Holiday Reading

30 04 2008

Only three days to go!

I’m seriously ready for my break now and it’ll be great to see C and M. I haven’t seen them in around eighteen months but more on that later in the week. This post is about other things. For today I must compile that all important, critical, make or break item: the holiday reading list.

This crucial document is more than just a shopping list, like a good compilation record get it wrong and it can ruin the whole break. On the one hand – because it’s an English speaking country – the risk is lower as I can always buy more and on the other it’s higher – twenty-nine hour flights do not as yet offer an in flight library.

So here’s my draft list:

King Rat by China Mieville
Singularity Sky by Charlie Stross
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon
The Man Who was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton
The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Aberystwyth by Malcom Pryce
Fresh Fields by Peter Kocan
Brasyl by Ian McDonald (Yes, I haven’t read it…stop sniggering at the back)
The Ghosts Brigade by John Scalzi
The Complete Short Stories by Franz Kafka

That’s it for now. Of course, I’m a terrible impulse buyer when it comes to books and so I may wind up with a larger haul.

What do you plan on reading on your holidays this year?

Commuter Capers

28 04 2008

Top five comedy commuter capers, go on – I dare you:

5. Next time a free paper is slapped into your chest arm bar the free paper pusher to the ground and tweak him a la Mister Miyagi. Helps your defence later if you yell assault as the paper hits you.

4. Dramatically swoon to the floor, drawing maximum attention the next time someone walks into you or cuts you up.

3. Next time someone with hygiene issues sits next to you remove a can of deodrant and spray the air around you. Use of phrase “For the flies” optional.

2. As everyone rushes to the train to board dance down the platform performing the corect steve tyler moves to classic cheese rock Walk This Way.

1. Next time some one invades your personal space cough loudly, explosively and spraying as much vapour at them as you can without actually spitting on them. Then talk loudly to your companion or mobile phone about how your TB is really a lot better and you hardly bring up any blood these days. Hand wipe to space invadee’s garment is optional.

Illuminations reviewed

26 04 2008

Over at The Fix, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, has undertaken the not inconsiderable task of reviewing every one of the stories that went into Illuminations (featuring amongst others me) and the results can be read here. It’s quite flattering to have a reviewer (and a fellow writer if I’m not mistaken) take time out to look at nine of your stories.

Anyway, take a look and judge for yourself. For me the sun is shining, my head has cleared, I have plenty of food for thought, and I spend nowhere near enough time in my garden.

Friday Flash Fiction: Precious

25 04 2008

This story has moved. You can read the full tale here:

I was vaguely surprised to realise this is my forty-second FFF entry, really – given the number – it should be a comedic reflection on the meaning of life but sadly that’s not what I wrote. Hope you like it anyway, feedback – as ever – is welcome. Here goes:

By Neil Beynon

The door pops open without warning. It cracks loudly against the wall like a gunshot and causes Sarah to jump, spraying dishwater across the kitchen. There’s a low cursing from the doorway; she slips one rubber-covered hand around the textured grip of one of the knives she’s just cleaned.


The sheets are still warm and damp. She watches him pulling on his underwear in the netted light as she enjoys the feeling of warmth on her bare skin, the warm glow in the pit of her stomach. It seems like the afternoon is cast in chocolate; a sugar coated moment ready to melt into a gooey mess without warning and flecked with guilt.


The air from the open door is cold and Sarah’s skin is a chain mail of goose bumps as she moves towards the intruder, the faint smell of dishwater and wet rubber following her like a fetid cloud. There’s a man in the hallway so ancient he looks like he’s crawled out of the grave, he leans on the wall, one age stained hand cast to the heavens and the other gripped around the banister rail for the stairs. His silver haired head is bobbing up and down as he tries to regulate his breathing.

This story has moved. You can read the full tale here:


Review: The Philosopher at the End of The Universe By Mark Rowlands

23 04 2008

The Philosopher at the End of the UniverseI used to have this deal. I like to keep myself well anchored outside of the world of genre by reading widely – I also enjoy variety – and so I used to read at least one non-fiction book a month. I haven’t done this in ages but for various reasons I thought I’d start again.

Anyway, that’s how I came to be reading The Philosopher at the End of The Universe. A light introduction to the broad themes of modern day philosophy using science fiction films to illustrate the main arguments.

It’s a pretty broad canvas that Rowlands takes the reader on, from the nature of reality, through why you should be moral, to do you in fact really exist and can you actually be held responsible for your own actions. There’s a fair range of movies in the discussion including Total Recall, Terminator, Lord of The Rings (in the latest edition), Aliens, Blade Runner and Minority Report.

The book’s premise is a good one. Science fiction often deals with philosophical themes and arguments even with such sugar-coated films as Star Wars or steroid enhanced, fight fests like Total Recall. The prose style is clean and has a welcome smattering of humour although some of it not as funny as perhaps the author intended.

I did feel some of the essays – particularly the one on personal identity – failed to follow up properly on the theories covered – I found myself going “Yes but…” a lot. Also, none of the science anecdotes were followed up with any reference or further reading recommendations – a shame but I guess ready access to the internet could overcome this.

The most recent essay on The Lord of The Rings was actually the weakest essay. It was added as a way of bringing the book up to date and of talking about cultural relativism. I know the Lord of the Rings is a recent film hit but really there is no context where The Lord of the Rings could be called a science fiction film. It’s a fantasy film. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but Star Trek has a really good example of cultural relativism in its treatment of the Klingons over the arc of the films and through a single example in Star Trek VI.

And I’m sure even better more hardcore SF examples can be found with a bit of digging.

The book was a worthwhile read. I think if you’ve never read any philosophy and are seeking a light introduction then this is an entertaining walk through the major themes. However, you’re liable to get a bit frustrated if you’ve done any kind of prior reading in this area.

So it’s a bit of a mixed bag on this one. I think it probably achieves its aim but it irritated the hell out of me in the process. Then again I did read to the end – not something I do for all non-fiction.


21 04 2008

Well, been a bit quiet around here hasn’t it?

Sorry about that. As mentioned last week I’ve spent the weekend in Weymouth working on The Woodsman. G was there for a photography course in preparation for a wedding she’s shooting later in the year and I tagged along in the hope that being sans internet, sans London, would enable progress.

I’m pleased to report it did and progress has now increased back up to it’s former pace. Last time I left them Anya and Akyar had just been dropped – quite literally – in it. And you have no idea what I’m talking about and so lets move on…

The trip also enabled me to start building up content for the website when I’m away in New Zealand and so there will be something here even if I don’t have internet in the hotel. I am of course hoping for internet as part of the fun of having a blog is posting about one’s travels:

Weymouth itself was nice. Pretty much your standard English seaside town. It has a fantastic beach that runs right round the bay and a front that is lined with Georgian guest houses giving the town a pleasing sense of history. There are a couple of interesting memorials including one to Anzac troops who fought at Gallipoli and convalesced at Weymouth.

The weather was pretty awful on Saturday but I still ventured out as I’m quite partial to walking along the coast. I was glad I did so as it gave me a chance to see some of the most incredible sport – parasurfing – and some of the coolest stunts I’ve witnessed in ages. Parasurfing is basically where you attach a parasail or kite to a surf board and use the wind to surf along, it’s faster and more agile than wind surfing allowing awesome jumps. That’s one I wouldn’t mind giving a go. In warmer weather.

On Sunday the weather was much improved and I found myself enjoying the local chips on the beach in the sun and then it was back to the smoke for work – where I am now.

I also did a fair bit of reading and so you can expect some reviews to parachute in here over the next few days. For now I’m going to imbibe my own body weight in coffee.

Friday Flash Fiction: Territory

18 04 2008

This post has moved. You can read the full story here:

As long as I’ve been doing the Friday Flash G has been asking me to write a specific type of story. On weeks where I find myself clawing for ideas the answer from her is often: do that one I want you to do…or words to that effect. And so finally I have.

This week’s story was written for G – belatedly – for the occasion of her birthday.

Feel free to provide feedback in the comments.

By Neil Beynon

You, my subjects, ask where I have been in your simple tongue, bewildered by my glorious reappearance and my newly acquired battle scars. You look fearful at what creature was bold enough to leave such welts on your master. Are you safe? You think. Should you run? But the glint in my eye and the sharpness of my tongue silences such worries even as it casts my mind back over the darkness I’ve just walked across.


As soon as the great fire lord dove below the horizon I was up and about. The cool dark my preferred time, there was no moon it being the silver one’s time of rest. A dark night, good for secrets, good for trysts and made for hunting.

And hunt I did. Over fields, fences, rivers of stone and water to the woods. All across my realm I roamed. I fought and killed a burrowing beast in the woods; it had a tail twice as long as itself and tried to run but there is no escape from my swift blades. The blood was warm and sweet.

This post has moved. You can read the full story here:


17 04 2008

There has been considerably less blogging activity than I would have liked this week due to the day job being a bit needy at the moment. Anyway, I’ve wanted to post about this for a little while because I continue to be surprised by writers who moan about being rejected.

Now I don’t mean “feeling low because I just got rejected” because that is a perfectly reasonable reaction, although you’re much better off thinking “Rejected? Pah, now I must write the ultimate story to prove them wrong!” – this is a productive reaction. No I’m talking about the: “How dare you reject my masterpiece! I must now tell the world how stupid you are.”

Because to be frank, that last reaction is a sure fire route to never being published at all.

Why? Well, I could wax lyrical about how it’s unprofessional, how it shows a lack of realism around the way both small press and main stream publishing works – I could even tout that really irritating argument that every successful author has been rejected at least once. All this is true. But I fear it misses the heart of the matter.

That being it’s just plain rude to gob off about being rejected.

Why? Well put yourself in the shoes of the editor for just a moment, forget how brilliant your manuscript is or how x-ray like your insights are, and just think of yourself as an editor. Because you’re a successful editor your contact details are listed in a number of places including The Writers and Artists Handbook, a few online directories relating to fiction writing and your publishers site. You receive a few hundred submissions a week, more – it’s fair to say – than you could possibly ever read and a fair few of which can’t be immediately dismissed due to incorrect formatting*.

Now you’re a busy guy/girl. You have stuff to do beyond just reading the slush pile, you have existing authors to keep happy, lists to manage and books to produce – you have no time to waste. Ergo you do this when you have time.

The editor does not know you, does not care that you spent two years on your novel because bluntly most of the people submitting will have spent large amounts of time on their work; they don’t care that your work is good – lots of people are good, their is no shortage of good. All they care about is does your book represent the largest commercial opportunity for their publishing house that happens to be a business and not a public service for writers.

Oh and they have to make decision in the next half an hour because they’ve got wall to wall meetings the rest of the day.

So this person who has so little time, earns less than many public sector workers and has probably gone through many even leaner years on their journey to editor – this dedicated person who does the job more or less for the love of books – reads your stuff. They don’t feel the book has a place on their list at that moment in time and so they reject it.

You explode.

How do you think it feels when the author of the unsolicited manuscript they’ve taken time to read and consider then posts about how much of an arse the editor is for rejecting what is clearly the next literary sensation? Do you really think when you send in your next lovingly crafted creation they’re going to look at it?

That’s my point: context is everything.

Now, some of you will be saying “but editor x was really rather rude and so deserves to be flamed”. I’m not suggesting that editors are saints, like any other field of human endeavour it will be populated by heros, zeros and everything in between. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that what is often mistaken for rudeness is just the bluntness of the harrassed and time pushed in trying to provide feedback for the writer. If an editor is genuinely rude just don’t submit to them again, it’s not hard and if you genuinely have a masterpiece they’ll kick themselves when you’re published by someone else. Especially if you make that other publisher loads of money.

My last point, and it’s one that some people struggle with, is this:

If you cannot place yourself in the shoes of an editor, cannot manage that basic level of empathy around a role that is very close to what you as a writer must do on every story you write, then perhaps you should stop. I’m serious. Writing well requires good characterisation, good characterisation requires insight and insight requires empathy. If you can’t manage it for an editor then what chance do you have of writing convincingly?

Editors, like all the other people who actually produce and distribute the books we read (sales, marketing, production), are not the enemy:

Do Not Abuse Them.

* This does happen but there is a wealth of info online for formatting your work for submission.

Murky Monday

14 04 2008

It’s been a strange day thus far. I awoke – it’s fair to say – in a bad mood having slept quite intermittently but then due to a speedy writing session I was feeling quite good. I had done something. My commute was also reasonable – seat secured, an absence of nutters and a good forty minutes of reading.

The fact that I randomly saw Keith Chegwin running on the spot as I waited on Waterloo bridge was the real beginning of the weird. The morgue like atmosphere of my office another string to the strange – several people on courses or leave means the usually frenetic – I like frenetic – atmosphere has dulled to a tepid: well I see your point but…

And now the weather seems to be on some kind of random selection: hail earlier, then sun, now grey again.

A shame really as I’ve had a great weekend. We had house guests – friends of G’s from Uni – and The Party. The Party went well although I noted with a kind of sadness that we seemed to have reached the age at last where attendees no longer stay where they drop, all partied out, but instead return to their own abodes to rest. It had to happen sooner or later. A good time seemed to be had by all and G had fun – that was after all the point.

I also caught up with my sister – E – who I’ve not seen in a while. She just got back from Cape Verde where it seems she had a great time; not including a dodgy tummy and got to hand over her copy of Illuminations – now available from WHSmith, Blackwells and Foyles (ownly the later two of whom can spell my name). I hope she enjoys it.

I’m hoping to get a fair bit of writing done this week and to that end will be falling off the world around Friday to get some done. Although I’ll be locked up in a B & B there will be some scheduled posts to keep you entertained.

And that’s it for now.

Friday Flash Fiction: Pixies

11 04 2008

This post has moved. You can read the full story here:

Ok. I went slightly over. As ever please feel free to comment. Here goes:

Pixies By Neil Beynon

The thing looks at her looking at it. Its skin is the colour of Jane’s father’s battered and faded leather jacket, as wrinkled and crumpled as one of his shirts. Its heavy lids blink over wet black, jet black, orbs that must be eyes, whilst the thing’s spindly digits grip her mother’s shoulder.

Her mother seems not to notice as she sleeps in the armchair. The rhythmic sound of her snores almost in time with the rise and fall of its chest; Jane can’t move. There is blood trickling down one side of Jane’s head from the fall but she makes no move to stop the flow because as she came into the living room – holding her head – she’d seen the creature.

This post has moved. You can read the full story here: