Took a Walk

Last weekend I decided, rather than sit in the house and arse around on Facebook, that I should head off and walk somewhere pleasant, maybe have some lunch out too. I got in my car and drove to the village of Althorne, abandoned my car and headed down to the River Crouch estuary.

A stroll along the edge of here has been part of my walking routine but, from my house, that involves a lot of walking along the sides of the roads, which ain’t that great. Though I have to admit to some enjoyment since this is the first English Spring I’ve seen in 10 years.

So I headed down and along the edge of the estuary to Burnham-on-Crouch. It’s pleasant down there and I was reminded of the time when, at about age 20, I was training myself for a walking holiday in the Lake District. I had someone drive me out and dump me by Bradwell power station and walked back in, following the sea wall to where my parent’s house was located. This was about 20 miles.

I was of course writing stuff at the time and I made plenty of notes while tramping along and afterwards turned this into an article, which I sent to a walking magazine. I was young and naive then and unfamiliar with the ways of the writing world, so made the common mistake of becoming impatient and sending off a snotty letter when I hadn’t heard something for a while. The editor sent my article back telling me to shove it. Apparently he had been about to go and take pictures of the area to complement the article, which he was going to publish.

That would have been my first publication success had I not been a dick. I wonder now what course I would have taken if it had been published. Maybe now I would be a jobbing writer turning out articles for various magazines and newspapers while yearning to be a novelist.

Anyway, back to the walk… I arrived in Burnham after an hour and a half. My plan had been to have lunch there, but most of the pubs were still closed and, really, it takes a little while to cool down after a good walk and actually feel hungry. Instead I found a café and had a cream tea. All very English and, I admit, the first time in my life I had ever eaten a scone with clotted cream and jam.

After whiling away a pleasant time I then headed back. A search on the internet told me this walk was 5 miles so, with the return journey, 10 miles. Others told me it was 3 miles but I thought no. Average walking speed is 3.1 miles (though dependent on a lot of factors) and I was walking fast. I plumped for 8 or 9 miles. Now having traced the route on Google Earth I find it was a total of 11 miles.

Yesterday I decided to head the other direction along the Crouch to a place called Fambridge. Again the internet told me this was about 5 miles. It took me 2 hours to reach a pub called the Ferryboat where I intended to guzzle a pint of something, but when I got there it was closed for refurbishment. Following directions I headed to a nearby marina bar and there drank a pint of Thatcher’s cider before heading back. My estimate of 10 miles was again upgraded by Google Earth, this time to 14.8 miles. I thought I felt a bit knackered.

And here I am writing an article in a different way. No waxing lyrical about crab shells stuck to the sea grass, dry and papery and rising about me like confetti as I walked through them. Nothing about sun and salt bleached driftwood taking on the appearance of alien creatures that had hauled themselves from the depths. Aliens and things of a crabby nature are elsewhere now.

Vaping Rules

New laws on vaping in the EU coming in next month. A prime example of the aphorism ‘the Devil makes work for idle hands’ when it comes to a bunch of paper-shuffling bureaucrats whose only reason for existence is to make laws.

Maximum refill containers cannot exceed 10ml

This means more plastic waste, an increase in costs due to packaging, an increase in costs due to eliquid wastage (because you don’t get every last drop out of the bottle), wasted time and effort buying, refilling and generally buggering about.

Maximum nicotine strength of 20mg.

This means people can no longer buy base nicotine to mix up their own liquids. It also means that the eliquids available will not be strong enough to properly help you give up smoking. Since not smoking cigarettes was rather the point of the exercise this is a bit fucking stupid isn’t it?

Maximum tank capacity of 2ml

This means much more buggering about refilling your ecig. It means you’ll probably have to carry around one of those 10ml bottles too. It also means a lot of the higher performance vaping tanks will be unavailable

Product approvals, Packaging requirements, customer notifications and data reporting.

This means increased costs for compliance therefore increased cost to the customer. It means less variety, little innovation and, as with all the above, effectively hamstringing an industry that has been saving lives.

Congratulations to that bunch of misinformed, authoritarian butt weasels in the EU.

On Vaping…

I am constantly surprised by the prejudice I find in some against vaping – the unthinking bias and the fact-twisting. It’s taking millions of people out of a lethal habit, it’s saving lives, and in social situations it produces only the smell many already have pumping from numerous kinds of scent makers and air fresheners in their homes. My personal experience has been the loss of a smokers cough, a large increase in lung capacity (after a winter of vaping I was able to swim a mile non-stop whereas when I was smoking I could only manage a few hundred yards before stopping to cough my lungs up), loss of a skin condition, and no need to keep a Ventalin inhaler on hand so I could get to sleep at night and to jump-start my lungs in the morning. My risk of cancer, COPD and numerous other conditions is now in steady decline. In fact (though there are other factors involved), I am fitter and healthier now than I was 10 years ago.

But I shouldn’t be surprised by the prejudice.

The dislike of vaping is rooted in a dislike of smoking. Simple. Smoking is being made socially unacceptable and the tar brush (sorry, couldn’t resist) has smeared vaping too, understandably, because the second would not exist without the first. Many people find it difficult not to conflate vaping and smoking. Some are like people who have grown up in a heavy drinking culture, maybe seen friends and family turned into alcoholics, and learned to hate everything about it. Next moving on into life with a puritan attitude they now frown at someone sipping a glass of red in the evening. Others are ex-smokers whose hatred of smoking (and anything remotely like it) is a necessary part of their psychology to stop them smoking again. Still others are merely the product of decades of anti-smoking social conditioning – social engineering – and simply swallow whole and unquestioning much of the nonsense spoken about vaping, because, of course, it confirms their biases. They see something in the mouth and a cloud of something coming out and, to their simple minds, that equals smoking.

Another problem here is the inability of some to separate two things: nicotine and smoking. This is again understandable. Maybe for some of you this is before your time, but I remember adverts depicting a disreputable and nasty top-hatted figure handing out wads of cigarettes to children. He was called Nicotine. This has been the whole zeitgeist about smoking for decades: smoking is bad and the prime actor in this is Nicotine. Well, it isn’t. Nicotine in and of itself is not particularly harmful, but it’s problem was that it is addictive, and the further problem was that for centuries the main delivery system of nicotine could kill you. Nicotine is not the problem, cigarettes are. Taking burning leaves, tar, carbon monoxide, heavy metals and a number of carcinogens into your lungs (from 50 to 150 depending on your source) is the problem. Vaping doesn’t do that.

Vaping is drinking coffee from a cup. Smoking is injecting caffeine with a dirty needle.

It is sad that many in the medical profession, and many of our law makers, have responded with a knee-jerk reaction – the prejudice I mention above. Without thinking very much, without actually looking at the growing evidence and, in many cases, falsifying stuff to confirm their bias, they moved to stamp on vaping. They want every ecig development put through expensive medical trials, they want the nicotine strength of eliquids limited to levels that make them ineffective – they want to limit, control, socially ostracise and stamp vaping out of existence.

There are other reasons here: pharmaceutical companies making millions from NRT are not exactly pleased about vaping, cigarette companies were not pleased either (but soon jumped on the bandwagon), and governments are not pleased (Oh my god, how do I put sin taxes on something that is stopping people smoking!) and also instinctively want to seize control of and legislate for anything new. But it is some in the medical profession for whom I have the greatest contempt. They’ve had careers telling people to ‘quit or die’ and now cannot quite comprehend this level of harm reduction. I can only style their reaction as not only prejudice, but jealousy.

But the evidence is coming in despite them. Even some medical organisations that were at first completely against vaping are now agreeing that it is 95% less dangerous than smoking. Grudgingly, I suspect, because they are having to respond both to the evidence and the ‘wisdom of crowds’ – those millions who are now free of cigarettes and feel very strongly about the vaping that freed them, and are vocal about it, like me.

Forbidden Planet Signing.

Okay, book signing in Forbidden Planet…

I headed up to London aiming to arrive at the bookshop at around 4.30 where I was to meet the Macmillan publicist, Jamie-Lee Nardone, outside. The trip was fast so I ended up wandering down towards the shop at about 3.45. Not wanting to hang about there I stepped into a nearby pub and whiled away the time with a few whiskies.

I then met Jamie outside the shop and we crossed the road to eat burgers and drink a couple of beers before going into said shop. First order of business was to sign maybe 30 or so copies of Infinity Engine people had ordered. I managed to put a pen through the page of one copy, then spilled coffee on someone’s computer mouse. Maybe those whiskies hadn’t been such a good idea.

Out in the shop I signed plenty of books. I’m told there were about 30 people there but everyone had more than their copies of Infinity Engine. This I guess is my fault since I don’t do signings very often. Of particular note was the stack brought by Sharon Sasaki from Canada – it stood about four feet tall. And thanks for the pen Sharon!

Jamie took lots of pictures with people’s mobile phones and all was good. Thanks too to Adam? Gerard? ( Sorry, but while I can remember most details of 140,000 word book, I forget people’s names) and his wife who brought me a gift of a bottle of gin. Checking the label I see that it’s 57% proof so that’ll be an interesting experience when I start imbibing (not yet, I like a big space between my hangovers).

After signing the books people had bought and brought I then signed the bookshop stock. That was a nice quantity so if you want a signed copy get down to Forbidden Planet now. Next was a venture around the corner to The Angel where various fans plied me with beer. I don’t think I was too disgraceful … then again there are pictures yet to appear. I did my circulating but sorry if I missed chatting to any of you.


At about 10 I buggered off to catch a train. I got aboard determined not to fall asleep and end up in Southend like the last time. A guy sitting opposite me was having a similar problem – talking on his mobile phone with earphones then slumping sideways in his seat and snoring.

I was fine and got out at Wickford. I then asked a woman sitting in the station about the train to Althorne. Apparently there wasn’t one but her brother was picking her up and that’s where she was going. Amy and Lawrence gave me a lift and dropped me off near my home. The kindness of strangers eh?

This morning I’m not particularly hungover. Maybe that was due to the ‘organic’ beer in The Angel. I just went for a 3-mile walk to collect my car and shall now slide back into the day job. Y’know, space ships to blow up. Ho-hum.


Cheers to those who took these pictures, which I swiped off Facebook. And my thanks to the staff of forbidden Planet.

Plans…

When I say that I don’t plan, that it all happens at the keyboard for me, that is perhaps a little bit Inaccurate. I do have vague plans in my mind that are usually related to images. There’ll be something there for a conclusion to a book somewhere off in the misty future and then plans for the nearer future when I start writing and consider what section to write next. The ‘happens at the keyboard’ bit is what determines how or if I bring them to fruition. Sometimes I do, sometimes I destroy them completely and go in a different direction. Sometimes I find something I’ve completely missed.

Take for example some highly dangerous and irascible assassin drones. These actors were on scene and, while I was concentrating on other matters, I left them twiddling their thumbs … or perhaps other more lethal appendages. You can’t do that. Yeah you can provide some make-work but that’s pretty difficult when the characters concerned are so effective. The thing to do then is throw them into the fray and see what happens.

It’s a bit like strategizing a battle between horse cavalry then having a tank roll onto the scene, then deciding to make some of the horses pacifists and then have all of them sprout wings when you abruptly turn the battlefield on its edge, and then note that the tank has Velcro treads. The word I’m groping for here is protean. I make plans and I plot but the work in progress is often derailed and always falling into a new shape. Corrections and new ideas constantly alter that shape. Sometimes I chew on the edge of my desk in frustration. Sometimes a solution and epiphany appears in just one sentence, like, for example:

She had just rail-gunned the prador fleet, and the other Polity ships opened fire a moment later.    

I wonder what the shape will be after that?

Writing Routine

I’ve just been writing out some bits and pieces for publicity, specifically ‘Top ten things about me I’d like my readers to know’ for a website called Female First. Like all this stuff it then went into my ‘Articles’ file. There’s a lot in there so I took a look. I found this one, which appeared somewhere or other. There have been a few hiccups along the way, but not much has changed…

 

Writing Routine

When I started out I didn’t have any writing routine, I had a job. Writing was a hobby I indulged in over the weekends or in the evening when I wasn’t: too knackered, watching TV, reading a book, or up the pub. I only ever started counting words upon discovering, in John Braine’s Writing a Novel, that this might be a professional approach. This was probably when I was in my early twenties, and then I used the old technique of working out a line average and from that a page average. It wasn’t until I had been writing on and off for maybe ten years that I started to establish any kind of routine, thought I couldn’t put a finger on an exact date, and this routine relates simply to the aphorism ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’

When you start word-counting you realise that the pages you have written ain’t adding up to a book (and here I’m talking about the time when the average SF novel was a mere 70,000 words). The prospect can be daunting, and my approach was to ensure that I wrote something every day. That’s all.

The next routine I established was when I went self-employed. Getting tired of working in factories on milling machines and lathes, I looked elsewhere. This was perhaps because of a boredom factor creeping in when I was either on production work (Neal, we want a thousand square aluminium blocks this size with a hole drilled in them) or pressing the start button on some computerized machine. I tried building and then, as a result of some work I did clearing up the mess left by the storm of 1987, ended up doing tree-work, hedging, contract grass cutting and just about anything else I could turn my hand to. The bulk of this work was during the summer, so I had plenty of spare time in the winter. I spent most of my free days during those winters writing, almost as if this was a real job.

I started writing down my daily word-count, then I got the stunning idea that maybe I should set targets for myself. Well, I think it was my idea, though it’s just as likely I picked it up out of some ‘How to’ book. I can’t remember the target I set, but suspect it might have been about 1,000 words. It was during this time I discovered the small presses, had my first short story published in Back Brain Recluse then a series of stories elsewhere, then Mindgames: Fool’s Mate, The Parasite and The Engineer. Then came the big hit when Gridlinked, The Skinner and a third book as yet written were picked up by Macmillan. Sensible word-counts briefly went out the window when Peter Lavery wanted Gridlinked expanded from about 65,000 words, (I took it up to 135,000 in two weeks – and added Mr Crane) and The Skinner expanded from 80,000 words (I was a little bit more leisurely over that as I took it up to 150,000 words).

I gave up the day job a year or so after this – after Gridlinked and The Skinner had been published and while The Line of Polity was growing nicely – and began to establish a proper routine. Here I was at an advantage over many writers in that I’d been self-employed for 15 years, therefore knew what it was to motivate myself. I knew how to get up and get to work without the driving fear of a clocking-in clock, angry foreman or written warnings. The cuts to the pay packet were there, of course, in that the moment I stopped working, even for a cup of coffee, I would cease to earn.

I started the new job by being up at 8.00 and writing until 5.00. I aimed to write 1,000 words a day for five days a week (the words were of course now much easier to count with a word processor program), but after a year found myself way ahead and knew the target was just too easy. I upped this to 2,000 and still found it too easy, but then this was all my words, so next I discounted journal entries, blog posts, and stuff I put on message boards (yes, I even counted the words in them) and reset my target to 2,000 words of fiction. This is what I’ve stuck to ever since. When I get started each day I read through and correct the previous day’s 2,000 words, then start on the next. As I reach that figure I try to simply stop, and not go on until reaching a natural break. If you just stop while you know what you’re going to write next, it’s easier to get going again the next day.

Now, those of you with a mathematical turn of mind will be thinking, where’s the 365,000 word novel every year? Unfortunately, turning professional brings home to you the importance of other aspects of writing that can take up many weeks. And now, I no longer feel guilty when I simply write the word ‘editing’, in my journal, where I usually note down my word-count.

That’s it really: the glamorous life of a writer.

We’re Physical

Weird the trials and tribulations my body has been going through lately. I started weight training and gained weight. A lot of it was muscle but there was also a fair quantity of fat. I dieted and fasted losing getting on for 20lb. Also at this time I started walking again so was walking 7 miles every morning and hitting the gym for an hour plus every afternoon. I also increasing repetitions at the gym. Then I had two days of walking and mainly leg exercises at the gym and goodness me the DOMS would not go away, and I felt really tired. I took a couple of days off without much in the way of recovery, went to the gym again. That was okay, but over the next couple of days I was completely pooped. I’d hit the overtraining, under eating (and hydrating) wall. Oops.

In retrospect it was inevitable. I made some calculations. My Base Metabolic Rate is about 1650 calories. Roughly, a 7 mile walk eats up 700 calories while the gym sessions (hour and a quarter minimum) does 500 calories. This is beside what my authorial brain burns while making shit up over a number of hours. Anyway, minimum total of 2850 calories. I was eating a couple of stir fries that added up to about 700 calories. Then there was fruit, veg and peanut butter on Ryvita biscuits. The total there could be high but no matter how I work it, that evening binge eating still left me at a minimum of 1000 calories short every day.

I decided to reintroduce bread, crumpets, malt loaf and butter back into my life. This started to make me feel better but the big step up came when I started drinking pints of cordial. Obviously endless cups of tea weren’t doing the job. Silly sod. Time now to apply my brain to this. I need rest days and I need those carbs. I can’t go through life perpetually knackered else I’ll have no mental energy to spare to write those books!

Fast Words

Well that’s good. I tried out this fasting and did four, then two then three days, with the days in between eating my usual amount. I’ve lost 10lb+ in that time, but hard to judge precisely since when you eat again that’s a pound of so of food plus the fluid you retain while digesting it. Doesn’t take a lot – a cup of tea weighs half a pound. If I were to measure it from a month ago, when my weight hit 192.8, then I’ve lost 20lbs. I do feel a lot lighter! Anyway, fasting is a damned sight easier than trying to diet. Near analogy would be the difference between feathering the clutch while in traffic on a hill or putting on the handbrake. But I’ve gone on enough about this already so … writing.

I finished up the first book of the Jain trilogy a week ago then turned to a file marked Jain2. Here I’d dumped sections I’d excised from the first book. I had a few little hiccups when starting the new book – lot of checking and reiterating – but soon things were running strong. This week I’ve been clearing my 2,000 words a day. Today I looked at one of those previously dumped sections where I introduced a new character. I then realised it would be better to make this new character an old character, this being a (sort of) renegade prador from the previous book. It made it more interesting and allowed for better continuity. However, I then had to go back to the first book and make some alteration there. Glad I didn’t prematurely hand it in to Macmillan.

So what else can I tell you without giving too much away? There’s a Polity assassin drone nailed to an anti-gravity disc. There’s a very dangerous alien with its … manipulators on some serious weaponry. Orlandine is having an existential crisis, and a lethal war drone called Knobbler has a crucial mission. And then there’s the Clade, ooh let me tell you all about the Clade. Maybe I should start with how it –

What was I saying?