The Library of Gromma

I’m very happy that After Dinner Conversation are publishing a new short story of mine, ‘The Library of Gromma’. It’s a story about a boy called Zac who is looking after his Gromma, an elderly engineer who has built up an immense mechanical library of her memories as a way of holding onto the past.

Currently this is available on Amazon as a Kindle edition (link to US Amazon site / link to UK Amazon site).

The Library of Gromma

It’s great to be a part of the After Dinner Conversation family. I love their approach to short stories, which is to select those that spark debates, and provide tools to facilitate those debates. When I think about the stories I’ve loved the most over the years, they’ve often been the ones that’ve acted as springboards for philosophical discussions / bitter arguments with friends.

Huge thanks to those who commented on early drafts – including Ben, James, and Russell.  Even huger thanks to my wife, Emily, for reading half a dozen drafts and joining me in conversation about this story after, before, and during many dinners.

What was it like to run a Perfect Dark fan site in 1999?

I look back at running a Perfect Dark fan site, and speak to one of Perfect Dark’s original designers, David Doak, about the evolving significance of online fan content for the games industry.  

It took recent articles celebrating the 20 year anniversary of Perfect Dark to jolt my memory back to those times. Perfect Dark was Rare’s highly anticipated follow-up to the ground-breaking GoldenEye, both on the Nintendo 64. I was 16 when it was released. I don’t remember the game as well as I should, considering that at the time I was running, along with my brother Jake and best friend Alex, what was probably the most popular Perfect Dark fan site in the world.

Alex: “We were fifteen years ahead of the curve on energy-saving dark website themes that offend the eyes.”

Previously, I’ve always left my nostalgia there: a hazy feeling of pride for something created in a time long gone. But this time I’ve decided to return. I’m using the wonderful Wayback Machine from the Internet Archive to revisit PDark.com in its glory days. I feel like I’m diving down to the depths, to shine a torch around an old sunken wreck.

Continue reading “What was it like to run a Perfect Dark fan site in 1999?”

The Other Franks

New short story! 6000 words; approx 20 minutes to read… (PDF version)

The Other Franks

Frank looked at himself in the mirror from a variety of angles, not liking any that he saw. In exasperation he threw off his old, ill-fitting tennis shirt and tried on his ancient Barcelona FC top.

“What do you think about this one?” he asked.

“You look great, honey!” Alice replied, although Frank noticed she hadn’t actually taken her eyes off her phone.

“I just don’t know whether I should go,” Frank said dejectedly, “It feels like it’s been a very long time.”

“I love going to my reunions, seeing all my girls.  Just hanging out, partying, bitching about everyone, karaoke… I’d kill to be allowed to see them more than once a year.”

“But it’s like I was saying to you, I’m just not sure I… I mean I find myself comparing myself to them and they’re all just so much more…”

“Look, honey,” Alice said, still not taking her eyes off her phone, “they’re not better than you.  You’re great.   Just enjoy it.”  She looked up at him and all of a sudden her face transformed into the severest of frowns.  “Aren’t you going to wear a shirt?”

Frank sighed.  “I’ve told you before, nobody wears things like shirts and ties.  It’s just our tradition.” He didn’t think he looked that awful, standing there in the mirror in his Barcelona FC top, shorts, white socks and trainers.

Although he was anxious and apprehensive, Frank was proud of himself for going.  He was resolved to tell them, finally, after all these years.  It was his duty to tell them. Continue reading “The Other Franks”

The Day School Closed

I was the first teacher to have a period with my Year 7s this morning, the morning of school closure. I was officially there to teach them maths, but for the last twenty minutes I let them ask me any questions about what was happening.  “Do you know when we’re coming back?” “Will we have to stick to the exact school timetable?” “What if some of us are slower and we can’t keep up by ourselves?” The question that they seemed most concerned about was one I would never have expected. “In the top left-hand margin, will we put c/w or h/w? Will it be classwork or homework?” Nobody could decide.

For the whole of yesterday night, I dreaded seeing my Year 13s. This is a class I’ve struggled to gain the respect of. It’s been an emotional couple of years, and now the one crystal clear goal that’d been driving them and me on – that hard-earned A or B-grade that meant unlocking whatever doors they saw in front of them – had been snatched away.  I remember asking myself: how do I plan a lesson for a class I might never see again, and who will never sit another school exam? Continue reading “The Day School Closed”

So It Goes

If I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, “Kurt is up in heaven now.” That’s my favorite joke.

Not only is Kurt up in heaven, but now @VonnegutTweets has gone up to join him.

I hereby announce that I’ll publish here all of the tombstone line drawings submitted for this project. Before I’m inundated with these drawings, here are some final words.

I’ve been so heartened by the community that has sprung up around these tweets. Although Vonnegut was, as @Tewattsucsb remarked, “Luddite to the last,” he was big into the sprouting of such like-minded societies. The best I can hope for is that this feed has been a sort of wampeter for the great Vonnegut karass.

You guys were with him throughout it all. When Kurt approached the Siegfried Line with his brothers in arms back in 1944, @IsraelBeauchamp noted that his outlook was “pretty gung-ho, Hemingwayesque.” This would come to change. With Dresden looming ahead of him, @IsraelBeauchamp said “… and so it begins.” Continue reading “So It Goes”

Why I’m in a Prison Cell Following the Attempted Murder of Charlie Brooker

Right. So before I get into the details of the incident itself, I need to fill you in on some background.

I’ve known about Charlie Brooker probably since I received a copy of TVGoHome from my friend, Alex, when I must’ve been about 17. It was a collection of absurd imaginary TV shows, put together like a copy of Radio Times

My most vivid memory of it is certainly his description of ‘Wanking for Coins’: “apocalyptic fun as Rowland Rivron tours the seedy backstreets of London’s West End persuading the homeless to commit acts of self-degradation in exchange for pennies.”  I later realised how much this particular nugget meant to Charlie too – read for yourself.

There were plenty of reasons why I loved ‘Wanking for Coins’: because I didn’t realise you were allowed to publish something as bluntly juvenile as this, because there was a solid political message hiding behind the gag, and just because it was vaguely videogamey (Mario did many things for coins, but never this).

I wouldn’t have described myself as a massive Charlie Brooker fan at that point, though I later discovered he had his mitts in a lot of things I loved: The 11 O’Clock Show, Brass Eye, Nathan Barley…

But it was only during the first season of Black Mirror that I became obsessed. Continue reading “Why I’m in a Prison Cell Following the Attempted Murder of Charlie Brooker”

Science Fiction Theatre Festival

Chuffed to bits to say that a short play of mine, ‘Remote Access’, will be coming to the Science Fiction Theatre Festival at the Pleasance, London. It sounds like a great setup they have there: 17 new sci-fi plays put out over a week (27th May to 1st June).  This play was (considerably) adapted from my short story of the same name (see post below *Spoiler Alert*).  More details are on the Pleasance and Science Fiction Theatre sites.

Update: ‘Remote Access’ will have a slot on the Saturday 1st June 19:00 show.

Remote Access

Very happy to introduce a new short story, ‘Remote Access’. Some stats:

Length: 4000 words
Estimated reading time: 15 minutes
Estimated impact: [Unquantifiable]
Tech detail: Low
Sci-fi concepts: High (or at least that’s the idea)

Remote Access [ -> Read PDF version]

Philip paced the narrow confines of his bedroom, breathing deeper and deeper. There was nobody else in the room, but he still felt ashamed.  Why couldn’t he keep up?  And when he couldn’t keep up, why did he always let it get to him like this?  Continue reading “Remote Access”

Introducing ‘Kurt Vonnegut Tweets’

Listen: On 11th November I’m going to start tweeting as Kurt Vonnegut, taking 1000 tweets to take him all the way from early childhood to death (which sounds pretty exhausting, for both him and me).  It’s going to be a right old roller-coaster and I’d love for you to jump on board: @VonnegutTweets.

I’ve been a huge Vonnegut-nut for years and I’m loving putting together these tweets. If nothing else, they’re giving me a great excuse to re-read his short stories and novels.  Yes, Vonnegut is already pretty big on Twitter, but most tweets only go as far as a choice inspirational quote of his, written in a quirky retro font, on a photo of something like a the Rocky mountains or a fancy beach.  We can do better than that.  (However, it must be noted that he probably would’ve endorsed such tweets: in his dusky years a favourite form of correspondence of his was sending postcards just with a few huge words like, “Life is no way to treat an animal.”)

Besides, if I don’t tweet as him, sooner or later Kilgore Trout probably will.

For more on this project, why I’m doing it, and arguments for and against whether Vonnegut would’ve hated it, please see here.  I hope you enjoy the tweets.

Feed That Dog! – How I smashed writer’s block and you can too

I only started having problems with writer’s block when I hit my 30s.  Most writers know the symptoms all too well.  Do you have a fantastic idea for a story but just don’t know where to start?  Do you find yourself staring at a blank screen for hours?  Do you feel like a failure and doubt whether you will ever be able to write anything of worth again?

I had an epiphany when I realised the true source of the problem: that I didn’t need to write. I had a fine job that paid the bills.  Writing was a bonus extra – fun, but in no way essential.  I thought of writers who have inspired me.  Young Philip K Dick (who I tweeted as) lived in squalor – a leaky house full of mice – and he hated the idea of a standard 9-5 job so much it pushed him to write to pay the bills.  Kurt Vonnegut was similar: he desperately wanted to quit his PR job working for General Electric and knew his only escape was selling cynically targeted short stories to mass-market ‘slicks’.

This led me, a number of years ago now, to crystallise my first piece of advice for aspirational writers:

Find Your Need

Find your need, and once you’ve found it, put it in front of you.  Literally put it in front of you. Staple your energy bills to the front of your writing journal.  Blue-tack The Guardian’s ‘Top 100 novelists’ to your wall (you need to be in there).  Take a photo of the rejection letter from that pompous editor you need to prove wrong and save it to your homepage.

But that’s not enough.  Continue reading “Feed That Dog! – How I smashed writer’s block and you can too”