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The kindest cut of all

Thursday, 4 December 2008

At school, we had a weekly English class in condensing text. It was in the days of O-levels, OK? They also made us read Hardy which is really uncalled for. I was rubbish. I’d submit stories in creative writing that were 1800 words instead of 800 (a Marlowe pastiche – Philip, not Kit). Then I discovered the drabble: stories told in exactly 100 words, no more, no less. You really have to condense to make 100 words tell a story. Cutting adjectives, finding tighter phrasing, understanding colons. All of those came from drabbling. I recommend it to people as good practice.

Tonight I found I have a new favourite editing warm-up. 140 characters, inc. punctuation. If you want to learn to edit sharply, get twitter.

keep the aspidistra flying

Sunday, 23 November 2008

or, cover notes, publicity, reviews.

the cover

There’s occassionally a question about book covers on the Jade Pagoda or Outpost Gallifrey, so here’s the spec I supplied to the BBC which resulted in the H101 cover (all the images were stuck to my wall or monitor throughout the writing of the novel).

Rather than a specific image, I’ve got vague ideas (and there are cheers from the design dept).

I’d quite like red or black as background (I’m aware black is better behind the logo) as these were the colours of the anarchists and communists.

If you want a nice big circular shape to pull it together, the anarchist A hasn’t been used yet and *is* contemporary (see which states “Going [back] even further, a BBC documentary on the Spanish Civil War shows an anarchist militia member with a “circle-A” clearly on the back of his helmet.”).

The key theme is the way perceptions change an object (be it a painting, a person or an event), how there can be simultaneous, opposing views on something. Double-think, in short. The Doctor’s key aim in the novel is to restore anarchy to history – reversing his usual ‘protect history’ which assumes a single linear history to protect. I’ve got the Doctor in a blood-red jacket and shirt (just in case I get to have a cubist McGann portrait on the cover).

Below is a list of imagery that is either mentioned or was an influence:


  • the architecture of Gaudi and the Modernistas. Several scenes take place in the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and there’s a chase sequence through Parc Guell.
  • Picasso’s Guernica (scan attached). The painting itself is doubtless in copyright of some kind but if by some miracle it isn’t…


  • The SCW photography of Robert Cara – there’s a good collection of prints on display at the Imperial War Museum at the moment.
  • Picasso’s Weeping Woman (normally in Tate Modern, current in the IWM exhibit)
  • Duchamp’s time-lapse thing, the name of which escapes me. (see scan)
  • The wonderful poster-art of the propagandists (see attached scans of a reconstructed bomb-shelter in Barcelona and the Ministerio de Propoganda’s ‘If you tolerate this…’). Absolutely NO Manic Street Preachers references though. It would be quite fun to have a mocked up poster with ‘Ministerio de Propoganda’ along the bottom.
  • Useful reference site is:

Images supplied:

Picasso's Guernica

Picasso’s Guernica, first exhibited in 1937.


Propaganda poster.

street wall

Reconstructed streetwall/bomb-shelter in Barcelona.


Photo-reconstruction of Duchamp’s ‘Nude Descending…’, with the artist in place of the model (postcard sent to me from Paris many years ago).


There’s a little bandwagonette of stuff that happens when a Doctor Who novel gets published, all in the name of raising profiles blah blah blah. Here’s a list of stuff:

Online Review Sites

These are sites were anyone can read/post a review of the novel:

  • The Doctor Who Ratings Guide
    • “History 101 is one of the most confident, measured debut books we’ve seen in a while”
    • “I wasn’t just impressed by the novel’s atmosphere I was absorbed into it. … I read in one, must finish, sitting.”
    • “In History 101, the Doctor is simply magnetic”
  • Outpost Gallifrey
    • “A deeply involving, complex story that demands your close attention and ultimately satisfies.”
    • “It’s a thoughtful story but with enough thrills and spills to keep one’s interest going for the entirety.”
    • “All the factions involved in the conflict, Communists, Anarchists and Nationalist, each provide a very different and unique perspective on the war, thus working nicely into the frame of Halliday’s thematic objective.”

Vote / Ratings sites:

These are sites where anyone can rate the book (normally on a 0-10 scale):

down and out in London and Paris

Sunday, 23 November 2008

or, location, location, location.

(This page has been slightly updated (November 2008) as I have been back to the places mentioned since 2001)


Barcelona, from Parc Guell

photomontage of Barcelona, as seen from the top of Parc Guell

It’s a cheap flight from London, how could I resist? Myself and a friend packed our bags, got a copy of the Time Out guide (see two plus two is five) and flew out in September 2001. We rented an apartmento in the Sants district and bought explorer style tickets for the metro. September is a good time to go – it’s still warm and light enough to sit out on Las Rambles till the early hours.

Some locations were always intended to be in history 101, some got added when we stumbled across them:

  • Las Rambles (or La Rambla, depending what you read)
    The main pedestrian thoroughfair of Barcelona, it’s a mile long cobbled street with distinct areas. At the top, by Placa Catalunya, is the Hotel Continental. This was where Orwell and others stayed during the Spanish Civil War and I intended to have the Doctor and Anji live here as well. The doorway as it stands didn’t suit my needs though and a wander further down Las Rambles found us having dinner in a cafe outside the Hotel Oriente, which looked much more like what I wanted.
    Also off Las Rambles:

    • the telephone exchange
      This was off the Placa Catalunya as well, where the Avenue Porta de la Angel meets it. The existant building doesn’t match the photos I had of the 1930s building, so I made it up instead.
    • Placa Vila de Madrid
      or, more precisely, the streets in that area. These are the narrow lanes where the Doctor encounters the creature. The square itself contains the Govinda vegetarian indian restaurant, which is superb (for a full list of veggie places to eat in Barcelona, check out
    • Placa Reial
      This is where the TARDIS lands in November 1936. We were heading towards el Museo del Chocolate (well worth it for the replica of the Sagrada Familia in chocolate, btw) and stopped for a coffee. Sat outside a cafe in the morning sun, looking about the colonial style buildings, it suddenly became obvious that this is where the TARDIS should be sat. Later, I realised someone else had to be sat there as well.
    • C/Escudellers
      This is the street in which Miquel gets into trouble. It leads off Las Rambles towards Placa George Orwell (although, obviously, not in 1937!). The area is dark and oh-so-faintly menacing.

    The best thing to do is just to wander, stopping at any cafe that takes your eye. You can sit out all evening with a jug of sangria and watch the people walk by. Until you realise the metro is closing.

  • Montjuic
    This was one of the added locations. We walked up one evening to see the Font Magica de Montjuic (Magic Fountain, filmed 2007) perform (very entertaining) and spent an afternoon on the hillside and watching the feral cats in the castle. Get the Teleferic up and wander back down. Near the Font is a lot of boring corporate style buildings, but also the two red towers Anji sees in the dawn light.
  • Port Vell, Drassanes & Sants
  • This is the old port area, now the usual quayside development. The Museu d’Historia de Catalunya is here. It’s almost deserted but does contain several rooms devoted to the Spanish Civil War, including a reconstructed REFUGI. My travelling companion sat about looking bored whilst I took photos of everything.
    As the port area itself has been redeveloped, I eventually got hold of some old postcards of it from the 1940s and 50s which I got off a marketstall in Sants station. There are a lot of stalls and a faintly disturbing amount of fascist memorabilia. I spent some time just flicking through looking at second Republic money, papers etc.
  • Gaudi
    Several Gaudi locations were used. Unsurprisingly, La Sagrada Familia was always on the list and always down for the Barcelonan grande finale. The following lists, roughly, the sort of route the creature and the Doctor take although this is based on the architecture (they will have zig-zagged through the side-streets rather more).

    • From Placa Catalunya, go up Passeig de Gracia. About three blocks up on the left is La Mansana de la Discordia. This is a block which contains three fine and very different examples of the modernista architecture. The stone lizards on Casa Lleo Morera could rustle through the stonework, whilst the lidded eyes and liquified stone on Casa Batllo (one of Gaudi’s) is a freakout.
    • Carry on up Passeig de Gracia another few blocks and Gaudi’s La Pedrera hoves into view. Stop and visit, taking time to look up at the painted ceilings and noticing the bone-like carvings to the stone. Up on the rooftop, check out the sentry helmets of the chimmneys (mentioned in history 101). Look eastward and you can see La Sagrada Familia‘s towers rising out of the gridwork of streets.
    • From La Pedera, continue north until you reach La Diagonal. This is the wide boulevard down which hundreds of thousands marched in Durruti’s funeral. Turn right (east) and walk along. On the left is the Casa Les Punxes, in which one of the minor characters in history 101 lived. This has nothing to do with Gaudi, I just liked it.
    • Continue along La Diagonal until you reach Placa Mossen Jacint Verdaguer. turn into Mallorca (still heading out of town). Start looking at the skyline ahead of you. You should come out by La Sagrada Familia. Visiting, you can climb the spiral staircases on the older front (the front that was built before the Spanish Civil War). In the crpyt there is an exhibition, including photographs of it as it was pre-War.
    • have an ice-cream. or a beer.

    The other Gaudi site used, but not listed above is Parc Guell , through which Anji runs. It’s worth getting the bus up the hill as it’s a killer. Climb to the very top where there is a flat outpost with views of the hills beyond and the entire skyline of Barcelona below (pictured above). Zig-zag back down, aiming for the performance area and the main gates.

Guernica and Bilbao

All done from photos and friends descriptions (either of the places, or of being caught up in warzones).


Paris is somewhere I’ve known for years so I didn’t bother visiting again. Even a decade later, the climb to and view from the Sacre Cour is an experience as clear as if I’d done it yesterday. Somewhere in this area is a bar where I drank too much anais and then did a runner.
The walk from Le Chien Bleu to the Eiffel Tower is based on wandering around there years ago (don’t date guys who dig existential angst is the main lesson from that).

2008 appendix: I’ve since been to Paris three more times, and have a favourite hotel in Pigalle, a favourite restaurant in Montmartre and a favourite cocktail bar down by the Seine.  On one of the trips, we ended up in Harry’s bar, knocking back vodka Martini’s and discussing a) Sherlock Holmes and b) Le Ligue des Gentlemen Extraordinaires.  It’s that kind of city.

Grrr! Argh!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Benny and the Torch More picspam, as the cover of Bernice Summerfield and the Vampire Curse has been released. That’s Adrian Salmon art based on my novella: woo!

I know.

It’s exactly the kind of slow news day it’s worth pushing out news on a collection of novellas featuring a C25th archaeologist and her encounters with vampires on, right?

(This is not a criticism of Big Finish, btw. It’s not as if a book cover makes the front page of the papers anyway. Not even the TLS.)

The Righteous Harmonious Fists

Monday, 13 October 2008

This Timewatch on the Boxer War is a fairly good grounding, for anyone wanting a basic history. It contains a George Morrison who seems to owe a fair bit to Brendon Fraser in The Mummy but I can live with that.  One of the talking heads, Diane Preston, wrote the book I used a lot for research on Warring States as she is very good at outlining the issues and actions taken.

At the chap’s at the weekend, I bemoaned Timewatch being on opposite Strictly Come Dancing with the comment “I’ve read books on that!”. To which the chap’s flatmate’s response was “You wrote a book on that”. It’s odd the extent to which, once a book is done, the historical topic becomes an interest divorced from that research process. I know I read this article and associated leader on the Internationales at the weekend – and the many articles over the last seven years about the reconciliation work going on in Spain – with fascination. I suspect the fiction set in those periods acts as a focus for my research, rather than a catalyst. The catalyst is just curiosity about something and a desire to learn more. I still have the Border Reivers on my research list, and have done for about six years, but there’s yet to be a focal point to trigger the active reading around them.

two plus two is five

Sunday, 28 September 2008

or, research and resources.

I love research. I should have been a female Watcher. I even have some tweed in my wardrobe. So, aside from the selected bibliography & filmography at the end of the book, I have notebooks loaded down with quotes from other work. Some are tangental, read only for a grounding in a subject, whilst others spent six months on my desk with hundreds of post-its. Links are provided to or the publisher where possible. This still isn’t an exhaustive list.

The Spanish Civil War

Books primarily about the Spanish Civil War, its origins, the events of it and some of the aftermath.

The curious thing about researching for a historical novel is that you devour every detail up to a certain point and then skim the rest of the book to look for things you can foreshadow. Not the normal way to read history books at all, I think.

  • Homage to Catalonia
    George Orwell
    Penguin Modern Classics, 2000 edition
    note – for once, the same edition as I actually used
    (additional note – a collected volume exists Orwell in Spain which includes the entire text of homage to catalonia and all the essays and articles on Spain, published in 2001.)

  • A Concise History of the Spanish Civil War
    Paul Preston
    Fontana, 1996
    note – Preston pops up frequently, having made the SCW his specialism. His writing style doesn’t appeal to me but I do have copious notes from his books.
  • The Spanish Cockpit
    Franz Borkenau (with an introduction by Hugh Thomas)
    Phoenix Press, 2000
    note – eyewitness account of the SCW. Orwell called it “the best book yet written on the subject” (but that was in 1937).
  • Discplina Camaradas
  • Christopher Hall
    Gosling Press, 1994
    note – four differing eyewitness accounts of the SCW by British volunteers (three by Internationals, one from a POUM member). I found a copy on a market stall in Chepstow.

  • The Spanish Civil War
    Gabriele Ranzarto
    Windrush, 1999
    note – apparently OOP, although I found a copy in a remainder shop close to the Imperial War Museum.


Books by or about George Orwell aka Eric Blair.

If reading history books up to a key point is odd, reading biographies is stranger as, once you start writing the historical character you have to make sure they have no future knowledge about themselves.

  • Homage to Catalonia
    George Orwell
    Penguin Modern Classics, 2000 edition
    note – for once, the same edition as I actually used
    (additional note – again, a collected volume exists Orwell in Spain which includes the entire text of homage to catalonia and all the essays and articles on Spain, published in 2001.)

  • George Orwell: A Life
    Bernard Crick
    Penguin Books, 1992 edition
    note – unauthorised biog of the man, including debate about just how complict he may have been whilst in Burma

  • George Orwell : An Age Like This…
    George Orwell (edited by Ian Angus and Sonia Orwell)
    Nonparial Books, 2000
    notes – I used an earlier Penguin edition. This section of his essays, letters and journalism contains the SCW stuff.


Books which helped with other elements of the novel, from how telephone exchanges worked to the way the brain does.

  • The Human Brain
    Susan Greenfield
    Orion, 1998
    note – a basic introduction into how the brain processes – or fails to process – data.

  • Spanish Simplified
    Hugo’s Language Institute, pre-WW2
    note – found in a charity shop (20p), this is the sort of Spanish-English book volunteers took with them.

  • The Story of the Telephone
    The Scientific Book Club, 1948
    note – a useful (almost) contemporary guide to telephone systems of the time.


a selection culled from my bookmarks. struckthrough links mean the site is currently down.


Female fighter
female fighters in the SCW

Raid in Bilbao
civilians hurrying for shelter in Bilbao

Durruti's Column
Durruti’s column (not the band)

Durruti's funeral
a quarter of a million turn out on Barcelona’s streets for the funural of Durruti

Barricades in Barcelona
street barricades in Barcelona, 1936

Sagrada Familia - eastern front
Gaudi’s front of the Sagrada Familia (the Nativity front)

Sagrada Familia stairs
looking down one of the spiral staircases in the Nativity front of the Sagrada Familia

Guernica Ruins
the centre of Guernica the day after the bombing raid, 1937

Montmartre steps at night
Montmartre steps, Paris – not for the smoker updated with photo taken in 2005

Paris Exposition, 1937
aerial view of the Paris Expostion of 1937 (the Spanish Pavilion is not visible)

If You Tolerate This...
propaganda poster produced during the siege of Madrid

I before E...or...
a solution to spelling a character’s surname, bought in Barcelona

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