My last day

Today has an end-of-term feel as it's my last day at my current job. It's been a fun role, maintaining and developing a mature product. I've learned a lot (maintenance coding is a challenging and often neglected skill) and done some fascinating optimisation work, but it's time to move on.

I'm taking some time out at the start of 2010, after which I will be working as a freelancer, providing database and java consultancy – but I'll talk about that next year. At the moment I'm winding down, looking forward to Christmas and some time relaxing in the Midlands.

The snow, and lunch with a couple of old friends have provided a magical feeling to the day. I've also received some good news about some writing work for January, which I'll take as an auspcious sign for the coming year.

My inbox is empty, my last commits are in subversion, which means I have one task left in the new job: tonight's office party!

The great paper coffee-cup tower


Every morning, on his way to work, my boss buys an espresso from the Red Roaster. They serve it in two paper cups, presumably so he doesn't burn his fingers. In the afternoon, about three, he wanders off to buy another coffee.

When each drink is finished, he adds the cup to the stack on his desk. When the stack becomes large enough, he transfers the cups to a larger stack behind his desk. Four cups a day, twenty cups a week. That's about a thousand a year. He's been in the office over three years – you can imagine how many cups we have in the office.

The cups sit in a corner and I sometimes wonder what we should do with them. Should we return them to the red roaster? Put them on freecycle? Hold a Burning of the Cups Ceremony on the beach? Someone suggested making a sculpture and donating it to Fabrica.

The boss was late in on Friday. We decided to build a tower of cups, to see if we could reach the roof. We could. The column contains about 800 cups. For a day or so I felt satisfied that we'd finally done something with some of the cups. This morning, it doesn't seem enough.

What do you do with over 3000 paper cups?


The remains of an earlier tower. Look on my works, ye mighty, and all that.


Hastings and Short Fuse

Yesterday evening I read at Short Fuse Hastings. I figured reading in Hastings would give me a chance to explore the town a little, something I never did when living there in the late 90's. I had a great afternoon exploring, aided by some suggestions from AK Benedict.

My favourite place was Robert's Rummage. Hastings has the sort of proper junk shops that were long since priced out of Brighton. Yes, we have some fun shops, but how many have a drawer labeled 'Locks and keys' containing a miscellaneous collection of both?

I also loved the bookshop that turned into a Thai restaurant during the evening. It was like some long forgotten Transformer toy. During the day it looked like a bookshop, with subtle clues to its other purpose, like a fridge of cakes at the counter, or tables and chairs hidden among the shelves. Far better than a robot that transforms into a VW Beetle, or a walkman

Hastings does seem a little battered. The pier is closed, and passing through St. Leonard's at 3pm it was a ghost town. You could walk past a dozen ghosts in Hastings without realising – the town feels haunted.

The reading went well. I'd spent a lot of time revising my horror story, The Other Child, and it had stopped seeming weird to me. Standing in front of an audience, I was suddenly aware of how strange and dark it actually was. The main character is grimly unpleasant too, in a manner I definitely am not. At points I found myself being surprised by what was about to read.

I read first, which meant I could relax and enjoy the other stories. I particularly liked VG Lee's story, which had a gleeful malevolence, and Michael Gould's tale about a ploughman, which felt like a traditional story. Hastings Short Fuse is a lovely friendly audience and I hope to read there again soon.

The night ended perfectly. I left the train at Brighton to find the number 7 bus waiting at the stop to take me home.


Below are the gates to Hastings pier. Anyone know what the yellow ribbons are for?



Below is the Admiral Benbow pub. I had some good nights in there, including watching the 1998 world cup.


The Brighton Santa Dash 2009

Today’s training run was a little different, as I was entered in the Santa Dash. This is one of my favourite runs of the year. How can you not love charging along the seafront with hundreds of people, all dressed in Santa outfits?

The Dash has a great atmosphere. Someone had a tape-recorder at the start line playing Christmas songs, and I loved seeing the man pushing a pram decorated as a sleigh. The spectators are also very friendly – I particularly enjoy passing people who hadn’t realised the race was on until they see the runners.

The 2007 and 2008 races have featured appalling weather so I was delighted to have a dry, calm day. This meant I could run a little faster. Last year, despite being fitter, I finished in just under 26 minutes. This year I finished in under 24 minutes, which I’m very happy with.

I will now wear my Santa outfit for the rest of the day.


Interesting odds and ends

  • My new Argus marathon blog post is 633 miles to go, in which I discuss being a human Jesus Lizard.
  • I like Alan Coren's advice to Caitlin Moran: "The first idea that occurs to you, will have
    occurred to everyone. The second idea that occurs to you, will have
    already also occurred to the clever people. But your third idea – only
    you will have had that one.”
  • After Swindon Orbital, Richard Willis is now working on Blake's Road, which promises "a more ambitious project, tackling a number of subjects simultaneously: Blake, England & the English, Morality, my own psychology, and a couple of other topics I’m afraid I must keep to myself for now". I'm looking forward to seeing what comes of this.
  • A interesting post from Ian Hocking about Workshops, following on from my recent one
  • My friend Bill Jones has made a book

New short story night in February

Sarah Charsley, who read a brilliant piece at the last sparks event, is organising a new spoken word night. From the Heart is on Friday 5th February, at the New Venture Theatre. It  will feature actors reading short stories. Sarah is currently looking for stories up to 1500 words on the theme of love. Full details are in the image below – click to see a larger version.


I’m reading at Short Fuse Hastings on December 13th

On December 13th I'm taking a day-trip to Hastings. Despite living there for 6 months, I never explored the Old Town. On Sunday I will put this right. In the evening I will then read my new horror story The Other Child at Short Fuse:

"Sarah and I broke up a year back and we’ve both seen other people since, but she still calls me when there’s a problem. A few months after we split she phoned one Sunday morning because there was a spider in the bath.  That time, with the spider, I thought it was an excuse, that she was too embarrassed to say what she really wanted. I flushed the spider, followed her to the kitchen and put my arm around her. It was fairly awkward when Sarah explained that it was just about the spider. I apologised and went back home to bed."

I've been writing a few horror stories lately. Reading horror stories as a teenager, particularly the Best New Horror anthologies, was what made me fall in love with short stories. Most of what I read was disposable, but I also read some truly amazing works.

Short Fuse Hastings takes place at the Jenny Lind, Hastings (TN34 3EW) and starts at 7pm.

Some more on workshops

My latest post went up last week at the Literature NetworkThe Six Perils of Writing Workshops:

Imagine if driving was taught by something like writing workshops. Each session, a group of learners would watch a colleague try a manoeuvre. Afterwards they would take turns to say what they felt went right and what went wrong, with occasional input from an instructor. It would be chaos, and not in a good way. As the New Yorker declared, in a review of Mark McGurl’s history of creative writing programmes and American fiction, The Programme Era, “[workshops are based] on the theory that students who have never published a poem can teach other students who have never published a poem how to write a publishable poem

The full article lists a number of problems with writing workshops. My friend Kay Sexton has written a post listing some other issues, most of which I agree with. She concludes that “a workshop process is a good one, as part of your writing trajectory, or to dip into and out of at various stages in your writing career“.

I’m not currently involved with any writing workshops (I prefer to think of Write Club as an anti-workshop) but they’ve been an important part of my development as a writer. Umi Sinha‘s workshops at CCE taught me a great deal about editing, as well as introducing me to some good friends such as @LaGirafa. I then studied for an MA in Creative and Critical Writing at Sussex where the workshops were more theory based but good for examining why I write. At the moment I don’t feel comfortable with writing workshops, but I know my writing has improved in the past through many of the talented people I have workshopped with.

Last night at Sparks 7

Last night was Sparks 7. I had a great time, despite being nervous – but then I’m always nervous before standing in front of a room full of people. It’s probably a good thing – the only time I wasn’t nervous before reading my performance wasn’t great. Sparks seemed to go OK, and some people said nice things afterwards, so I’m happy.


I enjoyed last night’s readings, especially Naomi Foyle‘s prose poem, and Sarah Charsley‘s piece about going camping for the first time with a new boyfriend. I left early, at eleven and was sorry not to have the stamina to stay up partying with the others. Jo promised a surprise at the end of the night, and read out a letter she’d received that morning from Sarah Charsley. It detailed the things Sarah had learned as a consequence of previous Sparks nights, suggesting a certain amount of debauchery after previous events. (The photo above shows Jo reading from the letter).

I’m very sad to be missing the next Sparks event, in February. It’s a great night.