The Stranger and the Manuscript

ThumbI had the shock of my life a few days ago when I took the dogs for a walk in my local forest, only for a stranger to approach me and address me by name; in fact, by both my author name and my real name.  Much greater shocks were to come later in our brief discussion.

Standing slightly less than average height, the Stranger wore lose-fitting black garb which hid all body contours, and the hood fitted quite tightly over the head and wrapped around it to obscure the chin, mouth and nose.  Only two piercing blue eyes stared out at me.  In addition, the pitch and timbre of the muffled voice gave no indication of this person’s sex; it could’ve been a female with a low voice or a male with a high voice.  He/she spoke in a gender-neutral tone that would shortly become very frustrated with me.

CrazyMy disorientation at being denied clues to this person’s identity was compounded by the reactions from my dogs.  Normally they run and sniff everything in the forest.  Crazy in particular flies through life with a constant expression of wondrous stupidity on her ugly face (well, they say dogs take after their owners *sigh*).  Now, however, I noticed that both dogs had become still, frozen.

The path where the Stranger appeared.

The path where the Stranger appeared.

After the androgynous Stranger had mentioned my names, they held out a small device in their hand and asked: “Do you know what this object is?” Continue reading

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Brexit & Me: Making the internet smile

euIt’s been a busy day: lots of people here in Warsaw have been asking me what I think about the UK’s decision to leave the EU.  But I moved to Poland over 18 years ago now, and it is at some level difficult to get exercised about what happens there.  All of my immediate family in England voted to leave, and I’m happy that they’ve got their wish.  In fact, I believe they, and the people of England especially, are going to get everything they deserve and a whole lot more in the next few years.

It’s difficult to extrapolate what might happen in the future on this day of quite shocking decision, but already probabilities are beginning to present themselves: Continue reading

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Home Improvements, Part 94

It was no good, I couldn’t leave it any longer.  I had to face up to the inevitable: my cellar needed to be cleaned and redecorated.  Fourteen years after we finished building this house, it remained the only room not to have seen roller and brush in all that time.  Fourteen years of dust, cobwebs, and the usual detritus from a growing family had to be dealt with.  When I removed the “temporary” furniture, it became plain that even the multitude of spiders in the cellar agreed:


The next thing was to service the stove.  Now, I could invite the Visemann technician, hand over PLN 200, and stand there while he removed the covers, stuck a feather duster in the air in-takes (Oh, Matron!), and hoovered up the dust.  Or I could do that myself and buy PLN 200-worth of beer:



Then it was time to give the whole room a lick of paint:



In the image below, the narrow void between those two walls on the right needed shelves; somewhere to store our 100+ jars (it’s a tradition in Poland that you never throw away an empty jar.  Ever.  Never, ever, ever):


But the best thing about the resulting layout is that, with a new [second hand] desk to write at, I moved the beer fridge next to it, so I don’t need to get out of my chair to get a beer :)


And out in the garden, summer is here and the jasmine has bloomed, which makes a nice change from the smell of paint.  The new novel is getting closer, folks…



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Springtime, Snooker, Sadism & Smugness

SnipSpring’s arrived here in sunny Warsaw, which is a good excuse to post some pictures of the garden I took this morning.  April also means the World Snooker Championships in Sheffield, England: 17 days of proper sport played by gentlemen, where skill on the baize counts for little if the players can’t keep themselves together in their heads.  Only two days into the tournament and the defending champion is already out, along with a former champion.  The next fortnight promises to be hugely enjoyable, especially if, like me, you’re a bit of a sadist when it comes to sport.

Elsewhere, my latest novel-length book went out to my poor, long-suffering beta readers this week.  This has led to me feeling a bit smug: when I got out of hospital back in January I had less than half of it written, and a renewed sense of my own mortality drove me on to continue with a story which I suspected would need many months’ more effort.  In the event, I beat my own deadline and can now sit back and enjoy the snooker (job, wife and kids notwithstanding, natch).  Do spare a thought for those unfortunate betas: this book is easily the least accessible thing I’ve written, and it breaks every single accepted rule of fiction writing.  And no, I don’t give a shit :)

Anyway, the garden looks lovely today – see?











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And… We’re back!

HeardItOnTheRadioApologies for the almost three-month break in posts here.  I had some minor health issues over the Christmas period which held me up somewhat.  Nothing serious at all, just a couple of things which, to use the correct medical terminology, come under the generic term “middle-aged bullshit.”  Anyway, shameless huckster that I am, I’m posting to see if I can twist your arm into buying something, because from now until 21 February it’s on special offer.  I Heard It On The Radio is the latest collection of short stories from the five59 group of awesome authors, whose editor-in-chief, the remarkable Alan Seeger, is empathic enough to let hacks like me contribute from time to time.

The collection features ten shorts by highly talented authors, and one of mine (the one about the terrorist attack on London which I first published in Stories of Genesis, Vol. 3 in 2014).  I’ve read all of them and can thoroughly recommend them as an introduction to what these writers can do – writers you’ll not likely have heard of.  Short story collections like this are a great way to discover new authors, and for the next week you can get the whole shebang for just USD 0.99, by clicking here.


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The Ten-Day Fast

WatersnipIf you’re thinking of going on a fast as a way to lose weight or detoxify your body, this post describes my experience when I recently fasted for ten days.  In summary, I don’t recommend it.  For me, the substantial discomfort outweighed the benefits; not by a significant margin, but by enough to convince me that fasting is a worse option than simply adhering to a regular, healthy diet to keep one’s weight under control.

However, fasting is popular with a lot of people, so it must work for them.  If you’re wondering how it might work for you, then one book you need to read is The New Life Fasting Guide by Hellmut Luetzner M.D.  A German acquaintance called Peter gave me a copy a few months ago.  Peter is a large-boned baker with a guffawing laugh and a kind, generous spirit.  He also fasts for ten days every year, and is a keen enthusiast.  I read Luetzner’s book and was taken with its thoroughness, enthusiasm and erudition.  It was thus a short step to joining Peter on his annual “fat camp” to southern Poland, where a lady called Renata runs an activity health spa for others who enjoy fasting. Continue reading

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Book Review: Vokhtah by A. C. Flory

Outstanding, original science fiction

VokhtahHere’s a book you don’t come across very often.  Vokhtah is “pure” science fiction; wholly original, breathtaking in scope, enough action to turn the page, and completely believable.

The title is the name of the planet on which live two broad categories of creature: the powerful Vokh and the lesser iVokh, the latter of which consists of many subspecies.  The story concerns the adventures of one of the more important iVokh, called simply “the Blue”, as it attempts to avert a potential disaster caused by the short-sightedness of the Guild – the most powerful of the iVokh, who have decided that a Vokh must be killed.  The Blue undertakes a desperate journey across the planet’s land mass which taxes its skills and endurance to the limit.  During this journey, we learn more about the feared Vokh, all of the subspecies of the iVokh, and just how hard life on Vokhtah is. Continue reading

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Book review: Love Hurts by Carol E. Wyer

LoveHurtsCoverIt’s that lady again: Carol Wyer has just published a new book, a collection of five short stories called Love Hurts.  Having enjoyed her comedy novels so much, there’s no chance I’m not going to read and review this new title.  If you like the look of it, it’s available in the US here, and in the UK here.  For now, here’s my review:

Short stories which represent, and offer, an entertaining departure

CWauthorWith Love Hurts, Wyer expands her repertoire from hilarious and warm-hearted comedy novels to this collection of five short stories, each with something important to say on the meaning and purpose of relationships.

For any short story to work well, it needs a twist, something to make it memorable.  Three of the five stories in this collection (the second, third and last) each have a thoroughly entertaining twist (which this reader, at least, didn’t see coming).  One, the first story, is so heart-wrenching as to not require a twist, while the fourth is light relief, played for laughs.

However, even though the strongest four stories together represent a more serious departure from Wyer’s normal style, the main thing they have in common with her novels is the talented level of assured storytelling.

If you’ve read Wyer’s other books, you will certainly not be disappointed with this volume.  If you haven’t, this isn’t a bad place to start as it showcases this author’s natural ability to weave a highly entertaining yarn, and will doubtless encourage you to explore her longer works.


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Book review: The Living Years by Mike Rutherford

The Living YearsA great memoir, but also a missed opportunity

For dyed-in-the-wool Genesis fans this book is a must-read: the first memoir by one of only two of the band’s members who’ve been there since the very beginning.  However, for the casual Genesis or Mike + The Mechanics fan, there really isn’t much which hasn’t been dealt with in more depth in other biographies.  As a genre, the autobiography tends to succeed depending on how controversial it is.  While there is the occasional surprising revelation in The Living Years, there are very few indiscretions. Continue reading

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Presenter [to camera]:  Hi there!  If you’ve had a tough week, spare a thought for local banana seller Jan Dopeski, who not only lost his business, but also nearly got lynched when he decided to try out Amazon KDP Select’s business model by giving away his bananas for one day!

Mr Dopeski thought he would make his new banana stall extremely popular by publicising that last Monday, all of his bananas would be free!  He certainly made himself very, very popular, but not quite in the way he was expecting!  Mr Dopeski tells us what happened: Continue reading

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