Wednesday, 29 September 2010

England's Camping Trip

The England cricket team is back from its bonding session overseas, which seems to have involved the usual combination of adventure sports, camping, and spending the better part of a week in each others' company with no distractions. News of this has prompted me to ask some important questions:

  1. Do these blokes not see enough of each other anyway? With the crowded international calendar, 'Team England' spends most of its time on the road anyway. Kevin Peterson probably spends more time with Paul Collingwood than with his family. He certainly spends more time with him than with his county colleagues.
  2. Have none of them watched any horror movies? Does the England management not know that it is exactly this sort of expedition that vastly increases your risk of zombie attack?
  3. Monty Panesar. Doing adventure sports. Does this strike anyone else as a bad combination?
  4. Isn't it generally true that every sports team contains at least one person you don't like as much as the others? (often, for some inexplicable reason, me). Is sharing a tent with them a better recipe for A: harmony, or B: murder?
  5. Does the act of putting up tents increase cricketing performance? If so, should I be off down my local camping store now, in the off season, to beat the rush?
  6. In fact, wouldn't it be truest to say that the most team building element of the whole trip did not involve camping, or physical fitness, or worthy trips to put cricket into perspective, but was in fact that moment (probably on about day two) when they all snuck out together in search of a drink, a roof that wasn't canvas, and a phone with which to call home?

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Bad News Blogfest

I've just decided to have a go at the bad news blogfest, which is on 2nd October.

Friday, 24 September 2010


For the most part, monsters aren't that funny. After all, they eat your heroes, or scare them, or turn out to be irritatingly good looking and then go on to have a dysfunctional relationship with them (I'm talking to the Urban Fantasy and Teen Vampire Romance people there. You know who you are).

But they can be, and since I'm making it my personal mission (it sounds so much better when it's a personal mission, and not just something I feel like doing) to make things as silly as possible, here are some tips for getting a laugh out of assorted manticores, ogres, hydra and undead creatures.

  1. Exagerate. A giant snake doesn't sound that funny. An Acme Bigger-Than-The-Giant- Snake Snake has potential. Never be afraid of random capitalisation (i.e. Things)
  2. Don't let them behave monstrously, except by accident or during temper tantrums. A werewolf eating someone isn't funny. A werewolf trying to make pasta while furry and dangerous might be. A giant lizard that stomps all over a major city looking for its baby is sort of tragic. A giant lizard that does so because it forgot to put its contact lenses in and so didn't really notice all those skyscrapers, on the other hand...
  3. Give them concerns that are utterly mundane. It's sort of an extension of the above, but we expect monsters to be fantastical, so having them worry about their tax return/model railway/irritating children is nicely incongruous. Remember, monsters are people too. Or have at least eaten some.
  4. Think about consequences. Turning into a wolf every full moon is one thing, but the funny bits come when you start to think about the minor details. Like finding clothes, or working doornobs, or the doggy urge to chase cars and cats.
  5. Ask how things are supposed to work. When the answer is 'oh, by magic of course', you probably have an opportunity to do something funny. Why don't bits fall off animated skeletons? Magic? Or lots of wire and gaffa tape?
  6. Make the monstrous cuddly, and the cuddly monstrous. Take the most overblown, tentacled, spike-mawed Thing you can think of. Now imagine that its name is Fluffy. Or that a ten-year-old girl takes it for walks and scratches what is probably its tummy. Alternatively, imagine a fifty-foot hamster (no ferris wheel would ever be safe).
  7. Never, ever let someone have a straightforward fight with them. Monstrous monsters have fights to the death with passing heroes. Funny monsters have fights to the death by appointment only, or insist on protective equiment, or get taken out by a falling piano, or turn out to have a phobia of humans and run off, or really just need you to sign a form saying that you fought with them and got torn to pieces, or have a huge argument among themselves, letting the hero slip past, or are beaten by a rather childish cheap shot.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010


  • Various of my friends will be starting back at university about now, so good luck to all of them, and let's hope things don't get to the stage of the student who is suing Queen's University over his grade.
  • Almost time for the commonwealth games, so good luck to my friend Chris too. Not that we'll be able to watch him compete, since the BBC doesn't really do fencing.
  • I have managed to get one of my characters into a rather large and dangerous dungeon complex. Now all I have to do is figure out a way through it that is suitably funny.
  • I'm persisting with the freelance writing, though I'm also increasing my attempts to find work elsewhere. Writing the odd novel for a living is fun, if not as hugely paid as I might hope, but the stuff you have to do around it is rather less interesting.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

My occassional martial arts journeys.

This week featured something that I occasionally do when I get sufficiently bored, in the form of a quick wander over to one of the many, many martial arts classes that infest East Yorkshire. It may be that one or more of you is considering taking up some form of martial art (well, you might), and so my thoughts here might be of some use. In any case, I'm inclined to get some of this off my chest before I really lose my temper. So, some things that wind me up when I go to a martial arts class:

  1. The place claims links to a dozen systems, yet actually teaches one fairly traditional martial art with maybe two moves changed. I have been in what turned out to be karate classes with five minutes of bad weapons work at the end before, and which have therefore claimed to be multi style. This week's attempt featured something that was supposedly influenced by both a traditional kung fu style and JKD. I went because I had practised the traditional style and hoped that the influence of the philosophies of the second art might break down a few of the bigger problems with it. Let's be clear: this was just a Feng Shou class in every detail.
  2. The class is concerned primarily with historical or cultural re-creation, but does not say so. It is entirely legitimate to practise a dead art in exactly the way it would have been done years ago, provided that you are clear about what you are doing. You are doing essentially the same thing that people who dress up as vikings and belt each other with swords are doing. The difference is that they don't claim to be teaching something to keep their students safe in a real fight. Claiming to be teaching effective self defence while doing no more than sticking to the traditional syllabus is dangerous and self-deluding.
  3. Connected to this is the issue of dressing up. I can see the usefulness in some situations of the Japanese style gi, mostly after having destroyed quite a few t-shirts whilst grappling. However, there seems to be little reason to wear the 'traditional dress' of a country while training. For the most part, these traditional costumes turn out to be just what people of a particular time and place would happen to have worn for exercise or outdoor work. They are, in short, the equivalent of sweatpants.
  4. Forms. Endless, endless forms. To use them for fighting, you then have to learn the applications of the movements. So couldn't they just teach you the application of the movement in the first place? I'm probably a bit bitter about this one at the moment, since Feng Shou features an unusually large number of the things. Forms for strikes, forms for kicks, forms for evasions of all things. Contrast that to my stint in aikido (which is a bit fiddly and formal, but at least seems to be trying) where evasion practise consisted of actually moving out of the way of things.
  5. There really should be some meaningful interactive practices. I'm not necessarily asking for full on, heavy contact sparring at all times, because I know not everyone would want to be on the receiving end of it, but can we at least try for something that teaches us about paying attention to the other person, about distance and timing and so forth? And no, something where the merest flick of the fingers counts as a hit doesn't count.
  6. People do not attack the way you have taught them to. It should be obvious that, as useful as Feng Shou's lunging palm strike to the jaw can be no one else attacks like that. Training to defend against it teaches you to stop an attack no one uses. You would be amazed at how many supposed experts on fighting don't know that the most common attack in the UK (and these things do vary by place) consists of a grab with one hand and then repeated hooking punches with the dominant hand. It also happens to be a common approach for amateur knife users. So shouldn't you be training to stop it?
  7. Talking of which, I get really angry with the way some people approach weapons work. Get this wrong, and you don't just get your students bruised. Yet we still see stilted and unrealistic attacks, fiddly defences, and an approach that will get people hurt. I have had to take blades off people (thankfully idiots who didn't know what they were doing) twice, so I take this stuff seriously. I'd just like others to, occasionally. The HEMAS (that's historical european martial arts societies) lads locally don't claim to be teaching super efficient modern techniques, so it's depressing that they still teach more effective stuff than a lot of the people who do.
Right, I think I've vented now. Sorry about that. Let's just say I won't be going back next week.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

School Daze Blogfest

This is for the back to school daze blogfest, and takes the form of one of those letters schools invariably send out at the start of term.

The Head
St Mungo’s School For Aspiring Evildoers
The Old Dungeon Complex
The Plain of Infinite Desolation

Dear Parents, Guardians, and Things,

The start of the school year is upon us once again, and I would like to welcome our newest intake of young overlords and witch-queens in training to our school. Please watch out for the pit traps by the entrance. The new year invariably brings challenges (the food in the canteen springs to mind), and to make your spawn’s stay here as pleasantly unpleasant as possible, I would like to draw all parents’ attention to the following:

1. School fees must be paid promptly by the start of term. Cheques, bankers’ draughts and large chests full of gold are all acceptable. Treasure maps with Xs on are not. Those children requiring financial assistance from the school will be provided with directions to suitable targets to rob and extort.
2. Children should have the correct uniform, consisting of shirt, trousers, school tie, and spiked black armour. Those with extra appendages should see the school tailor on arrival. Sun dresses, pastel colours and anything pink will be confiscated.
3. As much as we appreciate enthusiasm, please do not allow your child to bring weapons, minions, or artefacts of power with them. Where the lessons require pointy objects and minions to swing them at, they will be provided.
4. Those parents wishing their children to bring along dragons or other creatures should be aware of the stabling and tack fees (see overleaf). The school takes no responsibility for attacks by knights, hobbit incursions, or the banishment of Things from this plane. Or for anything else, come to that.
5. By sending your child to the school, you are agreeing that they will abide by our code of dishonour, as well as the school’s disciplinary policy. No kindness, sharing, or general cuddliness will be tolerated on school property. Those found guilty of offences against this code may find themselves expelled (from this reality, into the Pit of Truly Awful Things)
6. Finally, the school would like to say hello to some new teachers, so a big welcome to our new extraplanar language tutor Miss Xrzlthal (whose name we hope to be able to pronounce by the end of term) and to Prof. Midnight, on loan from the Supervillain Institute. Congratulations go to Madam Vile on her retirement, and commiserations to Mr Snarg, who has been slain by heroes over the summer. Still, we look forward to having him back as a substitute, just as soon as the necromancy tutors get round to it.

All in all, I wish everyone a productively evil year.


The Head

P.S. If no one hands in my body this term, I will be very upset.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Monsters with bite.

Vampires and werewolves, werewolves and vampires. Endlessly. To celebrate the zombie sofa, and because I half hope that someone will be sufficiently silly to take one of these ideas and run with it, some slightly less common monsters:

  1. The Were-Accountant. Perfectly happy twenty odd days of the month, but spends the four around the full moon advising on offshore tax options. (I use this one in a couple of things.)
  2. Things. My favourite. The capital letter is important.
  3. The Mer-Fish. Half fish. Half... um fish.
  4. Vampire penguins. After all, they do look like they're wearing evening dress at all hours.
  5. Those gremlins that quite clearly sit on traffic lights waiting for me to arrive, before changing them to red.
  6. The actor's ghost. As per normal ghosts, but only allowed to show up at feasts, accusations of murder and drinking contests. May inspire pointless soliloquies.

Friday, 10 September 2010

The Shambling Hordes

I've just had one of my zombie sofa stories accepted for someone's october (halloween) issue, so be prepared for tales of undead furniture in just a few short weeks. I would write more, but I have a teen vampire romance thing to finish.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The New Fencing Season

My fencing club started for the year last week after taking August off. Some thoughts for the coming season, then.

  1. A sensible sort of goal for the season seems to be the acquisition of some ranking points, so watch out for curses of disappointment should Sheffield go the same way this year as last, when I came out a good ten places lower than two chaps I can beat for fun.
  2. Assuming a similar standard and turnout, I would also quite like to go that extra step in the Yorkshires this year and take a podium place. Of course, this very much depends on which people turn up.
  3. Which brings me to a couple of things I need to change this year. One is on the mental side of things, where my old mental blocks regarding 'serious' fencing seem to be back. This has gotten so bad that it even crops up fencing my friends. At the moment, it seems like the moment I'm in a scored bout, I'm in trouble.
  4. Part of this may be that I am making the mistake of trying to fence properly. In a straight sabre bout of attacks with plenty of feints, defence through distance, and presidents who aren't very precise, I will come off second best. I do a small number of quite odd things (like countertime, where you spend your time drawing out the riposte where you want it so that you can parry and riposte in turn) rather well, and though they aren't really the most efficient sabre game plan, it may be that they offer me better odds than trying to beat people at their own game.
  5. One slight difficulty this year may be the lack of high quality training partners. My usual opponent of choice has gone and got a life, or at least a job elsewhere. Now, while our club can boast one guy who is going to the commonwealth championships, it isn't in the right weapon, the really good guy who has just moved back to the area is only here until he finishes some research, and may be wandering over to Sheffield anyway, and most of our older sabreurs still fleche. The upshot may be that I have to spend some time in The Club I Don't Get On With, probably biting back the urge to hit people harder than I should.
I've just remembered why I don't write much about the fencing these days. I tend to whinge.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010


I took second place in the fairy tale blogfest, so a big thank you to everyone who voted for me, and congratulations to Aspiring_X, who wrote a very enjoyable post-apocalyptic pinnochio for first place.

Special thanks must go to Emily for running such an enjoyable blogfest.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Last Chance

To anyone who has yet to read the short and wonderful fairy tales in stepping into fantasy's contest, what are you waiting for? Today is the last day to vote, and with three people currently tied for second place, they all need your votes.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

The Other Stuff I Do

For anyone with an interest in medieval history, Beverley, Ripon, Southwell, York, or simply minster churches, it seems that the University of Hull has chosen to make my completed thesis freely available online over here.

Of course, this now means that any rework has to be rather more substantive than previously, to avoid simple repetition of something already available.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

You've turned him into what?

Further to my comments on frogs, below, a list of alternative things to turn that pesky handsome prince into:

  1. An expert on frogs.
  2. A small potted plant.
  3. A piece of office equipment (cf Tom Holt's photocopier and long stapler in the Portable Door series)
  4. An accountant.
  5. A bird (Actually almost as traditional as the frogs)
  6. A Princess
  7. A handmirror (allowing all sorts of magic mirror moments)
  8. A commoner
  9. A packet of organic biscuits with a note about achitecture attached (this joke may only work for UK readers)
  10. Whichever fairytale animal happens to parody the story- pigs, wolves, and occasional swans are all fairly common.
  11. A hard-boiled detective in a trench coat (or other wildly inappropriate cross-genre character. Probably only temporary)
  12. A wicked witch. Who can then turn the original into a handsome prince.
  13. A cruet set
  14. A fluffy kitten (particularly appropriate for manly/dumb jock type princes)
  15. A handsome prince who happens to look almost identical (no, this is not a failure. This is just the triumph of technical ability over common sense)
  16. A hatstand
  17. Seven smaller princes who must be collected up to restore them.
  18. An extra shadow.
  19. A character in a largely unperformed play
  20. Or, if you really want to, a frog.

Urban Fantasy? What Urban Fantasy?

Well, that settles it. My royalties on the two novels came in today, and it seems that the readers agree with me that I am a comic fantasy writer rather than an urban fantasy one. It's unfortunate, but something to learn from. As such, the third installment in the series, which I not only considered, but actually began (faeries, Tina's memory, and extended trips to Cornwall), will now not be happening. I think we'd all rather I put the effort into things that might get a laugh.

Or into other things entirely. For some reason, I'm still hesitating about reworking my PhD, perhaps because I suspect it will take a total rewrite to get it publishable. Or maybe because I suspect that particular brand of convoluted academia-ese is hard to read. Surely, the idea of serious history that is also readable isn't too much to cope with?