Before I start writing most mornings I listen to BBC Radio 4 and read a (usually yesterday’s) newspaper. That normally warms me up for writing, with only the occasional bout of shouting at the radio and banging my head on the table. Sometimes this process provokes ideas for stories or scenes for inclusion in pieces I am writing. Occasionally I come across items that make me wonder where the world I thought I lived in went to. Sometimes these are so huge that they defy rational encapsulation. I still cannot understand, believe or rationalise the motives behind the vote to leave the EU. Others are not as all encompassing, but of equal enormity.

Stanislaw Skupian was recently convicted of three thefts and sentenced to three weeks prison for them (a strangely pointless period I would have thought – messing up the system and his life with no obvious corrective effect in a throwback to 19th century moral attitudes rather than any concept of what the justice system is trying to achieve). How he was convicted of theft is unclear as the items appear to have been discarded stationery and a lost pass. However, let that be a matter between the magistrates and the unfortunate man’s legal representatives.

But much worse apparently according to Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court, was the fact he had jogged in the last three miles of a road race. For the ‘crime’ of picking up a discarded number on the road, 300 metres from the end of the race, and crossing the line he was gaoled for 13 weeks, 4.3 times the sentence for the three thefts.

As a display of the idiocy surrounding ‘sport’ and the law in our society it is hard to beat.

Of course the ‘race’ was the London Marathon and the charge was fraud – although bar the crappy participants medal it is hard to see what benefit he obtained, and the medal is worth how many pennies? I suppose at the most it could be worth the £39 ballot fee paid to enter, but frankly I doubt it, as that fee covers a lot of other things that had already been consumed at the point Mr Skupian entered the scene.

Now the London Marathon is a ‘national treasure’ and I understand some people take it inordinately seriously. It’s a ‘serious’ road race with a massive ‘fun run’ attached. I understand that many of the less serious ‘athletes’ in this latter event dress up and take the opportunity of their self punishment to raise money for charity. I won’t comment further on this; charity and its place in a modern society is another discussion.

Bu it sounds like the ‘fun’ element of running has no place in this case. Skupian joined in, without a numbered bib, about three miles out (isn’t part of the idea to enthuse people to join in with exercise?). Now the rules say no-one is allowed to finish without an official number and the owner of one bib lost his, and was hoiked out of the race by ‘fun loving’ officials. He had lost his number c300metres from the finish. Mr Skrupian, approaching the point where he too would have been evicted from the race without a number, found the lost number on the road and put it on, finished the race and was chucked a medal.

The fun decidedly stopped there.

He was arrested, charged and prosecuted for fraud.

To do that to someone who on the spur of the moment joined in, picked up a lost number and received no pecuniary advantage worth the name, is more than strange. It is perverse, unjustified and brings the event into disrepute, but more importantly rips up the social contract between the law and the governed and, one would hope, opens the law up to total ridicule.

This is one of the grossest miscarriages of justice and I wonder if the attitude of those pursuing this to the bitter end would have been the same if the ‘perpetrator’ had been Mr S Smith, jovial English jack the lad, having a ‘larf’ and not someone with a distinctly un-English sounding name who has been resident here for only eleven years? I am sure justice would have been blind.


CARDIFF BOY by Bernard John

Yesterday saw me in a rather fetching, if slightly tighter than I remember, jacket prancing about in front of a small audience, getting in the way of a proper poet at his book launch ‘Somewhere in South Wales’ (okay Caldicot).

Bernard John read from his new book ‘Cardiff Boy’, a collection of his poems about and inspired by his childhood in Cardiff and his family’s roots. I can wholeheartedly recommend getting, and reading, his volume. I say ‘and reading’ because I have acquired many books at launches and  ‘events’ as a goodwill gesture and read, perhaps, a token number of words from many of them before they slide backwards on my shelves never to be seen again. This is not one of those volumes. I have read most of it, will finish it with alacrity and revisit it many times.

Bernard read selections from his book at the launch in two tranches and both inspired me to rush home after the event and spend the evening reading more from the book. Difficult at the best of times to carve out such a space, but in the circumstances, it required even more of an effort of will as the carefully constructed order of the launch day disintegrated in the face of a family car crash (literally – no-one hurt thank goodness) and myriad minor examples of the entropy of life. Relative calm eventually restored, I treated myself to a quiet period of contemplation and solace in Bernard’s words.

Bernard has had a fascinating life and some of the inspirations for that are revealed in this volume. Growing up in Cardiff immediately after the war, his Cardiff was not the bright reconstructed persona of Cool Cymru (where did that go?) and gentrified docklands. His was the harder world of brick and stone terraces and steel works, rail yards and coal with the ribbon of the Taff flowing through it and the grassy strip alongside it. It obviously gave him character and his twinkling smile must have given much joy to Cardiff in return.

I helped the publisher, Carys Books, out at the launch and managed a little by-play with Bernard about his background and life as an introduction to proceedings. It was a pleasure and a privilege to be involved in the day as both Bernard and Sam Knight, the boss of Carys Books have been inspirational in various ways.

Sorry you missed the launch, but you can still be part of the experience.

Bernard’s book is available at bookshops or direct from Carys books new website


More Dopes Report on Sport

Poor Sir Bradley Wiggins. Guilty of having asthma. It’s tough, but he’ll have to be executed. Presumably this will be the logical outcome of the insane witch hunt being stirred up by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee report on doping. It trots out the usual ill thought out morass of prejudice, mud slinging and refutation of natural justice that typifies the ‘anti-doping’ crusade.

The DCMS said it is “not in a position” to state what was in the ‘jiffy bag’ delivered to Bradley Wiggins at the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine, but went on to say there was no “reliable evidence” to back up Team Sky’s claim the medical package contained a legal decongestant.

So because this is a Select Committee report under Parliamentary Privilege it is able to slander a knight of the realm, ignore the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and indulge in the sort of moronic tabloid mudslinging that other Select Committees have rightly castigated.

This is jumping on a bandwagon, for what PR purposes one can only guess at, of a high order.

Athletes are apparently now officially guilty until they can prove themselves innocent. An almost impossible task and an inversion of the normal presumptions of English Law.

And it gets worse.

Now strident voices are calling for ‘doping’ to be made a criminal offence. The history of the criminalisation of heroin, cannabis, cocaine etc should give legislators pause for thought unless they actually want to encourage organised crime further into the sporting world. The situation with betting gangs is bad enough, now we are planning on making it worth the while of illegal drug gangs getting involved in providing cold medication to athletes.

The whole panoply of WADA and its national sub groups including UKAD, are forcing the pace on building their regulatory empire. We currently have the laughable situation where if you take a decongestant like pseudoephedrine, found in cold remedies, before playing rugby at minor club level, you can get banned. Next you will have a criminal record for taking a cold cure.

It’s time to take a step back and look at what is being peddled by a group of people who have turned kids’ games into a money spinning milch cow They are terrified the public will stop anteing up the cash if their heroes are tainted by accusations of ‘doping’. So rather than take a sensible pragmatic approach, they believe any bit of research that suggests a substance may confer a benefit, however miniscule, in sporting performance and ban it. The list of banned substances is huge with catch all clauses and it alters each year, with compounds coming on and off the list of prohibited substances as new research replaces old.

And who would bother being an elite athlete with the intrusion of continual surveillance and having to say where you will be every hour of every day for a year in advance?

It’s time to say it’s only a game. Sporting heroes are not moral role models, They are people who practice kicking a ball more accurately, throwing a javelin further or pedalling a bicycle faster than other people. None of those things make you a moral exemplar. If people want to invest so much in watching people do these things, fine. Shouldn’t they get the best performance money can buy? You don’t watch athletes run on grass in bare feet do you? The spikes, shoe technology, track science and materials not to mention nutritional science and monitoring are all unnatural aids. Obviously there are limits but we have gone into the weeds of attempting to micromanage sportspeople’s lives to the point where the tail is wagging the dog. Let people play games at school, town and club level for fun and let the elites do whatever they need to without criminalising half of society for having a cold and running a cross country at the same time.


What happened to Pendragon?

Research. That’s what happened to Pendragon.

That, modern internet stupidity and a crisis of confidence about being misread happened that’s what.

Plus real life etc – That Dickens bloke must have been quite obsessive (the deadline thing explains some of the gibberish he wrote anyway!)

Seriously though, I had this idea for the Illuminati to be a major player in what was going on in my story. Not just the Bavarian originated offshoot of the Enlightenment but the conspiracy theorists beloved super secret organisation that makes the Freemasons, Knights Templar and the Bilderberg groups look like the boy scouts.

So far so ordinary.

I studied a bit about the original Illuminati while doing a course on European Humanities and the Enlightenment. They seemed interesting enough, persecuted in their time and sufficiently obscure to make a great sinister organisation behind the workings of magic in Wales and the world.

What I hadn’t taken into consideration was how the right wing loons on the internet had interpreted this stuff. The Illuminati (who don’t appear to have actually survived suppression in the late eighteenth century have got tied together with the whole World Zionist conspiracy trash put out by neo Nazi idiots. I was doing a bit of innocent research for how my Illuminati might have survived and thrived in Wales post 1785 (with actual magic of course!) when it became increasingly obvious that despite the truth it was going to be very difficult to separate modern perceptions of the Illuminati as a front for the New World Order as a Jewish conspiracy, from my version which had nothing to do with that at all.

I am still tempted to continue but I have absolutely no desire to be party to fuelling this anti-Semitic tosh. So I stopped.

I am wondering whether to carry on now and flip it so the Illuminati are actually the good guys or to just ignore the general current idiocy regarding conspiracy theories.

On the whole I may for another story on a different tack altogether.

Apologies for baling so spectacularly and not explaining why.


The Chief Executive of Hachette Livre, the world’s third largest publisher, was reported in the Guardian yesterday as saying that ebooks are ‘a stupid product’, that is unlikely to see further growth.

Now I have a lot of time for Hachette, they were the company that stood up to the mighty Amazon after all, and stopped the decline of content reward to zero. They refused to cede control of pricing to Amazon and thus put a temporary dent in the onward march of a potential monopolist retail giant (after all Capitalism requires competition to thrive right?).

However I am not entirely sure Arnaud Nourry has got it quite right this time. Don’t get me wrong, the ebook market has plateaued and is if anything on a downward (a slight downward) gradient and I can see lots of reasons for that continuing, but Nourry’s reasoning looks a little odd although it contains nuggets of truth.

He reckons that ‘as publishers’ they have not done a great job of going digital, and I think he is probably correct, but his reasoning from there, the details of why growth has stalled is flawed. He thinks the problem lies in lack of imagination and digital know how, hence Hachette’s acquisition of three digital game companies over the last couple of years.

Is he right?

Well the holy grail a while back when video games started making it big, was open ended interactive storylines that went where you wanted them to and each person’s Mutant Ninja Zombie Rabbit IV would be a unique discourse. A truly postmodern retelling with each reading if you will.

It hasn’t worked yet as far as I know. I am not a big video game fan so I cannot say definitively that there are not wonder products that deliver exactly that experience out there, but I think they would have made more of a cultural splash if there were. Call Of Duty Modern Warfare Remastered for example starts and ends at the same place whatever you do inbetween. Indeed there are whole episodes where whatever you choose to do, if you wish to progress you have to fulfil certain plot conditions. This may a stunningly clever philosophical commentary on the inevitability of human action and the false illusion of freedom of will, or it may be a product of lack of processing power and the need to deliver a marketable game where (spoiler alert) the good guys win in the last reel.

Having said that you could go for the 3D, multi path, envisioned view of the ebook, but is it still a book? One of his criticisms of the ebook was ‘The ebook is a stupid product. It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic. There is no creativity, no enhancement, no real digital experience.’

And of course there is the appeal for book lovers. If we want film we’ll watch it. If we want music with our reading we’ll pick it thanks very much (‘no thanks’ generally for me – reading is an immersive experience which occupies all my faculties if it is good enough, I don’t want distractions). I want the author’s vision of the experience, be it action, character development, plot, descriptive power or authorial world view, rather than a computer programmer’s. (I know there are creative developers who direct the story, plot, graphics etc but they are working with technical parameters moderated by experts. The more collaboration involved the more like a camel the thing gets – look at movies/films/TV).

The problems with ebooks that are killing growth are:
Pricing (who wants to go the music route where ‘content providers’, the actual creative raison d’être of the ‘industry,’ are treated as incidental to the process and paid virtually nothing for their efforts and sales?

Ownership. It has dawned on many people that their purchases of books are not purchases. They are rentals, and providers who get pernickety about consumer behaviour have been known to suddenly withdraw access to whole libraries of books. I have paid thousands of pounds for my books and they are mine. I can do what I like with them. Ebooks on the other hand are not yours. And you have them available at the whim of someone else. Not the author, not the publisher in most cases but the retailer. Imagine if a high street retailer’s van pulled up outside your house one morning and said they thought you might be letting other people read your books and they were taking your entire library back?

Sort your marketing model out before you start creating an ebook ‘experience’ that is no longer a book.

There is also the problem of ‘flicking’ back and forth between pages. Generally in fiction not much of a problem – unless you want to try and find where Pierre Bezuhov first comes into the story – but in non-fiction and say rules for games (a personal bugbear of mine) it is a killer –there are ways of sorting it, do it.

He was right however when he said that allowing ebook prices to drop to $2 is going to kill the infrastructure and author’s revenues. Modern supermarket approaches to bookselling have already caused a massive thinning out of the infrastructure of publishing with big houses gobbling up small independent publishers and small bookshops gone. Titles are remaindered before they hit the shelves in a bid to cut perceived losses based on weird pre sale review algorithms and a fire sale mentality.

Ebooks may be a ‘stupid’ product but the problem lies not in the idea of a portable compact reading library but in tech companies interference in marketing models.

A ‘smart’ product may be whizzy and bright and may have geek appeal, but it won’t be a book.

B****y Hell That was fast!

I was writing a bit of whimsy, gawd ‘elp us! when my email flashed an incoming note from a publisher. I was a bit surprised because I wasn’t expecting anything at the moment. There is a piece with an American publisher which allegedly is still being considered for publication but which I expect is propping up a wobbly desk somewhere and I would be (pleasantly) amazed if I heard any more from them. There is another story out there, but I know that publisher and they aren’t going to reply just yet. Then there was a story I’d submitted to a prestigious SF magazine for consideration, but that was yesterday and I couldn’t imagine anyone being that quick.


I guess some things suck so bad that all you need is a glance.

First up, I’m impressed they even got around to looking at it within 24 hours. That is frankly amazing.
Second I’m distinctly teed off that they can take one look and bin it. I know, I know, and they were quite clear that ‘it wasn’t what they were looking for at the moment’, but let’s face it that sits right up there with ‘ it’s not you it’s me’ in the greater scheme of crappy let downs. I think what we can read from that sequence of events is – reader opened the email and went; ‘Nah fam, s’rubbish innit?’ or the US equivalent.

I’m guessing that given the number I was in the submissions queue and the fact it was c12,000 words long, they didn’t actually read the whole thing before pressing the preformatted get stuffed email button. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful it wasn’t really ‘get stuffed’, my ego is fragile enough, and it is nice not to be left hanging about for months wondering what is going on, but…

It would have been nice if they could have perhaps waited another 24 hours just to preserve the mystique, the glimmer of a possibility that they may have actually read more than the title or first paragraph before going, ‘Jeez, no way!’– bin. I mean I could treasure that 24 hours of hope without fretting and at least buy into the ‘not quite what we are looking for at the moment.’ But less than 24 hours! I mean how long have they actually been working in the States? A morning? That means they probably didn’t even get past the covering letter.

Ah well.

Maybe leave the whimsy about blood doning for the time being, and go and sulk for a bit.