Wednesday, 10 December 2014

2014, The Year Of Not So Much

It's time for the end of year review thing, something that was most enjoyable to write last year.
But pride comes before a fall, so it seems only right that after last year's belter of a start to this publishing larkey things would drop off. I ended last year feeling like a proper writer. Stories published and plenty of opportunity on the horizon.

None of which came to pass.

To be fair, I have sold one story which should appear early next year, allegedly. But nothing else I wrote worked out. Still, what does not kill us makes us stronger. Or sends us off in a massive storm to kick a bush.

In better news I did do several readings, including in front of the General Public and at cons. Nice and something I greatly enjoy even if it is a billion times more frightening than reading someone else's words. I also ended up on a quiz team of real writers at Eastercon and Worldcon. This was an act of bare-faced cheek and the karma backlash almost undoubtedly explains my failure to sell anything this year.

All in, 2014 was a quiet year writing wise (a very busy year on other distractions though) but hopefully, with the application of elbow grease, the calm before the storm.

By way of starting a tradition, following last Christmas's free story, I thought I'd stick up the most seasonal thing I have. Published almost two years ago, why not read of The 15th of December.
You can read it on other dates too and outside of Norwich.

Happy Seasonal Whatnots!

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Politics, an argument with myself

Been quite some time since I posted here so sorry. Even more sorry that when I do post it is going to be on politics.
In the next few weeks everyone in Scotland gets a vote. Probably the most important single vote that I will ever take part in. I've tried to sit on the fence for as long as I can (admittedly with some dangerous leaning in the Yes direction) but now I have to definitively choose and I want to set down my reasons. If nothing else to go over the arguments and prove to myself I've made a reasoned decision. So here you go. Please do comment, politely, if you think I have something wrong, this is too important to decide on wrong information.

Who am I?

My politics are to the left. Not massively, I was more inclined to vote Lib Dem than anything until they turned out to have the backbone of a sea cucumber (could have abstained on student fees at the very least). What you would probably call a woolly lefty, willing to pay taxes for education or welfare I shall hopefully never need.
I can see the argument for some privatisations but find the artificial markets of the power or rail systems laughably horrible ways to turn taxes into private profit.
This very much makes me ripe for an anti-Tory option but I have tried not to base my choice on anti-anything. I want to vote FOR something. Be positive and I'll be interested.

What do I want?

I want a positive choice. I'm a big, daft optimist when it comes to it and if I have two good options I can dither all day. From where I stand I can only see one positive (over-played, everything will be fine, trust me, positive, but positive) option. I'll come back to that.
One of the questions I have to ask myself is what would I consider a positive future? Especially a positive future from a No vote.
First I need to consider what I don't like about the current system, which is of course negative and so something I've shied away from. But needs must when the devil vomits in your porridge.


Small word, means a lot of different things to different people. To me it is about the will of the majority being enacted. In a UK context this means it is, due to First Past The Post distortions, a slightly right wing majority getting a generally low tax, reduced government, business orientated parliament. Which is right and correct as that is the majority will. Yes, you can split the country into sections and find the parts, such as Scotland and the North of England, that didn't vote for that, but they are not the majority in the system the UK uses. So democratically they have to put up with it until the next opportunity to convince people to change to their side.
If you are in that section that does not get the government you want there are several options. Armed revolt is not very democratic so we'll ignore that. Campaigning to shift the electorate your way is an option. It's difficult to do under the archaic First Past The Post system but possible and I applaud all those who beaver away doing so. It has been seen to lead to a concentration on the 'floating voter', however, and they are in the current centre ground of UK politics, which is to the right of me.
You could attempt to change the electoral system. Be it one Queen, one Vote or some form of PR. But the current system is firmly entrenched and doesn't like the idea of a rules change they may not have as good an understanding of.
Another option, beloved of attention seekers, is to flounce off if the vote goes against you. ( Or more likely, threaten to flounce then oddly fail to do so.) In a way independence feels a bit like this; 'Vote Left or we're taking our ball and going'. But at the same time, if I want to live in a Scandwegian style country and everyone else doesn't would it not be more polite for me to leave everyone in peace and go? Is it right for Scots to try to change the way England vote/think or should they be left with their democratic views while we leave to follow our own?

Social Choices and Tax

Being a dodgy lefty I'm all for higher taxes to pay for public services. Also for full collection of those taxes. The current UK government seems very keen on lowering (or not collecting) taxes and I completely disagree with this. Yet, if England democratically votes for this why should I try to stop them?
Compounding this is the Barnett Formula, i.e. Scotland gets a fixed percentage of UK public spending. Yes they get to spend it how they like but if Westminster cuts budgets (to cut taxes) Scotland either follows suit or puts up the small percentage of taxes they can to try to cover the difference. This being a much smaller amount of financial jiggery pokery than they could if they had full tax powers.
Also, if Scotland had the power to actually make companies pay their full tax they might not need to put up taxes or cut services at all.


This is a biggy for me. Scotland needs more people of working age. Partly because of an aging population, partly because the current economic model of London First encourages people to go south. That will still happen after Independence but the option to have a more lax systems than Westminster's 'Put up the fences, beware the foreigner and his straight banana' will help to mitigate it. Also different policies will hopefully reduce the numbers going south and so also help.
Finally, a country that is more open to the world will (and I know I'm being possibly over-optimistic here) become more tolerant and hopefully Scotland's long running issues with bigotry will abate (to some degree, there will always be rockets).

The Economy

Most politicians couldn't see the financial crash of 2008 coming from three months away. I believe neither side on their glorious or apocalyptic predictions.
What I believe will happens is much as now. Work will continue, taxes will be taken and benefits will be paid. In fact there may well be a wee boom from the work required to split up services. Then slowly north and south will drift to wherever their electorates dictate. I don't see the economy as a deciding factor. How much I am paid is unlikely to change unless significant tax changes occur, which could easily happen after a No (Westminster cuts budgets, Holyrood ups Income Tax to make up the shortfall) as a Yes.

What would be my ideal future?

Oddly enough, in the UK. But a UK that is also fully involved in the EU and a UK with a complete devolution solution. Give England (or its regions) an equivalent parliament to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland while also giving them all the same powers. A proper federal UK with every section treated equally. Not Scotland getting more because it shouts while Cornwall is left to fall in the sea.
This UK would use PR at every level of government and investment would be spread evenly as no one region would have a greater call on the centre.

This is not going to happen.

So, is there an option like this available? Or perhaps something that will galvanise a move towards it?
Why yes, Scottish Independence.

While not my first option by any stretch, it does offer a closer approximation than anything else currently on the table. It has PR. It is in the EU. It is likely to be more towards my personal political standpoint.  There are many things not ideal about it but it is the best of a bad lot and, to my mind and many English people I have spoken to (ah Worldcon waffling) and read (that Billy Bragg thing), it will help England to change in similar, positive ways.

These are my positive reasons that will make me vote FOR independence on 18th September. I know I also have the gut feelings and the cheesy Scots romanticism of wailing bagpipes pulling me that way but I am happy that I am not just voting on the heart or voting AGAINST something.

Whatever you decide, I hope you also vote FOR something.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

You, sir, are a rumplefyke.

It was Eastercon at the weekend and, before the happy memories fade, I'll try to get a few of them down.

1) Being very busy.
      This was certainly one of the most jam-packed conventions I've been to. There were many points on the programme where I would have happily gone to multiple items. I missed things like the Falsetto Socks and my dinner because there was simply to much good stuff on.
       Thanks to all who organised and ran items.

2) Running things.
      I ran items. More than I've run since Confounding Tales. They were something stupid involving flying Mars Bars, something stupid involving a spinning torch and impossible questions and something stupid involving Thirties serials. The last was referred to on Twitter as "the most random thing I've been to all week" which I take as a compliment.

3) Writerly things.
      I spent a large part of the weekend at the "Writer's table" in the main bar. Talking too much to some and not enough to others. But boring them all. It was great fun and I thank them all for putting up with me. But I also put myself out there under the name of writer.
    This happened in two ways. Firstly, in a fit of drink fuelled pique I signed up for the open mic reading on Saturday night. Then, on seeing the calibre of people on it, panicked. But I overcame my fear, read a bit from Maukit and had some nice feedback afterwards. So thanks to those there, sorry if it wasn't your thing and apologies to anyone who wanted to come but I didn't tell out of fear.
  The second way was that, just before the con, Christine mailed me to say she needed a space on a quiz filled. I said yes without thinking and so, on Monday lunchtime, was on a team of Writers against a team of Scientists. The other writers were John Meaney, Charlie Stross and Juliet McKenna making me a quivering mess at the introductions. I declared myself a fraud and hid behind the laughter.
    Other than that the quiz went not badly and I helped keep the team in the hunt even if we eventually lost.
   As karmic balance to this proclamation of writer-ness I did get two rejections over the weekend so I'm not doing that again.

4) Beer Humphing
     Sha, my bidey in, was in charge of supplying the beer for the weekend. She did an excellent job of it but I did find myself lifting more barrels of beer than is normal in a weekend.

5) Books
      I picked up plenty of books but of note were La Femme, an anthology from Newcon, The Moon King by Neil Williamson and Hal Duncan's collection, Scruffians. Looking forward to them all.

All in it was a cracker of a convention and a fitting marker to the, I've just realised, twenty years of cons I have now been going to since Albacon '94.
Thanks to all involved. I am now really looking forward to Worldcon in August.

Incidentally, I learned the best insult on Sunday night. It is an old Scots word which Andrew J. Wilson taught us and is rumplefyke, an itchy bum. I will treasure it.

Friday, 11 April 2014

The Eastercon Of Doing Things

It has been a while since I last posted and, with Eastercon fast gambolling towards me I felt I really ought to do an update.

Not much to say on the writing front. Much writing is ongoing but no new acceptances. I am building up a nice pile of stories which are either out for consideration or awaiting a fresh tweak after a rejection which hopefully means that I can build a momentum behind me.

The one writing type item of note was that last week Caledonia Dreamin' had a launch/pimping session at The Dick Institute in Kilmarnock, where Chris Kelso, one of the editors, works. It was a very nice wee night with the all important free wine and where I did my first public reading. A very nerve wracking five minutes where I read out the first few sections of my wee story and, I'm pleased to say, no one complained.

Next up on the horizon is Eastercon, which this year is in Glasgow. This makes it much easier to get to but also means I have fallen into the trap of volunteering to do things. Especially foolish as they appear to have pulled together a good programme with plenty I would have enjoyed going to.
Satellite 4 Eastercon Programme

Myself I am running three daft things, Mars Attacks on Friday evening (opposite a Women in Science and Writer's Group panels I would like to see), Spin The Pulsar (opposite a Guest of Honour talk) and How do the get out of that? on the Sunday evening (opposite the BSFA awards and a cocktail tasting).
I also hope to attend the Newcon Book (opposite an interesting sounding panel on Sherlock Holmes) launch to celebrate several people getting published (and cadge free wine) and Planet Scotland (opposite the Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre) a reading by some local writers of note.

I may also go to the bar.

This is more planning in advance of an Eastercon than I have done in quite some time and hopefully indicative of a fine convention.

Anyhoos, I hope I shall post again soon, and not about conservatory maintenance woes. Perhaps I will see you in the Eastercon bar. Drink the Real Ale, it is lovely.