One of the hazards of having a day job, a writing career on the side, and a two-year old daughter, is that it does rather cut into the time you have available to actually read fiction, let alone review it. But I do feel that as an author it’s important to try and “put something back” by providing reviews, so I’m going to start now with some thoughts on something I read recently.
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“The Fat Controller’s Busy Day” is a frankly disturbing piece of work, reading – as it does – like Animal Farm might have read had it been written by a reactionary conservative rather than a progressive socialist. The story’s essential plot is as follows.
The manager of Sodor’s railway system, the hereditary baronet Sir Topham Hatt, has been slimming down his workforce, promoting Thomas the Tank Engine to his own branch line while leaving his previous shunting position unfilled. Historically, tender engines have not been required to assemble the coaches that make up their trains. But Hatt now decides to eliminate this labour demarcation, and orders them to shunt.
Three of the tender engines – Gordon, James and Henry – refuse, working to rule, and performing only those duties that they have previously performed. They will pull trains, but not assemble them. On the first day of the work to rule, Hatt asks the fourth tender engine, Edward, to assemble the passenger trains. Edward, who Hatt sees as a “really useful engine”, but whom might less charitably be seen as a management lackey and class traitor, agrees, and as a result is ostracised by his workmates.
Upon hearing of this, Hatt – who is colloquially known as “the Fat Controller” – is outraged. He immediately institutes a lockout, barring the three protesting engines, and initiates an emergency passenger service using Edward and Thomas, a tank engine happy to serve as a strike-breaker. However, more labour is required, so Hatt now recruits a new tank engine, Percy. Percy, a young and naïve engine unaware that he is being recruited into the management side of a labour dispute, eagerly agrees.
The three engines successfully run the emergency service. There are fewer trains than usual, but the passengers are content as they wish to see the three “rebellious” tender engines punished. Eventually, the three tender engines – who have been confined to their engine shed – agree to comply with all Hatt’s demands. From now on they will accept the abandonment of their previous, protected status, and will shunt alongside their tank engine colleagues.
I feel this book is fundamentally misnamed. The Fat Controller has not had a busy day, being as he is a capitalistic industrialist born into inherited wealth who emotionally manipulates his workforce into serving him, and backs this up with an extensive propaganda campaign. I personally feel that this book would have been more honest, had it been titled “Edward the Scab and Percy the Strike-Breaker”.
On the other hand, my daughter loves it.
For those of you who’ve been wondering when I’d next have something out…
Wild Jester Press is pleased to announce that it will be publishing the next novel by English humour SF/F writer, Jonny Nexus. If Pigs Could Fly is the first book in the West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency series, featuring offbeat paranormal investigator Ravinder “Rav” Shah.
It will be published this summer, in both trade paperback and e-book (Kindle, iBooks, Nook and Kobo) formats.
Wild Jester Press will also be publishing a new edition of Jonny’s previous, ENnie-nominated novel, Game Night.
About Jonny Nexus
Jonny Nexus began his writing career in the table-top roleplaying field, with his cult gaming webzine Critical Miss. This led to monthly columns in the roleplaying magazines Valkyrie and Signs & Portents, and the publication by Mongoose Publishing of his parody gaming guide, The Slayer’s Guide to Games Masters.
His debut novel Game Night, the tale of a dysfunctional group of roleplaying gods, was nominated/shortlisted for an ENnie award.
Further information can be found at Jonny’s website: http://www.jonnynexus.com.
About Wild Jester Press
Wild Jester Press is a new small-press publishing house based in Brighton. Its target market is genre works (science-fiction and fantasy) with a generally humorous slant.
Further information can be found at the Wild Jester Press website: http://www.wildjesterpress.com.
A little while ago I started1 following @ireland and @sweden on Twitter. Both are examples of what are termed Rotation Curation:
Rotation Curation, also #RotationCuration, is the concept of rotating the spokesperson on a broad scoped social media account. Such a scope can be a location, a country, an organization, a group, and so on. The concept is prominent on Twitter, but has also been ported to Instagram. The concept originated December 10, 2011, when Svenska Institutet and VisitSweden launched Curators of Sweden. The project hands the official Twitter account @Sweden to a new Swedish person every week to manage, with the expressed goal to manifest Swedish diversity and progressiveness through their own personality. [Wikipedia]
Basically, it’s like Doctor Who. Each Monday, a new person gets to run the account for the next seven days. The Twitter handle is unchanged, but they change the name to include their own name, and the icon is their picture with a common graphic overlain.
They tweet what they like: sometimes stuff about themselves; sometimes things about their country. Each weekly curator brings a new angle, shines a new light.
I’m really enjoying reading them both, and it got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be really cool if Brighton had such an account? Not only is it a vibrant city with a bucket load of culture and a strong and alternative identity, it’s got a pretty healthy tech scene to boot.
I’d love to see other people’s views of my adopted home, to get an insight into the other lives going on around me. I’ve only got the one life to live in Brighton, but it would be great to see how other people are living theirs. I think it would be interesting and informative, educational and entertaining2.
What does everyone else think? If you, like me, think this might be a cool thing then please either post here, or tweet me (@jonnynexus). I’m not volunteering to run this, partly because I haven’t got the time, but mainly because something like this needs to have proper backing and not be a one-man operation. But if there’s interest, I could try floating the idea to people who might be able to make it work.
It could happen. And it could be very cool.
1I was vaguely aware of both of them, but when my friend Brian (@natural20) got to be Ireland for the week, I ended up signing up for both of them. He talked about his work, his hobbies, about the importance of storytelling, and did an epic rant about the Catholic church. It was very cool.
2There is a similar Twitter account for the UK (@PeopleofUK) but I’m afraid that this account just doesn’t grab me. I’m not an outsider looking for a “look inside”, as I am with Ireland and Sweden, but the UK is so big that it doesn’t feel like this sort of account offers an insider’s view, either. If a person in Sweden talks about their bus journey to work being delayed, I’ll learn something about the Swedish public transportation system. If a person on our hypothetical Brighton account talked about their bus being stuck on Western Road, I’ll know to take the sea front instead. But if a person in Nottingham tells me that their bus is late, frankly, I couldn’t give a shit.
One of the “charming eccentricities” of the English language is the way that verbs can be irregular. Regular verbs can be changed from present to past tense by adding “ed” to them. Lift, becomes lifted, kill becomes killed, and so on. But with irregular verbs, it’s pretty much anything goes. Sometimes, the vowel within the word changes. I run, I ran. I dig, I dug. I shit. I shat1.
And then there’s the bits where English goes totally off-piste. I go, I… went? And then you get the even more complicated bits when you take into account past simple and past participle2, such as sing, sang, sung. A linguist who’s studied the roots of English could no doubt tell you why this is, but I alas, am not such a linguist3.
But I recently came across a wonderful word where English doubles up on its stupidity. Imagine that the following past tense passage needs to be converted to present tense:
“I lift the pen. I write some words. I read the words.”
It would become:
“I lifted the pen. I wrote some worlds. I read the words.”
So that’s regular, irregular, and yes, irregular. Because read, pronounced “reed”, and read, pronounced “red”, are two words as different as lead and led, with the exact same change of vowel sound.
They’re just spelt the same way. Which is really, really stupid.
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If you have any other examples, I’d love to hear them. And to the polyglots among you: English can’t be alone here, right? Do other languages display similar stupidity? And are there languages that aren’t similarly stupid, that actually appear to have some sort of overall design philosophy?
1There might be some who would claim that shit is a regular verb, and the the past tense of “shit” is “shitted”, as in “I shitted myself.” To them I can only say that sir you are an uncouth barbarian who does not deserve to be allowed near my language, and I will fight your dismissal of “shat” in favour of the abominable “shitted” with every fibre of my Anglo-Saxon soul for as long as fate allows me to live. Leave sir, and do not return.
2No, I don’t actually know what that is either. Given that I’m a product of the English education system between 1973 and 1987, at a time when “pupil centred learning” was at its height, my formal knowledge of grammar doesn’t go much beyond verbs being “doing words”.
3Like most of my fellow countryman, I am – shamefully – a monoglot. I recently spent a week in Istanbul, during which I managed to learn a grand total of one Turkish word: “fish”, which is the Turkish for “receipt”. Yes, I was there on business.
“What we have is what I always wanted, which is one single question, not two questions, not devo max, a very simple single question that has to be put before the end of 2014 so we end the uncertainty.” – David Cameron, October 2012.
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“If we get a No vote, that will trigger a major, unprecedented programme of devolution, with additional powers for the Scottish Parliament – major new powers over tax, spending and welfare services.” – David Cameron, September 2014.
There’s an old trick politicians use when trying to force an unpopular option down the electorate’s throat. Don’t give them the opportunity to vote for the middle-of-the-road option they actually want. Instead offer them only two choices: an extreme option that you figure they’ll find too risky and radical; and your choice, that they’ll have no option but to vote for through gritted teeth.
Back in 2012, Alex Salmond wanted the referendum ballot to offer two questions that would deliver three options:
- Stick with the status quo, with a limited, devolved parliament within the United Kingdom.
- Stay within the United Kingdom, but have significant, further powers devolved to the parliament (a.k.a. “Devo Max”).
People could have voted yes to independence and yes to Devo Max, no to independence but yes to Devo Max, or no to both independence and Devo Max. But David Cameron vetoed the twin question option, insisting on a straight choice between status quo and independence. I think it’s pretty clear that he did this thinking that independence had no chance, and by doing so he would torpedo the option that the majority of the Scottish people wanted, but he clearly didn’t: Devo Max.
The problem with this old politicians trick is that sometimes the electorate call your bluff, and it was when – two weeks ago – it looked like the Scottish electorate might be about to do just that, that Cameron was belatedly, “miraculously” even, converted to the cause of Devo Max (a.k.a. “The Vow”).
I guess we can’t know, but I think that if we’d had a two question ballot paper, with an explicit Devo Max option there right from the start to dilute and divide the yearning for self-determination, the yes vote would have been depressed. Perhaps 45% would have been 40%, or even 35%. Meanwhile, I think a big chunk – perhaps half – of the people who voted no yesterday would have voted for Devo Max, along with pretty much all of the yeses. I’d therefore see a Devo Max option, one that you could have voted for as well as independence, getting perhaps 70-75% support.
But, you might ask, how is that significantly different from the situation we have now, where a no option which mutated to a Devo Max option has won with 55% support? Well it is different, in two important ways:
Firstly, Scotland could now be uniting behind an option that three quarters of the voters had selected. Instead, we have a result so divisive that it cannot help but leave a legacy of bitterness and division.
And secondly, instead of voting for a Devo Max option agreed, defined and debated over more than two years, people have instead voted for an off-the-cuff, emergency lash up birthed in an atmosphere of panic and confusion. And not surprisingly, this spit-and-chewing-gum construction is already starting to unravel.
Scots voters were promised the best of all worlds: Cameron, Clegg and Miliband promised them increased devolution on an accelerated timetable with no strings attached, including a continuation of their funding under the Barnett formula; and Gordon Brown promised them that they could have draft legislation ready by May next year.
But that was pre-vote then, and this is a post-vote now.
This morning David Cameron alluded to the West Lothian question by speaking of “English votes for English MPs”, additionally adding that further Scottish devolution could only proceed in tandom with hearing “the millions of voices of England”. Meanwhile, this afternoon, when Alex Salmond phoned him, Cameron was now apparently saying that he “would not commit to a second reading vote (in the House of Commons) by 27 March on a Scotland Bill.” And that’s before we mention the 63 Tory MPs who have apparently already gone on the record as opposing Devo Max. Basically, Cameron promised something that he didn’t want, and probably can’t deliver.
My prediction is this. Devo Max will either be stalled indefinitely by arguments over English representation or devolution, and calls for constitutional conventions. Or it will come with unpleasant strings attached, such as a significant diminishing in power of the Scottish representation in the UK parliament at Westminster (by turning Scottish MPs into second-class MPs who can only vote on UK wide-issues), and possibly an adjustment in the Barnett formula that will lead to harsh spending cuts in Scotland.
Which will nicely open the way for the SNP to run in the Scottish elections of 2016 on a platform of a second independence referendum, on the grounds that previous one’s result has been rendered invalid by the promise and then effective withdrawal of a no-strings, “best of all worlds”, Devo Max.
Nice one Dave. You’ve certainly cocked this one up.
Firstly, to get the big question out of the way, if I was Scottish, I’d vote yes. Not because I’d think it will be easy. I don’t. I think it might be quite hard – worthwhile things usually are. I’d be voting yes because ultimately I’d rather be a citizen of a small democracy of five million people whose destiny I have a say in, than a citizen of a large democracy of sixty million people whose destiny I largely don’t.
But I would ask one thing of the post-Yes, Scottish people: can we keep Faslane and Coulport as Guantanamo Bay-style, leased sovereign enclaves. (In return for a currency union, use of the Bank of England, and first pick at the House of Commons wine collection).
It’s not about saving the several billion pounds it would cost to move the site, nor the undesirability of storing a shitload of nuclear weapons right next to Plymouth. (I know some might ask how come it was okay to store a shitload of nuclear weapons right next to Glasgow, to which I’d reply that pondering on that question a while might help them understand why so many Scots are keen to leave the union). No, it’s not about that. Personally, I’m in favour of abandoning Trident anyway.
No, the reason why I’d like us to keep Faslane is because it would create a wonderful new setting for stories. Stories need conflict, and nothing generates conflict like a few dozen megatons of someone else’s nuclear weapons stored right next to your biggest city. It only needs relations between the Scottish and rUK governments to deteriorate a tad and you have a wonderful Cold War-esque thriller with a twist.
“With the United Kingdom and Scotland on the verge of war, the last thing Redcap detective Jim Conner needed was a killer loose in Faslane’s nuclear submarine yards. With Prime Minister Farage’s visit only three days away and the five infantry regiments of the Scottish Army poised to attack the sovereign enclave, the clock is truly ticking.”
Tell me that’s not awesome!
I’m a vegan, and here’s the thing: people who, for perceived health reasons, follow a plant-based diet and then refer to themselves as vegans – when they’re not, not really – kind of annoy me.
The Parable of the Regency Anti-Slavery Campaigner and the Regency Health Freak
Imagine it’s the 1810s. Slavery is legal in the British Empire, but a small group of abolitionists are fighting to stop it. Jeremiah is one such campaigner. He abhors slavery, and has vowed not to consume the products it produces. In practice, this means that he will eat no sugar, and wear no cotton.
If Jeremiah is attending a social gathering and is offered a dish that contains sugar, he will politely explain that he cannot eat it, and – if asked why – explain that he is an abolitionist.
Then we have Zachariah. Zachariah has no problem with slavery. He quite happily wears cotton clothing made with cotton sourced from slave-using plantations. But he has come to the conclusion that sugar is an unnatural product, and so refuses to eat it. And he’s decided that the best phrase to describe his avoidance of sugar is… abolitionist.
If Zachariah is attending a social gathering and is offered a dish that contains sugar, he will politely explain that he cannot eat it, and – if asked why – explain that he is an abolitionist. (If then asked why he has become an abolitionist and what an abolitionist is, he will give an explanation that is entirely about sugar’s unhealthy properties with not a single mention of slavery).
People’s reactions to Jeremiah’s polite refusal of the sugar dish will be significantly affected by whether or not they’ve had their understanding of the word “abolitionist” corrupted by people like Zachariah.
If they haven’t, if they immediately realise that Jeremiah’s stance is born of a moral abhorrence of slavery, then they will likely respect him greatly for making sacrifices in aid of people he will never meet, even if they do not personally agree with him. And deep down, they probably will agree with him, and his example may start them down a road that will lead to their rejecting slavery and its products.
But what if they have had their understanding of the nature of abolitionism corrupted?
If they assume that Jeremiah is refusing the sugar dish merely out of a desire to enhance his own health, they may react very differently. At best, they will be neutral – unbothered as to whether or not he wishes to eat the dish. But at worst, they may perceive him as rude, selfish, faddy, and perhaps even narcissistic – a man who puts his obsessive attention on himself ahead of the norms of social interaction.
Imagine how it would feel to Jeremiah if, every time he mentions that he’s an abolitionist, he receives the response: “Oh, is that for health reasons?”
“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” – The Vegan Society (who created the word “vegan” in 1944)
Imagine an artist who paints as a hobby. Every now and again – weekends, or holidays, perhaps – he’ll head off with his watercolours and find a spot and paint. He might sell some paintings; others he might give away as presents. He doesn’t feel like a failure. And no-one thinks of him as a failure.
Writing isn’t quite like that. It’s a creative art form, but there are a few key differences between it and other creative art forms that can make pursuing writing as a hobby somewhat challenging.1
DIFFERENCE ONE: THE CONSUMER CONSUMING
It takes only seconds to glance at a painting; only minutes at most to hang it on your wall. Different people might like different types of art, but generally a nice piece of art is a nice piece of art, especially if it’s an original to which you have a personal connection. You’re happy to put it up somewhere and look at it occasionally when you walk by.
A novel isn’t like that. If a friend gives you a copy of their novel to read, it’s often not a gift but an obligation, and not a blessing, but a curse. It takes several hours or more to read a novel. You have to concentrate. And if that novel hasn’t seized your imagination it’s going to feel like work, and unpleasant work at that.
DIFFERENCE TWO: THE CREATOR CREATING
An amateur writing novels as a hobby might only be able to manage one decent, edited book every two years; unless an artist is painting huge canvasses I’d hope they’d be able to produce paintings at a better rate than that, even as a hobby on top of a day job.
DIFFERENCE THREE: THE PUBLICATION MODELS
While art does have the concept of prints, limited edition or otherwise, the tradition is in originals. You paint a painting and then you sell it to someone. Sure, there might be a bloke out there who sells his paintings though Sotheby’s for £1 million, while you sell yours through a local gallery for £30, but you and he are doing the same thing – it’s just a difference of scale.
In novels (in all fiction come to that), it’s always worked in a very different manner (except for this guy, and what he was doing was so different from the norm that he became the subject of a series of piss-taking Internet memes and received a torrent of hate and abuse)2.
With text, it’s the content that’s the art, not the vessel within which it resides, and a piece’s worth is measured not by how much one person wishes to own the original, but by how many people value the work enough to wish to spend their time consuming a copy of it.
This is a point I think that many people miss when they talk about giving their fiction away for free, or for very small amounts of money. It’s not money that’s ultimately the barrier to someone reading your work: it’s the time and effort it will take for people to read it (i.e. difference #1 above).
A novel self-published at £0.99 a copy that sells only five copies isn’t a failure because only five people bought it; it’s a failure because only five people wanted to read it.3
This also changes how other’s opinions affect the creators view of the work. If you paint a painting and one of your friends likes it, and all your other friends hate it, then great – you give it to the friend who liked it. Only one person needs to like a painting – the person who ends up with it on their wall.
But it’s not enough for one single person to like a work of fiction. When you show your novel to a friend you’re not simply hoping for them to say they like it; you’re hoping that they will say that they think many other people will like it too.
WHAT THIS MEANS
What it means is that painting (or sculpting, or freeze drying dog turds you found on the street and arranged into stick figures, or whatever the hell it is that floats your visual artistic boat) works better as a hobby than writing does. A hobbyist artist can spend some enjoyable free time painting paintings and then get the satisfaction of seeing other people enjoy viewing those paintings, and perhaps even displaying them in their homes.
By contrast, a hobbyist writer typically spends their time writing stories that might never get read, or if they do get read (by friends and family, as beta readers, perhaps) will be done in circumstances that amount to the reader doing the writer a favour. Its not “Here’s a copy of a novel I wrote for you as a present for your birthday.” It’s: “Could you do me a favour by reading my novel and telling me what you think?”
When judged by contemporary expectations and standards, the default is to judge amateur/hobbyist artists as successful but judge amateur/hobbyist writers as failures. The former is an artist whose works are found in various homes; the latter is an unpublished writer, who is yet to have a work published. Friends and family don’t generally ask to read your novel; they instead ask how your writing is going, which often amounts to asking if you’ve found a publisher or an agent yet.4
Imagine an artist spending evenings and weekends painting paintings that no-one ever sees, all part of some big series of paintings. Each month they finish a painting and put it in a stack with the other paintings. Then after two years maybe, they take the paintings round various galleries, but each gallery owner simply shakes his or her head, sadly, and tells them that it’s not what the market is looking for. So they put the paintings in the attic and start painting more paintings, more paintings that are probably destined to never be viewed. That’s not how it works with art.
But it is how it often works with writing.
An obvious point some might raise at this point is the possibility of self-publishing. But I think that’s a non sequitur. Self-publishing doesn’t eliminate any of the three differences I outlined above; it just shifts the responsibility of surmounting them onto you.
IS THAT IT? I’M INTO WRITING. SHOULD I TOP MYSELF NOW?
Well firstly, no, you shouldn’t top yourself now. I think what it really means is that when it comes to writing you have two choices: you can treat writing a career you’d like to aspire to (albeit, a part-time career you will do in addition to your day job); or you can treat it as a hobby. And then plan how you’re going to go about it accordingly.
In my case, for now, for the moment – given that I’m at a particularly busy period in my life – I’ve decided to treat it as a hobby4. So I’m now writing Selene, an episodic SF/urban fantasy/alternate history story set on the Moon (explanatory blog post, actual story), and publishing it as I write it, in instalments, on Wattpad. Wattpad is sort of a publishing platform combined with a social media platform. It allows people to follow you, both via the website, or via an app on their phones, and then get an alert each time you publish a new instalment.
If you just want to write for fun, for your friends, as though you were spinning anecdotes by the fire, then I’d recommend checking Wattpad out. (But in true BBC fashion, I’m sure that other social media styled, authoring platforms are available). But of course, as they say on the Net, YMMV (Your Milage May Vary)6.
1This entire blog post is the result of a conversation with my friend Warren, in which he pointed out the differences between writing and other art forms. So the credit for the actual idea should go to him.
2I think his story really illustrates the difference between written and visual art forms. Every city centre tourist spot in the world has street artists offering to do a one-off, custom sketch for a moderate fee. No-one bats an eyelid at that. Make the same offer, but for a written piece, and you’re treated an eccentric curiosity at best, and a freak to be hated at worst.
3I am making a value judgement here that a story that no-one reads counts as a failure. Some might argue that they write purely for pleasure, and get that pleasure even from a story that no-one other than they will ever read. If so, that’s great. But I think most writers get their pleasure from storytelling, and it is rather hard to tell a story if there’s no-one to tell it to. No-one ever told stories around a campfire at which they were the only person sat.
4I should stress that it’s lovely that people take an interest. But one of my intentions in writing this post is to explain to non-writers how writing can feel from the other side, which is why I’m pointing out this difference.
5That I’m treating writing as a hobby doesn’t mean that I don’t think I’m any good, or that I don’t care about what I write. Several years ago I had a novel published (it’s wasn’t technically self-published, but it was down to me to sell/market it) which has now sold around two thousand copies in paperback and a few hundred in ebook, got a load of good reviews, and got nominated for an ENnie award. So I’d like to think I can write a bit.
6i.e. What works for me might not work for you.
For as long as men had looked up at the heavens, the Moon had been a dead world of desert-dry dust set beneath a windless void. On the 5th February 1971 that changed, utterly. When men of today look into the night sky they see a blue-green marble wreathed in clouds, the greatest enigma in the whole of human history.
Jason Duke came to the Moon in search of the truths behind that enigma, but found only betrayal and disappointment. Now the man responsible for the Moon’s transformation is dead, and it’s Duke’s job to find out why.
[Click here to read the first instalment, straight away.]
What’s Selene? Well if I was going to get all technical, I’d say that it’s an episodic science-fiction / urban fantasy story that I’ll be serially publishing in instalments, in the hope that by doing so I’ll be able to interact with the reader like a surfer interacts with a wave. I’ll be getting immediate feedback, which I can then feed back into the story. This isn’t a user-directed plot, but if enough people say they like a certain element, it might start to work a bit like that.
If I’m not getting technical? Well all of the above is true, but I really just want to have some fun writing. I want to write as a hobby in the same way that other people paint, or make pots, or weave things. They do it for fun and give the results to their friends, and for the moment, right here and now, that’s what I want to do. I’m not necessarily giving up on the conventional writing path, but for now I’m just looking to enjoy the process of creating a story1.
I should stress that this isn’t a good way to write a novel, although I should equally stress that Selene isn’t a novel. If you want to write a good novel then you’ll want to go away and spend a couple of years on it, working through several drafts, cutting, refining, polishing. You’ll probably want to plan it all out in advance, too.
I’m not doing that. I’m heading out into plots largely unknown2, just as I would if I was running a roleplaying game for my friends (with an RPG, there’s no point planning the plot too far ahead, because that’s practically an invitation to your players to instead head off in the opposite direction). It won’t be a story designed to be read in one sitting. Instead, it’s written as bite-sized chunks that will hopefully unfold over the months in a satisfying manner.
I’ll be using a platform called Wattpad, which you can access via either a website or by an app on your phone. If you use the phone app, add Selene to your library, and allow the app to use Push Notifications, you’ll get an alert (like when you get a text message) each time I publish a new instalment (which should be once or twice a week).
Here’s the first instalment of the story. Hope you like it.
[Selene – the first instalment]
1I do have a draft post written about how writing compares as a hobby to other creative pursuits, but it’s a bit negative and depressing, so I thought I’d get Selene going before I post that piece (i.e. demonstrate my proposed solution before I outline the problem).
2It’s also a bit more like an ongoing TV or comic series, where the writers are only ever a few episodes or issues ahead of their broadcast or publication schedule.
I have just had the greatest idea I will ever have in my entire life. Ladies, gentlemen, those who’d rather not say, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri, I give you – the ExplainTo Bear!
I’m a programmer, and in programming – and I suspect many other professions – it’s a truism oft repeated that the best way to solve a problem that’s stumping you is to get one of your colleagues to have a glance at it. Why? Because a good 50% of the time you’ll figure the solution out yourself while you’ll still explaining the issue to said colleague, without him or her doing anything more than listen, and occasionally interject with, “I see”, “Right”, “Okay”, and “Got it”.
Which is where my invention comes in. The ExplainTo Bear is a small cuddly toy with a built-in sound detector. When it detects more than a second’s worth of silence a hidden speaker emits one of a set of stock phrases, such as: “I see”, “Right”, “Okay”, and “Got it”. If you’re a manager1 and one of your programmers reports that they’re stuck, all you have to do is hand them the department’s ExplainTo Bear and tell them to work together with the bear to solve the problem2.
The potential of this is genuinely huge, so much so that I really ought to patent it and make a fortune. But I’m not going to, partly because in a world where the UK government is about to write off £300 million of Universal Credit IT spending3 I think this needs to be available to the whole of humanity, but mostly because I’m absolutely knackered right now and I really can’t be bothered.
Knighthood if it takes off would be nice, mind.
1This applies equally well if you’re a ScrumMaster in a company which uses an agile methodology and a programmer reports a problem during the daily scrum meeting.
2There is a type of programming called Extreme Programming, where programmers work together in pairs. This is a bit like that, but you only have to pay one salary.
3I should stress that I’m not necessarily claiming that the impending disaster that is the Universal Credit IT system could be solved simply by someone in charge spending twenty minutes talking to a stuffed toy, but it might have perhaps averted the cock up had someone done such a thing back in 2010, and realised that the plan they’d adopted was complete bollocks.