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#should be writing

23 May, 2016 (19:47) | Writing | By: Ian Burdon

The story that was accepted by Fox Spirit earlier this year was originally written, in first draft at least, in summer 2014. It went through several revisions before I submitted it, but it is a two-year-old story.

In the interim I have written a series of 11 interlinked stories that, cumulatively, come to 105,000 words. My first readers like them and, after a revision process, so do I. Anyway, they are now with an editor for assessment prior to me thinking about what to do next with them.

I didn’t start out to write stories in what is essentially a horror genre, but that’s what came out, at least for the most part, on one way of looking at them. Having said that, I haven’t gone out of my way to adopt or follow any genre tropes, and when I’ve spotted them I’ve either deleted them or tried to subvert them. To the extent that “influences” are consciously invoked as part of the writing process, mine are Muriel Spark and George Mackay Brown, with side orders of Njall’s Saga, Dorothy Dunnett, Christopher Priest, M John Harrison, and a half-remembered Len Deighton novel. Not that anyone would see the influence, that’s not how it works.

But there are also elements from my time on the Childrens’ panel in Lothian Region in the early nineties, and my reading of 17th century criminal cases in Scotland, especially witch trials.

So now I’m wondering what’s next. I have three things in notebooks at various stages of development, all novels (I think): one is a direct follow on to the stories I’ve just finished; the second is a strange mash-up of Muriel Spark and Sandy McCall Smith set in post-WW2 Edinburgh; the third is something mixing some of what I did in my Honours year in my first degree with the Umberto Eco of Foucault’s Pendulum.

At present the follow-on volume is most likely, in part because the other two will require more research than I currently have time to do. In any event, they should keep me out of mischief for a while.

Drive-by Posting

7 May, 2016 (19:42) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

I’ve been in Spain for most of the week. Alas it was work not play, but a change is as good as a rest and all that.

Two good things came out of the trip:

  • I read Edna O’Brien’s A Pagan Place which I loved.
  • I got home to find I live in a constituency that no longer has an SNP MSP and to a Parliament in which the SNP no longer have a clear majority. I would have preferred it if the main opposition was not the Conservatives, but I’ll take the rough with the smooth.

Plus ca change

17 April, 2016 (23:56) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

In 1970s East Kilbride town centre was a pub called The Tower. It later became “My Father’s Moustache” (I know) and is now, I believe, once again The Tower.

Anyway, The Tower was the place to go for live music which, in the late seventies, was always heavy music (not Metal: Metal hadn’t been invented yet). On a Saturday a band would usually play a lunchtime and an evening show upstairs, and the sets would mix covers and self-penned stuff. The standard was generally pretty high and often exceptional.

One of the remarkable things about it was that anything could be bought and sold in there and we all knew it, whether we took part or not. This was usually under the noses of the local Drug Squad who were always recognisable because they were the only ones who looked like hippies; everyone else looked like bikers.

The reason I bring this up is because I went to see Wilko Johnson the other night and was mightily impressed by the support act, Joanne Shaw Taylor. For some reason I found myself reminded of Saturdays in the Tower. But with two notable differences. Firstly, the lead vocalist and guitarist in those days would not have been a woman; secondly, she is better than any of them were.

This is Joanne:

Blocking the Night Away

3 April, 2016 (20:17) | Rants | By: Ian Burdon

I’ve been hanging around the internet for a long time. I first went online in the Computer Lab at the Law Faculty in Edinburgh University. The experience was mostly based on pinging text around, and email was Pegasus I think. Around the same time, roughly 1991 to 1993, the Lab first started experimenting with Gopher and Mosaic.

National Geographic turns you away

National Geographic turns you away

Back then, the notion of netiquette was important and was, for the most part, observed, particularly in early mail lists and on Usenet. I remember when I encountered my first real troll, back when troll had real meaning as someone who went out of their way to antagonise other participants. The highest achievement of the successful troll was to provoke a flame war, the most virulent of which destroyed lists entirely. (Yeah, I know, what a fogey I am, getting nostalgic: ee lad, I remember when trolls were trolls, not like today, you lot ‘ave it easy, don’t know you’re born…)

One of the important things about those early days was that advertising on the internet was frowned on, and universally derided as spam. The world has changed, of course, and perhaps it is only oldies like me, who absorbed netiquette by osmosis and trial and error, who still have a visceral detestation of advertising on the internet. Are we spitting into the wind? Yes; but it is important, like cursive handwriting and tolerably good grammar.

These days, advertising is ubiquitous and all-pervasive. Many, if not most, commercial models seem to be built on advertising revenue, and freedom to advertise in as obtrusive a manner as possible is assumed to be an entitlement. However, as a consequence, consumers and end-users have taken to adopting adblocking add-ons to their browsers, and this is causing problems, especially for websites that suck on the advertisers’ tit.

TTFO

TTFO

In response, sites have started to identify users using adblockers and stopping them viewing content entirely. I got the message shown in the pic on the Guardian website a couple of days ago, though it seems to have been an experiment as I haven’t had it since. And, before anyone accuses me of trying to access content for free, I do still buy the newspaper, though admittedly not as much as I used to. I also have assorted tools in place to try and stop tracking, and routinely refuse cookies unless I specifically want them for site recognition, etc.

So I was interested to read THIS and the link through to THIS.

They seem to me pretty much to nail it. Although I dislike advertising in principle, the reality is that you have to be pragmatic. And it isn’t as if paper copies of papers and magazines did not carry advertising. The difference is that online ads aren’t like the old static ads that just sit there on the page: they sing and dance and shout and scream, pop-up and pop-under and block access to content, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. And they presume to follow you around, working out what you like so that they can, wait for it, make the ads “more relevant”. What was that I was saying about entitlement issues?  The notion that I might want to see as few ads as possible is not one of the relevant considerations.

It isn’t just online either. I watch little TV, but when I do I keep the remote handy to mute the sound if the channel I’m watching carries ads. I suspect the growth of HBO and Netflix, aside from quality content and innovation in presentation, has a lot to do with the absence of ads there too.

Part of the issue here is that we haven’t adjusted to the implications of the always-on, always-connected world. I don’t know how content providers are going to address the issue, but I’m pretty sure that it won’t be through the extension of the post-war advertising paradigm.

ADDED:- I reminded myself that back in 2008 I wrote:

Business models driven by advertising will likely fall in the face of increased awareness and use of advertisement blocking functionality as add ons to or integral parts of internet browsers.

It just took a bit longer than I expected.

Easter

27 March, 2016 (21:03) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

An old college contemporary of mine, now a vicar, posted a sermon on his blog earlier which set me thinking. This is NOT a direct reply to Tony, just some thoughts occasioned by reading his words, which concerned the impact of the short ministry of Jesus compared to that of longer lived classical philosophers.

  • Our knowledge of Jesus and his teaching comes from the canonical New Testament, and thus contains assumptions about canonicity and authenticity of those documents as distinct from the Apocrypha.
  • There is a problem with isolating the words of Jesus as distinct from words attributed to Jesus.
  • We don’t know what Jesus was doing prior to the reported period of his ministry, or who he was associating with.
  • Even putting the best possible gloss on the sources and assuming some of Jesus’s original words have survived, the development of Christian thought from the earliest times has been influenced by other ideas in the societies of the time. This is evident even in the New Testament and the doctrinal positions adopted by Paul, a gentile convert, as distinct from the authors of the gospels, particularly John, and the Letter to the Hebrews, Let alone the bad trip of Revelations. Within the Gospels themselves we already see motifs known from other traditions cropping up–such as the Virgin Birth–and stories being presented in a way that consciously links to Old Testament sources. The New Testament itself is a collection of documents that adopt ideological and philosophical positions and that have been selected to be canonical. They bear no necessary relationship to what Jesus of Nazareth thought (and I am assuming that he existed).
  • There clearly is influence from Manicheanism (especially via St. Augustine), Gnosticism, Roman cultic and liturgical practices, and African and Asian philosophies as Christian thought develops.
  • Likewise an influence of classical philosophy via, for example, Aquinas, and Arabic thought via Averos, before we even get to the reformed tradition.
  • And Christian thought went through innumerable battles against so-called heresies and still remains divided: who can say what the relationship is between the various christian traditions and the thoughts and words of Jesus?

…and so on. And I haven’t mentioned the dating of Easter itself in the Western tradition, which was not a value-free choice (see Bede’s Ecclesiastical History regarding the Synod of Whitby, and get ready to celebrate Easter again in the Eastern tradition in about five weeks time.)

It also occurs to me that the active religious life of Muhammad (to the extent that we know about it) was relatively short, and yet his impact has been at least as great as that of Jesus if we take off our Western spectacles.

Thus, what is the impact of Jesus, as opposed to the impact of the malleable thing that is Christian thought?

Transferred From Time Into Eternity

12 March, 2016 (23:06) | Writing | By: Ian Burdon

I should be writing; instead I got dragged into a research vortex looking at 19th century Scottish Broadside accounts of executions (find them here).

I should be writing

I should be writing

These have a morbid fascination, but also provide insight and detail into social attitudes and expectations, especially about the expectation that the condemned will exhibit a dignified mien on the scaffold. And the descriptions, which at first seem precise in a way that is alien to us now, also fall into clichéd turns of phrase to describe the moment of death of the accused:”launched into eternity” is frequent, although a copywriter excelled himself with “closed her eyes on sublunary objects.”

It is also clear that some hangmen were more skilled than others. As throwing the victims from a ladder gave way to a scaffold with a mechanical drop, it took a while for the skills to be developed to ensure a quick death. Some of the descriptions make it clear that not all of the condemned died quickly on the end of the rope, but struggled and convulsed until “the world closed upon the wretched man forever.”

One poor woman, Margaret Myles, executed in 1702 for incest with her brother (David, also executed) is excoriated because she “dyed obdurately and obstinately and gave little or no satisfaction to the spectators.” Good for her, I thought.

The difficulty with getting lost in the 19th century accounts is that my story is set in the 17th century.

The problem with 17th century, and early 18th century, accounts, is that they retain the capacity to cause upset when read, particularly the cases of Hellen Marishal (aged 19) and Jannet Shank, executed in 1720 and 1711 respectively, both in the Grass Mercat in Edinburgh. In both of these cases, I found myself oddly pleased to have read the accounts, not because they’re in any way pleasurable, but because by reading them these poor women are, in a small way, still remembered after 300 years.

Into the Unknown

11 March, 2016 (20:41) | Dead Water, Writing | By: Ian Burdon

Remember I mentioned I’d submitted a short story to a call for “Respectable Horror”? The story was accepted.

More here.

I’m really quite pleased about this :-)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I should be writing…

There’s Nothing in the Rules About Gender

8 February, 2016 (19:51) | Dead Water | By: Ian Burdon

Another Sense8 post. This one, further down, has spoilers. Don’t say you want warned.

(edited slightly post-posting after comments on Facebook)

Over the weekend I indulged in another binge re-watch of all 12 episodes, but this time I had a notebook with me. I probably missed a lot: the layerings between episodes and the parallels between the characters’ lives are many. I’m not going to type all my notes here, but will say that there is a lot of information and a fair sprinkling of meta-humour in the early episodes that passed me by on first (and second :-) ) casual viewing. For example, I didn’t notice that when we meet Lito he is in a telenovella called “Love Has No Boundaries”; I hadn’t noticed that Lito’s director tells him (episode 3) exactly what JMS and the Wachowskis are doing:

The audience doesn’t know; the audience is with you. When you know, they know.

See also the title of this post (from episode 3).

I hadn’t noticed that both Lito and Hernando, and Nomi and Amanita have their first kisses in bathrooms (respectively the Diego Rivera Museum and the Lexington.) I hadn’t noticed how Wolfgang and Felix’s negotiations with Abraham in Berlin parallel Capheus and Jela’s negotiation with Mr. Fuck Off in Nairobi. I loved Nomi and Aminita’s shared lollipop (episode 7). I hadn’t noticed that in the final episode, when Kala visits the dispensary in Iceland, she is still in tears following what she saw Wolfgang do. Props to Tina Desai.

I did notice, that Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Number 5, central to episode 10, is what the blind busker is playing in episode 3 when Riley gives him all of Nyx’s cash

Anyway: I have too long a list of notes of parallels. I also have Dory Previn’s “Mr. Whisper” as an earworm in my head, though it isn’t in the show.

So, I’ve made a note below of 26 questions/thoughts I have for forthcoming seasons based on things I noted. Some of these are almost certainly misdirection by the writers, of course, and I think some of those misdirections come via Jonas Maliki (I’m not saying he’s lying, just that some of what he says doesn’t make sense to me). No doubt I’ve missed things.

SPOILERS AHEAD.

  1. How is a cluster birthed?
  2. Nyx: who is he? Why was he keen to have Riley try DMT, which clearly accelerated her growth as a sensate? (also, Nyx; really? what’s in a name…?)
  3. Who is Daniella Velasquez’s father?
  4. Who is Mr. Moreno?
  5. Sara Patrell. She’s dead, so why did Will keep seeing her? And while we’re on the subject…
  6. … Will’s father and the Sara Patrell case. The missing person report for Sara is dated 21 June 1987. Sara was 10 when she disappeared so was born 1976/7. The buff folder that contains the MPR is dated 19 October 1978, ie when Sara is 1 or 2 years old: what happened then? How old was Will in June 1987? (see 21 below). Something screwy is going on (unless the production didn’t expect obsessives to freeze-frame, which is unlikely :-) ). More to come on this, I think. There’s also a typo in para 3 of the missing person poster: “Amber was not seen…”
  7. Yrsa (She-Bear? Mad/Furious woman? what’s in a name…?): who or what hurt her so deeply?
  8. Will and Riley both had childhood sensate-like experiences. Nomi mentions “a feeling I’ve had all my life”. What about the others? And therefore…
  9. …who was the boy with young Kala at the Ganesh Festival?
  10. Comment, perhaps innocuous, about “DNA spanning the generations”.
  11. Metzger was also in Istanbul and Switzerland. What’s there? And where else?
  12. OK, we get it, Sun is bad-ass. But she also has a Masters in Economics and was a senior finance officer in the family business. So she should bring analytical skills to “following the money” in further investigations into Biologic, not just beat up the bad guys.
  13. “To the ancestors”
  14. Whispers and the University of Chicago “Special Research Group” (and Sara Patrell)
  15. Grace, Amanita and psycillium.
  16. Episode 12: Amanita is re-assured by Nomi and Will that the fact she has looked at Whispers doesn’t matter because she isn’t sensate. See point 15 above; hmmm…
  17. Episode 3: why is the problem with the “Evil Twin” of Lito’s character mentioned so often?
  18. Where’s Abraham gone, and why?
  19. Whispers, Jonas, Yrsa… It seems individual sensate clusters are isolated, not collaborative. Why? It must diminish their evolutionary potential?
  20. Whispers reminds Angelica Turing in the opening scene that she is “one of us”, and the implication is that he is not referring to sensates per se but to some sub-set of sensates.
  21. Nomi’s Australian BOLO: Date of birth is given as 22 July 1981. Really? That is (a) not 8 August and (b) would make her (and therefore Riley) four years older than Magnus (b. 13 April 1985). Misdirection? Her date of birth on the Federal BOLO is 26 August 1983, also not 8 August, and 2 years older than Magnus.
  22. What’s with all the haz-mat suits and respirators?
  23. Why is Lito in Mexico, not Spain? (ie was it only for career reasons he left Spain or some other reason; we know remarkably little about him).
  24. We’ve seen Riley be born 3 times (her physical birth, her re-birth as a sensate, the “birth” of the Riley that chooses life in episode 12 and leaves her dead husband and child behind). We know of 3 for Nomi as well (born as Michael, reborn as Nomi, reborn as a Sense8). Who’s next?
  25. Structurally Riley’s actions in the final scene of episode 12 parallel/mirror those of Angelica in the first scene of episode 1–lovely structure (JMS, I suspect) but 2. significance?
  26. Linkages: pharma; counterfeits; DMT; diamonds; “evil drug money”.

Who We Really Are

4 February, 2016 (20:00) | Dead Water | By: Ian Burdon

It’s unusual for me to become invested in a TV series—I don’t watch much TV at the best of times, and more often than not I’m playing catch up on the internet. Recent exceptions have been Game of Thrones and Penny Dreadful, as well as old favourites like Dr. Who.

Three series are on my watch list at the moment; two of them are very good but follow a traditional episodic pattern—Agent Carter and The Expanse, both of which I enjoy very much. However, in both cases it’s because I like them as stories that I’m caught up in them, together with the excellent casting and acting.

The third is somewhat different. I realised that I had been seeing Tuppence Middleton a lot recently, beginning with Jupiter Ascending, which I originally disliked but enjoyed more on a second viewing. I read a profile of her in the Guardian that mentioned that she was starring in a Netflix show co-written and produced by J Michael Straczynski and the Wachowskis called Sense8. Curious, I went and had a look.

sense8

sense8

Sense8 is the first show in a very long time with which my engagement is not just intellectual but emotional: I really want to know what is going to happen with these characters. It is also one of the few examples of true science fiction, rather than space-opera, I can remember for a long time: the scientific McGuffin of it forms part of the core metaphor underpinning the whole narrative.

I won’t post major spoilers here in case some of you want to go and watch the programme (which I basically did as a binge-watch and then rewatched obsessively), but there are some spoilery bits below, so consider yourself warned if that’s your thing.

Sense8 is conceived, like JMS’s Babylon 5, as a story told long-form. Given that Babylon 5 is one of my favourite programmes ever, partly because of the way the trivial stuff in Season 1 suddenly exploded in Seasons 3 and 4, I took that as a good sign. Apparently Netflix only sent the first 3 episodes out to reviewers and this caused some early poor reviews: there were complaints that people couldn’t work out what was going on (nonsense by the way, but there we are). The thing is, with the long-form approach used, the viewer was working out what was happening at the same pace as the characters who were equally confused. Also, although it is somewhat episodic for presentational reasons, it is also novelistic in that it is conceived as a whole.

Ironically enough, it is in Episode 4, titled What’s Going On? that it all comes together for the psychically-linked lead characters (in San Francisco, Chicago, London, Berlin, Mumbai, Nairobi, Seoul and Mexico) in a magnificent and surprising way, around a 4 Non-Blondes song (the perfect soundtrack for a lobotomy, as Amanita comments) in a sequence that begins at around 43 minutes in. From that moment on, the show does not look back (the clip below is only part of the sequence, which runs for 8 minutes or so).

However, the scene/sequence that, for me, defines what the show is about is in Episode 9, Death Doesn’t Let You Say Goodbye, introduced by a melancholy piano-reading of Mad World by Marius Furche.

Lito and Nomi

Lito and Nomi

The scene opens, around the 21 minute mark, with Lito (Miguel Angel Silvestre) in the Diego Rivera Museum in Mexico, mourning the breakup with his partner Hernando. Lito recalls their first meeting there, and Hernando’s monologue on Love and Art, both of which, he says, are uncontrolled and must be free. He joins with Nomi (Jamie Clayton). The scene shifts to Korea, where Sun (Doona Bae) is visited by her father who talks to her about Love and Truth, finding love and finding identity, and doing the right thing for love, the dilemma that confronts Lito.

The scene shifts back to Mexico, where the discussion turns to art that is not free, but is “pimped out” by banks and censored by authority. But, says Hernando, “fuck with art and you’ll get fucked by art”: and so, by metaphorical extension, fuck with Love and you’ll get fucked by Love–which is Lito’s story. This all leads up to a reflection by Nomi, who talks about bullying earlier in her life:

The real violence, the violence I realised was unforgivable, is the violence that we do to ourselves when we’re too afraid to be who we really are.

Love; Truth; Identity: A beautifully conceived and constructed sequence. It reads as rather precious on the page, but given what we have invested in the characters in the previous episodes, and the unflinching excellence of Silvestre and Clayton’s portrayals, the effect is to define one of the underlying premises of the show. For Lito, whose story has hitherto been characterised by the slightly comedic aspects of his position as a closeted telenovela actor in macho roles, his humanity and self-realisation come to the fore and his story turns completely on its head to become one of the strongest and most fully realised love-stories in the show (and the show is not without its love stories: Nomi and Amanita, Riley and Will, Kala and Wolfgang).

I have only begun to touch on what I like about this show. For example I like the way each individual’s story is told in its own style—telenovela, Euro-tech thriller, a splash of Bollywood—but never loses its overall thematic unity; I loved the horse in the school (really, I grinned from ear to ear); I love how it is performing a “show don’t tell” on what I believe is one of Lana Wachowski’s personal tenets of faith: we should be responsible to and for each other. The acting is unswervingly excellent by the whole cast, including Tuppence Middleton who is both luminous and tragic as Riley.

Riley Blue (Tuppence Middleton)

Riley Blue (Tuppence Middleton)

And there is an extraordinary scene featuring all the principle players remembering their own births while Riley’s father performs Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 5 on stage in Reykjavik. The cinematography and music selection is fabulous throughout, and, although I may have given the impression of seriousness above, there is a playfulness about the whole enterprise which charms. And was that a cheerful shout out to Team America: World Police in Episode 10?

Have I gushed?

The show attracted ‘mixed’ critical reaction, but it has a second season in production and I am one of many who simply can’t wait.

An edited version of the Lito/Nomi scene is embedded below (the full scene runs for nearly 13 minutes):

sniffle, sniffle, snort

23 January, 2016 (12:25) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

My resolve to post here a lot more frequently failed this week. This isn’t from lack of stuff to mention–there was a great Rickie Lee Jones gig in Glasgow last Tuesday on the upside, and a funeral of an old colleague on the downside. No, it is because I have been flattened by a passing bug. I think I’m in recovery mode now, though my head is still thick.

More later when I’m compos mentis.