Out of the Muffin Zone

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Surrey is leafy. Every few weeks I think I’ll go out for a walk in all this “leafy” that I’m paying for on a par with Westminster and possibly Kensington. So yesterday I set off, the sun shining through the canopy of trees fringing a back road. Research has shown that Surrey gets 10% more sun than the national average.

But it comes off the rates.

I sat in the middle of a well-tended common with a feta cheese and beetroot salad that I’d picked up on special offer in Waitrose. It looked like this.

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It was all going to go seriously North by Northwest.

I’d forgotten to keep to my allocated district. I had strayed into District Two under the mistaken impression the countryside was free for all. Surrey was about to show me what happens to people who stray out of their social demographic. It was, like, a re-run of The Prisoner, which is probably before your time so you’ll have to trust me on the synchronicity here.

Up in the high-saturation, blue sky a helicopter holding position the other side of the common moved my way and spent the next ten minutes doing circuits, getting lower and closer. Yes, I took it personally because there wasn’t another sodding person in sight and they were TOO LOW. Eventually, they moved away. I thought it was because I gave them the finger, because everyone knows you can see that from a thousand metres up in the air but it was because someone, somewhere in Surrey, had authorised Stage Two.

A council grass mower the size of the Death Star moved from a circuit of a neighbouring tree in my direction. I collected my stuff up and went to the tree he’d already done. As he came close I realised what was happening, he had orders to clear any social debris lower than banker or Chelsea footballer from cluttering up the landscape. He came close, but I was framing the shot or perhaps he didn’t want to untangle my sliced and diced body parts from the mechanism.

Then, in a 250-yard walk across a field, the entire Surrey demographic came out, primed like extras from The Truman Show. Two women with four dogs. The dogs were confused, their olfactory centres registered a District Nine female but they didn’t have the training to deal with it. A collection of Surrey people. If four well-meaning labradors didn’t know how to deal with me, they were well out of their depth. A male jogger who I could’ve creamed, if I had to, in six seconds. And the cyclist. Yes, you had the mountain bike (for a path across a field in Surrey? Please) and the gear but I could’ve taken you.

And the dogs, and the jogger and the Surrey extras.

But hey, you know what? You’ll all be holidaying in your second home in a couple of weeks. I’ll be back.

 

 

 


Tube Striking Muffins

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At some point, I’ll forget to check the meaning of these blog headings with urban dictionary and find they’ve gone viral for all the wrong reasons. This is more likely than it sounds; I once typeset chapters of a sex guide in the middle of the client’s London office and had trouble avoiding looking surprised.

Who would have thought you did that?

Yes, today’s coffee-and-muffin blog is about the #tubestrike. I remember working the food section in a well-known supermarket on Christmas Eve. Most customers were white-faced because the luxury mince pies had run out. I was white-faced with concerns about surviving Christmas, let alone earn enough to get through January. What I’m trying to say is that my sympathies are probably with the strikers, it means more to them than my inconvenience.

But more than that, any disruption in a city the size of London, on a transport system like the Tube, is like a glimmer, waving in the corner of your eye, of a dystopian future. It’s all it takes, to realise how quickly a city is just a place you can’t get around in. So you walk, and now you own the city. I once got in to work by riverboat, Putney to Westminster. The journey, smelling of water and air, the sights of London passing at a fast walking pace, the one-and-a-half hours off-line, made that the best trip into work ever.

I was working at the Dept of Transport at the time. Go ahead and laugh, the irony was not lost on anyone.


No Muffins for YOU

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There is something about being ignored when the muffins are handed out that goes right back to a classroom. I haven’t seen any child, however eye-wateringly their behaviour has gone over the line, denied the same hand out as the rest of the class. It makes you realise how steep the learning curve is for any adult who is put into the situation where there are

No muffins for YOU

There are muffins for everybody else, but none for you; perhaps you didn’t pay back the IMF loan on them fast enough. I’m not passing political or fiscal comment, just saying the Greek response has been interesting. What seems to have happened is that the creditors on the original muffin loan have relied on two classroom responses which haven’t worked out for the very interesting reason that blows the whole muffin exclusion zone out of the water.

First classroom response, fear of exclusion. I’m not Greek, but any country that fields a cool guy in a leather jacket to discuss fiscal policy with a bunch of suits is clearly not bothered about being in somebody else’s gang. He’s a true indie, as proved by his elegant response when his current gang needed him to go because, let’s face it, jacket-envy plays a big part in international politics, and his boss had to ask him to stand down. The country that jumpstarted western civilisation and Yanis Varoufakis is unlikely to start boohooing because you choose to pass on the muffin handout. Perhaps some smart-aleck has already pointed out that the muffins aren’t distributed equally anyway.

Some people have more muffins than other people.

Second classroom response rarely happens in a classroom because it takes a real adult to say, maybe I don’t want your muffins.

And there’s the answer, when the small child thinks its missing out on what everyone else is getting.

I don’t want your muffins.

Resuuuuullttt.


The Muffin Bird

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This afternoon, I was working on a short story when I heard a small ‘thump’ and found a half-eaten muffin on the flat roof outside my window. No-one can access the flat roof except me, no-one could have thrown it from a neighbouring window and yes you may think why would anyone do something like that and I would reply with this quote from the property management representative, “Buildings are easy, people are the problem.”
So, it had to be a bird. What sort of avian twonk leaves most of a muffin uneaten?

Was it bored with muffins? I well remember taking (having bought specially for the purpose) a small loaf down to feed the waterfowl in a cold snap and seeing the whole local demographic laid bare in the disinclination of the fowl to make the one-foot climb out of the water (Well, throw it in, then. No, YOU come out and get it. Stop messing about and throw it in, right?) Also, I needed the small loaf more than they did.

It could be boredom, perhaps it reached satiation point with the Waitrose equivalent of avian feeding. There is an Essentials range, but most shoppers only buy it to put into the Food Bank.

And then, it struck me in a random connection, ringing with the subtle harmonies of the soundtrack to the universe.

PUFFIN.

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I was writing about a small, rocky island off the west coast of the Hebrides. I was thinking of puffins and in that bizarreness that characterizes random linkages, a muffin appeared.

Sorted.


Are writers the worst liars?

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Writers are well known for making things up. Neil Gaiman is known to over two million Twitter followers as someone who

will eventually grow up and get a real job. Until then, will keep making things up and writing them down.

Speaking for myself, as a writer I keep making things up and writing them down, which, if drawn as two intersecting circles, puts me on a .0001mm intersection with Neil Gaiman; normally I am a small rock (not drawn to scale), a two-millionth particle of a rock around his Twitter account, but on this occasion there is an intersection.

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As a child I was a liar on three occasions (that I can remember). I told my sister that if I rubbed a ring on my finger, a monster would appear. I remembered this as an early foray into making things up until my sister told me a couple of years ago that she believed it at the time and was still remembering it a matter of decades later. The other was a matter of a skipping rope and the third will never reach the light of day.

Despite this, I believe writers aren’t the worst liars, in fact we are hopelessly honest to the point of self-impalement on our own honesty, a contradiction that is occupying me in my writing at the moment.

It makes sense that if writers are taking the stuff of raw reality and producing a recognisable version which is made up, writers can recognise the difference between the two. A mechanic can hear the sound of a problem in a running engine, a teacher can detect the point a class is about to go lord-0f-the-flies, a Jedi detects fluctuations in the Force, so the writer knows the difference between making things up and lying. Regardless of our rep as individuals, we simply cannot afford to leave the writer’s equivalent of a loose bearing, behaving badly or the early intimations of the destruction of Alderan in our writing. A book is a particular version of the truth, as Neil Gaiman wrote, and a reader found important enough to tattoo onto her body:

I can believe things that are true/and I can believe things that aren’t true/and I can believe/things where nobody knows/if they’re true or not.

However, it has to be truthful to itself.

Which brings me to my problem. When I started writing for publication, I worked with a powerfully charismatic and commercially successful creative, let’s call him Mike. The effect was like going down to the end of my cul-de-sac (for real, I lived in a cul-de-sac) and a long-loader, lit up like a fairground in the twilight, drew up with a hiss of hydraulics. I got aboard thinking I’d probably have to walk home at some point, which is what happened, but for a while I travelled the route taken by a big, commercial creative. It didn’t stop anywhere unless there were connections to merchandising centres, or the potential to set up your own.

Now gaming is part of my urban fantasy, Skinny Inkers, but the deeper I got under the skin of the story and the characters,  the more truthful I’ve had to be about gaming. Gaming is geek culture, which I love, but it has its dark side and two of the characters needed the dark side – gamergate, addiction – to work. This must happen to every writer, whether we sign up to it or not.

… and so the merchandising opportunities disappear into the distance, tail-lights flashing as the long-loader goes over bumps in the road.

 


Living in Nine Worlds

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The unstoppable force in agenting known as Juliet Mushens tweeted on the last day of Nine Worlds Geekfest 2014

Please can I live here.

I can really get alongside this remark, just like everything else I heard from @mushenka. Because I wanted to live there. This was despite a wobbly start. Deep in conversation about the things half an hour at Nine Worlds had made a priority – was Servalan’s buzzcut hairstyle too much in the last season, like, rule the galaxy and destroy Blake’s Seven … Six … Five, but keep looking good, babe – I made a large gesture and caught the tray of a passing waiter. Coffee and napkins cascaded down the back of the woman sitting behind me. I expected annoyance, but she was so nice, even when I lifted her shirt to mop her back with a napkin and check for first-degree burns.

 

By the time I’d made a comment on one of the Geek Feminism panels about aligning with cupcakes which to be honest could have done with more thought, I realized what it was about this convention.

It was an offence-free zone.

 Tracks, more than I can mention – Oh, well, I can, Creative Writing, Future Tech, Skepticism, Social Gaming, Geek Feminism, Comics, Cosplay, mingled in the bizarre Edwardian vibe of the hotel, passed on the staircases. I went to the Buffy Sing-a-long where the Whedon love was practically tattooed onto everyone’s forehead (sorry it ran late, I know that was one of the few issues) but the cos’s were from every fandom going.

And the queues …

It all happened for me in the queue for the next cup of tea. I had problems with two characters in my book who are IT programmers, met Mel (all best for the four panels at World Con!) who shared the home life of two IT programmers, including The Zone. Sorted. Talked to Gareth Powell, learned more about writing than I think he realizes, for over 30 minutes despite his imminent pulmonary collapse.

I want to live in a place I can turn up in a retro frock unrelated to any track except, possibly, comics and dressmaking and people say, “I like your frock,” Simples.

 

 


UF or Hokusai’s Manga

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The sun’s come out and you may have something better to do than burble around with me on this one. It was a very interesting Twitter with Amy Boggs @notjustanyboggs about UF. We may have been exchanging meta-level parries on the subject of Unpacking Felines, a growing problem in space-saving households relying on vacuum packing stuff to put under the bed but I think it was about Urban Fantasy as a genre. I’m sure Amy won’t mind if I repeat her scrumptious one-liner.

Genre is genderless.

That sums up anything I was thinking of saying about UF and gender bias. I certainly hope so, but anyway, the one-liner always rules.

Moving onto how stretchy UF is, it seems to have all the benefits of other ambiguous, shelf-shifting genres. It is genre reflecting faithfully where it comes from. UF with major cred from ultimate genre writers like China Miéville’s The City and The City pitches up and authors who live mainly in LitFic, Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro, take second homes. Some authors lived there before it had a name; I have a personal theory that the best writer of urban fantasy EVER was Muriel Spark. These houses are recognisably smarter, they have more dosh spent on them than the rest of the neighbourhood but basically, UF, like parts of south London, is open to interpretation.

Hokusai created The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. He also drew manga, rambling excursions into his visual imagination like the hairy-finned mermaid and even-hairier fish. UF offers the same freedom, over 100 years’ later, to write what you want to write. So far, UF isn’t worth enforcing planning regs over.

Yet.