Thursday, 28 June 2012

I'll never eat a whole wing ...

An extraordinary fossil has turned up in Australia. The primitive bird (it still had teeth) Pelagornis lived around 5 million years ago and is believed to have been one of the largest, if not the largest, bird ever to fly. Its wingspan was a staggering 6 metres. That's just short of 20 feet. Or, if you want a visual, about the same as the height of a fully-grown giraffe. Here's an artist's reconstruction:

I've also shown it alongside a reconstruction of a Hatzegopteryx just to give you an idea of how big the prehistoric pterosaurs could get. Here's another Hatzegopteryx along with its cousin the better-known Quetzacoatlus:

To think that I used to be impressed by the sight of a heron or a swan in flight. These guys make everything we have today seem kind-of tame, don't they?

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

We have a winner!

Well, the final decision is in. And the winner of my competition to win a unique, hand-bound edition of my first book Joined-Up Thinking is my good friend Mo McFarland. Here's her winning entry.

The theme of the competition was '227'; it's the 'collar number' of Constable Colgan. I asked people pledging on my book to send me photographs, artwork, anything that, in some way, incorporated the number. Here are a few of the other excellent entries. Some were very inventive!

In case that last one is puzzling you, zoom in on the clock ...

Yup. Despite being on holiday, Laura Brown hung around to get the photo at 2.27pm. Impressive!

Quite a few of the entries were from friends and so, in fairness to them, I decided not to pick the winner myself. I wanted an independently decision. So I passed the buck to my publishers at Unbound and they viewed the photos - all anonymous - and made their decision.

So congratulations, Mo! As soon as the book is completed, I'll get it to you. It may take a few weeks as Amanda Slope is a wonderful book binder and her work is beautiful ... but time-consuming.

And if you didn't win this time, don't worry - there will be a new competition soon. And, of course, if you're pledging on my new book, you're already automatically in the draw to win the cover art painting.

What do you mean you're not pledging? Go and do it now! Help make Constable Colgan's Connectoscope a reality!

Meet me in Monkeys Eyebrow

It always used to irk me when, while watching some film or TV show made in the USA, the person speaking would qualify a place-name by the addition of a country e.g. 'London, England' or 'Paris, France'. I don't know why it irritated me so much. Maybe it was because I felt we were being treated like a bunch of dumb-arses.

However, my attitude changed completely when I first visited America and the reason why Americans do this became apparent. It's because the USA is huge - just Texas alone is nearly three times the area of the entire UK (Texas - 268,581 sq miles vs UK - 94,060 sq miles). It has several time zones. But, most pertinent to this story, it's thousands of small colonies that have moulded together into a nation. It's a fact that where colonists go, they take the place-names of their home country with them and they plant them in the New World. It's the reason why there's a Boston in Massachussetts and a New York (which, when owned by the Dutch, was New Amsterdam).  And because the colonists initially had no form of central government, there was no one to say 'Hang on, that name's already been used'.

There are 17 Clevelands in the USA. Therefore, it becomes important to add a further qualifier to indicate which one you're talking about. Is it Cleveland, Ohio or Cleveland, Utah? Is it Cleveland, West Virginia ... or even Cleveland, England?

America boasts 17 Dovers, 18 Kingstons, 17 Newports, 17 Winchesters, 21 Oxfords and 20 Manchesters. Top of the Pop(ular place-name)s is Greenville. There are 49 of them; three in New York State alone. There's a London in Minnesota, a Paris in Texas and a Birmingham in Alabama. There's a Cairo in Illinois, a Bombay in New York State, a Madrid in New Mexico and a Rome in Georgia.

So it's not too hard to see why Americans suffix their place-names; it's a matter of necessity. Here, on our tiny island nation, we've never had to do so.

Monkeys Eyebrow, Kentucky

As a footnote to this tiny ramble, I will also say that, because of the aforementioned lack of central government, the USA has some of the best place-names. This whole blogpost was inspired by my reading this morning that Charlton Heston was born in No Man's Land, Illinois (now part of the town of Evanston. Elsewhere, there's a Nothing in Arizona, a Cool in California, a Truth Or Consequences in New Mexico, a Humansville in Missouri, a Jot-Em-Down in Texes, a Boring in Oregon, and a Cheesequake in New Mexico. There's a No Name in Colorado, a Half.Com in Ohio, a Santa Claus in Georgia, a Peculiar in Missouri, an Unalaska in Alaska, an Accident in Maryland and a Monkeys Eyebrow in Kentucky. But my favourites are Why (Arizona) and Whynot (Mississippi). Or maybe Toadsuck, Arkansas.

Do you know of any better examples?

p.s There's a great list here.

The Colganology Podcast - Episode 10 - Flat Caps and Cowgirl Hats

Here's the last podcast in my fist series of 10. Apologies for the delay ... life got in the way. It's all about getting old and the fact that you're only as old as the pensioner you feel. Approximately 11 minutes long with some saucy language and one bad joke.

There will be a new series later in the year.

Monday, 25 June 2012

No signal? No imagination.

I was watching an old Amicus horror film today; they don't make them like that any more. Amicus, if you don't know them, were a rival to Hammer in the good old days of 1970s British horror. They are most famous for their portmanteau fims - a series of short films strung together by a central overarching storyline - and they include Asylum, Tales from the Crypt, Dr Terror's House of Horror and The House that dripped Blood. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were in most of them but they did also boast stars like Donald Sutherland, Terry-Thomas, Diana Dors, Ian Carmichael, Roy Castle, Herbert Lom, Tom Baker, Burgess Meredith, Joan Collins, Jack Palance and many others.

However, what struck me about the film was the use of telephones as a dramatic device - something that we've now lost to some degree. For example, in one scene, arranging to meet someone at a call box results in a murder. In another, a predatory Britt Ekland snips someone's phone line prior to killing them. Does anyone do that any more? Or do they just unplug the router?

In these days of instant global communication and mobile/cell phones, it must be increasingly difficult to isolate the heroes from any chance of help. Writers have to include some artifice (radio mast hit by lightning) or a line like 'No signal!' in every such screenplay. Sadly, however, far too many opt for the latter rather than the former, as you can see in this excellent  'supercut' by blogger Rich Juzwiak..

'97% of the country has signal. We managed to find ourselves in the 3%.'  Yeah, you and just about everyone else, apparently.

'No signal' has quickly become a movie cliche; as boring and predictable as using air ducts to escape (there's a great rant on that very subject here), or using the hatch in the ceiling of a lift (have you ever been in a lift that had one??), or rubbing two wires together under the steering wheel to hot-wire a car (complete arse gravy - you try it). You can do better. And we deserve better.

Saying that, where's the consistency? Apparently, you can't get a signal in most open spaces in the world but you can get a signal in a bomb-proof bunker and accept a call from your daughter? That was the one irksome thing in the Season 1 finale episode of the otherwise excellent Homeland. And don't get me started on the iPhone that still had a charge after several years in a box in the Dirk Gently pilot ...

In Sky's drama Mad Dogs, the four stars agree to put their phones in a safe because they won't have a proper break 'if the office can get hold of us'. The subsequent murder of the safe's owner (and loss of the combination) means that they are truly isolated. That's infinitely better than 'No signal' isn't it? As you saw in the second half of that video just now, there are other, more inventive, ways to cut people off from civilisation.

The arrival of new technology means that, as writers, we have to be more inventive in finding new ways to circumvent it. So I think it's fair to say that the day I put 'No signal' into a book or script is the day I should probably hang up my writing hat.

Of course, I love new technology and don't really miss the old analogue phones on a cable. However I do miss the ability to slam a phone receiver down on the cradle in anger or frustration. Pressing the red disconnect button to the sound of a gentle beep just isn't the same, is it?

Sunday, 24 June 2012

A bit of a Chat ... Part 3

The final part of the trilogy, which spotlights Ken's highly individual impressions of Queen Elizabeth II, and we discuss the Cornish language, tax avoidance, nicknames as a form of power, dumbed-down science shows, the lack of eccentrics on TV, and what happens when Disney cosplayers get wet.

Like the previous two parts, it's about an hour long. But enjoy!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

I've brought you my sample ...

Okay. I need to get some more people pledging on my new book Constable Colgan's Connectoscope. And it strikes me that one of the reasons people may be reticent is because it's money up-front without seeing the product. Unlike a bookshop, there's no facility to pick a book up and have a flick through it. Well ... now there is.

In an effort to persuade you to give up a little of your hard-earned, stolen or tax-avoided cash, I'm giving you the first two chapters, as a sample, for free. Yup. free. No catches. No sign-up. No spam.

Click on the image above and you'll get a PDF of the first two chapters (if that doesn't work, click here). Have a read through. And, if you like it, consider investing in the whole bally book.
Now go pledge!

Oh, and if you want to know more about the whole crowd-funded publishing experience, do have a read of these articles by three of my fellow Unbound authors:

On the perils of crowd-funded publishing by Katy Brand

Pieces of Light by Charles Fernyhough (also this excellent blogpost)

News from Gardenia is Go! by Robert Llewellyn

A Bit of a Chat ... Part 2

As promised, here's Part Two, in which the conversation ranges from Neanderthal gestation times to my fascination with names, puggles and platypus, crowd-sourced publishing, Scientology, alternative names for the seven dwarves, and living with three nipples ...

Tomorrow we'll have the third and final instalment which spotlights Ken's highly individual impressions of Queen Elizabeth II, and we discuss the Cornish language, tax avoidance, nicknames as a form of power, dumbed-down science shows, the lack of eccentrics on TV, and what happens when Disney cosplayers get wet.


Friday, 22 June 2012

A bit of a chat with ... Ken Plume

Ken Plume is something of a legend in the blogging community. His A Site called Fred attracts hundreds of thousands of viewers and is very influential among online media. And for me, the highlight of his site (apart from his occasional bouts of crap karaoke or crapoke) are his interviews, which delight in the name of A bit of a chat with ...

Over the past few years, he's chatted with the great and the good from TV, film, science and comedy and his list of downloadable interviews includes such talented people as Ricky Gervais, David Mitchell, John Lloyd, Rebecca Watson, Stan Lee, Graham Linehan, most of the cast and writers of Community, Simon Day, Warwick Davies, Jeri Ryan, John Mitchinson, Robert Llewellyn, John Hodgman, Dan Schreiber, Dom Joly, Rufus Hound, Greg Davies, Dave Gorman, Peter Serafinowicz, Neil Innes, Sylvester McCoy, Jane Goldman, Adam Savage, Dom DeLuise, Frank Oz, Stephen Colbert ... and many many more.

So, when Ken said that he'd like to do A bit of a chat with ... me, I felt both honoured and pretty excited. And what fun it was! So much fun, in fact, that it turned into a marathon of three hours. Yes, you heard right. Three hours. But it flew past in an instant.

You can listen to/download the whole thing here (and thanks, Ken, for picking the campest publicity photo ever taken of me) or, if you can't take too much of a good thing all at once, how about I dish it up in bite-sized (admittedly large bite-sized) portions over the next few days, hmm?

So, here's Part One in which we discuss my 'accidentally' becoming a police officer, how I got a Blue Peter badge (and made Neil Gaiman say a rude word), the fun of being set on fire ... twice, Carl Sagan's legacy and the sad loss of police gardening competitions.

Part Two tomorrow, in which the conversation ranges from Neanderthal gestation times to my fascination with names, puggles and platypus, crowd-sourced publishing, Scientology, alternative names for the seven dwarves, and living with three nipples ...

But if you really can't wait, visit A Site Called Fred now.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Big Fish

I bloody love these; giant fish made from discarded drinks bottles. They're on display at Botafogo beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the UN Conference on Sustainable Development is being hosted.




Photo credit: Victor R. Caivano / AP, Ueslei Marcelino / Reuters

Snow White and the multitude of Dwarfs

I recently read a really interesting book about cartoon animation called Cartoon Monickers: An Insight Into the Animation Industry by Walter Brasch. In it I discovered a list of the possible names that Walt Disney and his people considered for the Seven Dwarfs before settling on Happy, Sneezy, Grumpy, Sleepy, Dopey, Bashful and Doc. The list included:

Awful (my favourite!), Baldy, Bashful, Biggo-Ego, Burpy, Daffy, Deafy, Dippy, Dirty, Dizzy, Doleful, Dopey, Dumpy,Flabby, Gabby, Grumpy, Hickey, Hoppy, Hotsy and Hungry ...

... Jaunty, Jumpy, Lazy, Neurtsy (?), Nifty, Puffy, Sappy, Scrappy, Shifty, Shorty, Silly, Sleepy, Snappy, Sneezy, Sneezy-Wheezy, Sniffy, Snoopy and Soulful ...

... Strutty, Stuffy, Swifty, Tearful, Thrifty, Weepy, Wheezy, Wistful and Woeful.

Too good not to doodle!

But no Pervy, Gropey, Farty, Twattish, Drunky, Wanky or Sinful? What a missed opportunity.

And now that I come to think about it, I remember reading a paperback in my teens about the making of Star Trek (the original series) and discovering that one of the possible names for Leonard Nimoy's character was Spunc or Spunk.

What a different character he would have been.

'We come in peace ...' 

Monday, 18 June 2012

20 Facts about Me

There's a fun little meme going around Twitter at the moment called #20factsaboutme. I did mine today. Here they are collected together:

1. My surname means 'Swordsman'. Oh yeah.

2. I am allergic to champagne and many white wines.

3. I have never placed a bet in my life and despise horse racing due to the huge number of horse deaths (see here). The totals are shocking, largely unpublicised and wholly unacceptable.

4. My middle name isn't Basil or Lettice. It is, in fact, Mark.

5. My book Henhwedhlow is currrently the largest volume of original modern Cornish prose on the planet. You can still get it via Amazon. Credit must be shared with the brilliant Tony Hak who did the translation.

6. I made some bones for the world's most famous dinosaur. (See here

7. I have three nipples. Don't call me Scaramanga.

8. I have been deliberately set on fire twice. Both by way of Molotov cocktails. I was a cop for 30 years and was on the streets behind a shield during all of the London race riots during the early 1980s.

9. I sculpted the faces of two creatures that appeared in The Fifth Element and wore Leeloo's orange braces when Milla Jovovich wasn't looking.

10. I once had a script accepted for Dr Who and I wrote 2 commissioned scripts for Gerry Anderson. None of them ever got made. Waaah!

11. As a child I was in episodes of The Goodies, The Onedin Line and the ‘video’ for Ennio Morricone’s No. 1 hit The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

12. My favourite film of all time is Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.

13. My favourite band of all time is XTC.

14. My favourite book of all time is Douglas Adams’ and Mark Carwardine’s Last Chance to See.

15. If I could only take one boxset of DVDs with me to a desert island it would be the complete Laurel and Hardy.

16. I actually have two medals - real medals. And a Humane Society Award. And a Blue Peter badge.

17. I don’t have a hobby as such but I have amassed many signed books. They include Douglas Adams, Kenneth Williams, Clive James , Ronnie Barker, Stephen Fry, Willie Rushton, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Jon Ronson  and many, many more.

18. I have visited every single Tube Station on the London underground network.

19. I have eaten cous cous during an autopsy.

20. I’ve been bitten by an adder. Twice. What a numpty.

21. I'm not good with numbers.

What are your 20 facts?

Monday, 11 June 2012

It's 25% competition time!

I've now reached 25% of funding for my new book Constable Colgan's Connectoscope. Yep, I'm a quarter of the way there. It's all very exciting. And so, to mark the occasion, I've decided to offer a very special prize.

I must stress here that the competition is only open to people who have pledged towards my book on the Unbound site.

Of course, if you haven't already pledged, you can do so now and join in the fun if you want to. Levels of funding start at just £10 - that gets you the ebook and the audiobook editions. £20 will get you an ebook, audiobook and a beautifully made hardback book. From there on up, the more you pledge the more you get including invites to the launch party, signed editions, limited edition prints etc. But whatever level you pledge at, you'll get your name listed as a supporter in the back of the ebook and hardback. And you'll get access to my Author's Shed where you can enter the 25% Competition.

The prize is very special. I've got together with award-winning bookbinder Amanda Slope from Great Missenden to create something utterly unique. She's re-covering a hardback copy of my first book Joined-Up Thinking in a beautiful handmade binding. It'll be completely one-of-a-kind and will be signed by me. I can't show you exactly what it will look like yet but here's a taster of some of her work:

So, if you want to take part, pop over to my page at Unbound, log in and have a look at the competition rules in my Author's Shed. There are runner-up prizes too.

Good luck!

More taxidermy from the amazing Polly Morgan

Following on from the previous taxidermic post, check out these amazing pieces by Polly Morgan. Aren't they extraordinary?

The Curious (and occasionally illegal) Art of Enrique Gomez De Molina

Miami-based artist Enrique Gomez De Molina produces artwork using taxidermy. But taxidermy with a difference. He makes chimerae; new animals from parts of old animals. Often a figure of controversy (he has been known to illegally import items and is currently serving a 20 month jail sentence for the offence), his work is always striking in its originality. You can see a few more examples of his work on the Visual News blog or at the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery site here.

Molina's work reminds me of those 'Cabinet of Curiosity' specimens that were exhibited by Victorian traveling showmen, like the infamous Feegee Mermaids (Oh, do check out Juan Cabana's life-sized Feegee Mermaid sculpture). Or Walter Potter's creepy anthropomorphic taxidermy.

I can't and won't condone the use of endangered species - he deserves to be punished for that - but I do like his work.

Maybe I'm just odd.


Sunday, 10 June 2012

Cartoonists you should all know

The world is full of brilliantly funny cartoonists and doodlers and I thought that, today, I'd give some of them a mention. They make me smile and for that I am hugely grateful to them. First up, there's John Atkinson. His Wrong Hands site is always worth a visit:

Next on my list is the always brilliant October Jones whose Doodlejunk blog is probably one of the funniest places I visit on the internet. Using a combination of cartoons, doodles left in public places and augmented photos, the mysterious Mr Jones has me grinning on a daily basis. I particularly love his commuting doodles where he superimposes a doodle over a real fellow traveller. Genius! It's also worth checking out his Text from Dog site.

My third recommendation is Twistedlilkitty. Maria is a cartoonist, stand up and scientist and her Twisted Doodles are a constant joy.

She also has a brilliantly funny card shop on Redbubble - Visit it here and to Hell with Hallmark and Moonpig.

More cartoonists next week!

Coming to a wall near you very soon ...

I am working on two brand new pieces of art for this exhibition:

Myself, and the other artists concerned, are all creating two artworks each. They are themed on 'Wasps' and 'Fishes' to tie in with the imminent release of Emperor Yes's first EP. You can listen to both tracks for free on Soundcloud here. Emperor Yes is a collaborative music project involving artists from a number of bands and orchestrated by the brilliant Ash Gardner at House of Strange Studios. If you live in London, why not come along?