Here's a tip for your lunchtime browsing. Go to google.com, type 'weapons of mass destruction' into the search box, and then click the 'i'm feeling lucky' box.

Then read the error message very, very carefully.
I always wondered if I'd know when I'd reached that stage in life where middle age ceases to be far away, and starts to thunder towards you at breakneck speed. I now realise that this stage in life manifests itself in a sudden obsession with mortgages and interior design. However, to make it clear. I am not middle-aged. I am approaching middle age, and indeed may never become middle aged.

Self-delusional? Au contraire. I honestly believe becoming middle-aged is much more a state of mind than a physical state of being. Modern society is nowadays directed towards the concept of the eternal teenager. Is that what I think of myself as? Don't know, but whatever I think of myself as, it's not middle-aged.

Middle-aged men wear side-parted hair. They wear chunky patterned sweaters from Marks & Spencers, creased slacks from same (usually modelled in floor display giant-sized photos by gracefully ageing models pointing out to sea), and aviator spectacles. Terrifyingly enough, it is only as I type these very words that I realise I have perfectly described someone I know. Although now into middle-aged territory, I don't recall this person dressing any other way since I met him, and he must have been just past thirty at the time, almost thirteen years ago. It is also the way the man who runs the design & print shop I freelance at dresses.

Middle-aged people will, like said employer, fail to understand anyone under the age of forty, let alone twenty-one. To illustrate: said employer received a request from a local rock & metal nightclub to put together some designs for tickets for a gig by a couple of metal bands. I recall him flicking through books of clip-art and coming up with ... some jazzy-looking, fifties-style cocktail glasses. A man adrift, indeed, in the stormy cultural waters of the early twenty-first century, and unlikely to be rescued. I managed to persuade him to let me use something else.

(Here's a tip. If you ever ask a printshop to design anything, the amount of effort they put into the design is directly proportional to how much money you're paying them. In most cases, the effort amounts to half an hour of design, incorporating approximately 105 seconds worth of artwork origination. There is a fundamental conflict between the person running a printshop and the person doing the design work that makes itself known at this point: the business owner wants the job done and out of the way pronto. The designer wants to do something nice. Fast work and decent design are frequently incompatible. However, the printshop owner, being the one who pays the designer, usually wins. Ergo, why your printshop frequently gives you printed product that looks like mince.

Another tip: if you want a book of tickets designed for your band Killdozer, don't ask someone who dresses like a golfing catalogue and wears aviator spectacles. Curiously enough, if you ask someone wearing a Killdozer t-shirt to design a golfing catalogue, you get something that looks like a golfing catalogue.)

On the other hand, people who refuse to believe they are anywhere near middle-aged will shop in Gap. I shop in Gap. I shop in Gap with the weary knowledge that it is a sure sign of someone who refuses to believe they are anywhere near being middle-aged. Which I'm not, I can assure you. However, there is a point in life where killdozer t-shirts and ponytails cease to be as effective as when you were twenty, and Gap nicely fills the, er, gap between where you used to shop (probably called Pretty Hate Machine and located in some dank basement), and where you were always afraid you'd end up shopping (Marks & Spencer).

Which is all probably the longest route possible to saying I spent most of the past week looking at yet more houses. I am likely to opt for Ibrox/Cessnock, which is just over the Clyde from the West End, ten minutes walk from the SECC, where the Worldcon will be held in 2005. There is a cycle and pedestrian bridge which connects the two areas, and you can cycle from one to the other in perhaps fifteen minutes. A subway station is also located conveniently nearby. I'm buying a two bedroom house in order to rent out a room and make the mortgage more affordable. I've been assured a lot of people rent rooms and property in the area, so I'm certainly hoping that's the case. But also, and more importantly, property in this area goes for about a third of what the equivalent goes for in much of the West End, making it a very attractive proposition. Hopefully I am within a few weeks of making a final decision.


There's a brilliant essay by M. John Harrison in this month's Locus (I don't usually buy it because it's expensive, but this one is on the New Space Opera, which yanks my bell) which just about sums up everything that's good and great about space opera in one go. I can't help but excerpt a piece of it here:

"You've flown the Schwarschild Radius. You've fought vacuum battles. You've seen a star or two, you'll admit to that, but you've never seen anything like this tiny, ten-million-year-old artifact, whose boundaries are indeterminable,whose purpose is unclear. It's a communications device. It's a weapon from an ancient war still being slugged out by automated vessels in cometary orbits around a sun no one but you has ever seen. It was dug up from the site of a civilisation whose remaining texts confront the desparate last throw: racial suicide in the face of an undescribed threat."

There's more, so much more, but what's interesting about the essays in this issue of Locus is the influence of Harrison on space opera, a genre that previously featured two-dimensional heroes with simplistic, 'moral' drives. Harrison apparently helped introduce the 'amoral' to the genre, along with others, but for a younger writer like myself I've never known anything else. I tried reading 'Doc' Smith, and found it unreadable and dreary. I grew up reading writers like Bear and Benford, as well as Asimov and Clarke, though I think it's writers like Benford who proved by far the greater influence.
House hunting is turning out to be a depressing experience. I've looked at several properties in the past several days and the choice is twofold: either get a decent house in an area I don't want to live in, or get a crap house in an area I do want to live in. Not only that, the crap house in the decent area could cost twice as much as somewhere twice as large and in much better condition and in an area that is in itself just fine, but ... just not the area I'm looking for, which is the West End of Glasgow.

Places I've looked at in the past week:
a huge city centre property undecorated in forty years for offers over 65k with flammable roof tiles, artexed walls, no electricity, needing rewiring, needing replumbing, next to a motorway, decorated in the most tasteless early Seventies style, replete with fake 'cabin' style false ceilings and walls.
A two bedroom property in Anniesland, a couple of miles from the West End but easy commuting distance: see all of the above, but with electricity, which is unfortunate, because then you can see how ghastly the goddamn shoebox is. Same price, which is a joke. Bleak, bleak, bleak: the guy who lives there bought it ten years ago, and it didn't take a great deal of imagination to see no woman had crossed that threshold in all that time.
A two bedroom property near Queen's Park on the South Side. Glorious. Varnished floorboards, huge kitchen, two bedrooms, gigantic lounge, nice street, a minute's walk from the park, and the more of this sentence I write the more I wonder how crazy I am for not putting in an offer. Why didn't I? Because it's not the West End. Aaargh. And for five grand less.
And today, the piece de resistance: same description as above, in Bank Street, in the West End, just about big enough to bludgeon a cat to death by swinging it in small tight circles. In the West End, estate agents usually recommend putting in an offer a third over the advertised price, which is a huge amount of money.

It's weird, because I used to live on the south side and really liked it there. It's where I grew up. But the West End has a 'bohemian charm', I guess you'd call it. There's nowhere else in Scotland outside of Edinburgh quite like it. Artists, writers, tv directors and actors ... the place is stuffed with creatives, giving it the flavour people have told me they get in equivalent areas in other cities, like Greenwich Village in New York (not that I've ever been there, so can't compare). Large parts of the rest of the city are going to the dogs, though the south side is generally okay. However, I did have a bad experience with an aggressive beggar on my trip to the south side. Apparently he didn't know the meaning of the word 'no', even when repeated several times. That worried me.

So what next? Back to the south side, I think. Maybe I'm just going to have to bite the bullet.


I thought of writing about this in a jokey fashion, but it's just too appalling for levity. From Wired News:

"Brian Robertson was just months away from graduation at Moore High School in Moore, Oklahoma, last year when he found the beginnings of what he thought was a short story on a school computer. He copied the file to another computer, added some paragraphs to the initial text and then promptly got arrested.

Robertson, who was 18 when he wrote the story, was charged with a felony count of planning to cause serious bodily harm or death. The story he wrote, titled "Evacuation Orders," (PDF) described preparations for an armed invasion of his school that included directions to unnamed fellow commandos to kill the senior class principal and then plant plastic explosives around the campus."

So basically some loser kid in the States writes a story in what is admittedly not the best of taste for the same reasons as many people write fiction when they're younger; as a way of expressing and releasing feelings and emotions they otherwise find it difficult to express. It's a slightly more mature variation on the way child psychology recognises as a core part of its practice that younger children will express their feelings in the form of drawings and paintings, which they use to illustrate their lives and the adults around them. When you objectify your life in this way - through art, through writing - you can learn to see it with new eyes. Not to say, of course, that those doing so - children - are intellectually aware enough to realise this.

It all illustrates a problem I have with writing fiction, in that real life has a nasty habit of outdoing me in terms of how rotten people can be to each other. It's a dangerous sign that a lot of people don't know the difference between imagination and intention; it is, quite literally, treating literature as thoughtcrime. To write about it, is to do it.

What the kid's story does tell me is that there's probably a vast lack of communication between pupils and staff, and that whoever wrote the original part of the story (as the article says, Robertson claims to have found the majority of it on acomputer) may just have had some issues. I believe the generic term for this is teenager.

I think one of the reasons this horrified me as much as it did is that it came on the wake of reading a Guardian Online article about mass burnings of cd's of the Dixie Chicks. Not because people think they're bad, but because they dissed George Bush. The article describes the ordeal the Guardian journalists went through when they arrived in a US airport and told an immigration officer they were in the country to interview the Dixie Chicks. The officer said something about stringing the Dixies up by the neck, and immediately hauled them off to have their bags searched, delaying them long enough to miss a connecting flight. Maybe it's just because i'm British and things seem a little easier-going over here, but the terrifying implication is that this kind of vast intolerance for points of view outside of the rigidly patriotic and right-leaning is extremely widespread.

Well, duh, I imagine some of you saying to your screens.


Yes, I have been a bit quiet lately. I'll tell you why, but you'd better hope you're not squeamish, because this is going to get icky.

I had a long-anticipated eye operation on Monday afternoon, under local anaesthetic, at a local hospital. I've had a bad cataract in my right eye for several years, gradually getting worse, probably attributable to using prescription topical (ie external on the skin, not internal pill) steroids to control and abate eczema, which I've suffered from to varying degrees since early childhood. It's very much under control these days, but in my twenties and teens it frequently made my life rather miserable. However, the medicines can affect your eyesight with prolonged use. And if anybody out there is thinking they would never use steroids, well, you get them all the time, when you go to the dentist, or every time you whip out your inhaler if you're asthmatic. My quality of life would have been zero without those steroids at certain points in my life. If you met me nowadays, you might have a hard time telling. That wasn't always the case.

I was operated on under local anaesthetic; painkilling stuff was swabbed around my eye, and then several injections were made above and below the eyelids (not in them). My sight faded to near-black in my right eye. Then, to the tune of a tape of '60's soul classics, a small cut was made in the surface of my eye, and into the internal membrane that houses my cataract-damaged lens. The lens was sliced into several sections working through this incision, and then ultrasound was used to liquidise it in situ, before the resulting liquid was sucked out through a tube. Then, the new lens was placed inside.

I didn't see that much because they cover up both of your eyes. However, as is apparently often the case, sight began to come back in the damaged eye, in the form of bright overhead lights and vague scalpel-like blurry shapes and hands and what might have been the outline of faces. There was one interesting optical effect resulting from the new plastic lens being manipulated in its new home in my eyeball; shifted around to fit, I suspect. There was a new doctor just transferred to the eye ward getting a running commentary from my surgeon as he worked - he was showing her what he was doing while Gloria Gaynor maxed out of a cheap ghettoblaster - but I couldn't really make out what he was saying through his surgical mask. Finally, one small microscopic permanent stitch to hold the eyeflap in place, and that was me. Sat around in a waiting room with a plastic shield over the eye for an hour or so while the anaesthetic wore off and I read magazines.

So, that was my Monday. Mostly, I waited around for something to happen; the procedure itself only took about fifteen to twenty minutes, I'd say. It was sort of ... interesting. Intellectually I wasn't bothered at all by having somebody poke at my eye - I couldn't feel anything after all ... but definitely a bit weird.

So how is my eyesight? Until Monday, I was seeing everything through a kind of vaguely porno soft-focus - or about 5% gaussian blur in the left eye (which also has a much, much milder cataract) and 20% minimum in the left eye, if you're a graphic designer. It takes a couple of weeks for the eye to learn to focus with the new lens, but already things seem clearer ...

... almost too clear ... I went on an insane cleaning jag in my rented flat when I realised how dirty the kitchen was. Bought a wad of soap pads and scourers and went cer-razy. Walking up the road on Monday evening, I kept staring at the back of my hand like some acid-drenched '60's casualty. All those little crinkly wrinkly bits ... where the hell did they come from? Oh that's right, I can see them now. If I look through my right eye alone, everything's got a vaguely misty, smoothed-out, almost cinematic look to it. Through the new lens, although still a touch blurry for the next few days, it's like freaking robo-vision - everything's just too damn clear, like seeing a videotape. And talk about sharp!

You know, by some people's definitions, this makes me a cyborg, heh ...

Partly because of that, and partly because I've been running around looking at flats I might want to buy, I'm not getting as much work done on Against Gravity as I might like. Nevertheless, I'm about a quarter of the way through the rewrite, which means I'm probably further ahead now than I thought I would be.


I had an interesting thought while corresponding with an occasional reader of this blog who's trying to write her first novel, and complains about being completely convinced anything she would put together would just completely suck. I believe this is known in the analyst trade as a 'lack of confidence', and it's one of the two main reasons people don't manage to fulfill an ambition of writing a book. The other reason is, careers. People with careers tend to have to put those careers first, unless they're prepared to go so far as putting that career to one side and concentrating instead on the bookwriting.

There's a movie called New York Stories which is a series of short films about New York by various directors released as a single picture. One of the movies stars Nick Nolte (I think) as a successful artist who suffers from constant doubt. In this respect, he's a very typical artist (or writer, or whatever); there's a scene where his agent tries to persuade him to get started on stuff for this year's show.

"Forget it, I don't have it any more. My stuff sucks." (or words to that effect)
"You say this every year," comes the agent's reply, exasperated. "And every year you do the show. And then it comes round again."
"This time I really mean it," he says. "I've lost it, Louie (or Malcolm, or Lennie, or whatever it is). I'm not doing a show this year."

Of course, he makes the show. Everything goes great. This is remarkably like the process that goes through the minds of, I'd say, the vast majority of writers. If you want a motivating emotion for writing a book, you'd probably have to assign a big chunk of it to fear. Not just fear of personal failure, but fear of failure in front of both your peers and the reading and writing community as a whole.

When I wrote my first book, Touched by an Angel, I wasn't working, and during those six months of unemployment I found the will and the time to write a book. I tell you this because I think there might be people reading this who feel they lack the skill or the talent to write a decent book. Well, maybe you're good and maybe you're bad, but you'll never know until you actually do it.

The way I worked it out in my head was this: even if I only wrote twenty words in a day, it was twenty words more than I'd had before. Also, I would not stop if I thought my writing sucked. That wasn't the point - it shouldn't be yours either. I wanted to finish it more than I cared if it was any good or not. The point was, did I have the stamina to write a minimum 100,000 words of consecutive text? Yes I did. Persistence is to some degree the mark of a writer. Is your writing good, bad, whatever? Doesn't matter. You just write. That's your motivation; not to be good, or to be bad, because these are value judgements you can ill afford, when you run the danger of the little voice in your head telling you you aren't good enough, that of course your writing sucks, and you're wasting your time. The mark of a writer is in the ability to ignore those voices of doubt and DO IT ANYWAY.

Remember; for every thousand talented writers, there are maybe a half dozen at most who ever actually do anything about it. Everyone knows someone who could out-write a famous novelist - a someone with maybe one story published in a small-press. You hear about this kind of thing. Frankly if it isn't used, if it's left dormant, talent is worthless, literally worthless. If you're a talented writer and you do something about it, then you're lucky because you have a good shot at recognition. As for the rest of us, we may not write the next Harry Potter or To Kill a Mockingbird, but if we persist we stand a chance at enjoying a career that makes us feel like we're engaged in something worthwhile, that gives us a far greater sense of satisfaction and creative enjoyment than many 9 to 5 jobs do.

For myself, that first book never sold. It got me an agent, but after three years it didnt' sell. Pan liked it, but not enough to buy it. They asked if I had anything else, and as it turned out I'd just started out the first draft of Angel Stations a few months before, having not written anything novel-length for a few years. As I'm sure you know now, they bought Angel Stations. I'm already a quarter of the way through the second draft of my second book. The lesson being: persistence is everything. Touched by an Angel may not have sold, but I did gain the experience of what it felt like to write a book, to be able to quantify the experience in my mind, and that's what made it possible for me to write further novel-length material.


Sigh. I was going to go see Dave Gorman at the Edinburgh Festival but it's sold out. In the meantime, I've been reading a book by his ex-flatmate Danny Wallace, 'Join Me', which I greatly recommend. I'd try and tell you what it's about, but you probably wouldn't believe me ... it's a non-fiction book (really) and has a website at www.join-me.co.uk.

The heat is leaving me feeling run down. Hottest day ever, possibly since the Earth formed, on Sunday, despite which I plough ahead with the rewrite on Against Gravity. I wait with trepidation the outcome of my flat-buying activities. By the end of this week I may have bought a house, or more likely not; nonetheless, the possibility is there. If it does work out, you can all come to my flatwarming party. All of you. Yes, even you.

The other week, I received an email of the cover and back cover blurbs for Angel Stations, which make for interesting reading. Their suggestion for the cover quote is 'A race against time -- to rescue the only other world with intelligent life from galactic disaster'. Well, it's certainly dramatic. I was hoping for 'a devastating work far surpassing the total outcome of science fiction novels to date', but they seem to have ignored that one. The back cover blurb is surprisingly similar to the one I came up with myself, but I won't be posting that here until it's been finalised.

In the meantime, and if there's nothing on t'telly and you're stuck for something to read, let me heartily recommend Iain Banks' 'Dead Air', which I just finished myself. Quite possibly among the finer of his mainstream works.


One of the occasional joys of living in a class-structured society like the United Kingdom is the sheer joy of seeing open class warfare, particularly when expressed in the form of a television documentary series; to whit, Young Posh and Loaded, which seems designed to boost the income of dentists by creating a frenzy of mass tooth-grinding up and down the country every time this program airs. I feel duty-bound to record for posterity not only the voice-over for one young lad, still only 23 and already buying and selling million-pound properties, but the implied class hatred for what we in the fair North (or at least the majority of the people I know) like to describe as stuck-up Tory Oiks badly in need of a spanking with a sledgehammer. After expounding upon his surely well-considered views on 'layabouts, the unemployed, gypsies, the homeless, they make a hundred quid a day so why don't they start up their own business and be just like me', the voice-over referred to the young lad's financial hand-up from 'mummy and daddy'.

Now, when that voice-over person said 'mummy and daddy', every ounce of hatred held by even the distantly liberal working in television towards such people seemed expressed in those simple words. The voice-over didn't so much say 'a bit of a financial hand from mummy and daddy', as it clearly expressed, albeit visible only via a certain strain in the voice, 'a financial hand up from mummy and daddy, and when the revolution comes, you miserable little greasy-faced arse, you will most definitely be first up against the wall so we can listen to your miserable bleating for one more minute before we lay in with the steel-capped boots of righteous indignation'.

Or some such.

There. I feel much better now. I have been busy this week; regrettably not so much over Against Gravity, though it is making progress, though not quite as rapidly as I might have hoped. This is due to extenuating circumstances; I have been looking at houses. One in particular, at the very edge of Glasgow's West End (teetering, even, you might say), for a depressingly large sum of money, but nonetheless still within my financial grasp. It is being surveyed on Monday, so I shall wait and see; I am hopeful, but nervous.

Lastly, but not least, I have discovered I even have a presence on the German Amazon. The delight inherent in this is, unfortunately, balanced by the sad discovery that my publishers are also the ones responsible for inflicting Jeffrey Archer upon the world.


A long weekend in Tighnabruaich (I'm not even sure where that is myself, except it's a very long drive into very much the middle of Scottish nowhere) to visit my dad and his second wife, in the company of my half-brother Rory and his girlfriend. My father now lives in a converted police station, of all places; the living room has a curious raised platform where, apparently, the cells once were - the lower part of the room being where the local constable once (the date above the doorway is 1894) kept his office. Everyone in my family but me seems to enjoy being in places where really nothing ever happens at all, whereas I feel unstimulated unless I am in the most urban circumstances.

On returning home, a random whim produced this result in Amazon UK - I think a small Mexican Wave is in order. You can't get much more official than that, can you? Although I do note that Amazon lists the publication date for Angel Stations as somewhat earlier than the August I'd been told. In the meantime, I have the front and back cover blurbs to look over.


More on the Edinburgh Book Festival, and some light thrown on why there was no sf genre presence. It turns out to be downright positive. I received an email from a member of my writer's circle who is originally from Edinburgh, and apparently "Catherine Lockerbie [director of the festival] is one of SF's supporters - it was she who started publishing Andrew J Wilson's SF review columns when she was Books Editor at The Scotsman and, as she points out in her letter [to Mike, as mentioned in a previous entry], her first year in charge did see a significant SF strand; to expect that every year, however, is to misunderstand the nature of the Edinburgh Book Festival."

So in fact, the person in charge of the Book Festival is on our side. It turns out that there was a heavily genre-related stream a few years ago, but basically nobody turned up. Why is this? My own suspicion is that the Festival is so completely seen as a mainstream-related affair that it simply wouldn't occur to people in my own area of publishing to attend normally. Also - less positively - is it possible we've become so enamoured of our cosy conventions that we've missed a chance to make a connection between the stuff we write, and the stuff everybody else writes? It seems there was extensive advertising in the genre press - I don't know precisely where, but Interzone and The Third Alternative would seem likely suspects - but even that wasn't enough to bring the crowds.

In a few months, I think I'll write my own letter to Ms. Lockerbie, and suggest that if she does intend to have any kind of genre-related strand at next year's festival, she could do worse than look at local writers. Edinburgh, after all has McLeod and Stross as well as others (and some called Banks or something), Glasgow has Richard Morgan (author of Altered Carbon), Mike Cobley, and, er, me. Miller Lau is somewhere oop north as well, I believe, and I'm sure there's others.

Otherwise, I'm still struggling to rename the black hats in Angel Stations. I spoke to my editor and we decided to chuck anything that has 'Eden' in it. At the moment, that gives me two possible replacements for 'edenists'.

The first is Mr. Lavery's own suggestion, 'Morists', after Sir Thomas More, inventor of the word utopia, and author of what cold very easily be regarded as a piece of Renaissance sf, about a meeting with a sailor from a far-off island of liberty and equality called 'utopia'. It sounds strangely dry to me, more like some secret society of elderly patricians planning Victorian skullduggery in a closeted Cambridge hall in the name of a proto-bolshevik English revolution. But it could work, though I'd have to rewrite the paragraph that describes the origin of the black hats.

The other one, which I'm tipping towards at the moment despite it's being a little more complicated, is 'scheolians' or 'scheolans': 'Scheol' is the name for the land of the dead in certain religions, which might, in the context of the black hat religion, be the name of Earth, the place from which they seek to escape. Precisely which religions 'scheol' originates from, however, I haven't found particularly immediately despite googling (it tends to throw up goth bands). Still, it has a ring. Or does 'Morists' have that special ring to it? Opinions are always welcome.