Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Akmal Shaikh

The news that the Chinese authorities have chosen to execute Akmal Shaikh is ... unsurprising. The condemnations by Government leaders and other politicians are welcome ... but not enough.

No nation state has the right to take a person's life against that person's will. No government should hold the right of life and death over its own citizens or visitors to its shores.

Judicial execution must end. There is something we can do to help end it, here in the UK.

We need a new law. That law must make it explicit that the judicial execution of any Briton in any nation is an act of murder with malice aforethought, allowing the British courts to issue warrants for the arrest of those persons involved in the execution: prosecutors; judges; prison wardens and guards; oficials who have a legal capacity to directly intervene and offer clemency - but choose not to do so.

Of course, no nation state that practices judicial execution would be willing to arrest people named in the warrant, and it's doubtful that other nation states would be willing to upset the likes of China, the United States or Saudi Arabia by acting on the warrant when those people come within their juristiction.

But it will allow those people to be arrested and charged with murder should they ever attempt to enter the United Kingdom. Such as Rick Perry, Governor of Texas in 2003 when the Texans executed Jackie Elliot; Roy Barnes, Governor of Georgia in 2002 when the Georgians saw fit to murder Tracy Housel. And not forgetting those folks in Singapore who strung up that dog John Martin back in 1996.

Yes, Martin was a serial murderer, Elliot was a rapist-murderer and Housel also murdered an innocent woman. Nasty dogs. But a nation state that executes such deviants makes itself no better than them. A murder can never be fixed by further murders - not in anyone's name. Not even in God's name.

And nation states that execute people with mental disorders ... are no better than the Nazis in Germany with their ethnic cleansing and eugenics.

Akmal Shaik deserved better than the fate delivered to him this morning. In his memory, let us work to bring the perpetrators of his murder to justice!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Poetry Advent Calendar 2009 - the final list

Advent's over: now it's time for prezzies and feasting and quaffing ... MERRY CRIMBOTIDE EVERYBODY!

01 Dec: The Oxen, Thomas Hardy
02 Dec: Annunciation, John Donne
03 Dec: En hiver la terre pleure, Victor Hugo
04 Dec: On the Morning of Christ's nativity, John Milton
05 Dec: We Three Kings of Orient Are, John Henry Hopkins
06 Dec: Winter is good --- his Hoar Delights, Emily Dickinson
07 Dec: Schoolboys in Winter, John Clare
08 Dec: To A Mouse, Robert Burns
09 Dec: The Wassail Song, traditional
10 Dec: Music on Christmas Morning, Anne Bronte
11 Dec: To a Locomotive in Winter, Walt Whitman
12 Dec: Facing Snow, Du Fu
13 Dec: A Christmas Carol, Christina Rossetti
14 Dec: The Burning Babe, Robert Southwell
15 Dec: Ceremonies for Christmas (excerpts), Robert Herrick
16 Dec: Good King Wenceslas, John Mason Neale
17 Dec: The Holly and the Ivy, traditional
18 Dec: Ring Out Wild Bells, Alfred, Lord Tennyson
19 Dec: Christmas Bells, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
20 Dec: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, traditional
21 Dec: Sonnet 97, William Shakespeare
22 Dec: The Minstrels played ..., William Wordsworth
23 Dec: Cocklorrel, Ben Jonson
24 Dec: Stille Nacht, Joseph Mohr

Poetry Advent Calendar 2009 - 24 Dec

Joseph MohrStille Nacht, by Joseph Mohr

Aspie quiz thingy

... so I have no excuse, then?

Online test here. I'm only posting this because it looks kinda pretty.

For those about to feast on Daffy ...

... some duck porn, courtesy of the ever-readable Carl Zimmer on his blog The Loom.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Poetry Advent Calendar 2009 - 19 Dec

Henry Wadsworth LongfellowChristmas Bells, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Poetry Advent Calendar 2009 - 18 Dec

Alfred, Lord TennysonRing Out Wild Bells, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Poetry Advent Calendar 2009 - 17 Dec

traditionalThe Holly and the Ivy, traditional

Gods in Jungle submissions update #9

To date: ten submissions to agents sent out; five form rejections, five outstanding - possibly lost in the post or festering in a forgotten slush pile somewhere. I need to email the outstanding agents to nudger them, but that'll have to wait to the new year now.

Also: no word back from the 2 publishers, from which I can only assume they have chosen not to offer a contract. So that brings the number of rejections to seven out of twelve.

The logical thing to do now is to prepare another batch of submissions to fresh UK agents, and also investigate US agents who accept submission queries online. The trouble is, though, this submissions lark has been going on for over 4 months now ("no time at all, Rik," I hear folks saying) and already I'm bored of it. I'm bored of friends and family and colleagues asking "When's that book of yours going to be published, Rik?" and then having to watch their eyes glaze over as once more I attempt to explain the publishing process to them.

Self-publishing begins to look tempting, even though I've barely scratched the surface of this complex and idiosyncratic business ...

... but maybe not just yet. What I am planning to do is to take down the current RikVerse book from Lulu.com - and publish a revised and extended version (with me listed as the publisher rather than Lulu) ... which in turn means setting myself up as an independent micropublisher. Exciting stuff, huh? I want the poetry book to be available in hardback, paperback and eBook formats. I'm not sure I need an Amazon.com listing as most sales have been generated via my website - and anyways I'm not happy with Amazon's (apparent) policy of demanding publishers offer a high cover price just so they can do their 50% off offers. In addition to the RikVerse, I also plan to finish and publish Snowdrop next year, and there's also SpinTrap, which I never see being published by a big traditional publisher (once it's finished and revised and polished and stuff) ... so maybe, maybe ...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009

Poetry Advent Calendar 2009 - 14 Dec

Robert SouthwellThe Burning Babe, by Robert Southwell

A video ...

To celebrate the end of this year's (brown and musty) 70s fashion revival, one of my favourite songs from that (otherwise dismal) decade:

Pussycat. Mississippi. Enjoy!

(I can't wait to find out what next year's fashion colour is going to be. Please, no more tan, no more brown, and no more men wearing sandals and socks!)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Poetry Advent Calendar 2009 - halfway to Crimbotide

12 advent poems now posted to This:Poem, 12 more to go. I hope you're both enjoying the selection so far!

01 Dec: The Oxen, Thomas Hardy
02 Dec: Annunciation, John Donne
03 Dec: En hiver la terre pleure, Victor Hugo
04 Dec: On the Morning of Christ's nativity, John Milton
05 Dec: We Three Kings of Orient Are, John Henry Hopkins
06 Dec: Winter is good --- his Hoar Delights, Emily Dickinson
07 Dec: Schoolboys in Winter, John Clare
08 Dec: To A Mouse, Robert Burns
09 Dec: The Wassail Song, traditional
10 Dec: Music on Christmas Morning, Anne Bronte
11 Dec: To a Locomotive in Winter, Walt Whitman
12 Dec: Facing Snow, Du Fu

Poetry Advent Calendar 2009 - 12 Dec

Du FuFacing Snow, by Du Fu

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Friday, December 04, 2009

Poetry Advent Calendar 2009 - 4 Dec

John MiltonOn the Morning of Christ's Nativity, by John Milton

... that second verse is to die for: 'And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay'

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Poetry Advent Calendar 2009 - 2 Dec

John DonneAnnunciation, by John Donne

... let's spread the fun of Crimbotide!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Poetry Advent Calendar

Coming to a computer screen near you from tomorrow ... The Poetry Advent Calendar, as presented by the This:Poem website.

A collection of poems dealing with winter and the Christmas season, The Poetry Advent Calendar will present a new poem each day between 1 December and Christmas Eve, to help get you in the mood for the forthcoming festivities.

Some of the poems will be familiar, and welcome reads; others will be more surprising. All come with added snippets and links.

The poems can be read on the website, or via one of those nifty RSS feeds, or even by state-of-the-art Web Slice!

However you access and imbibe this treat - enjoy the poems!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Another attempt at translating stuff ...

... this time from a language of which I know not a single word:

Facing Snow
by Du Fu (translation by Rik Roots)

The battle's demise brings cries from new shades;
the man grieves, alone and aged: he worries.

As the day ends clouds break rank, fall close;
the fleet snow ribbons amid a swirl of winds.

A spoon of gourd, discarded; a springless cup;
a stove mimics the ruddy flames of summer.

The gabble of messages bleach from the land;
I sit rigid, shocked, my ink-drained book white.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Rik attempts to translate Victor Hugo

Background note - I failed my French O level twice ...

The original in all its glory:

En hiver la terre pleure;
Le soleil froid, pâle et doux,
Vient tard, et part de bonne heure,
Ennuyé du rendez-vous.

Leurs idylles sont moroses.
- Soleil ! aimons ! - Essayons.
O terre, où donc sont tes roses ?
- Astre, oò donc sont tes rayons ?

Il prend un prétexte, grêle,
Vent, nuage noir ou blanc,
Et dit: - C'est la nuit, ma belle ! -
Et la fait en s'en allant;

Comme un amant qui retire
Chaque jour son coeur du noeud,
Et, ne sachant plus que dire,
S'en va le plus tôt qu'il peut.

My attempted translation:

For winter, the earth cries;
The sun cools, pale and soft,
Tardy, yet soon to leave,
Bored with its assignation.

Their dalliance is inept.
- Sun! Let's dance - let's try.
My earth, where are your roses?
- Star, where are your rays?

An excuse is grasped, hail,
Wind, black clouds or white -
Says: night is come, sweet one
A construct of departures.

As lovers who pull each day
At the core of their knot
and, frayed of shared phrases,
take their leave too soon.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Spiders on drugs

... you know it's the truth!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Poetry and Cory Doctorow

If Cory Doctorow can make a living by getting his books into as many people's hands and heads and hard-drives as possible, through both conventional and unconventional means - then why not poets?

What does the average (heh) poet fear from doing Cory-Doctorow-like stuff such as giving their work away free to anyone who wants it, and maybe also sell a few copies of the book for those who want something a little more on the permanent side of things?

Rik has a new Hero - and best of all, his Hero writes science fiction!

(Hat tip thingy: Mister Ron Silliman)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NaNo 09: Day 10

'What is that? Some kind of writing?'

Beyond the untidy kitchen, the warehouse vaults over us, a cathedral's space of wrought iron and plastered brickwork. The light from the thin windows a dozen feet above the floor is dim, hinting at neglect. The floor, too, is a mess of crate-wood and tarpaulins, discrete piles of detritus abandoned by the last occupants – as worthless as much of what passes for art these days.

The marks that have attracted Sam's attention are in a corner furthest from the entrance and the kitchen. By rights Sam should not be able to see them: Boude has rendered her report in energies rather than chemicals. It is something I should worry about, I know, but I don't have time to consider the implications – it's probably a side effect from the spin I've laid across Sam's senses to help him ignore the prone body of his recent lover.

'It's a sort of writing, yes,' I answer.

'It's pretty, like christmas lights.'

'The trick is in knowing how to read them.'

Reading, for me, has always been a tough endeavour; it's not something I was born to do. From what I can work out, the concept of writing arrived in my part of the Outer World a long while after I had left it. For sure, the Kemet folk had been scribbling on plaster and papyrus for centuries, just as the Sangiga folk had been prodding sticks into clay to make their lists, but they were not my people.

When I first arrived in Mescwar I might as well have been a monkey, for all the civilized skills I had. Boude had laughed at me when I admitted my ignorance, and after that the Game had taken over my life just as the Race had consumed me in Fol Huun. All in all, my learning to read had been a slow process.

Which is probably understandable. The writing systems used in my home stone are nothing like the systems developed here in the Outer World. For a start, there's no letters as such, but rather a set of sigils – pen strokes – that capture the essence of the meaning or object, each topped and based with additional marks to show how the words weave with each other, how the concepts play together in the utterance. Learning to read by alphabets, in contrast, was a pleasure – though even now I tend to rely on the host to do the reading, as listening in to the internal narrator is a lot easier. Plus they keep changing the spelling of things, and languages themselves are slippery buggers, always evolving and reverting each time I return here.

'So what does it say?' asks Sam.

It's not so much what the glyphs say, as what they mean. The message that Boude had cast on the wall appears to me as several collections of glyphs, with no order between them. Here, for instance, she's drawn two sigils – five strokes in a glistening bruised-blue forming the essence of a many-handed warrior, atop the silvery outline of a great horse charging towards the centre of the room. Below, almost to the floor and some distance to the left, a second set of glyphs: a skeletonial squiggle stands atop the form of a golden child, duplicated, pulling an egg from between their lifeless forms. Three other clusters form similar struggles – above us, a jester astride a giant who tramples through the scarlet lines of a great hall; lower and to the right, but not as far right as the warrior, armies march upon a mountain.

But it is the central set of glyphs that hold my attention. Within a great circle, Boude had carefully drawn two prone forms – giants, the subglyphs seem to suggest – with the feet of each at the head of the other. Beyond the circle, the lords of wealth and creativity reign; within it, the chaos of nature held secure. The circle is complete, and incomplete, and full-round once more – changing as the seconds flick by. The colours of the whole are heavy, a mutating swirl of ochres and rubies and fecund greens; the more I stare at the patterns, the more Sam's stomach churns, the more his chest tightens as the glands above the kidneys pump adrenaline into his blood.

Suddenly I want to run away, far away, as fast as Sam's thick legs will take me!

'What does it say?'

It takes an effort to draw Sam's eyes away from the pulsing patterns.

'We need to find the girl,' I tell him. 'We need to keep looking.'

'Where? She's not here.'

I ignore Sam's doubts. I know that Boude had been here; Marton had told me he and Mada had spoken to her in this place yesterday afternoon, and the glyphs on the wall still carry her sharp heat.

'We'll look for other messages, yes? That security guard told you nobody else works here, that we wouldn't be disturbed, so we've got plenty of time to search.'

Which reminds me ...

'We'd better go and check on him,' I say.

'Is he still in the kitchen? I'll need to borrow his trousers so I can go get my clothes.'

'Good idea. He'll probably be sleeping still.'

He'll be sleeping for the rest of the morning if our luck holds. Still, I need to leave Falc a message before we go back home. If the man doesn't wake before we depart I'll have to trace out some energy glyphs of my own to tell him where to find me.

Falc owes me some answers.

'You never told me what the pictures said,' says Sam, ever insistent and as forthright as his father, as he heads towards the kitchen.

'As far as I can make out ...'

A sudden reluctance to continue with the sentence washes over me, like an insight or conviction that if I say – even think – the words, they'll come true.

A faint tang of copper slips along the sides of my tongue ...

I will not be broken! As if fighting through syrup, I force the words to align in my mind, push them into Sam's internal babble.

'They all say the same thing, Sam. Boude is telling us that the world is going to die. Sometime soon, everything will end. That's why we need to find her – she forgot to mention how it dies!'

Or, indeed, who kills it.

Microbial Art

... 'kay, so I'm surfing instead of writing. I'm sure the NaNoWriMo Enforcement Squad will be knocking on my door with manacles to chain me to the ('net disabled) keyboard in due course.

Anyways, when I was a squib of a fellow, I used to work in a microbiology lab - part of a factory that made medical equipment. More than once I was told off for "mucking around" with agar plates and cultures instead of doing proper (ie extremely tedious) work.

But not even my best efforts could match some of these microbial art masterpieces! Jealous as heck, I am ...

Saturday, November 07, 2009

NaNo 09: Day 7

'Kay, this hasn't been the most productive start to Nano - 750 words in 6 days, when I should by now have reached the 20% mark ie 10k words. In my defence, Mother has been visiting for the past week, and I have been spending quality time with her, mostly in pound shops. But I'm not going to give up on the challenge just yet. The following adds another 1400 words to the pile, and I've got the evening free for writing - as long as something shiny doesn't distract me!

Is it truly possible for someone like me to love? Can I sip at the essential spring of love first hand?

In situations such as this one, I find it easier to concentrate on the big questions. At the moment Sam is staring at taps; we're in a small, grubby kitchen area with magnolia walls and the sort of tiles you find in public toilets. The sink is shallow, metallic, stained in circles where cups have been left to drain after a perfunctory rinse - too messy for the lad, I expect. So instead he concentrates on the shape of the taps: two bulbous affairs that might once have been copper-plated, their handles a pair of miniature circus dumbells atop their industrial screws plunged into the ballooned necks of the pipes at the apex of a pair of squared crooks. Each of his hands grasps the long shaft of a tap, one hot to the touch, the other cold, bracing his body against the arrhythmic thrusts behind us.

Shaft - an unfortunate word choice in this situation. Not that I have any particular objection to taking it - the shaft - up the arse: sex in any form is one of the few bonuses of returning to the Outer World, and I have enjoyed experiences that young Sam can only dream of, but there are more enjoyable pleasures than spit-assisted sodomy.

Sam stares at the taps because he doesn't want to be distracted by the mess around him as his brain and blood absorb the chemical pleasures of the rectal intrusion. And I ask big questions because, in the end, sex in the Outer World remains a second-hand distraction.

So, love. What is it to me?

I can say with some certainty that it is not a flesh-mediated emotion. Because I have loved, and been loved, and when I recall those times I become coccooned, swathed in the eye-stretching, chest-scrunching, stomach-trembling, limb-heating entirety of the state.

A state. Yes, love is a place of being, I think, an almost physical location where the essential being is shifted just an atom's breadth away from synchronicity from the flesh - enough to blur the world into primary colours, to ease irregularities and faults out of focus. Smells are not so much a matter of sharp, putrid, sweet, resinous, smoked: they are the sigils of such chemical interactions. A touch can be felt before contact is established; balance is widened from the vertical norm to allow the spin of the situation to take many off-kilter positions and still feel - well, right. Good. Healthy and welcome.

Thus it is possible for me to love, and I have breached the borders of that place many times. As the taps jerk nearer and further and nearer and further from Sam's intense, muscle-flexed face I take a little time to think of a few of my particular loves.

My parents, for instance, murdered by the madman in a wood on a half-moon night. My love for them remains primal, the bedrock upon which my essential being has been established, fashioned, enlarged, refashioned, challenged and collapsed and restored. When I think of that love, there is no time between then and now - much as my time in the sapphire seas of Ounous was timeless, a click of the fingers measured across the spans between stars, both equal and yet irrelevant.

Other things I have loved: a woman nuzzling her head on my shoulder as we watched the early morning sun emboss the pillars and lintels of a tomb freshly carved into the lycian cliffs in a honey of gold; the heat of rain on my back as I sat in a tree waiting for deer to pass beneath my spear, my eyes locked with that of a tiger no more than twenty yards from me, both of us beasts understanding our purpose and our danger to each other and the trill of broiling life caught in each breath - a feral love of a moment; another sunset across the deserts beyond Carthage, five of us together in the heads of peasants discussing cloaking strategies - each of us lost and found in the others, brothers and sisters beyond the comfort of death.

I remember that Boude had been the one who had bought me through to Carthage, which in turn reminds me of why I have bought Sam here and what we need to do. The man behind us is slightly taller than Sam, and much bulkier - his stomach is a warm blanket against Sam's hips and lower back as he thrusts, one hand cupped over Sam's bladder and the other clutched on the shoulder to fasten his forearm across Sam's chest. Sam himself is rigid, his conscious voice now gusted to tatters in the blusters of blood-bourn endorphins and hormones.

Which is an unexpected bonus. It makes what I need to do next a lot easier, for both of us.

I can see the band clearly around Sam's thumb, its metal colour almost a match to the tap against which it rests. The stones are barely visible at the moment, though that is not an issue for my purpose. As ever, I can feel the hook of its attraction deep in my essential being, its soft tug inviting me to release my hold on Sam's mind and return home: another sort of love, I suppose, an inbuilt impulse that cannot be refused.

Carefully, I untangle my tendrils, let slither my roots, enfold myself within me. Float free, a moil of essences and intentions bound for home.

If only it was that easy to render! Already I can feel Sam's mind reacting, his unconscious patterns and drives shafting through the ball of my being, each thrust driving the barbs of posession deeper into my ephemeral structures.

Pain, like love, is not bound to the flesh. Now I must rely on the ruse I have placed within me to blunt the agony as I am stretched between skull and band. I remember love: the tiger, the tomb.

The band wants to wind me around its circle. I can feel the heat of the stones as I approach them, each an individual point of comfort, a welcome. Mescwar reaches out to embrace me, hoist me to safety. Now I must remember the opposite of love. Now I must loathe the wrongs done to me. Now I must remember the red-haired hunter and his bloody spear planted in my mother's chest.

And gather myself tight, become a point; a needle to penetrate the skin of the knuckle, to pass beyond derma and tendon and muscle to skim the length of bone, to bring myself to balance within the confines of the band's hoop, each stone an equidistant moon tethering me to stability.

If I had lungs, I'd scream. Above me now the sapphire prison of Ounous and the malevolent lie of Spoy, the fire of Tincas and the ice of Onuun; below me Mescwar and Uekh, each to their own interpretation of yellow, bracketing the heavy populations of emerald Fuebe. I can feel the question forming across the spheres of my being: call forth, sing the vibrations. Choose!

'Onuun!' I project the command through a miasma of brutal jabs, each a grim burn. 'Falc!'

The siren stones are mesmerising me. I must loathe them. I must loathe what has become of me, what I am reduced to. I must be a morphic rresonance of equal repulsion to that which would consume me. Still the vice of Sam's thoughtless mind clutches at my viscous being, binds me to him as a lover to the beloved.

As I snap back to the comforts of a living skull, the man behind us convulses, jerks to his climax and drops to the floor. The air Sam gasps into his lungs carries a faint taint of ozone within it, a hint of garlic and balsam and chert to mark the unwilling passage of a being brought through to the Outer World.

Welcome back, Falc. I hope you like your new host.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Poem: Banshee


Her dire smile, a flame in the maze
of his morphine miasmas. She dabs
his face with fresh cloths, smooths

tremors from scorched limbs -
his immortal nurse, starched,
swathing blisters in zinc balms.

Gentle, she swaps clotted bandages
for clean swaddle, white as a lily
on a new-sown grave. She grieves

in soft murmurs as he shudders
for each half-breath -- no need
for her to howl from turrets

this night: wires and machines
will siren his certain liberty
from the shackle of crisp flesh.

... is that too many modifiers for modern tastes? Whatever, this version is better than the original posted to pffa ...

Monday, November 02, 2009

NaNo 09: Day 2

"Oi, mate! Can you give me a hand here?"

I don't believe this is happening. By the look on the man's face, neither can he.

"You're naked," he says, all open mouth in unshaved jowls.

"My girlfriend's turfed me out, innit! Shoved me out of the door and won't let me back in. She says she's calling the Bill if I make a scene!"

Which is a lie, of course. After I asked him to break us into the building, Sam spent a couple of minutes gazing at the warehouse frontage, a thoughtless consideration of possibilities. Then without warning he stripped naked and hid his clothes under the wheels of a van parked a dozen metres down the road and, crouching, waited for someone to walk by.

"What do you want me to do?"

I watch the man's surprise meld into a smile across his face.

"Can you help me get into this place? I've got some overalls in there, but the key's in my trouser pocket and my trousers ..."

Now he's grinning. "This is a joke, innit! You got cameras stashed somewhere."

"No, mate, honest!"

There's no doubting my host's ability to lie with sincerity, but I can feel an acid of panic start to form in Sam's stomach when the man pulls a ring of keys out of his own pocket and jangles them.

"I don't know what's going on, but I do know you ain't got no clothes stashed in my building. So tell me what this is all about, yeah?"

And Sam stands up and smiles back at the man, shrugging his shoulders. "I'm not lying about the girlfriend, mate – well, I was lying about the 'girl' bit. See what I mean? I can't go in the pub for help: they don't like the likes of me in there ..."

It takes me less than a second to rummage and strain through Sam's memories to confirm the truth of that statement. I hadn't realised that this street is less than a mile from where he grew up; Sam had built up a detailed mess of information on his local pubs long before he reached the legal drinking age. This pub had a nasty reputation.

But why tell the stranger about his preference for men?

And then I felt it: a cool slice of communication between Sam's eyes and his heart, skin, mouth – like a gentle spit of iced rain foretelling of a storm to come.

Sam calls it gaydar. I call it spooky, the way one human can identify others attracted to them, a microsecond change in the chemical balances of both bodies – a means of communication beyond my understanding, or even intuition. And yet it happens all the time, and it's just happened here.

Sam's standing naked in the street, and the man who stares at him likes what he sees.

NaNo 09: Day 1

The pub sits on a corner of two shabby backstreets, part of the maze of lanes beyond Southwark High Street, away from the river and the redevelopments currently transforming the South Bank into yet another of London's tourist traps. I'm not surprised to find it open even at this time of the morning: there's something about the air in Southwark which seems to encourage a disregard of rules and regulations. Southwark was always the place to go for rough pleasures; I remember losing a lot of money more than once betting on the wrong cock or the wrong dog.

I'm tempted by the idea of fortifying myself with a couple of pints of beer before I start tracking Boude. But time is pressing – the clouds in the overcast sky above me are beginning to colour as dawn approaches, and the drizzle of people walking by is starting to thicken.

The warehouse is tucked behind the pub. It looks much younger than the pub, with ranks of steel windows a dozen feet above the path. But while the pub is open and operational, this place has a feeling of neglect, abandonment around it. The only new thing I can see is the padlock and chain across the bars ahead of the entrance.

Sam's back, and taking an interest in things again. 'Do you know how to break in?' I ask him.


'We're going to rescue the girl.'


It takes a bare moment for me to sink back into the folds of Sam's mind. As he comes forwards I can already taste his concentration as he considers the problem – honey and strong cheese, which reminds me that Sam hasn't eaten since yesterday evening.

A couple of pints of beer might have been a good idea, I realise.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

NaNoWriMo 2009

It's NaNo time again, and this year I'm gonna give the challenge a good stabbing.

I'll be honest, though, there will be cheating involved. Rather than start a new book I'll continue writing the book I've already got 30k words for; I'll call myself a winner if I reach 80k (and, hopefully, the end of the book).

Current first draft of the book is up at TextNovel. As the blurb says:

Kal is not having the best of times: his friends have deserted him; the city around him has changed; and the man whose head he lives in knows he is there. And now he has to save the world - though working out what's threatening the world is proving to be a problem too ...

Also included: dragons, psychic vampires, gay zombies, godlike monsters and very annoying old women.

Daily drafts will also be posted here under the RBS and SpinTrap tags. Good writing is not guaranteed.

Carpe diem, etc!

Monday, October 26, 2009

On writing yourself into a really stupid corner

You both may have noticed that I've been rewriting my Interminable Work (aka the Snowdrop Poem) over the past few weeks. This is one of my madder projects that's been going on (and off) for more years than I care to remember: a long poem about a girl called Snowdrop who stumbles into a magical world - much against her will - one Crimbo Eve and has many adventures with fairies, sprites and various lost souls, some of whom would quite like to see her sacrificed to continue the magic of the place and, incidently, bring about the birth of a new sun to replace the one that in the midst of its winter solstice death.

Anyways, one of the strange beasties that plays a role in the story is a huge tiger. Which is my first mistake because while the rest of the poem makes great use of English folklore, there's sod all folklore in England relating to tigers. Cats, yes; tigers, no.

What happened is this. Five years ago the folks over at PFFA held a reality-style contest to find the World's Next Great Superpoet. Thankfully I resisted the urge to enter the contest, but I did play along by trying out some of the weekly challenges - one of which was to write some long nonsense verse. Being a Lear-fanatic, I had no choice except to write some verse about a tiger:

Great Tiger she sits on her rocky throne
and thinks of her world in a rumbling drone:
"What wonders I see, when the moonlight shakes
and trees make a dance with the homesick drakes -
such artfulsome drakes to unblock the clouds,
such spindle-full trees to unwrap the shrouds
for Great Mallocka Tiger.

"My stripes are a kilter of tans and blacks,
my claws are a slaughter of iron in stacks
to cleave the sweet meat. I'm a belching maw!
I snarl at the bushes and sniff the spoor,
I startle the rats and the ruddy fox
and even mankind is afraid to box
the Great Mallocka Tiger."

Great Tiger, she says: "I can see a child.
He strides through the woods with a gait so wild,
with jaggering arms and a clenching face -
what troubles him so to invade my place?
I'll stalk him through bushes and pounce him down.
I'll paddle his body and crack his crown -
I'm Great Mallocka Tiger!"
... etc, etc, etc.

Not the greatest verse in the world, I'll admit, but I liked the result. So for reasons I can't quite remember I added the poem to the Interminable Work, getting another character (the Smuggler) to perform the song as part of the Queen's Fair on the hill overlooking the Romney Marshes.

Then somewhere along the road I decided to conflate the boy in the song with one of my key characters - the Tallyman. My second mistake was to mention in several different places that this Badass fella sat on a tiger's skin. I thought I could get away with this because the Tallyman is not of English stock - proved by the fact that he talks in ghazal couplets (lord help my bad decision-making skills - have either of you ever tried writing sodding ghazals?!?).

Except that whenever I look at the Mallocka song, five years later, I can see it for the crap that it is. It has to go.

Now my mistakes so far hadn't been fatal; it would've been reasonably simple to get the Smuggler to perform a different song, and rework those sections which mention that the Tallyman sits on a tiger skin so that he sits on something a little more, well, folkloreish - say the hide of a Welsh dragon, or a Dun Cow, or whatever. That way I wouldn't have to work out a way to embroider the alien tiger into the homely folklore of the poem. But before I got the chance to do this, I made my third mistake: I wrote a new section (a couple of years back, I think, in NaPoWriMo desparation) bringing the tiger back to life, and this time the lines made for some Good Verse ...

She walks the sods and the soils of the marsh,
each saucer paw padding the dirt
into oval dents. When ditches block
her path she leaps them, pitching her limbs
in a stretch across the stagnant waters -
an arch of blacks and oranges burst
through the robes of mist, disrupting geese
from sleep in the reeds. She sniffs at the earth,
whiskers herding the hardened stalks
of winter wheat in whorls and swirls,
touching, tasting the tangs of this world.

When she spots the dam, she stops mid-pace -
a frozen bronze: the sheep looks up,
cud on the tongue, twitch-ears sculling
for a hint of sound beside the expected
creaks and cracks of her cold-hugged home.

Slow, she shifts a splinter of an inch:
let slide the muscles, let slip the claws
through the clay clods and crouch, and settle
the tail, and wait. Watch for the duck
of a head, the scrape of hoof on ice ...

... and dash! A flash of fur striping
the field; a snarl, a flick of the paw
and they tumble down, a tussle of wool
and scat - the herd stampedes, their bleats
a billow of alarms alerting neighbours:

danger! Danger! Dogs on the loose!
Teeth on the throat! Tearing and ripping -
run to the gate; gather and huddle!

But she is no hound. She hauls the meat
back to the ditch, dips through the reeds
and into the water, etching a curl
of ripples from bank to bank as she paddles
her course to the sewer, and the sea beyond.
... not perfect, of course, it can do with a bit of buffing and stuff, but there's no way I'm going to ditch this section!

Which means that, like it or not, the tiger has to stay in the story.

Which means that somehow I've got to figure out a way to make the tiger's inclusion in the cast of characters ... work.

Which is why I'm standing in the corner of my metaphorical room, paintbrush in hand, wondering how the heck I'm going to get myself out of this mess. Because the next section up for revision is the Mallocka song.

Maybe some googling can help me out ...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Revision: Snowdrop 3.1 - Voices in the Dark

Voices in the Dark

"As God is my witness, you'll not disagree,
my words took her down like an axe to a tree!
And yet I said nothing to cause such a crime -
perhaps she has come here before her due time?"

"Now hush, old man, and bring her here.
Let's take a look-see at her state:
there's no harm done, just scrapes and cuts
and mud to hide her pretty face
and dressed in cloth as thin as smoke -
She'll catch her death without a shawl!"

"You know we're beyond the soft clutch of the tomb,
stuck here on this hill where no chill can presume
to stop a heart beating or steal the last scrape
of air to the lungs - there's no death to escape."

"You speak the truth, my smuggling friend,
though still the frozen earth can burn
and torture flesh left free of wool
or fur or cotton - why should I
not worry? Look at her: All bones
and skin - no fat to keep her warm."

"You worry too much, Mistress May, I declare!
She's here for a purpose; this much I would swear.
I look as you tell me, and what I can see
is someone who's been here before, you'd agree?"

"She seems familiar, this is true
- the curve of cheek, the golden hair -
as if that woman sent to bleed
upon his knife not long ago
returns restored from sacrifice;
a sign of change to come, perhaps?"

"It's said that the women of Dymchurch can peer
through hearthstones and whetstones and know what the year
will bring to their doorsteps and tables: what fate
awaits this poor child - is it fearsome, or great?"

"Such nonsense ill becomes you, man!
Now hush, she's rousing. Go and find
some food for her, a bowl of broth
and bread, and water too. Be quick!
You're due to entertain the fair
with shanty tales: that much I know!"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Revision: Snowdrop 2.5 - Time Everlastin'

Time Everlastin'

Silence in the glade: a slant of breeze
lifts through the twigs of the leafless trees.

"It's Time Everlastin' - you know of this place?
It settles across old Lympne Hill in its grace
when Christmastide falls on the fulsome oak moon
and dancing becomes our delight and our doom."

He slumps in his cups, a crack of a smile
loose on the leather of his lemon face.

"Come sit beside me and I'll weave you a tale
of night never-over, of endless wassail;
of journeys unfinished, of glamours and glooms -
of folks left abandoned by God to these fumes."

She cannot move. A mock of a scream
falters in her throat, throttling her breath.

"I know of a song that can set out the truth
of why we've been caught in the nets of the youth
who came from the east with a curse on his hands
to build a new kingdom in our blessed lands."

Her knees unhinge and hit the earth:
a stump of flint furrows her cheek.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rikweb website statistics

So last December, as I was sorting things out with my webhost, I got them to add Matrixstats to my service so I could keep track of comings and goings at the Rikweb website. They were offering it for free, and I'm not a person to turn down free stuff - especially shiny free stuff like Matrixstats.

And then, after I got it all set up and running, I promptly forgot about it. Until today, when I stumbled upon the wonderful shininess of website statistics once again. Completely by accident, of course, but then that's often the best way to do these things.

Now webstats, in my view, are pretty meaningless in their raw state. The total number of hits is not a measure of web-worthiness. Especially if a lot of those hits are coming from spiders and other creepy crawlies clambering all round the site to feed snippets back to the Google mothernest. But some of the stats are interesting.

For instance, over the past 10 months over 23,000 sessions requested more than one page on the website, which probably translates into over 20 thousand people (ie humans with pulses and suchlike) visiting the site. Thats 2,000 people knocking on the door each month.

Yes, I know, that's peanuts for a website. But then rikweb.co.uk is not trying to sell anything to anyone, nor am I paying for adverts to get people to visit the RikVerse or the Kalieda Encyclopaedia, nor do I spam my links (much).

More exciting to me, 6,000 sessions (people) have spent more than 15 minutes browsing through the website during their visit - which translates to 600 people a month, or 20 people a day. This is ten times more people than I ever hoped for: I'd be happy if just 2 people a day popped by for a browse!

And then I found the statistics for downloads (in other words how many times my poetry chapbook files have been downloaded) ... and I was blown away.

Over the past 10 months:
So even if only 10% of those downloads were by people who wanted to download my poems, that's still a lot of people who cared enough about my poems to download them. If you were one of those people, can I just say: thank you! I hope you enjoyed reading my poems.

... and no, you can't have a refund.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Revision: Snowdrop 2.4 - A Girl in Strange Company, Afraid

A Girl in Strange Company, Afraid

"Too much; too much! This fever strikes too hard
to be a dream: a nightmare rather, come
to test my head; who are you people strung
about this hill? A cult of madness scarred
by life and hope that leads you here to meet
in secret? Like a club of losers left
to dress in costumes, bows and knives, bereft
of families and friends and incomplete -

"and yet she shines like summer caught in hail,
and white, so white her skin and gold her hair
and black her eyes and thin, so thin her face;
she looks at me and I feel - vile, a snail
beneath a glamour model's heel - how dare
I stare at her unbowed? What is this place?"

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Revision: Snowdrop 2.3 - The Queen Greets her Wild Hunt

The Queen Greets her Wild Hunt

"Come, my ferals! Bring me your gifts and set them
here for all to see: a resplendant bounty -
starlings, squirrels, venison too; enough for
all our compulsions!

"Wily hunters, Woden's own warband, welcome!
Rest among us now, for your work is finished:
cleanse your faces; feast and carouse; indulge in
all your compulsions!

"Loose the dogs to play in our moonstruck meadow.
Hard they've worked this night and deserve their freedom:
howl and snarl and harry the souls who worship
all their compulsions!

"Horsa, Lord, for you I have many pleasures -
fetch him mead and meat and the ease of music!
Come, my lover, sit by my side; discover
all my compulsions!"

Monday, October 12, 2009

On reporting the book submission process

I've just come across a blog post by the Doyenne of Blogging Agents Janet Reid, explaining why it is not a good idea for budding authors to publicise their rejections on their blogs. The post was made just as I jetted off on my holidays, hence my lack of speed on noticing it.

Ms Reid makes some excellent points; this is advice that really should be followed by anyone seriously interested in being published.

And yet ... and yet ...

Yes, I am very seriously interested in having my book published. I think The Gods in the Jungle had good commercial potential and could (with a touch of luck and a twitch of inspired viral marketing) make some money for all who choose to hitch their wagons to it.

But I'm not going to stop reporting on my submission process on this here blog. First, because it is An Adventure, and thus blog-worthy news. Second, because I'm exploring what sort of service an unpublished author can expect to receive from the various slushpiles our work gets submitted to. And third, because a little feedback and a link to the agent's web presence never harms no-one - especially when the agencies concerned take that feedback for what it is: one person's opinion.

If this upsets some agents, then I have to wonder whether they care more for their business, or whether it really is all about their public persona's ego.

As to doubting whether an agent can trust a writer who seemingly blogs about things that they ought to stay quiet about, you'll both notice that I've made no further reference to the Jobhunting post I published here a month back. Why not? Because when I sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement, I stick to it. Rigidly. Even if I didn't land the job. Similarly, there have been many, many times when I've read the news and felt the urge to post anecdotes concerning various policies (and politicians) from my days of working in the Civil Service. But I've resisted the temptation, because I believe such anecdotes belong in a personal diary, not a blog.

It's called "being professional when it comes to work".

Normal services shall resume shortly ....

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Revision: Snowdrop 2.2 - The Fruit of the Wood

The Fruit of the Wood

They watch the moils of the midnight fair
as they weave their song, reciting the words
of the land and the sea. Linked by fingers,
the brother and sister sing from a boulder
that acts as their stage - a stirrup of granite
embedded in chalk. The boy is the sea,
his hair the weed that winnows the brine;
the girl is the land, the green of her skin
the grassy pastures that patchwork the Downs.

"... we'll save our child and heal her sores -
we'll love again, my sea, my sea."
A flurry of clapping confirms the conclusion
of their turn on the rock. They take a moment
to salute their patrons, their smiles professional
- as if seasoned beyond their seeming years.
He kisses her cheek; she kicks his shin
and together they leap from the ledge of the set.
The fair engulfs them: a glamour of shadows
indulging in dance, in drama, in gossip
caught on the meadow clung to the hill.

Hearing the horns of the hunters' return,
the jaden siblings jostle their way
through legs and hips, a hustle, a push;
in spurts they clamber, splicing the crowds
in a roil of rebukes to reach the knoll
where the queen of the feast fashions her court.
They see her face the feral men,
witness the piling of plunder before her -
lifeless prizes plucked from the woods.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Gods in Jungle submissions update #8

And one more rejection in the post this morning. This one comes from the Mic Cheetham Agency who, in their professional and businesslike form rejection letter (ie they sign and date it), tell me that they're a relatively small agency and taking on very few new fiction projects at the moment; they suggest I try Curtis Brown or PFD instead, which I think is a very nice touch in an otherwise simple form rejection. Time from submission sent to rejection received: 43 days.

As someone who dabbles in web design, I do wonder how much these folks spent on their website. Possibly too slick and minimalistic for their needs? I wasn't planning to send a submission to them based on their online presence, but was pursuaded otherwise by their entry in the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook.

Gods in Jungle submissions update #7

Two rejections from agents while I was away sunning myself in Crete - I'll count their response time at 40 days as neither rejection was dated (or even signed).

MBA Literary Agents were one of my biggest hopes - they represent some very interesting fantasy authors in addition to Anne McCaffrey, a long-time favourite writer of mine (represented by Diana Tyler). So, yes, this is a dissappointing rejection. MBA's form rejection is in fact a postcard: yellow with four short paragraphs, no date or signature.

Which is more than I can say for Pollinger Limited. I accept that they were a long-shot (they don't explicitly exclude SFF) so I didn't expect much from them. What I got back from them in the mail was my cover letter with a small, circled capital R - in pencil - added to the top. Is this the way they normally choose to conduct their business? Is that a professional and courteous response? Whatever. I get the hint; I'll not be darkening their doors again.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Gods in Jungle submissions update #6

From Greene & Heaton - form rejection after 30 days (well within their stated 6 week response time).

They were a long shot, included mainly because they didn't explicitly exclude SFF queries, but also because they choose to explain their philosophy to the work in clear and simple terms on their website - of which I very much approve. Their decision doesn't surprise me, nor does it disappoint.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Looks like the redundancy money will be running out quicker than I had hoped. Which means that I'm starting the process of looking for work. Though I won't have to look to hard this side of crimbotide. Bastard bankers and politicians ruining the economy.

Anyways, the CV is loaded onto the Guardian Jobs website (at least I think it is - they're sending me links to jobs they think I'll be interested in). This time next year I'll probably be comfortable in the shackles chaining me to the office workstation, and resigned to the daily commute.

In the meantime, I still have the luxury of applying for jobs that are a little more off the wall. I'm currently pulling together a submission for a work contract in a creative area rarely trod by others; the competition looks stiff, but you never know. The rewards, should I win the contract, will be modest - though there may be a credit involved too, my name appearing in the listings somewhere alongside Best Boy, Dolly Grip, and Assistant Teamaker to the Executive Producer's Chauffeur. More I cannot say: merely to bid for the contract I've had to sign papers promising to mention or discuss nothing (beyond what is already public knowledge) about the work or the employers. What I can say is that this opportunity excites me far, far more than any of the posting adverts the Guardian is ever likely to send my way.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Gods In Jungle submissions update #5

No news. The submissions have been out for four weeks now, and should be elbowing their way towards the top of the various slush piles over the next fortnight.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Who says petitions don't work?

It's actually a decent apology - kudos to the person who drafted it. Only the bare minimum of political rhetoric, and a nod towards the many, many other gay men who lived in such fear of reprisal.

So petitions are useful, then, for stuff that don't cost a penny to change ...

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Fresh maps

... for the Lands section of the Kalieda Encyclopaedia. All the Lands now have three maps: place on continent; general; and habitat/cultivations. For instance, the maps for the Land of Rhindose ...

Place on continent
Rhindose place map

General map
Rhindose general map

Habitats and cultivations
Rhindose cultivations map

Medium Rik

From a test I took (for free; I like free) at the Heidi Sawyer Institute of Psychic Development website:

psychic test, psychic development and psychic readings

My telepath, clairvoyant, psychokinesis and precognition scores range from meh! to huh?, but my channeling/mediumship score is a challenging hmm ...

Now I'd appreciate it if you both stopped jumping up and down shouting SCAM! Rik believes in an open mind and a combination lock on his wallet, 'kay? Rik only forks out money for scientifically sound stuff like Belbin tests ... erm ... yes! Open minds are good!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Gods In Jungle submissions update #4

No news is good news, huh?

I've removed the opening chapters of the tome from both Authonomy and YouWriteOn - those sites were wasting my time, having to read other people's work in the hope of attracting their votes ... for what? A professional critique?

Better if I spend my time writing the current work in progress, I think, rather than worrying about what other people think of the 'finished' work.

Why I'm bored of poetry

I'm getting to a point in my life where the thought of reading yet another poem by yet another poet fills me with a sense of ... what? Dread? Dispair? No, nothing that extreme, I think. Rather there's a sort of lassitude, resignation even, that creeps over me as I consider the prospect of diving into another poem.

I mean, some of these poems - they're such fucking hard work. There was a time when I would enjoy the challenge, seek it out. A battle between the brain of Rik and the words scattered across the page. There was a sense of fun in the work, a sense of achievement when I found new meaning and insight into the mind of another person through the text of their work.

But such moments seem to be getting rarer nowadays. Maybe it's the turning of the year that's getting to me. Maybe I just need to switch off for a couple of years, let the batteries recharge. I don't know ...

Mostly when I try to read a poem nowadays I find my thoughts drifting off after a few lines into an argument with the absent author. I'm asking questions about intent and purpose rather than concentrating on the images and juxtapositions and prosody and stuff.

What hurts most is that these same questions crop up when I try reading my own work.

"Why are you wasting my time with this?" is the most common question. "Where's the goods, the payoff?" is another, and "have you ever heard of having some fun?"

Hurtful, inappropriate questions, see. Questions that no poet should be forced to answer in this day and age of individualistic celebrity.

And still I ask them. And part of me wants every poet, everybody attempting to write a poem, to answer some of these questions as they tackle their latest masterpiece:

What's driving you to write this poem? Are you creating the news or reacting to it? Are you experimenting with ideas or offloading a bunch of lines from your ever-present notebook into the vehicle of a poem? Are your thoughs and emotions roiling as you write or is this an examination of past thoughts and emotions? Are you filling a quota? Another poem for today? Another filler piece for the sequence? Why write this poem? Why not write a different poem now? Why write the poem at all?

Who are you writing this poem for? Do you know who your audience is? Do you care? Am I part of the audience? Is the only audience that matters stuck inside your skull? Who are you trying to impress with this poem? Your teachers? Your peers? Your mother? You lover? The person you want to fuck? Your ego? The rotting, clotting, powdered dead poets of yesteryear?

If you don't care about audience, why am I reading this poem? Seriously, why?

What purpose does this poem serve? Will this poem change the world? Will the world care about this poem? What bits of the world? Do you want it to change the views of strangers? Do you want strangers to love you because of what you wrote? Or like you? Or respect you? Or care? Or maybe you want them to care about the poem's subject, perhaps? Will your poem stop the war, or cause a soldier or terrorist somewhere in the world to pause before they pull the trigger? Will it help a policeman empathise more with a rape victim? Will it help raise the levels of world empathy or sympathy? Will I care more? Understand more? Will your poem help make me a better person? Is it important to you that your poem should attempt to make me a better person? What if I don't want to be a better person? What if I want to read poems to entertain me? What if I want to read your poem for fun, enjoyment, satisfaction? Is that alright with you? Even if the poem fails to entertain? Do you care? Can you care?

Where will this poem end up? In a book? Is it your dream to publish a book, or are you happy to see this poem nestle among stranger's poems in a magazine or an anthology? Does that thought excite you, or scare you? Does the thought of people paying money to buy your poem excite you? What if they don't want to pay? What if they can't afford to pay? What is your view of the book or magazine in which your poem might appear? Is it a showcase for your words and thoughts and expertise, or a prison? What about online? Can you still respect your poem if it appears online some place? Can you still love your poem if nobody respects it through the exchange of coin? Do you care? Should you care? Should I care? Why?

I hate autumn. Too many questions; and no answers to be had in the scatter of leaves.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Alan Turing petition

Taken from the 10 Downing Street website:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to apologize for the prosecution of Alan Turing that led to his untimely death.

"Alan Turing was the greatest computer scientist ever born in Britain. He laid the foundations of computing, helped break the Nazi Enigma code and told us how to tell whether a machine could think.

"He was also gay. He was prosecuted for being gay, chemically castrated as a 'cure', and took his own life, aged 41.

"The British Government should apologize to Alan Turing for his treatment and recognize that his work created much of the world we live in and saved us from Nazi Germany. And an apology would recognize the tragic consequences of prejudice that ended this man's life and career."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

my latest poem's a bit different ...

... on account of being my very first Akat poem:

Making any sense yet? No? 'Kay, let's try looking at it written out in a more conventional script:

ninagreqesetfùxzavihxda!otoks syhnfos tiàpakúvezda!dot
ciriàkasêfuszyhnvihxzbabda!ateqs àfos tioỳkyk myliùadobáot
ỳqykentaphriáke! egrexezeibadêhcòhxdoul mylàcupniàsyssysap
cirivz ỳkelcitaqoksiéfoxhnest fylivz ésefliỳfopehnit

Not working, huh. How about if I add some sound info to them there letters:

... that's IPA letters up above; they tell you how to say things rather than pretending to tell you like those delinquent latin letters.

By this point you should be able to read out the poem and admire the sounds - though given that this is the first 'poem' I've written in the language it's probably not what the native speakers would consider to be sonically pleasing.

But in case you're after some more visual information, how about we look at the poem through the lens of a different script:

Sure is pretty, huh? There's some form coming through now. See how there's an equal number of columns in the first three lines? That's a common technique for some flavours of Akat poetry - ruined in this instance by the last line only being eight and a half columns wide.

Is it a poem for you yet?


'Kay, here's a translation of the poem. It is, like all translations, a bit of a dog's dinner - to make it seem more 'poetic' in English, I've had to sacrifice some of the poetry in the original:

Night steals my chest-cradled terror
like the hawk lifts a rat from the wheat;
you loosen your hair, let it flutter
in the moon's breeze - a nest
for faces: two bleached eggs.

... and anyways, I never claimed it was a good poem ...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Gods In Jungle submissions update #3

I've sent submission queries to ten agents: eight in the traditional manner, one by email, one by webform. I'll not name names now, but I will be recording turnaround times and response outcomes as and when they occur.

Is admitting on this here blog that I've done simultaneous submissions an act of stupidity? Possibly - though in my defence I did spend a lot of time researching these agents and most of the queries have been individualised with a few words to expalain why I was submitting to that particular agent (except for the slushpile submissions, but then why individualise a submission when I have no idea who will be speed-readinbg it). Agents can be a bit touchy when it comes to reputation and performance stuff. But keeping details of my adventures in Agentland secret feels wrong to me in this day and age of sharing info and data and stuff.

Whatever. The race is on: who will be the first agent to form reject my tome? Which agents will be brave enough to request the full manuscript? Keep tuned, folks ...

Is 'Gods in Jungle' Steampunk?

After reading Cherie Priest's blogpost 'Steampunk: What it is, why I came to like it, and why I think it’ll stick around', I've suddenly realised that my tome has a lot of similarities to Steampunk:

- technology mainly based on clockwork and steam, though there is electricity (and part of one chapter deals directly with how power is generated in this world); also a weapons technology which goes little further than muskets, with a preference for hand-to-hand combat

- clothes, accessories, fetishes (in the non-sexual sense) that are distinctly pre 20th century; the wards people wear in particular tend to be home made from bits and pieces that have personal, not commercial, value

- an inclusiveness in the range of characters; the only character who is defined as having a 'white' skin is Maeduul, with all the others having a range of brown skins; Maeduul is also explicitly 'deformed' and 'bred for a purpose'; furthermore, as I was revising the book I came to the conclusion that a number of characters veered away from the classic heterosexual stereotype without bothering to define themselves as gay/lesbian/bisexual - sex just 'is'; also the age range of the key characters (7 different POV characters and another 3 central to the story) goes from teenage innocents to old wiseheads

- a wealth of societal stuff, including three distinct classes (Clansfolk, Commonfolk, Servants), each of which has a stereotypical misunderstanding of how the others operate, behave, believe in - some huge clashes of world views which are the key driver for the storyline

- intensely rich mythologies, and some very real non-terrestrial critters which play a (passive yet important) role in the story.

... in fact the only thing I got wrong was to stage the story on a world which is most definitely not Earth, To-to!

But still, another potential audience for the book. Wish I'd thought of this before I sent out all those queries.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Gods In Jungle submissions update #2

I've submitted the tome to ten agents. Should I be admitting this? Probably not, but right at this moment in time I have the patience of a gnat desparate for the proverbial piss.

They're all good agents and agencies, mind. I'd pawn my grandmothers teeth to land any one of them - even if it means having to dig up grandmother's corpse to get said teeth to pawn. There is one agent I'd happily pawn my own teeth to land - and yes, that includes extracting the bony mites from my gums sans anasthesia - but I'm not going to say which agent that is ...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Gods in the Jungle ... in a thousand words

The jungle city of Bassakesh holds the keys to the future of the Vreski Empire. It is the sole source of the vedegga dye, which generates enormous wealth for those who control its production and trade. But Bassakesh is more than a collection of buildings and businesses. It is a place where many journeys start and end, a place where histories converge and explode.

For Delesse, the Governor's daughter, the city is soon to be a place of memories. Contracted to marry Loken, heir to one of the most powerful Clans in the Empire, she fears change and dreams of love. Her betrothal celebrations bring together many people whose lives will be marked forever by events in the city.

For Loken, Bassakesh represents the promise of a new beginning. He acts as his father's dutiful son while trying to escape his family's plots by gambling and whoring. Meeting Delesse changes his world and gives him a reason to rebel: love. When his uncle's plans for disrupting the vedegga harvest go awry, Loken chooses to stay in Bassakesh and help save the city from the plague.

For Julyeis, the housekeeper of the city's most exclusive brothel, Bassakesh is home. She was born here after her Servant parents escaped the Clan strife and came to the city for refuge. For her, the plague is a disaster that takes her beyond the city walls on a trek to a new life she neither wants nor believes in.

For Shapeis, the city is a place to work. Sold to Varoul, the brothel's owner, for six months profit, he has become cynical of the world and longs for something more – though until the arrival of Kebezzu, a feral Servant who preaches the words of the mystical Burning Woman, he has no idea what could fill that longing.

Kebezzu has a mission: her work is to lead the Servant folk from their serfdom and take them into a future where they can be free to practice their Service as they see fit. Her message is the prophecies of the Burning Woman and her tool is Sosunda, a child she claims is the Burning Woman's reincarnation. For her, Bassakesh is one more stop on a pilgramage; when plague comes to the city, she believes she is vindicated and convinces many of the surviving Servants to follow her on a trek northwards to liberation.

For Loetopas, Bassakesh represents profits. For his elder brother Puusen, the vedegga profits are a path to gaining the ultimate prize – the imperial throne itself. Puusen sends Loetopas and his son Loken to Bassakesh with a special gift, an illness to disrupt the vedegga harvest which will reap him vast profit from his dye stockpiles, and future power by seizing control of the vedegga groves – using his secret workforce of feral Servants gathered together by people such as Kebezzu.

For Feyn, the Emperor's mistress and also Delesse's aunt, the city is a place to play politics: she has old scores to settle with Loetopas, and a debt to her youngest sister, Delesse's mother, which she hopes to repay by doing everything in her power to frustrate Loetopas's plans for the Governor's family and the city – whatever those plans may be.

For Tuuke, Bassakesh is a revelation. Hired by the Governor as the city's Guardsman, his job is to keep the peace, and to keep the machinations of the Imperial Court away from the city. With the help of his childhood friend Behin, Commander of the Imperial troops sent to secretly protect Feyn, he has to piece together the plots against his city, and then act to save the city when the illness brought by Loetopas turns into a deadly epidemic. And after the disaster? Revenge.

But before Tuuke can take revenge, before Feyn can thwart Loken's family's bid for the throne, before Loken and Delesse can wed and plan their future together rebuilding Bassakesh, before Julyeis and Shapeis can return home to build a better world for Servants and Clansfolk and common folk together, they must discover the real truth, the real story of what has happened, and why.

Maeduul knows the truth. A Servant bred for a purpose, a gift from the Emperor himself to Delesse's mother when she married the Governor of Bassakesh, a witness to the execution of the original Susunda over a burning pyre – Maeduul is the Story Keeper, the one who keeps the myths and legends of the Servants alive, who offers teaching and insight to those with the ears to listen. For she understands that civilisations are made of more than people and cities: a civilisation is the weave of a society's beliefs and world-views. And for too long the peoples of the Empire has been divided by conflicting stories about who they are, where they came from and why they are here.

Together Feyn, Maeduul and Tuuke, Delesse and Loken must travel upriver to another city – Viyame – the place where Loetopas ran when plague broke out in Bassakesh, the city where Kebezzu next plans to preach, bringing Julyeis, Shapeis and little Sosunda with her. A city where a greater crisis must be resolved.

For as they travel, news arrives that the Emperor has died. He leaves no heir, and no successor. Now the time comes for Loken's father and uncle to make their long-planned bid for the throne. Now Feyn, with Loken and Delesse by her side, must oppose them. With Julyeis's help Kebezzu is captured, Shapeis is rescued from the ferals, and the secrets of Sosunda and the Burning Woman are revealed.

The revelations allows Tuuke the chance to gain his revenge for the terror Loetopas brought to Bassakesh, but to take that revenge and prevent Puusen gaining the throne Loken and Delesse must first agree to risk their liberty, their future together and their very lives in a confrontation with the man who murdered Loken's brother in front of him many years before: his own uncle!

The Gods in the Jungle: you know you've got to read it!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Gods In Jungle submissions update #1

I'm gonna record where I send the book, and the responses I get, here on this very blog.

First up to get the chance to reject my tome? The easiest ones to send out to, of course:
- Snowbooks
- Macmillan New Writing

Both of these are publishers; both have very good reputations, with various of their books being shortlisted for various prizes. Both work on the premise that authors submit their entire manuscript with minimal fuss about accompanying pitch packages. Both offer contracts which are a straight share of royalties - no advances. No need for agents, either - if it wasn't for their reputations, I'd probably not have been so eager to submit stuff to them given this sort of contract.

So what are their reputations?

MNW, as part of the Pan Macmillan group, has 'copper-bottom' written all over it. The imprint is specifically for previously unpublished authors. The authors they've launched have been making some sizable waves in the national literary gossip-sphere. If I can catch the eyes of these guys, I'd be ecstatic.

Snowbooks is far smaller, far more intimate. If they choose to take on my book, I'd be working with the one editor through the whole process. And (assuming the copy on their website is still relevant for these changing times) they're very commercially-focussed, doing a lot of work to get the book into the shops and onto the prominent tables in those shops. On the whole I think this balance between close working with authors and a highly professional outlook towards selling the product would make them my ideal publisher.

Fingers crossed, etc.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The publish my book campaign

Getting a book published is a battle. Allies must be sought in the form of an agent. Publishing castles will need to be beseiged until they capitulate. The hearts and minds of a kingdom of readers must be won - and encouraged to buy the book, of course (I won't ask for the full tithe).

But before the campaign begins - a rousing song:

Ooh-rah ooh-rah ooh-rah-ay ee-ay!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Book revision complete!

It's taken me weeks, but the task is done! The tome is revised, spellchecked, revised again - a completely new and much more exciting climax - spellchecked again, grammar checked and ... now it's time to send the bugger off to agents.

Pack your bags and go, book!

But first, a celebration drink ...

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Bollox to the recession!

Are you bored of bad debt? Fed up with fiscal ineptitude? Is the thankless grudge of thrift getting you down?

What you need is a dose of quality poetry! Vim your vocabulary with a verse or two. Pep your pulse with a poem.

Yes, you too can say "Bollox to the recession!" by treating yourself to a book of poems courtesy of those quality merchants of muse No Tell Books. Immersed in a sea of wordscapes, these poets can wash away your worries at the flick of a page.

And don't forget to check out the No Tells Blog for the hottest news on offers and special promotions.

Say Bollox to the recession! with a No Tell tome. I just did, and I feel so good about myself I want to burst with pride!

Note: I have nothing to do with No Tell Books apart from having a lot of respect for the dedication and hard work that Reb and her mates have put into starting and developing their own micropress. The only time I submitted poems to No Tell Motel my work was rejected in a professional and businesslike manner.

If you love diversity in poetry and art, if you believe in freedom for little people to be able to start and build up their own businesses in the face of multinational corporate conglomerates who care only for the profit margin, then you owe it to those plucky risk-takers to at least check out their products - you never know: you might end up finding a book you'll love for the rest of your life!

Go on - there's no harm in checking out the links. You know you want to ...

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Is this actiony enough?

The two biggest crits levelled against the start of my book are: 'where's the action?'; and 'where's the story?'

Oh, well. Obviously I'm going to have to rethink my entire marketing-to-agents masterplan. For a start, maybe I should be billing this 130k word tome as literary fiction rather than soft science fiction ...

Anyways, the rewriting of the last 4-5 chapters is almost complete, and I can tell you both that not only is there plenty of story in this ending, there's a bit of action too! But is it enough action?

"Somethings wrong!"

The sharpness of Maeduul's statement made Shapeis turn in his crouch to face her.

"What's happening?"

"Loetopas – he's stood up. He's leaning over Loken, putting something in his mouth."

An image triggered in his mind, a thumb on a little girl's chin, easing it down to allow access for another morsel of dough.

"Is he moving? Is Loken resisting?"

The woman was shaking her head.

"They've used that drug on him," he said, answering his own question. He didn't wait for her response, turning back to sign the news to Tabeed.

"He's seen me! No, he's looking elsewhere, waving ..."


"Shapeis, there's someone else on the roof. A man. He's standing up now – how did I not spot him before? He's moving away."

A cold fist gripped at Shapeis's belly. "Where is he? We've got to stop him – he might be signalling ..."

"Too late: he's waving. Now he's turning, looking back to the room. Loetopas is signalling something ... he's turning again, moving towards us. Oh, bugger Sama Lovare's goat! He's got a gun ..."

It took Shapeis a second to clamber up to where Maeduul crouched. The man was in clear sight, looking around as if searching for something.

"Hide, woman!"

His legs moved without thought, dropping him back down beneath the crest of the roof, moving towards the man, the flat of his belly keeping close to the baked shingles – like the wildcat hunting the goat in one of the peasant dances he'd performed oh so many times for middle aged clients high on lutestran: foot here and hand and foot move and pause and knee to the chest ...

And leap!

Too late, the man had seen him. He was still turning, still bringing his hands and his gun into line with Shapeis as he grabbed at him, pulled him down to his knees. The man was smaller than Shapeis, thinner and lighter. He had him now, had him enfolded in his arms like a client before the rut ...

A noise like the Creator's own handclap erupted between them, clubbing his leg backwards, out and away. Shapeis felt himself stutter, fall backwards, tumble over and under and over the man in his arms. The man was struggling, but he would not let go ...


They were rolling faster now, slipping down the slope to the space beyond. Suddenly Shapeis realised what was happening, where they were heading. He unclasped the man, stretched arm and wrist and finger to grasp for a hold: none came. Still they were sliding, pulling, kicking each other, their course now accompanied by loosened tiles ...

And then they were flying free like Kaya-Brishe, prince of birds, as he tucked into a swoop for the rabbit.

That sound I can hear, decided Shapeis, that must be me screaming ...

What do you both think? Is it actiony enough?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Stop motion with wolf and pig

This I love:

I wish I was creative like that ...

Friday, July 31, 2009


For want of something to post, here are the chapter titles for my novel; I decided today to add titles as part of the final polish before the tome wings its way out to agents ...

1. The Story Keeper Talks of Beginnings
2. Delesse
3. Tuuke
4. The Naming of the Parts
5. Shapeis
6. Tabeed
7. The Sexing of Humanity
8. Bassakesh
9. The Groom's Party
10. The Burning Woman's Tale
11. The Beloved Courtesan
12. Loetopas
13. Behin of the Fifteenth
14. The Pig at the Feast
15. The Contract Celebrations
16. At the House of Varoul
17. The Gods on the Hill
18. Sheslan
19. The Death of Sama-Lovare
20. Rumours and Gossip
21. The Marking of the Bounds
22. Fear
23. A Festival of Imps
24. Loken
25. Beyond the City Walls
26. Politics
27. The Gods in the Jungle
28. Boats on the Taete
29. The Pride of Lachlasser
30. The Feral Life
31. At the Estates of the Emperor (Deceased)
32. How Ancestors are Honoured in Viyame
33. Diplomacy
34. Little Sosunda
35. The Guardsman Investigates his City's Murder
36. Parlay
37. Disaster
38. Consummation

Chapters 1-7 are still available to read on the Authonomy website

Sunday, July 26, 2009

See, this is why I want to learn Greek

Εν τη Oδώ
- Κ.Π. Καβάφης

Το συμπαθητικό του πρόσωπο, κομμάτι ωχρό·
τα καστανά του μάτια, σαν κομένα·
είκοσι πέντ’ ετών, πλην μοιάζει μάλλον είκοσι·
με κάτι καλλιτεχνικό στο ντύσιμό του
- τίποτε χρώμα της κραβάτας, σχήμα του κολλάρου —
ασκόπως περπατεί μες στην οδό,
ακόμη σαν υπνωτισμένος απ’ την άνομη ηδονή,
από την πολύ άνομη ηδονή που απέκτησε.

... because, you know, I've read the translations and something is telling me that they have nothing but the words of the original in them ...

Saturday, July 25, 2009


1. Go read Matt Taibbi's article in Rolling Stone - The Great American Bubble Machine.

2. Make sure you read the whole article.

3. Do some seething.

There used to be a time when coin clippers - because that is exactly what the senior executives of Goldman Sachs and their like are, what with their bubble profits and bonuses - could be charged with treason.

I'd also suggest that such a reckless, massive attack on the market economy is no different to terrorism - and people who engineer such profit-driven endeavours are no better than economic terrorists. If Goldman Sachs was a nation state, would we not now be at war with them?

See, I'm still seething about this whole mess. And so far the only people I see being punished for these crimes against society are the victims. And that is wrong.

Maybe we can't prosecute these bastards for treason. But that doesn't mean that we can't change the law to make sure that anyone who tries these scams against us again do have to face the full force of our rage.

Friday, July 24, 2009

And a cover for the novel

... because we can't do one without the other:

Cover for The Gods in the Jungle book

Somehow I don't think I'll be getting a job in a graphics design studio anytime soon.

SpinTrap - book cover

That TextNovel place encourages people to upload cover designs for their serial books - which is well enough because the default cover they use is pig-ugly. So I had to knock this one up quickly:

SpinTrap serial book cover

Scary, huh? Would you pick up a book with that on the front?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

You know my blog story ...

... that I was posting here a while back?

Well, I've found a new place to post it - a place that allows folks to read it online or on their phone and all sorts of interesting ways.

The venue is called Textnovel and the first three sections of the story - which has a brand spanking new name just to celebrate: 'SpinTrap' - are already up. New sections will be added every few days (just like they were when I was posting to the blog).

Does either of you need more enticing? Here's the short blurb:

Kal is not having the best of times: his friends have deserted him; the city around him has changed; and the man whose head he lives in knows he is there. And now he has to save the world - though working out what's threatening the world is proving to be a problem too ...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pitch my novel

Sounds kinda dirty, doesn't it. But if I want to get my novel published (and I do, I really do) then I've got to pitch it to people who think they might be able to generate themselves (and me) some profit out of my words.

Which is where The Pitch Parlour comes in. Out of the very kindness of her heart, Miss Pitch has set up a venue which allows aspiring wannabes like me a chance to test their pitch packages on real-life people, who are more than happy to point out the weaknesses and stupidities that can so easily creep into this most important aspect of getting a novel published.

Miss Pitch posted my package today: the query letter; the synopsis; and the opening 2,000 words. Please do pop over there and throw some mud at my efforts, or even just vote YES or NO. And while you're over there, do have a quick gander at the other pitches already posted - we all could use the feedback, even if you're not an agent or editor!

Oh, and if the story grabs either of you, I've got the first five chapters on display over at the Authonomy website. They're free to read and crit.

And can I just throw a big, wide open Thank You to Miss Pitch for coming up with her Pitch Parlour idea.