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Just a place for the odd thoughts, updates, and the detritus of my mind that doesn't belong on social media.

Posted: Jan 22nd, 9:21am

The Gap

One of the stories appearing in 2018's Night Alphabet is The Gap.

The nameless main character of The Gap is an expert in period restoration. Escaping the disasterous end of a relationship he accepts a job working solo on the rambling Rowlands House, once a private home, later an office, finally abbandoned. While working there he discovers a mysterious gap in the fabric of the house that leads ... somewhere.

At the start of October I accepted a job renovating an abandoned building. It was hard manual labour in an out of the way location, a bleak and lonely estate unused since the sixties, but it suited my mood — it had been three months since Hazel had left me; I was in need of distraction, but not company.

The Gap is a story about loneliness, and isolation — a theme it has in common with many of the other tales in the collection. The main character is alone in his life, and alone in the house, which is, in turn, increasingly alone in the world (I won't spoil the story, but suffice it to say that it focusses on what's inside more than what's going on in the rest of the world). Apart from three words at the start of the story, he never speaks directly to another person. When he considers picking up the phone to report what he's found, he hesitates. He cuts himself off. Later, when he wants to speak to others, it is too late.

I'd like to assure those of you still reading that this abiding theme in the story, and the book as a whole, isn't a reflection of my own loneliness or anything like that, but is something that I associated with the theme of dreams. When you dream, you are alone in your own head. Even if you dream of other people, they are actually just aspects of yourself. The Gap takes this theme still further, what the main character finds within the gap helps to separate him still further from anyone or anything else, because the gap is inside, just like a dream.

It's therefore fitting that the story now appears in [[https://...

Posted: Nov 26th, 8:05am

Free story: Distributed

I mostly write what I would call Magical Realism/Horror, or maybe Weird fiction, but occasionally I try to dabble in Hard SF.

Last year I was struck by the idea of what a distributed intelligence would feel like to its constituent parts, which led in turn the question, "what would it be like if the connections failed"? The result of that question was Distributed.

Distributed is definitely an experimental piece, and one that hasn't found a home in any anthologies or magazines over the time since I wrote it, so I've decided to publish it here as a free story.


Posted: Nov 4th, 3:59am

The Church Grim

Over on rpg.net, forum member Felix has been conducting a read-through of the AD&D Monster Manual II. One of the entries is the Grim, a shapeshifting black dog in the finest tradition of the many "Black Dogs" appearing in British fairy folklore.

Unlike most Black Dogs, which are generally fairy creatures, the Church Grim is a spirit that protects churchyards from grave robbers and other criminals.

The tradition (which appears both in England and Scandinavia) has the Church Grim as a person, the first to be buried in a new churchyard, whose soul has to watch over it. To spare a human soul this duty an animal might be buried first. In England this seems to always be a dog, but in Scandinavian tradition the Kirkegrim might be a bear, pig, or horse as well.

One of the biggest influences on my childhood imagination was Katherine Brigg's 1976 Dictionary of Fairies, a book that was battered and dog-eared when I got my copy, and which is even moreso now, many years later. In the dictionary, Briggs describes hundres of fairy entities and tropes, indexing them all with a list of descriptive themes and motifs (which you can look up at the back of the book). As soon as I saw the RPGnet post about the Grim I was sure that it was included in the Dictionary, and indeed it was.

[...] when a new churchyard was opened it was believed that the first manburied there had to guard it against the Devil. To save a human soul from such a duty a pure black dog was buried in the north part of the churchyard as a substitute. Katherine Briggs, A Dictionary of Fairies

Eden Phillpotts (a very prolific author of the early to mid 20th Century) wrote a story called "The Church Grim" in 1914, revolving around the mystery discovery o...

Posted: Oct 21st, 4:14am

Waxing Lyrical about Hypercard

Apple's late lamented Hypercard (lamented by me at least) was my first real brush with computer programming. It certainly led me to become a programmer, and it probably had a lot to do with my later interest in MUSHes and MUDs (which had some coding similarities), which in turn is how I met my wife — so you could say it was moderately influential on my life.

What was Hypercard?

Hypercard was what you'd now call an app development tool, but in black and white bitmaps on old Apple Macs in the 1980s.

If that sounds dry, it wasn't. Hypercard appeared, for free with every Mac, in an era when websites were unknown, and writing software for PCs and (especially) Macs, was a full-time undertaking with a massive learning curve. In that era of gated programming, Hypercard let you create your own software with a few clicks of a mouse, and share it with other people. Hypercard stacks came free on the CDs on the fronts of magazines. You could subscribe to user groups that would send collections of stacks around on floppy disk. Hypercard scripts appeared in fanzines, in much the same way that BASIC scripts had been listed in the gaming mags of the Commodore and Spectrum era.

Grimmoire Hypercard Stack
You want a picture, here's one of my stacks

How well I remember the joy of getting a new Hypercard disk in the post from one of the members of my fan group. I even sent out a few of my own, if I remember rightly (it was 30 years ago). Yes yes, you get all that joy now on the Internet for a fraction of the work, but that was then.

Hypercard also became a commercial tool of choice. If you bought yourself an electronic encyclopedia, catalogue, or educational program for the Mac in the late 80s and early 90s it probably came in the form of a Hypercard stack.

How did it work?

Hypercard let you create stacks. Stacks were a series of cards (screens) each of wh...