Category Archives: finds & mullings

Roald Dahl’s writing hut

I’m delighted to have rediscovered this footage of Roald Dahl at work in his writing hut. Though it was first shown on Pebble Mill at One in 1982 – too early for me to have seen on original broadcast – it must have been reused later, perhaps on Blue Peter, perhaps in around 1988, when I was 8. Anyway, the image of Dahl in his hut has always remained the defining image of a writer in my mind, and even when I was young the idea of hiding away to write was tantalising. For whatever reason, the electric pencil sharpener at arm’s reach was always the most memorable element of Dahl’s cosy setup. One of these days I’ll get one myself, despite the fact that I always write on screen.

Review: Agent Hunter website

Disclosure: I received a free 6-month subscription to Agent Hunter in exchange for writing this review. However, all opinions are mine and The Writers’ Workshop didn’t see the article prior to posting.

Agent Hunter logo

The Agent Hunter website, launched in September 2014 by The Writers’ Workshop, is a subscription service that allows writers to search for UK literary agents and publishers. In theory, it’s a one-stop-shop that dispenses of the need for writers to trawl the internet in search of suitable agents.

The site features profiles for each agent, literary agency and publisher, each accessed via search pages. Emphasis is placed firmly on individual agents – while there are 14 search filters for an agent search, there are only 3 for agencies and publishers. The unique selling point of the website is the inclusion of a ‘transparency index’, which assigns a rating to individual agents based on “how much info a given agent chooses to release into the public domain”. This rating is not applied to literary agencies as a whole, or publishers.

Searching for individual agents

As of 1st October 2014, there appear to be around 390 UK agents listed. Other than searching directly for an agent by name, using the search filters is only the method of customising this list. The search filters are as follows, with my notes:

Continue reading Review: Agent Hunter website

Origins of science fiction terms

Alien intelligenceThe io9 website this week features a long list of science fiction terms and their origins. Some I was already aware of – I remember reading an article not long ago about cheeky reuses of Ursula K. Le Guin’s ‘ansible’, and William Gibson’s ‘cyberspace’ and Karel Čapek’s ‘robot’ are well documented.

There’s a huge amount of unexpected detail in the article, though. Tracing a first usage of ‘alien’ to mean ‘from another world’ is pretty impressive, for a start. Pinpointing ‘space-ship’ to 1880 is terrific. But my absolute favourite has to be E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s coining of ‘tractor beam’ in 1931, in this concise and self-explanatory phrase: ‘Brandon swung mighty tractor beams upon the severed halves of the Jovian vessel’.

I went to ATP and all I got was this lousy tinnitus

Photo by Andrew Bowman / The Liminal

All Tomorrow’s Parties’ Nightmare Before Christmas event (3-5 Dec 2010) was a terrific monster of a festival. Staying in Soviet Lynchian chalets and braving the December sleet made it all the more memorable. Growing, The Ex, Scout Niblett and Deerhoof were outstanding. Listening to the white-noise-and-wolf-howls of Keiji Haino (above), Rose and I played a game where we stood near the speakers with our eyes closed, and imagined that we had no bodies, which was surprisingly easy to achieve. Without the aid of any narcotics, I managed to convince myself that I was no more than the moisture on the end of one of my fingers. After the end of the Deerhoof gig (2am on the Sunday night), my ears rang more than usual – and the next morning then I woke up with no improvement.

The feeling was a little like postural hypertension – that is, standing up too quickly, resulting in a rush of blood to the head. I felt constantly as though I was on the brink of passing out, as though the high-pitched whine was a precursor to tunnel vision and then unconsciousness. This ringing noise lasted for exactly two weeks after the festival had ended, accompanied all this time, of course, by a thundering migraine. I’d started to become resigned to the fact that the effect may be permanent, and, while bearable, it would certainly have affected my life – not least because my patience was rather thinner than previously.

After two weeks, though, the whining subsided so that it could only be heard in silent moments, such as just before going to sleep and after waking up. The effect, lying in bed at night, is as though I’m caught in a beam of noise – as if rolling over might allow me to escape. In a way, it’s been quite a boon: for a few weeks I couldn’t sleep in past 8.30am, so have been up and about at far more productive hours than normal.

I’m still wearing my ATP wristband. I’ll cut it off when I can’t hear the music any more.

Kurt’s Humanism

I’ve been reading an account of the development of Humanism, but in Chapter 21 of Timequake, Kurt Vonnegut sums it up in just one paragraph:

Humanists try to behave decently and honourably without any expectation of rewards or punishments in an afterlife. The creator of the Universe has been to us unknowable so far. We serve as well as we can the highest abstraction of which we have some understanding, which is our community.


My New Year’s resolution for 2011 is to write something original every day. This won’t mean writing in this blog each day – it could be an entry in my diary, or some fiction. I’m allowing myself all sorts of get-outs, so a (non-work-related) email counts, as does an interesting combination of two words.

In Timequake, Kurt Vonnegut classifies writers as either ‘swoopers’ or ‘bashers’, where swoopers write whole swathes of prose and then go back and edit, and bashers hone each sentence to completion before continuing. I realised that I fall into neither category because, although I think of myself as somebody who writes, I rarely do.

It’s been about six years since I wrote the last sentence that I was really proud of, while in San Francisco on business: ‘Californians in Alcatraz Swim Team T-shirts flap, then settle and perch to watch fishermen gut clams.’

Although I’m too lazy to search out the exact quote, Will Self once said that in order to do any writing at all, he had to become infinitely slothful and inert – then the writing would just happen as a reaction to the boredom he had created. After six years, I can no longer even fall back on this excuse.

Hauntology and nowstalgia

‘Hauntology’ is a word that’s appeared on my radar only recently. It was originally a term coined by Jacques Derrida, linked to the similar-sounding ‘ontology’, the philosophical study of the nature of being and reality. Derrida’s idea was that the end of history would be signalled by a preoccupation with nostalgic, ‘old-time’ aesthetics. I first came across the term in The Wire magazine, used to refer to the music of artists like Leyland Kirby and Broadcast & The Focus Group who create dreamlike aural soundscapes that conjure up nostalgic versions of the past.

This reminds me of a term that I and my friends used to joke about: we used the word ‘nowstalgia’ to refer to nostalgia for the present moment. I think we coined the term when the first wave of inexpensive digital cameras were available. One summer, every social event featured a common moment, usually two-thirds through the event, when people would gather around the tiny LCD screen of a digital camera to view the images. The appeal of seeing still images of an event that was still happening was a guilty pleasure. Spending time reviewing the images actually seemed to involve removing yourself from the moment, and seeing the event through a nostalgic filter. Years later, the proliferation of camera phones and latterly direct publishing of images on Facebook means that the phenomenon is far more common but perhaps a little more unsettling.

Today’s worry: is there an outside chance that Derrida might be proved right? Is ‘nowstalgia’ just a first step into our obsession with the recent, then more distant, past?