestly unjust and there are no legal ways to oppose them. 

As Rosa Luxemburg would put it, 'freedom is always the freedom of dissenters.'

I also learned the term 'supererogatory behaviour,' which is apparently, 'when someone does something good which goes beyond what is demanded of them by morality.

I think my favourite, however, was the argument against multiculturalism. As someone who lives outside of my own culture, but sees my culture seeping into the daily lives of those around me more and more, I'm in a constant state of concern. I feel like the world is getting smaller, and that global internet culture is wiping out local, cultural culture, as it were. I've seen certain mannerisms and behaviours disappear over my fifteen years in Rwanda, from men holding hands in public to people hissing to get the attention of a waiter or moto driver. Things that have been dropped since Rwandans discovered they have a different meaning for foreign tourists. I'm always in two states. I miss those things, because they seemed so Rwandan when I first arrived, and gave me a sense of being in a different world at times, but I also like the idea of a united, global world where everyone has the same rights, freedoms, and access to information and technology (preferably a socialist world with free housing and universal basic income, but, one step at a time...) so, even as I morn the loss of certain things, I like the sense of people around the world becoming closer and understanding each other more easily. This particular chapter definitely made me laugh, because I see the issue, but I still long for a little bit of raw adventure in uncharted territories and exotic locations. A longing to explore the 'other'. It's a tough one to grapple with...

There is a problem at the heart of liberal multiculturalism. It advocates respect for other cultures, but what it values above all is the ability to transcend one culture and value many. This places a major constraint on the extent of its respect. The ideal person is the multiculturalist who can visit a mosque, read Hindu scriptures and practise Buddhist meditation. Those who remain within one tradition do not embody these ideals, and so, despite the talk of ‘respect’, they can be seen only as inferior to the open-minded multiculturalist. 

There is something of the zoo mentality in this. The multiculturalist wants to go around admiring different ways of living, but can do this only if various forms of life are kept more or less intact. Different subcultures in society are thus like cages, and if too many people move in or out of them, they become less interesting for the multiculturalist to point and smile at. If everyone were as culturally promiscuous as they were, there would be less genuine diversity to revel in. And so the multiculturalists must remain an elite, parasitic on internally homogenous monocultures.

It may be argued that it is possible to be both a multiculturalist and committed to one particular culture. The paradigm here is of the devout Muslim or Christian who nonetheless has a profound respect for other religions and belief systems and is always prepared to learn from them. However, tolerance and respect for other cultures are not the same as valuing all cultures more or less equally. For the multiculturalist, the best point of view is the one which sees merit in all. But one cannot be a committed Christian, Muslim, Jew or even atheist and sincerely believe this. There may be tolerance, or even respect, for other cultures, but if a Christian really believed that Islam is as valuable as Christianity, why would they be a Christian?

This is the multiculturalist’s dilemma. You can have a society of many cultures which respect each other. Call that multiculturalism if you want. But if you want to champion a multiculturalism which values diversity itself and sees all cultures as of equal merit, then you either have to accept that those who live within just one culture have an inferior form of life – which seems to go against the idea of respect for all cultures – or you have to argue for erosion of divisions between distinct cultures, so that people value more and more in the cultures of others – which will lead to a decrease in the kind of diversity you claim to value.

In our concrete example, for Saskia to continue to enjoy a diversity of cultures, she must hope that others do not embrace multiculturalism as fully as she has.

So, an enjoyable read. I think the only problem with books like these, where it's one information burst after another, is that it's better just to read one chapter a day, rather than listening to it all at once, otherwise the queries all start to bleed into one and you zone out a little. But this was good fun.

Thursday 7 July 2022

Explaining the Pandemic to my Past Self


Something that got me through the pandemic with a smile is this lady, Julie Nolke. Her series where she explains each new development to her former self has been very entertaining. You can catch up on the links below. And for fans of Pitch Meeting, she just teamed up with Ryan George on this.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

1 Year Later 

Part 5

Part 6

Monday 4 July 2022

The Stone Knife


For generations, the forests of Ixachipan have echoed with the clash of weapons, as nation after nation has fallen to the Empire of Songs – and to the unending, magical music that binds its people together. Now, only two free tribes remain.

The Empire is not their only enemy. Monstrous, scaled predators lurk in rivers and streams, with a deadly music of their own.

As battle looms, fighters on both sides must decide how far they will go for their beliefs and for the ones they love – a veteran general seeks peace through war, a warrior and a shaman set out to understand their enemies, and an ambitious noble tries to bend ancient magic to her will.

A really excellent piece of high fantasy. Annoyingly, I know that I picked it up from a Twitter recommendation, the same person who recommended Kingdom of the Wicked. I can't remember who that was, and it's driving me nuts because I really enjoyed both of them.

This took me a moment to get into as it's quite complex and there are a lot of different tribes and unfamiliar names. I actually think the Audiobook is an advantage here because, left to my own attempts at pronunciation, I probably wouldn't have got half the characters correct.

It's nice in that two of the main characters are gay and one is deaf, but their inclusion feels natural rather than forced. It doesn't feel like they've been placed there as a token of diversity, but as part of a whole and many-faceted world. Their characters are completely developed and, in Xessa's case, the fact that her deafness proves an advantage to her community and to her own safety, is nicely woven in. There's some really nice details about the various cultures which make them feel real.

Lilla reached out and ran his finger along the pale, yellow marriage cord resting on Tayan's collar bones, its twin tied around his own throat. The cords were knotted with promises and some were hung with tiny charms that meant those promises were fulfilled. A life mapped out. A life shared. 


The Macaws, wearing their scarlet feather, patrolled to either side of the long line of captives. They were half-blood Pechaqueh, a step below elite, a step above the no-blood slaves and dogs. Scattered among them were the secretive, anonymous, whispers. More rumour than fact, more legend than living. Every warrior wore a peace feather above one ear, and that covenant was sacred.

There were a lot of parallels with human history in this. Although the book carried strong undertones of South America, it also brought to mind Liberian history, where those who had been removed from their culture, broken down and remade in their masters' image found themselves perpetuating that abuse once free. A cycle of racial segregation perpetuated by generations of dehumanisation and stripped identity. It's a pattern repeated throughout history where the oppressed become the oppressors, and it's very neatly summed up here:

The whole empire was a lie, a deceit built on suffering... they threatened the people you loved and then they stripped away who you were. They turned you into an animal and then slowly, they built you back up in their own image until their beliefs were yours. And one day, if you were very obedient and very lucky, they'd free you, and the first thing you'd do would be to buy slaves of your own. And so it went, rolling endlessly, like the cycle of the seasons. Like the rise and fall of the great star at morning and the great star at evening.

A lot to unpack and think on there.

That's what I liked about this. It was thinking fantasy. There was a lot you could equate to our own world, but enough differences to keep it interesting. I'm looking forward to the next instalment.

Wednesday 29 June 2022

The City and the Stars


This one crept under my skin:

Men had built cities before, but never such a city as Diaspar; for millennia its protective dome shut out the creeping decay and danger of the world outside. Once, it ruled the stars. But then, as legend had it, the Invaders came, driving humanity into this last refuge. It takes one man, a Unique, to smash the legend and discover the true nature of the Invaders.

It's the first Arthur C Clarke I have ever read, and one of those legendary names you know you should get around to at some point. The first thing that really stood out was that this book was first published in 1956, yet it feels so contemporary. It could have been written a decade ago or less. The second thing was that, in parts, I thought I heard the voice of Douglas Adams. There was a sort of dry wit about it that made me think that Alvin and Arthur Dent probably would have gotten along.

In a 2000 interview, Adams said:

When I originally described The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, over twenty years ago, I was only joking. I didn't see myself as a predictive kind of science fiction writer, like Arthur C. Clarke who more or less single-handedly invented the communications satellite. The Guide was just a narrative device which allowed me to run off at tangents whenever the story seemed to be getting a bit dull.

You know what else Clarke predicted? The freakin' Metaverse:

Of all the thousands of forms of recreation in the city, these were the most popular. When you entered a saga, you were not merely a passive observer, as in the crude entertainments of primitive times which Alvin had sometimes sampled. You were an active participant and possessed or seemed to possess free will. The events and scenes which were the raw material of your adventures might have been prepared beforehand by forgotten artists, but there was enough flexibility to allow for wide variation. You could go into these phantom worlds with your friends, seeking the excitement that did not exist in Diaspar and as long as the dream lasted there was no way in which it could be distinguished from reality. Indeed, who could be certain that Diaspar itself was not the dream? No one could ever exhaust all the sagas that had been conceived and recorded since the city began. They played upon all the emotions and were of infinitely varying subtlety.

Spooky, huh? What seems so obvious today with our VR headsets, must have appeared completely preposterous back when this was first published. 

Though, there was one little line that really stood out as a watermark of its time...

Yet perhaps her motives were not entirely selfish, and were maternal rather than sexual. Though birth had been forgotten, the feminine instincts of protection and sympathy still remained.

Oooh, yuck, yuck, yuck.

But it was the 50s, so I guess we can forgive.

I really did enjoy parts of this, especially this bit, which made me stop and think. I'm a huge Star Trek fan and, all of my early years, I enjoyed programs about space exploration and other planets - exploring the stars. But I think I always thought like everybody else - that we would find our equals among the stars, but not that the stars would destroy us with our own insignificance and force us further into ourselves. It's quite an interesting consideration:

Despite his failures, man had never doubted that one day he would conquer the depths of space. He believed too that if the universe held his equals, it did not hold his superiors. Now he knew that both beliefs were wrong, and that out among the stars were minds far greater than his own. For many centuries, first in the ships of other races and later in machines built with borrowed knowledge, man had explored the galaxy. Everywhere he found cultures he could understand but could not match, and here and there he encountered minds which would soon have passed altogether beyond his comprehension. The shock was tremendous, but it proved the making of the race. Sadder and infinitely wiser, man had returned to the solar system to brood upon the knowledge he had gained.

Star Trek certainly would have been a very different sort of programme based on that premise.

I did enjoy this passage on religion. Travelling and observing people and cultures around the world, it's hard not to be persuaded that progress is largely secular in nature: 

While still a young man, he had been forced to leave his native world, and its memory had haunted him all his life. His expulsion he blamed on vindictive enemies, but the fact was that he suffered from an incurable malady which, it seemed, attacked only homo sapiens among all the intelligent races of the universe. That disease was religious mania. Throughout the earlier part of its history, the human race had brought forth an endless succession of prophets, seers, messiahs, and evangelists who convinced themselves and their followers that to them alone were the secrets of the universe revealed. Some of them succeeded in establishing religions which survived for many generations and influenced billions of men; others were forgotten even before their deaths. The rise of science, which with monotonous regularity refuted the cosmologies of the prophets and produced miracles which they could never match, eventually destroyed all these faiths. It did not destroy the awe, nor the reverence and humility, which all intelligent beings felt as they contemplated the stupendous universe in which they found themselves. What it did weaken and finally obliterate, were the countless religions, each of which claimed with unbelievable arrogance, that it was the sole repository of the truth and that its millions of rivals and predecessors were all mistaken. Yet, though they never possessed any real power once humanity had reached a very elementary level of civilization, all down the ages isolated cults had continued to appear, and however fantastic their creeds they had always managed to attract some disciples. They thrived with particular strength during the periods of confusion and disorder, and it was not surprising that the transition centuries had seen a great outburst of irrationality. When the reality was depressing, men tried to console themselves with myths.

It also reminded me a little of Scythe with the concept of Central Computer caring for and regulating a society of immortal humans for whom disease and death are but a distant memory. Also love Great Polyp.

I shall leave you with this last little quote, and recommend The City and the Stars as rather a good read. As is The City & The City... in fact, anything with 'city' in it:

There is a special sadness in achievement, in the knowledge that a long-desired goal has been attained at last, and that life must now be shaped toward new ends.

Monday 20 June 2022

The Way of All Flesh


This is the first in the Raven and Fisher Mystery trilogy.

Edinburgh, 1847. City of Medicine, Money, Murder. Young women are being discovered dead across the Old Town, all having suffered similarly gruesome ends. In the New Town, medical student Will Raven is about to start his apprenticeship with the brilliant and renowned Dr Simpson. Simpson’s patients range from the richest to the poorest of this divided city. His house is like no other, full of visiting luminaries and daring experiments in the new medical frontier of anaesthesia. It is here that Raven meets housemaid Sarah Fisher, who recognises trouble when she sees it and takes an immediate dislike to him. She has all of his intelligence but none of his privileges, in particular his medical education. With each having their own motive to look deeper into these deaths, Raven and Sarah find themselves propelled headlong into the darkest shadows of Edinburgh’s underworld, where they will have to overcome their differences if they are to make it out alive.

I was slightly confused when it got to the very end of the book and the credits mentioned Christopher Brookmyre. I saw him at the Cheltenham Literature Festival years ago, with Jasper Fforde. So I went to look this up and apparently: 

Ambrose Parry is a pseudonym for a collaboration between Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman.

I found that a fascinating concept that two authors could combine to create an entirely new author. What a wonderful idea. 

I also enjoyed the nod to Barry Lyndon. I mentioned that recently in my review of Thackeray's other work, Vanity Fair. Though I must admit, I was a bit uncertain with the title for this one as I was sure The Way of All Flesh was already quite a famous novel. When I looked it up, it was a 'a semi-autobiographical novel by Samuel Butler.' Apparently it was a satire about the Victorian bourgeois.

There was some great opening descriptive of Gargantua unfolding into this great, hulking henchman. It reminded me so clearly of the blob men unfolding in the animation of Howl's Moving Castle. Very evocative of a visual style. 

Also some nice observations on human nature:

He would simply have to endure it. His time at Herriot's had taught him that sometimes people could take an instinctive or irrational dislike to you, as you could to them. In such instances there was nothing you could do to change that and it proved a fool's errand to try. 

And I smiled at the detailed description of how to make a calotype. They handled it with more grace and economy than I did in Secure the Shadow. It's a lengthy and tricky process, and not easily put to paper. They did it the same way I did, having the expert explain it to the neophyte in a friendly and instructive manor. I suppose the other way you could do it would be to have the expert observe themself making the photograph, but dialogue pulls people in and holds attention much better. Just for kicks, I wonder if you could write it as the photograph becoming aware of its own existence as the latent image strengthens and becomes fixed? An interesting short story, perhaps?

I counted three instances where the main characters were forced into a tight space together, inches apart. I'm not sure whether it was intentionally three - as in, third time lucky - or just a motif that the authors really, really liked. 

All in all though, a good read. Great suspense as Raven is racing to the dinner party. Likeable protagonists and a solid whodunnit. 

Sunday 5 June 2022

The Children of Lir Book Trailer


A little book trailer for The Children of Lir. Busy working on the audiobook at the moment. You can pick up the paperback and ebook format here

Saturday 28 May 2022

Emma Newman on Becoming an Audiobook Narrator


This is the lovely Emma Newman talking about how she became an audiobook narrator, what the process is, and the skills you need for the job. Emma narrated my book, Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran, and had to learn to sing in Farsi for it! She's a great narrator and a very talented author. 

Tuesday 24 May 2022

Wordle One Month

Not bragging... well, bragging slgihtly. My first month of Wordle went well.

Wednesday 18 May 2022

Saturday 7 May 2022

How to Format a Short Story for Submission

Just a little writing guide on how to format a short story for submission. You can find a great list of writing prizes on the Almond Press website. There's also an excellent written guide by William Shunn, here.

Thursday 5 May 2022



Up until now, I haven't played Wordle, as I'm usually engrossed in Words With Friends, but I finished all my games and still couldn't sleep, so I thought I'd check it out. I've been playing for ten days and so far it seems fairly straightforward - though I know I've just jinxed it by saying that. My strategy is to start with LOUSE, because that knocks out three of the vowels. If none of those come up, I go for HAIRY, which sinks the other two. Once you know the vowels and the easy endings (S, R, H and Y) then there's only really D left as a sensible possibility. The one today was tough:






It's harsh when you hit an ending with multiple rhyming options. The other ones that are difficult are double letters. So, LOONY for example, because you don't want to blow a vowel guess by doubling it unless you're sure. 

But, on the whole, there tend to be a limited number of options for a five-letter word once you get the vowels down. 

It's a bit tough for Brits as they use the American spelling for a lot of words, dropping the U in OU words, even though it was invented by a Brit. 

It's more fun than I was expecting, but I won't be tweeting my daily score.

Saturday 30 April 2022

Rwandan Dictionary of Sign Language


I've been doing a bit of vlogging lately and decided to explain how I ended up in Rwanda in the first place. I came to help research the first dictionary of Rwandan Sign Language, which was published in 2009. There's a bit about how I got here and the process of standardising a national language - you can skip through the timestamps in the description.


Saturday 23 April 2022

The Original Black Mona Lisa


Aaaaah! Super excited! How cool is this? A few days after posting about Daddy's rap video, I went to his studio and got to see the original Black Mona Lisa. Sure, I'm keeping my cool. Who's not cool? I'm cool. Possibly some more fun things to talk about soon.

Thursday 21 April 2022

#IndieApril 2022

[Scroll down for yummy book art and links, keep reading for author ramble.]

Hello bibliophiles,

I realise Indie April is almost over and I've not mentioned it at all. I also realise that my blog has turned into a lit review site for all the books I've been reading, rather than writing. I promise that this is a temporary state of affairs - honest! 

The reason I've been so useless at blogging recently is because I've been editing the backside off my new novel. It's been languishing in limbo for almost a year, because I wasn't sure how to feel about it and there was a fuckton (technical literary term) of historical accuracy to deal with. Possibly more than any other book I've ever written. I have been stupidly lucky - far luckier than I deserve - to have an academic expert who has given so much of his time to helping me through this. It would be a disaster if he hadn't. But, because he's put in so much time, I felt I really had to try and do the time period justice. 

Just a few of the fuckups I had to correct - in ancient Mesopotamia, there wasn't any:

  1. Horses
  2. Money
  3. Ability to read silently

I won't go into any of that now, I am probably going to do a videolog about it because, at over 160,000 words of manuscript and countless rewrites, I've actually had enough of typing.

Thankfully, the beta read is going fairly well so far. It's boosted my confidence rather than destroyed it, and because of the positive feedback, I'm starting to see the story in a better light than I did when I originally finished it. As I keep going on and on about, it wasn't the book I set out to write, or even the main historical character I meant to cover. Because of that, I had a hard time excepting it for what it was rather than what I expected it to be. But, now I see, it does hold together. I can be proud of it.

Anyway - #IndieApril is a Twitter tag every April where indie authors like myself (small press and self-published) brag about the kick-ass stories we've written and remind people to go buy them and leave (five star) reviews.

In 2020 I did a set of blogposts for IndieApril that explored the inspiration behind each of my books. I was going to do vlogs this year, but just ran out of time, but I will probably do those later on, so do drop me a line if you have questions about any of my books, as I'll be gathering those up to talk about.

For now, though, I thought I'd just showcase the gorgeous covers and link you through to the in-depth blog posts about each of them. And please do go leave reviews or star ratings on Amazon and Goodreads, they mean a lot, as does word of mouth if you enjoyed something. 

        Rosy Hours #IndieApril                            Creeper's Cottage #IndieApril

                          BUY                                                                                BUY



   Children of Lir #IndieApril                                  Tangled Forest #IndieApril

                  BUY                                                                          BUY

This one wasn't out at the time. It's a look at
 the relationship between photography and mortality.


What follows is the dreaded backlist of early novels. 
Read at your own peril. 

         Lucid #IndieApril                                 Angorichina #IndieApril

                BUY                                                                  BUY                  

(But you can still purchase if you're feeling generouse)