Thursday, 30 April 2009


This is just a short note to say that Thing 39, to revisit Japan, will be coming around much sooner than I had originally been thinking. My plan was to go back to Japan next year, after I had had a chance to recover from the mindblowing awesomeness that's going to be my summer in the USA; then last week my friend Dave (also known as noisms, go and read his great role-playing game blog here) sent me an email to let me know that he and his wife are having a traditional ceremony in September.

I ummed and ahhed for a few days; and then after completing my tax bill on Monday (in the UK there is a TV advert which claims "Tax doesn't have to be taxing" - following my tweets on Monday a friend quipped "Tax doesn't have to suck the life out of you and make you want to kill yourself, but it probably will") I looked at what was left from the money I had put aside and thought, "You know what? You only live once."

So yeah! Japan in September! I loved my visit there in the summer of 2006 (some pictures of which you can see on Flickr) in and around Tokyo and Yokohama, but this promises to be something a little bit different than last time. New sights and sounds, and at the same time I want to go back to Kamakura, to the Kinokuniya bookstore, to Harajuku and Akihibara and scorching days wandering around Chigasaki without a single care in the world. Hopefully I'll be able to make time in the trip to do some of those things. And the Studio Ghibli museum, please, fingers crossed...

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains."

I've perused a few parody novels before and found them to be pretty lacklustre thing: someone injecting 'funny names' and abbreviating the sequence of events that was present in the original work, while the reader supposedly chuckles at the antics. Nothing wrong with that per se, everyone's got to earn a living, but not my cup of tea.

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is different, because it quite literally takes Jane Austen's classic as the starting point, complete with love stories, deceptions and characters, and then weaves in the story of an England under threat for half a century from zombies. Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters have been trained in the mysteries of Shaolin, all the better to beat back Satan's armies. They are great warriors, but their heads can still be turned by more than the moan of a 'manky dreadful' and soon we have the familiar story of Messrs Collins, Wickham and Darcy, all familiar and yet all cleverly re-interpreted in this parallel England.

When I heard about the book I laughed out loud, such a simple idea, the title alone could probably have sold many copies even if the story had been badly written. The great delight of it all is just how well it works, the balance that Seth Grahame-Smith achieves in juggling the original storyline and prose and the descriptions of herds of zombies and the fate of poor Miss Lucas.

Finally, a nice 'Easter Egg' at the end are questions for book groups, which start off funny and slightly off-beat (as with the rest of the book) and culminate in this fantastic final question for readers:

"Some scholars believe that the zombies were a last minute addition to the novel, requested by the publisher in a shameless attempt to boost sales. Others argue that the hordes of living dead are integral to Jane Austen's plot and social commentary. What do you think? Can you imagine what this novel might be like without the violent zombie mayhem?"

Wednesday, 29 April 2009


You laughed, so tickled;
High summer, beach, sandcastles,
And me in my scarf.

It's a cold sunshine,
These days without you; you know
That the nights are worse

Departure clock ticks.
My watch was set fast, and I,
I wish you away

Holding my breath in,
I was desperate to know
What your answer was.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Maths Papers

A few days ago it dawned on me that I had completely overlooked one of my 101 things that I had made some progress on, namely thing number 61, to get three papers/preprints from work in my thesis. As it stands my supervisor and I have two papers based on material from my thesis, both of which are available to view online at the arXiv, and you can find links to them here.

One of them is currently being reviewed for a special edition of Topology (which will cover some conference proceedings) and we are still deciding on where to submit the more recent paper, which was loaded on to the arXiv in February I believe. The earlier paper was put up last August! I can't believe that I totally forgot about it.

I might try collecting some thoughts for a preprint on a polynomial time method for calculating polynomials invariants of knots presented as plaits. If that makes any sense to you, please get in touch!

Friday, 24 April 2009

Earth Abides

Earth Abides is one of the books that I read when I think I really started to get into reading, when I purposefully set out to read science fiction and expand my mind. It's tough to explain what I mean by that. I guess up until about the age of 16 or 17 I just read whatever I came across, whatever seemed to take my fancy in the bookshop. It was only after I started reading the science fiction magazine SFX that I began to think, "Maybe there are books out there that I should be looking for."

Around that time a publish (Gollancz I think) started the SF Masterworks imprint, and over the course of about two years I built up a collection from the line which almost fills a bookcase. Earth Abides was one of the first that I got (after I Am Legend and The Stars My Destination, more on them some other time); I'm trying to recall whether I had heard about it in SFX or whether the story just jumped out at me when I read the synopsis on the back, but in any case it was a book that just resonated with me when I read it, and has done every time since that I have re-read it. It is a book that I want to tell everyone about, but which by reading it becomes a book that I wish had been written only for me.

A plague wipes out nearly the entire human race. Isherwood Williams, a graduate student in the middle of nowhere on research survives and begins a trek across America to see the country now that humans are gone. He meets a few survivors and they settle and start a community over the bay from San Francisco, and time moves on. The story is divided into three stages: his life immediately after the plague, two decades after when the community is now over twenty strong, with children and even young grandchildren living there; and then some time much later, when Ish (as he is now known) is an old man, the Last American. All points of the story are written with such care, with such attention to detail, and with such a focus on what might be and how humans would react that it always surprises me when I see on the back cover that it was George R. Stewart's only work of science fiction.

It is certainly among my top twenty favourite books, and possibly makes it into my top ten (there's a thought, when I finish these 101 things I should compile a list of my top twenty books); it is a book that I would recommend without reservation to anyone. It is a book that makes you think about the future, and at the same time makes you realise that what we hold dear today might not be so important in years to come.

'Men go and come, but earth abides.'

USA Trip

Just thought that I would give a quick update on my American road trip plans with my friend David! Organisation for this has been quite difficult at times, as I'm in the UK and David works in the UAE; he came home for a week over the Easter holiday break, and so we sat down for a day to iron out some more details. A bit closer to the time I'll post our proposed itinerary, but what I can say is that we've booked a couple of hotels!

We've got our accommodation for New York sorted, which is a Howard Johnson in New Jersey, but just over the bridge (for the benefit of any UK readers, it looks like Howard Johnson is the equivalent of a Travelodge). This gives us a bit of a saving in terms of price, but also means we are pretty close for getting into the city. We're not picking up our rental car until we get to Washington DC; so far we were planning to take the train - which I'm informed is a really nice way to travel between the two cities but can be pricey. If anyone has any thoughts on train travel please let us know.

We also booked our hotel for Las Vegas, and so we will be staying at Circus Circus for four nights towards the end of July! That is unless I do really well on roulette on the first evening, in which case we may be moving over to the Bellagio or the Wynn Las Vegas! Just kidding, although I am planning to play a little roulette according the system used by James Bond in the novel of Casino Royale...

Checked out Graceland online for when we're in Memphis, and also done a bit of Googling to check motel rates; the most expensive part of the trip really is going to be the car rental and paying for fuel. The pound has taken such an almighty tumble against the dollar since we started planning last August... If only, if only... Oh well. We will cope.

So, plans are moving along, which is all well and good because we are less than two and a half months away from the start of it all!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

One Year On

It's crazy to think it, it really is, but a year ago today is when I started this mad journey of doing 101 things in 1001 days. A year??? Where does the time go? I met a friend on Monday who had been off travelling the world for nine months, and it was amazing to me that it had been that length of time.

So what have I done? Well, as one of my updates yesterday mentioned I've done 14 out of my 101 things. Not bad. Some of the others are being worked on constantly (haiku, flash fiction - although I need to pick up the pace on churning the latter out) and others are being worked on and planned (Flickr, travel plans), but I think that I need to get some more things done before I go away to the USA in a few months time.

In fact, I'm thinking now that I will make it my aim to have completed a total of 20 things on my list by the end of May. What things could I do, what jumps out from the list?

45. Replay and complete Ico.
62. Confirm the number of stacked 4-tangles.
67. Sell five things on eBay.
84. Get my back waxed.
95. Release five books into the wild with BookCrossing.
101. Spend a lazy afternoon in a bookshop/café, drinking tea, reading books and hanging out with friends.

I've made a start on 45 and 62, and got a certain way with both of them. I've also realised that I have totally not kept up to date with letter writing! By the end of May I will try to get back on track with that, so that on average I will have sent one a month. Which is not great if I am honest, I should have kept up with that, but c'est la vie, we learn, we grow, we adapt.

And that's what this 1001 day project is all about. Looking at the list now, I wonder if - in some places - it is a little too ambitious. There are things that I am beginning to think might be impossible to get done within the time left.

(a short animated film? Really???)

By the end of it all though I will have become a different person. I'll be changed. Hopefully I'll have got some good habits!

I'm certain that I'll be ready to start another list of 101 things, or some other great creative project.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


The problem is mine,
I don't trust myself with you.
We dance; I tremble.

Script = Frenzied!

On Sunday the 19th of April 2009, at approximately 1:30pm, I finished the main challenge of Script Frenzy! 100 pages, typed, let loose from several cubic inches of tissue behind my eyes. The idea to switch to several shorter scripts when my original film wasn't working out did wonders for my creativity, really freed me up.

My method of writing out notes for several days in a Moleskine and then sitting down to blitz out an act of script was a good one too I think - for me at least - in order to get a draft out fast and after thinking through what it would look like filmed. What's crazy as well is that my pilot - for a genre show, which, due to the plot and circumstances might be HBO rather than FOX - has a beginning, middle and end, and it feels like I have actually put down some teasers as well, laid out the ends of threads which could be developed if the series was picked up...

...what am I saying??? I wrote a pilot for a TV show in the space of about a week, and I'm already planning the first season's arc! A piece of fun, something to stretch me and provoke me in April, and my mind can't quite stop thinking about where it could go next, the people that the characters could meet, the situations that they could get in.

Being part of a good, supportive group of writers has definitely helped. In particular, our magnificent and marvellous Municipal Liaison Anna, who has been our coordinator and cheerleader and a great one too. And the month's not over yet! Today is the 21st, and there is still over a week to go. I'm taking a few days off from working on scripts in order to think about some other things; however, although I've finished my Script Frenzy challenge, I am not done with Script Frenzy itself! I think I still have a few short scripts in me, and now is as good a time as any to get them out and written. For now though, I am very, very happy to write

19. Complete a Script Frenzy. - done! 19/4/2009


A film I should have seen years and years ago. A film that has a fantastic cast and a fantastic script. A film that still seems fresh today, undiminished by years of misquoted lines and riffs on the themes or scenes.

Bogart is just wonderful: a no-nonsense guy, but from the instant he sees his lost love you begin to see the armour crack, fall away. Even when he learns the circumstances of why she left him in Paris... It's the perfect example of loving someone so much but knowing that you have to do the right thing, that you have no choice but to let them go.

This will be a very short piece, because I just can't find the words to express how great I thought the film was. I'm 28, and I've only just seen Casablanca... What other truly great films have I missed?

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe

In my previous review I said that I could confidently say (having read Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe) that volume four was my favourite of the series. This isn't because volume five is inherently bad or flawed in some way. Once again Scott and Ramona and their friends are flung into a crazy little adventure as more of Ramona's evil exes show up to challenge Scott. The difference this time is that, while Scott is holding his own against the robot minions of the twins, his relationship and social life seem to be drifting away from him.

Knives Chau tells Ramona that Scott cheated on them both (which he technically did way back in volume one). This leads to Scott and Ramona fighting, which seems totally wrong. But then Ramona doesn't seem to be herself really. What's with the glowing head? It's book five and we don't know why that happens?

The band are falling apart since they're not practicing, they're recording; Kim decides to leave; Scott gets drunk! Has the whole world gone mad? The artwork is as great as ever, although for the most part the fights (between Scott and a series of cool looking robots) take place mostly in the background. O'Malley seems to be incapable of putting a foot wrong with the artwork. I don't think the plot of book five is a severe mis-step either, it just seems a bit heavy after the all out brilliance and lightness of book four. But then, I think, in the background of the last few volumes there has been an undertone that Scott has to grow up, that despite the fact that he lives in a world where experience points and boss battles are real things, he also has to face up to the real world, being responsible and taking responsibility in his relationships with others.

Who knows where volume six will take us. The final pages are certainly ominous enough! Although Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe doesn't pack the same emotional high for me that the other books have, it is still a great read. I can't recommend the series highly enough, it's just a joy to read (start at the beginning!) and I'm now slightly sad that there's probably a wait of at least a year for the next book.

Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together

I'm writing my thoughts on Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together with the hindsight of having read the next book in the series as well. With that knowledge I can confidently say that it is by far and away my favourite book in the series. Seeing Scott receive experience points for getting a job (and later for getting his job back) was great. His likening getting a job in the kitchens of a restaurant as "something like a job system in a game" was hilarious. Pulling a sword from his chest after he has levelled up and gained "the power of love" was just magical.

The book is longer than the others so far too, and the extra length really helps the book to flow well. There's plenty of room and time for support characters, and no one is lost along the way. Having Scott actually start to pull his life together - getting a job, saying 'I love you', moving in with Ramona - is a really cool storyline. Expanding on some of the other elements of the world that he lives in (where people can travel through subspace and possess baseball bats which have +1 bonuses against blondes) increases the charm of the whole series. As crazy as it can be at times, no explanation is required, because it all kind of makes sense really.

After reading this I had a big silly smile on my face - even bigger than after I read the first book for the first time - and I was desperate to have a life where text appears in midair to tell me that I've levelled up or received experience points. This book has a +10 bonus against all other forms of literature.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Script Frenzy Check-In

53 pages in total. Not bad. But have had those 53 pages since last Friday, and not written a single page since. However, that's not to say I've not been busy. I guess my approach to Script Frenzy has changed a little to what I thought it would be, and may be quite different from how other people in my region are doing it.

Since, in my previous post, I decided that I was going to abandon the thing that I had started writing in favour of doing something - or some things - that I actually liked, I have written three short scripts, all a bit different, and written notes on several other projects that I might try at some point soon. But in writing all these notes I got to thinking about a few short stories I've written - pieces of flash fiction - and trying to decide if I wanted to adapt one or more of those as part of Script Frenzy. In the end I decided I would leave them as they are for now, but instead I would try my hand at writing a pilot for an American style genre show.

I've spent the weekend expanding on my notes for that, trying to figure out who my characters and writing at least half a page for each of them in my Moleskine, as well as a little back story for where things take place. I've watched several episodes of Buffy to get a feel for where the story beats fall, and also how long the parts are. I'm going for a 42 minute episode, so hoping to get things worked out as neatly as possible to the genre show formula while at the same time writing something new and fresh.

So tomorrow I sit down and will try to hammer out the first couple of acts! I might get to 100 pages as a result of the pilot, but will still be using the Moleskine to get ideas down, and if possible my plan is to get 100 pages of things on top of the aborted 32 that was my beginning of a film script.

Really loving doing Script Frenzy again. Great to be part of a good group of people doing it!

More soon.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

A Frenzied State!

So. Script Frenzy. 32 pages after seven days. Not bad.

What is bad? My script. And not just in some aesthetic sense - which it is - but in my own personal enjoyment. I hate it. I got to 24 pages and realised that it was just ridiculous, and wasn't going to go anywhere. I decided to take an out, thought about something that had happened in an early scene which might give me an escape clause and I started re-writing reality.

All of a sudden, who is this guy? When is this happening? Who are those other people?

Except... After eight pages I hated that. It was pointless. I had ideas, but as soon as they started getting put down I realised that it was just drivel.

I came close to hitting the big DELETE button. Anna and Sarah talked me down from the ledge. I thought about stuff a bit last night; now decided that I am going to just write scripts for short films, little vignettes, and just keep writing and writing them until I'm over the 100 pages! I haven't deleted the 32 pages I've already done, because Anna and Sarah were right, that's something I've achieved during Script Frenzy. However, at the moment I am hoping that I can get 100 pages of these short scripts between now and the end of the month.

So. Things are not as I imagined they would be a week ago (and that applies to many more things than Script Frenzy), but maybe that's not a bad thing in terms of creativity.

Classic Film: Tron

I found it quite amazing the number of people who expressed astonishment when I told them that I had never seen Tron. Of course, I was familiar with the light cycle sequence - who isn't? - but I had no real idea of what it was all about. Programs, some guy getting scanned somehow into a computer, lots of neon...

I had no idea that there was such a great film behind all that. OK, sure, some of the ideas about what computers can do is a bit out there, but then this is a piece of science fiction. Positing a belief structure for programs is a small point in the film, but actually it's a genius idea: knowing "who" you were made by, which User is responsible for you, is a fantastic little idea and probably underplayed too much in the film.

The story is quite simple and neat, but then in some ways one can think that it's amazing the story is as coherent as it is - unlike many special effects driven films today there actually is a story that isn't just gluing all the set pieces together. The special effects themselves still stand up I think, they're a bit rough around the edges perhaps, but the design - especially of the characters themselves - is superb and the film feels a bit too short really; I really want to spend some more time getting to know these programs and Users!

Here's hoping that Tron 2.0 or whatever it will end up being called does justice to a film that is a little gem.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Entering the Frenzy

Things are going well I think. Am trying to keep the script as light on detail as possible, but I can see some of the details in my head, and want to get them down on paper. I don't want to jinx things (either by calling down the Inner Editor or Writer's Block) but I've had a good session this morning when I started to write.

I got my opening sequence, which I think was needed in order to set up where the protagonist had come from. Also I thought - even though audiences would see trailers for this and know where it was going to end up - it would be nice to have a bit of a reversal. I love how Psycho and From Dusk Till Dawn set you up to thinking that they are very different films to what they actually are. Or how at the start of Terminator 2 you don't know for certain who is a good guy (well, I guess that's only true if you have no idea at all about the plot and haven't seen the trailers). I didn't want to have a huge lead up to the change over, and I wanted to keep it moving along a fair old lick if I could.

That might change. I want it to be a bit noirish as well. Space opera noirish.

Times like these that I wish I could draw so you could see some of these characters...

Have first write in this evening; still umming and ahhing over taking the laptop. I'll definitely get pages done, but perhaps it will be better if I just take paper and plot out the broad strokes of where it is going.

I had hoped to wrap up the opening in about four pages. Have gone slightly more than that, but maybe the credits sequence can be wrapped up quickly with a minimum of description to show what's going on. By page 12 Jacob needs to meet Ares, and know why he is there.

Page 13 is the reveal of the location for the rest of the film, a special effect shot that I want to have the same resonance as the opening of the first Star Wars film.

By this point you might be thinking that I am losing the plot a bit myself. I just don't see any point in not aiming for the stars with it!

Anyways, back to it I think!