Burnley Literary Festival (2016) day 7 – Sufi Music


The following has been rewritten from fragments / reconstructed following some difficulties with a Windows 10 upgrade that deleted my profile nearly 2 years back.

Burnley Literary Festival 2016 - Brochure front cover

Burnley Literary Festival 2016 – Venue Guide

Rumi and The Wings of Love

Be in the world but not of it, so it is said. You hang around with a secret because you know there are seekers. The answer is not what they expect and besides, there are other things to consume – with addictive properties. This ignores the purpose and function of that that is doing the consuming. I suppose this needs a little background explanation. For this we need to go back 800 years.

About the Destruction of Khwarezm

At the time, Genghis Khan was testing the water in Khwarezm, an ancient (and powerful) realm later crushed by the Mongols. Its population was around 40 million. How so many? This was a restored Greater Persian Empire – modernised for the time and empowered by a nomadic ruling class. Its destruction was traumatic and on a scale not witnessed since. Not everyone was slaughtered although a good few million were, however the Mongols wanted a pliable population which they could regularly plunder – suffering the Mongol yoke was somewhat worse than say a hated monarch. Rebellion could offer respite from a hater monarch and, if all else failed, it was possible to escape and journey to other lands where affairs were more tolerable. The Mongols however wanted a piece of every empire going: the Jin (who’s heard of them? they no longer exist) – once an empire in what is now Northern China were completely subjugated by the Mongols (1211-34). They had learned the patience required to starve a city to submission and were getting to grips with siege engines. The Sung (the rest of China) – came under the rule of the Great Khan in a series of wars (1235-79)

Khwarezm was a different affair. The task of appointed overlords was to oversee each city, ensuring that a suitable supply young men and young woman of were made available the former as expendable shock troops in Mongol wars and the latter as replacement army whores, and that it continued to pay taxes. The inhabitants often saw this as an inequitable arrangement  and as the main Mongol hordes were often busy subjugating other peoples – they could be gone for years at a time – the thoughts of those left behind turned to rebellion. Juvaini refers to these indirectly in his History of the World Conqueror. Mongols held city dwellers in contempt and sometimes – after crushing a rebellion by offering clemency to city inhabitants, would go back on their word and slaughter them all – after all there were plenty of other city dwellers on the Old Silk Road. Some of the rebellions are said to have been founded by Sufis.

Juvaini, was a senior administrator for the Mongols in the Il Khanate and would well have known the power and inclination of its rulers. He had little time for the Isma’ili and their mountain fortresses. It is doubtful he would have had sympathy for rebel leaders and their Sufi patrons.

When sizing up a city the Mongols would send spies to identify the best artisans, courtesans, musicians, war machine makers, richest traders etc. Once it was conquered those identified (should they survive) would be set to work for their Mongol masters, or in the case of the latter, shaken down. This was a systematic approach and resulted in the displacement of many things, even musical accents.

We are warned against casual consumption as if the effect were a confection; smoking, drinking – drugs of any kind – offer a change of perspective, but at a price. In times past there were those who might have been called seekers after truth. They were of course pursuing their addiction. No more need be said.

There are other means of perception – balance for example is a complex sense which is an extension of touch. An extension of balance is the inner perception of appropriateness. This atrophies under the  pressures of the modern day and age – we are pulled along by the conveyor-belt of our situation in life – the wage slave, the housewife, the careerist etc. meaning all our choices are made on a very narrow track – do |I let that car pull out / don’t I? do I buy this / don’t I? It’s linear and most of the time it’s all about satiation with me-me-me at the heart….

More delicate perceptions function poorly in the world of the direct. Grow. Learn. Love. Hate. Marry. Leave. Work Earn. Spend. Beget. Worry. Grow old and die. Action words create tension crowding out thought and reflection. At the height of the storm, your hand is less steady. The direct forces a reaction and in doing so blunts perception. Some things cannot be sensed.

Sufi music isn’t melodic to Western ears. Iranian Sufi music is in accordance with a regional musical accent. There used to be 12 accents but at least 5 have been lost. Much was destroyed during the Turco-Mongol era – yes we’re talking that long ago. Iran used to be a province of a greater empire and those accents native to Iran are what have survived; what was lost relates to what was then the balance of the Khwarezmian Empire and now is split between Afghan-Khazak-Kyrgiz-Turkmen-Uzbek and Tajik. Conquerors and conquered. The former are a patchwork of peoples; descendants from nomadic peoples. The latter (Tajiks) are descendants of the long ago town and city-dwellers of the aforementioned Khwarezmian Empire. Cities and culture including musical accents, were destroyed those distant ancestors were driven from their cities and butchered. What survives are long nurtured grievances plus echoes of terror. For some answer to bitter internecine Islamic conflict, look no further than this.

Linguistic map of Central Asia (excluding Iran)

Linguistic map of Central Asia (excluding Iran)

In its normal setting Sufi music is halfway between reading a sacred text and performing poetry. The reading is likely to be from a Sufi text several centuries old.  There can be incense.  In this country the words need translation – classical Sufis didn’t write in English. The poems deal with love, transformation, loss, the search for reason and purpose, and answers to the question why (why, if there is a greater purpose and an ultimate being, was Golden Age ended?) Those that ask are descendants of both conquerors and conquered.

The Mechanics

This music session was held in the basement of the Mechanics in Burnley. The musicians were from Love and Etiquette, the readings were from Rumi and these were accompanied by instruments and incense. The instruments were unusual and I include details below. ¹

Depicts Whirling Dervish to accompany the performance: Rumi and The Wings of Love

Whirling Dervish depiction

Those who wonder why how seekers after knowledge become addicted to Sufi music can experience this first hand assuming they are properly attuned – becoming attuned takes say 30 years studying Sufi thought (in my case). So take this as a health warning – the pursuit of mental states isn’t an end in itself. Some there took pains to elaborate loudly on their pursuit of that mental change – if God and Truth could be achieved so easily, I am minded to ask how it is that those alcoholics who drown themselves in their addiction do not form a vast coterie of the enlightened.

Maulana Jalaludin Rumi has been highly regarded as a poet for centuries. He lived through the destruction of Golden Age Islam, was a mystic, a poet and the catalyst to provoke the establishment of a new Sufi order the Mevlevi (also written Mawlaw’īyya) known also as Whirling Dervishes. His teachings can be found in Mathnavii-Maanavi (Couplets of Inner Meaning) , Fihi Ma Fihi (Table-talk), Maktubat (Letters), Diwan (The Work [of Shams, Rumi’s master), and Munaqib El-Arifin (a hagiography). He is associated with a number of sayings, two I remember well are:

In it is what is in it (you get out of it what is in it for you).

When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men. ²

A description of the function of Sufiism is beyond the purpose of the post but for those with an interest, I suggest a reading of Idries Shah’s works. Idries Shah played a pivotal role in introducing Sufi thought to the West in the 60s, 70s and 80s. I would recommend: The Sufis, Thinkers of the East, The Way of the Sufi, and Caravan of Dreams. In context my interest in Sufiism relates to the broken connection between the now (Western civilisation) and what was lost in our past. ³

Thinkers of the East by Idries Shah back cover

Thinkers of the East

The Sufis by Idries Shah front cover

The Sufis

The Way of the Sufi by Idries Shah, front cover

The Way of the Sufi


¹ Instruments

Instruments are a Kamanche: bowed spike fiddle, and a Santur: a struck zither in the form of a shallow, regular trapezoidal box. The instruments are tuned to play a specific mode (or accent). The modes are split into primary (dastgah) and secondary (avaz), see following list:

  I. Shur: G Ap Bb C Dp Eb F G and its four derivatives.
 II. Avaz-e Abu Ata: G Ap Bb C D Eb F G
III. Avaz-e Bayat-e Tork: F G Ap Bb C D Eb F
 IV. Avaz-e Afshari: F G Ap Bb C D (p) Eb F
  V. Avaz-e Dashti: G Ap Bb C D (p) Eb F G
 VI. Homayun: G Ap B C D Eb F G
VII. Avaz-e Bayat-e Isfahan: G Ap B C D Eb F G
VIII. Segah: F G Ap Bp C Dp Eb F
 IX. Chahargah: C Dp E F G Ap B C
  X. Mahur: C D E F G A B C
 XI. Rast Panjgah: F G A Bb C D E F
XII. Nava: D Ep F G A Bb C D

Note: The underlined letters have approximately the function of a tonic. Small ‘b’ means “flat”; small ‘p’ indicates pitch approximately a quarter-tone lower than the indicated note or, in other words, a half flat.
II, III, IV, V & VII are secondary modes (avaz) the rest are primary modes (dastgah) which in practise is of little significance. Instead there are modal scales (which means rules for cadences and a hierarchy of tones) with accepted melodic patterns, on which performers are expected to improvise. The resulting sound is, dependent on the expertise of the performer, a complex series of improvisations suitable for carrying a narrative… or poetry. Some modes are no longer played. This is an inevitable topic which delves into the history noted above.

² I quoted Rumi

and I confess to using this (and a ton of other Sufi sayings) in my first novel  A Guide to First Contact.

³ My Interest? Our origins.

I’m primarily interested in pressure points on our species. The biggie – the one that underlies what we are – is Toba. Toba erupted just over 70,000 years ago. It reduced our long-ago ancestors to 10,000 breeding couples. That’s a genetically determined figure – more of us would have been alive, possibly in the millions. Few survived. Go check out the Toba eruption. This also put an effective end to other hominid lines. There were at least two other hominid types, probably more. Stuff I speculated on in A Guide to First Contact.

Other choke points. The Dark Ages + Christianity were a long but relatively speaking, mild choke point in Western Europe. East Europe had Byzantium – representing an unbroken link with the pat going back 1400+ years – until its sack by the greedy Venetians (under the auspices of the 4th Crusade) in 1201. Central Asia had the cities of the Silk Road until their spoliation by the Turco-Mongol hordes beginning 1219 and culminating in the sack of Baghdad in 1258. Central Asia through to the Middle East was overrun by nomads, a legacy that persists in the many Turkish speakers today. The ethnography of the region is complex but a core of Iranic speakers have survived.

What’s my interest? Primarily knowing what has conveyed from the past; history and pre-history. Again something speculated on in Guide. Some might say we have enough through Religion and Science. Science is belief systems, it is from Religion (certainly in the West). Yet Christianity = Judaism + Platonic thought plus a dose of local custom. Islam = me too. Easy algebra (al-Gibr….. the reunion of broken parts [al-Khwarizmi]) for thought.

Back to the point about Iran was just a province – the Silk Road world collapsed because the nomadic incursion ensured no rebuilding. This wasn’t a case of Turks hanging around and occasionally ripping down the odd building or two; the hordes dictated where rebuilding could take place. Cities were rebuilt…. … and then the hordes came back, destroying the city and slaughtering those presumptuous enough to disobey them. The remnants of the remnants were Tadjiks – city dwellers who became refugees – and Tadjik eventually became an ethnonym. The West found other routed to China and India and trade moved to the sea. A Silk Road land route would return prosperity – for its own reasons China has been investing in Silk Road corridor in its north west region, Xin Kiang – an action that could significantly tip the balance of world trade……… back to where it was in the C13th. Will it succeed? It’s a long term plan – all China needs is must have luxury products. So this is the C20th so scratch ‘luxury’…… but you never know.


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The Rick Sanchez (& Morty) Review


If you haven’t watched Rick and Morty, what is it? A comic, adult themed, sometimes gross Science Fiction romp through space, time alternate realities and dimensions, peppered with the suburban frailties of Morty’s family. Morty is Rick’s grandson and the rest of the family are parents: Beth (a horse surgeon) & Jerry (unemployed), and Summer, Morty’s sister. Beth is Rick’s daughter. Rick moved in with them two years ago and has since taken Morty on many adventures, turning his life upside down. Okay Rick’s an asshole of the highest (inter-dimensional) order… but he does know what’s going, on the other hand Morty is an unsure, self-conscious pubescent 14 year old. Mental note: just how does Rick know a crisis is brewing before he hooks Morty out of class?

Friends bugged me about Rick and Morty for years; I said I’d check it out when the time was ripe. That time eventually came and at the beginning of November 2018. I binge watched Netflix over a Sunday / Monday / Tuesday evening, letting it soak in.

So let’s begin at the end: The last episode sees a new, more assertive Morty, a kind of seen it all, know what’s coming Morty who’s gonna make decisions that’ll last to the end of the series. And as the current series is series 3 and as this episode is the last in series 3, this new self-confident Morty is actually the wrap up tidyism just in case there’s no series 4.

S3 E10 The Rickchurian Mortydate Morty tells Rick how it is... he's backing Jerry

S3 E10 The Rickchurian Mortydate

Will this new, maturer Morty make the transition to the adventures being brewed up by Vanity Card?¹ Could do. No reason why nor. On the other hand an age 14, unsure teenage sidekick means more tension / chance for goofy, sidekick misunderstandings / panic attacks / fear of not doing the right thing / embarrassed viewer amusement at younger self.

In short episode 10, season 3 is no series wrap-up, it’s a send-off to be unpicked later at leisure.

Mental notes:

Inter-dimensional synchronicity might mean all Mortys leave Rick and for all Ricks to accept this, and Morty may be relying on it. It’s a pipe dream – there’s no happy ever after, just a fight to survive and be top-dog in a vengeance driven multiverse. Has to mean the final cabin scene in s3 e10 is a staging post.

Rick rarely let’s on how he’s so clued up on the next mission – sure he’s got a Garage-Lab / Secure Facility / Wiped Memories of Morty Room (just how much does Summer know?) / Other sub-basement areas that probably dwarf Beth & Jerry’s house, this is a gigantic Rick control centre but the follow through still has to be: who gets a crisis message to Rick and how does it arrive?

Then there’s the question of just how long Rick and Morty have been bunking off on adventures. That’s a pretty full room of wiped memories. I could snap piccies of the room and do the math but hey! let’s leave something for others to do. Okay I estimate at least 640 –now compare that to the length of time Rick has been in Beth [and Jerry’s] house.

S3 E8 Morty's Mindblowers - Summer somehow finds Rick and Morty in Rick's secret Wiped Memories of Morty Room

S3 E8 Morty’s Mindblowers

My guess is there’ll be a variety of methods of clueing up on the next adventure / mission: pan-dimensional post / dramatic notes / a catastrophic event-tremor chart…

Morty never grows. Continuity isn’t King in the show despite the story-arcs, and although a continuation of adolescence would logically lead to Big Morty (which would deliver laughs) these would be different. Big Morty might want to be a hero (all those self-assertive body changes kicking in) and end up a clumsy lummox. That’d work and it’d take down the small, recently (that’s the final s3 episode)  self-confident Morty – do clumsy things = set pride for a fall – but there’s tons of small Morty stuff to do – Has Rick really been back two years in Beth & Jerry’s house because there’s surely a whole load of wiped Morty memory vials. Maybe Rick made grandfatherly visits before he moved back in.

So Continuity isn’t King because comedy doesn’t need it, it’s a drag, yet we see it creeping in. Something to do with huge Sci-Fi (always hated that halfway acronym) concepts. Once you get a universe to play in, you’re not just God, you also get to do some exploring, then you things in their proper place and you start to organise. The stories begin to fit because there’s an ultimate plot thread – a prize. Is it something Rick wants, but he’s too anarchic so it’s more like something he wants to prevent – or something he can’t predict, from left field.

Loose plot threads – there’s tons of them. What do I like? Hmm-mmm.

Poopy Butt Hole – prime suspect – butt maybbe nott as behind the fake memory implant is a device to extrude a new but been there all the time show character. So maybe, just maybe Mr Poopybutthole is the voice of the writers given form and the episode is his introduction to the big time. Interestingly Poopybutthole makes his debut just as Rick zaps the false cousin… random thought time: maybe Rick also gets pleasure from zapping things Jerry likes. Fake pleasant memory implant! Parasite! Naw…

S2 E4 Total Rickall - Mr Poopybutthole makes an entrance in the midst of a plague of an infestation of fake memory implant alien parasites

S2 E4 Total Rickall

Digging into the plot, Beth obsesses on whether she is human and even if she is, whether Rick is even her dad Rick. Rick hails from Earth C-137 and though we never learn which Earth the post Cronenberg episodes occur, it’s not outside the framework of the show for his origin to be tallied against the Earth she’s actually on. So for the sake of argument: the show Rick is Earth C 137, Cronenberg Earth C 140 (it could be C 137 but as it’s never stated, let’s be creative) and Beth’s Earth could be C135. Confusing? No not really it’s just waiting to be spelled out (at ease guys this isn’t a demand). All Beth needs to do to get the truth is get Rick to prove it to her – not that this is something he’s gonna do.

S1 E10 Close Encounters of the Rick Kind - evil Morty destroys evidence linking him to the assassination program to eliminate Ricks

S1 E10 Close Encounters of the Rick Kind

Let’s home in on Ultimate Plot Thread. This kicks off when evil Morty conceals himself in the mass Morty rescue in S1 E10 Close Encounters of the Rick Kind. A heck of a lot of Mortys are recued so a good deal of Ricks must have been terminated. Evil Morty has had plenty of time to plan and hasn’t put all the eggs in one basket. We see a couple of wires dangling from his eye socket – if this doesn’t creep out your conspiracy receptors, where’ve you been living? This is great – we don’t have to expect more because the show is

Comedy (use a tired, world-weary voice – also see earlier)

but it’s great… and made greater when Evil Morty makes his pitch in S3 E7 The Ricklantis Mixup.

S3 E7 The Ricklantis Mixup Evile Morty gives the sign to eliminate resistance to his rule

S3 E7 The Ricklantis Mixup

So let’s switch back to Close Encounters. Normally a trailing plot thread diminishes to the point of de minimus (always wanted to use that) in comedy. Why? Because it’s a joke – duh. In The Ricklantis Mixup it gets a huge refurbish… a face-lift… a bit of polish… whatever – and with a twist of chutzpah, the whole Rick metaverse folds into a new and nastier shape.

So: there are lots of Rickless Earths – maybe these Rickless Earths have fake Ricks, or maybe they just get along. C-137 Rick might have been on the run from evil Morty’s minions – what if evil Morty is Rick C-137’s true Morty? That means Earth C-137 has almost certainly never featured on the show.

Scenario: Rick is on the run – evil Morty will track him down instantly if he pops up on C-137. The Council of Ricks probably blame him for training an evil Morty as well as random other misdemeanours threatening all Ricks. They banded together to protect each other from assassination or they could be just jealous. The Council of Ricks  was used to take out the Galactic Federation in our (his) dimension. There’ll be Galactic Federations in other dimensions but not too many Councils of Rick. In the chaos, evil Morty furthers his plan.

Nice.

Why does Rick and Morty work? Blame Rick. He’s got attitude. He offers an always smart and snappy response plus instant take-downs that, not unsurprisingly, find relevance in this always live, challenging world we’ve created for our offspring. In this shit day and age of zero hours minimum wage where the salary sector has been stripped out and pimped abroad, where a crap present is guaranteed to morph into dire future – guaranteed – Rick metaphors to a slap in the face of the very few who benefit at the expense of the many in our real, non-cartoon Earth. It’s a switch-off from the crap that we’re forced to eat. It works. At a deep, philosophical level, this is coping – it’s not managing, it’s just coping.

So Rick’s cynical but is he totally disengaged? Rick’s life might revolve around Morty but in Rick Potion #9 – he leaves family behind on heavily mutated Earth – Cronenberg Earth. He needs Morty as camouflage from the Council of Ricks (and maybe evil Morty).

I get the feeling we’ll be remembering innocent, carefree murder and mayhem of the first three series with a certain childish nostalgia.

Keep it coming guys


Rick and Morty – Netflix in the UK, Adult Swim in the US

¹ Vanity Card – shorthand for Justin Roiland’s Solo Vanity Card Productions

Rating 4 out of 5.


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Nymphs 3


Nymphs.

Nymphs is still ongoing – yes I’m still puttering away on this even though I’d planned to complete during the Writer’s Retreat at Asthall Manor (8 – 12 October 2018 vintage run by Blue Pencil Agency). I’ve some notes from that time – the most important being this: then I was at 13k words expecting another 4k to finish it; now I’ve got to 20k words and there’s still no end in sight (it’s an epic!!!) – so anyway I will get round to blogging up the Writers’ Retreat stuff (after Sufis in Burnley, a retrospect of Brian Aldiss and a re-evaluation of Edgar rice Burroughs).
Nymphs is a collection of four short stories looking at, in turn, ice, storm, ocean and wood nymphs. Each story has a different setting; Ice Made is in present day Canada, the Nereid in present day Blackpool, the Storm Nymph in a church and the last piece is set in a fantasy world with a technological level of a C13th Earth. To be clear, the nymphs do not inhabit a shared world, what binds them together is they are nymphs. Returning to the latter piece, the fantasy world is something I’ve been working on for a while; in some ways it is similar to RE Howard’s Hyborian age however I have chosen to emphasise different parallels e.g. the Steppes of central Asia become the Northland Steppes, the Caliphate becomes the Land of the Khaif (plus there is a Khaif in exile), the Dutch becomes Lagelan, the British Isles had been largely subjugated by the augeruch. Magic works – otherwise why bother with fantasy?

 Fantasy world sketch of the Northland Steppes and the Lands of the Khaif in which the following works are set: Brant, Dryads and Winter's Gift. Map has some similarity to C13th Eurasia

Fantasy Earth  with a technology level approximating to our 13th century. The setting for the following works: Brant, Dryads and Winter’s Gift
Place names and background:
Winter’s Holme (where the nomadic Luuti have settled)
Hueddr’s Pavilion
The Gulf (Traders)
Cities in the Lands of the Khaif: Phalctre, Sequelque, Laxanophe
Ephe’ilaqqa (where the Khaif holds court)
Hilver (a village where a minor son of the deposed Khaif has been secreted)
The places where the Kemii roam (nomads in league with the Khaif)
Flotyn Bryn-i-Gwyn – valley realm conquered by the augeruch, where Brant (merc hero) grew up
Turalam – the mirror city once worshipped by the võltsi-inimes (the debased), the kadun-inimes (the lost), and rejected by the muut-inimes (the learning people) and the jaga-inimes (floating people).
River Colera – divides Turalam between necropolis and the city of the living.

Going back to the last piece – on wood nymphs – this was intended to come to between 10k and 15k words. It’s nearly complete but has overrun, currently standing at 20k words; I guess it’ll take another 2k words to say what I want to say. Lets’ give it a name: Dryads.

Dryads is pastoral and is set on the edge of human settlement, near the village of Tranby. Here’s an explanation of the title which may well appear in Dryads, in some form or other:

On Wood Fairies

Nymph, Dryad? These were definitely wood fairies. And not fae or faery. There were rules about that and the fae were very particular on whom they allowed the terms of greater elegance – fae for those not of this world, fairy for the outliers, stuck in the woods and field of man’s earth – naturally the most mundane spelling was reserved for those closest to cloddish man.

Why has Dryads grown big. It is bursting with life. There are two pregnancies (and thus two babes born), each takes its own telling and, rather than events thrown at random into the plot pot, grow from the circumstances of the tale. Also there is war. War is pernicious, breaking down the rule of law, and thus the expectation of civilised conduct from your fellow man. For reasons of the winner writes the tale and dark deeds are best dealt with by eulogies and myth-making, the reality of war and of the hero are touched on.

There is also romance, the threat of dark things (I’m torn between naming these either skrælling or darkling) and conflict in the world of fae. Then there’s the point that we’re destroying our planet through over breeding. I prefer to make this point through the idea of ‘no increase’ which naturally, I apply to the fae. Yet follow the consequences and readers continue to engage with the concept of over-population.
Whoosh!
What was that – an idea going over the tops of our heads?

You can only say so much and it must be appropriate for the narrative. Slowly does it rumble on. Still unfinished.

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Project Cube + Nymphs 3


Project Cube

I am currently designing a Project Cube. The essence is that that it will hold both static and dynamic project data from sales through to labour, material, subcontract and sundry bought-in costs. This will be presented in monthly, year to date cumulative and budget, summarised by project manager and business area.

Why a cube?

That describes the data structure. Initially is exists in a flat file – it’s virtually 1d (call it 1½ d) – this is cross tabulated into a 2 d table from which projects are lifted to form the final dimension.

1½ d report for

1½ d report

representation of Excel file structure

2d Table from 1½d report

representation of Excel file structure

Project Cube

Why projects?

Part-complete finance / ERP implementations leave gaps. To complete the picture you need to determine the business need. A business always needs more information; the first step is determining what drives funds and what drives profit and from there, whether its existing reports do the job. In this case the missing jigsaw piece was project reporting.

Still ongoing.


Also ongoing – Nymphs.

Nymphs is a collection of four short stories looking at, in turn, ice, storm, ocean and wood nymphs. Each story has a different setting; Ice Made is in present day Canada, the Nereid in present day Blackpool, the Storm Nymph in a church and the last piece is set in a fantasy world with a technological level of a C13th Earth. To be clear, the nymphs do not inhabit a shared world, what binds them together is they are nymphs. Returning to the latter piece, the fantasy world is something I’ve been working on for a while; in some ways it is similar to RE Howard’s Hyborian age however I have chosen to emphasise different parallels e.g. the Steppes of central Asia become the Northland Steppes, the Caliphate becomes the Land of the Khaif (plus there is a Khaif in exile), the Dutch becomes Lagelan, the British Isles had been largely subjugated by the augeruch. Magic works – otherwise why bother with fantasy?

Fantasy world map with some similarity to C13th Eurasia

Fantasy Earth approximating to 13th century

Going back to the last piece – on wood nymphs – this was intended to come to between 10k and 15k words. It’s nearly complete but has overrun, currently standing at 20k words; I guess it’ll take another 2k words to say what I want to say. Lets’ give it a name: Dryads.

Dryads is pastoral and is set on the edge of human settlement, near the village of Tranby. Here’s an explanation of the title which may well appear in Dryads, in some form or other:

On Wood Fairies

Nymph, Dryad? These were definitely wood fairies. And not fae or faery. There were rules about that and the fae were very particular on whom they allowed the terms of greater elegance – fae for those not of this world, fairy for the outliers, stuck in the woods and field of man’s earth – naturally the most mundane spelling was reserved for those closest to cloddish man.

Why has Dryads grown big. It is bursting with life. There are two pregnancies (and thus two babes born), each takes its own telling and, rather than events thrown at random into the plot pot, grow from the circumstances of the tale. Also there is war. War is pernicious, breaking down the rule of law, and thus the expectation of civilised conduct from your fellow man. For reasons of the winner writes the tale and dark deeds are best dealt with by eulogies and myth-making, the reality of war and of the hero are touched on.

There is also romance, the threat of dark things (I’m torn between naming these either skrælling or darkling) and conflict in the world of fae. Then there’s the point that we’re destroying our planet through over breeding. I prefer to make this point through the idea of ‘no increase’ which naturally, I apply to the fae. Yet follow the consequences and readers continue to engage with the concept of over-population.
Whoosh!
What was that – an idea going over the tops of our heads?

You can only say so much and it must be appropriate for the narrative. Slowly does it rumble on. Still unfinished.

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Nymphs 2


Just posted cover detail from my upcoming, fantasy themed collection: Nymphs.

Artwork by the Sloth Meister

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Neil White, Lytham, 09/06/2018


Met Neil White yesterday. Best-selling author of Fallen Idols, Lost Souls, Last Rites etc…

Rewind.

Peter Jones (of ACORN and other good works around Hyndburn) invited me to Lancashire Authors Awards Day in Lytham which, in spite of my current travails I was determined to attend.

The event was well organised with prize winners, performances as well as mayors and former mayors in attendance; including Guest Speaker Neil White. Neil, published by Donnier Zaffre, is a good guy with plenty of info for writers.
Neil was born in Yorkshire and moved to Preston, Lancashire when he was studying to be a criminal lawyer; met a local girl and married. He took us through his writing journey from his first interest to his first self-published work (300 copies sold out of 1,000 print run) through to his first publishing deal. Then we got a rundown of his creative process (the unmentioned word here is Discipline). Now here’s a fact: it took Neil 12 years to get from zero to a publisher deal.
Neil writes crime and mystery novels set in the North West. Place names are often changed but those who live in and around Burnley, Blackburn, Accrington, Great Harwood, Higham, and that great bustling metropolis just down the M66 (M61 if you’re Preston way) will recognise the places. I first met Neil at Burnley Central Library some years back when, as I recall, he was changing publisher. He’s now in the process of signing a new deal.

For those of a geographical disposition, here’s how Neil’s series stack up:
DC Laura McGanity (Avon – 5 vols) Blackley / Great Harwood
Joe & Sam Parker (Sphere – 3 vols) Manchester
Dan Grant (Bonnier Zaffre – 1 vol) Highford / Burnley-ish
Never having heard of Bonnier Zaffre (I’ve 150+ publishers in my back catalogue) I popped along to the Bonnier books team and saw with my own two eyes the traditional bevy of angst ridden executives doing what they can. I know these things – the East is in my blood (my line goes back through Estonia, Germany, Austria-Hungary and more).
Only joking folks (except about my line)

He took questions. I asked him about whether series were portable on changing publisher – he confirmed what I’d guessed – a publisher prefers to handle bespoke – its own series. Here he went into the creative side and how the Sphere series came to be centred on Manchester. I also asked about the input a publisher has on your diary – a publisher will want to fill your diary up with must-do events around book launch time.
Neil also does writer workshops. I think everyone there got something from his talk; I certainly did. He’s a busy guy so I’d like to say here how grateful I am that he took the time out to talk to us.

Take aways:
• Don’t give up.
• Discipline (are you serious? then inflict serious self-discipline; see it’s easy. :-))
• Be prepared to grow; a set back is a chance to learn.
Other stuff
• Getting a deal means a reality check – read between the lines and don’t bet on avoiding editors etc who turn your piece into how they would have written it,
• Expect to deal with fresh-from-university (young, photogenic) who can make your contract difficult on a whim.

Neil White – check him out

Avon
Sphere
Current publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
In his own words

 


After the meeting ended I went for a wander through Lytham.

Its prosperity can be explained by major employers in the locality; in particular, government agencies and BAE Systems – I reflected on my recent failed to join BAE Systems; could I see myself living in Lytham? No. that didn’t prevent me eating fish and chips there; I treated myself, well protected in the shade. I happened to see brother-in-law, Les wandering through, looking for the Turkish restaurant so I invited him (plus partner Sandra) to a couple of chips, just to remind them what real food was like (okay the chips were pinched).

end


What I write: I’ve tried my hand at noir but mostly I stick to SF and Fantasy

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Nymphs


Updated the Resources page on The Tau Device

The Tau Device

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An Office Life 11: Acquiring Business Intelligence


One of the first lessons I learned was you need to know where you fit in the machine or your effort may be pointless.
This is aptly demonstrated by the Sandbox experiment when I went to Fielden House Productivity Centre to study a discipline known as Work Study – this was used on the shop floor of C20th factories to examine and analyse all aspects of direct labour. The object of this was to identify the individual actions that went into a process in order to set standard times, to measure worker output and to assess relative worker performance. This was used to develop standard costs and, along the way, define optimal working practise. The two don’t necessarily go hand in hand – a point that will be developed later. The training process was a mixture of theory and practicals. As a matter of policy, to cement learning; I made notes.

Fielden House Work Study notes from course

Fielden House Work Study notes

For practical we studied a sandbox process (with real sand).
The process is a contraption into which beakers of finely ground particulate matter (sand) is poured. Amongst the sand are larger coarse particles (marbles). This mix, sand plus marbles, is manually fed into a shaped receiving tray which, by gravity, feeds the tube to the next operation. The tube is too narrow to pass marbles so once it blocks, the operator ceases other work to remove the blockage. As there is no alternative process, the marble rejoins the flow at the next operation. A further series of operations occur in which the non-conforming items, ie marbles, are removed, graded and sorted and then reintroduced to the process. The very last operation involves filling the original beakers with sand + marbles which, by this point, are mixed together in an unvariegated manner similar to that in which they were introduced. These then form new inputs to the sandbox process. The same operator performs all the processes and in consequence of removing blockages, grading and sorting, there are significant breaks in the overall activity.

A sandbox is a closed system. Like a factory, if there is no regime to abstract and remove non-conforming product, that product must follow a parallel route until it reaches a point where it can rejoin. A river pools temporarily but eventually overflows to follow the route of least resistance.

The ultimate purpose of the activity was to provide an exercise to learn and apply work study skills – note that it served no other function and it is fair to assume some organisations have departments with no other function than as ‘make work’. This can only be determined by considering the outputs in the round:
if there is no process  control, owner variations will emerge in the working standard and should these remain unchecked, it is possible an activity can develop to a point where it undoes the results of a previous stage. By breaking down the elements of work needed for each stage in the production process, it is possible to set standards and in doing so, define the ideal work inputs to produce efficiently. Breaking down work into elements was commonly referred to as Method Study. Method Study + Work Study gives time standards which feeds standard costs
The rule of thumb was:

  • describe the activity precisely and concisely
  • make observations to note variations and capture them
  • ensure you take enough to establish a statistically sound population (knowledge of statistics)
  • note the learning curve involved in using stop watches and develop a reliable method to eliminate consistent bias (premature and retarded activation) as this can have far reaching effects.
  • ensure adequate preparation in the use of the clip board – as a portable mini-desk it is essential to know where paperwork is: observation forms, note sheets and (invariably) general factory literature.

Putting aside general principles, the obvious fact is that the exercises didn’t measure anything meaningful – just sand and marbles as some might say. To focus on the literal is to miss key points

  • the scenarios were based on real life examples – both large and small organisations are just as likely to have small departments, busily beavering away on pointless or counterproductive tasks, adding no value whatsoever.
  • presenting activity as self-perpetuating underlines an important point, tasks expand to fill the time available; the act of doing fills the need for activity no matter how purposeless – this doesn’t become clear unless one steps outside to view it as a whole. It isn’t necessary to be a Work Study practitioner to do this but it does confer benefits.
  • the ingenuity of the workarounds to ensure all material went through illustrates an inherent keenness to apply a consistent system. This, although irrational, has its own logic; failing instructions otherwise, ensure everything gets through.
  • it’s possible to set a time standard that has no practical relevance. How is this, you ask? The key is to understand the relevance of the activity to the greater whole. A function can’t remain completely isolated from reality without becoming unfit for purpose.

Method-Study-symbols

While at the Productivity Centre I bumped into people from an various walks of business life including the first professional person to suggest accounting as an optional career path – he was of course an accountant (ICAEW) and was there on an extended appreciation course – the same 5 weeks as me. It was to be five years before I began studying for CIMA (ICMA as it was then).
Gradually it became apparent to me that it was possible for employees, managers and owners to be running around like Capek’s Robots, mechanically spouting chunks of data that were randomly interspersed with slogans, completely at odds with what was actually going on. There were handouts plus other exercises and I duly kept a record.

Fielden House Work Study - questions

Work Study – questions

Fielden House Work Study - study sheet

Work Study – study sheet

Fielden House Work Study - flow process

Work Study – flow process

On my return to Belwoven I discussed the merits of the course at some length with my Boss. He wanted to stick me straight into a Work Study activity in the Cut + Fold department. There was a snag; much of my work including Stock Take valuation had been moth-balled pending my return (Belwoven did monthly stock takes) and, although this wasn’t year end, the Company Secretary, Jeff Spink, was anxious for a full stock values for his accounts. Unlike, many firms (even now!) Belwoven calculated the profit only after validating inventory physically – it was common practise then- outside year end – to deduce stock value as a balancing figure, a methodology which frequently resulted in a nasty surprise when audit came around. Anyhow, I had to catch up on Stock – 2 to 4 days, top priority; then there was the accumulated job cards relating to my 5 weeks away for which a waste calculation was required; also I was keen to check the integrity of loom efficiency records – my Boss had held the fort but being brutally honest, he wasn’t avers to taking a short cut in the face of an intractable problems in the interpretation of Stopped Time Allowances – if I carried the can it was as well to check. There were glitches in the records, nothing serious but that was a weight off my mind.
By the time things were ship shape, the cut and fold department had entered yet another phase of changing staff; the Cut + Fold Manager deferred Work Study observations for the immediate future. The issues in cut and fold didn’t settle for awhile and in the meantime my role in investigating problem contracts grew larger. We discussed the suitability of Work Study to the General Office. Making and keeping offices efficient is a constant battle – man is for the most part a sociable animal – those of us with strong resistance to office chit-chat and a liking for getting things done will note the favourite places for those escaping from work: the photocopying machine, the coffee machine, the sales office and (in earlier years) the general office. It didn’t get work done and was the bane of those ploughing the furrow of concentration, hoping to finish a report, check figures or finish a letter. Sometimes a senior manager passing by would make an acerbic comment (and as soon as he was out of hearing, the tittle-tattle would recommence on the topic of ‘how dare he when they were so overworked’). Ensuring best practise in the office was a constant battle. The General Office at Belwoven was a case in point – in its defence there wasn’t an even flow of work, on the other hand there were predictable elements: distributing internal mail, registering external mail….

The following September, deciding I needed a bit more than a 5 week Work Study course to my CV, I began a HNC (Higher National Certificate) in Business Studies at the Burnley College of Arts and Technology. One of the modules was Organisation and Methods; I got to see first hand the commonalities between Work Study and organising offices more efficiently.

The outputs from Work Study feed into the plan of how a business functions and ultimately became the bible for automation – replacement of labour by mechanised inputs. This was a logical conclusion thus permitting the capitalist mindset to sidestep the side discussion on the value of gainful employment to the working man. The key to economic wealth is efficient production of reliable, goods that people want in an organised way. The fruits of the enterprise go to the providers of capital, thus ignoring the working man. The economic consequences at a local level are generally severe, profound and long lasting and in the UK, the overall pattern of employment has long shifted away from direct labour to indirect staff and admin.

Big changes didn’t emerge in the office until a few decades after the appearance of the desktop PC, leading to outsourcing and off-shore call centres.

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Just begun to self-edit The Turning Stone


I wrote The Turning Stone in late 2016. It’s YA Fantasy set in an alternate present day where the leading powers of the world are NuWrld, Angevie, Hanan and Muscovy.

It begins in the fictional town of Saret, not far from Urumqi in the fictional nation of Uighuristan. An ancient rune stone Continue reading

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Kirbyesque


ZimQ update via Kirbyesque

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