Good curation is much more valuable than cash

A good friend has just sold a debut story to an excellent but non-paying market. There are a lot of markets for short fiction. Many of them are bad. Some of them pay. Some of the ones that pay the most are the worst. In the world of short fiction money is a very bad way of assessing quality.

There is a popular myth that back in the good old days writers could make a living from short fiction. It’s a myth continued in the idea of the ‘pro-rate’ of pay for short fiction. 5 cents a word can add up to a nice little bonus payment, but it’s only professional money if you are living in the 1920s. And only then if you lived on beans and fresh air.  The only reason the ‘pro-rate’ matters at all is because it gives at least some indication that the publisher is committed enough to invest a little cash in their enterprise.

The only real measure of a short fiction market is the quality of its curation. As readers we rely on editors to curate the best material to suit our interests. That is why the average start-up fiction magazine that publishes thirty stories lacks any value, while the excellent Clarkesworld which publishes just two stories a month has become the top market in short SF. As writers, publication in an excellently curated market is one of the best indications that you work has achieved quality.

Writing fiction is not a manufacturing process. Success is not a product of your Rate of Productivity x Stories Published x Cents per Word. A dozen stories in a dozen ‘pro-rate’ markets can mean less than one story, in one well curated market which puts it in front of the right eye-balls.

Critics aren’t your best friends, they’re your only friends

John Scalzi made a strange defence of the Hugo awards recently on his blog, that made me a little sad:

I do think there’s a core of commenters whose problem internalizing that other people have other tastes is overlaid with a more-than-mild contempt for fandom, i.e., “Oh, fandom. You’ve shown again why you can’t be trusted to pick awards, you smelly, chunky people of common tastes, you.” Fandom does what fandom does with folks like that: it ignores them, which I think is generally the correct response to such wholly unwarranted condescension.

I tried asking John on Twitter what these condescending critiques were, but he was reluctant to give any examples. I think the sound John interprets as condescension is more like a sigh of disappointment. Which will soon be replaced with the soundless vacuum of complete disinterest, because when people stop paying attention they rarely bother to even condescend to you any more.

It took me a little thought to realise why it made me sad. It’s because I am one of those people who has already stopped paying attention. I barely noticed either the Hugos or Nebulas this year. Even the teacup storm around the mormon whale rape story largely passed me by until a friend pointed it out some weeks after the fact. It’s not a deliberate shunning, it’s just that there are a lot of fascinating things in the world and neither the Hugos or Nebulas rated highly among them this year.

There’s a great scene in the film Others People money where Danny DeVito, as a ruthless corporate raider, gives a speech to the investors in the steel mill he is seeking to buy and dismantle. The business is being held together by sentiment and nostalgia for times past, which DeVito’s character brutally dispells with the now classic line “I’m not your best friend, I’m your only friend.” As far as I can see the critics of the Hugo and Nebula awards are among its best friends, because they’re among the last people who can even be bothered to pay attention to the things.

I haven’t been one of those critics. And given that I failed to even remember the awards existed this year, I may not be best placed to assess whether the criticism is valid. But there certainly seem to have been some serious problems. This year SFs major awards seemed to be decided by a few completely partisan factions of fans. That may well have been the case in previous years. That only makes it worse. Some of the writing that won awards was laughably and offensively bad. It’s hardly surprising that people take neither the field nor its awards seriously when writing that bad is held up as exemplar. As the awards managed to generate next to no publicity outside the echo chamber of fandom, so it’s hard to see what commercial purpose they serve. And the fact that none of this is actually surprising? Again, not good.

All of those seem like quite valid criticisms to me, that should be addressed. So I would be interested to know which are the invalid criticisms that should be ignored.

New Liberal Arts

20110826-032533.jpg

It’s hard to know what the future will bring: the only thing you can be sure of is that it won’t be the past. This is a truth that seems to have eluded the current government as they busily reshape our nation’s education system in preparation for the 19th century. The Tories have indicated a return to traditional social values, but no one expected them to be as traditional as indentured servitude. At £9,000 a year plus living expenses, today’s generation of bright young things can expect to graduate with more than £30,000 of debt. Those lucky enough to land one of a dwindling number of graduate jobs can look forward to obeying the every whim of their corporate masters … I mean overlords … I mean employers.

Read more at the Guardian books.

Micro Sci-Fi 1: When we hear the Siren sing

Cognitive computers employ evolutionary principles to design and 3D print perfectly beautiful bodies and lure man (or woman) kind to our doom.

 

Rules of Micro SF:

  • Tell a story in one sentence. It can be any length but must work grammatically and be reasonably well parsed by a reader.
  • Include at least two or more hyperlinks to current developments in science, technology or the humanities.
  • You may expand the stories meaning through the title, which is not part of the one sentence story.
  • Tweet me @damiengwalter and I’ll share your stories with others.

Poetry is more powerful than ever

I love poetry. I hate poets.

That is an overstatement. I understand that most (by which I mean 99.99%) poets are in the process of becoming. It can take a looooooong time to master poetry. A bad poem can be written in moments. A great poem is the accrued experience of a lifetime. It’s best to either develop in private, or present your first thirty years or so of your material with a little modesty. Too many poets fail at either.

But poetry is important. Vitally so. The words of truly great poets – Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes (I feel I’m allowed to love both) William Carlos Williams, T S Elliot, Shakespeare, Kabir – to name a few I like rather a lot, capture ideas that the rest of us plodding models struggle to comprehend even as we live through them.   The cynical space in my mind believes this is why poetry exists in such a degraded form in the modern consumer culture. They don’t want us thinking too much, and great poetry makes you think.

But once again the emerging participatory culture of the internet is changing an aspect of our culture. At any other time in the last century a new American poet laureate would have gone unheard by much of the world. Now Philip Levine can as The Economist puts it ‘express the bitterness and promise of America‘ and the world can judge if they agree, instantly, virally and democratically. I think Levine’s work is rather beautiful, and a voice we need that in other times would have gone unheard.

Poetry may have been sidelined for a century or more, but in today’s culture of status updates and soundbites and the unremitting contest for the attention of billions, I think it is becoming more important and powerful than ever.

A Vast Bit of Hod

This story is also a riddle. I will congratulate anyone who tells me the answer.

A Vast Bit of Hod

by Damien G. Walter

The bloody bell rang again. The bloody bell hadn’t stopped ringing all bloody day. Harold was bloody sick of it. How was he supposed to keep the shop spick-and-span with customers wandering in and out of the place all day like bloody great herds of cattle? If Harold had his way, they’d keep proper antique shop hours; half an hour at lunch, an hour in the afternoon and closed Mondays, Wednesdays and Weekends. Little sign on the door, ‘Customers by appointment only’, then no apparent means of making an appointment. But then it was not a real antique shop, was it? Not in the stricest sense. More like bric-a-brac really. And Harold only worked there, the owners made all the rules.

The bell ringer stood looking around the shop, unaware of his crime. Young man. Not too tall. Slender build. Dark suit jacket, worn with a polo neck, covered his throat. Slacks, brogues. Smart looking, but a little worn out at the seams. Face the product of breeding; domed brow, sharp cheeks, aquiline nose. Clear, very dark eyes. Kind that seemed to look right through things rather than at them. But not monied. Not really. Harold could tell. He could always tell.

The young man’s eyes flicked back and forth over the cluttered shop. Harold leaned one elbow on the sales counter and looked down at his newspaper. The final crossword clue was difficult, fiendishly so, been annoying Harold for an eternity. A Vast Bit of Hod. Really, what kind of clue was that? He took a sip of luke warm tea and considered. The young man carried on looking at the clutter, the kind of way people look at things when they aren’t really looking at them, but only pretending to look to avoid the awkwardness of actually talking to another human being.

‘Can I help?’ Harold knew bloody well he could help, but it was as good a place to start as any.

‘I…yes. How much is this bureau?’

‘That depends what you want it for.’ Harold said, looking at the young man over his tea cup. The young man looked back at him, wide eyed, surprised.

‘Pardon me? What a very odd thing to say.”

‘Just a statement of facts.’

‘But. This is a shop. You sell things. What I do with them is my own business surely?’

‘Oh, absolutely. But whatever you do, you pay the price.’

‘Look. Are you going to tell me how much money you want for it or not?’

‘Not much interested in money. Boring. Tell you what. You want something, you go ahead and take it.’ Harold thumbed a digestive biscuit from the packet next to the teapot, plastic wrapper rustling loudly.
‘Hold on there a minute. Are you telling me I can take the bureau for nothing? What about the rest, can I take that? Could I just empty your whole shop?’

‘You could, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Besides, there’s no point. You can come back any time you like, and take whatever you want.’

‘I see.’ Said the young man, in the way people say I see when they really don’t see at all. He pretended to look at the clutter again, a muscle in his jaw ticking furiously. He wanted to leave, Harold could see that, but he couldn’t quite gather the willpower to walk back through the door. Harold dipped the digestive in his tea, bit the soggy end off with his teeth.

‘Well. I don’t want the bureau anyway, so that solves that problem.’

‘Of course you don’t want the bureau, goes without saying.’

‘Really? Why wouldn’t I want the bureau?’

‘That’s a politicians bureau. Built to hold secrets. See all those little looked doors? It’s not for the likes of you.’

‘Likes of me? What is that supposed to mean? I’m very informed about politics actually.’

‘Of course. But I’d venture you have a thing for the truth, am I right?’
The young man opened his mouth, then bit it shut. He was thinking, Harold could see, that Harold was right. Harold liked being right. He liked it a lot.

‘Yes. Truth. And beauty. They are the most important things for a poet.’

‘Ah yes, a poet! That explains it.’ Harold had know the young man was an artist of some kind. If he had bothered to guess he might have said painter. But the boy didn’t have the vigour for easel work. No, poet. Obvious now he thought about it.

Harold put down his mug of tea, and hoisted himself up from his stool with a grunt. He shuffled out from behind the counter, navigating past a waist high stack of second hand paperbacks and a poorly located hat stand to reach the front of the shop.

‘What does it explain?’ Said the young man.

‘What does what explain?’ Harold said angrily. For the life of him, he couldn’t think what the young man was talking about.

‘You said, “A poet, that explains it.” What is the it?’

‘Oh that. Well, why you are here of course. Now let’s forget the bureau, and I’ll show you a few things you might want more, yes?’
Harold turned the young man around, and moved him a few paces sideways through the clutter. Harold sometimes thought of the shop as a harbour, and himself as a little tug boat moving the customer between walls of antiques, loading them up with purchases and then shoving them back out to sea.

‘Now then, how about these?’

They faced a tall dresser, crafted from some dark wood. Panes of leaded glass protected a chaotic jumble of objects distributed between many shelves and compartments.

‘Now, let me see. Ah, yes, how about this.’ Harold tapped on the glass just in front of a large pair of scissors, captured in a hard leather sheath.

‘Taylor’s scissors. What do you think?’

‘What do you mean, what do I think?’

‘How do you like them? Savile Rowe style, I do believe. Imagine the weight of steel in your hand. Snipping through yards of fabric on the cutting bench. There’s more to tayloring than meets the eye, you know. Clothes maketh the man.’

‘I disagree. It’s the man who makes the clothes.’

‘Yes! Now you’re getting it. What men might you make?’

‘No.’ The young man shook his head as though shedding the wispy remnants of a bad dream. ‘No. Making fine clothes for great men, wearing the scraps they leave behind. Not for me.’

‘Fair enough.’ Harold raised both hands palm up in obeysance. ‘How’s your time keeping?’

The young mans eyes turned with Harolds to rest upon a fine, silver cased fob watch. It had not ticked for some time, Harold knew. But no bother, it would soon spring back to life again in a warm pair of hands.
‘A butlers work is never done. There’s always masters to awake, guests to lodge, dinner services to orchestrate and so forth.’

‘Wait on hand and foot to the aristocracy? Become a lapdog of the bourgeoisie? Betray the proletariat? Never!’

The young man was geting his dander up, and had gone quite red in the cheek. Harold looked at him, in the way a person might look at an overly talkative spaniel.

‘A poet and a Marxist. How delightful. Someone has to be in charge you know. Then the rest of us don’t have to worry.’
‘The rest of you maybe. But not me.’

Harold sighed inside, but resolved to continue. ‘What’s your name young man?’

‘Anthony. Anthony Browne. But I don’t like it. I intend to write under a nom de plume when I am published.’

‘Very wise, very wise. Now I can see I’m not going to convince you of the value of a life in service. Come this way.’

Harold led the young man on with a theatrical flourish, in the process disturbing a large vase on a slender pedestal. Barely managed to stop the whole affair from toppling groundward. Breakages were an uncommon occurrence. The shops clientele were of the careful sort by and large. Which was good, because when breakages did occur they where an absolute nuisance. Three forms Harold had to fill out, all to be filed to different offices in the city. A day slogging through the hustle and bustle. Sitting in barren waiting rooms. Standing in endless queues. And he hated dealing with the counter staff of the Heirophancy. Harold doubted they even looked at the forms. But then wasn’t that the point of regulations, to be pointless?

‘I think I might be in the wrong shop.’ Anthony hesitated, as though wary of moving deeper into the chaotic interior.

‘Well, it’s possible.’

‘Does that ever happen?’

‘Now and again. You could try the pet-shop next door. Rabbit maybe? Or canary? They have a few puppies now and again. Or even the green-grocer. Broccoli’s good.’

‘No. No thank you. Is there anywhere else?’

‘Anthony.’ Harold addressed the young man seriously. ‘You came in here. The chances are, there was a good reason why. Now I’ve been showing you a bit of what’s on offer, only seems fair. But I have a feeling this will be more your style.’

Harold prodded the young man through a rattling bead curtain and allowed him a moment to taken in the back room. Sometimes people gave a little gasp, that echoed spendidly from the polished marble floor. The columns and the high painted ceiling were impressive, the priceless glittering crystal chandeliers were, well, priceless. And it did go back such a very long way. But Anthony was not so easily awed, and remained silent.
‘What is this?’ Anthony indicated a nearby glass display stand, housing what looked like a collision of brass arcs.

‘Naval Sextant. Good quality, good enough for a Captain with his eyes on the Admiralty.’ Harold remembered first touching that item, the ocean vista that unfolded in his imagination. The sight of a dozen spear wielding, naked savages running to the shoreline to meet the landing craft. the final moment of blood and leaking guts in the surf.
‘My grandfather was in the navy. Or I think it was my grandfather. Funny, I can’t seem to remember his name.’

‘Slippery things, names. And memories.’

‘How odd. I can’t think of my mother’s name either.’

‘Ever fancied it?’

‘What?’ The young man looked again at the sextant when Harold nodded towards it. ‘Oh, the navy? Maybe, as a boy perhaps. No doubt it seemed a fine adventure.’

‘Oh yes, very adventurous. Talking of which, what about this? Might not look like much, but don’t let that fool you.’

Tucked between two volumes in a display of ornately bound books, the edge of an old, battered hip flask was visible. Cheap even when it was new, black vinyl grip worn away almost entirely, baring the low grade, tarnished silver body.

‘Rhodesian issue. Given to mercenaries. Been plenty of other places mind. Nile Delta. Spanish Peninsula. Guatemalan Rainforest. And that’s just for starters.’

‘The life of a paid killer?’

‘Oh yes, but imagine the adventure! Life lived beyond the rules. And no man your master, not unless he can pay.’

‘No, this really isn’t…Good Lord, what is that?’

‘What, the shrunken head?’

‘Is it a shrunken head?’

‘Oh yes. Interesting one that. Man name of Carter. Explorer. Penetrated single handed in to the dark continent when it was still just a space on the map saying ‘Here Be Dragons’.

‘I’ve never heard of him.’

‘Why would you? The stories are for the ones who make it back.’

‘And he didn’t? Make it back I mean?’

‘Well. His head did.’

‘But. But. How did it get here?’

‘He brought it with him. Nice chap, talkative. Knew the score. Left with a very nice OC Bible, if I remember correctly.’

‘He brought it with him?’

‘Yes, not uncommon. Quite a number of the clientele like to leave a little gift. Good bit of our stock comes that way. The rest, well, not really my concern that. I’d venture you have a little something for me?

The young man looked aghast. The kind of face a man gets when he remembers a make or break appointment, then realises it was yesterday. Harold watched the young man pat himself down. Found the thing he was looking for in a breast pocket. Pulled out a silver barrelled fountain pen. Held it in his cupped hand, weighing it against expectation.

‘Give it to me.’ Harold said. He found that a firm tone helped immeasurably with the process.

‘I don’t know that I want to.’

‘Did I ask you what you want?’

‘No. Look, I’m not going give you my pen. I write. I have to write. It’s what I do.’

‘That was before.’

‘Before what? Look, I don’t have to put up with this. I’m going to walk out of here right now.’

‘Yes? Do it then. No? You’ll find you can’t. It’s too late Anthony.’

‘Why? What’s happened? Tell me, please. What’s happening to me?’
The young man was rubbing his throat through the turtle neck, the hand clenching and unclenching spasmodically. There it was then, Harold noted with no real satisfaction. Don’t let up now though. Keep the ball rolling. Hammer in the final nail.

‘No. It’s not ‘me’ anymore Anthony. Not ‘I’ either, not any more. Me ended, in that dim stairwell. Was it a stairwell? Or was it a chair and light fitting jobby. Or did you manage it from a door handle? Now that takes some doing, from a door handle’

‘Stop please stop.’ The boy was near to crying. Soon the tears would come, muddying up his face and then the big bubble of snot bursting from a nostril.

‘The pen, Anthony. Give it to me.’

‘No. Please.’

‘Now.’

And then he did it, handed the pen right over. Like a little boy giving back a stolen chocolate bar. An odd look crossed his face, some unknown mixture of guilt and relief.

‘Good. Very good.’ Harold pocketed the pen. It would fit nicely with the others. He gave the young man a reassuring thump on the shoulder.
‘Very good sign. Many of our clientele find it so hard to let go, causes all their problems you know.’

‘I’m very thirsty. Can I have something to drink please?’ The young man said in a small, broken voice.

‘Not until this is done. Now I think I may have misjudged you Anthony. This adventurous life is more than you’re ready for I believe. So let’s crack on shall we?’

As they returned to the front room something roared past the the shop window, like a lorry, shaking the shelves and setting crystal glasses chiming. But not a truck. The roads of the city were forever deserted, no traffic thronging the byways, no jams and honking horns and clouds of choking smog. Harold was immensely glad of this, having hated the noise and stink of traffic his whole life. It more than made up for the disconcerting fact that Harold could not identify whatever it was that did go roaring through the roads now and again. The things, whatever they were, moved too fast and somehow he was never looking when they came, they were just a vast roar on the edge of perception.

‘What was that?’

‘Just a lorry, Anthony, Just a lorry.’

They stepped through a dark doorway leading from one section of the shop to the next. Harold flicked a switch, and a row of fluorescent tube lights flickered to life. If you could call the grubby light they produced life. The air in this part of the shop was forever stale. Harold had tried a variety of air fresheners, to little or no effect. The smell of the merchandise was subtle, but overwhelming. Paperbacks were the worst offenders. Not only did the dry pages begin to crumble, but they accrued blooms of black and grey mould. The comics offended similarly, and the garish inks they were printed in maintained a permanent chemical tang in the air. The cassette tapes were another matter all together. Harold did no more than stack them on the shelves, keeping them in roughly alphabetical order by artist, none of which he had heard of because it had been a very long time since he listened to popular music of any kind. The plastic cassette cases were like sealed space capsules. Every so often a customer would crack one open to peruse the liner notes, and a burst of the original owners atmosphere, molecules of breath and sweat and desperate longing would be flung around the shop. The VHS video cassettes, grimed with dust and grit from long storage, the old LP’s that soaked up the essence of a place in to their sleeves. Every item contributed to the crush of lives that filled the room. Lives lived in dreams and delusion, trapped inside the pages of trashy thrillers or the easy listening melodies of yesterdays pop hits.

‘Captain Crisp!’ The young man said with frank disbelief. He stepped ahead of Harold into the room to inspect a glass fronted display case, jammed with the kind of mass produced plastic toys that were sold to children brainwashed by badly animated Saturday morning cartoons.

‘It is Captain Crisp! Amazing!’ He pushed his nose up against the glass to peruse the full selection of toys. ‘Wow! You have every member of The Cereoes in here? They must be worth loads!’

He said loads it in the way an excitable twelve year old boy might say it, as though he had just found the most exciting thing in the world ever. Which in his mind he might very well have. Then he began to sing quite quietly.

‘Captain Crisp, Captain Crisp, and the Cereoes! Captain Crisp, Captain Crisp, leader of heroes. Captain Crisp!’

‘Anthony?’ Harold said in as much of fatherly way as he could muster.

‘Yes?’ The young man answered in an awestruck tone.

‘I want you to have a good look around and find one thing you like. And when you have done that, bring it to me at the counter. Do you understand?’

‘Yes sir. I understand.’

He should have expected as much the moment the young man walked through the door, Harold ruminated as he sat back down behind the counter. That little collection of ephemera was supposed to be for children, and yet more and more of his adult clientelle seemed to have a fascination with the stuff. People didn’t grow up any more, not really. They didn’t realise their own dreams. No lives of adventure. Or even of service. Just the endless cycle of consumption. He took a sip of tea and grimaced. It was stone cold, and sludgy with biscuit sediment. Time for another.

Standing beside the boiling kettle, with the carton of milk in his hand ready to pour, Harold wondered if maybe he could have made more effort to show the young man a few other parts of the shop. Upstairs perhaps. Even Harold could never be sure what he would find when he took a client upstairs. How the stock came and went was a mystery. Just a week ago he had shown a rather pretty school teacher an entire room of glittering gold jewellery, including a fine selection of crowns, from which the woman had politely selected a simple, unadorned gold circlet. Harold had never even glimpsed the display before. Only yesterday, he had been surprised to feel a gush of hot, moist air hit his face as he opened opening the third door on the left. Took him three two hours to find the client, who had gone foraging through the jungle undergrowth, hunched over a rare tropical bloom.

When Anthony returned from the back room, Harold was ready and waiting at the counter. In his hands was the Captain Crisp. On his face a broad and beaming smile.

‘Made your mind up?’

‘Yes thank you.’

‘Want me to wrap it up?’

‘No thank you. Captain Crisp is a protector of the galaxy. He can survive in any atmosphere. He only adopts the persona of mentally ill drug addict Anthony Brown to keep his identity secret from the evil Schizoids.’

Harold wanted to tell the young man he could not have the toy. To make him choose again. To choose better. But there was no helping people. They all got what they wanted in the end. Every last one of them.

The bell rang. The door closed. And the shop was empty again. Harold was looking at one of the cabinets. His cheeks were wet with tears and he did not know why. He kept this cabinet empty, except for the bowl. A very plain wooden bowl, burnished to a high shine by the many hands that had held it. It was the only item in the shop of any value to him. He thought then, as he often had, of taking off with the thing. Of walking out through that door and hearing that bloody bell for the last time. But then who would keep the stock in order? And stop the clients breaking things? Besides, he’d just made a cup of tea, and there was a new packet of hobnobs in the kitchen. And of course, he couldn’t go anywhere until he had finished that crossword.

Emotions when writing

Don’t underestimate or ignore the emotional and psychological challenge of writing. More writers are defeated in this arena than by lack of skill or imagination. Writing can be joyous and fun. But it can also be strenuous, isolating and, sometimes, downright scary.

Every piece of writing is a journey. Some longer or shorter than others. There are maps available, but you can trust them to be wrong as often they are right. It’s a journey you take on your own, across an unknown and often challenging landscape. Isolation brings its challenges.

Voices of doubt and dissent are liable to make themselves heard. Is this the right project? Are you good enough to write it? Will it ever get published? Are you wasting your time? Were all those people who tutted at the idea of writing, right? These are just a few of my personal favourites, every writer has their own versions.

The work itself slips and slides underneath you. One moment the structure and argument are clear in your head, the next all you have are a page full of apparently unconnected sentences and paragraphs. Frustration, anger and despair are all perfectly valid responses. Stop. Turn around. Go home. Or don’t. Only you can decide.

Their are practical issues to concern yourself with. If you’re investing the time needed to write anything worth a damn, especially on a full length book, its likely you aren’t spending enough time on work, friends, family. You might return from your journey to find one or all of them gone. Loneliness, shame and rejection loom like dark thunderheads on the horizon.

And that deep dark unconscious from which all great writing comes doesn’t give up its treasure without a fight. Even if all you’re after are a few colourful memories to set the scene, it will have a barrage of half-truths, unresolved conflicts and other neuroses to throw at you. Go looking for those powerful emotions like love, passion, fear and God help you with what you find. There are monsters on this journey, as scary as you can imagine.

Some writers stop all together when they encounter these emotions. Others avoid the really tough and most challenging emotional ground. Writing that is flat, predictable, generic, cliched and dull is often a consequence of sticking to easily travelled paths.

All you can do is be mindfull of the emotions that arise as you write. Oh look, frustration and anger again, I’ll let those pass and carry on. Horizon looks like bad weather, I’ll just rough it out. Monsters from the unconscious are blocking the path? CHARGE! And remember, if the destination is where your heart wants to be, the journey is always worth it.

What is Rule 34?

Rule 34 is a science fiction novel about cybercrime, maker culture and porn. But most of all, it’s a novel about you.

It’s 9:30am on a painfully dull Thursday morning in the office. The boss has retreated behind her wall of pot plants after hovering over your shoulder like a huge and bothersome horsefly, peering at your computer screen as you attempt to explain the annual sales speadsheet. You flick your mouse cursor over to the Firefox browser you’re running from the same USB dongle that is providing your wireless internet access, all so spotty Gareth in IT services can’t spy on what you’re looking at.

Read more at Guardian books.

Does social media reveal a ‘silent liberal majority’?

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

The media often projects the consensus that the majority of the population hold conservative viewpoints. For instance, it’s generally agreed that a majority of the UK population support capital punishment. When that does not prove to be true in practice the terms ‘silent majority’ or ‘moral majority’ are used to imply that for various reasons that majority is not heard.

Today a major debate was sparked about capital punishment in the UK. It is a manufactured debate, arising from the re-launch of the UK government’s e-petition scheme. A well known UK political blogger started a petition to bring back capital punishment and, with the support of right wing parts of the media, claimed he had or would soon have the 100,000 signatures needed to gain a parliamentary debate on the subject. This has proven to be untrue. Signatories are not supporting the petition at anywhere near the expected rate. In fact, the opposing petition has, at the time of writing, approximately twice as many signatories.

I think this surprise outcome is largely due to social media.

Twice now, first with the News International phone hacking case and now with the capital punishment debate, I have observed through searches and hashtags that a vast majority of Twitter users were in support of the liberal perspective in both cases. While both conservative and liberal supporters use social media, their effect seems to be to amplify the liberal argument far more strongly than the conservative one.

Why would this be? I think it is possible that social media empowers a ‘silent liberal majority’. People who do not engage with traditional media and traditional politics because they do not feel it can change anything. They likely hold very strong political ideals, but feel there is no way to really act on those ideals in the real world. In my experience the number of people who feel this way is very great, but their viewpoint is not often expressed in our political dialectic. Twitter and other social media allow that liberal majority to make themselves heard easily and , more importantly, effectively. Social media then brings a large section of the population back in to the political system who have gone unheard for a long time. If this is true, then UK politics is about to take a major step to the left.

Picking up the threads

As a writer, you have to trust that your work will get better each time you come back to it. Very few writing projects are started and finished in one sitting. Even a short story requires planning, writing, re-writing, editing. Novels can take months and years to go from flash of inspiration to final manuscript. Every time you sit down to write, you take time to bring together all the threads of your work in progress. When you stop to rest, they slip from your grasp again.  It can be hard not to fear that the work has unravelled without your attention. Even if it does you will soon weave it again in to something just as good, maybe even better.

If you are fortunate you will be able to return to your work in a few hours, or the next day. But for many of us writing happens around the commitments of life and work. You might return to your writing a day, a week, a month or sometimes even years later. So you have to trust that every time you come back to your work, it is better than when you left it. The ideas it is made of may have changed a little, or a lot, but the new ideas will be stronger, and closer to the spirit of what you are trying to express.

If you enjoyed this post please consider making a small pledge to the World SF Travel Fund