Friday, 29 July 2016

If it Bleeds, it Leads

I was commuting to work yesterday when the driver announced that our train was delayed because someone dropped their phone on the track at Earls Court station.

The London Underground runs pretty much like clockwork until something happens to cause a hiccup to the service.  So now all the trains were held up, and a backlog of passengers were waiting to get on at each station, which meant the tube became packed to bursting point.  This led to more delays, due to the bodies of people pressing against the doors, which stopped them from closing and further delayed my journey.

This of course doesn't make the news: thousands of people delayed getting to work because some numpty drops their phone.  Neither did the suicide/accident on another line, which my boss commuted in to see me on, told me about.  So some news is more newsworthy than other news.  I say this apropos of the recent events in Europe, which are quite frankly appalling.

However, this reminds me of when I did my first degree in Photography & Film Studies, a joint course run by Trent & Derby Polytechnics (now both universities, but this was a long time ago), we did a six-week media studies module to understand reportage.

At the time,  the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was facing down the National Union of Miners led by Arthur Scargill.  Everyday we would read all the newspaper reports of what was happening.  Our mission being to study the slant each paper took in presenting the news (newspapers being a major source of news then, unlike now where they are dying dinosaurs unable to make money).  This is where I learnt that news is coloured to suit the agenda of the paper's owner's (what can I say, I was young and naive and didn't understand this stuff, and this is what an education is for).

Bottom line, it's all about the money.  What sells, what doesn't.  And what sells is not reportage of events per se, but the emotional content of an event targeted at the reader.  Psychology in the service of capitalism, which is why reports of all the terrorist attacks in the Middle-East go largely unreported by mainstream Western news sources.

What has this to do with stories?

I would argue that human beings understand the world through the stories they tell each other, and I would further argue that of all the things that are different between us and the rest of the animal kingdom is our story telling.  Stories of heroes and villains, and my choice of the picture of Ozymandias from Alan Moore's Watchmen is down to the trope of a person so smart they can assimilate and process all of the world's news and come up with a plan to fix humanities problems.

This is escapism, but it can also inspire hope, because hope allows us to carry on and in time move on.  However, this is not a promise of a better tomorrow, only that tomorrow will be different.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Sadness & Distractions

There comes a time when the only way to deal with the horrible things that have happened in the world is to distract oneself with other stuff.  Britain may have voted for Brexit, but that doesn't mean we don't share in grief from acts of terror.  I wish all my French friends well.

As for distraction I have work: both my NHS clinical practice and writing for the Galactic Journey blog.  And then there's archery too.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Nail Your Novel 2

I reviewed Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books & How You Can Draft, Fix & Finish With Confidence by Roz Morris here.  I liked it so much I bought both her other books and I have just finished reading Nail Your Novel: Bring Characters To Life.

Having finished my first novel Bad Dog, which is at a publisher being read, I've been using the space to consolidate my writing given the feedback I have received from my Beta readers of my second novel Strike Dog, where the main thing I took away was that my characters weren't differentiated enough, and even where they were, they were annoying jerks.  Roz Morris has some interesting things to say about both of these problems in this book.

I finished reading her book this morning just in time to received the feedback from my Alpha reader on my third novel Ghost Dog.  Fortunately, having written the first drafts of all three novels in 2013, time really does give one a sense of distance when having to deal with criticism, even very constructive criticism.  So this is me trying to assimilate advice and put it into practice as I work on re-drafting the current versions of both sequels.  As such, I can strongly recommend the Nail Your Novel books to anyone who is struggling to write a novel to a professional standard.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Science For Fiction 2016

I wrote about going to this conference last year.  The conference is run by Dr. David Clements at Imperial College.  I was able to take this week off work and so was able to attend.  So midday Tuesday I toddled off to meet my beloved for lunch before in the green and pleasant quad at Queens Lawn.

On my way there I was accosted outside Gloucester Road tube station by a camera crew from RTT who were interviewing old people about he results of the Referendum for Turkish TV.  I answered that correlation was not causation and just because you can show that everyone who voted leave were older people, without passports etc doesn't mean this is causation.  And that regardless of the outcome we have to live with our neighbours, and it's not worth dying over.  I blamed all three parties for the lack of political leadership.  So, that was my brush with fifteen minutes of fame, which was probably set aside by the attack in Istanbul.

As I write this not only has this week marked the end of an era for Britain, but the end of Boris Johnson's chances to become Prime Minister.  Try saying that in Darth Vader's voice for the full effect, but enough of politics.

Some of the authors who came this year to Science in Fiction.
After lunch with my partner, I went to the first talk of the afternoon, which was called General Relativity – a Beginners Guide by Dr. Toby Wiseman.  It was pretty good, but I would have liked him to have compressed the presentation down and carried on from where he ended, because while having an expert explain both Special and General Relativity is good, looking at where physicists are going next would be more helpful to me as a writer of science fiction.

Then we had a break for tea or coffee and biscuits.

Next was a talk called Observing Gravitation Waves by Dr. Peter Wass, which was all about LIGO: the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.  He described the work and the future launch of LISA, which my partner had some small involvement with the LISA Pathfinder satellite that was testing the concepts that will be used aboard the three satellite space-based observation laboratories.

Finally, to finish the first day's presentations was Dr. Nikolina Nakic's talk on Epigenetics.  I found this a little dry, because a lot of it was down amongst the details rather than giving the big picture overview, which I think would have been more helpful to the lay audience.  Though I could be wrong about this, being biased from knowing a little about epigenetics from my own work in mental health.

Afterwards I went and got Susan from her workshop which is in the basement of the building, and we went off to have a lovely Indian curry at a restaurant.

Wednesday morning I dithered about cycling in with Susan to Imperial College, because it had rained the previous night, and didn't want to have to cycle home if it rained again.  In the end I chose to face my fear of getting wet and felt suitably virtuous from cycling there and back again, because the exercise is good for me.  We did observe that I'm fitter this year than last, because I was less puffed out when I got there.  Archery practice really does increase one's fitness.

The first talk of the day was called New Physics at the LHC by Dr. Dave Collins.  The talk was partly about the discovery of the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider, but also about the data being collected each time the machine is run as the power is ramped up.  What was interesting for me was the new physics part or the implications the standard model of physics: the discovery or confirmation that neutrinos do have mass and the implications for the standard model and super symmetry, and in particular that if the LHC cannot find the particles that String Theory needs then things will get very interesting for physics.  Exciting times.

Then we had a break for coffee and tea

Afterwards we were run through the exciting discoveries in our Solar system in a talk called The Atmosphere of Planets by Dr. Ingo Mueller-Wodarg.  This presentation ranged from the discovery of methane on Mars to Titan with its oceans of methane and atmosphere so thick it would make the smog of Beijing look like a clear summer's day.  In passing mention was made of plumes of Enceladus and other astronomical delights of Saturn's system from the data acquired by the Cassini-Hyugens space mission.

After a most excellent lunchtime buffet came the outstanding presentation of both days when Dr. Tim Evans presented his research Networks – From eBay to Ancient Greece.  I almost don't know where to begin to start describing the range of this presentation that started with simple concepts of data or nodes and the creation of networks and then morphed into how we construct maps to allow us to understand the territories described by information.  My interest in particular was to do with one of my novels where a character is constructing a map of network where the nodes only send packets of information at particular times intervals.  Fascinating stuff that was about connections and truly lived up to the idea of synergy: creating more from the sum of the parts.

During the tea break I had the chance to exchange a few words with Dr. Evans, and he since very graciously emailed me.  There was so much to think about, totally inspirational stuff.

The final talk of the conference and the day was Artificial Intelligence by Dr. Marek Sergot who led an open discussion on the topic.  I enjoyed this, because listening to and asking questions of a world class expert is always good for stimulating story ideas.