A Poem for Sunday

November 28, 2010

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

W. B. Yeats


I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;

Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.


And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnet’s wings.


I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.



Interview with Jonny and Lucy

November 17, 2010

Following my previous post about Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell, I asked them if they wouldn’t mind doing an interview.  They very kindly agreed, and here it is:

How did you meet?

Studying folk music at Newcastle university.

Which one of you would win in a fight?

Lucy says Lucy, Jonny says Jonny. The debate is causing disagreement, it may result in a fight.

You have a rather unique, haunting sound. Was this something you’ve worked to develop, or did it just appear naturally?

It happened naturally, we simply played together and a ‘sound’ emerged.

Would you describe yourself as folk performers?  Why?

Well in the sense we sing folk songs to folk audiences, yes. We also compose songs so I guess it’s really down to how you would define ‘folk’.

What next for the pair of you?

Well, we are embarking on a 3 week UK tour with Bellowhead starting today. Then we are recording an album over Christmas, which we will be touring in spring.

The majority of readers of this blog are here for the SF. What would recommend if someone wanted to start listening to folk?

There’s lots of great folk music around at the moment. The Unthanks are great. Chris Wood is great, Emily Portman, Phil & Cath Tyler, Alisdair Roberts, bellowhead, lau….

Lastly, which are better:  Robots or Accordions?

Difficult one.  Jonny says accordions, Lucy says robots.

Jonny: accordions have probably brought more joy to peoples lives.

Lucy: you can get a robot to do anything.

Jonny: I suppose, also you could get a robot to play an accordion, but you couldn’t get an accordion to play a robot.

Lucy agrees. Argument resolved.

Jackie Oates, Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell

November 3, 2010

Shaw Playhouse, Sunday 31st October.

It seems a little rude to spend most of an entry talking about the support act, but Jackie Oates has won the BBC Folk awards twice and is increasingly well known so she can perhaps share the attention for this entry at least.  Mind you, it would be churlish not to mention the variety of her set, the effortless way in which she would switch from singing to fiddle, and the confident tone that she coaxes from her instrument.  Such practised musicianship can pass easily pass unnoticed.  It’s also worth noting, for the sake of those who like to check that this blog’s integrity is maintained, that her backing band contained an accordionist.

But what about Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell, her support act?  I must admit, there was something about this duo that I took a dislike to when they first walked on. I don’t know what it was, maybe it was the fact that all the folk musicians look so young nowadays, but any doubts were quickly forgotten when they began to perform.  There is a haunting quality about their harmonies, the steady pace to their songs which is really quite unusual.  Even more unusually for a support act, they kept my attention all the way through their set.  If I have one criticism of this pair it was the unvarying nature of the tempo and feel of the pieces, but then again, if all the songs must be similar, let them be this good.

I’m going to keep an eye out for this pair.  I suggest you do, too.

Other Worlds

October 28, 2010

Alex Davies has asked me to post this on my blog as a reminder, so here it is…

Upcoming events: Tor UK and Alt.Fiction present

Other Worlds, Nov 6th: http://www.derbyquad.co.uk/other-worlds

And here’s my schedule:

11am-12pm SF Workshop with Tony Ballantyne (Meeting Room)
1pm-1:45pm Opening Panel: Other Worlds – The Landscape of Science-Fiction and Fantasy with Peter F Hamilton, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Mark Charan Newton and Tony Ballantyne (Cinema 2)
1:45-2pm BREAK
2pm-2:45pm SF discussion with Peter F Hamilton and Tony Ballantyne (Cinema 2)
2pm-2:45pm Fantasy discussion with Mark Charan Newton and Adrian Tchaikovsky (The Box)
2:45pm-3pm BREAK
3pm-4pm Signing with Peter F Hamilton, Mark Charan Newton, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Tony Ballantyne (The Box)

Hope to see you there!

Rise of the Machines

October 21, 2010

I’ve never spoken at an event before where they were turning people away at the door… however, I strongly suspect that this enthusiasm was more down to a wish to see Dr Kerstin Dautenhahn‘s robots than anything to do with me.

What an interesting event, too.  Organised by Sci-Fi London, and taking place in the Royal Society, the evening began with Dr Dautenhahn giving a twenty minute talk about her own research.  Afterwards, Tom Hunter led a discussion contrasting real world and science fictional robots.  Dr Dautenhahn was keen to stress that robots were neither he nor she but quite definitely it.  Whatever human traits people saw in a robots were those they brought themselves.  Contrast this with the general Science Fictional robot which is a human clad in metal.  There are exceptions, of course.  Asimov made great play of blurring the distinction, and, as Tom Hunter kindly pointed out, I did the same in my own short story “Teaching the War Robot to Dance”.

But back to the real robots…

One of the stars of the show was KASPAR, designed to study human robot interaction. (I had an interesting discussion with a roboticist before the event about the importance of studying how people approach each other.  If robots are to be accepted, they can’t simply zoom up behind people)  KASPAR has been used to work with children with autism: apparently, the children can find it easier to interact with than real people.  The plans for KASPAR are available for anyone to view, you can build a copy for around £1000.  I’ve put some pictures of the other robots on my Facebook page.

Oh, and did you know that one of the staircases in the Royal Society was designed by Albert Speer?  Honestly.  Nazis, autism, robots and Tom Hunter.  You don’t get this breadth of coverage on other blogs.


Oktoberfest: Robot Discussion

September 27, 2010

Tom Hunter, Professor of AI Dr. Kerstin Dautenhahn and I will  be taking part in a discussion at The Royal Society on Friday 15th October at 6:30pm.

Kerstin is a pioneering researcher in robot social learning and imitation whose research interests include Human-Robot Interaction, Social Robotics, Socially Intelligent Agents and Artificial Life.

The event is free, you can find more details by following this link.


Other Worlds

September 22, 2010

Tor UK and Alt.Fiction present

Other Worlds

Derby Quad, Market Place, Derby,

Saturday 6th Nov, 1pm-4pm

Tickets £8 (£6 concession) from QUAD box office on 01332 290606 or at www.derbyquad.co.uk/other-worlds

Other Worlds offers panel discussions, giveaways and signings and is an ideal event for both readers and writers of science-fiction and fantasy. Authors appearing include the UK’s best-selling SF author PETER F HAMILTON, Shadows of the Apt writer ADRIAN TCHAIKOVSKY, rising fantasy star MARK CHARAN NEWTON and author of the Recursion trilogy and the Penrose Series,  TONY BALLANTYNE. For the latest updates visit Derby Quad’s website at www.derbyquad.co.uk/other-worlds

Other Worlds workshops

Sat 6th Nov, 11am-12pm

Tickets £3. Numbers are strictly limited so book early to avoid disappointment.

Other Worlds is also proud to present a pair of writing workshops. Both workshops will take place at 11am-12pm at QUAD and can be booked at the box office details as above.

Science-fiction writing workshop with TONY BALLANTYNE

Fantasy writing workshop with MARK CHARAN NEWTON

The Wind on the Moon by Eric Linklater

September 15, 2010

“When there is a wind on the moon, you must be very careful about how you behave.  Because if it is an ill wind, and you behave badly, it will blow straight into your heart, and then you will behave badly for a long time to come.”

So says the Major to his daughters, Dinah and Dorinda, before heading off to a foreign country.  Unfortunately, when the girls’ attempts to help their father with his packing go wrong, they decide that they must indeed be naughty girls, and as the wind has now got into their hearts, that’s the way they must act.

So begins one of the most bizarre children’s books I have read.  For the next 300 or so pages, the story twists and turns in the most unlikely directions as the girls visit a witch, turn themselves into kangaroos, make friends with a Puma, solve the mystery of the missing ostrich eggs, and rescue their father from the evil Count Hulagu.  Along the way, they meet a wide cast of characters including a singing vicar, a newspaper reading bear and an incompetent giraffe detective.  All this sounds very wacky, but what lifts the book up into the top league is that fact that, regardless of the off-the-wall nature of the characters, there is something very real about them, with more than a hint of satire in the actions, and a darkness at the heart of their nature which can be unexpected in a children’s book.

What impressed me most about the book, however, was that despite the seemingly random paths the story takes, all of the apparently insignificant diversions are there for a reason, and they all tie up in a satisfying conclusion.

The Wind on the Moon won the Carnegie Medal when it was published in 1944; I can’t believe I only heard of it when a friend bought my daughter a copy for her birthday. If you know a child age 10+, buy them a copy and then borrow it.  Better yet, buy your own.

The Wind on the Moon, 364pp, Jane Nissen Books. Recommended.


August 23, 2010

Holidays are over, so its back to writing.

I spent some time in Alnwick, visiting the spectacular castle and gardens, I was also lucky enough to see folk band the Old Dance School- more on them another time.

I’ve also been to France, during which time I visited Monet’s gardens in Giverny, which according to Wikipedia was the focus of Monet’s artistic production for the last 30 years of his life.  Very pretty they were too, though what I find really interesting were the borderlands:  the way that a normal stretch of river suddenly flows through an area of willows, wisterias and bamboo before emerging back into the French countryside.  The house was was also very pleasant, with its yellow bedroom with windows opening up onto the gardens themselves.  I wanted to live there myself, but unfortunately the wardens asked me to leave.

Okay, back to work…

FlashForward Romance

June 9, 2010

Last week I ran a workshop at a writers’ event organised by Alex Davies, somewhere in the rainy hills near Buxton.  Afterwards I stayed, and really enjoyed, the rest of the days events: the reading and critique sessions, and the session when we all sat down to write together, something I’ve never done before (although bearing in mind we just chatted for an hour or so I’m not sure I’ll be doing it again.)

Anyway, on to the point of all this.  As part of the event I described my first fiction sales- romances for My Weekly and People’s Friend.  My advice to all would be writers is to try your hand at a 1000 word romance.  It’s a great discipline, in that it forces you to think about two characters, and to show (not tell) why they find each other attractive.  Oscar Hammerstein once commented on the difficulty of having to find yet another way to write about love.  A romance may always be the same story (girl meets boy, they initially don’t find each other attractive but they come together in the end), but this simple framework allows you to really practice the craft of being a writer.

Which brings me to FlashForward.  I don’t care that it ended on a cliff hanger that will never be resolved now the second series won’t be made.  I don’t think I could have been bothered to watch the second series, as I’m rapidly losing faith that US serials will ever resolve as long as there is money to be made. But that’s not what irritated me about the show.

No, what niggled at me all the way through was the fake romance between Bryce and Keiko.  If you didn’t see the series, right at the beginning Bryce and Keiko had a vision that they would meet in the future, and they then spend 22 episodes trying to find each other.

Why?  What did they have in common?  What did they find attractive in each other’s characters?  The answer, of course, is nothing.  All they knew was that the other was good looking.  That’s not romance, that’s just seeing a pretty face.

And as far as romance is concerned, it’s bad writing.