Want to win an iPad?

What is  –  iPad?

iPad is a revolutionary new device that allows you to:

•look at pictures

•watch films

•read books

•go on the internet.

(NB: None of these activities has been possible before.)

How to Win:

1. Find a competition that offers an iPad as a prize.

2. Enter the competition. (This is a crucially important step. You increase your chances of winning an iPad by as much as 38% by actually entering a competition.)

3. Win the competition.

It’s that easy!

Next week, how to win a Lear Jet!

New novel slammed by nurses

‘A wasted opportunity.’

Whitehawk,  a controversial new novel by Simon Nolan, has been roundly condemned by nurses. In a recent review, Nursing Times (with Midwifery Today) had this to say;

‘The novel has nothing to recommend it to the modern nursing professional. There is nothing substantial here on any aspect of nursing (or midwifery) whatsoever. The reader will turn the pages in vain for material pertinent to the theory and practice of nursing (or midwifery). A wasted opportunity.’

Amita Mukerjee, publisher, said: ‘We have no statement to make at this point. We will be looking into these comments, which we find disappointing coming from such an august journal.’

Reuters.

Cave painting? It’s just a fad.

The world through a 3D lens, or maybe two.

So I finally got round to seeing a film in 3D, Clash of the Titans. I saw it on a Thursday afternoon, and the auditorium was packed with possibly as many as 5 people. Nothing wrong with the film, but the 3D ads were far more entertaining, in particular an ad featuring a tennis ball that appeared miraculously hanging in the air, just out of reach. It’s not at all clear to me what 3D is adding to the experience of watching a film, except that you have to have peculiar glasses on that make you look like a late-era Roy Orbison and you are constantly distracting yourself from the action to make mental notes about how the 3D is distracting you from the action.

But then I alway was a late adopter. I found it agonising to throw away my Betamax video, and resisted CD’s for so long that I pretty much went straight from cassette to MP3. I can never see what’s wrong with what we’ve got. Cassette had so many advantages over CD, not the least of which was the lovely rich, compressed,  bassy analogue sound and the sheer rattly plasticky pleasure of the things. Betamax, as has been extensively and very boringly established, was in every way superior to VHS (…drones on about obsolete formats for three and a half hours…)  I only started internetting about 5 years ago: I just couldn’t see the point of it. It’ll never catch on, I would comment sagely. It’s just a fad. I am currently holding out against digital telly, and no doubt by the time I am finally forced to relent there will be something else. But I like what I’ve got, I think, in a plaintive little voice. If I had my way we would still all be living in caves and throwing rocks at each other to communicate. Direct, easy to understand, cheap. Win-win, I’d say.

But they’re going to turn the analogue signal off. They keep going on about it: it’s like some sinister curse. ‘Everything you know and value is about to be swept away,’ they say. ‘Rejoice!’

I saw some pictures of gaslight being used for the first time in domestic houses, early in the 19th Century: everyone looked like they’d just been caught out doing something that would previously have gone unremarked in the warm, flickery glow of candles. The new lights cast ugly shadows over everything and no one looked quite at ease anymore.

You know where you are with a cave and a rock. Mind you, I’m against this new fad for cave painting. It’ll never catch on, trust me. I mean, what’s wrong with the walls as they are?

Vampiryirya, Acting Queen of the Damned

Vampiryirya, Acting Queen of the Damned.

1.

She flung her magnificent hair back and stood, her black eyes flashing as the moon rose, blood red, behind her.

‘I, Vampiryirya, Acting Queen of all the Creatures of the Night, I speak!’

The crowd behind her murmured and seethed.

‘She speaks, she speaks. Vampiryirya speaks.’

Many of them stumbled on the name, and the effect was somewhat dampened.

‘For now is the hour of Magicke,’ she called, her cloak billowing in the occult wind that had sprung up out of nowhere. The final ‘ke’ of magicke needed a slight emphasis to differentiate it from just ordinary magic, of which she was, naturally, superbly contemptuous.

‘Magicke,’ murmured the crowd of vampires, whose raven hair and jet cloaks were also billowing in the occult wind, but somehow not quite as convincingly as hers. ‘It is the hour of magicke.’

‘Friends!’ she called, and the word echoed around her. ‘Gather, for we have much to do. Soon, oh soon, I will summon the great Magus, of whom we are all daughters. Sons, also,’ she added hastily.

‘We await,’ they called back in ragged unison.

Her eyes became darker still, darker than night, darker than darkness itself, as dark as the shadows that creep in the netherest regions of the pits of the damned. Darker than that, even.

‘Now, oh now,’ she called. ‘Oh great Magus, whose bosom has suckled us, whose tears have cleansed us, whose, er…’

‘Blood,’ someone prompted quietly.

‘Blood!’ she yelled, sending waves of delirium into the crowd. ‘Whose blood is our food, our life, our passion and our despair!’

The vampires were an unquiet presence behind her, hungry, tumultuous, rapt.

‘I summons you! In the name of Osiris and Isis, Temperegrath and Bewilderwind, Peregor and Kallingernacht, oh hear me!’

‘Hear her! Hear Vampiryirya.’ Again the name proved troublesome for many.

‘From your timeless slumber! From the depths of your agony and delirium, your endless captivity in the caverns of damnation. Come forth!’

The crowd wept and swayed, all eyes on the great door before her, encrusted with ancient wisdom and antic runes. A moment passed. An antic rune fell off.

‘Come oh great one! Your servants await you!’

And another moment.

The moon was gibbous, hectic, and at the fullest. The time was the most propitious, the hour was at hand, the crowd wept and sang and surged, a great hunger driving them to beat themselves with whips and chains, the blood crawling over their pallid flesh like monstrous black worms.

Some more moments passed. No Magus.

‘Ah,’ she said.

‘Right, let’s have a look at this then,’ said Belloc, pushing through the demented hoard of hellish creatures. ‘Scuse me, ta.’ He stood, a man of little over five feet with wispy ginger hair and thick glasses. ‘Right well, you see what your problem is here love?’

‘Speak, oh Belloc!’

‘Yeah. Well it’s your Portal to the Netherest Regions of the Damned, sweetheart,’ he said, scrutinising the great door with a little torch on a keyring. ‘See, it wasn’t put in right.’

‘Not right?’ she called.

‘Dear or dear. What comedian put this in for you? See the render? No, sorry darling but it’s all going to have to come out.’ He scraped at it with a little blade. ‘I mean, call this a Portal? Dear oh Lord. The soonest I could have a look at is Thursday.’

‘Thursday? Is that the propitious day?’ she demanded.

‘Yeah, have to be PM love cos I’m all backed up at the mo. I’ll just take some details.’ He produced a small duplicate book and a pen. ‘Name?’

‘My name,’ she announced magisterially, ‘is Vampiryirya, Acting Queen of…’

‘Yeah could you just spell that out for me my darling? Bit of a mouthful isn’t it? OK. Daytime phone?’

‘Daytime? Phone? I, Vampiryirya, have no phone! I communicate by the winds, by the owls, by the fleet messengers of the underworld…’

‘Yes, I understand all that my love, but I will be needing a daytime phone,’ Belloc said with somewhat strained patience. ‘And I’ll be needing a deposit.’

To Be Continued…

World Horror Convention 2010

But where were the toilets?

Over four days, and with a strict emphasis on drinking, it is not difficult to imagine the number of visits required. And the hotel is labyrinthine. My launch is in ten minutes. But first, I need to find the toilet.

I have a spatial incapacity: most journeys are guessed at, in a kind of optimistic panic. I am unable to imagine one space connecting to another, and so am more or less permanently spatially baffled. And this is a hotel that, as it happens, I have been coming to for twenty years. I danced here with a debutante at a wedding. I have been drunk here a great many times. And I still can’t find the toilets.

There is someone ahead of me: we get chatting, and then someone else is suddenly lurching in front of us. He is standing at the top of a few steps, and he is tremendously drunk. ‘I’m supposed to be on a panel,’ he attempts to say, several times. ‘I’m supposed…’ Then he is falling, pinwheeling – big fellow, hefty – I grab at his tee-shirt and we stabilise him. Wandering, I find an art exhibition, on a floor the existence of which would have never have occurred to me, had I not got lost on the way to…

The art is wonderful. I flirt with a print, £60! But no, sanity prevails, thank God. I am walking faster and faster, I really could do with finding… I find myself back at Reception and start again. There are signs, but they don’t convince, somehow. They are faint, gold-coloured, they look evasive, hand-painted, untrustworthy. I prefer to trust to instinct. I have a recurring dream of a building that becomes monstrous, limitless, partially ruined. The dream journey becomes harrowing, calamitous. Sometimes I am leading a group, who are depending on me to get them out. (Good luck with that one, guys.) And every journey I make in real life, in this incomprehensible hotel, is a faint echo of the dream.

Then there’s the return journey. I wander for miles, hallway after hallway, thinking, was it this far? Surely it wasn’t this far. Then getting back to where I went wrong. Starting again. Relaxed now, but proceeding with a sense of fury, futility, defiance. Bugger it, I know it’s not this way, but I’m going this way anyway. Bugger it. The right passageway is found, the stairs, I curse them for sitting here the whole time, hidden, mocking me. Smug.

But I make it to my launch. Finally.

And after that, all I have to do is work out how to get out of the building…

Why I Wrote Sheep

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In 1991, I went to stay with a friend who was renovating a dilapidated farmhouse in Wales. It was a mammoth task, overwhelming, and he was floundering. Leaking septic tank, internal walls literally running with water, busted roof: it was basically falling down, a terrible mess inside and out. Poor man, he told me how some days he just sat with his head in his hands and was aghast at what he had taken on. The house was called Ty-Gwyneth, and for complicated family reasons his mother had bought it on the understanding that he would bring it up to a saleable condition over the winter, a decision everyone involved in was starting to regret.


The landscape was astonishing: cliffs like the edge of the world, fields as far as the eye could see, and sheep (of course) meandering about everywhere, blank and indifferent and alien.


There was a neighbour to the property, a sheep farmer. He was a handsome man in his fifties (at a guess), polite, but oddly unknowable. I had one brief conversation with him: he was off, he said, to visit his brother who lived nearby. He visited every Sunday and they had dinner together. Apart from this, my friend told me, he had no social contacts of any kind. No wife, no other family. He had no radio or television, read no newspapers: he was, essentially, from another era altogether. And I was absolutely fascinated by him.


Some distant scandal attached to the farmhouse my friend was doing up: a policeman had committed suicide there some time ago. Everything just started to click together in my head.


I had wanted for some time to write a book like The Shining, but different. I knew more about what I didn’t want than what I did: I didn’t want any kind of supernatural events, I didn’t want monsters or werewolves or vampires or ghosts. I wanted to write a book about fear, what it feels like, how it corrodes reason, how it drives people mad. As it turned out, I needed one vaguely supernatural thing to happen: a character needed to have some kind of equivocal communication with the dead ex-resident of the house, but this didn’t bother me too much – it could just as easily have been a hallucination. Every other element in the story was explicable in ordinary human terms and did not require any supernatural thing to occur.


I had read a fair bit of horror by this time, and I was amazed at how ineffective much of it was. Is anyone truly frightened of vampires, werewolves, giant crabs? The books I read seemed like elaborate fairy stories, grotesque and fanciful to be sure, but not remotely frightening: a million miles away from the real fears that I and everyone I knew had – fear of the dark, of failure, of loneliness, fear of ruin and shame, and strongest of all, for me anyway, fear of madness, my own and that of others. Fear of the self. The same fears, of course, that drive The Shining.


The other thing I was preoccupied with at this time (I still am) was religion. I was brought up Roman Catholic by devout parents: I remember a school chemistry lesson in which we were shown a short film that explained that the water molecule, H20, was a manifestation of the Holy Trinity. My father had lapsed: my parents had had five children closely spaced and, on a teacher’s salary, more would have been ruinous. The Vatican had recently published a Papal Encyclical, ‘Humanae Vitae’, which forcefully restated the church’s stance on the evils of contraception. My father lost his faith, and it tormented him until he died.


My initial impulse was to write a sort of satire on religious belief, but the satire morphed into something else. Without giving away too much of the story, I wanted one of my characters to create a completely new religion, with new rituals, but based wholly on Biblical texts. I wanted to show up the selective nature of Christianity, how it picks and chooses the bits of The Bible that suit its agenda, and ignores the rest. My character would do the same, but with different bits of text, creating a monstrous and murderous new rite.


All of these things fused together to create Sheep. I wrote parts of it in a caravan in a field in Wales, with the sheep blundering about outside all day and night. To this day, I don’t like to get too close to them. (Not that I’m scared of them or anything…)