Tuesday 29 March 2011

Next up

VS Ramachandran's Phantoms in the Brain was one of the best pop-science books I ever read, so I'm looking forward to getting stuck into this chunky summation of his work to date. He's an elegant and deeply humane writer, very much in the Oliver Sacks mode, and that's high praise as far as I'm concerned.

Ramachandran's work on mirror boxes and phantom limb syndrome is fascinating; fans of House MD will remember the episode "The Tyrant" where House (after first drugging and kidnapping him) treats a cantankerous Canadian war-vet using the Ramachandran method.

Thursday 24 March 2011

The Cold Ten Thousand

This is my current bedside reading:

I'd had a glance at Daniel Levitin's book in a Boston bookstore last year, but for some reason hadn't bought it; I don't know why as this is exactly my kind of thing. Perhaps I was thinking about luggage allowance on my flight home. In the end I picked up a copy a few weeks ago in Cardiff, and it's very interesting stuff, both in the specifics of its theme - the science of music perception and appreciation, and as a handy primer on recent developments in neuroscience. Levitin is a scientist, but he's also a muso - if you've ever wanted a book that hops cheerfully from Mozart to Metallica by way of MRI, this is the one for you.

I've still some way to go, but last night I was struck by a section in the book where he talks at some length on the "ten thousand hour" thing. This is the notion, with which I was only glancingly familiar, that it takes about ten thousand hours to get good at anything - by which good is taken to mean "expert" or "world class". In the case of Mozart, for instance, there's no need to assume that there was anything exceptional or freakish about the young Amadeus - he was simply brought up in a household environment where the necessary ten thousand hours of tuition and practise could easily have been achieved at a relatively early age. Levitin stresses that the ten thousand hours applies to far more than just music.

This got me thinking about my own long-documented struggles with the guitar, and how much time I'd need to put in to get near that magic ten thousand mark. Three hours a day for a decade will get you there, but very few of us can hope to spend that much time on what is essentially a hobby - not if we've got day-jobs or other interests. Nonetheless, and barring other factors, I suppose I could do it if I were so minded. An hour in the morning, an hour at noon, an hour in the evening - and then keep that up for ten years...

Well, no - that's obviously not going to happen. But then it occurred to me that I don't have to do ten thousand hours from now, since I've already been playing - or attempting to play - for more than fifteen years. That must knock quite a chunk off the target, surely?

Well, sort of - but not very much. I've been kind of semi-serious with my guitar for the last two or three years, but if I'm going to be honest, I doubt that I spent more than two hours a week on it for most of the time before that. So that's - what - a hundred hours a year, for a decade or so? In other words, and allowing for my increased discipline in the last couple of years, I doubt that I've managed to shave more than two thousand hours off the target. So that's just another eight thousand to go, then.

I suppose I'd better be realistic...

Monday 21 March 2011

Celebrity Swears

Naughty but funny spoof video of Brian Cox - contains lots of gratuitous swearing, obviously a good thing in my book but possibly offensive to some:

(Thanks to Jetse de Vries for alerting me to this).

Friday 11 March 2011

Midlake - Roscoe

This is bloody fantastic.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Voices from the Past

The other story I submitted on the same day as "The Lobby" will, I'm pleased to say, appear in Voices from the Past, an ebook anthology of flash fiction in support of the Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital.

My piece is entitled Ascension Day; it's a very short science fiction story. This is a great venture and well worth supporting, I'd say. The book will cost you all of 59 New Pence...

When I began my student days, and provided you weren't too choosy, you could just get a pint for 59p. But that was 26 years ago...

More information:


Wednesday 9 March 2011


So Liz and I finished our collaboration - it's called "Lune and the Red Empress", it's 16,000 words, set in Paris, in the very distant future, and it'll be appearing in the Eastercon souvenir book (Liz  and I were guests of honour in 2010).

Liz and I haven't ruled out another collaboration at some point down the line, so who knows where this may lead...

In other news, in an earlier post I mentioned submitting a couple of stories on the same day. I'm pleased to say that one of them, "The Lobby", will be appearing in Postscripts magazine, toward the end of 2011. It's an urban horror story about a couple of dropout skater dudes and the strange thing that replaces their skate park one morning...

Wednesday 2 March 2011


Been working on a piece of collaborative fiction recently, which is something new for me. We started talking about it two years ago, but as is so often the case, life got in the way and we didn't get traction on the story until early last year. Then ... well, life got in the way again, as it tends to do. After Christmas, though, we decided to return to the story and see if we could finish it.

Right now I think it's about 15,000 words and I think I'm about finished with my side of the writing - there's a beginning, middle and end but still a few rough edges. It's a very far future piece, set on Earth, with a kind of Jack Vance/Gene Wolfe vibe to it. Once my colleague has finished with their side, we'll need to fix a title onto the thing and then we're done. As to where it'll appear, that's already "sorted", so to speak, but it's not going to be a publication that will be easily obtainable unless you are or were signed up for a particular convention. Given the limited distribution, though, I think we'll try and get it out to a wider readership at some point.

Anyone care to take a guess at the other writer in the collaboration? First correct answer will bag a copy of the story, once it's available, and I'll endeavour to get it signed by both of us.

[Edit - strictly one guess per respondent, people (although I'll not penalise those who've already commented). And I'll give it a couple of days before announcing the "winner"]