Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Flowers and Memorials

Since my camera developed a severe case of bashfulness (the lens will come out when I turn it on but shortly afterwards shoots back inside as if it doesn’t like what it sees out here) I haven’t been taking many photos when out walking. However, since I’ve been walking to Voila the damp has increased up in the mountains and this has made a nice change to the burnt-out wilderness they became back in June/July.

 
These, so my Plants of Crete book tell me (thanks Jean-Pierre) are Common Sternbergia. Of course this is the kind of thing you would expect to see in spring in England, but here the season when all the kinds of plants you see in England are knackered is the summer. In fact the Cretans are now planting all sorts of veg.

 
My walk to Voila now takes me along a slightly different route to the one I initially used. This is a winding track down past a memorial to that point on the tarmac road where I first saw those words ‘Never Stop Writing’ scribed onto the white line.

 
When I first looked at the memorial I guessed, with my yet limited understanding of Greek, that it was to some town official or, as is so often the case here, to some local priest. However, I memorized the name and asked about it next time I was in the kafenion. Yiannis, the patron, made a gun shape with his hand and said something about WWII and the Germans. He also told me that this guy was a ‘thaskalos’ – teacher.

 
Yesterday, after I had taken the pictures you see here, I showed them to Anna (my Greek teacher neighbour), who then showed them to her mother who, having been a resident of the nearest village to that memorial, recognised it at once.

 
Again, some limited understanding of Greek was involved, but I understood some of it and certainly understood the hand gestures. Right, they ripped his fingernails out. There was more. I still don’t know what this guy did but I’m guessing it was something to do with the Cretan resistance. Anyway, he certainly pissed off the Nazis because they ripped his fingernails out – this doubtless accompanied by other tortures – then finished the job by burying him alive.     

Ain’t humans wonderful.  

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Forbidden Planet Signing

Thursday, 29th January, 2015 18:00 -

London Megastore, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8JR

NEAL ASHER will be signing DARK INTELLIGENCE at the Forbidden Planet London Megastore on Thursday 29th January from 6 – 7pm


One man will transcend death to seek vengeance. One woman will transform herself to gain power. And no one will emerge unscathed...
Thorvald Spear wakes in hospital, where he finds he's been brought back from the dead. What's more, he died in a human vs. alien war that ended a whole century ago. But when he relives his traumatic final moments, he finds the spark to keep on living. That spark is vengeance.
Isobel Satomi ran a successful crime syndicate. But after competitors attacked, she needed more power. Yet she got more than she bargained for when she negotiated with Penny Royal. She paid it to turn her part-AI herself, but the upgrades hid a horrifying secret. The Dark AI had triggered a transformation in Isobel that would turn her into a monster, rapidly evolving into something far from human.

This is the first volume in a no-holds-barred adventure set in Asher's popular Polity universe.
Neal was born in Billericay and started writing SF and Fantasy at 16. After a range of jobs that landed him in the machine industry, he began the Hadrim trilogy, and wrote his first version of Fool's Mate. Neal has had great acclaim and success for his books; Gridlinked, The Skinner, The Line of Polity, Cowl, Brass Man, The Voyage Of The Sable Keech and Hilldiggers.

Walking to Voila


Tuesday 7th October
For five days now I’ve remained up in the mountains, every day walking to Voila. I was going to write a long post, or even an essay with ‘Walking to Voila’ as the title. To me the phrase somehow relates to Sisyphus pushing his boulder up a hill throughout eternity, only to have it roll back down every time. An eternal cycle; repetitive labour rewarded only by ending up back where you started. It’s a bit like grief really. When I think I’m getting somewhere, recovering, starting to feel better, something comes along and tips me over the edge and I seem to end up back where I started. When someone asks, ‘Where have you been?’ my reply is often just, ‘Crashed and burned again’. But it does get better. The boulder doesn’t roll all the way down every time. And my coping measure now is to take the 9 mile walk to Voila every day.

 
In this post, or essay, I was going to write about some of the things that have happened to Caroline. But as, in my mind, I got past the stuff about boulders, with maybe a little bit about Prometheus chained to a mountain top having his liver eaten out, I got into the nitty-gritty. I realised then that I could not do this. I cannot talk analytically about Caroline going, ‘Oh no,’ and then dying as I tried to make her more comfortable, or the light going out in her eyes, which it did – that is no cliché. I cannot detail the daily awfulness of an ileostomy bag or the litres of vomited emerald green bile flushed down the toilet. Just a few examples there, and I have not yet inspected too closely the definite holes in my memory.

The Late Post


I’ve been remiss in posting here yet again...

Saturday 27th September
It’s kakos keros today (bad weather) and, as I mooch about the house gradually getting a few jobs done (like wiping the three week’s accumulation of dust off the coffee table), I realise that this is probably a good thing.

 
A moment ago, I was gazing at one item in a list of things I must look up while next on the internet: physical exhaustion. In retrospect, walking 8 to 9 miles then kayaking twice that on Thursday, fuelled by just a bowl of cornflakes, coffee, tea, 2 beers, 2 glasses of wine and a pomegranate, wasn’t clever. On the Friday I felt drained, so didn’t walk in the morning as intended. When down in Makrigialos I did kayak, once, and afterwards felt quite ill so went home. Today, after a typically crappy night’s sleep I ate a bowl of cornflakes. Then, still feeling like I’d been tapped out by a vampire during the small hours, I realised I needed more fuel than that so ate a bowl of chilli. The usual then followed as my body used remaining resources to digest that and knocked me out on the sofa. Now, after a further bowl of chilli at midday, I’m starting to feel like I might be able to do some stuff. Luckily, it’s pissing down and, even I, nuts as I am, think that kayaking 10 or 15 miles in the pouring rain might not be the smartest move.

 
I guess I’m discovering my limitations and, one would hope, pushing against them. Flicking back through my journal, I see that most days I’ve been doing the kind of exercise that a couple of years ago would have left me wiped out for a week. I also think I’ve been led slightly along a false path by taking just a little notice of this BMI nonsense. According to that, for my age and height, my range is supposed to be 9st 13lb to 12st 5lb. At present my weight seems to hover about 12st 7lb so I’m fat? Bollocks.

 
And now onto a completely different subject... Another thing I’ve wondering about is when I last did a book signing, and which book it was. I could find out of course by opening my picture files, but then I would see pictures of Caroline and looking at those while stuck inside on a rainy day is not a great idea. Especially when feeling exhausted and weak – my resistance to my inner masochist is at a low ebb at the moment. Anyway, I’m pretty sure the book concerned was Hilldiggers in 2007.

 
The reason I’ve been wondering about this is because, what with the intervention of stuff like cancer and death, the publication of my next book, Dark Intelligence, was deferred to this winter. This will, therefore, be the first time, in about 8 years, that I’ll be physically present in England during the release of one of my books.



 
The good people at Macmillan, spotting this fact, got onto me and asked if I was up for doing something. Well, so long as it doesn’t involve giving talks or readings I am (I did not retreat into my bedroom to write all those years ago because I wanted to be a performer). I will, it transpires, be signing hardback copies of Dark Intelligence in Forbidden Planet, London, on the 29th January. Be there or be square ... or quite possibly Kindle-shaped. 

Sunday 29th September
Kakos keros still, and again no exercise. Yesterday, after eating the cornflakes, then later two platefuls of chilli and rice, I ate a bowl of meat, cheese and pickled onions then in the evening went out for a meal of lamb chops, potatoes, rice and salad. In essence, I ate about two to three times my usual. When I weighed myself that morning I came in at 12st 5.4lbs. This morning I weighed in at spot on 13st. Um, so a weight gain of 8.6lbs in one day, most of it sitting in my stomach, large intestine and small intestine. I must remember to feel no fear next time I’m on the crapper, because the world is going to be dropping out of my bottom.

 
Today, thus far, my routine has been much the same, though with one less plateful of chilli. Still I feel knackered, still my hands are slightly shaky and still my legs feel like they did 10 miles yesterday. I did rally at about 4PM when I pushed myself to sweep out the stove chimney (a rat had taken up residence in it earlier in the summer). After that I felt warm enough to take off my hoody and thought I might be able to do a bit more. About half an hour later I again ended up flat on my back on the sofa. Evolutionary imperative I guess. Your body will respond when you push it simply because the bodies that all the time went, ‘Nah I’m too knackered and I can’t be bothered,’ ended up as lunch for a passing sabre tooth.

Other things I’m noticing. A mosquito bite on my ankle that has just been stubbornly not healing up over many weeks, has now dried up and properly scabbed over. Spots that a two weeks ago appeared on my back scalp and chin are also drying up and healing. The result of rest? Or the result of not perpetually dunking them in the sea? I don’t know. I certainly need to research how to body responds to the kind of pressure I’ve been putting mine under over the last ... 7 months.

Now, if I can summon up the will, it’s time I returned to my Greek homework.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Positively Negative, or something...


I just dumped a number of blog posts in my Unused Blogs file for the same reason many others are there – too miserable and negative. Now I shall try to be positive because, it often is a matter of choice. Depression can be at a point where you can choose whether to sink lower or pull yourself up by your bootstraps and so it is with grief. I can continue chewing on my own liver by hauling up horrible images and memories for my inspection, or I can choose to deny them and think positively. Hang on, this is getting miserable again. Stop now. Smile.

 
So, Transformation II or Factory Station Room 101 (provisionally) has winged its way off to Macmillan. After that, being positive (this was two weeks ago) I opened up a file called ‘Dr Whip’ which I again read through (and no, this is not a short story destined for the pages of Spanking Weekly). Here is another weird character who had a nasty encounter with Penny Royal. He appeared in the first book along with that character Tuppence who appears in my story The Other Gun (Asimov’s). I removed both of these completely from the book, which I guess demonstrates that I do that editorial thing of killing my babies. Asmodeus Whipple had a nasty encounter with Penny Royal and has undergone, and is still undergoing, a transformation...

However...

Sorry to be negative again, but I just could not summon up enough interest in it to continue. Still too soon I guess. I turned then instead to Transformation III or Spear & Spine (provisionally) and started editing my way through that. I suspect that with the new publishing schedule of my books of January to February I’ll be sending that in a year before it’s due.

 
In other news it seems I am now addicted to kayaking. Only yesterday, I took the thing from Revans in Makrigialos up opposite a restaurant called the Kariotsina at the far end of Koutsouras, then later took it in the opposite direction to a beach called Lagada. Those of you who don’t know this place won’t know what I’m talking about, but suffice to say it was a good few miles. This was all after my ‘big swim’. I’m now wondering whether I can go to all three extremes in one day: the two kayak runs above, my three-quarters of a mile swim, all after a morning walk of about eight miles. Of course the problem with this is that I won’t get much else done and will spend most of the rest of the day comatose on my sofa here.

 
It is now September and a crappy one for Crete too and, despite the above, I am not spending loads of time at the beach. I dump my stuff by a sun bed but don’t spend much time on the thing. I sit in Revans bar, but am not boozing till darkness. I drink fruit juice and piss about on Facebook and Twitter via the internet connection there – a pastime with limited appeal. I have therefore started Greek lessons again.

 
In English there are average word counts that differ for people’s speaking, reading and writing vocabularies. I’m not sure what it is for the first of these but, in Greek, I’m sure I’ve learned many more words. Sure, there are big gaping holes in my knowledge but if I could actually use the words I do know I’d have a fair shot at conversational Greek. To that end, the lessons Anna is giving me are slanted towards speaking and grammar. At present, she writes out a page long text for me in English. She reads out a sentence to me at a time, which I write down (so I don’t forget it) then speak in Greek, with her correcting me along the way. This takes up half to three-quarters of the lesson, whereupon she starts hitting me with various phrases in English that I then have to translate – testing all my weak points. Afterwards she hands over the English text and my homework is to translate it into written Greek.

 
Maybe, one day, I’ll translate all of Gridlinked into Greek and get it published here. That’s if I’m still capable when I’m 86.   

Monday, September 01, 2014

Lazy Weekend

Saturday 30/8/2014

I decided to take this weekend off, but not in the usual sense one would suppose. There have been very few days since February 8th, two days after Caroline’s cremation, when I haven’t gone on very long walks. Then, into the spring and summer, swum or kayaked long distances, or some combination of these three. Now I’m starting to feel a little weary. I also had a quandary to ponder, a need to take stock, a need to distance myself from that jaded feeling I’ve started to get down at the beach, and I also needed get some things done. One of these was finishing my edit of Factory Station Room 101. The other was to sort some paperwork for my tax return, because the Inland Revenue is not noted for its patience whether dealing with the bereaved or otherwise.

So, this morning I was up at 6.30 and at 7.30 headed out on a 6.5 mile walk through the mountains. Obviously, something about the idea of taking a rest from exercise had escaped me. Next, I went shopping in Sitia because when I found myself having boiled sweet corn for breakfast the day before I thought maybe it was time to restock the fridge. After packing this lot away, I ate a meal of salad and frankfurter wraps, then I fell asleep on the sofa for two hours.

*sigh*

It took me a further two hours to get motivated and finish those final bits of the second Transformation book. As you read this is should be sitting in Bella Pagan’s inbox. I then sorted through a drawer full of receipts to find the relevant ones for the tax man, and hopefully I’ll get all that stuff completed ready to file my tax return online, which is of course going to be a joy.

I am determined to take it easy tomorrow and not going schlepping up to those wind turbines again, or do any other form of heavy exercise. If anything, I’ll do a bit of light gardening. Let’s see how long this resolution lasts if it’s hot and still and I start comparing my need to sort out my taxes to kayaking along the Cretan coast or swimming in the Libyan Sea.

Sunday 31/8/2014

Minutes of the Committee for Autonomic Function
Hey look, we really like what you’ve been doing with the old organism. It’s looking the best it has in fifteen to twenty years and it’s doing stuff we never thought would be possible. I mean, constant exercise as a response to trauma ... well, we didn’t see that coming. The expectation here amongst us was that you’d just load the organism with cigarettes, alcohol and bacon sandwiches. Well, you quit feeding it alcohol, at least for a while, and those ecigs were a great move. As for the food intake ... well the cut in input of carbohydrates came as a shock to us but, as the fat dwindled, we saw that you’d made the right decision again. However, I’m sorry, enough is enough. Yes, you’re keeping up the exercise but there have been injuries. You yourself have admitted that the organism requires periods of rest so committee members can get on with some repairs. And, let’s be frank here, you’ve strayed back into trying to use alcohol as a mental analgesic and method of end-of-the-day shutdown, and it’s been a failure. Alcohol-induced insomnia is hindering the repair teams. And when we check for the required materials for repairs all we seem to be finding is empty alcohol calories. You, of course, know all this and this weekend promised to keep the organism at home so we could service it. Yet, what was the first thing you did on Saturday morning? You took it for a 6.5-mile walk. I’m sorry but this was plainly just aberrant and destructive behaviour. Therefore, we of the committee are enforcing inactivity and sleep interspersed with periods of high stomach and colon activity. And you, Brain, you we are shutting down.
...

It’s been an interesting day and another one of those ‘the body demands’ times. I was up at 6.00 whereupon I ate a breakfast of three boiled eggs and six slices of toast. After that I fell asleep for two or more hours, couldn’t get myself moving properly until 10.00 whereupon I ate a load of salad and frankfurter wraps. I then fell asleep for another hour or so, was sluggish for another hour after that, then ate some more wraps and fell asleep again. Next, I finally got myself motivated to do some cooking and put together a Swedish meatball stew and ate two bowls full of that. Thus far, at 6.30, there’s been no sign of Dr Narcolepsy creeping up behind me.

I only have myself to blame. I’ve been exercising excessively, not eating properly and drinking too much. Mr Insomnia has been with me most nights and, let’s be frank here, Messrs Beer, Wine and Raki opened the door for him. All this needs to change ... apart from the exercising excessively bit.

However, on the good news front: I sorted out all my receipts and then, upon checking my tax form discovered that now I file my return online I don’t have to do so until January. It was quite pleasing to chuck the whole lot back in a drawer. Fuck that shit.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Snakeskin

When the hot dry wind hits here is fries vegetation and heaps the detritus here and there around my garden. The leaves, flower petals and bougainvillea bracts haven’t had a chance to turn brown. It’s like someone has tipped out a few sack loads of potpourri. While clearing these up recently, ever wary of the odd concealed scorpion (though they’re not often about when it’s hot and dry) I found numerous crisp-dried sections of shed snakeskin. Judging by the size of these pieces the snake was three of four feet long. I wish I’d saved them for a photograph but they went in my composter with the potpourri. Only a few weeks after that wind did I pick up one small piece...


...and think ‘USB microscope’!

 
I don’t know whether this will be interesting – let’s find out.
Snakeskin x20

 
Snakeskin x80

 
Snakskin x350

 
Okay, I did find these interesting, but then I have a confession to make: I’m a nerd. Also, coincidentally, when going back to editing these are the first words I read: He gazed at the snake drone locked in its clamps, and at the spine driven in through its mouth and deep into its body.

Jaded


26/8/2014

So, this morning I worked through another 50 pages of Factory Station Room 101. I found this easy going because there were large sections that I had enjoyed writing and, consequently, felt no need to alter much. Of course it being the dictum that on the editorial front one must kill ones babies you’d think I should attack these sections more, or that later editorial input would see them getting chopped up. This is not the case, because that dictum is crap.

This afternoon I went down to Makrigialos beach and, feeling slightly knackered, decided to forgo my usual ‘big swim’. Instead, I kayaked for a few miles, much of it against strong wind. This left me feeling even more knackered (duh!). After a coffee and a fruit juice I had a beer, didn’t enjoy it much. I ate something, tried another beer, and ended up tipping half of that into the flowerbed. At this point I realised (partly due to being knackered) I was jaded with all this – had hit a point of ennui. I packed up my stuff, headed home, dozed on the sofa then woke feeling refreshed. Next, I did some tidying up in the garden, then in the house, and now the washing machine is on. All these chores I enjoyed more than my time down at the beach today.


Here then is a truth many expats discover, usually a little while after burning their boats by selling their house in England, buying or renting here, and simply not having the cash to go back. Holidays are fun, but turn your entire life into a holiday and it soon starts to get boring. Unless you’re and alcoholic, or become one, booze has its limitations. Very few people will find interesting a career move into lying in the sun. In my case, half an hour on a sun bed is about my limit before I want to do something else – the only time I’ll stay longer is if I read something or fall asleep. Really, doing nothing stinks.

 
Luckily for me, or rather by design, I go back to England for half the year. I can work wherever I can recharge a laptop. I have a garden here and a fascination for growing stuff. I walk, kayak and swim. In fact, it is only this year that I’ve ever found myself getting bored. I guess that’s because I now have large chunks of time to spare – those a wife once occupied. But I’m in kick myself up the arse mode at the moment, and this feeling of boredom stops right now.

This is why the next blog post will be about snake skin...

Monday, August 25, 2014

More Resolutions

So how much writing have I done lately? I’m ashamed to say not a lot at all. It’s not like I haven’t been active because, over the last few months, I’ve swum miles and kayaked miles and prior to that I walked for miles.

 
Now this seems to be a rather extreme version of that writerly cup of coffee – just another reason to get up from the desk and not do any writing. But as I’ve mentioned here before (I think) all this physical activity has been a way of shutting down my mind while writing, of course, tends make it a lot more active. So do I want to wake up now?
 

I think it’s time. As I write this it has been seven months since Caroline died. Certainly, that’s not been enough time for my mind to put itself back into order, but now I’m wondering if I should be proactive – force the issue, get back on the horse, slap myself into shape. The constant physical activity now seems a form of denial – a way of hiding from horrible reality. I have to impose some self-discipline.
 

Henceforth I am setting goals. A few weeks back I was again working through the second Penny Royal book – in a rather desultory way. I am now going work through 50 pages a day before I set out to knacker myself with kayaking and swimming. And I’m damned well going to write a blog for here at least every couple of days.

Yup, 50 pages done.     

Final Roof Repairs

Okay, this blog has been gathering cobwebs while its blogger has been AWOL. I’ve just had my niece Samantha and her boyfriend Dean staying here for three weeks, but I can’t blame them for the lack of posts here. Nuts as they are.

 
Anyway, what’s been happening? Well. A month or so back local builder Mikalis got round to sorting out the final leaking part of my roof.

 
The roof consists of three concrete slabs at different levels. The steps between these were over two-foot thick internal stone walls, but the slabs had not been overlapped or joined in any way. They expanded and contracted independently creating cracks and then interesting water features inside the house when it rained. Mikalis’s answer to this was to rip out the accumulation of crappy repairs, expose the steel in each roof, bind it together with an earthquake cage, put specialised sealants down the sides and re-concrete the whole thing.

 
Of course, once he started ripping things up he soon exposed other work that needed doing. This particular roof was slanted so it drained onto a neighbour’s roof which, besides not being very neighbourly, was probably illegal. The tiling was also crap – the tiles up high on blobs of tile cement so water could get underneath them through the slightest crack or hole, which it had done. I told him to rip up all the tiles and redo the lot.



 
Mikalis had to spread a layer of concrete across the roof to change the slant, and make a hole in the wall to take a drainpipe. After all the concrete had set he painted it with another sealant, then laid new tiles. The final result doesn’t look much different from how it was before, but hopefully next year I won’t come back to see where water has been running down or soaking into the wall underneath.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Flowers for Caroline


The summer before last I pulled out yet another dead climbing plant from the pot on our terrace. I can’t even remember what it was, so lacking in any redeeming qualities was it. Caroline and I then went to a garden centre in Ierapetra and talked to the Dutch lady running it. She came up with a plant right for the climate of Papagianades, that shed its leaves in the winter so wouldn’t require watering and produced beautiful flowers.
 

Last spring we watched it put out its first leaves of that year and spread up the trellis. But the thing flowered in August so we never got to see that, what with tumours and bowel cancer intervening. Now it is flowering.
 

So, here are the flowers Caroline never got to see. I’ll keep the plant, even though I feel sad and angry every time I look at it. But life moves inexorably on...

Ocean Frenzy

Um, I’m noticing how many of my posts now begin with something along the lines of ‘I was in a bar the other day...’ but what the hell? I was in The Rock bar the other day either after or before my usual ‘big swim’ (this is about three-quarters of a mile, topped off to a mile with a few additional smaller swims) and feeling a bit bored, peevish, whatever. I can’t keep swimming for hours on end and lying in the sun or drinking beer, though enjoyable, have limited entertainment value. Anyway, Chris – co-owner of The Rock and the guy who took me gorge walking – said, ‘Why don’t you take the kayak out?’

 
Pictures here are courtesy of Phil Toseland who, along with me, has the unfortunate honour of being a founder member of the Dead Wife’s Society. He too, a year before me, has been through the nightmare of watching his wife die.

 
Chris and I got the thing down and after an hour of getting the hang of it I realised I was having fun. I took it out a couple of times that day and certainly felt the effects. My neck and upper back were very stiff for a couple of days. Since then I’ve been taking it out two or three times a day, pushing further every time. I’ve rowed to the harbour, round the point to have a beer in the Stratos restaurant, to the point on the other side of Makrigialos bay, but haven’t yet ventured round that to Diaskari beach.

 
It can be said that I’ve travelled from Sitia to Ierapetra in the thing, just as I have with my swimming. When a Greek said to a tourist here that Chris swims between these two towns she was gob-smacked, until Chris’s wife Claire kindly pointed out that Makrigialos divided under the two authorities so what was being said was sort-of true.

 
I’ve also acted as a water taxi taking a friend called Pauline for a spin. I’ve learned how critical it is to keep the kayak pointed nose in when beaching it while the sea is rough. Getting flipped over and having the kayak bounce off my head didn’t hurt much, but I certainly lost a lot of poser points. I’ve also tried one Eskimo roll and I won’t be trying it again. This ocean kayak is far too stable both the right way up and upside down.    

 
Because of all this extra exercise I’m finding that my usual blasé attitude to food is fading. I need fuel and my body is not shy of informing me of this fact. Muscle development must have been rapid, especially since I’ve continued with the swimming too, and my weight is climbing. I guess this will come as a relief to those who were worried I was going to disappear at some point in a small implosion.

 In fact, I’ve been enjoying this so much I fully intend to buy one back in England and use it around the Essex coast and in the rivers there.