It’s a common misconception that kelpies of Scottish myth were horses. They are always horses in popular media. Those shapeshifters emerging black-maned from rivers and lochs to lure unwary humans to a nightmarish end being devoured amongst the weeds in the dark depths.
When thowes dissolve the snawy hoord An’ float the jinglin icy boord Then, water-kelpies haunt the foord By your direction An’ nighted trav’llers are allur’d To their destruction.
But kelpies weren’t always horses. They could be any animal that might founder in a way that would bring the unwary human to the water. If you can’t catch a man by inducing him to ride you, then why not be more antlion about it and get him to come to you?
Calves, sheep, goats.
At about 20s you can see where the fins used for swimming turn back into legs. I filmed this standing next to my significant other and our very excitable derpwolf, but this “deer” seems quite nonchalant about it. When I looked down, I found a line of hoofprints leading into the water.
I wonder if they were noticeably deeper than the ones the animal made on the way out.
I’m thrilled to announce that my story In Our Masks, the Shadows is now available in The Reinvented Heart edited by Cat Rambo and Jennifer Brozek. It’s a story about finding love, or at least a meaningful relationship, while trying to navigate layers of arbitrary social expectations and superficial significance. Currently only the e-book has been published, and US readers can click on that first link to find some places to buy it, but UK readers will have to wait for the physical version, which will be here soon. You can pre-order it from Amazon or Blackwells.
I discovered This Person Does Not Exist recently. It’s a fascinating project, in which two competing and opposing systems form a GAN – a Generative Adversial Network for machine learning. In short, while some machine learning attempts to minimise the distance to a specific image, a GAN has a system generating images in an attempt to fool another system which is there to identify fakes. Most of the images are impressive in how boring they are, but every so often the AI throws up an image that attempts to give the main subject a friend.
It almost never works. And every single one of these aberrations hits the low topography of the Uncanny Valley.
Maybe it’s because I watched a lot of Johnny Morris as a child, but I find it impossible to resist inventing conversations between these… Beings? Creatures? Whatever. Between them and their human companions.
When Barry was told his family was going to play host to one of the aliens as they attempted to learn about humans, he was initially delighted. It took a while to get used to Blogfert’s attempts to pass as human, not to mention his belief he should appear in every single photo Barry’s mum took, especially when Barry was the subject.
“Friend Gok! Look! If I put an eye onto a fist, I can check myself for errant wood-based orifice cleansing material after exiting the emanation facility! I have the BEST ideas.”
“If you do not smile, I will rest my soft appendage upon your person. Your previous sonic emanations lead me to the supposition this does not delight you.”
“Thank you for agreeing to a date night, designated owner. It is my happiness to entertain you. Please excuse me for the mishap rendering my outward demeanour only 72.7% aligned with your preference. I did not expect making salted caramel to be so violent. Do not worry, HOOMANS [TM] will service my flesh skin under warranty.”
“Mate, I know you THINK that looks just like a human hand, but no.”
“You cannot tell me that I have failed to replicate your appendage, friend Jeremy. Observe! The texture is identical.”
“Largog, mate, did we ever establish whether your species could actually count?”
“I can have no limbs or many, friend Jeremy. We count in base 23. This is an approximation, and, if I say so myself, a pretty darn good one.”
“Oh mate, no. Just no.”
“Hey, psst. Charlie. Did I ever tell you about the time I had to squeeze into a bottle to hide from Mrs Gilfencamp, but I’d just been showing Sheniah that I could have hairy armpits if I wanted to? Here. Turn round. This is what it looked like.”
“Yes, Flimgon, you told me last week. Shut up. I’m thinking about the expression on my big sister’s face when she finds out I’ve left one of your disgusting shapeshift boogers in her Fluevogs.”
“HEY. Do NOT insult Friend Jeremy! I strike you in your monomorphic mandible!”
I suspect lockdown is starting to get to me.
My thanks to all the wonderful peeps on my facebook thread for supplying me with some of these images, and to Phil Wang at the University of Michigan for the prompt machine.
We live in a noisy world. Synaesthesia means that ambient sound has a profound effect on my physical comfort and mental well-being. When a loud, sharp noise, such as a firework or someone hitting something with a hammer, has an effect like being smacked round the head with a baseball bat — it can be physically painful — then it’s vital to curate your ambient sound. The shape of noise around me is as important as my chair or my screen or the pen I’m using.
Sound affects my writing. Sometimes I need to have a particular playlist for my work, and it’s not “sounds of the 80s” or something that might be described as incidental music if it were a TV show. It’s a certain shape and texture of sound. I wrote Ludwig listening to Deeper Inside A Cave Near A Rushing Waterfall. More often, however, I deploy a variety of ambient soundscapes to block out, or at least filter, intrusions from the world outside. I have a long list of 12 hour ambient YouTube mixes, such as this one of the Mariana Trench, or this 6 hour International Space Station. For a more customised ambience, I also have A Soft Murmur, which is great for evocative soundscapes, and which I enjoy so much I paid for it.
Podcasts don’t generally appeal to me, because I don’t really enjoy listening to people talking about things unless it’s Radio 4 and I’m cooking, but this morning I discovered Field Recordings, and was hooked. There’s an article about the creator, London-based radio producer Eleanor McDowall, at The Guardian. She developed it after a year in which a relationship broke down, and she began to suffer burn-out at work. “It felt like something that would give me a bit of space and respite,” she says.
I understand exactly what she means.
Some of it doesn’t work for me, being too urban or too full of people, but I’ve found some treasures in their back catalogue. Currently, I have the pleasure of sitting inside a hollow tree in Sergiyev Posad, Russia. It almost sounds like being on an old square rigged sailing ship, with the ropes and lines creaking as the sails catch the wind. Most of the recordings are less than 5 minutes in length, which makes them less useful for ambient filtering purposes, but still. If you’ve ever wondered what it sounds like to sit and listen to summer rain, distant thunder in Old Leighlin, Ireland, or if you always had a hankering to listen to Barred Owls in White Rock, British Columbia, then head over there to see — and hear — what’s on offer.
I finally got around to updating my list of published stories to point any interested readers in the direction of where to find Ludwig, which has been out for a while (utterly shameful of me not to have updated sooner). I’d probably be quicker about these things if I weren’t so obsessive about providing lots of purchase options and trying to find ways to buy the physical copy that don’t involve amazon.
These editions are only available from Rooster Republic, and will never be available anywhere else. The hardcover edition is 6×9 and has a page count of 306. This edition comes with a gloss dust jacket. The paperback is 5×8 and has a page count of 416, sporting a matte finish for the cover.
The jacket is phenomenal:
I hope my copy turns up soon so I can admire it for a while. It is destined for my mum’s library – she is more invested in my brag shelf than I am (!!) – but with the current lockdown I won’t be seeing her any time soon.
I listened to a fascinating programme on Radio 4 yesterday about what was lost under Kielder Water when the dam was built. The landscapes, the communities, the culture. I learned Kathryn Tickell played the last music ever to be heard in the buildings swallowed by the water, mere hours before the flood came. Today, I am listening to her exquisite pipe playing on Spotify, but I thoroughly recommend this programme if you are at all interested in British folk music or liminal spaces.
If you didn’t see my post on facebook or twitter, Dawn Vogel interviewed me forMad Scientist Journal about my story Ludwig, which is forthcoming in the MSJ anthology I Didn’t Break The Lamp. I talk about felt presence, synaesthesia, and — of course! — imaginary friends.
I’ll be heading over to Dublin for WorldCon 2019 tomorrow. It’s my first WorldCon, so it’s pretty exciting!
I’m honoured to have been offered three panels and a Kaffeklatsch, so if you want to chat with me about imaginary friends, synaesthesia, fountain pens, inks with MONSTER SHEEN, hypergraphia, or anything else that takes your fancy, here’s where to find me:
Representation of marginalised people in games. 16 Aug 2019, Friday 16:00 – 16:50, ECOCEM Room (CCD)
In recent years there has been a lot of discussion about representation of women in games, but issues of representation and experience still need greater attention across the industry. How diverse and inclusive is gaming today? What should we know and what can we do?
Laser Malena-Webber (The Doubleclicks), Sam Fleming, Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, Tanya DePass (I Need Diverse Games)(M)
Science and politics of water 17 Aug 2019, Saturday 19:00 – 19:50, Wicklow Hall-1 (CCD)
Water is life. Twisting a line from Frank Herbert: ‘He who controls the water controls the universe.’ Our planet is covered by 70% water, our bodies comprise 70% water, and most plants contain 90% water. What other roles does water play in our technologically savvy world? How has water shaped our political landscape, in a time of rising tides and warming oceans? What can we do to protect our most precious resource?
Sam Fleming (M), Darcie Little Badger, Dr Tad Daley (Citizens for Global Solutions), Paolo Bacigalupi
Older characters and older authors 18 Aug 2019, Sunday 13:00 – 13:50, Wicklow Room-3 (CCD)
A decade ago, the media would label an author of 50 as ‘older’. Today, more writers are beginning their careers in their 60s and 70s. Do these older writers write and champion older characters, or is there still pressure to appeal to a younger demographic with equally young protagonists? What are the advantages and disadvantages of becoming a full-time writer at an older age?
Kari Sperring (M), Wendy Metcalfe, Sam Fleming, Faith Hunter (Penguin Random House and Bella Rosa Books and Lore Seekers Press)
As you may know, I have hypergraphia. As far as I can tell, I’ve always had it. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t driven to write. I have never been diagnosed with any of the frequently associated conditions.
While I will write on anything, if there is no other option, the relief valve only really opens properly if I’m able to use a very specific combination of pen and paper. What that combination is has changed over the years. The earliest preference I can remember was for wide ruled A4, and some sort of 0.5mm fibre tip. Years later, my preference moved onto a specific weight of narrow-ruled feint and margin A4, and a Bic cristal grip biro. I still have a stash of thirty or so of these pens in a ziplock bag, and find them in random places around the house, even though my preference had changed before we moved here. For a number of years I was using these biros with a black, hardcover Moleskine, and then I obsessed over a Platinum Carbon pen along with the carbon black ink, or a Noodler’s Bulletproof, also in black. Eventually, Moleskin changed the paper they use, and I rekindled my love for different fountain pens and ink. So many inks! ALL THE INK. ALL OF IT.
I switched allegiance to Lechtturm maybe a couple of years ago, and since then have been filling out page after page of these wonderful notebooks using a variety of fountain pens and inks. I have a taste for sheen but also like a fine line, because I write small. It helps to have pen friends, with whom I can use Tomoe River Paper and broad nibs, and indulge my love of the sheen monster.
My most recent notebook (not to be confused with my
commonplace, which is also a Lechtturm, but dotted; or my work notebook, which
remains a Moleskine) is a ruled Lechtturm Medium with a delicious metallic copper
cover, the first time I’ve used anything other than a black notebook. I carry
it with me everywhere, along with about four or five other notebooks of varying
purpose. It is a comfort blanket, and a retreat. If I feel that oncoming surge
of being overwhelmed, I can dig it out, and just knowing it’s there can be
enough to let me continue pretending to be typical. If it’s presence is not
enough, then I can allow myself ten minutes to write, and that, along with isolating
headphones and a sign on my chair that asks people to leave me alone unless
it’s an emergency, usually does the trick.
It’s important, this book. It’s like having a therapist on
speed dial. Often, when we’re driving to work, I’ll keep it in my hand instead
of packing it in my bag. Like a comfort blanket.
Which brings me to this morning. I had an early meeting, and
things to organise, and was on early Floof duty, so things were a bit hectic.
We were about to sit down in the car to go, when I realised I’d forgotten my coffee.
I dumped my stuff in the back seat, put my notebook on the roof, and dashed back
into the house to grab it.
You can see where this is going, can’t you?
Yes, dear reader, I forgot it. We got about halfway to work when I realised. At this point I thought maybe it was in the car somewhere, maybe under the seat, or I’d left it in the kitchen; but I was still sitting on a big bubble of panic. Imagine leaving your wallet somewhere and not having the option of cancelling your cards, and all the money you had left for the rest of the month was in it with no way to get more. That kind of panic.
When I got home, I shoved Floof in the kitchen, didn’t even feed
her (sorry Floof!) and went back out in the car to look for it. Having driven
round the furthest I think we could have got without it already having dropped off,
unsuccessfully, I returned home and fed the dog. Then I went back out on the
bike. It’s slower and has the advantage of height.
I found my notebook. It was in the long grass, about a mile
from our door.
A car has driven over it. More than one, probably. Maybe a tractor. I was lucky that we didn’t have any rain today; it has survived remarkably well, although I doubt I’ll be writing any more in this one. I’ll have to cut out the filled-in pages and tuck them in the pocket at the back of the replacement I ordered this morning before I even knew for sure if I’d lost this one.
Another Lechtturm, again in delicious copper. This one will not be permitted any free-range activities. They clearly have the same traffic sense as Floof.