Action, Pertwee and the Boyfriend from Blupo

Just popping my head out from my hibernation (oh, it's good not to have to think about writing anything for a week, but my brain keeps working out plots without my help) to tell you that today in the States, tomorrow in Britain, Action Comics #896 (Lex and the Secret Six) is in your comic stores.

Also, I've written about the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, for Tor's Twelve Doctors of Christmas series of essays, and you can see the results here.

And my old friend and Doctor Who novelist Jac Farrow has started a blog about girls' comics in Britain, the Blupoblog, named after one of her favourite strips. Jac's an expert on this subject, and her reminiscences are always funny and insightful.

Right, back into the burrow I go! Until the New Year, Cheerio!

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Twelve

The Answers to the Quiz.

Well, it's been a long and draining Twelve Blogs this year, for us all. Mistakes were made. Metaphorical photocopiers were sat on. There was not enough, by common consensus, in the way of rude lesbian nurses. (If you don't know what that's about, do a search on previous years.) I did actually try to find some real ones to interview today, but the best anyone could manage was two out of three. Someone knew some polite lesbian nurses who I said I could put under pressure, but nothing useful came of it.

Hey, festively, the good people at The Ood Cast have put out a free Christmas single, on a Doctor Who theme, 'It's Bigger on the Inside'.

Anyhow, you'll be wondering about the quiz. We had six entrants, all of whom had a good crack at it. (Well, Jacqui Collier just had one answer right and wanted to let me know.) First, the answers:

1: Name a UK Number One hit single that contains the name of a DC Comics superhero or supervillain in the lyric but not in the title.

I was thinking of Snap's 'The Power', which mentions Brainiac, but a couple of people correctly opted for Right Said Fred's 'Deeply Dippy', which cements its vague 'I'm your Superman' by explaining much more concretely 'you're my Lois Lane'. Mark Bowers opted, also correctly, for Bucks Fizz's 'The Land of Make Believe', which also mentions Superman. 'Sunshine Superman' by Donovan, which also mentions Green Lantern, only got to number two.

2: Which episode of The Outer Limits has Suzanne Barbieri probably watched with particular interest?

I'll let contestant Dean Brown sum it up: '"The Bellero Shield". Barbieri's recently released an album "From Indian Head to Ashland" utilising samples from the tapes of Betty and Barny Hill talking about their alleged alien abduction under hypnotic regression, which it has been pointed out have striking similarities to the aliens and dialogue of that episode of The Outer Limits which aired a short time before the tapes were made.' Which is exactly right. (Though I'd point out that I don't think the episode had much influence on the Hills at all, and hardly describes what they experienced.) I also accepted James Collinge's entry of 'The Invisibles' because Barbieri has also written a book about a secret society.

3: Arthur Conan Doyle has just one, but a very good one. Samuel Beckett took none, though he could have. Will Smith has eight, but may do better next year with the Men in Black. What is it?

A wicket in first class cricket. Arthur Conan Doyle bowled the great W.G.Grace, his only first class wicket. Samuel Beckett played in only three first class matches, and bowled, but took no wickets. The Will Smith in question plays for Durham, who, because of the colours they wear in one day matches, are known as the Men in Black. Dean Brown and Mark Bowers both got this one.

4: In what movie, had she shown up earlier, might Castle's favourite detective have been asked 'what have you done today to make me feel proud?'

This is the one Jacqui wrote in about. The answer is Quantum of Solace, in which Stana Katic, who plays Detective Kate Beckett in Castle, appears, but only at the end, while Sarah Hadland, Stevie from BBC2 sitcom Miranda, whose catchphrase is the sung 'what have you done today to make me feel proud?' appears earlier. Again, Bowers and Brown shared the honours.

5: What connects a long green t-shirt, a white star on a blue background (but not recently) and, at the end for him, a stylised D or the word 'Detroit'?

They're all worn by people called Rogers. In order, Shaggy Rogers from Scooby Doo, Steve Rogers (who these days doesn't wear Captain America's white star), and the baseball player (baseball having been one of the tags I inserted in the blog description) Kenny Rogers, who at the end of his career played for the Detroit Tigers. Dean Brown was the only one to get this. Well done!

6: In what way are 'Wonder Woman', Metallo and Roger Penrose the same person?

Nobody got this. I liked Jonathan Beckner's desperate: 'Penrose believes that humanity can't be defined by algorithms, and so there may be a state where we are "off" that can't be quantified. Metallo is a man in a machine body, who can be turned "off" without kryptonite powering him, and 'Wonder Woman' is who Diana Prince really is, so for her to be in her secret identity, is for her to turn "off" who she is. All three are the same person because they are "off."' Erm, no, the real answer is, they were all played by people who also played H.G.Wells: 'Wonder Woman' is in inverted commas because she was impersonated by Jaime Murray (Warehouse 13's H.G.Wells) while she was playing Stacie Monroe in Hustle; Metallo was voiced by Malcolm McDowell (H.G.Wells in Time After Time) on several animated occasions and Tom Ward played Roger Penrose in 2004's Hawking, and Wells in The Infinite Worlds of H.G.Wells three years before. Diabolical, that one, sorry!

7: Do the Conan the Barbarian stories of Robert E. Howard ever mention the word 'shrubbery'?

Yes. In 'The Tower of the Elephant' (as David Ronanye knew) and also, as a couple of people informed me, in 'The Jewels of Gwahlur'. But 'yes' got you the point.

8: 'Tank', 'Fire' and 'Chances'. What's the musical television SF connection?

As several of you got, they've all rock tracks that have been featured on the Doctor Who soundtrack, in 'Colony in Space' (Emerson, Lake and Palmer), 'Revelation of the Daleks' (The Jimi Hendrix Experience) and 'Vincent and the Doctor' (Athlete) respectively.

9: What have Mona Lisa, The Emerald Forest and The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle got in common?

Only Mark Bowers got this (though Dean Brown's suggestion that the leads of all of them were 'in Brazil' only narrowly missed getting a point). The novelisations of these three movies were all written by great British SF writers, specifically Christopher Priest, Robert Holdstock and Michael Moorcock.

10: Going by televised Doctor Who alone, I make it that the Doctor has reputedly had four interactions with Genghis Khan. Can you briefly describe them?

I really should have given a point for 'no', but didn't. And I realised after the fact that I'd got this question wrong. There are only three (reported) televised encounters between the Doctor and Genghis Khan. In 'The Daemons', the Doctor says he heard him speak. In the TV Movie, the Master implies that the Doctor was him. And in 'Rose' the Doctor says the Tardis was attacked by him. The fourth encounter I was thinking of was from Gareth Roberts' novel Tragedy Day, where the Doctor says he delivered Genghis Khan. 'Marco Polo' doesn't count, because the Doctor there says he hasn't met Genghis.

My error didn't effect the final results, and there was no need for the tie breaker. In third, with 7 points, was James Collinge. In second, with 9 points, was Mark Bowers. And the winner, with an amazing 10 points is... Dean Brown!

I'll be emailing Dean to ask for a mailing address to send him the comps box. Thanks to everyone who took part in such a hard quiz.

And that's another Twelve Blogs done! Forgive me if I collapse panting now for a few days, next week is my week off (I may pop back to remind you about the Pertwee thing on Tor). Oh, and the next issue of Action Comics (with the Secret Six!) is out next Wednesday/Thursday, and you can see the first three pages here.

I hope you all have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year, and I'll see you in 2011, when:

My new Jonathan Hamilton story, 'The Copenhagen Interpretation' will be published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine.

My story 'More!' will appear in the new Wild Cards anthology.

I should be writing at least two new comics, the titles of which cannot yet be revealed. And Action #900 looms large.

I'll have a new radio play broadcast.

The podcast with me and several big name authors will start.

And it's vaguely possible I might have something on television. The novel will now definitely be out in 2012, because these are the huge lead times required by publishers.

And there'll doubtless be loads more stuff happening that we can't even imagine yet. Thanks very much for all your support and comments and twittering, which was especially welcome with yesterday's blog. Cheerio!


Golau Glau - Coventry Carol from Golau Glau on Vimeo.


The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Eleven

On going a bit mad every now and then.

Well, the quiz deadline has passed, and we have a winner! I'll be announcing their name, and giving you the answers, tomorrow.

So yesterday's blog caused something of a reaction, eh? I do think it's a bit weird that a lot of the people in the comments section did exactly those things I talked about. A couple of them even started with 'really, Paul...' (It's not the use of my first name that's annoying - what else would you call me? - it's the use of it like a long, sighing breath as if to a wayward child.) It's like they didn't read the blog, but just saw that it was about illegal downloading and said what they always say in those circumstances. Amongst that, of course, there were also many good points made. At any rate, I have withheld my approval in many places, and I hope nobody thinks my silence constitutes acceptance. (And, oh, hey, I discovered I was spelling 'withheld' wrong.) I may get that on a t-shirt: 'I withhold my approval of your copyright theft.' But people would just make cheap knock-offs.

Which brings us to today's, potentially even more contentious, subject. I've been psyching myself up for this one too. But for entirely different reasons.

I was recently at dinner with the guests of the Fortean Times Unconvention when the charming chap across from me started talking about people he'd encountered who'd had life-changing mystical experiences. And I actually started to say 'well, in my own case...' He perked up as any good Fortean would, but I found myself waving it away, saying I didn't want to talk about it. It was then I realised that I've being doing that for ten years. I've started to speak about it to a couple of friends when drunk (one of whom got very alienated by that conversation), but I really haven't said a thing.

A writer who primarily works in television is expected to be a good deal less eccentric that any other sort of writer. Middle class but with a bit of a regional accent that indicates working class roots, smart casual verging on fashionable, could almost be a producer, like any reasonable person would want to be, talks about last night's soaps. That's your ideal in UK TV circles. (In those meetings I tend to feel like I'm from the wrong social class, without quite knowing what class I'm from.) Novelists don't have to play as well with others. Romantic shabbiness, wild hair and odd opinions are all allowed. And any comic book writer who hasn't had an encounter with extraterrestrials and doesn't look like they've woken up in a hedge isn't really trying.

So where am I in all that? A bit lost, really. Wanting, desperately, sometimes, to be one thing rather than another, but not instinctively, naturally, anything. I have gangs I hang out with in all those media, people I love utterly, but none I've told the whole truth to.

I've had three and a half numinous experiences in my life, one of which lasted for most of an evening, on and off. (I use that word, 'numinous', because it doesn't seem to frighten people, and because it's got a ring to it.) It's why I don't regard myself as having a faith, because faith tends to mean belief without proof, and I feel I've had (at least a bit of) proof. Though of exactly what I have no idea.

All of the following sounds, frankly, ridiculous. But I suppose that's what stuff from outside consensus reality would sound like.

Back in the day, I used to get in rows on the internet all the time. Ten years ago, I'd have been in that comments thread fighting every single commenter, including those who agreed with me. I used to get into very personal slagging matches, which I took very seriously. (No, I'm not saying mystical experiences changed that, I just grew up a bit.) But one day, sitting in my flat in Bath, I thought to myself that rather than fight this one particular guy to the death online, for what I saw as his failings, I could just forgive him and let it go. It would actually be easier. An ordinary thought. But then, something kind of... well, let me be as precise as I can be. A sudden, incredibly huge, feeling of love burst into my mind. It made me fall back on my bed and lie there, for about a minute I think, somewhat luxuriating in it and somewhat wondering if I was having a stroke. Then it gradually faded. It was simply a feeling of love, like something cosmically enormous was delighted about and at me. No words were involved. It was like being hugged by the universe. Or rather by something from outside it.

If there was a message, it was implicit: that the moment I forgave, something felt excited and delighted and almost compelled to communicate that to me. I tried it out in the next few days, tried to find things that felt like it, reached for it, like I could make it happen, replicate it, but I couldn't.

Still being young, stupid, me, a week or so later I became furious about a negative review of something of mine that somebody had written. But this time I made a conscious effort to act in the way that the feeling seemed to have been pleased by. I forgave the writer, and, as I was driving along the motorway, on the way to a cricket match, just got a precise flash of that same feeling, as if a reminder was necessary and apt. (That's the 'half', because it really was a tiny dose.)

I should point out, by the way, that, in the case of the review writer, there was nothing to forgive. I don't think 'forgiveness' implies wrongdoing on the part of the person being forgiven (and I hate it when it's used in that horrible passive/aggressive way). Forgiveness just means dropping the whole burden of anger and desire for revenge and letting the fight end with you.

I became, after that, an Anglican. I still flinch from using the word 'Christian', half because of the sharp intake of breath it causes from people, the 'I have to take care to behave in a particular way/I don't know what way that is/How mad is he?/How much of a bigot is he?' reflex that's common in Britain, half because the word has been hijacked by lunatics who persecute gay people. I chose the Anglican church not because I was directed to, in any sense, but because I liked their loose commonwealth of different versions and their military devotion to wishywashyness. Or meekness, if you prefer. I'm not a very good churchgoer. I don't go often. I loathe most hymns and almost all forms of sung church music, can't be bothered to sit in the cold, and get bored easily. I like a good intellectual sermon, and the old stones, and getting blessed. (I don't want to be confirmed and drink from the cup, and I'm not sure I'd ever have the space to say why.) I like offering those around me a sign of peace. I like the opportunity to let my mind venture outwards, to consider my failings and ask for forgiveness, but I've never got the hang of prayer. I don't think God should or will save me or my loved ones from anything, so I don't know what I'm meant to be asking for. (I'm told it's more complicated than that.)

In asking for forgiveness, I try and tune into what I remember of that numinous feeling, but really get nowhere near it (there's usually some awful music blaring in my ear to make sure I don't). I know of people who replicate such highs through various practices (such as meditation), but I've never managed that and haven't much tried. It doesn't seem like a thing that's up to me.

Now, if, like me, you're of a sceptical and scientific turn of mind, you'll be saying to yourself: hmm, didn't he get romantically involved with someone who was planning to be a vicar before he had his numinous experience? Yes, I did, and wasn't that convenient? I'm pretty sure that if I'd met a Hindu I'd have chosen to become a Hindu. But as a hard ecumenicalist (I think every way of seeing the divine is as valid as every other, all being vague human glimpses of the beyond), I don't see that as much different. I couldn't have called down my numinous experience just because I was in a relationship.

I think my experience was probably some form of temporal lobe event, as has been witnessed in brain scans of meditating monks and nuns. But meeting any human being in person is just a question of photons hitting the back of one's eye and pressure waves moving the air in one's ears. This was a communication and a presence that used different organs. I was also quite a heavy ecstasy user a few years previously, but I'd let that dwindle away for some considerable time before the experience, and there's really no comparison between the two states. I'm also no stranger to ritual magic (and I still like a bit of Wicca), but I've always had my transcendent experiences accidentally, rather than during any form of working.

After those experiences there was nothing, not for many years, not when I forgave people and was kind, not when I was a complete bastard, no sense of contact at all. The moment had stopped being something enormous that might happen again at any time, and had instead become, through civilised experience, an ethical ruler with which to measure my own behaviour (and not anyone else's).

The second major experience was just kind of fun. I was sitting on a train, in January last year, reading the New Scientist magazine (#2691 if you want to replicate the experiment). The feature article about the holographic universe (a concept I was already familiar with from Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe amongst others) blew my mind... a bit literally. The idea is that our entire experienced reality is just the three dimensional playback of existing, rather more 'real' 2D data stored in the event horizon of the universe. I've often felt what Kate Bush called 'my terrible fear of dying', but have never felt able to believe in a religious afterlife (Christ having not at all clearly promised such a thing, despite every link in the human oral tradition through which we hear his sometimes garbled words presumably wanting him to). But the idea of being kept whole and entire, outside time, as part of all information gives me more solid ground for hope that our collective hunch as a species that mind doesn't end with bodily death may be correct. At any rate, I had, as I clattered along on that train into London, a kind of secular epiphany of which atheists would be proud, filled with that familiar form of sudden joy, but this time about the awe and mystery of cosmology. (The fact that the battle between science and religion is in the field of evolutionary biology, where the religious people fighting it are obviously wrong, serves both camps. In cosmology, astrophysics, the study of mind, we find much to draw us together.) That feeling hung around for a while, as I stumbled off the train at Paddington with my brain all 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds', and offered me the sort of 'comfort' that non-religious types seem to feel is the only possible reason for faith, when more usually the experience of professing a religion is rather more a burden.

And finally, and this is the most ridiculous experience of them all, one which I can hardly credit and makes me feel like a Roman seeing omens... okay, so earlier this year I went to see Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, in 3D... It's not that the psychedelic movie and imaging process took me into another world. I was sitting there utterly bored by what I was swiftly deciding was one of the worst movies ever made (and I'm normally a huge fan of Burton). I won't offer a critique here. The point is I wasn't dragged into the experience of the film, I was shut off from it. My mind started to wander, and I found myself considering, as I often do, another cosmological theory, the idea that reality is a simulation. Normally, people react to this as if they've been told they're living in a diluted version of something better. But what I started to consider, watching the movie, was: if reality is a simulation, what a fantastic work of art it is. Everything from free will to elephants: great stuff, five stars, 99% say PC Gamer Magazine. Even the plot holes, like the Young's Slits experiment, the fact that the apparent size of the moon is exactly the apparent size of the sun (so much for Earthly ordinariness, total eclipses from a planetary surface would make us a galactic tourist destination), Sheldrake's various speculations, the placebo effect, Kantian theories of knowledge and virtually everything in the excellent (and purely scientific, those afraid of weirdness) Thirteen Things that Don't Make Sense, they all seem like imperfections to be flaunted.

Considering all this, I went off to the toilet. As I stood there... no, come on, this is really what happened... I thought to myself the thought that all religious texts tell us not to think. I wondered if, since I was offering such applause to the genius behind this wonderful simulation, they might just say hello, make themselves known for a moment, tap me on the shoulder. (It's exactly what happens in the wonderful 2010 when HAL tells Floyd to look behind him.) I tested the cosmos a little. And then when I turned round (yes, I had zipped up), there was a little boy at the door of the bathroom, who pointed at me, burst out laughing and ran out the door.

I took a look around the door, and I wish I could say he'd vanished, but no, there he was, with his Dad, talking about something else, entirely ordinary. It felt like he was the representation of something, not the thing itself. It was the feeling that went with that moment that was tremendous, that persisted, the 'Oz factor' that experiencers of Fortean weirdness report. The world seemed alive with portents. In a way which I've never felt before or since, that primitive religiosity that suggests another reality above and under this one. It really is very Roman, and talking about it now, I both recall the fringes of it, and look down on it as too blunt, too silly. I took it with me to a car park in Faringdon, hours later, where, just before I stopped the car, I found myself thinking that the one thing one should absolutely not do is build a new belief system around the happenings of that day, do what so many people have done and make a tower of stupid and harmful human assumptions on the foundation of something numinous. (Any ancient religion, I believe, is something that's had a lot of evolutionary checks and balances arrived at, and usually accepts a wide spectrum of truths.) And as I had that thought, a stranger walking past laughed again and nodded enthusiastically, right at me.

Well, yes, as I told you, ridiculous. Kind of crass, almost. I'm pleased that I didn't make up something that obvious.

And that's been that, from then on. I hope to have no more such experiences, particularly not like that latter walk through the dreamtime. I continue to think that seeking the faults in oneself, forgiving, being kind, not enjoying conflict, is the measure of what we do, and that my religion is one of many approaches that support those ethics. I think, even given the actions of many of those who profess the same belief system while judging and harming people, my folk do hugely more good than bad. I also think that scepticism, rationality and the scientific method are the most valuable tools human beings have.

But I think the universe is big. And that there is much beyond it. And that the meeting point of what's ours and what's beyond is Christmas.

Phew, told you. I do believe I've come out. In a way. Tomorrow, it'll get even more intense, when... no, actually, it'll just be the answers to the quiz. And hopefully some rude lesbian nurses, because I haven't mentioned them yet this year and the more page hits the merrier. Until tomorrow... erm... if you're still here... Cheerio!

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Ten

Some observations about e-books and illegal downloading.

Those wishing to enter the quiz only have until midnight my time tonight. It's still very much worth a shot. Those hard questions have foiled a lot of people.

First up, some news. Last night Tor.com announced their Twelve Doctors of Christmas, a series of blogs about the different leads in Doctor Who, starting on Boxing Day. On the 28th, I'll be writing about the Third Doctor, and I'll be joined by such luminaries as Seanan McGuire, Pia Guerra, Graham Sleight and Mark Waid. Should be good!

And the latest issue of SF fanzine The Drink Tank is online, looking forward to Worldcon in Reno next August, and giving Hugo voters some ideas as to what to nominate this time round. (The Hugo nomination phase starts on January 1st.) Tim Powers being the Guest of Honour, there's a distinct Powers slant to the issue, do check it out.

Now, I've been saying for months that I'd do a blog about e-books, but I've been putting it off in sheer terror. Because, and let me quote a fellow author here...

'E-books, self-publication and agents are like abortion, marijuana and taxation - it seems no one can discuss them rationally' - David Levine.

And I've seen the truth of that every time I mention this subject online or in public. But having done some research, I don't want to let it go to waste. So I thought I'd break it down into a few bullet points, and then stand ready at my comments list with a shotgun and a nervy smile.

1: Publishers have always thought that when you buy a hardback, what you're paying more for is the chance to own it on the day of publication. Paperbacks are cheaper because they come out a year later. The reading public, on the other hand, always thought what they were paying more for was the extra physical mass and quality. (Actually, a hardback costs, one publisher told me, only from 50p to a couple of pounds more to make.) So obviously publishers think an e-book, out on the day of publication, should cost the same as a hardback. And obviously the reading public think it should cost less than a paperback. From this difference in perception stem all subsequent horrors.

2: British publishers are faced with an additional cost for e-books in the form of V.A.T., Valued Added Tax, currently set at 17.5% of the sale price going to the government, set to rise to 20% next year. This tax doesn't apply to printed books. I asked Ed Vaizey MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, if this was going to change, and was told there were no plans to alter the V.A.T. rate at the moment.

3: The concept that one should give away the e-book version of a title online, and then make money through sales of the physical version of that book, as espoused by some well-known authors, only makes financial sense (to anyone making a living purely on their writing) while the e-book market forms a small percentage of the general market. If, as seems possible now, e-books become the favoured format, then authors doing that will be left sitting on the kerb with signs saying 'will write for nothing'. I've been present when one major author, known for their support for this system, changed their mind in the face of recent developments. To bet one's career on the idea that a new delivery system will fail to become a major force seems to me to be betting against the future, which is surely an unwise stance for any SF writer.

4: People just like stealing stuff. As a recent Wired magazine article pointed out, every utopian excuse for illegally downloading music, from the presence of Digital Rights Management on tracks to the inability to move tracks between systems, has now been swept away by a market desperate to sell more music. There's literally no excuse any more. But this year illegal music downloading continued to grow, with 1.2 billion tracks being stolen in the UK alone.

5: It's hard, these days, to tell people they've done a minor wrong. Because one is now either a saint (or whatever the atheist version of that is) or a paedophile. Illegal download sites look perfectly normal, and ominous orchestral tones don't strike up when you visit one. 'Everybody' does it, and people who do are often quite surprised at the thought that they're doing something wrong. But they are. A small thing. They're each stealing small sums of money from creators. But put those minor wrongs together, and they become an enormous problem. Villifying these people rather than educating or preventing them will just convince them that their minor wrong is cool and rebellious. A lot of them tell themselves that already. They're sticking it to the man. The trouble is, the man in question is me. And those like me.

6: If everybody did illegally download, it couldn't continue as a practice, because no further music or movies could be made. (Except by those willing, through existing wealth or poetic poverty, not to make a living.) Illegal downloaders rely, parasitically, on an honest mainstream who purchase this stuff. The 'alternative revenue sources' that might fund every creator who's not already rich enough not to care simply haven't appeared for the vast majority. And it's hard to see where they'll ever come from when illegal downloading can simply put an end to a market.

7: Illegal downloading is already changing the shapes of markets. Profit margins on comics are such that if an ongoing title doesn't sell hugely, it ends after five issues. This is why you don't get many of those quirky, second string titles that fans used to love, and see so many events and crossovers. Worried that The X Factor TV talent show is dominating the British pop music charts? That plays to an older audience who wouldn't know one end of an illegal download from the other. No SF on TV? SF fans, like any niche audience, are more likely to illegally download, and those 'ratings' are invisible to advertisers. The anime market is a particularly sensitive one, where many titles now never make it to the west, because theft has almost destroyed the legal market. Again, it's the children's and more mainstream titles that have avoided this. You can't protest about these changes in culture if you're illegally downloading, because you're one of the things driving them.

8: I think, and have had many conversations to support this view, that a large majority of creators in all media loathe illegal downloading. But few of them are willing to say anything in public. Reasons range from a desire to be seen to be cutting edge, to a fear of alienating one's audience, to fear of a denial of service attack on one's website. I've been on a lot of panels where, asked that question, everyone answers an entirely different one, about how 'e-books are the future'. I feel that the one thing we can do, as creators, to affect illegal downloaders is to make it clear that we withold our approval. You can't be an enthusiastic and beloved fan of a great writer and at the same time steal their stuff.

9: I hate how saying this stuff in public results in friends and close associates of mine getting into terrible wheedling conversations with me about it. They're almost like the debates children have with adults about where naughty behaviour begins. 'You're stealing 6p off me every time.' 'Ah, but if I asked you to lend me 6p...' 'That would be fine.' 'If you gave me 6p...' 'That would be fine.' 'If I found 6p in the street...' 'Yes, yes, all that would be fine. You putting your hand in my pocket and taking 6p from me is what isn't fine!' And as for 'Well, you should be fashionable and technologically savvy enough to just make 6p appear out of thin air. Like I did when I took it out of your pocket. It's hardly my fault you can't do that!' or 'I'm probably going to give you your 6p back, possibly 12p or even 24p!' Well, statistics don't support your highly optimistic view. Statistics say most people who nick my 6p just keep it. And forgive me if I can't feed my family on 'probably'. Most friends of mine at least don't go that far. These conversations are about guilt, about weighing perceived mini-societal approval of theft against a creator's disapproval. But do me a favour: we can still be friends if you've stolen my stuff, just don't seek my approval for having done it. You can't get it.

10: Oh, and people who have those awful conversations with me, in person or online, where they try to find all sorts of intellectual justification for minor theft, always start by using my first name. 'Paul...' It gives their speech the air of a wise old head talking down to someone who's obviously new in the world. Yeah, that annoying.

11: I've done it too. I taped music when I was in college, I used to have a pirated word processor program. I stopped doing that when I realised it made me a hypocrite. I wasn't a war criminal when I did it, and neither were you, illegal downloader reading this. We were both just doing minor wrongs that, across populations, add up.

12: Some authors with smaller profiles have benefited from 'alternative revenue streams' like befriending illegal downloaders and asking for their 6p afterwards. I'd say that their success, which I wouldn't at all begrudge them, is a question of having gone from nearly nothing to a tiny something. And stemmed from an emotion that only stretches so far: making guilty people feel better. I don't know if it'll fly as a career. (Which is not to say, I emphasise, that I'm decrying the quality of the work involved.)

13: Of course, obviously, hugely, there remain, considering e-books only, a number of problems in terms of satisfying both reading public and publishers. The market isn't where digital music's is. These problems have formed the meat of almost all discussions about this subject, to the point where I hoped I could get through this post without mentioning D.R.M. or 'the agent model'. Because these discussions are mazes full of mirrors, the source of much of what makes David Levine sigh. And the comments thread will do this stuff without me saying again the same things many people have said already.

So what am I against?

14: Regionality on books seems Victorian in the same way regional DVD releasing is. I decided when I got my iPad to only buy e-book fiction from now on. If I can't download Mary Robinette Kowal's Shades of Milk and Honey now, I'll wait until it does appear as an e-book (such a wait being not an excuse for theft, but rather a temptation towards it, to deal with another often ethically muddied area of complaint), not give in and buy the hardback. Regionality exists to aid marketing campaigns and help prevent illegal downloading. There are good reasons for it. As the e-book share of the market climbs, those reasons may decline in importance. I've heard some clever ways of setting your reading device to enable accessing e-books from outside your region, but I've also sought the opinion of a lawyer (I won't name the source, because they stress it's their personal opinion and not formal legal advice), who says that this may constitute fraud. I've presented their complete assessment as an appendix at the end of the post.*

15: If it's not out now as an e-book, I'd like to know when it will be. A list of forthcoming titles somewhere, anywhere, would be excellent.

16: E-books are still treated as an afterthought by many publishers. The design and navigation are often all over the place. I love the e-edition of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine beyond all reason, but does anyone there even know that the little description of each story that's meant to go above the title (and often ends with 'as you'll find out in...') goes below it in the e-book version? And the sheer hoo-hah of downloading it edition by edition from Fictionwise (if you have a Kindle, you can subscribe) is only made worthwhile by the sheer quality of the magazine itself. And don't get me started, in terms of novels, on texts that slip between pages, tables of contents that don't work, etc.

17: The e-book market is still the wild west. Having paid what I see as a fair price (around £10) as an advance order for The Quantum Thief on Amazon Kindle (very much my store of choice, considering iBooks' high prices, narrow selection and bad layout, and yes, I do wish we had Nook in Britain), I was staggered to see it go up to nearer £15 on the day of release (as expected) but then drop to around £6 a day later! (I've heard this was down to Amazon, before the agency model came into play.) If e-books are going to make up a majority of the market, then legal e-book customers should feel the same sense of security that those who buy physical books do, not like we're trying out version 0.1.

18: Online stores continuing to list free and very low price titles alongside mainstream titles is another way in which e-book customers are made to feel like they're lab rats. It emphasises hugely that price is overwhelmingly the most powerful factor when buying e-books (which is not the case in physical bookstores), and that no edition is cool enough to counter that (in a physical bookstore, nice new Jane Austens do better than cheapo out-of-copyright-label editions). But it also means that right next to our list of priced SF e-books, we can see that in with a bullet at number two in the free SF top twenty (behind, of course, Frankenstein), is Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton's account of his 1914-1917 expedition to Antarctica. (Why is that SF? What did he find?!) If it's a mistake, it's one that's been hanging around, untended to, for several months now. Even if it's correct, this is us browsing a musty second hand shop, not being cutting edge consumers in a new medium. I genuinely admire the pluck of self-published writers like Barry Nugent, whose excellent adventure in taking his Fallen Heroes to number one on the Kindle Contemporary Fantasy chart is described here. And mainstream SF writers like Gary Gibson have also benefited and found a new audience from having a low price point set for their back catalogue. But I would say that, instances like those guys apart, a low price is no guarantee of quality. We're not selling this stuff by the yard. And the way these charts are set up (unlike for instance the pop music charts, where a minimum sale price is set for a single to qualify) makes it look like we are. It's brilliant that new authors now have more ways to get audience attention. It's not so brilliant in the case of Captain Shackleton.

19: I do think the market will sort a lot of this stuff out in the next few years, as it has for digital music. I think that punishing authors for prices set by their publishers (with low star reviews on Amazon, for instance) is wrong. Some publishers (I won't name them here because I don't want to favour one over another) have set a low price point for new e-books and are thus influencing what the market will become. I'll continue to hold out and only buy new fiction for myself in e-book editions. I just hope that publishing and distribution catches up with the desire and enthusiasm of the market, and that illegal downloaders don't destroy the relationship between the two.

Phew. Maybe I should write about unicorns and pixies next? Actually, there's another potentially turbulent one in the last two of the Twelve Blogs. Why do I do this to myself? Until tomorrow, Cheerio!

*For those of a legal disposition, here's the full text of what that lawyer told me:

I have recently been asked a question about some of the issues arising from ebooks, and in particular Amazon’s Kindle. The question arises from the fact that some books are either cheaper on the Amazon.com Kindle store than they are on the one at Amazon.co.uk, or are not available in the UK store at all. For instance, the latest book by Bret Easton Ellis, ‘Imperial Bedrooms’, is £9.98 for Kindle in the UK, but only $9.99 (about £7) in the US store, while Ellis’ first novel, ‘Less than Zero’, is only available in the US. To quote the question:


“If I create a US Amazon Kindle account for myself, and lie by giving a real US address that I have nothing to do with (such as the British embassy in NY), in order to download US ebooks, or do the same with iTunes for US TV shows, am I committing an actual crime?”


Now to be honest I am not entirely sure that this would work, either because you might need a valid credit-card billing address in the USA, or that Amazon might look at where you are, or appear to be, connecting from. But assuming that these were not problems, or were circumvented, and thatsomeone (lets call him X) did manage to buy a book from the US Kindle store and save some money (£3 in my example above), then my legal analysis is as follows.


Firstly, X has in principle committed an offence under s.1 Fraud Act 2006. This provides that:

(1) A person is guilty of fraud if he is in breach of any of the sections listed in subsection (2) (which provide for different ways of committing the offence).

(2) The sections are—

(a) section 2 (fraud by false representation), [...]


Turning to s.2, this defines fraud by false representation as follows:

(1) A person is in breach of this section if he—

      (a) dishonestly makes a false representation, and

      (b) intends, by making the representation—

          (i) to make a gain for himself or another, or

          (ii) to cause loss to another or to expose another to a risk of loss.

(2) A representation is false if—

      (a) it is untrue or misleading, and

      (b) the person making it knows that it is, or might be, untrue or misleading.

(3) “Representation” means any representation as to fact or law, including a representation as to the state of mind of—

      (a) the person making the representation, or

      (b) any other person.

(4) A representation may be express or implied.

(5) For the purposes of this section a representation may be regarded as made if it (or anything implying it) is submitted in any form to any system or device designed to receive, convey or respond to communications (with or without human intervention).

By supplying a US address X has implied (s.2(4)) that as a matter of fact he lives in the USA (s.2(3)) and this is untrue (s.2(2)(a)) and he knows it is untrue (s.2(2)(b)). It does not matter that he made it to Amazon’s online purchase system rather than a human (s.2(5)). So X has made a false representation, but has he made a fraudulent representation under s.2(1)? For this to be made out, the false representation has to have been made dishonestly (s.2(1)(a)) and there must be the intent to make a gain for himself (s.2(1)(b)(i)) or expose another to loss (s.2(1)(b)(ii)).


Taking these last points in reverse order, it is certainly plausible that X has caused Amazon to lose £3 in revenue. This could be arguable on the grounds of whether it is one single entity that has suffered the loss, although then one might argue that X has diverted a sale away from Amazon UK by misrepresentation. It is more certain that X has made a gain for himself, in that he has £3 more than he otherwise would have. As to dishonesty, the test is that of R v Ghosh [1982] QB 1053:


(i) Did the accused act dishonestly by the standards of an ordinary and honest person?

(ii) Did the accused realise that such conduct was dishonest?

Although R v Ghosh was expressed as regarding theft, the offence in question was in fact now one assimilated into the Fraud Act 2006, so the test is, in my understanding, valid for Theft Act and Fraud Act offences.


I would submit that an ordinary and honest person would think it dishonest to tell a lie to get a £3 discount on a purchase, and that anyone going to the effort to set up a false Amazon account for this end would realise this.


The conduct described is thus, I believe, an offence against s.1 Fraud Act 2006. However a jurisdictional question then arises as X is in England and Amazon.com has as its principle place of business the USA. (Although there is the issue that X might be defrauding Amazon UK). This point is dealt with by Part 1 of the Criminal Justice Act 1993.


Offences under s.1 Fraud Act 2006 are defined by s.1(2)(bb)(i) CJA 1993 as ‘Group A offences’. S.2(3) CJA 1993 provides that for Group A offences, an offence may be committed if any relevant act, by which it means an act necessary for commission of the offence, takes place in England or Wales. S.2(1A)(a) states that for s.1 Fraud Act offences this includes the dishonest gain.


As such, if X made the gain when in England, he does indeed commit the offence under the Fraud Act.



The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Nine

Your Fan Fiction.

I was thoroughly heartened by the response to yesterday's blog. Having posted it, I felt sure there'd be some nastiness in return, but none has so far materialised. You lovely people. Today's offering is something I've been looking forward to for ages: a collection of our readers' fan fiction featuring characters I created. (Any copyright holders reading this, please note, it's all done for love, there's no money involved.) Everyone, please do take a look at some of these links and tell us what you think. I got my start as a writer with Doctor Who fan fiction in the fanzine Cygnus Alpha (I really hope nobody's got a copy). It's both a tremendous proving ground, and/or tremendous fun, depending on how much critique the writer seeks or is offered.

I though the best way to present this list would be character by character. So let's start with...

Bernice Summerfield.

I created Bernice as a new companion for the Seventh Doctor in the Virgin Doctor Who novel Love and War, and since then she's gone on to star in a continuing series of audio plays from Big Finish. I'm amazed and proud that she's still around, and that there's fan fiction about her.

Mark Phippen offers us a story of Professor Summerfield on a legendary lost planet, with its equally legendary, it seems, last inhabitant, in which she stumbles upon the sad and strange 'Secret of Menarios'.

Benny accompanies the Seventh Doctor on a bitterwseet visit to the Brigadier and his wife Doris in Paul Scoones' 'Signifying Nothing'.

Mags Halliday provides us with a story that implicitly follows on from the end of the BBC Books Doctor Who novel The Dying Days, in which Bernice, with the Eighth Doctor, discovers something about his past encounters with a historical figure, in 'The Ravages of Time'.

In 'Faith' by Patrick O'Seanessay, Bernice and the Seventh Doctor discover what seems to be a new group of monsters, only to find that they have something to do with one of the Doctor's previous adventures, and things are not quite as they seem.

Faiza Hussain.

Faiza, young doctor, super hero fan and now the wielder of Excalibur, from Captain Britain and MI-13, seems to be a popular subject for fan fiction, and I couldn't be happier. It lets her live on, at least until she appears in a Marvel title again. Seriously, guys, thanks so much for choosing her.

Faiza had some encounters with the world of British superheroics before she got powers of her own, as is revealed in 'Five Times Faiza Hussain Meets a Superhero' by Muccamukk. It was written before certain things happened in the comic, so the contradictions with canon aren't deliberate.

Faiza's father was turned into a vampire during MI-13's battle with Dracula, and 'Forbid What is Evil' by Lilacsigil shows her, with the aid of her team mates, starting to deal with that situation.

Redeem147 uses the visit of one of Faiza's aunts to send us on an exploration of how Faiza fits in with MI-13. It all leads to a most unusual tea in 'All in the Family'.

Matt Duarte is one of the group of people who run Thought Balloons, a writing exercise site, where every week they pick a character and each write a page of comic script about them. He chose Faiza in the week I announced this story search, and encouraged his fellow scribes to try their hand. He himself produced a short and sweet encounter between Faiza and The Fury, 'Hippocratic Oath' and Ryan K. Lindsay had her meeting Doctor Doom in 'At the Centre, Lies the World'. And if you click around the site you'll find at least five more Faiza scripts. Thanks, all of you!

And Teresa Jusino, of this parish, has written a festive, romantic, journey for Faiza and Dane Whitman, the Black Knight (which also, erm, I think includes a reference to my wife's band) in the form of 'Faiza's Christmas Miracle'.

John Smith and Joan Redfern.

The characters of the Doctor Who story 'Human Nature' were also people whose lives you enjoyed returning to.

Paul Gadzikowski examines what might have happened to John and Joan had the Family of Blood never found them in 'Real', and suggests a different spin on the Doctor's punishment of the Family in 'Motivation'.

In 'Those Left Behind' by Thunderemerald, intriguingly, Captain Jack Harkness goes to look for the Doctor, and finds Joan Redfern instead...

'All Roads Lead to You' by Moonmamma is a romantic epic of many chapters that brings together the continuities of the Eighth Doctor, the Tyler family and John Smith in the way that only fan fiction can.

I.C. Finney looks at a moment from Joan Redfern's life subsequent to her time with John in 'After the Storm'.

And another crossing of continuities takes place as the Seventh Doctor and Ace encounter John Smith in a terrible situation in Ria's 'Dear John'.

The Scream of the Shalka Characters.

Alternatives and might have beens are always popular with fan fiction writers, and you can't get more alternative now than Richard E. Grant's then official but subsequently unbound animated Ninth Doctor.

JJPOR shows us a brief snippet of a chess match between the Doctor and the robot Master in 'Predictability'.

Paul Gadzikowski, in his 'The Generals' shows us a moment from his own ongoing epic which combines the Richard E.Grant Doctor with the characters from Star Trek: Enterprise and takes the lot of them off in a whole new direction. (Something else only fan fiction does. It was always Doctor Who and Blake's 7 back in my day.)

'Tricks of the Light' by Craig Oxbrow is a full on romp of an adventure for the Doctor, Alison and the Master, taking all sorts of cues from what's been established for this Doctor and his team.

And JohnAmendAll's 'The Path of Duty' is an encounter between this Tardis crew, Second Doctor companion Victoria Waterfield, and Big Finish Eighth Doctor companion Lucie Miller. Again, there's the spectrum of what fan fiction can do.

Characters from 'Father's Day'.

A couple of you fondly remembered Pete Tyler and, erm, the Reapers!

Icebluenothing is the author of 'Father Christmas', a moving yuletide encounter between Pete Tyler and the Ninth Doctor.

And Veronica Litt describes, in the form of a letter, an encounter between an ordinary person, the Doctor, and the Reapers, in 'The Strange Events that Transpired as I Studied for my Ancient Greek Exam'.

Jarvis Poker, the British Joker.

I'm amazed and delighted that after a single appearance in the first issue of Knight and Squire, Jarvis, a sweet British 'cover version' of the American super villain original, is getting his own fan fiction.

James Fairlie has created a frankly insane mixture of, well, you'll see, as Jarvis meets Lex Luthor at the airport, and together they journey through a 'Crisis on Infinite British TV Shows', which I think may be an attempt to include just about everything I've ever written for. I don't think I'd use a word like 'poppycock', though.

And John Lees allows us to join Jarvis, and a number of other British super heroes and villains, for a festive frolic in 'Merry Christmas, Mr. Poker'.

I do find that tremendously pleasing. Our last two stories are both extraordinary efforts that feature stuff I didn't dream would crop up in this survey of fiction. Firstly, M.L. Zambrana presents us with 'Bells', the only, so far as I'm aware, existing piece of Pulse fan fiction, based not even on the pilot episode, but on a few preview clips! How brilliant is that?

And, very flatteringly, Heretic has written 'Spring Before Summer' a prologue to my novel British Summertime, featuring Squadron Leader Douglas Leyton. Really, that's tremendously kind of you.

As you'll have seen, a number of those stories were hosted by some of the specialist fan fiction communities out there on the net. They're home to many more like the above. Thank you so much to everyone who took part, and I'll see you tomorrow for more festive stuff. Cheerio!



The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Eight

The Vicar FAQ.

First, just a reminder that you have until midnight my time on Wednesday to enter the quiz. I suspect we haven't yet heard from the winner. Hint: you know those labels at the bottom of every blog post, describing the content? The quiz blog post has labels like that.

We drove very slowly and carefully out through the snow to see Sophie Ellis-Bextor in concert last night, and were pleased to have done so. I don't often mention support acts, but Sinead and the Dawnbreakers were great fun, a double-bass spinning Ulster country/rock'n'roll act, like one of those finely honed house bands you find in Irish pubs. Sophie herself was eurodiscotastic, very down to earth between songs (when I was kind of hoping for her to be magnificently distant), and flattered that we'd all got there through the blizzard. The cover of Arcade Fire's 'Rebellion' was an interesting choice, and the Spiller/Moloko (!) medley surprising.

A week or so ago we also (I now realise I didn't mention it at that time) went along to Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds Live at the 02. I thought that was about as good as such a performance could be, with loads of animations now filling in the action, and Jason Donovan being especially good as the Artilleryman. The ending, though, as always, irks me on an SFnal basis. So we've flashed forward to the modern day, and NASA are sending a mission to Mars... and they're surprised to find green flashes and a new Martian threat? Did the British newspapers of the time really downplay the invasion that much? 'Trouble in the Home Counties, Rail Timetable Severely Disrupted'?

Oh, and the last link to the BBC Archive went down well, so here's their latest one, a collection of interviews with stars from the golden age of Hollywood. (This one's only available in the UK, sorry.)

So, today's blog subject is, in some ways, for my own use. In that, every time I mention what my wife's up to, or where she is in her studies, I seem to get it wrong. I've often said we should have a Frequently Asked Questions about the business of becoming a priest, so here it is. The answers are hers. I hope it's also of interest to anyone of an SFnal bent, who's got an interest in an extraordinary world that's right at the heart of British history and culture. Or anyone who wants to know what all those words bandied about (usually randomly) in fantasy movies and games mean (Halo, I'm looking at you).

Hello, Caroline. I've noticed, being married to you for all these years, that you want to be a priest. And, honestly, I really know bugger all about all that. So I thought I'd correct this shameful omission and give myself a page of answers I can look up when I forget. For a start, which church are we talking about?

'The Church of England, otherwise known as the Anglican Church. I'm an Anglican.'

How do you become a vicar?

'After talking to you local vicar, and convincing them that you feel a calling, they'll send you to a D.D.O. -'

What's that?

'A Diocesan Director of Ordinands. Diocesan: works in a diocese. Ordinand: someone who's in the process of training . Diocese: an area consisting of several parishes which is presided over by a bishop.'

There are going to be a lot of terms like that, aren't there?

'Which is what always gets you confused. You used the Ordinand System in our Doctor Who audio as somewhere the Nimon once devastated, didn't you?'

Yes, I recall. So what does this D.D.O. do?

'After a year or so (three in my case), working out whether or not you're up for this, talking to your spouse -'

Oh yes, I remember. Your D.D.O. was terrifying, like Yoda in the body of Miss Marple.

'... they send you to the Bishop, for an interview. The two of them decide whether or not to send you to a B.A.P. -'

What is -?

'- A Bishop's Advisory Panel, a series of tests, presentations and interviews which takes three days. Assuming you pass, and get a successful Criminal Records Bureau check from the police, and a successful health check from your doctor, and check out as financially viable and not in debt, then you get recommended for training. You then choose which theological college (seminary is a Roman Catholic term) you want to go to and apply.'

How do you choose?

'It depends on what flavour of church you prefer, from "high" church (ceremony, candles, incense, dressing up) to "low" or "evangelical" church (preaching, praise songs, informal worship) or something on the vast spectrum in between.'

So where does your college, Cuddesdon, fit into that?

'It's officially non-partisan, it takes everybody. It's traditionally liberal, somewhere in the middle.'

So what happens when you apply?

'You pass an interview, then, depending on whether you're under thirty or have a theology degree, or have a lot of experience, you're put on a course lasting one to three years. If you don't have a theology degree, you'll get one; if you do, you'll get a higher one.'

So what happens when you've passed the course?

'You're ordained as a deacon.'

And a deacon is-?

'It's the first level of ordination. In the early church, deacons brought matters that needed attention to the notice of priests, and took care of the sick. These days, pastoral care is still a big part of a deacon's work. As a deacon, you can baptise people, and conduct funerals and weddings.'

I thought you needed to be a vicar to do that?

'No, you don't. And, you know, anyone can baptise.'

What?! Don't confuse me!

'Before becoming a deacon, before your course ends, you'll have applied for a title post, a position as a curate in a parish.'

And a curate is-?

'It's a job title. It's an apprentice vicar, the final stage of training, outside of college, and in a parish. You're working for a vicar.'

So at the end of your course, you're ordained as a deacon and take up a post as a curate?

'Exactly. Why could you never remember this?'

It's complicated! So how long are you a curate for?

'Usually, three years. After the first of those years, you're usually ordained as a priest.'

And a priest is-?

'It's the second rank of ordination. You can bless people and conduct Holy Communion. (The bit with the bread and wine.)'

So for the last two years of your posting, you're a curate and a priest?

'Right. At the end of your curacy, you apply for other jobs.'

You apply, rather than being sent?

'You apply by looking at job adverts looking for vicars in the back of The Church Times. You then go for job interviews at parishes. If the parish council and/or churchwardens like you, you're given the job of being their vicar.'

And a vicar is-?

'It's a job title, a priest with oversight over a parish. Not all priests are vicars, but all vicars are priests. As a priest, you could apply for jobs other than being a vicar, like being a chaplain in a prison or hospital.'

And a dean is-? A canon is-? A rector is-?

'These are all job titles, priests who've taken up various jobs in cathedrals or dioceses. Historically, a rector was someone who had the right to the income from a piece of church land, while a vicar was just hired to run the church. These days, some vicars are just called rectors because of local tradition.

And a bishop is-?

'The third rank of ordination. Bishops can confirm people, and ordain the lower two ranks.'

And an archbishop is-?

'Someone in charge of a lot of bishops. There are just two of them in England, in Canterbury and York.'

And the Pope is- ?

'-In charge of an entirely different denomination, not the Church of England.'

And a robber button is-?

'An old Blackadder joke.'

So where are you now in this process?

'I've applied for my curacy, at Saint Mary's, Amersham, and been accepted. I'm finishing my course now, and will hopefully be ordained as a deacon in July.'

So you'll be marrying, burying and baptising people from July?

'I could, it depends if they need me to.'

And your vicar there will be?

'The Rev. Tim Harper.'

The one off Midsomer Murders?

'He's been in the show several times. They use his buildings to film in, and he gets to play a vicar.'

Will you be solving murders, or committing them? Like my Mum thinks you will be?

'Definitely not committing them, but when it comes to solving them, you never know.'

What does 'Reverend' mean? Will you be that?

'It's just an honourific, like Mr or Mrs, I'll be that as soon as I'm ordained as a deacon. This changes with your level of seniority or job. Deans and bishops get different titles.'

What do we call you? 'Your grace' or something like that?

'In some churches you'll get called "father", "mother" or "reverend". But it's not important.'

Do I have to call you that?

'Oh yes.'

But -

'I'm joking.'

Oh. Okay. Can I ask you some questions that people have sent in?

'People have sent in questions?'

Yes. Mags Halliday asks: 'Are you hoping for a Dibley or a Rev posting?'

'I haven't seen Rev, but Amersham's not unlike Dibley.'

Heather Lisy asks: 'How long is there between going to seminary and becoming vicar of one's own church?'

'At a minimum, five years from the start of the course.'

Ian Boothby asks: 'Is it true that to the vicars go the spoils?'

'I wish it were true. It depends on your parish, but you're usually paid around £20 thou a year.'

Tony Lee asks: 'Will you be able to exorcise demons like Sam does in Supernatural?'

'Theoretically, but there's a specialist in each diocese you can go to for that kind of thing. I tend not to believe in ghosts and demons, but there's enough weirdness in the world that I try to keep an open mind.'

Except about Bigfoot.

'You bring Bigfoot into everything.'

He also asks: 'Do you get a Vicar Cave and a Vicarmobile?'

'I get a house, known as a vicarage when one is a vicar, but I don't know of any vicar who's managed to get a company car.'

Mark Coale asks: 'Was your appointment genderwise a big deal or fairly commonplace now in the UK?'

'It's fairly commonplace these days, but can be trickier depending on which diocese you come from. Some bishops are still pretty anti female clergy. Certainly at my college, the gender split is 50/50.'

He also asks: 'How often do you hear jokes about The Vicar of Dibley?'

'ALL THE TIME. Can be a useful jokey conversation opener though.'

Are you going to wear your dog collar to parties and conventions?

'Dog collar meaning "clerical collar" - that white strip around the collar of my shirt, right? It's a choice on my part rather than a dictum from the church. Depends on the party. Clerical collars don't go all that well with cocktail dresses. But definitely to conventions. Although I suspect people will think I'm cosplaying.'

Can you marry or bless friends who ask you?

'I can't bless people or things until I'm a priest. I can marry friends, but it will depend on us getting permission from the local vicar whose church you want to get married in, and of course it would have to happen in a church.'

And that's all I can think of, though feel free to ask questions of your own. I hope the above isn't taken as 'oh, look at how clever my wife is'. It's an outreach on my part, an attempt to get past the most alienating thing about any specialist job: the terminology. It's also all the questions we get asked all the time. Except the ones about Dan Brown.

Tomorrow, I'll be presenting your fan fiction! I'm very much looking forward to that. Until then, Cheerio!






The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Seven

About the Cricket.

Getting other stuff out of the way first, our friends at the BBC Archive have just put up their latest collection of programmes, images and documents, and this time it's a wonderful bunch of stuff concerning James Bond, including quite a few times BBC shows have gone on set at the various movies. Well worth a look.

Someone asked me, when I revealed that I was going to be doing a much more personal series of essays for this year's Twelve Blogs, if I'd talk about my love for cricket. So you can blame him for the following. It'll be emotional, rather than technical, if that helps.

People seem to assume that my love for the game comes from me also being a fan of the Peter Davison era of Doctor Who, but actually I wasn't particularly following it back then (indeed, I remember I wrote some fan fiction that spectacularly failed to understand the laws of the game). It was during my twenties that I started to pay attention. I think the moment one becomes a fan is the moment when one starts to welcome the appearance of new players rather than resent the fact that you'd been following a team and now they're changing it. (Football threw me like that when I'd started to appreciate Kevin Keegan's Newcastle side, but couldn't bring myself to just follow a brand when those individuals left.) I've never been tremendously attached to a particular county side (though I'll always cheer on Somerset and Gloucestershire, and find myself attracted to experimental or romantic sides, as when Middlesex recently started getting serious about the Twenty20 version of the game). It's the mechanism I enjoy, and the style and personality of particular players, scattered all round the counties.

Mechanism and personality. Those opposing concepts are at the heart of what I enjoy so much about the game.

The mechanism is the somewhat autistic joy men (mostly) take in numbers and records, and the excitement that a body of such records going back to 1877 can generate. Alastair Cook going past the highest score of (greatest player ever) Don Bradman at a particular Australian ground means something. Exactly what, I couldn't tell you. But I think it has something to do with making the observer feel time passing, more of which later. Cricket is as obsessed with statistics as baseball is, one of the many curious things the games share, not just in terms of mechanics. Both are the poetic, sad, ruthless, carefree summer games, played supposedly by gentlemen but also ruffians too, and sometimes the gentlemen are ruffians.

The personality is the strange way that, in cricket, who you are, what you're like, determines the way you play, and often how well you play. Sachin Tendulkar's silent nobility, Kevin Petersen's unconcerned certainty in his own abilities (one night in the middle of a record breaking score, his only twitter message was about how odd it was that any colour of bubble bath produced white bubbles), Steve Waugh's zen warrior ethic, Ian Botham's frustrated fury and refusal to lie down. Cricket is about turning body language into sporting skill. Petersen will see a bowler coming at him, realise in an impossible fraction of a second that he can take the ball that's yet to be released from the bowler's hand and deposit it somewhere outside the ground, and skip forward as the ball's loosed, his muscles swinging with the thought, before the thought, to connect half way down the pitch, knocking it up over the bowler's head, and then not even try to run, put a hand to his eyes and watch it go, and then amble back to his crease, still unconcerned, just one more nice thing in his day, a joy to exercise his tall frame, like throwing a bale of hay onto a cart. Jonathan Trott, on the other hand, will practice his OCD ritual at the crease before every ball, tap, move, turn, get ready, don't get out, fine, let's go. And then when he connects he's off with a nervous energy that belies such a stoic face, shows fire inside. Little Ian Bell looks angry, feisty, pulling out the beautiful strokes only after he's spent half an hour psyching himself into it. Beautiful, fragile, Alastair Cook, like some lost World War One poet, will play badly but well on occasion, always too awkward to connect well, but not getting out, hacking his way to big scores, hurting us and himself all the way. And then, as in the first two matches of this series, suddenly all that work comes together, and every stroke looks finished, worked on, sublime. I've just talked about batsmen, but with bowlers too, the way they play is who they are. Cricket is a game where players talk to each other all the time. Sometimes it's abuse ('sledging', thought highly of when it's funny), sometimes it's just saying hello to try and get the batsman distracted. The Aussies will continually barrack someone like Cook, who needs all his concentration, but keep silent around Petersen, because they know how much he'll always feel the need to prove himself, that outer offhandedness hiding the consequences of rejection in his younger days. Bully him and he'll go into some sort of angry overdrive.

Put those two concepts together, and you've got the human being against the mechanism, all these vulnerable people pushing each other hard into a set of rules that are designed to crush the spirit, and thus allow heroism. There's a reason they're called Test Matches. It's the form of the game I love most, five days of grand opera, with lulls, crescendos, sub plots of personality against personality, reversals, tragedy. It's always on in the background in Britain. On a summer day, you can go out in London, and pop you're head in the pubs along the way to check the score. (I want the title sequence to Channel 4's Test Match coverage played at my funeral, featuring as it does people wandering into the dark of a pub to look up at that little square of green and white and sunlight on the telly, and my hero Nasser Hussain with that 'you will not be beaten' expression on his face.) You do something else in front of the telly, or listening to the radio, or even in the stands, and look up when the quantum foam of possibility turns into fireworks. I was in a taxi in Glasgow once when England won a Test Match on the last ball, and the taxi driver had to stop so we could both jump up and down (yes, I know, he'd be the only Scot with the radio on!)

I think this game is about time, about making us aware of its passing. You begin as a youngster, playing your first game of First Class Cricket (that is, for a county or state side), and as such, every detail of your performance, your personality turned into numbers, will be logged and compared to what the greats did. This very day (well, probably tomorrow unless you go really fast), you might score more than Brian Lara's 501 not out, the highest ever First Class score. You might become immortal. Or you might be out first ball. You will play against and with your heroes. As a young player, you will meet in their last matches those of the last generation, who connect you to the generation before that, and right back to W.G.Grace in a chain of about six players. As you get to the end of your career, you'll have to weigh up what things you can still do well against what your body will stand, decide whether to retire or let the buggers sack you, whether to play for a minor county or go win something for some little village, or, like Ian Botham, never touch a cricket bat again. Which is, weirdly, the most poignant thing that old bruiser ever did.

This larger time is reflected in the season as well. Every year it's a plea for the sun to return from the outer darkness. It starts wet, sometimes when there's still snow. It ends with the shadows getting longer and longer, earlier and earlier, and in the middle there are crisp mornings, and long evenings, and sun baked pitches with cracks made for fast bowlers, and the whites shine. The end of the season is mournful. In the old days, players were only paid for the season, and had to scramble for winter jobs. And at the end of their careers they got one benefit match, where they got the money from every ticket sold. And if it rained that day, nothing. It's a lot better now, with sensible contracts, but still a cricketer's soul is tied to the season cycle, and to grander time beyond that, and to waiting through the winter, living for the moment when the pitch starts to be worked on, and a date for nets (practice) is set, and then the day the scores start being read on the radio. Cricket still has an astonishing suicide rate compared to other sports. Half of that is the extreme nature of the game, where how you stand or how you run or how brave you are can also make you foolish. In the days of the Empire, this was the game that best prepared you for machine gun fire. And half of it is about the death and resurrection of the sun, and wondering if this summer should be the last.

It's stopped being such a male game now. Claire Taylor, the first woman to be named as one of Wisden's Cricketer's of the Year is an incredible wielder of the bat, a genius who plays strokes that make lovers of the game gasp at their beauty. She's expressing herself in an England team that's the best in the world. She's expressing herself openly, proudly, simply. Those strokes say she's free and an individual, and, at the same time, terribly, mortal.

That's what this game's about.

Tomorrow, more stuff! In the five days left, there'll be your fan fiction, the answers to the quiz, and all sorts of festive shenanigans. Until then, Cheerio!


The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Six

A Doctor Who Mod for Apples to Apples.

A couple of things have happened since yesterday. For one thing, a blizzard has descended on my house, turning today's walk to the post office into a story of courage and survival (and cream cakes, actually). CBR'S series of DC Writer's Relay interviews has concluded with me interviewing Scott Snyder. And the Dirty Whoers Podcast has released an episode in which they talk to me, Nev Fountain and some Daleks.

Today's blog is going to be a bit boggling for those who haven't played Apples to Apples, a wonderful party card game that I was first introduced to at Convergence (the world's best convention TM). Since the game's now being sold in the mass market in the UK, and indeed, being pushed a bit in the Christmas rush, I feel rather more confident about presenting the basics for an absolutely non-official, no money to be made, Doctor Who version. Apples to Apples works by using two packs of cards, green cards, which have adjectives printed on them, and red cards, which show nouns or phrases. The game is about finding the green card which best describes a played red card, and that's where the hilarity lies. Doing a Doctor Who version would be less hilarious, I feel, if the green cards were changed to be more Who-ish, with adjectives like 'dimensionally transcendental', so my version keeps the green cards as is, also reflecting DW's mainstream nature. So a player will indeed have to decide if the Sensorites are 'quaint'.

Thus, my 162 red cards, complete with their 'flavour text' descriptions (which don't really describe the subject unless it's very obscure), would be:

The First Doctor: Not a mountain goat, and he prefers walking to any day.
The Second Doctor: Oh my word!
The Third Doctor: A cosmic yo yo.
The Fourth Doctor: What?! Ah!
The Fifth Doctor: Interesting!
The Six Doctor: Repeat three times, loudly.
The Seventh Doctor: Burnt toast and bus stations.
The Eighth Doctor: Half human on his mother's side.
The Ninth Doctor: Coming to get you!
The Tenth Doctor: He likes a little shop.
The Eleventh Doctor: Geronimo!
The Master: That jackanapes.
Davros: Made the Daleks in his own image.
The Daleks: Exterminate! Do not deviate!
Skaro: From the Lake of Mutations to the Petrified Jungle, the Dalek home planet.
The Kaleds: Kind of fated to become the Dalek race.
The Cybermen: You will be like us.
Mondas: Cyberman home, Earth's twin, with it's own Isle of Wight.
The Tardis: With a swimming pool, a boot cupboard and a typewriter control surface.
The Tardis food machine: You can get goo that tastes like bacon and eggs.
The Key to Time: A crystal that can stop everything so the universe can be fixed.
K-9: The shooty dog thing.
Playing Doctor Who in the playground: Who were you?
The Fourth Doctor's Scarf: Made by a witty little knitter.
The Song of the Ood: Ood mood music, made psychically.
The Blinovitch Limitation Effect: You can't mess with your own history (except when you can).
Luke Smith: He's not a real boy. But he is Sarah Jane's son.
Captain Jack Harkness: Does time travel the long way round.
Torchwood: Have never bothered with a pension plan.
The Slitheen: Always just a zipper away from revealing themselves.
The Sontarans: Sontar-ha!
UNIT: United... Something... Intelligence Taskforce.
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart: Enjoy saying his full name.
River Song: The Doctor's wife... oh, isn't she?
Rory Williams: No longer a Roman, or made of plastic.
Rose Tyler: Bad wolves like chips.
Martha Jones: A proper doctor.
Mr. Smith: Sarah Jane's computer partner.
Gallifrey: Seems to produce its share of renegades.
Christmas Special: A BBC institution.
The Archimandrite's Hat: From 'Androids of Tara', extraordinary millinery.
The Scarecrows: There's got to be a word for that lolloping they do.
Amy Pond: Come along, Pond!
The Sensorites: The Ood must hate it that their neighbours are psychic.
Spoilers: It sounds better coming from River Song.
My First Episode: You're old enough to have seen 'An Unearthly Child', right?
My Sonic Screwdriver: Could it be a bit more sonic?
My Favourite Companion: Who would you take on adventures?
My Favourite Story: Or the one you'll admit to.
My Doctor Who Fantasy: Could be a what, could be a who.
My Squee Moment: When you screamed at the screen in delight.
My Fan Fiction Experience: Do we want to hear about your Adric fic?
My Opinions on Dalek Design: No, go on, tell us.
My Doctor Who Impersonations: Your Mum says they're very good.
My Merchandise Collection: Do you have a special shelf?
My Convention Experience: What, really, in the elevator?
My Cosplay Moment: As Captain Jack, in the library, with the lead piping.
My Green Cathedral: I could play all day in it.
Bessie: The Third Doctor's car. I'm betting 'yellow' isn't in the pack.
Allons-y: Redirects to 'Tenth Doctor' on Wikipedia.
Donna Noble: Watch it, spaceman!
Executive Producer: One day it'll be you.
Question Mark Umbrella: The Seventh Doctor never seemed to need it for rain.
The Rod of Rassilon: Controls great power on Gallifrey.
Doctor Who Annuals: Used to be the only book about the show.
Terry Nation: He created the Daleks, and Blake's 7.
Silurians: The Earth's theirs, we're just squatters.
The Peking Homunculus: Otherwise known as Mr. Sin in 'Talons of Weng Chiang'.
The Pandorica: A trap for a Time Lord.
The Meddling Monk: Didn't seem bothered about the laws of time.
Adric: He had a badge for mathematical excellence.
The Zygons: Enjoyed life in Loch Ness, organised local charity functions.
The Ogri: Every stone circle is probably them.
The Zarbi: An actor inside every ant.
Venom Grubs: The grubs don't work, as The Verve nearly said.
Jelly Babies: Would you care for one?
UNIT Dating: Well, we don't know what they got up to, do we?
Running Down Corridors: About a whole episode's worth in the old days.
The Last Great Time War: They'd know it's the last one.
The End of the World: The episode or the concept.
Jago and Litefoot: The impressario and the doctor from 'Talons of Weng Chiang'.
Being Exterminated: You can get a cream for that now.
Sonic Lipstick: Careful with the settings.
Multi-Doctor Stories: So there are five of me now!
Regeneration: When two becomes three.
Venusian Aikido: hai!
Quarries: Sometimes not standing in for alien planets.
The Fall of Troy: Is there a Doctor in the horse?
Time Paradoxes: I hope I never have to write another one.
Quarks: They had strangeness and charm.
The Weeping Angels: Don't look away from this card.
Alternate Universes: Where there are always dirigibles, for some reason.
Vincent Van Gogh: Go on, describe his troubles with a funny noun.
Kroll: Kroll! Kroll! Kroll!
Harry Sullivan: Only qualified to work on sailors.
Movellans: Like the seventies never ended.
Reversing the polarity of the neutron flow: Can solve anything.
The Miniscope: The galactic zoo from 'Carnival of Monsters'.
Getting Knocked Unconscious: Tom Baker does it three times an episode.
The Fast Return Switch: Written in biro on the Tardis console.
The Destruction of Atlantis: You choose which version.
Target Novelisations: Often by Terrance Dicks.
Kissing the Doctor: Yuck, soppy stuff!
Screaming: Something companions used to do.
Waistcoats: Most Doctors favour them.
Spraining Your Ankle: Only happened three times in the whole series.
Slash Fiction: We've all written some adult fiction involving series characters.
Chameleon Circuit: He could fix it if he wanted to.
A Junkyard in Trotter's Lane: Where we first met the Doctor.
The Cloister Bell: Goes boom when there's doom.
Event One: The start of the universe.
The Panopticon: Named after a prison.
The Next Doctor: Carried a real screwdriver.
The Ark: At least they preserved a small elephant.
The BBC Radiophonic Workshop: Where bleeps come from.
The Spacetime Vortex: Seen in the title sequence.
Omega: Born Gallifrey, Died Amsterdam.
Frock Coats: The Doctor tends to favour them.
Hypnotism: The Doctor's skills in this vary wildly.
Autons: Plastic but fun.
Traken: Where Nyssa comes from.
Russell T. Davies: The man who brought back Doctor Who.
Steven Moffat: Current Executive Producer.
Rani: At least three characters called that.
The Eruption of Vesuvius: You have to save somebody.
Bigger on the Inside than the Outside: To put it simply.
Queen Elizabeth: We think we've worked out what happened.
The Doctor's Dancing: He could have danced all night.
Madame De Pompadour: The girl in the fireplace.
Ianto Jones: Made the coffee.
Retcon: The drug that... erm...
Question Marks: On the Doctor's clothes, sometimes.
Wearing a Fez: He does that now.
Giant Maggots: They're on the slag heap. I think they're breeding.
E Space: Not like our own universe. Cheaper.
The Mara: Not just a big snake prop.
The Mona Lisa: Or possibly in the plural.
Pete Tyler: Always crashing in the same car.
Cat Nuns: Armed and fabulous.
Hello Sweetie: Should be on a t-shirt.
Sally Sparrow: The angels have the phone box.
Being Ginger: The Doctor would like to be.
The Vashta Nerada: Stay away from the shadows.
Sarah Jane Smith: The defender of Earth.
Gold: What Cybermen are afraid of. Well, one of the many things.
Talking Straight to Camera: Tom and Matt both do it.
'Doctor in Distress': A charity record to save Doctor Who.
The Great Fire of London: The Doctor's responsible for almost everything.
Janis Thorns: What Leela uses to kill things.
Bad Wolf Bay: Looms large in Rose's legend.
Mickey Smith: Not just a tin dog.
Wilfred Mott: Was in the Paras, you know.
The Adipose: Made of fat, like so many good things.
The Shadow Proclamation: Were the law in the universe.
The Judoon: Fo Mo Po Ro Sho!
The Matrix: Not that one, where Time Lords go when they die.
DVD Easter Eggs: Just click all over the menu.
The Family of Blood: Not unjustly dealt with at all.
The Not We: How the Kinda tribe describe outsiders.
Paris: 'City of Death' as we call it, to the French tourist board's chagrin.
Pure Historicals: Stories with no monsters.
The Yeti: The ones with the spheres in their chests.

And that's it! Consider this a play test, let me know if there's anything wrong with the above list (I'll edit the blog entry) and do tell me how you get on if you make up the cards and play this version.

All this led Laurie Pink to wonder about a Tardis Cluedo board...

And to John Kovalic, the original artist on Apples to Apples (and the creator of Dork Tower), sending us this lovely note:

'So here is Paul Cornell, professional Clever person, coming up with a very clever idea - a Doctor Who version of Apples to Apples.

I worked on Apples to Apples for over a decade: more than simply drawing the Apple and the logo, I was - amongst other things - pretty much the guy directly responsible for the foolish "flavor text" idea on the bottom of each card. (If you're unfamiliar with this, the flavor text allows anyone who may believe - say - that "Charlotte Bronte" is a budget brand of cake mix, to nevertheless play a Charlotte Bronte red apple card with confidence, style and verve in the game.)

Flavor text was probably my cleverest contribution to Apples to Apples, which was an enormously clever game to begin with. So as somebody who occasionally comes up with clever ideas, and who is also fanatical about the galactic cleverness of Doctor Who, I have to say Paul's Doctor Who version idea really is Extremely Clever.

Oh. And I also drew this. Just to show I can draw things other that damn apple."



Thanks very much for that, John. Until tomorrow, Cheerio!