Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Getting Published

Pic courtesy Mueredicine, Flickr

Barton turns furiously against the crowd.

                I'm a writer, you monsters! I CREATE!  
He points at his head.

                ...This is my uniform!

He taps his skull.

                ...THIS is how I serve the common 
                man!  THIS is where I –

WHAPP! An infantry man tags Barton's chin on the button. 
Bodies surge. The crowd gasps. The band blares nightmarishly 
  • A passage from the screenplay to Barton Fink (1991), by Ethan and Joel Coen.

It's time for another monthly challenge. It's been a while. It's time to focus on something for one month, and see if I can improve my situation. I've been debating over a number of different ideas- a few areas of my life need a good kick up the arse- but I think I've identified the most currently attainable target. It's time I got some old stories published.

I've been putting off sending writing out for a long time while I sorted one thing out after another. But now I want to get back into the swing of firing out work, eating rejections like Weetabix (four at breakfast, at least) and pulling in the odd acceptance here and there.

Over the last few months I've polished off a number of short stories and poems that have been critiqued, rewritten and prepared for publication. Then I've left them gathering metaphorical dust on my hard drive. But they won't for much longer.

Using Duotrope's Digest, I plan to fire out each item ten times a piece. Once each one is done and in the outbox, I'll dig through some unfinished pieces, sharpen them and throw them to publishers too.

Due to Inland Revenue issues it would be more of a hinderance than a help to get paid for these stories, so I'll be giving these away for free. The upsides to doing this are numerous. Non-paying magazines are ran by editors who are much more willing to publish high numbers of stories from numerous contributors. Their magazines run like blog sites, updating numerous times daily. They have unlimited pages and unlimited copies. They are accessible to read by anyone with internet access anywhere in the world and cater for pretty much any niche of story you want. Online magazines that don't pay give the least rejections and all online magazines can be linked to other webpages- for instance, this blog.

It's time to put my metaphorical uniform on, like Mr Fink did, and start showing people just what it is I create.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Reading and Working Out: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

A fascinating shot of Harrison Ford and Daryl Hannah, presumably taken during the filming of Blade Runner in 1982. (Courtesy Kaytaria, Flickr)

I've now spend a month working on endurance and cardio at the gym. “Lost a few pounds in my waist fo ya,” as Missy Elliot would say.

But I'm gradually getting back to how I used to look, pre-moving out and nose-diving into Tesco-assisted coprophagia. I'm eating better, sleeping better and thinking better. Not to mention, looking better.

I rounded off the month with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, an SF novel by Philip K Dick. If it sounds familiar, you might know it by its film adaptation name, Blade Runner

It's a very traditional SF book- cleansed dialogue, large, shiny cityscapes, hard science but not too technical in description. It's also in third person, which surprised me, as Ridley Scott's theatrical version of Blade Runner has a (slightly dodgy) commentary from bounty hunter Deckard (Harrison Ford)- possibly to beef up the “noir” feel Scott was going for. There's also a lot in the book that doesn't make it into the film- Deckard's wife, the intense coveting of live animals (most of which are endangered) by most of the characters in the story (in particular by the wife), and more. It makes for a fascinating read.

As well as entertaining, it's also prophetic. Characters in the book occasionally dial a number on a “mood organ” to adjust their attitude the day, a device for instant remedies to any condition, no matter how minor. Did Dick forsee medical services like NHS Direct, or pharmacutical products like Prozac?

I had a few problems with the book, though. Deckard needed to test certain characters with a questionairre to check whether they were android or human, using an empathy test. Why couldn't he just x-ray them? Or take a blood sample? Am I missing something?

Having said that, it's a great read. I'm definitely in the mood for some Director's Cut viewing soon.

Over a period of 3 days, the book took 5 hours 26 minutes to read. “Cycling speed”, of course, means reading at the pace of a ten-year-old. And checking the Wikipedia summary, I noticed I'd missed quite a lot of the plot.

So perhaps reading and cycling aren't meant to be together. Particularly not when the reading material is complex science fiction. Reading and working out- separately- are guilty pleasures as whichever one I'm doing, I always feel I should be doing the other- or writing. So now the month is over, maybe it's time to knuckle down to something writing-related.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Shoe Politics

 (Courtesy Eschipul, Flickr)
Everybody at the table has 2 slips of paper.

On slip 1, write a subject, or a topic of some kind.

On slip 2, write an object. Some kind of “thing.”

Fold them up and put them in the middle in two respective piles. Ask someone to pick one slip from each pile. Whatever is written on the slips, that's the subject and object the group will work with. Now imagine that object had a voice of its own. What opinions would it have on the subject? write a first person monologue for ten minutes investigating this.

We had “geopolitics” and “shoe”.

The opportunities to combine these two are surprisingly varied, looking back through recent world news. The Chinese PM got a shoe thrown at him in Cambridge back in '09,  President Bush got the same treatment a year previous in Iraq, Condoleeza Rice, the former US Secretary of State, shopped for them whilst Hurricane Katrina made thousands homeless and more recently, presidential candidate Mitt Romney was photographed receiving an apparent shoe-shine before a plane journey (in reality a security guard was “wanding” him- a search procedure necessary before he was allowed to board). 

I chose not to use any of these. Instead, I devised my own (typically surreal) anecdote.

The United Nations recently came to the conclusion that they have been unfairly slack on a number of global issues- the financial crisis, third world poverty, the War on Terror, ad nauseum. That's why, instead of repeatedly relying on politicians who lie and fail us, they have turned to me: a shoe.

The political landscape of the Earth may be tumultuous but, I hear you ask, why ask a piece of footwear to take responsibility for such affairs? Simple. The UN is determined to stamp down on global terrorism. That's where I come in. They want to lace up relations with eastern countries like China. They want to put the boot in with greedy Wall Street bankers who- ironically- the politicians themselves live off.

I have been called in because they need a well-heeled individual who won't pussyfoot around such subjects and will put his foot down on corporate greed. I will put my heart and, um, “sole” into it. I realise that a pedalogical ankle- I mean, angle- might be unusual, but once I am bestowed these powers those Wall Street Wankers will realise that the shoe is most definitely on the other foot.

We'll soon be making big steps towards economic stability, allowing smaller countries to once again stand on their own two feet.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Pasta Bolognaise: Twisted Classic

"It is always the great classic recipes that get most twisted around"
-Alessandro Circiello, of the Italian Federation of Chefs.

Well, Mr Circiello- I stuck to the instructions in Keda Black's Classics cookbook, so as far as I'm concerned the only thing twisted around in my dish was the pasta. But what I expected to be a nighmarish culinary ordeal turned out to be a pretty simple affair- I just followed the instructions. The only complication was rearranging the utensils in my minuscule kitchen so that I could chop the onion and garlic whilst standing under the extractor fan. No tears from me.

Always thinking!

An ingenious way of covering and simmering.

It tasted superb.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Reading and Working Out- Heart of Darkness

Pic courtesy chrisjohnbeckett, Flickr

“And you say, Absurd! Absurd be- exploded! Absurd! My dear boys, what can you expect from a man who out of sheer nervousness had just flung overboard a new pair of shoes. Now I think of it, it is amazing I did not shed tears.”
  • Marlow, Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad was many things. A writer, a sailor- a captain, in fact- and as the opening quote suggests, a bit of a weirdo. But besides all of that, Goddamn, he was one racist motherfucker.

Heart of Darkness, his story of Marlow, a seaman in search of a mysterious ivory trader Kurtz, has dated badly. Published in 1899, the book follows Marlow through the African continent, meeting various rumour-spreaders, travellers and dodgy types- most of whom are inherently discriminative against the local black people- as is Marlow himself. At the end of the 19th century, attitudes like this were no doubt widespread and instilled by a general fear of the unknown- a feeling exacerbated by the need to travel to strange lands to make a living.

If you can see through the prejudice- which, admittedly, the book is drenched in- what remains is a beautifully written, nightmarish tale of British imperialism. It takes a little time to tune in to the century-old language, but thankfully Penguin Classics provides notes to explain details like names of companies that have long-since ceased trading, words that have dropped off the lexicon, and further descriptions of real people who Conrad fictionalised. You'd be lost without this section.

In 1979 Francis Ford Coppola adapted the book into Apocalypse Now, transferring the action to the Vietnam War. I did a dissertation on the film at uni back in '02-'03, so I know the film quite well. It's fascinating to see which characters and story elements were kept and which were cut or adapted. In the book, Marlow is already travelling and hears about Kurtz. He goes to meet him, and Kurtz dies after a conversation with the seaman. In the film, Captain Willard is sent out to kill Kurtz, who is a US General gone insane. The soldier slams a machete into the man numerous times. In Hearts, an unnamed Russian trader tells the protagonist of Kurtz's influence over the locals. In Apocalypse the trader becomes a US photojournalist (played with manic intensity by the brilliant Dennis Hopper).

According to my notes it took 8 hours to read this riveting book on the bike, in three sittings. When the prose is old-fashioned, your brain really has to slow down and translate what's happening from page to mind's eye. It would have been easier to read if Penguin had put the necessary appendices on the same page as the related prose, rather than have a whole section of explanations at the end of the book.

Now- here's where my knowledge ends- if I break from training to eat, then go back to the bike and carry on, my stomach will be full again. So will I then go back to burning food instead of fat? Comment below...

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Haiku for The Poke

Pic courtesy Hadsie, Flickr

The Poke, a UK comedy website featuring spoof news, describes itself as “time well wasted”.  I follow them on Twitter here

They recently asked for poetry in haiku format, to be submitted through Twitter with the hashtag #newshaiku. Specifically, the haiku was to be “About the news. Or sport. Or entertainment. Or whatever you want.”

I sent them this: 

Frozen roads, jammed cars / spades and shovels, digging fast / freezing my balls off.

They retweeted to 32,000 followers. Woop woop!

Friday, 3 February 2012


What I say is that, if a fellow really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.

-A A Milne, Author

Well, yeah. Y'know. Potatoes are good. I must say, though, that I prefer them in chip form. Keda Black says use a deep fat fryer. I'm healthier than Keda Black. Thankfully, I can (vaguely) remember how my mum taught me to make chips her way.

  1. Scrub potatoes in water
  2. Cut into wedges.
  3. Put into a tupperware box
  4. Add olive oil, salt and pepper.
  5. Seal the lid
  6. Shake firmly to coat the wedges in the oil.
  7. Empty the contents onto a baking tray.
  8. My memory stops here. I asked Jamie for the rest of the info

I made this with steak (see this post).

A brilliant dish (aside from a complete lack of veg. Scurvy ahoy!)

Thursday, 2 February 2012


You can get a steak here, daddio. Don't be such a-” (draws rectangle with fingers)
-Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman), Pulp Fiction

Whereas I would have just bunged a lump of steak in a pan and given it four each side, Keda Black suggests preparing the steak itself by rubbing olive oil into the meat, then salting and peppering the meat as it cooks. So that's what I did. It tasted great, but the recipe didn't suggest putting anything with it. The meal was the meat. So that's what I had.

Question: Is Keda Black turning me into a robot? Or a Mia-Wallace-style invisible rectangle? Stay tuned to find out.