My short story,  Threshold, appears in the October 2014 issue of Analog.

Like The Region of Jenniferthis story is set in the Recursion universe.  It introduces the S, the Foundation for the Enlightenment, and the Human Way.

There are more stories to come in this series – keep watching this space!

Parrenthorn Debate @The Portico Library

“This House Believes that the European Union should not have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.”

I was delighted to be invited to the Portico Library in Manchester to adjudicate a debate evening with students from Parrenthorn High School, as part of the Portico Library’s Conflict and Community Programme.

The standard of debate was high, the students had clearly researched their topic and spoke persuasively. Even more impressive, they proved themselves capable of listening to opposing points and providing counter arguments.

I’ve written elsewhere about the raw deal teenagers today receive at the hands of the media. Anyone in doubt of the potential of teenagers should begin by listening to the pupils of Parrenthorn High School.

Thank you to the Portico Library for inviting me, the staff and pupils of Parrenthorn High School, and the Zochonis Charitable Trust for sponsoring the event.

The Proposers
The Proposers
The Opposers
The Opposers

Six Things to do When You’ve Finished a Story

  • Put it away for a few weeks. That way you can come back to it with a fresh mind
  • Ask yourself Can I delete the first paragraph? The answer is usually yes
  • Ask yourself Is the ending really as strong as is could be? The answer is usually no
  • Read the story through out loud. It’s amazing the things you’ll pick up that you wouldn’t have seen on a read through.
  • For the same reason – if you have the time and the patience – key the story in again
  • Lastly: submit the story to a market. You can’t hang on to it forever…

See Also

The Perfect Scene

Here’s one of my favourite passages in modern literature. In it, Sue Townsend describes Adrian Mole spending Sunday at his Grandma’s house. I suspect that many other people my age will recognise the scene from their own childhood. Nothing else I’ve read captures a sense of time and place so well.

Many writers have a temptation to throw unusual words or extravagant sentences at their ideas. This passage show that real genius is capable of simplicity:

Archers omnibus. Egg, bacon, fried bread, the People.

Roast beef, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, cabbage, carrots, peas, Yorkshire pudding, gravy.

Apple crumble, custard, cup of tea, extra strong mints, News of the World.

Tinned salmon sandwiches, mandarin oranges and jelly, sultana cake, cup of tea.

Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years by Sue Townsend

Sue Townsend

If anyone ever tells you that women aren’t as funny as men, say two words in reply: Sue Townsend.

Sue Townsend wrote the funniest book I’ve ever read: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 3/4. I read it at just the right time of my life – aged around 15 or 16, when I was just a year or so older than Adrian Mole when he wrote his first diaries. When asked why she had written about a teenage boy and not a girl, Sue Townsend replied that she believed boys and girls were pretty much the same at that time of their life. She certainly described my childhood (and I sometimes fear she is describing part of my adulthood, too.)

Like many excellent writers, Sue Townsend knew that the best writing is often the simplest. One of her most inspired passages is to be found in The Wilderness Years, where she simply describes the food that Adrian eats one Sunday afternoon round his Grandma’s house. It’s nothing more than a list, but it sums up my childhood perfectly, sitting in front of the coke fire at my Grandmother’s house, reading the Sunday People and then watching something like Bullseye on the television.

Sue Townsend died on Thursday evening, aged 68. She left behind one of the most consistently funny and moving series of books ever written, books filled with a well realised air of righteous indignation about them. Sue Townsend was on the side of the forgotten people, the failures, the Adrian Moles of this world.

She will be missed.

The Region of Jennifer

My short story, The Region of Jennifer, appears in the June 2014 issue of Analog

This is the first of a series of stories I’ve been working on set in the Recursion universe. The action takes place 8 years after the events in Divergence and deals with some of the questions raised by the Big Share Out that occurred at the end of Divergence.

I’ve had the idea for this series for some time, from around the time I finished writing Divergence, in fact, however I found myself distracted by Robots and Dream Worlds in the meantime.

But I was missing writing Hard SF, and I had reached the point where I just couldn’t not get the ideas down on the page, and The Region of Jennifer was the first result.

Watch this space, there are more to come…

Nobody Really Knows

Earlier this week I was listening to a radio program about the discovery of waves of gravitational energy that confirmed inflation just after the big bang. The presenter was inviting listeners to ring in and ask questions of a scientist, the scientist was doing a rather good job of explaining things clearly.

I thought it rather heartening that those taking part in the discussion were taking this opportunity to try and understand what was going on.

I should have known better. A caller rang in and announced that it was all very well hearing the scientist speak, but nobody really knows how the universe started. For all their talk, for all their experiments, those scientists didn’t really know what had happened.

I suppose that’s true. Nobody really knows anything. But that’s not very helpful.

Nobody really knows anything. It’s the really that’s the loaded word. I don’t really know what’s happening when my back is turned, I don’t really know what other people think of me, I don’t really know that I’m not part of some Truman Show style hoax and everyone is watching me on television.

But what’s the point of that sort of thinking? If I accept it, I might as well accept that I’ll never know anything.

Many people like to say no one really knows. It excuses them having to think. It has the added effect of pulling your hard won experience and knowledge down to their level. It makes their ignorance the equal of your ignorance.

I don’t see why I should accept that.

Did anyone else read Danny Dunn?

I’ve just finished answering a set of questions about writing SF, the results of which will appear in a magazine article. One of the questions asked was What’s the first SF you remember reading?

I couldn’t give a definitive answer but there are two series that stand out in my mind from my childhood. The  first is the Space series of children’s SF anthologies, edited by Richard Davis in the 1970’s and early ’80s, the second is the Danny Dunn series by Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin.

Did anyone else read those books? I haven’t read them for years, probably not since I became a teenager, and I’m not sure I would want to read one again.  It might spoil the memories.

But I loved the books at the time. Danny Dunn liked science and maths, so did the adults around him. His mother was housekeeper to Professor Bullfinch, a man who encouraged Danny’s love of science and taught him new things.  The science was pretty authentic (or so I remember) and I used to devour it.  The professor invented some of the objects which started Danny off on adventures.

For me, the best thing about the stories was that Danny Dunn (and his friends Irene and Joe) would win through by using their intelligence.  The resolution wasn’t achieved by guns, or superpowers, or magic, it was always achieved by thinking, by learning new facts and applying them. I wouldn’t say the books got me interested in studying Maths, but it definitely made me realise just how cool maths and science were. And if you’re laughing at this last sentence, then understand this, it showed me that there were other people who found those subjects cool.

I wonder what happened to Danny Dunn?

He’s probably a grandfather by now. I’d like to think that his kids are working at CERN or somewhere like that. I hope they didn’t end up working in quantum finance.

Danny Dunn, boy accountant. It doesn’t bear thinking about.