Why are there no aliens near Earth?
Firstly there’s a line to be drawn between the make believe of popular Science Fiction, and fact. Science Fiction shows Continue reading
Firstly there’s a line to be drawn between the make believe of popular Science Fiction, and fact. Science Fiction shows Continue reading
It often seems the case that once you master a technique, you want to apply it everywhere. Harry – I started off calling him Mr. Braithwaite; even though he told me Harry was fine, I always felt more comfortable with good, old-fashioned Mr. Braithwaite – advised me to take the opportunity to build my speed on using the desktop calculator on the principle that:
i) as my daily routine involved at least 30 minutes of continuous calculator use very early on, any increase in speed would be more than just a one-off benefit. This embodied the principle of improving the efficiency of repetitious tasks. This of course left more time for other work (there was plenty of this).
ii) the skill of touch typing could be applied to a desk-top calculator – i.e. when pressing the keys, not referring to the calculator display and relying upon muscle memory.
I became a proficient user however that skill had to be relearned once we acquired a second calculator – for my use – its keys were configured differently – which of course jumps ahead.
Being keen of eye, I ended up designing most forms in the Work Study Office. These consisted of two sheets. The top copy was drawn and written upon with biro and ruler; this action – the second was coated with a layer of wax impregnated with the colour blue – would transfer coloured wax to the underside of the top copy which was then reproduced by Banda machine (a UK term for spirit duplication). The resulting forms were stored for daily, weekly or monthly issue. They were completed by hand, checked and photocopied for distribution. Occasionally the Managing Director’s Secretary, Claire Mahoney, would help in the preparation of type-written forms, should these have an external audience. To my young self, the Managing Director was a business god. Chief executives come and go, making no positive impact. John Martin Haggerty may have had his faults but they were more than made up for by charisma, charm, the ability to grasp the essential, and force of character.
My role quickly expanded to take on board calculation of the works bonus. Bonus was paid everyone in the business and, because of its financial significance, the records relating to it were maintained by my boss. The mechanism by which it was calculated was fairly straightforward as I soon discovered – my boss often made use of my mathematical acumen – I was quick, bright and accurate. The weariness brought on by the demands of an active social life, especially girlfriends, was a long way off.
Bonus was awarded at management discretion and, as its progress was declared weekly on the shop floor notice board, care was taken to ensure accuracy. My introduction to its calculation was gradual and audited by my boss. In two years I would be running it – parsimonious but fair to both firm and worker. A lot happened before then including:
• taking over the calculation of waste
• dealing with a legacy of misunderstanding the calculation of loom efficiencies.
What did a loom look like? There are many kinds of loom. In the case of Belwoven the choices were between Needle, Rapier and Multi Shuttle. The latter used to be the standard for a quality label for jackets, shirts, suits, shirt, undergarments and especially haute couture. In constant contact with the skin it didn’t irritate. The days when customers used to cut out garment labels as on purchase aren’t that long ago. Multi shuttle looms are mostly obsolete but the two images below give an indication of their shape and scale, noting that looms used in Belwoven:
a) were around twice the width of these – this was to accommodate the number of shuttles which could range between 72 and 240.
b) didn’t require heated blades to melt and seal the fabric into separate strips
c) had a dual purpose wooden baton: it held not only the individual shuttles of weft but also the reed for each strip.
d) had individual roller bars for each strip
e) used jacquard punch-hole pattern sets to control the weave – which meant that unlike the overhead box was mechanical rather than electronic
My first day at Belwoven I worked at my boss’s desk. We had one calculator between us, a monster sized Canon L121 – it took up a quarter of the desk.
The first order of the day was learning the job – this was the daily calculation of production records for all three shifts. Once I got the hang of that my boss would be able to move onto other things, in particular the carrying out of work study of the various departments in order to set targets for repetitive work. Within three days I was working like a pro. I hammered out the numbers as quick as I could.
A couple of problems quickly became apparent:
1) one desk wasn’t big enough for two people – I worked one corner – a sort of quarter of a hot desk.
2) my boss smoked like a chimney and it was often the case my eyes would be streaming after half an our in the office
No. 1 was solved in not much more than a week – a second desk arrived. The boss – Harry Braithwaite – would face the door. My desk would square up against the side of his making a kind of T in the office. Belwoven offices were based in a converted block of terraced houses at the bottom of Newmarket Street, Colne. As far as no. 2 went, there were no rules then about smoking in offices. I soon worked out how to plan urgent business on the shop floor to take account of a smoking binge.
Winter was cold however – I started work 29/12/1975 – anxious to be in work. In the depth of winter, a cold transmitted through my feet to my ankles and knees, making them ache. It wasn’t until years later I learned that the underside of the office wasn’t insulated. Downstairs (we were on the upper floor) was basically a draughty, disused stable.
Our office ended up with two desks, three filing cabinets and three to four chairs, depending on who else needed them.
It was named the Work Study and Training Department. We also interviewed new starters – turnover was constant in winding,. weaving, inspection, cut + fold and despatch.
Winding was 2 shifts (double days)
Weaving was 3 shift (double days + permanent nights)
Inspection was 1 shift with o/t available depending on customer priority
Cut & Fold flip-flopped between days + an evening shift and double days
Double days was considered 6 am to 2 pm and 2 pm tp 10 pm, alternate weeks. Permanent nights was a lifestyle choice. I rarely saw the night shift manager or weaving staff but obviously over my thirteen year stay I got to know many of them very well. Peter O’ Connor production director, Brian Buckle assistant manager, Frank Williams chief mechanic Jeff Brown, Ray Brown and Tom Hudson – shift foremen. There were plenty more. And my boss? He was the agent and tool of the Managing Director: J M Haggerty. His first task, was to sort out Cut & Fold, as soon as my feet were under the table.
When I first started work I had a desk, numbers to crunch and occasional to a calculator which I used on my number crunching. I calculated loom efficiencies. To those not familiar with textiles, looms are machines designed to weave fabric using warp and weft. I worked in a business called Bell Woven (also commonly called Belwoven) which made labels to go into garments: jeans, shirts, jackets, ties, underwear and the like. These were ‘woven edged’ which meant they were unlikely to cause irritation in contact with the skin (a unique selling point!)
My day job was collecting production records, which were filled in by shift foremen on a document known as a Pick Sheet, and touring the looms to collate stopped time which was filled in by weavers. This was used to assemble a daily production record which was disseminated to the shop floor notice board, the foreman’s office, the engineer’s office, the production manager and the managing director. Its importance stemmed from the fact that loom activity correlated pretty well with future sales. It was the key element in the bi-annual bones calculation.
Stopped time meant lost income (so galvanise the salesmen) production glitches (keep production planning informed) mechanical issues (ensure the engineer knew about overnight / late shift work breakdowns) and low efficiencies. Crunch time was every May and November: how much was bonus going to be? Was there enough for a summer vacation? What about Xmas?
Bonus tended to be around 10% of basic pay and so quite a boost at the time of year when it was needed. There was pressure on the office wallahs (including me) to get their collective fingers and out and keep those looms working. A virtuous (or vicious if you were the hangover type) circle.
The late L Ron Hubbard is famous for Scientology, Dianetics and being a Science Fiction writer, in that order. His legacy of the first two items is questionable however, as an SF devotee, he left behind a free to enter, well-regarded, quarterly competition – Writers of the Future.
Competitions are a spur (out of interest this is one I enter) and the entrants are also provided with a forum. Forums, like most social media are a time sink but there are some worthwhile questions. I’ve been on the forum several times and here’s my answers to some of their questions.
I live in Accrington UK. For the geographically minded, this places me slap-bang in the middle of one of the oldest football rivalries – Burnley and Blackburn…that’s soccer to the many Across-the-Pondanians :-). I started writing in 2009 and I’ve written four novels as well as 50+ short stories and several exploratory, novella length narratives. Although I think of myself as an SF writer, much of my shorter works are… well normal. I’ve been entering Writers of the Future on and off since 2015 (honourable mention plus a silver). Some of my stuff is on Lulu and Kindle; my non-SF stuff includes a book on my home town, Burnley, plus a book of poetry. I’m also a writing group junky.
I’ve upwards of 150 short story collections. Over the years I do revisit them. I was always struck by how an author could produce a great collection and then come up with an absolute stinker. Some of the best include:
The Green Hills of Earth (Robert Heinlein – from his Future History)
Neutron Star (Larry Niven – Thrints, Bandersnatchi, Puppeteers – Known Space)
The Illustrated Roger Zelazny (enjoyed this also for the illustrations – I’ve been a fan of Gray Morrow since his work on El Diablo for DC)
All the Traps of Earth (Clifford D Simak)
Lost Worlds 1 (Clark Ashton Smith – Zothique, Averoigne and Others)
Metamorphosis and other stories (Franz Kafka – I just like Kafka)
The John W Campbell Memorial Anthology (a good guy well remembered)
Spectrum Volume 1 edited by Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest – the introduction to this volume puts the case for well written Science Fiction – given where the genre is, it’s still worth a read – I blogged this series as part of my obituary to Robert Conquest
Hindsight’s a wonderful thing – you get to be judge, jury and executioner. In the mid 1960s New Worlds Magazine was the premier British SF journal. It was circulated in WH Smith and was a valuable window into the genre. Michael Moorcock then became editor. Moorcock was an evangeliser for New Wave SF. I remember reading about how New Wave SF was going to be good for the genre, and thinking: ‘that’s impressive’. That was over 40 years back.
New Worlds failed: WH Smith dropped it, it became dependent on Arts Council subsidies and then they pulled the plug. It ceased monthly publication in 1970. The New SF, published just a few months later, laid out all the flaws of the movement to the paying public – yes I bought a copy – it had morphed into a sanctuary for literary self-indulgence.
This is different for everyone. Observation of the writing groups I’ve been to suggests that many depend on a prompt. Professional authors have themes they work to – this I guess will tie into their respective book deals. A prompt seems artificial and forced to me. Themes aren’t hard, there are thousands of them just waiting to be explored. The exploration side is different; I have a number of different ways of dealing with the actual process, depending on whether I’m progressing a scene, resolving a plot discontinuity or sharpening up a character.
Those different ways can mean going for a walk, sleeping on it, listening to a relevant musical piece in the car or just plain writing out the ideas (paper or PC). Sometimes, all it takes is a measured discontinuity to the process of writing, to get things to click.
Sci-Fi books I have enjoyed (Fantasy another time)
Hothouse by Brian W Aldiss – a delightful take on flora / fauna gone evolution/ecologically crazy
Galactic Pot-Healer by Philip K Dick – Dick on top form Glimmung, the Kalends and the original gig guy Ceramic pot healer Joe Fernwright. What more could you ask for (apart from 40+ novels and 100+ short stories)
Stardust by Neil Gaiman – it doesn’t belong here but I’m putting it down anyway – a fan since Miracle man days.
Deathworld 1 by Harry Harrison – before the Stainless Steel rat was Deathworld
Podkayne of Mars by Robert Heinlein – could have chosen many by Heinlein – still the grand-master
The People: No Different Flesh by Zenna Henderson – aliens that are neither distant nor uncaring
Dune by Frank Herbert – excellent working of religious motifs + holy war, the urge to improve the human race + all the accompanying shenanigans and manoeuvrings.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin – fluid sexuality in SF (not too fluid mind)
The Marriages between Zones Three, Four and Five by Doris Lessing – Ms Lessing urges the genre to vacate its ghetto.
Ringworld by Larry Niven – the exploration of artefacts and cultures in SF – yup
The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle – a gripping account of (one of) the dangers of first contact
Dark Piper by Andre Norton – the collapse of interstellar civilisation, secret animal experiments – a darker Ms Norton
Gateway by Frederick Pohl – more investigation of alien artefacts (Heechee 1)
Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg – a thoughtful look into telepathy
Halcyon Drift by Brian M Stableford – the adventures of a space pilot with character (Hooded Swan 1)
The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance – ah, the Dying earth in all its glory
The War of the Worlds by HG Wells – Mars, ancient Mars brought to a Victorian England in all its tripod glory. When my daughter finished reading the copy she borrowed from me about 5 years back, I’ll scan its cover because Goodreads’ version of the image I want to use is the pits.
The Time Machine by HG Wells – wow – needs no intro
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham – a cure for the world’s fule needs – there’s just one slight snag
Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny – a reworking of Hinduism and Christianity in a Science Fantasy setting
No Asimov, Anderson, Ballard, Blish, Bradbury, Brin… and many, many others. Plenty of good works between them but I’ve gone for notable.
Initially I wrote my first draft in 3½ months. It was 60k words. Eventually I expanded it by rewriting and restructuring. As it stands it’s a collection of peripheral stories that centre on a main character whose line of work takes him through the reason behind the collapse of civilisation. It could be deconstructed into its constituent story lines. The point is: what do you want to say? If you just want to narrate, trial until you hit the right length. If you have a vision, consider using different angles of approach so the beast you are describing gets several perspectives – this being the point of the Elephant in the Room. There are plenty of techniques at your disposal, get them played with!
Testing writing preferences – my experience. I’ve done four novels, three novellas, the first 20k words of another 4 works, 50+ short stories; and I’ve ventured out of genre (SF / Fantasy) to poke around in Noir, Americana and Historical Fiction. In addition I’ve done a book of essays on my home town (Burnley, Lancs), a poetry collection plus I’ve prepared anthologies for various writing groups. There isn’t an ideal writing length – my longest is 165k words and my most common is sub-1,000 words. I’m currently planning novelette sized takes on the future of humanity in space.
The important thing is to write. Once you’re underway, you’re a ship set sail for distant lands; pace yourself to tell the tale. Don’t skimp, get it told and if you get to first draft, then you can consider length etc.
Last night, after the South Manchester Writers Workshop (14/11/17), we headed to the Dog and Partridge and got to talking about our projects. The subject turned to speaking – the author I was in discussion with was developing a talk on Evolutionary Theory – and how much time to allow. He expected to read at just under 200 words Continue reading
Put some free reads on Deviant Art. Here’s an up to date list.
Lucky (SF / Space Opera – see below for details)
The Human Hunters (SF / Military)
Writing Day (Dystopia)
Ice Made (Magic Realism)
Fickleday- Visitors (Alternate Earth)
The Faerie Tree (Alternate Fantasy)
Nurse of the Night (dying gangster)
Sky High (Dystopia)
I go to too few book readings and I suspect this is as much to do with the weakness of the local writers’ grapevine as it is with ivory tower syndrome. It’s also more of a rarity in my neck of the woods. Today I go over t’other side off t’Pennines to an author reading at The Gallery. Enough of the colloquialisms already. Slaithwaite is 5 miles south-west of Huddersfield on the A62. I use satnav – I know how to get to Slaithwaite but my route will involve getting lost on the A62 plus a brief tour of the inner ring road in Huddersfield – I’ve been lost there before so once I gravitate there at least I’ll know where I am, and possibly an excursion to discover if pie shops in Huddersfield open on Sunday. But I haven’t the time, so it’s the M62 and a switchback route down steep, single lane roads. I am early so there’s plenty of time to locate the reading room which is in the café in the basement floor. The event is graciously hosted by Wendy Beattie, Gallery Owner. Pretty soon I realise I am going to blog this regardless of the fact I’ve come unprepared. Evidence:
Reading time approx 15 mins each. Continue reading