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Two great fantasy novels

Uncategorised Posted on Thu, January 05, 2023 10:13:58

I mostly read science fiction rather than fantasy and watch crime shows on TV. However, every so often, I dip a toe into fantasy, particularly those books that don’t involve an epic door-stopper series. In 2022, the two favourite books I read, period, were both fantasy and I decided to record my impressions for posterity here.


I have not read Susanna Clarke’s much lauded fantasy novel Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell and so Piranesi was my first introduction to her work. I would recommend it unreservedly. It doesn’t seem to have won as many awards as I might have expected, despite being well-regarded critically. It has a unique world and character and is brilliantly written. I am still haunted by the images of the gigantic rooms and the faint but present homage to the worlds revealed in Lewis’ A Magician’s Nephew. The subtle revelation of Piranesi’s plight and the constant shifting of the literal and metaphorical tides create such a refreshingly unique world and a seemingly tragic inhabitant. Nothing is quite what it seems, right until the end. On my copy of Robert Holdstock’s fantasy, Mythago Wood, there’s a praise by Alan Gardner in which he says Holdstock’s book is “a new expression of the British genius for true fantasy”. I would say the same about Piranesi.

You can find this on Amazon, just search on the name. I tried to link but Amazon just emblazoned a whole lot of unwanted stuff into my article.

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms

By complete contrast in tone and execution, I very much enjoyed another masterful fantasy by another British author, David Gullen. An established writer, his short fiction is now turning up in hallowed genre magazines like The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Gullen throws into the melting pot a vivid portrayal of the British seaside town of Brighton and its visitation by a mermaid. There are many tropes here, the mermaid herself, ancient history, magic, and Tim Wassiter, the not entirely competent private detective who leans on magic as his modus operandi. Nonetheless, Gullen brings these things together in a seamless and refreshing way, lacing his story with romance, menace and subtle humour in equal measure. The characters are vividly portrayed, and I particularly fell for the seemingly independent ‘Hand’ of Persistent Smith, one of the detective’s assistants. It’s been a long time since I enjoyed a book so much. Dave was also one of my tutors at the 2014 WorldCon writers’ workshop in London and his input to my short fiction was and is very much appreciated.

Fission #1 is out in the World

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, March 13, 2022 14:52:57

As I kind of expected Fission was released as an e-book to members of the BSFA late summer. They mentioned physical copies going to authors and that, after some delay, this is now underway. Due to Brexit, and the time it now takes for post to get from the UK to Sweden, I’m not surprised I have yet to receive my physical copy. Even the simple Christmas card my sister sent us seemed to have had a customs stop!

The good news is that the BSFA have now released Fission #1 as a paperback available on Amazon in UK, USA and Sweden. The links for US (which gets a nice picture of the cover) and the UK (which does not) are below. Searching Fission #1 on will also get you to it in Sweden:

UK link below

Meanwhile, I’ve submitted a story to Fission #2. Publication in the second issue is less likely because a) they are paying authors (so there will be much more competition) and b) the editor who liked and accepted my story for the first issue has stepped down and two new editors have stepped in.  I have learnt that so much of publication is finding an editor that likes your work, unless you’re clearly brilliant (which I am not). I’ve also submitted a very science orientated and short in length story to a US magazine.  Meanwhile novel revisions continue…

New story in Fission magazine

Uncategorised Posted on Sat, July 10, 2021 14:14:07

In my short fiction writing journey there’s some important news! My short story “The First and Last Safe Place” has been selected for the first issue of the British Science Fiction Association’s new fiction magazine, Fission. This magazine is intended to be an annual anthology of short fiction. Whilst I am still wrestling with my novel revisions, it’s a great encouragement to have a story selected by Allen Stroud, the editor of Fission who’s also the current Chair of the BSFA.  It’s a unique opportunity for my fiction to reach a much bigger audience than it has so far, so I am very grateful that Allen liked the story. The details of the publication (probably sent as a mailing to members), is still unclear, but I will update when I have more information.

The Gift of Grogu

Uncategorised Posted on Wed, March 31, 2021 07:25:51


As a man with two daughters (whom I love dearly), I didn’t have great expectations that there would be someone like me. This just goes to show that although I am a biological scientist, my grasp of genetics is somewhat flaky—to say the least! Not everything is channeled through sex-differences.

In fact, I have learned a lot about myself as I have observed my children grow up. I even wonder whether Gene Wolfe’s classic novella and title story that begins the book The Fifth Head of Cerberus was inspired by his own observation of his children.

My youngest daughter returned from her Scottish Art school and her studies in animation rather abruptly around a year ago, just as lockdown was about to start and as her university switched to remote learning. She finished her studies by distance and despite the traumatic extraction, passed with flying colours.

Not surprisingly, given the subject of her degree studies, she had subscribed to Disney plus, and in common with her Dad has a soft-spot for SF and fantasy, particularly in in the visual arts. Consequently, she’s been a willing companion for the three science fiction World Conventions that I have attended. So, she invited her parents to watch The Mandalorian with her. It’s one of the better Star Wars spin-offs, and whilst the titular character is interesting and well-drawn, it’s The Child, a member of Yoda’s species, who steals the show. I knew she was was labouring away on some work of art for my Christmas present, but I was firmly excluded from watching the process. She considers herself a digital artist but also works with physical media. Nevertheless, the present I received was painted digitally. My jaw dropped when finally I saw it. Here it is in all its glory below.

The Child -Grogu

We had some debate about the eggs he’s eating, belonging to the poor frog lady. I argue that it’s just like eating chicken eggs as they were unfertilized, given the story was their journey to find her husband for the fertilization job. None-the-less, they were the last of their species… If you want to see more of her art, follow her on Instagram:@pandaswings –and here you can also see how she built up the picture.

After this burst of blog activity, another announcement will follow shortly—watch this space…

Adminstrative note on comments

Uncategorised Posted on Wed, March 24, 2021 07:45:30

Some time ago my website host moved this blog to WordPress. This was generally a good move, though their first shot at it corrupted all the text formatting. They did sort it out fairly quickly, thankfully. Under the old regime, the comments didn’t function properly. That is, there was no mechanism to approve the comments and rather than be spammed out I switched this off.

I switched on comments on again with the new WordPress (which has the ability to screen comments) and then left this blog alone for quite some time. Quite some time, it seems, is plenty of time to get spammed. So when I finally updated the blog, I peeked into the pending comments. Of the approximately 450 comments all but 3 were straight spam. The remaining 3 were at least trying to relate to the subject of the website, if not the post they associated their comments with. Needless to say, I didn’t approve these either. I then installed a spam eliminating program offered by the webhost.

All this is a long-winded way of saying that comments are now activated again and I promise to regularly check.

If you want to contact me directly try cj (the funny at squiggle)

A more interesting post will appear here shortly!

1756 to patient zero, and back again

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, March 21, 2021 17:43:47

A piece I wrote for this blog (but never posted) about a year ago began like this:

Several weeks ago, at 7 am, as I drove to the training I do most weeks, it was light for the first time, a sign that Spring is in the air, a feeling reinforced by the appearance of snowdrops and healthy sprouts of daffodils. Well, snowdrops—poor sods—are going to have to think about a new name.

It was the middle of February and winter in Stockholm seemed to have passed without snow and as I write this at the end of March 2020, apart from a short-lived dusting, snow has remained absent. We’ve lived here over 20 years and always had snow every winter. One of the main Swedish newspapers (Dagens Nyheter) announced it was the warmest January since 1756. Is the climate changing? No, it has changed—drastically.

Is this a political comment? No, not at all, it’s a scientific one. William Gibson, the guy credited for coining the word, Cyberspace, returned to writing SF in one of his more recent novels, The Peripheral. In this book he described a calamitous event which he called the Jackpot. In fact, we learn that this isn’t one calamity but a convergence of several. I now learn that the Jackpot idea’s original source was probably from Robert Heinlein. This neatly leads me to the present day where something rather worse than the delay of winter is emerging in Wuhan, China: a new kind of corona virus.

And then 2020 disappeared into a pandemic that would put the best SF dystopia’s to shame. Like many things that take the human race by surprise and hit us over the head when we’re least expecting it, with hindsight, it could have been predicted. (Plastic, I’m looking at you!) The possibility of this event had been foreshadowed by previous coronavirus outbreaks and the crossover from the world of wildlife to the human population encroaching on it.

The personal fall-out has been devastating, not just among the elderly and other vulnerable groups, but the knock-on effect of losing intensive care beds (not to mention the carnage wrought on medical staff) has been predicted to kill as many people as the virus itself. Married to somebody working in the health services, I hear of the effects first hand. However, the full economic impact and the dissolution of people’s livelihoods have still to be fully felt. And it is a coronavirus, so thinking of the flu (which requires annual immunization), it looks like the so-called ‘new normal’ will be with us for some years to come.

Here in Sweden, we had lock-down lite, which worked here in the first wave due to the conformist culture where people generally carefully follow the recommendations (and probably the lower population density). However, I think by the time we got to the second wave, conformist fatigue reared its head.

On reflection, the feeling I got over this last year was not one of living in a SF Dystopia, but more like an Alternative Reality: familiar things still exist but everything is distorted in unimagined ways by the slight of some author’s hand. The better news in 2021 was we had more snow here than for many years. Whilst this is probably one of those dips that you see on the graphs of gradual temperature rises, at least the poor snowdrops got a temporary reprieve of their name.

Gene Wolfe (1931– 2019)

Updates Posted on Thu, April 18, 2019 21:28:32

Around a year ago I lamented
the loss of one of my favourite authors, Ursula Le Guin. However, the loss of
Gene Wolfe is a greater blow as I have listed him as my favourite writer on several
occasions. That he died on Palm Sunday and the advent of Holy Week is fitting
for somebody whose faith was important to him on both a personal level, as well as a strong but subtle influence on
his writing and perhaps most prominently seen in his most famous work: The Book
of the New Sun. Though Wolfe himself described less as an allegorical reference
to Christ but more “a person achieving Sainthood”. I first discovered Wolfe (as
I have said elsewhere) through his short fiction, and “The Eye Flash Miracles”
was the first story of his I read—to be found in one of Damon Knight’s Orbit
anthologies. Ursula Le Guin pointed to
In the Shadow of the Torturer (the first volume in the book of the New Sun),
and the rest is history. Many fine obituaries are being written, but as I did
with Le Guin, mine will be a personal reflection.

Exactly 32 years to this day I met Gene for the first and last time. It
was my very first Science Fiction convention, the annual British event held that
year in Birmingham again at Easter. Wolfe wasn’t a guest of honour he was
simply just there. A year or so earlier I had written a perspective on both the
last book of the New Sun Quartet and the books leading up to it, for which I had won 2nd prize in a
BSFA competition (an enthusiastic but somewhat naïve account of somebody in
his early 20s). When I realized Gene Wolfe was at the con, I brought my recent
copy of his latest book, Soldier of the Mist for him to sign (see below). I
joined the long signing queue, but when I got to the front I froze and
spluttered when he asked me how he should dedicate the book. I muttered
something about having reviewed his book. Hence that’s what he put underneath
his signature.

His books were never bestsellers in the
traditional sense: he was very much a writer’s writer, but as was said on the
cover of one of his books he brought “that literary rarity, wisdom” and I
believe, truth. I may write more later, but given the week we are now entering
maybe look up his short story “Easter Sunday” which is available on the net and
published back in 1951

Creative Writers’ Toolbelt Extras

Updates Posted on Tue, November 06, 2018 21:45:06

If you’re new to this blog and have come as a result of my
interview with Andy Chamberlain on Creative Writers Podcast, welcome. As the
result of both my nervousness and the ensuing slips of memory, several helpful
things I wanted to say remained unsaid, particularly some practical tips—the
hallmark of the podcast. Therefore, I decided that I should use my blog to try
and rectify this and add value to the broadcast.

First, it’s important
to point out you cannot leave messages here. The blog is a side offering of my
web hotel and not set up for this. So if you wish to comment to me directly or
get in touch for other reasons please use
the following email: Thanks.

A few extra tips and tricks…

Book circle:
Another element that has helped me on my writing journey is a Science Fiction
book circle. We meet once a month and discuss a chosen SF or, less commonly, a
fantasy novel. This has been useful in
two ways. In general, the process of reading and writing go together. I’m not a
quick reader and once I started writing,
a book a month is all I could manage. More particularly, since most of the time
it’s not necessarily my choice, we’ve read a diverse selection of different writers.
Left to my own devices, I would probably just
follow my favourite authors. This venue has given me an appreciation of the
current SF scene. Especially when you are writing genre fiction, it’s important to know what’s current as always what you
write is a conversation with an existing
body of work. During recent years writers of literary fiction have produced
genre tinged works that seem to ignore this kind of dialogue.

The consultation of
I realised early on that I
would need to talk to some professionals in the areas the book touches. First
and foremost, of course, a policeman. Before I started to write the book seriously, I met a couple of times with a
Stockholm police inspector, firstly over lunch—always a good ploy when
somebody’s doing you a big favour. I outlined the basic plot of the first
section and heard from him more about how the Swedish police work in practice. This is different from the UK, though the
overall legal structure has some similarities with the Scottish system and that
from the US. Especially new to me was the relationship between the prosecutor
and the police. I can also draw on a Swedish prosecutor who is an established
member of SF fandom. However, as she has said, even Swedish police procedurals
struggle to portray the relationship between the prosecutors and police
correctly. Fortunately, my police inspector thought there was some flexibility
as the story was set sometime in the
future! As a result of my first meeting with him,
I got invited for a tour of the central police station where both he and my
fictional inspector are based. Regarding
the issue of prostitution, I’ve had my
friend who works helping people trapped in sex-trafficking look through the
drafts and make comments.

Grammarly: As I noted in the podcast, my meticulous English
teacher was replaced by a hippy with a much more relaxed attitude to grammar.
Grammarly is an online application that helps keep me right in this area. There’s
a free version (which is worth trying out) and
a paid for version that gives a lot more features and can be incorporated into MS Word. It’s
not foolproof grammar checking, and
occasionally I disagree with it and go to grammar books, but as a first-line
resource, I find it valuable.

Scrivener and
I referred to the writing program Scrivener several times during
the podcast often commenting that I would get back to it—but I never did. At
the recommendation of British writer Ian McDonald, I use this cheap writing
program ($45) for all my work, both short and long. It’s available for both Mac
and PC here:
In my short fiction what I liked about it is that you write your text and then
the program exports it in standard manuscript format, ready for submission. It
comes into its own though when planning and executing a longer work like a
novel. You can easily break things down into Chapters and scenes; there’s a cork board display which enables
you to organise Chapters/scenes at a
glance. There’s also a separate section where you can put research material
including pictures. All this information is kept together in one file.

There is one other way I use Scrivener in the process of
writing a novel which I think could be a generally
useful tip. Scrivener exports to standard ebook format, epub, and also Kindle Mobi format (but Kindle export requires an
additional program KindleGen which you can download for free from Amazon—see
more information in Appendix below). This export function I use in two ways.

1. When I have written a few chapters,
I export to an ebook format (usually Kindle, i.e.
Mobi format). You’ll be amazed how much
you can spot regarding errors when
reading your manuscript like a traditional book. Several Ebook readers are free
as is the Kindle app. The best reading device is some kind of pad or an actual Kindle, but with the screen size of modern
mobile phones, these are also now widely
available reading devices, and readers
exist for both iPhone, Android and of course Windows.

2. The ebook exports I can send to my beta readers, and it’s possible for them to introduce
comments and markup. This is how my both
my wife and daughter have read my book and given feedback. I use an Android pad, my wife uses her iPad, and my daughter uses her iPhone 6.

Miscellaneous resources

I used writing resources
available in book form or online, to stop me making fundamental mistakes with POV,
show vs tell etc. as well as to hone my craft.

Creative writers toolbelt Podcast (
and book

Writing Excuses Podcast:


Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne and Dave King –it has been said that if you can only buy one book on writing, this is it.

Readers Digest books by Nancy Kress, Orson Scott Card, Jeff Gerke-
the Card book is SF and fantasy orientated the other two writers have produced
works suitable for all genres but have SF
and Fantasy in their backgrounds.

Appendix: Exporting to Kindle Mobi
format using Scrivener.

The first thing you need to do is go to the Amazon website
(I used, I don’t know if it’s
also there on Search for KindleGen, download the file, unzip it
into a subdirectory where you can easily find it when selecting it from within
Scrivener. If you are in Scrivener, you can go to the compile selection found at the bottom of the File tab. Since I seem to have
KindleGen installed on all the computers that I use Scrivener on, I can’t quite remember how I set it up, but I
seem to recall that if you select Mobi (Kindle) to compile to, it prompts you
to find KindleGen. For this reason, I Googled it and found this helpful webpage
with illustrations.

There are also several tutorials on YouTube if you search
KindleGen and Scrivner there.

NOTE I always get
an error message when exporting to Kindle format due to the fact I don’t have a
cover! And in terms of my experience level,
I have never tried to make a ‘proper ebook’ for public release. Looking at what
comes out in either epub or Mobi (Kindle
format) suggest that I need to do further optimisation
for a completely clean layout…;-)

P.S. And finally…

On the podcast, I forgot to
mention some important influences, most notably the father of Cyberspace,
William Gibson and also, because my focus was on SF and not Fantasy, C.S. Lewis.
Compiled in several different anthologies is a transcript of a recording made
by SF author Brian Aldiss featuring himself, Lewis and Kingsley Amis. This discussion
took place in C.S. Lewis’s study towards the end of his life. It’s worth reading
if you have interest in SF and/or any of the three authors mentioned.

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