Sunday, January 6, 2019

Welcome to 2019.

Happy New Year.

I've had a great break - a really relaxing time with family and friends. We didn't travel anywhere really, but managed to catch up with some people. Mostly we relaxed and ate great food. And I didn't over-eat or feel bloated.

The car decided to get a puncture on Christmas Eve, and of course they don't supply spare tyres anymore.  But this was a puncture where the spray can of foam stuff and nursing the car to the garage wasn't going to cut it. It meant, however, we either stayed at home or walked for a few days, which at this time of the year isn't necessarily a bad thing.

New Year's Eve was pretty quiet. We did stay up but went to bed shortly afterwards. I had too much to do on my secret project the next day to be up too late. And yes, I did get lots and lots done.

As I said in a recent post, I don't really do the whole resolution thing. I make my plans as I go, prioritising and re-prioritising as need be. I do have some plans for this year, one of which is to try and keep track of the books I read. I made a list a few years ago, just on a word document for myself, and if I can find it, I might even post it. This year, however, will be the only other time I have kept track of my reading. I've decided to add a page to this website and make the list public. Have look sometime.

I also plan to write more. You might even see some longer fiction emerging. You just never know.

But I have work to do now, and need to be gone from this page. All the best for the coming year.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Reading Again.

I'm not sure how this happened. I am busy still, and seem to have less time than before, but I'm reading again.

Not that I ever stopped reading. Reading is hardwired within me, and I always have a book on the go. But recently I seem to be back into the same quantity of books I read a few years ago.

Of course I long for my teenage years, or into my early twenties, when I devoured books, reading in bed until all hours and coping daily on a few hours sleep. But those days are long gone, and I simply cannot manage like that anymore. As you get older, you need your sleep.

I've been reading a real mix of books - new authors (to me, anyway) and revisiting books from a few years ago - even a couple from my teenage years. And yes, for the most part, they are still as wonderful as I recall.

I re-read all my Thursday Next books (Jasper Fforde) and then forged into the latest few which I had never gotten around to picking up. I started back into the Saga of the Exiles quadrilogy (Julian May,) which I first read back in the early 80s. I read a wonderful collection of short stories from Alice Munro. Another from Martin Amis. And yet another from Jeanette Winterson. And even more. Brilliant stuff. There's also been a few anthologies, both old and new, from mainstream (SF) publishers and small press. I've done my bit to get to know the local UK small press market.

And my 'to be read' stack is looking healthy. Ann Leckie, more Andy Remic, Thoraiya Dyer, Cat Sparks and others.

In the middle of all this, and around it and through it, I've done my fair share of academic and non-fiction as well.

If only there were more reading hours per day.

I love reading. I always have and I believe I always will. This is one of the main reasons I became an English teacher - to share this love and try to enthuse others.

And if you haven't read a book in a while, stop reading this and go and grab one off the shelf. Now.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Racing Around the Sun Again.

Another year is drawing to a close, and there is so much left undone. Not that I am one for resolutions, but like most people I have goals - either specific and planned, or vague and loose. I did complete some of my plans, but along the way other plans intruded in my life. And as I undertook those, other activites were pushed onto the backburner by necessity.

Yeah, that novel I never started at the beginning of the year never happened later either. And I doubt I'll have it done (or even commenced) by New Year.

I'm OK with that, because I have achieved other things this year I never thought I would. Big things. For reasons of my own, I'm not sharing these at the moment. One day, when the time is right, I will.

We've almost completed that arbitrarily designated end to yet another journey around the sun. Another year, another orbit, another winter.

It's getting darker and colder. I'm heading out to work and returning home with my headlights on. Soon it will be dark as I arrive and leave the office. For some people this is depressing. For me, and maybe because it's a bit of a novelty still, I enjoy it. It means Christmas is coming, and Christmas makes a lot more sense here than it ever did in Australia. The lights will be up in the streets, and we'll have warm cosy evenings snuggled around roaring fires.

Think about it. Christmas as a northern hemisphere celebration is out of place in Australia. Having experienced a few up here, it's obviously a transplant. I always enjoyed it, but it never felt right.

As out of place as a sausage sizzle at an English hardware store. Yeah, Bunnings tried that here and it failed. As did Bunnings as a store. They've pulled out of the UK, having bought Homebase for large sums of money and selling for next to nothing.

Guess I'll just have to go and buy a Bratwurst in a bread roll on the high street, all wrapped up in my scarf and jacket.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

My First FantasyCon

I've been to conventions before. I used to attend Continuum every year in Melbourne, visited Conflux once and even managed to get to WorldCon a couple of times. Since moving to the UK, I've been to a couple of Edge-Lits and a few Sledge-Lits, the winter counterpart. But I haven't really immersed myself in the British SF scene.

Scene. I choose that in place of a better word instead of 'Community'. Ah yes, the 'Myth of Community'. I am planning to write about that soon, but I'll leave it as it is and just move on for now.

Last weekend I visited Chester for FantasyCon. I was hoping to catch up with old friends, make some new ones and even meet a hero or two. And I succeeded on all counts. It was wonderful to see Philip and James again, to spend time with Penny, Simon, Adele and Tom (as well as a bunch of others I haven't mentioned), and to chat, albeit briefly, with Ian Watson. Ian is a fabulous writer, someone I started reading back in the late 70s and never dreamed of meeting. I managed to get a book or two signed, and even copped some written abuse from him in one of them - which was pretty special.

I spent time chatting with Dr Abbey from Japan, even though my Japanese was rusty and he was polite about my abilities, and met Ian Whates and Adrain Tchaikovsky, who were both delightful and fascinating.

Restaurants, bars, sitting outside with friends, walks, and even listening to the karaoke (bleah) made for a memorable weekend.

Seriously though, how do we manage to spend an entire weekend based in a hotel and still not catch up with people we know? I missed a few people I had planned to see. And they were there! I've seen the photographic proof.

If you haven't been to FantasyCon and you live in the UK, it's highly recommended. I plan to be there next year again.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Vale: Tim Chandler

One of my great musical loves, probably my second favourite band after the Beatles, is Daniel Amos. I've been a huge fan since 1979 when a friend dropped the needle on their Horrendous Disc album and told me I had to listen. I remember that moment vividly, and I was instantly hooked.

They're a band who went through a number of changes, both in line-up and style, yet I've loved every incarnation - even the country band they were before Horrendous Disc. Alarma, Doppleganger, Vox Humana and Fearful Symmetry (known collectively as the Alarma Chronicles) were released throughout the 80s, with each album changing style and instrumentation which also reflected the lyrical content.

Tim Chandler joined the band in 1981, in time to tour and record the Doppelganger album. I immediately loved his bass playing. He had his own style, his own musicality and brilliantly creative bass lines. His sound was distinctive and recognisable. Tim played on albums by a bunch of artists, and his playing was always second to none. Standouts include his work on John Wayne by Terry Scott Taylor, and Daniel Amos's own Darn Floor Big Bite.

Apparently he was a really lovely guy. Funny too. He was a member of the Swirling Eddies, a pseudonymous Daniel Amos side project. Berger Roy Al, as he was dubbed, had his own personality, who would suddenly appear in Daniel Amos forums ranting and verbally attacking Tim Chandler. Mad, mad, hilarious stuff.

I only managed to see Tim once. He played bass in Phil Keaggy's band when I saw them at a small venue in Melbourne during the 80s. I still regret not waiting to chat to him after the show.

Tim passed away a few days ago. I saw it on social media just after his friends all changed their profile pictures. Apparently he was ill, but I didn't know that. In fact there is very little I actually know about the man, yet his passing has saddened me.

RIP Tim, I wish you safe travels.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

It's Those Little Differences.

Sometime the smallest differences are the ones that stand out the most. I'm talking here about life in the UK as opposed to Australia, and while I agree the weather, accents, building styles and so on are the most obvious differences, they're not the ones that make me ponder.

Those are differences you expect when you visit another country. The ones that stick in my mind are those you don't or can't anticipate. And so, to celebrate diversity and differences between these nations, here are a few things I find a little odd here.

Not frustrating, not weird, just interestingly different to what I'm used to.

Can I help?
This is the one shop assistants ask when you're waiting in line. Not Can I help you?, but Can I help? And this truncated form still sounds odd to me even after a couple of years.

Polite Notice
While a sign in an Australian car park might read "Warning: Private Car Park. Violators will be towed", in the UK the word Warning is likely to be replaced with Polite Notice. I'm still trying to figure out which part is polite, and why it needs to be declared. It's almost like those veiled threats in noir movies, a friendly warning.

Apparently they are optional in the UK, and even the police and road safety people have told me you only have to use them in situations where you think it's necessary. So if you're in a turn lane, or there's no-one else around, don't bother. Of course that means sometimes people make turns (or don't) when you least expect it.

Street Names
There are many, many, many fine examples. Some are named simply because of their destination. In Heighington, the road that leads to Branston is known as the Branston Road. Once you're arrived at Branston, however, it's known as the Heighington Road. I've wondered if there's an official point at which it changes, or does it always depend on your destination? Other street/alley/lane names are simply weird or very, very naughty. Local favourites include The Smooting, and The Glory Hole.

Australian Preconceptions
While we all have preconceptions of the 'other', The UK have built their ideas on TV tourism ads, Neighbours, and Steve Irwin. No, we are not inundated with deadly spiders and snakes which we daily battle, we don't spend every free minute at the beach or having barbeques with shrimps, very few of us every drink Fosters voluntarily, and we don't all have glorious weather 365 days are year. Oh, and rugby. Unless you're from New South Wales or Queensland, very few of us even care. Many are surprised I don't know a thing about rugby, or that I saw my first game on TV when I was in my late 30s. And we're not even talking League here, they mean Union - which has even less of a following in Australia.

Just a few of the things I've noticed. There are more, but we have to remember that there are things about Australia the Brits find odd.

These tiny cultural differences are wonderful. They only enrich our lives.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

I May Not Know Art.....

One of the reasons I started reading science fiction was the cover art.

I loved it, back in the seventies, when the spaceships were unusual shapes and bright colours against dramatic spacescapes. Chris Foss, who I was fortunate enough to meet a couple of years ago, soon became a favourite cover artist. I don't recall if I was aware of who he was, but I could easily recognise his work. Then there were other, more metaphoric designs for SF books. Some I loved, others I merely appreciated. Photographed covers have aged the worse. Even back then photos of model aliens or men in silver suits look dated. I seem to recall a photographed Stainless Steel Rat cover that was terrible.

So for me it was illustration, preferable paintings. Unfortunately for me, they seem to have died off as the primary source of cover art.
Recently I had a conversation with a writer who told me about the economics involved. It's cheaper to buy and crop stock artwork than commission new. It's even cheaper to buy digital manipulated pictures than buy paintings. And with the unrelenting tsunami of self published mediocrity, the standard of cover art has fallen even further.

I know graphic artists who are in competition with anyone who has access to Photoshop, regardless of the quality. New writers self publishing a story manipulate a couple of pictures, throw on text and away they go.

Here's a clue. Many of these look cheap and nasty and entice no one.

I really miss those painted covers. They had a quality missing in the digital age. I understand a painting is not going to be affordable, but at the very least hire someone trained in design to direct the art on the cover.

Me? Well, you'll find me over here gazing at my Asimov's and Harrison's and dreaming of yellow and black checked starships against enormous nebulae.