Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Zeus Ex Machina

Zeus Ex Machina
Peter W. Wilson

You know what it's like, right? You meet this girl, it's all peachy, life is good. And then you do something stupid and you lose her like that. No word of goodbye, no long speech, just an angry 'we're done' and that's that. She's out of your life and not coming back.

I did that. Once. I won't do it again.

It doesn't help that the period between meeting her and losing her was the better part of three millennia and that for much of that time I was head over heels in love, blind to all the selfish bitch's faults. Hey, if anyone was at fault for the occasional argument, it was me. And I just accepted that. I'll admit now that I left the dishes unwashed every now and then and when you come home from a long day at the office you'd appreciate not having all that further work to do. Especially when your other half has spent the day lounging round the flat in his underwear watching repeats of Only Fools and Horses.

But in the end she'd decided she'd had enough. And after telling you what I've just told you, who could blame her? Ignore the fact I'd actually taken her to the Fountain of Eternal Youth back when she was a lowly Athens maiden and that I'd been taking her on an annual basis ever since. I'd just given her the gift of immortality, in effect. I'd made sure she was never out of place in the world. I'd taken her on trips to stars and planets and all that usual lovey-dovey crap. When a man promises that he'll show you stars normally he means he's dynamite in the sack and doesn't mean it literally.

I'd given her kids too, of course. Two of them, both in the last century or so. Both mortal, unfortunately; Nikos died in a car crash in Minneapolis while Chara was recently diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia. But there's nothing I could have done to stop Nikos's passing - he was on the other side of the planet at the time, and even a god's powers only extend so far (his immediate vicinity, for example) - and I'm doing all I can for Chara. I'm taking her up to the Fountain this coming Thursday.

But no, forget all that and remember the dishes.

Also forget that I had infinite opportunity over the years to leave her for another woman. The Muses have done practically nothing since the fall of Athens, occasionally agreeing to appear in some graphic novel or other, but other than that they've been largely redundant. Calliope's been so bored that she's actually shacked up with some Norse god or other. It might be Thor. Or Odin. Anyway, my point is that there has been a supposedly better class of woman available to me, and yet I stayed with her and didn't once stray.

We'll also forget all that, and the time I forgave her for bringing that postman home.

You know what, life was far more fun when I could just say sod it and turn into a swan without having a ball and chain with a mouth on it around my neck all the time, nagging me to do those dishes.

- Zeus

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Coursework and related musings

Coursework bites like a Jack Russell. Firstly, you know it's going to do it, but there's very little you can do to dissuade it (and any kicks attempting to do so will just make it worse). Then it'll clamp its jaws onto your calf and cling on for dear life. The pain will be extreme at the time, and it'll ensure you're incapacitated for hours on end.

Whilst that was a somewhat tortured simile, I think it gets my point across. Even having Kerrang Radio on in the background blasting Biffy Clyro isn't doing anything to null the throbbing ache at the front of my head as a result of spending much of the last couple of days laying the foundations for my Sentencing coursework essay. The good news is that I finally have a skeleton for the essay and that it shouldn't take much above two or three days to write. The bad news is that I have another 3,500 essay to write after this one, and once that's done I have a dissertation to work on.

All this coursework is getting in the way. It means I'm going to spend a grand total of 5 days off in my 3 weeks away from Newcastle. It means I don't have the time to focus on the two short stories I'm writing. Perhaps most irritatingly, it means I don't get the time to play Football Manager 2011 as much as I'd like to. I really want to have at least a season done in my developing world leagues game (MLS, A-League, Russian Premier Division), but if I'm beyond pre-season with Melbourne Heart then it should be regarded as a success.

On the other hand, it's nice to be away from uni. Once again, I'd got to the stage where the library was becoming more a prison than a place I could look forward to going to get some work done. The SLO was slightly better (it has natural light), but the building in general was starting to feel oppressive. The weather was hardly helping. Snow on the ground, silver building, grey skies; the world painted in greyscale. At least here I have the view of blue skies, skeletal trees out back, the houses on Church Lane, very Scandanavian with their caps of white.

Oh, and there's the PS3 behind me if ever I really need to get away for a few minutes.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Gardens of the Moon

I have to admit to having not enjoyed much fantasy lately. I've enjoyed A Song of Ice and Fire, but that's been about it. Perhaps it's because I've wanted my fiction to be more grounded in reality (or, at least, plausibility), but fantasy hasn't been hitting the spot for me. It's probably good for people to know this ahead of this review, as I think had fantasy been doing it for me this review would be very different.

Gardens of the Moon was recommended to me by a friend about 18 months ago and I picked up a copy pretty soon after (second hand, £1.75 - considering that it was in tremendous nick and only a couple of years old I thought I'd got a bit of a bargain there). It's taken until now for me to get round to reading it, which is a bit of a surprise considering that I normally read this kind of book inside a week or two. Perhaps it was because I've had stacks of books on the bookcase unread for the last couple of years and I was just working my steady way through those. Perhaps it was because part of me just didn't fancy the 750-page brick. Either way, I should have read it ages ago.

The wait wasn't really worth it. I can see why people would enjoy it, but these were the same reasons I didn't. Throughout the book the narrative sustains a breakneck speed, whizzing from one bit of the action to another without thought for allowing the reader to gather his own thoughts and take stock of the situation. I can see why this can be addictive and compelling reading, but I personally prefer for an author to have a bit of patience. Breakneck pacing is all well and good, but some explanation as to what's going on in the first place and a bit of a recap every now and then wouldn't go a million miles amiss.

Steven Erikson came across to me as a writer very much bursting with ideas, many of which were original and exciting. I really mean that. Some of his ideas were tremendous, such as the mix of gods and mortals in the cast. But he needed (as of 1999) to learn to slow this all down and reveal his world slowly. I floundered when it came to keeping up with some of his revelations, because I hadn't the foggiest where they'd come from and how it impacted because he'd not explained properly just what this god had to to with that mortal and how it all tied in.

If I described Gardens of the Moon as a 1,200 page trilogy all rammed into a single 700 page volume it would probably best sum up my feelings on the pacing. Too much, too fast.

But then again, it did leave an impression (at the end, when I'd sussed out what was going on). Erikson isn't a descriptive writer, and he has a driving style that, when applied properly to his plot, is compelling. He hasn't got a legion of intelligent fans for nothing, and at some point I may go back to it, if only he drops things like assassins guilds and the street urchins helping to broker power. Seriously - that's been done to death and annoys me so much these days that I've written a spoof meeting of assassins.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

December ramblings

After recently getting practically no time to do any writing whatsoever beyond scribblings in legalese, I may finally get the opportunity to get stuck in to a meaty bit of fiction over the next couple of weeks.

I'll freely admit that I don't expect it to be any good. It'll be a matter of bringing myself back up to scratch through doing a bit of editing and tinkering before starting on anything new, but then it's hardly my fault I'm shockingly out of practice. Uni takes priority, and it will continue to do so during the holidays (the target is to do both pieces of coursework - totalling 7,000 words - and at least 3,000 words of my dissertation over the three weeks off). But with no seminars or SPSs, I stand a chance of being able to get at least one story done, and I have an idea of what that story will be.

In other news, I got a rejection the other day for a piece of flash fiction I sent off. It had been previously rejected in perhaps the most pretentious manner possible (resulting in that website going on my blacklist - no, I'm not bitter at all), so to get this rejection back was a breath of fresh air. It was helpful, pointed out the flaws they believed the story had and seemed almost apologetic that they hadn't taken it on. I'm definitely submitting there again. As for the story, it's gone off again for the final time before time is called on it and it's posted up here.

One thing about uni has been that I've been able to get plenty of reading done in the evenings, when the cricket isn't on. Recent readings have included Isaac Asimov's Complete Stories (volume 1), Stephen Baxter's quasi-history Evolution, and, for my Law and Literature module, The Trial. At some point I may review them on here.

But in the mean time, Christmas is coming. X-Factor number ones, socks from your grandmother, dodgy Christmas specials on the telly and the inevitable Boxing Day murder of an aunt by your sister after she bought the wrong colour bobble hat.

Oh joy.

Monday, 6 December 2010

England... win!

Some say I've been waylaid by a mob of rampaging Tories trying to justify their economic policy. Others whispered that I was the victim of a freak yachting accident involving the England cricket team and Pope Benedict IX. Still more dreaded that I'd finally fallen victim to my own ego. All were wrong. My break from the internet was as a result of a ludicrous workload and a lack of anything interesting to post.

Well, now I do.

England have beaten Australia at cricket. In Australia. In the Ashes and not some poxy one-day thing. OK, so it's only the second Test, but the point is that we never, ever lead the Aussies in the Ashes in Australia.

We played well. Very well. Not just in piling on 620-5 dec, but also in taking 20 wickets and winning by an innings. Don't get me wrong, this Australia team is nothing compared to the great side at the start of the decade, a side with Waugh, Warne, McGrath, Lee, Gilchrist and Ponting all at their peaks. Throw in Langer and Hayden and you're talking a sensational team. The only survivor of that side is Ponting... and he's aged badly over the last couple of years.

He's still a danger. After 150 Tests and a Test average of over 50 you can't discount the talent of the man. He'll come good this series, hitting at least one big hundred on the way, but the rest of the side is lacking. Katich, Clarke and Hussey are all fine players - but they're not the likes of Adam Gilchrist.

But England deserve credit. Against a mediocre attack the batting lineup did the damage in fine fashion. Pietersen looks back to his best, as does Cook. Only Strauss didn't impress in the most recent Test - and he hit a ton at the Gabba. And as for the bowlers: Swann was imperious, Anderson's ever-dangerous and Finn has struck at crucial times. The best attack in the world is still young in cricket terms (Broad is 24, Finn is 21, Anderson 28 and Swann 31) and it all bodes well.

Roll on the next Test. I promise to enjoy it.

Monday, 22 November 2010

The Last Question

As everyone who's ever read The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy knows, the Answer is forty-two. It didn't occur to me until last night that this is, in fact, a parody of one very particular story.

Isaac Asimov needs no introduction to the SF reader. His novels and short stories are regarded as some of the best ever written in the genre. His intelligence comes through in each of these - and what an intelligence it was. Asimov was a professor of biochemistry in his lifetime, holding a PhD in the same. But his intelligence is never overbearing, and he wrote with a warmth and wit of a kind rarely seen in modern writings.

At the time of writing, I've read only two of his novels, and have just started on a third. But I have read some 30 of his short stories, the most recent of which blew my mind. SF fans will probably have guessed already that I'm talking about The Last Question.

In it, a question is asked of a supercomputer, not once, but several times over the course of trillions of years. Each time, the answer comes back that there is insufficient data to give a meaningful answer. The question asked is, ultimately, can mankind stop the end of the universe?

Being parodied by the aforementioned Guide should say it all about the esteem in which it is held. And I won't hesitate to add my voice to the mass of those already describing it as the best short story (in my experience) ever written. Asimov himself called it his favourite. But what makes it so exciting?

Maybe it's the suspense in which we're held throughout. What is the answer to the last question? Each time it builds up and we're let down, only to be built up again for the next time the question is asked. And when the answer arrives, it's so stunning that the reader has to sit back and admire the elegant brilliance.

Then there's the sense of helplessness. The universe will end up atrophying to a state of death, existing only as space, where stars are, at best, superheavy neutron stars with negative energy. Nothing will live. And there's always this sense that there's nothing we can do about it. It reminds us that, as powerful as we may become, there's something we can't fight and beat.

My bottom line to you is this: read The Last Question. You may find yourself surprised by it.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

X Factors taken into consideration

Can anyone else see Saturday/Sunday evening entertainment being improved immeasurably by Hit Girl suddenly popping up on X Factor, delivering that now-infamous line ('OK you c***s, let's see what you can do now') and taking out Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh with either a big double-bladed sword thing or a gun? Because I can.

This is not just because I would probably watch this. It's because I'm sick to death of the X Factor and the media circus of utter rubbish that surrounds it. I'm also sick to death of the less than mediocre 'music' that it promotes and the cynical manipulation of the retards of this country into buying the manufactured singles that are inevitably covers of some rubbish Miley Cyrus has churned out in the last three years.

How many bona fide talents has the X Factor uncovered? Precisely one: Leona Lewis. Of all the finalists, one out of seventy or something like that has any merit as a musician, and some of that is lost as a result of being discovered by Simon Flipping Cowell.

Where does Hit Girl figure in this? Well, I like Kick Ass and wanted to mention it. But now I come to think of it, she's a good character to bring up. Both she and the X Factor stand as symbols of brainwashing. Hit Girl is brainwashed against the bad guys and goes out killing them (which is legit - in an illegal kind of way), which is far better than the X Factor, which keeps the masses of this country blinded to the bigger issues. The Bank of England has needed to increase its policy of quantitative easing and my life savings are practically worthless because of the resulting inflation? Really? Oh, who cares, Kylie Minogue is on the X Factor tonight.

The X Factor is evil, just not in the Hitler way. By its very nature it is far worse. It creates automatons incapable of thought beyond the banal. At least Hitler was overtly trying to kill everyone, unlike the X Factor and its agenda of insidious brainwashing (take note: this blog does not take into account Nazi propaganda within the German state 1933-1945).

Rant over. Conveniently, I was listening to proper music throughout the writing of this: Metallica.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Now I am the master

Two blogs on my experience in law in a week is an unprecedented happening. First we got the rant on the BSB and that ridiculous aptitude test (and just why it was so ludicrous), and now we have this one.

I have made a decision: after graduating here at Northumbria, I'm going to study to do a Masters Degree.

Perhaps this idea is slightly mad, especially as said Masters will be an LLM and not an MA in some subject unrelated to law. But I'll be honest: I think I need one. Ultimately, I want to lecture in criminal law at a university to undergraduates. To do this, I will need the LLM, perhaps even more so considering that I'll not have been a practitioner and also my dissertation has nothing to do with the criminal law.

In hindsight this was a bad move. Personal injury in sport is an interesting enough subject (especially to an injury-prone individual such as yours truly), but in terms of its relevance to my long-term plans it scarcely manages a tenuous topical connection.

Another thing I'd considered was the idea of going on to do a PhD. Probably in law (again). At the end of the day (there's a football cliche for you), I like education. I enjoy it. After 17 years going through the system without a break, it may be natural that I don't really want to leave it behind me. It isn't that I'm scared of the world beyond education; it's just that I really like education itself.

For now, I'll settle for a Masters, though. The words Peter Wilson, LLM (Hons), barrister-at-law would be impressive enough on a CV to have employers sitting up and taking note.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The BSB and why I'm not happy

Yesterday I was subject to possibly the most pointless test devised in the history of legal education. After the Bar Standards Board decided that future students will need to pass an aptitude test, this year's bar students found themselves subject to the beta test of that examination.

It was, to be quite honest, utterly pointless.

Firstly, why is the BSB imposing this test on future students? The BPTC/BVC on its own has been good enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. And not necessarily the work. The pressure is intense; I'd never experienced anything like it last year. People will make an argument (and perhaps a valid one) that I didn't do the BVC proper, I still did half a BVC plus a full year of academic work as part of the degree, so I'd say I experienced that pressure. Some people can't handle that pressure. An aptitude test won't tell the BSB who is and isn't capable of handling that pressure.

Moving on, the aptitude test can't reflect how well someone will do. Only the BPTC itself can do that. If my own marks on the aptitude test are poor, it'll just back me up. It might be something produced by the brainiest boffins in Britain for all I know, but it can't tell me that I'm not a good student, or incapable of doing the BPTC, because I am, and I can. I didn't record 70s in Opinion Writing (the toughest subject) and Civil Advocacy by accident.

The test itself is more than pointless. Vague at best, at worst it's just nonsensical. Is an argument strong or weak? Surely that can't be defined on a purely objective basis when you're also telling us to use personal knowledge? And if we're bringing in personal knowledge, surely you can't set standardised questions

From a more personal perspective, I don't see why I should be the BSB's willing runner. Considering that they refuse to allow me to state I've done the BVC, why should I dance to their fiddle? It's been something that's bugged me for the better part of 18 months, more so since this year's Bar Exempters get the BPTC and a Masters degree. It just feels like we're being made to jump though hoops for nothing.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Huddersfield Town: My Team

I don't care that this is the second blog of the day. What I do care about is that Huddersfield Town beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 and reignited my love of them to the point I'm seriously considering giving up entirely on women and just proposing to my club.

Do I care that Town are prone to doing daft things against poor teams? Does it matter that we never live up to expectations? Have I not learned from years of false dawns? The answer to all three questions is no. I don't care about any of those, because Huddersfield Town are my team, the club I love with all my heart, my first and greatest love.

Almost 17 years have passed since I first went though the turnstiles at Leeds Road. In that time I've seen promotions, relegations, administration, more dross than I could care to think about, moments to make me laugh, moments to make me cry, things I'll remember for the rest of my life for good or ill. I've seen the whole spectrum of football life, short of Premier League football in earnest. I've experienced victory the massive clubs home and away. I've also seen humiliations at sides so far below us even John Motson's never heart of them.

Yes, I do regret that I've never seen Town lift trophies and will probably never see us in European finals while romping to league titles. But does that affect my love of them one bit? No, it doesn't. Give me my club, a side with rich history and tradition but retaining its fundamental soul, over some franchise in all but name like Manchester United any day. Those at the very top don't get what fans of clubs like Town get. They don't get their unique club with its personality going through the full spectrum of emotion: pride, joy, relief, anger, frustration, misery, all accentuated by the fact that we know it might be years before our next success and the dark times might be just around the corner.

Winning all those soulless pots and pans for the trophy cabinet? Who cares? I don't. I'd rather spend my time with my club watching as we do something very silly at home to some side from the Conference North in the FA Cup a week before we go to top of the table Southampton and stick six past them, feeling my connection to them.

Tonight's win reminded me of the passion, the grit, the determination, the belief of the best Huddersfield Town sides I've seen and fallen in love with. The promotion side of 03/04 that never gave up. The other promotion team of 94/95 which battled to the last. The team under Jacko that escaped the drop in '98 through application of hard work and pure passion for the club.

That's why this is the club I love. Town 'til I die.

It's the gom jabbar

Another day, another rejection. Some would ask why I bother; it isn't as if I've got any proper success yet.

Ah, I say to these people (generally in an annoyingly high-pitched tone of voice), but you forget: persistence is the answer to the world's ills. Just as a persistent striker will eventually discover a chink in a defence's armour, there will at some point be an opening for a writer such as myself to get his first professional publication.

Persistence and not giving up is also important from a confidence perspective. Some people get a rejection and instantly think it's because they're not good enough, never will be good enough, etc. This isn't the case. Maybe that particular story genuinely wasn't good enough (and if you're a particularly young writer it's fairly likely to be the case, just from a lack of maturity and range in your writing), but often it's the case that it isn't the publication's style, the publication takes only the very, very best (I'm thinking Clarkesworld here - an outstanding magazine, no doubt about that, but the bar really is too high for most first-time writers), the publication is full for this month...

If you give up after receiving a rejection then you've failed the biggest test that befalls a hopeful writer. Again, this is a problem more for the younger end of the writing spectrum. Confidence is so important for a young writer, and a rejection really can knock the belief right out of you. Just think of what I said above. And also read the rejection letter/email itself. Chances are it will be form, but it'll encourage you to write elsewhere and submit again. It'll give a list of potential reasons for the rejection.

Don't fall victim to the writing gom jabbar. Keep your self-belief high by constantly submitting and resubmitting stories. When amendments are suggested (even if it is by a pretentious pillock of an American spouting psychobabble - not bitter at all...), make them and submit elsewhere. It's a long, frustrating process, but it'll happen in the end. Think positive. You're not a bad writer.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a rewrite to make on a short story. And then I'm submitting it elsewhere. Unlike others, I haven't failed the writing gom jabbar and I'll try until I'm successful.

Friday, 29 October 2010

The greatest society in the world

Last night was workshop and karaoke night for the Northumbria WriSoc (there being a tremendous amount of overlap between writing a sequel for A Midsummer Night's Dream and Frank Sinatra), and, as usual, it passed off in a blend of a sublime and the ridiculous. Mostly the latter, it has to be said.

I could go into detail about the president and her statement regarding top hats and chlamydia. Or how, two weeks ago, the secretary managed to mention Hermia's tentflaps. Or even our esteemed treasurer and his Brian Blessed impressions. But the point is this: we're not the usual.

One of our newest members said possibly the nicest thing it's possible to say about a collective of writers last night: that we're not pretentious and we accept all types of writers. And it's true. The aforementioned member writes (very good) screenplays, one of which we were treated to last night. I write SF. A few members write poetry, others write prose, others scripts. It's an eclectic mix, and we work well together, especially when we band together and do projects as a group, as we are with the sequel to A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Kate's script is brilliant. From the Shakespearean opening, it moves into more conventional modern prose, but it keeps the essence of Shakespeare in the way it can be acted. We have monologues, passion and fire. Unfortunately the 'kick your ass' line has been omitted, but a 'ooh, she's feisty' comment has found its entertaining way in.

Thanks to a stripey commitment I can't make it to the Newcastle Book Festival, where the prologue and opening scene (at least) will be performed, alongside readings of members' work (perhaps including some of mine!). But it's just the latest in a line of events happening down to the hard work of the committee and the other members since the society formed last year. We've got the anthology coming out (hopefully), in which members' work will be exhibited. And in February there was an open mike night down at the Head of Steam by the train station in Newcastle. The year was topped off in April when the society won best new society at the Union Awards Night.

So we're quirky. We're busy. We're eclectic. We're entertaining. We say odd things. We do odd things. And occasionally we write.

Nothing like patting yourself on the back, eh?

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Let's do the time warp again

I've now been back 7 weeks (to all slackers elsewhere, that's 7 weeks of intense, demanding work. Unlike your Media Studies degree), and by now I should be settled back in to the demands of Northumbria University and her LLB Bar Exempting degree. Of course, this being the fourth year the workload is now larger than an obese elephant, and it feels like I'm trying to shift it using a single shovel made of damp papier mache.

On the plus side, I am ahead with Law and Lit by about 3 weeks and the SLO's yet to really bite hard with its workload, so I've been able to get my dissertation synopsis sent off. I still have to complete my provisional bibliography (referencing about 60 cases and articles is proving to be somewhat problematic and exceedingly boring), but it's a start. Now to get cracking with the wonders of the introductory chapter. All 2,000 words of it.

Seeing as I'm meant to write about writing, I may as well give an update on that. In the past week I've managed to get one story finished and sent off (OK, it was 9 days ago, but hey), as well as make a start on another new one. I'm not much into the second of these, but that's entirely because I have a massive workload and no time at the moment.

It's also a major reason my reading volume is down this week. Normally I manage 50-0dd pages a night. This week the average has been 20, although I envisage that going up this evening after WriSoc's weekly karaoke sesh. Where we'll be doing the Time Warp. Again. The evening has the potential to be momentous, mostly because there is a chance I'll be singing. After Enter Sandman in the epic win of a fortnight ago, I need something to top that. Ace of Spades, anyone?

Sunday, 24 October 2010

All this has happened before...

It's been nice to get back into a system of work of late, especially as my work ethic when I'm at home is generally between dire and atrocious. However, this weekend I've managed to get both my opening submission and Sentencing seminar prepared.

On in the background, providing more than just pleasurable noise, has been Battlestar Galactica. Anyone who claims to know me knows how highly I rate the series. It hasn't been unknown for me to declare it the single greatest series ever made, above the likes of The West Wing. Some would say that's pushing it a little too far, but there's a case to be made.

This isn't the place where I'll make that case. Instead, I'm just going to eulogise over the series and bemoan the fact there's nothing to replace it, aside from the spin-off, Caprica, which is decent but not in the same class. Although a certain someone I know would like it just because James Marsters pops up in it.

So why do I love BSG so much? It's not easy to know where to start. Do I start with the story, the characters, the themes, the designs, the undercurrent of darkness, the underlying message, the fact that it isn't hamstrung like so many SF series by a lack of care being taken in the production, the quality of the writing...?

I could go on, but I won't.

I'll expand on a couple of those points. The story is a good place to start. The Twelve Colonies are destroyed by the Cylons and only 50,000 survivors manage to get away, starting an odyssey across space to find their new home, the legendary Earth. In that respect, the re-imagined series (the one I'm banging on about) isn't a million miles removed from the 1979 original. And even on its own, the story is a good 'un, especially when it's told with the bold elan that the writing brings to it. It would have been very watchable if it was just a remake of the old BSG.

But it wasn't a remake. It was a complete re-imagining. Starbuck is a girl (and yes is the answer to your question), as is Boomer (same again). And the changes don't stop there. There's complex politics, issues of race and warfare, and an undercurrent of darkness seldom seen in a TV series.

This is what marks BSG out from other SF series and other TV series as a whole. Where most aim for escapism, BSG brings the real world home. In this post-9/11 world, BSG goes further than any other series in examining those themes we see crop up more and more in day-to-day life. Don't be fooled by the conflict in the stars. This is a series about the enemy within, about tolerance and how we should live. Combine that with moments of unbridled awesome - like the Galactica itself leaping into atmosphere, dropping a load of Vipers and then jumping out again - and it ticks all my boxes.

This did turn into a 'gr8ist series EVAR' rant. Which is a shame.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Pro Evo 2011

Why do Brazilian teams have no decent strikers these days? What happened to the days when they'd have Pele, Garrincha, any number of top-notch strikers leading the line, sticking in goal after goal?

I ask as I've just started playing in the Copa Libertadores on the new Pro Evo. Playing as Internacional, I have a choice between Alecsandro, an exceptionally slow, cumbersome striker who can't head a ball to save his life, and Ilan, the West Ham reject. After Alecsandro firing blanks in the first play-off game against Cruziero, Ilan came in and also fired blanks, but he did set up D'Alessandro for the goal that put me into the group stages. After a 0-0 draw in which Ilan could have scored about 8 times but didn't have the skill, he finally got off the mark in the 4-0 drubbing of Colo-Colo.

Yes, he scored a hat-trick, but my point is that he isn't very good.

Which is a shame because the rest of the side is very decent. As is the game itself. Pro Evo seems to have finally done that thing it hasn't done since Pro Evo 6 on the PS2 and evolved to finally announce its arrival proper on the next-gen consoles. It's fallen behind FIFA this last couple of years, but if it continues to develop like this it'll soon be back on its perch, rather than be looking covetously at FIFA.

So Pro Evo 2010 was a frustrating experience. The gameplay was stale in places, lacked variation and felt like the designers had fallen into complacency. Graphically it was stuck on the PS2, with the animations anything but next-gen. And to compound it all, the overall experience was shallow, with the game also failing to provide any real challenge until the difficulty was set to World Class.

This year the game is a challenge again. New systems have been implemented and, while they're far from perfect, they push the game in the right direction. Gone is the on-rails short passing system, replaced by power bars requiring precision and concentration. The feeling of satisfaction when passing around a defence when 3-0 up with a series of perfectly-judged short passes is akin to the Pro Evo of old.

The pacing of the game is also much-changed. It demands tempo. You're put under pressure from the off, closed down, forced into quick decisions. The ball has to be kept moving - none of this pass it around the back four getting used to the game malarkey. If you can settle, then you can dictate the pace of the game.

When you don't have the ball - which will be most of the time until you suss out that the problem with your passing is that you're not judging it right and selling your midfield short all the time - pressing X to close down and relying on that to get you out of trouble won't cut the mustard any more. It's about careful positioning, then timing the tackle with X. Yes, you can still hold X and win the ball that way, but half of the time this'll just result in an out-of-position back four and gaps the opposition can exploit.

And the defence on the other side is, as mentioned, much changed as well. It's in your face from the off, getting in tight. There's more emphasis on the physical side of the game, men going shoulder to shoulder far more often. Sadly, this can still result in ridiculous free kicks going one way or the other.

So the general gameplay is better, and we haven't covered the linking tricks bit. Which will be problematic for me because I'm no longer about the single individual on the wing who can run faster and out-trick the full-back before whipping one onto the bonce of the onrushing striker. I'm a pass and mover, playing a more incisive version of Spain's tiki-taka, or whatever they call it. Though from reports it works.

The experience is enhanced by better presentation. The commentary suffers from the Curse of Jim Beglin (the capital 'c' entirely warranted here, grammar fans), but that aside it's a step above what it was. No more name plates at the bottom, the score in a BBC/Sky style box rather than floating with badges and gaudy numbers at the top, better crowd noise (but still not as good as FIFA), national anthems... It's not crucial for the gameplay, but it can make all the difference between a good game and a great one, although this Pro Evo still has a bit to go before it pushes back towards greatness.

There are weaknesses a plenty. Strikers don't get into the box, the shooting's a little wayward (but still better than FIFA's predict-o-strike system), penalties are still pot luck and goalkeeper AI still lacks something. But we are going back in the right direction.

The more observant readers of this will have noticed I haven't mentioned the individual modes. That's because I haven't played online Master League yet and want to do a separate blog on it if it's any good.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Crucible

If you're a snooker fan who's clicked the link hoping for comments about the home of said pastime (it isn't a sport, don't argue that it is), unlucky.

No, this is a review of Arthur Miller's classic play from 1953, the one that focusses on the Salem witch trials in a cutting criticism of mass hysteria surrounding McCarthyism in the USA. The two don't initially seem linked, but throw in the words 'mass hysteria' and suddenly they are. Miller deals expertly with a situation getting out of hand as public hysteria takes over from reasoned thought. Normally, the salient phrase is 'witch-hunt' but on this occasion, it's just too obvious.

I don't normally read plays for fun, and this one is no different. Although that isn't to say I didn't enjoy it, because I did. Greatly. When reading Shakespeare (yes, I have read and do read old Shakey's stuff, deal with it), I often struggle with the poetry and getting a beat to the whole thing. The prose in Miller's play is much easier on the brain, but is no less profound for it. There's a frenetic tempo the the thing, the play whipping by (when reading it) in just a couple of hours.

The intensity is just one of the things I liked the most. Combine the intensity with a gripping tale in the first place, of deceit and murder, and you're on to a winner, and the adaptation of the Salem Witch Trials are certainly that tale. I can't pretend to know much about them (other than the references in Harry Potter, which is pretty poor going for someone who professes to be fairly educated), but from what I do know, the events depicted are accurate and, when one applies them to the era in which the play was written, the allegory between the era and the play becomes far more obvious.

McCarthyism was in full swing when the play was first performed. People were being hauled in front of senate committees for being 'un-American' (which is ironic, considering America is allegedly the land of do whatever the flip you want). A witch-hunt was in progress in a metaphorical sense. People were running scared of a Communist threat that was, at best, minimal, and certainly had few links to the Soviet Union, but, oh look, it's an uninformed public and we have mass hysteria through the actions of a few who know how to manipulate the masses.

What has been said about McCarthyism has been said a hundred times and a slightly uninformed student with socialist tendencies isn't going to be able to add to the debate, other than to say that the Americans need to grow up when it comes to politics. Miller had his finger on the pulse and understood the situation. He was probably one of only a few.

I apologise for this being a pretty rushed review focussed more on political issues than the play at hand.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Oh, look, update...

Hurrah! My first Drafting session is down and it wasn't a complete disaster! For a first effort, I don't think my Particulars of Claim was too bad, to be honest, seeing as when we were doing them in second year I was laid up 120 miles away with my knee in a brace after dislocating it for the first time.

But it is another sign that uni is going to be the death of my writing. This is only the third/fourth week back (or fifth, if you're me) and already the amount of time I have to sit down and write something interesting is extremely limited. And this is without the SLO munching up my time like there's no tomorrow. Do this now, do that now, you can't do that you have a client, this letter needs writing, have you written that attendance note yet, do your research, have you liaised with your firm about this, jump through this hoop, you see that cliff there jump off it...

There's a taster of what is to come. Fortunately, I've got most of the rest of today free, and so I'm going to fill it with WriSoc (complete with an intriguing turn of events - tune in later to find out what happened when the censors said I couldn't report on it beforehand) and this story about evolution, when I'm not getting cracking on the bail appeal for next Monday and whatever drafting I'm meant to be doing for next Wednesday or doing dissertation work.

Ah, yes, the joys of university and a proper degree. None of that cushy Media Studies rubbish here. You actually have to have talent to be here (and I make no apology to those people on the Mickey Mouse degrees). Well, talent, and a certain amount of insane stubbornness.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Into the swing again

Uni's back in full swing at last. After several weeks of dabbling in work (I know, it's shocking), the BVC/BPTC element of the degree is kicking off again this week, and as such I now have less time than a clock with no hands (a poor analogy, but I'm rushed for time before Football Focus).

It's all kicking off for real on Monday with Criminal Advocacy. It's a plea in mitigation for a (fictional) 61-year-old woman guilty of theft in breach of trust. She's pleaded guilty, has no precons and has various mitigating circumstances. The guidelines say that the starting point should be 12 weeks in custody, but I reckon that a community sentence would be sufficient (as does whoever prepared the pre-sentence report - not a bad person to have on my side).

Following that, it's Drafting for Wednesday. On this occasion, I'm drafting a particulars of claim for a 16-year-old kid who was knocked down on his bike in Durham by a driver paying no attention to the road. Apparently this should only take a couple of hours, but this is the Bar Exempting route; it'll take at least 4. But it's still better than the 14 I used to spend on writing opinions last year.

Law and Literature's started off nicely. A couple of short stories (including one from Ursula K. Le Guin), followed by another short story for the next week, and now the first novel, Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe. I finished it last night to a resounding meh. I was indifferent in the extreme. The lead character was difficult to sympathise with, being a woman- and child-beater determined that his sons would be men and not 'women', all because he had father issues. For 120 pages, I found that I really couldn't care less what happened to him, which probably wasn't the point. I only cared in the last 30 pages, when the English decided to impose the Empire on the small Nigerian villages where this bloke lived. Read for Law and Lit, I have my opinions on the legal structures identified, but I'm keeping those for Monday evening's session.

Away from academia, I got Moon yesterday and watched it at silly o'clock. Immediately after it finished, I felt the urge to watch it again. It was awesome, in the proper sense. More intelligent SF, to say the least. Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell) is on the dark side of the Moon, fulfilling a 3-year contract to provide the Earth with its electricity. He has 2 weeks left on his contract, when things start to happen. We're talking intelligent SF on the 2001: A Space Odyssey scale in the end. Deception, advanced science and a computer that doesn't take after HAL too much combine to make it a compelling film which I will have playing while I write my skeleton argument this afternoon.

And it's Football Focus time. Time for a break, lunch, and Dan Walker explaining that the Premier League is the most exciting league in the world (again).

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

"Would you like fries with that?"

There's a girl at the Burger King in Newcastle Central train station who always smiles. It doesn't matter whether the customer she's just served is a pleasant, courteous being, or (as is more common) a grumpy, antisocial grunter who treats her like she's hardly human, preferring to keep on talking on the phone. She always smiles.

Most of us would forgive her if she didn't. In her dowdy grey uniform, doing a menial job for however many hours a day she could get away with being surly, as most fast food restaurant workers are. But she isn't, and it's refreshing to see, especially when people treat her as a convenient food vendor rather than a person. Fine, she's on the other side of the counter, but would you treat her like that if you bumped into her on the street? No. So why are you so rude to her?

In recent times I've taken to being that bit more sociable with shop assistants and other people with whom I interact on a non-social basis (if that's the right phrase). This has had mixed results; for every bright, friendly shop assistant, there's one who really couldn't care less and who just wants me to shove off and stop talking. Probably the best person to chat with when buying something is the chap who works on the SF floor of Waterstones in Newcastle city centre. Every time I walk in and buy something, he'll be receptive to conversation. He'll tell me about this book that's just come out, recommend something a bit different for next time and be genuinely enthusiastic about what he's saying.

People who are prepared to go the extra mile in the execution of their duties make everyday things more enjoyable - or at least more bearable. We should be just as pleasant back to them. I doubt that the girl in Burger King wants to work there for eight hour shifts every day. How about those shifts become bearable because we, as customers, are friendly with her and extend common courtesy?

I think I managed to lose control of this blog in the middle of the third paragraph, when I forgot what I was writing. Oh, well.

Friday, 1 October 2010

The City & The City

China Miéville wasn't a writer I was particularly aware of until recently. Then I got a recommendation, which declared him the greatest thing since sliced bread. The City & The City is the first book of his I've read, and if that's typical of his works then the recommendation is bang on the money.

Let me start by saying not much I've read this year has left me feeling wowed. It may be that this is the first novel to have me reeling in thought, absolutely stunned by the way it's left me in that state. The City & The City is subtle and intelligent, multi-faceted, encompassing more than the typical SF detective novel.

Set in a fictional city on the edge of Europe with Balkan overtones, the novel focuses on Inspector Borlú, of the Extreme Crimes Squad in Besźel, as he investigates a murder. As is typical in SF detective novels, there's more to this than 'ooh, look, a trollop who's gone and got stabbed by her lover's jealous missus oh dear'. What we get here is a curious concept of two cities encompassing the same topographical location. The politics of these two cities, Besźel and Ul Qoma, as well as the way the two cities coexist, make up the bulk of the novel's intelligent commentary on what we see and don't see in our own society, as well as the alienation in the same.

The concept is original enough, but its execution is superb. What I just told you does not do it justice. That I told you it says it all; Miéville weaves exposition of the world into the plot with such subtlety that no single passage at any stage can be said to be explaining the world. The concept permeates your mind rather than being forced upon it by heavy-handed infodumps. I can imagine that each reader will see their own version of the city and the city, rather than everyone being straightjacketed into one distinct vision. This makes the underlying alienation all the more stark.

At the heart of the story is a relentless pace that grips the reader and leaves them breathless. It has all the ingredients of the whodunnit in the Morse sense (although Morse tended not to have investigations into more than just the case); the culprit's eventual identity doesn't come as a surprise so much, as the point of the novel isn't the murder itself but the surrounding circumstances, but it still holds the attention. For a casual reader of mysteries, uninterested in the philosophies underlying the plot, the case would hold water. But it really is those surrounding circumstances that make the book what it is: brilliantly intelligent, and almost insidiously subtle.

Will I be reading more of China Miéville's work? Undoubtedly, yes. This is a novel that had me captivated in its themes and world more than any other since Look To Windward. I'm hard pushed to find a genuine weakness in Miéville's work, and I can't imagine it'll be too long before I pick up a copy of one of his other works.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

And in the 91st minute, they have a corner...

Something has come to bug me over the past few days. After seeing the high/lowlights of Town's 1-0 defeat down at Swindon, I rewatched the goal. It came from a Swindon corner put into the middle. Their lad outjumped Peter Clarke and powered his header down into the bottom corner. Danny Wilson will have been a happy manager with that goal.

Lee Clark, on the other hand, ought to have been very unhappy with his team's defending, not just because his captain was outjumped, but because one of the very basics of defending set-pieces was flouted to his side's cost: there was no man standing on the back post waiting to make a clearance if it came near him.

This is a problem at all levels of the game in varying forms. Bolton scored a goal on Sunday where Zat Knight flicked it on into the corner from a corner kick. Patrice Evra - the Manchester United left-back - had wandered two yards off the post he was meant to stick to like glue. The result was that he couldn't do his job properly. Lee Dixon picked up on this in his analysis of the game for Match of the Day 2, and I have to say I agree with every word he said.

When I was defending set-pieces as a kid, I generally got stuck on one post or another. In operating this system, our defence made the goals smaller by at least a yard on either post. They stuck me on a post because I was never going to outjump a centre-half attacking the ball in, but I could be of use in making the goals that bit smaller. Sometimes one would go over me because I wasn't tall enough to get to it, but that could be chalked down to just being one of those things as well as an outstanding finish.

So a man on either post makes the goals smaller. What other principles should teams observe when defending a corner kick? Well, I like to see teams leave at least one player forward. This makes sense from both attacking and defensive perspectives: it makes a break from the corner easier, especially if that lad breaking is a quick player, but it also means that the opposition will pull two players back to defend against the possibility of a counter-attack. Fewer attackers forward, a less congested penalty area, less chance of a striker giving their marker the slip in a crowd of bodies. Couple this with the men stood on the post, and you have a smaller goal, easier marking and a better chance of making a counter-attack.

I was very disappointed to read Lee Clark's comments about the Swindon goal this morning:

"I felt that the defensive side of the game was very good on Saturday and we had to defend quite a lot as we didn't keep hold of the ball as well as we like, but unfortunately over the course of ninety minutes they will get an opportunity and their lad scored a terrific header - if any of my lads scored that goal, I would think it was tremendous. You have to hold your hands up sometimes and he beat one of our lads in the air before heading it in the only place he could to score"

Why can't he see the problem? The only reason he could score there was through a defence not taking proper responsibility. From a 91st minute corner, it's criminal.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Peter uses motivator: it's not very effective...

I've been struggling with writing for a week or so now. Ever since I finished the article about cricket, I don't think I've written a single word, and I'm not sure why. It's not as if I've not had a bit of time on my hands, outside of having a dissertation to write, but for whatever reason I've not been feeling anything like creative.

It's hardly professional of me, I know. If I'm to be professional about the whole thing I should at least sit down and work on one of the half-a-dozen stories I have on the go, even if I'm not feeling particularly motivated. But I haven't been, and those stories have been neglected as a result.

Is it a loss of confidence? Hardly. I'm still in the figjam mindset, and I know it. Perhaps it's just that I've needed a break from writing short stories for a week while I continue to digest more and more of them. Of late, I've been reading them at an increased rate as well as listening to them through the podcasts. I'm subscribed to Daily Science Fiction. It's not unknown for me to download PDFs of magazines these days. My level of exposure to short form SF is as high as it's ever been.

And having half-a-dozen stories on the go at once hasn't exactly helped matters. I probably need to focus on just one at a time before going off and writing another one. Jumping from one idea to another isn't good for an organised mind.

This is a promise to myself: I'm going to use this next few weeks to get the stories I've been working on finished. When I'm not disserting my topic, I'll be found constructing SF and horror short stories, starting with finishing the one for the 2013 anthology. This promise starts tomorrow: at least an hour of work while in uni, waiting to meet the third years.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Knocked for six...

A quick heads-up for all cricket fans: I've written an article for James Chisem's If You Tolerate This... blog regarding the recent crisis engulfing cricket. If you're interested, it can be found here. If you're not, you might find it interesting because it involves corruption, drugs and putting a foot way over the line.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Or maybe not

Right, so the first draft is finished. 486 words of me spouting the usual nonsense. But it's nonsense I like. And it's nonsense I want to try to get published. With apologies to all who might actually have been in the slightest bit interested in reading it (apart from people who I live with, obviously, who might as well have a free pass to my work once I start getting vaguely enthusiastic about it), I'm going to send it off.

The editing process is starting tomorrow morning (or later this evening, once The Inbetweeners has been on telly - I have no doubt that there's a blog about them coming on at some point fairly soon). By this time tomorrow evening, it'll have gone off to the first of the three ezines I have earmarked as potentially publishing it.

Once again, apologies. I'll get to work on a different one instead, just to satisfy the masses (both of them).

New story in the works

I've been spending the afternoon working on a new piece of flash fiction. It's been slow going, but the idea's there and I quite like it. As things stand, I'm about 250 words in to the first draft, and it should be finished before too long. I'm going to put it up on here rather than try to get it published and get paid; it's not SF (well, not strictly speaking at any rate) and if I'm honest I want to get published in SF before I get published in other genres (uni anthology notwithstanding).

With a bit of luck, the story will be finished in first draft form inside the next 24 hours, with the second draft coming along within a day after that. I'm hoping that it'll be up by Thursday. If it isn't, blame the dissertation.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Let The Right One In

I've gone and done the usual. A 520-page book has been devoured in about three days, and I have no one to blame but myself. It's a testament to a book when it gets this treatment, to be fair, and it normally shows that I've really enjoyed it.

I certainly did enjoy Let The Right One In. There isn't much more to say. It's a vampire novel set in the Stockholm suburbs in 1981, against the backdrop of an estate (for want of a better word) battling with social problems. The plot focusses mainly on Oskar, who befriends a girl called Eli, while a series of fairly brutal murders take place. It's a poignant story of trust and friendship, and I really can't think of much more to say about it from that point of view.

As you may be able to tell, unless I'm insulting something I struggle to review it.

So, where can the bad stuff be found? It isn't a particularly great translation from the Swedish, so the prose can be clunky and awkward at times, but that's to be expected with translations; barring Crime and Punishment I can't think of any particularly outstanding ones I've read lately. Another complaint might be that at times the violence and bleakness can be a little overwhelming, particularly towards the end.

But these were overlooked. I enjoyed the energy of it, the pathos of the characters, and the driving pace of the story. It was compelling stuff (as evidenced by the fact I read the whole back half of it this afternoon when I was supposed to be dissertationing), and it left me with a sense of fulfilment.

So do I recommend Let The Right One In? Yes, I do. Highly. If you can deal with the depressing subject matter and the occasional clunky bit of prose and want a vampire novel that will get under your skin, go for it.

Now for the film(s)...

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Update v2.0

It was rejected. Not unexpected; in fact, quite the opposite considering the 0.09% success rate there. If it had been, I'd have been running through Newcastle naked (there's a sight for the ladies) or something in sheer delight. Rejection's a fairly familiar feeling at this point (and not just with the writing), so hey, I can deal.

Now I go back and start working on it again. I didn't like it in the first place, so this is a bonus. Put dissertations aside for a day and go hell for leather on this, make it commercially viable and try again. Probably not with Clarkesworld, though, as I may be setting the bar a little too high right now.

And another update

As you may be able to tell, my imagination fails somewhat when it comes to titles. This has always been a problem of mine, and one I really do need to suss out. My submission to Clarkesworld has probably the worst title possible because it was one I bunged in to act as a filler while I thought of something better. Lo and behold, I failed in that quest to find a better title and it went away with a thoroughly naff title. When it comes back rejected (which will be soon - it's 9th in the reading queue at the time of writing, up 192 places from a week ago. Eh, it's just like Top of the Pops), I'll be working on that title first and foremost before going back and reconstructing the basic premise of the piece.

Fortunately, imagination doesn't fail me quite so much when it comes to search terms for my dissertation, which I got to work on yesterday with a 2 1/2 hour session searching for articles and cases. Thanks to creative thought, I managed to find 50 cases and articles, some of which I need to follow-up in the practice library once I go back in there. On the other hand, most of those articles can be read in full now, and ought to contain links to arguments made by other articles which I haven't picked up on yet. All in all, it was a decent academic day, only dampened by the PFA not getting back to me on the subject of insurance.

Unfortunately for my writing, the dissertation means that I haven't got any further with a story I'm writing for this anthology. That said, I can work on it while my many hundreds of pages are printing off for me to read. So it isn't all bad news.

I've been back in Newcastle over the last couple of days, and I've thoroughly enjoyed myself, even if the vacuum cleaner doesn't work properly. I need to sort a few things out yet (like dry cleaning my suit for the new year and washing and ironing shirts), but by and large I'm pretty much ready to go for my final year doing the LLB Bar Exempting course. It does have to be said that I don't envisage this being my last year ever at uni, as I'd quite like to go back and do a masters degree, probably in Law, and maybe get another bachelors degree (in a science, probably, seeing as I've spent the last couple of years dipping into science journals and keeping up to date with developments).

And finally, I've been reading Let The Right One In over the past couple of days. I'm not very far in (120 pages), but thus far I've enjoyed it, even if my writer's mind has taken over every now and then, looking at the occasionally clunky translated prose, thinking 'that's clumsy - I could probably do better'. But with that said, I probably couldn't write the material itself, so I shouldn't criticise.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Transition and other stuff

It's been a pretty tough day on the writing front, I have to admit. Words have flowed easily over the past few weeks, but there have still been odd days where for whatever reason it's just not come and I've ended up giving it up as a bad job, going off to brood on whatever it was that went wrong. Today has been one of those days. I've managed 800 words - an hour or so of solid writing - but none of those have been saved. Chances are I'll go back and restart the story I'm working on tomorrow, or at least make major revisions to what I have.

As a result of this mini-block, I've spent much of the day reading. Over the past few days I've been reacquainting myself with the dark, sexy underworld of Iain Banks (or his books, at any rate) in the form of Transition, his latest novel, which went paperback a month or so back.

It's an interesting read. Our world forms just one reality in a multiverse which is overseen by the Concern (what is it about Banks and his organisations or civilisations being single words beginning with 'C' - Culture and Concern?) and its operatives. It's a tale of power-plays within the organisations and of good and evil. Perhaps most importantly, it's a novel of our times.

It says it right at the start. This is a novel about the post-9/11 world, about the credit crunch, the banks, counter-terrorism and moralities connected to all of the previously mentioned. A book for kids this ain't. It's adult in every sense of the word, being both intelligent in its analysis of the world around us and also being violent - with graphic depictions of torture among other things - and sexually-charged - the amount of detailed sex scenes is a little on the high side for my taste, it has to be said.

In fact, there are a few things which I'm not happy with. At times it feels like Banks is pontificating about his world view. Adrian the banker is the biggest symptom of this. He's a young banker, a former drug-dealer who still takes some, who indulges in meaningless sex with hundreds of women and lives a generally carefree playboy lifestyle. It feels like Banks is pinning the banking crisis on this one man.

Another problem that I had was that the novel feels like disconnected threads for much of its duration, and that some of those threads could have been cut out. Had it been left up to me, I wouldn't even have had the Philosopher's storyline. I understand what Banks is trying to say, but it feels superfluous. But then again, my own preference has always been for tightly-plotted novels, where every word counts for something towards the conclusion, so that might be something you bear in mind when considering this.

But I did enjoy it, and it's worth remembering this. It whips along at a brisk pace and is skilfully constructed. I'm not going to be put off reading more Iain (M.) Banks at any point in the near future, unless Surface Detail is the worst book in the history of the English language (which it won't be).

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Theo Robinson

Dear Town fans,

What is it about Theo Robinson that means people instantly slag him off? Is it his lack of composure in front of goal (you know, that same lack of composure that saw him score 16 goals last season), the lack of a football brain (see previous comment) or the fact he isn't very good in the air?

Whatever it is, there's a great number of you who should be ashamed of yourselves. A player who scores 16 goals in 19 starts, is only 21 and will improve isn't a bad player. I accept he can be a bit of a headless chicken, but what has he really done to make him such a pariah? Is it the umpteen chances he missed against Wycombe? Or is it just that you need a scapegoat?

Many people seemed to blame Theo for the 5-1 defeat at Everton. Right, so the fact the defence conceded 5 and could have conceded more was Theo's fault? He lost possession for the first goal, fine, but the midfield should have closed players down quicker and not allowed the ball to be worked out wide. In fact, the goal we did score - a Lee Croft cross in to Gary Roberts, whose effort was blocked by the goalkeeper only for an under-pressure Johnny Heitinga to bundle over his own line - came about because Theo got in the box and put pressure on the defender, forcing him into the mistake. Good forward play, in other words.

Let's throw another consideration into the mix: playing with one up front. Theo is not a lone striker. He works best with a partner, and it's certainly a bad idea to lump the ball in to him for him to hold up because he can't do it, so why was the whole gameplan in the second half lump it up for Theo to hold up? Is it Theo's fault he isn't a big burly six-foot-three striker who can do the job? No. And why the criticism for him not closing down every defender and allowing them to bring it forward? The system we played - 4-5-1 - meant that if he did do it, there wasn't a second striker putting pressure on the other central defender so it was a straightforward pass for the centre-half to make, so his mate could saunter out of defence under no pressure instead.

A confident Theo is a goalscoring Theo, and we haven't seen that this season because he a) hasn't been given minutes and b) hasn't been confident. I hope we see him in a Town shirt again because he is unpredictable and because he hasn't been given a chance by the people who are supposed to get behind him. If he doesn't come back to Town after his loan spell at Millwall, I hope he has a great career scoring goals at clubs who appreciate him.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Submissions (not like that)

The post is starting to annoy me. Over the last few years it's been getting gradually later, which is especially annoying when you need to go somewhere but can't go anywhere until the parcel you were expecting has arrived (or, more commonly, not) with the morning post. Only it's never morning these days. It's early afternoon, which is ridiculous.

It would also be nice if Amazon actually did as I told them. I asked for the two books I ordered the other day to be packaged together. It makes sense, doesn't it? Less packaging is better for the environment and cheaper for the company itself. Apparently, though, Amazon doesn't do that, and has instead sent me them separately. Or, rather, it's sent me one and the other's apparently still en route to my front door.

As you may be able to tell, I'm a little cranky this evening. I could do with my tea, but what was promised for six is now definitely going to be ready for seven (or so I'm told). According to the person in charge, it was always going to be seven. What is this, the Wilson family equivalent of the Ministry of Truth in 1984? Blimey.

I've followed up my submission of a piece of flash fiction to a website the other day with the submission of a short story to Clarkesworld. Apparently, Clarkesworld is one of the hardest markets to crack (probably because they pay so well), but I quite fancy the challenge. So, off this story has gone, quite probably coming back in a day or two's time with a 'get stuffed' note attached. Unfortunately, rejection is likely to happen a few times over the next few weeks.

This is the writing Gom Jabbar, the acid test of whether a writer really is serious, has self-belief and is prepared to keep plugging away. In the past, I failed it - I got a few rejection slips and by self-belief was hit hard. To be fair, I was about 16. I was inexperienced and had only been writing 3 years. It was raw stuff I was sending away, and it isn't a surprise. My stuff now may not be world-changing, but it's better than what was going off then.

Unfortunately, many talented writers get their first rejection and never submit again. On the other hand, many who are convinced they're God's gift to literature receive their first rejection and do exactly the same, so there's an upside to every problem (how many are convinced the editor just didn't get their work is not something up for discussion right now). My message to the former of these two classes is to keep working at it. We're in the same boat, you and I, two (or more) hopefuls auditioning for a chance to grasp the first rung of the publishing ladder. I know that when my work's rejected I'll just be resubmitting it and working on other things at the same time.

Best of luck to you! You stand a better chance of publication than I do of getting my tea at any point in the next century.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

What will I write?

In one of the more exciting moments of the summer, I ordered Let The Right One In off Amazon yesterday. I'm not being sarcastic about that being one of the most exciting moments of the summer either: to say the time off uni has been a let-down is something of an understatement. But I'm not writing about that now; it's for another day.

I know roughly what it's about, and I expect it to challenge me. I expect to feel disgusted, horrified and just plain dirty. My hope is that the themes will help the book get under my skin and have me disturbed. Paedophilia, molestation, vampirism... We're not talking light stuff here, and I expect them to affect me.

This got me thinking: is there a subject I wouldn't write about? Would I write about child sex and rape? I initially dismissed it. Just because I haven't done in the past doesn't mean I wouldn't in the future. Besides, it's not like I'm planning on writing anything like that right now. Dark, yes, but not quite that dark. The point is largely moot.

But could I write something that genuinely repulses me like that? The thought wouldn't go away. Perhaps I could. I could certainly imply that something like that happened and allow a reader's mind to take over, and I could easily mention something like that in a character's past. But could I actually write a graphic scene depicting something like that?

No. I don't think I could.

There's a difference between something being implied and something being explicitly depicted. It's fade to black versus porn, in its essence. I've always been on the fade to black side of things (especially when it comes to sex scenes - I think I've written about two, but implied or mentioned about 50). Some would argue that a good writer is brave and takes the decisions that will lead to a visceral experience that will get under a reader's skin. I'd respond with the argument that you can do that without graphic depictions, and it can actually be even more effective. Allow the reader's mind to do the leg work, don't ram scenes into their brain.

I don't have a problem with writers who do want to depict these things, so long as it isn't done for the sake of simply shocking the readership. We live in a world where paedophiles, rapists, murderers, sadists and more live; we can't afford to brush them under the carpet in the fiction we write. We need to write about them to elict strong responses and keep them in the public eye as a problem that won't go away. But I can't write about what they do, not explicitly, at least.

Maybe that means I'm not a brave writer. Not that it really matters to me right now: I'd rather be a safe writer in relation to things like that.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

A flash of inspiration

Writers who may be reading will already have guessed what I've been writing from the title. To any non-writers who don't have a clue what I'm referring to, it's this: flash fiction.

I've taken it up as a writing exercise of late. The Sucker (see archive) is an example of this, although most of the stories I've been writing won't see the light of day in the same way, either being rubbish or experimental (or, more commonly, both).

However, I'm excited about my latest effort. My challenge to myself was to pull off a galaxy-spanning epic in 500 words, and I think I may have done something like it. OK, so epic might be stretching the definition, but the point is it has a journey longer than Lord of the Rings and a word count shorter than quite a lot of poetry. Result.

I may be deluding myself about how good it is (chances are I am, considering my record), but I feel so good about it that I've actually submitted it. Not to a place that will pay me (it's 492 words long - why would anyone in their right mind pay for a piece of fiction that long, really? I wouldn't pay to read it, that's for sure), admittedly, but it's a first submission of the summer and one of the biggest steps I've made in my writing for a while.

If it ends up not being published, I'm not to bothered. It'd be nice and a real boost ahead of the new uni year, but at the end of the day I can then bring it back and polish it further, re-write it and then try again. Part of me wants it coming back negative, just so I can do that very thing.

I'm weird like that.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010


Frustration is one of my biggest weaknesses. I've never been very good at dealing with it, if I'm perfectly honest, and experience hasn't helped me mellow in the slightest when I'm genuinely frustrated. I'm still prone to shouting at something for no apparent reason, other than it's there to take my frustrations out on.

Fortunately, I do have outlets that will help me to channel frustrations. One of these is watching the Town, although this often ends in me being even more frustrated. Another is going out in the garden and booting a football about for 30 minutes. I did this a couple of times this afternoon, and right now I'm feeling pretty good.

Today's frustration came about as a result of a misbehaving story. After having an idea, I couldn't get the opening scene to do what I wanted it to. Cue me trying way too hard, the writing deteriorating and, before too long, a grunt of annoyance aimed at the computer. How hard can it be to get into the head of a mother wanting to protect her kids? It's not tough to write a good opening few lines just go get the story started, so why isn't it going to do what I want it to as it is?

Anyway, I decided to take a break over lunch, listened to a couple of short stories, had a look at what was going on in the news, and then got back to work. The story still didn't want to play ball. It felt awkward and unwieldy, and frustration again reared its head. I wouldn't be so fussed if over the last couple of days I'd been writing fluently and this was the first block I'd had for a while, but that isn't the case. It's been a tough couple of days. Perhaps it's because I've been writing from a woman's point of view. Most women would agree that I really don't know how they think. Anyway, whatever the cause, writing's been difficult this last couple of days, and so I decided to give it up as a bad job for the afternoon and do something else.

Frustration is best worked out physically, I find. There's nothing that gets rid of that anger quite like putting my foot through a football and hearing the satisfying thwack as the ball flies into the nets I still have in the back garden (and which remain there for this very reason). Before too long, the frustration had gone to be replaced with just enjoying having a ball at my feet. I was trying my usual back garden tricks - drag-backs, stepovers, flicks with the outside of my feet, using my knees and shoulders to control the ball - and thoroughly enjoyed it, if I'm honest.

It would also be worth mentioning that I probably needed the exercise. I actually had to loosen my belt for the first time ever yesterday, and I did it again this lunchtime. My target is to be in shape when uni kicks off again at the end of September so I can actually play a few games for the Gooks this season. I was going to say 'make a telling contribution' but that'd be pushing my abilities a bit far. I might play my part, but I'm not going to score and create goals by the hatful.

Another thing worth mentioning is that this evening I'll be back in front of the iMac bashing out some flash fiction. I saw a website that isn't a paying market, but which interested me and I quite fancied seeing if I could get a bit of something on there, before going back to the previous idea I was working on and also starting work on an idea for an anthology I fancy writing for.

In the mean time, tea. I'm starving.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Podcasting and SF's health

It's been a while since I thought particularly hard about science fiction.

Well, that opening line scared off about half of the people likely to have a read of this post. If you're still around, carry on reading, especially if you've not really read SF before. You might read about something you may want to give a try. If you're already an SF fan, you might have heard all this before, if I'm perfectly honest.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend introduced me to Escape Pod, a science fiction podcast. I didn't subscribe straight away, instead waiting a couple of days and then downloading the latest edition. It featured Eugene, by Jacob Sager Weinstein which wasn't the most engaging of stories, if I'm honest. It featured a talking dog - for want of a better phrase, as it was a little more anatomically complex - in the police force. But what got me hooked was the discussion of the piece by the editor, Mur Lafferty.

It struck me then that SF is in good hands these days. It wasn't so long ago that I thought SF was in decline. The writers of the SF Golden Age were passing. Arthur C. Clarke - perhaps the greatest of them all - died in 2008. Philip K. Dick has been dead for more than two decades. Brian W. Aldiss is still alive, but well into his twilight years. Isaac Asimov is no longer with us. There are a handful of good - occasionally nigh-on great - popular SF writers, but compared to what the genre was thirty years ago, it didn't seem to be in the rudest of health. In the US especially writers seemed more interested in writing escapist fantasy rather than intelligent SF.

In my defence, what's on the shelves at Waterstones in Huddersfield isn't necessarily the greatest selection. Intelligent SF readers in the region are at a premium, it would be fair to say, and when I was at college fantasy was all the rage amongst people who I sat around passing time with. And if it wasn't them, it was the literary snobs in English Literature who turned their nose up at anything if it hadn't won a Pulitzer. Hugos? Nebulas? Not for them.

That statement about the English Lit class is a little harsh to most of the class, really, but my point is that nobody read SF. Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Dick, etc, were all alien names, when I have the feeling that 30 years ago they were at least known and respected, if not widely read by 'literary' people.

I'm getting off-topic. The point is that I felt SF wasn't where it should be. Magazines had declined following the advent of easily-available internet on top of the decline of intelligent SF on the shelves of bookshops.

But I'm pleased to report that my fears are far from the truth. Yes, the SF magazine has declined over recent years. Until recently I didn't know where to pick up the biggest SF magazine in Britain, and if I wanted to get a copy of Interzone from the shops it would involve a trek to Leeds, a round trip of some 30-odd miles. However, we see short stories available on the internet, often for free. I downloaded a magazine in PDF form - The Literary Hatchet - the other day, and found it to be fairly high-quality. Perhaps the stories weren't to my taste, but there is good short fiction out there to be read.

Going back to Escape Pod, it's been brilliant to subscribe to it and have a new short story arrive in audio form for free once a week. Short fiction has been something I've neglected in the past, so having this available to me to listen to has been a godsend. I've been listening through the back episodes and subscribing to other podcasts as well - Pseudopod and Starship Sofa, the former of which is horror rather than SF - and what has struck me most isn't the high quality. It's been the passion of the people behind it, the labour of love that each and every story is.

I have a feeling that this sort of presentation is the future of SF. The passion of the people behind these podcasts - and the fact that they work in symbiosis with each other, rather than competing per se - leaves SF with a rosy future. Perhaps now we're seeing a lull, because some of these SF writers I've been listening to stories from are exceptionally talented people.

One thing is that the podcasts need donations to survive. As much as we all want to receive everything for free, people providing services do need to survive, and it's only right that writers and other contributors are paid for their work. I may not be able to donate right now (I'm a skint student, for heaven's sake), but once I'm financially stable, I'll probably be donating £5 or £10 a month. If each person who listens to it does something similar, maybe we'll see these podcasts improve and thrive even more than they are now.

So search for Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Starship Sofa and Cast Macabre (amongst others) on the iTunes Music Store, in the podcasts section. Subscribe. And enjoy. And many thanks to Matthew Dent for pointing them out to me in the first place.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Quality control to room 34a

I wrote 4,000 words yesterday. This is quite a large number by my standards, and the shock of writing so much in one day has been so great that today has, in effect, been a day off. 300 words, some editing, plus this blog. Huzzah for consistency!

That quantity has got me thinking. It was all first draft writing, which is when I'm generally pretty careless with what I'm doing, but even so it seems to me that to write so much it has to be of fairly low quality. Not what it's going to be when I go back to that short story in a few weeks and redraft it. While it may only have taken a day to write everything I wanted in first draft form, second draft, when quality control suddenly makes an appearance (though it may not be noticed), will probably take four or five times that.

I find this frustrating, if I'm honest. When writing second drafts, I average 1,000 words a day, if I do 3-4 hours (or what I class as a full writing day). Does that much thought really have to go into it, to slow my writing speed by 750 words an hour? It's pretty common for me to not bother writing a second draft and just leave a first draft to ferment in a drawer in perpetuity, simply because I like to write fast.

People who know me won't be too shocked to find I have no patience when it comes to writing second drafts. But it's something I'm determined to teach myself (until I get bored of it, obviously). It's something I need if I want to make my way as a writer. One published short story doesn't really cut the mustard, and I have some ideas I think are saleable, so patience is a must to get that quality in. Starting tomorrow* I'm going to be working my way through a few first drafts, starting to work on second drafts.

Hopefully, the required quality injection will arrive, and before too long the quality will ally itself with quantity to satisfy my impatience to be cracking on with things.

* - unless Town lose to Charlton, obviously.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Insert Z-Cars theme here

Last football blog for a while, promise.

Town play in the second round of the League Cup tonight. After a 1-0 win at Carlisle a couple of weeks ago, thanks to Jordan Rhodes' 90th minute strike, we drew Premier League side Everton away. Initial feelings of 'great draw, we can win that' have drifted away over the past couple of weeks to being a feeling of 'we're going to get hammered'. Anything other than a 5-0 walloping will be celebrated like we won the World Cup. With Kevin Sharp in the team.

I'm looking forward to the trip over, if I'm honest. Goodison Park is a ground I haven't been to yet, and, by my reckoning, will be the 45th ground I'll have seen a match at. By all accounts, it's a proper old ground, creaking and full of character. It's no Saltergate, seeing as it hosts Premier League football week in week out, but it's probably the only ground around to have a church in one corner.

I like grounds with character, or at least with something different. St James' Park, Newcastle, is a brilliant ground for being something different, modern as it is. The Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough, is on the opposite end of the scale, being an identikit stadium. You can change the colour of the seats and be in the Walkers, the Keepmoat, the Liberty Stadium, the Cardiff City Stadium... You get the point.

Our own ground, the Galpharm, is nothing like the above, thankfully. It's been imitated, but never bettered. The Galpharm can legitimately lay claim to be one of the most important grounds in football history, as it dragged ground architecture away from the post-Hillsborough depression and into the 21st century. At least, until whoever decided to build the Riverside made it a soulless bowl that everyone would copy. The arches on the roofs of the stands are iconic at the Mac (as I still call it), and the way the stands are shaped like segments of orange makes it instantly recognisable.

Going back a year or two (or 16 and a bit, seeing as that's when the last match was played there), Leeds Road was the first ground I ever took in a match. Town played Plymouth Argyle. We won 1-0, courtesy of a man I would see score a few times more: Andy Booth. The ground itself was, by that point, falling down. It had virtually none of the splendour that had seen it become one of the leading grounds in the country. It was still an awesome arena in its size; apart from a roof over the East Terrace, it was essentially still the same ground that 67,037 had crammed into in the early 30s to watch a Cup match between Town and Arsenal (Town suffered the usual big crowd nerves, and went down 1-0). But only 6,000 were in the ground on this day, making the terraces quiet. If I had one wish, it would be to see Leeds Road at its best, when 40,000 would regularly go through the turnstiles and when the East Terrace was somewhere the noise would be unreal (according to my dad, Simon Inglis, and the Old Grounds website). The first night of the Denis Law lights, v champions Wolves, would be a good one to pick.

Anyhow, moving back on to this evening's match. Everton are a good team. In fact, Everton are a very good team. They're the highest-ranked side in the competition at this point, and Town have our work cut out just to not get hammered. On the other hand, we have a strong spine and have enough in the tank to cause an upset. Gary Naysmith's return from a ban will balance the back four. Roberts will most likely return to the left wing. We can cause an upset if we believe it.

I'm setting off at 4.30 for the 8pm kick-off. With me will be food, an iPod, and Old Man's War. See, I linked it to writing (sort of).

Monday, 23 August 2010

This post is rated 18, probably

So Sky Sports News has disappeared off the telly thanks to Rupert Murdoch being a money-grabbing so-and-so. This has nothing to do with today's blog, other than it annoys me and therefore I have to mention it. I also have to mention that it's probably going to result in an upsurge of writing activity because I'll no longer be distracted by Natalie Sawyer telling me that Samir Nasri is out of Arsenal's clash with Birmingham. Bah!

I'm actually writing about the fact I'm managing to scare myself with my writing at the moment. In the past I was a fairly genteel, non-violent, non-sexy writer. The worst you'd get would be an action scene from a '12' rated film, with relatively little blood and certainly no sex or bad language. In fact, it was all a bit boring.

A couple of weeks ago I had an idea. I won't go into too much detail about the idea as I think that, with a bit of tweaking in the second draft, it's definitely stands a chance of publication. But I was surprised what I was writing. A foul-mouthed Geordie lass was in it, absolutely starkers from the very first word. There was blood. There was even the suggestion of some seriously non-U scenes at the end. In short, it was at the very least a '15'. And I really don't know where all of it came from. It isn't as if I was reading anything too violent or sexy, and yet my subconscious had managed to come up with this idea.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I sat down this afternoon with half-a-dozen stories on the go at once. I pulled my usual trick: I ignored what was in progress and moved on to the latest in a long line of ideas I've had this summer. And it's yet another one with language, sex, violence and other. This time, it's even more disturbing; once again, no details (partly because I don't want to scare people until they read the thing itself), but the themes are something I've rarely come across in real life, so why is my subconscious coming up with these ideas?

In between times, there have been one or two ideas which have been in a similar vein of darkness. My writing's always been pretty bleak (to match my mental outlook, in all honesty), so it's not too much of a surprise to find characters who are outsiders plotting murder and what have you, but at least in the past their motives were for more than just the heck of a particular thing. It's not that I'm worried, but I'd be interested in knowing where this new level of darkness has come from.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Further to yesterday's blog...

We lost. We were 2-0 up, Smithies made a mistake and we ended up losing 4-2.

Oh well.

It does have to be said that Down At The Mac is practically in meltdown about it. Why is it so hard to get perspective into Town fans? Yes, we lost, but we did lose to a good team with three very talented players up front. We won't go up against a more talented front three all season. We still have some very good players even if they had an off-day. We are still only 3 games into the season, with 43 to play.

But no, according to DATM the manager has to go (even though the players were at fault for the goals), we need to be nastier, we have to sacrifice style, we have to bring in a target man, McCombe isn't good enough, we're exposed without Naysmith at left-back, Pilkington only gets in the team because he's a manager's favourite, Theo should have come on...

Watch us win in midweek against Premier League Everton and all the cracks be gone and for us to be marching to the title again.

Congrats to Peterborough, by the way. Sounds like the better team won over the course of 90 minutes.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Oh when the Town...

A couple of years ago I went down the A1 to watch Huddersfield Town take on Peterborough. Town had suffered a shocking start to the season under Stan Ternent. We were battling at the bottom, despite a summer spending spree which had brought in 11 players and seen much of the previous season's deadwood shipped out. Posh, on the other hand, were going well with their talented side, and were on the fringes of the play-offs.

What unfolded that afternoon is something nightmares are made of. In almost 17 years of watching Town, I've yet to see a side with less passion, less fight, less ability. Peterborough were a decent side, granted, but Town were simply awful. Part of this is down to the team selection. We played 4-5-1, with Liam Dickinson as a lone striker, Jim Goodwin at right back, Andy Holdsworth on the right wing and Matt Glennon in goal. We were shapeless and disorganised, and we paid for it. We lost 4-0.

It's hard to think about days like that when you're a football fan. They inspire a dullness in the pit of your stomach. Saying it feels like a death is going too far, but certainly games like that have you on the edge of tears just thinking about the state of the team you love. Looking back, there are very few games where I've felt anything similar. Losing 4-1 at Oldham 6 months previous to the Peterborough game was one of those days. A few days later, manager Andy Ritchie had got the sack. Macclesfield away, another 4-0 gubbing, is another occasion, although Town reacted to this and went on a run of just 4 defeats in 26 matches, eventually winning promotion via the play-offs.

Peterborough away is one of the top 3 for awful afternoons watching Town. Misery was compounded in the dying seconds when Chris Lucketti was sent off for a professional foul, and manager Ternent came out at the end with his now-infamous Christmas dinner statement. A 0-0 draw on the Tuesday to Yeovil and a 3-2 win over basement side Crewe weren't enough to save the Turnip's job, and he goes down in Town folklore as probably the worst manager the club has ever had.

But my point is that since that day Town have progressed beyond recognition. Two weeks after Ternent left, caretaker manager Gerry Murphy guided Town to a magnificent 2-1 victory at local rivals Leeds, a result that set Town on the winning trail. Eventually, Lee Clark was appointed manager, and guided Town to 9th that season.

Several notable incomings and changes were made between Ternent's departure and the end of the campaign. Goalkeeper Matt Glennon was dropped in favour of hot prospect Alex Smithies - who hadn't even been on the bench under Ternent. Holdsworth reverted to right-back, Goodwin to central midfield. Michael Collins returned to the first team and hit 10 goals from midfield. Incoming was wingman Anthony Pilkington for £500,000 from Stockport. In my opinion, this boy is the best player in League One. He's two-footed, powerful, blessed with great vision and technique.

Last season, even more progress was made. Town finished 6th and lost in the play-offs. The squad was so different from the Ternent days that it's hardly believable that under 2 years were between the end of last season and Ternent's departure. Right-back Lee Peltier, central defender and captain Peter Clarke, strikers Jordan Rhodes and Lee Novak are just a handful of examples of where the club has progressed in its playing staff.

Tomorrow, Town go to Peterborough for the first time since that 4-0 thrashing. The side will have only one survivor: winger Gary Roberts. 1-11, Town are stronger, and Peterborough will be a real test for the new team. Luckily, even if we do get thrashed 4-0, we won't have the sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach reserved for hopeless situations. We've progressed to the point where we're unrecognisable from the perpetual underachievers of the last decade. This is a team ready to go back to the Championship.

Come on, Town!

Now, back to the writing.