Top Posts Of The Year

We only got back from the US yesterday and I’m still jetlagged and shattered from a week with the in-laws, so don’t have the brains for a proper post. However, since it’s the end of a year, I thought I’d have a look and see what the most popular things I’ve posted this year are. Oddly, there’s a lot of tiny things that I’d almost forgotten I’d written that have done very well.

Tenth most popular post of the year was part three of my Seven Soldiers series. The Seven Soldiers series also accounted for my ninth, sixth and fourth most popular posts. (If everyone who had read those posts had bought the book they were compiled into, I’d now have a lot more money. Unfortunately, the traffic for those all came from a Bleeding Cool link before the book was out. Oh well.)

Eighth most popular was my whinge about indie writers’ lack of professionalism.

Seventh most popular was my review of the Monkees’ Manchester gig.

Fifth most popular was this one about All-Star Superman, now collected in Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

Third was my rant about how godawful Connie Willis’ latest book is.

Second was the post where I just copy and pasted the tracklisting for the then-upcoming Beach Boys Smile box set.

And the most popular post of all was… (drumroll)… the one where I complained about changes to Google Reader and asked for alternatives.

Meanwhile the least popular post of the year, by a very long way, was part VII of Doctor Watson Investigates, with ten readers. That’s one fewer than a post reminding people to vote in the 2009 Euro elections had this year. Even the most popular of the Doctor Watson posts, the first, had only 104 views total, and most of the others are bumping around the twenty views mark. This suggests that my initial plan of doing more of those is probably a bad idea as nobody’s interested. I’ll finish the story over the next few days though, for the ten of you who are reading.

It does also seem, though, that I have discovered the secret of blogging popularity – just post an angry rant about something that annoys you that is somehow related to ‘geek’ interests like the internet or science fiction, and you’ll get all the traffic you can handle…

Plans for next year are:
Finish the novel proposal I’m working on
Finish and publish How We Know What We Know
Finish and publish Bigger On The Outside
Write a book on the Kinks
Restart and actually write the Cerebus book
Write vols 2 and 3 of the Beach Boys book
Write more about politics (this year’s events have just been too depressing).

Happy new year to you all.

Doctor Watson Investigates: The Case Of The Scarlet Neckerchief part VIII

(For parts one to seven of the good doctor’s investigation, click on the Doctor Watson Investigates tag. A revised ebook of this story is now available – on Amazon (US), Amazon (UK) and Smashwords.)

Not only was I being accused of murder, the betrayal of everything that as a medical man I hold sacred, but the murder of Cynthia Travers, the very young woman I had sworn to protect. And Miss Travers had, to the best of my knowledge, still been alive when I had left Hernshire Hall earlier that morning.

“Miss Travers… Cynthia… is dead?” I asked.
“We responded to reports of screaming and cries of ‘murder’ coming from this house at about noon today. Upon entering, we found the body of a young woman, carrying about her person a handkerchief monogrammed with the letters C.T., and near her a handbag containing letters addressed to Cynthia Travers. We visited your lodgings, and your landlady informed us that you had not been seen since yesterday, and that when she had last seen you you had been in the company of a woman named Travers who matched the description of the deceased.”

I was horrified. The day before, I had sworn upon my honour to protect the life of this young lady, and now she was dead.

But more, I was confused. Cynthia Travers had been in Hernshire the previous evening. Only one passenger, a man, had boarded the earlier train back to London in the morning, and nobody had boarded the one on which I had travelled. Surely she could not have travelled by coach overnight, only to be murdered upon her arrival?

But this thought of trains made me aware of something.

“Inspector, I couldn’t possibly be the murderer.”
“Why not?”
“You said the murder took place at noon?”
“That’s right.”
“Well, at noon I was in the middle of a train journey, and thankfully I still have the ticket to prove it.”

Having only had a chance to change my shirt and waistcoat before the door-knocking had commenced, I was still wearing the trousers in which I had been travelling. I pulled the ticket out and showed Lestrade.

“Well… I did think it most unlikely that you would kill someone, Doctor, but in barbarous times like these you can never tell. But do you have any idea why this young lady would have been in your house in the first place?”

So I explained the whole story to Lestrade, how Cynthia Travers had come to me for help after her sister’s disappearance, how I had allowed her to stay in my own house in order to help protect her, and how she had later appeared in Hernshire, disavowing any knowledge of me.

“A ghastly business indeed!” said Lestrade. “What does Mister Holmes think of it?”
“Holmes is unfortunately indisposed at present, with a very bad case of the influenza. We shall have to solve this problem without him, I fear.”
“A pity. Mister Holmes’ flashiness will never replace real police-work, of course, but for an amateur he’s quite good. I always think it a shame he never joined the force – we might have made a real detective of him.”

I nodded politely. My own opinion of Holmes is a great deal higher than that professed by Lestrade, but then I hold Lestrade in a rather higher esteem than does Holmes. I also suspect both men to have higher opinions of each other than they claim.

“Well, Doctor”, Lestrade continued, “since you’re here anyway, and the police surgeon hasn’t yet arrived, why don’t you examine the body?”

As we proceeded toward the bedroom, I thought back to the last time I had entered that room, several months before. That time, too, it had been to see the corpse of a young, beautiful woman who I had sworn to protect. I had been unable to save my wife, and now I had also been unable to save Miss Travers.

But while my wife’s killer had been consumption, against which all of us in the medical profession can only battle in vain, Miss Travers’ killer was a human being (loath though I am to apply the term to such an infernal wretch), and he could be arrested, tried and hanged. I determined that I should not rest until this consummation had been achieved.

I shall spare you any description of the horror I saw upon entering that room, but it remains engraved on my mind’s eye to this day. I am no stranger, of course, to violent death – as a battlefield surgeon it is a constant companion. But death on a battlefield, in honourable combat, in service of one’s country is, if not always glorious, always understood and expected. The soldier knows when he takes the Queen’s shilling that he is not taking a wage but a loan, and that the debt may be called in at any time in his own flesh and blood.

But the young girl lying there, in an indescribable state, had made no contracts and taken no money. She was the victim of a vicious, callous brute, of a ferocity I find unimaginable.

I bent down to examine the poor girl, who I noted was again wearing the apparel in which she had been clothed when she had visited my lodgings the previous day (even though I had seen her since, clad in different garb). That one who had so recently been so full of life was now an empty shell, her soul having departed, I still found hard to believe.

I loosened her clothing, looking for marks that might be of some use in identifying the killer. In order to look more closely at her neck, I loosened the veiled bonnet she was wearing, which was tied around her chin. The bonnet fell back, onto the floor.

And along with the bonnet fell a long black wig, revealing underneath, tied up to keep it out of sight, the young woman’s real hair.

It was tied into a tight bun, but they were plainly the tresses of a different woman from the one I had seen the previous evening. For they were a bright, shining, red.

Doctor Watson Investigates: The Case Of The Scarlet Neckerchief part VII

(For parts one to six of the good doctor’s investigation, click on the Doctor Watson Investigates tag. A revised ebook of this story is now available – on Amazon (US), Amazon (UK) and Smashwords.)

I stood there with the card in my hand for many minutes, stunned at the latest turn in this grotesque business. There was now a second kidnapping – and, I feared, a second murder – alongside the first.

I still had no means of alerting Holmes to this terrible series of events, and I was horribly afraid that the worst was already upon us. Even had Holmes been alerted, a young couple on the eve of their marriage had been snatched away to their doom already. He would undoubtedly be able to identify the miscreant responsible, but nobody could now protect Courtenay or Rose Travers from whatever grisly fate had awaited them.

I trudged back to Hernshire Hall with a heavy heart. No doubt they would be as unwelcoming as they had been the previous evening, yet I had to inform them of this latest dreadful turn of events.

My presentiments proved correct. After several entreaties, I could not persuade the butler even to grant me entrance to the hall, and so eventually told the man the barest facts of the matter, presented him with the card, singed round the edges from the fire, and departed to the railway station.

In keeping with the recent course of events, I arrived at the railway station just in time to see, from behind, a single passenger boarding the train to London and the train departing. I had to wait another three hours for the next train, with no-one for company, and nothing to do but to think over my failure.

I determined that upon my arrival I should seek out Lestrade and, no matter what the consequences, inform him of the terrible events that had been taking place in Hernshire. While Lestrade might not be of the same intellectual calibre as Holmes, it was becoming increasingly clear that nor was I.

There were mysteries within mysteries here; the elder Miss Travers’ refusal to admit to having met me, in particular, beggared comprehension. Why should someone so desperate for help be so quick to disavow all knowledge of the man to whom she had so recently turned for assistance?

These thoughts and others went through my head during that long train journey back to London, and in my short cab ride thereafter to Baker Street. I wanted to collect my thoughts and make myself presentable, as my clothing was somewhat damaged by the smoke from the previous night’s fire, before bringing the dreadful news to Inspector Lestrade.

But by a curious coincidence, or so it seemed at the time, I was not the only one desirous of such a meeting. I had barely had time to button my waistcoat when there came a banging on the door. I opened it to see a young street-urchin there, one of the lads occasionally employed by Holmes. This time, though, he was in the employ of Lestrade.

“Doctor Watson?”
“Inspector Lestrade sent me. ‘E says ‘e wants to see yer. Yer to meet ‘im at your ‘ouse in ‘alf an ‘our.”
“How extraordinary! I was just on my way to visit Lestrade at Scotland Yard, but I shall make my way to my house instead. Was there any other message?”
“Yer. ‘E said you was to give me a shillin’ for my trouble.”
“Oh, he did, did he? More likely he said to give you tuppence – if he didn’t give it to you himself. Am I correct?”

The young lad had the grace to look sheepish at this deduction, which had hardly taken my whole intellect to produce, and so I gave him sixpence, because he had after all been of some assistance to me.

I made my way again to my former abode, musing on the strange twists of fate that had driven me twice in two days to the home of my all-too-short-lived happiness, after I had spent so many months studiously avoiding it. First I had come here to give Cynthia Travers a safe haven in which to avoid her fate (and why had she returned to Hernshire? And why had she feigned ignorance of me? And why had Roger Courtenay, not Cynthia Travers, been the next victim? Was Cynthia still in danger?). Now I was going to inform Lestrade about what was possibly the most macabre series of events I could recall. (And why was Lestrade at my house? And why did he wish to meet with me and not Holmes?)

Even more astonishingly, when I arrived at my house, I noticed the door was already open, and a bearded police constable was standing outside! Had I been burgled? I bounded up the steps and asked the constable what was going on.

“I can’t help you, I’m afraid, sir,” the constable replied, “my duty is merely to prevent entry by members of the public.”
“Then would you mind letting me in, so I could speak to someone who can help me?”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, sir. As I explained, my duty is to prevent entry.”
“But dash it, man, this is my house! I’m John Watson!”

At this point, a voice from inside intruded on our discussion. “Doctor Watson! I’ve been waiting for you. Let him in, Watkins.”

I entered to see, in the drawing room, Inspector Lestrade waiting with several of his colleagues.

“Lestrade! My dear sir, it is a pleasure to see you. I apologise for my delay in arriving, but I was changing my clothing when your boy arrived.”

At this, Lestrade looked significantly at one of the other policemen, who raised an eyebrow. I continued, regardless.

“I actually have some business with you myself, but perhaps you’d like to say why you sent for me, first of all?”

Lestrade looked at me, his face devoid of that human sympathy with which he was normally so endowed, and said, in a colder voice than I had ever heard from him, words which chilled me.

“Doctor John Watson, you are under arrest for the murder of Cynthia Travers.”

All ads removed

While I’m staying in the US, I’ve visited this site using a Windows machine for the first time ever, which means I’m seeing the site without NoScript or AdBlock Plus or being logged in for the first time since I’ve started it.

It appears that WordPress’ definition of ‘discreet ad’ is not the same as mine – I understood it to mean the occasional text-only ad placed off to the side. Apparently it means whacking great autoplaying Flash things between the body of the blog post and the comments. So I’ve paid the small upgrade fee to have them removed (though I hope most of my readers know better than to use browsers and OSes which would subject them to such annoyances).

As much as anything else, this is a business decision. As a greater portion of my income comes from writing now (still nowhere near enough to live off, but almost approaching the 10% mark if this month’s increases represent a trend rather than a blip) I can’t afford to have this site put people off. But also, it’s just unpleasant to make people see that kind of thing. I find advertising quite loathsome.

I’m hoping to have two more Doctor Watson chapters up today and another two tomorrow, then I’ll ebookify it next week (it won’t be long enough to make a paper book worthwhile).

Hope those of you who celebrate it had a good Christmas, and those who don’t aren’t too annoyed by all the people going on about it.

Christmas Eve Linkblogging

I won’t be able to do any proper updates until Boxing Day, because we’re busy doing family stuff with Holly’s family, but I’m hoping to get Doctor Watson Investigates finished next week. I’m also going to start on a book on The Kinks, because I’m going to wait until we know exactly what’s happening with the Beach Boys next year before writing volumes two and three of that book (there is talk of reissues of several albums and a new box set, as well as a new album. I may even have to do a second edition of volume 1, to cover any bonus tracks…)

But for now, some links:

Bob Temuka on The Invisibles

Lawrence Miles has a new blog, telling the stories of Sherlock Holmes as Watson originally wrote them, before Doyle insisted he take the monsters out. Here’s the first story – A Brood-Mare For Gloriana.

Brad Hicks on empathy disorders

Philip Purser-Hallard writes a Christmas-themed SF story every year for his Christmas cards, and then posts them on his blog the next year. Here’s his 2010 one, with links to the earlier ones.

An interview with Mike Love about the Beach Boys reunion. Contains details of the backing band and other info.

And a merry Christmas to all of you at home.

New Faction Paradox!

It’s really starting to look like this Christmas is some kind of great dream for me. Not only have the Beach Boys reformed, and I’ve seen a great Paul McCartney gig, but the disability benefits we’ve been fighting for for my wife for two years have finally come through (and been backdated). And now this announcement from Obverse Books on the JadePagoda Doctor Who Books mailing list:

Following not terribly protracted negotiations with Lawrence Miles, Obverse will be taking over the Faction Paradox prose license in its entirety from 2012, as a result of which we’ll be publishing this lot next year…


Against Nature – Lawrence Burton
“*Goralschai, a first wave veteran of the House Military, returns from the front bearing a death wish the size of creation. The spiral politic, he decides, cannot continue, and on Earth, in the Mexico of 1506, he finds a means to his twisted end; and so, egged on by the Celestis (who find this sort of thing amusing), he lays plans to turn one small corner of history into a weapon*.”

The Brakespeare Voyage – Simon Bucher-Jones and Jon Dennis
“*The Maw, a wound in the fabric of the universe, forms. House Lineacrux claims to have constructed it, but this may be a lie. To exploit it House Lineacrux creates two ships with the intention of harvesting Leviathan biodata from outside the totality of the Spiral politic. The first the San Grael is a scout the second, the Brakespeare…*”


The Moontree Women – Kelly Hale
“*Some people have timelines in their palms instead of lifelines..*.”

Opus Majus – Jim Mortimore
*”In 1267 the Fransiscan monk Roger Bacon made such a fuss about the
innacuracies of the calendar that Pope Clement IV ordered he be sent on a quest to find the missing time. This ridiculous but hardly refusable mission is something of a problem for Bacon – but an even greater problem for Faction Paradox.*”

*Short Stories*

Faction Paradox 2: The As Yet Untitled Collection – editor, Jay Eales…

Available either as hardbacks individually or a subscription or something
else entirely…

And that’s on top of the previously-announced City Of The Saved short-story collection. I will, of course, be buying every one of these. Simon Bucher-Jones and Lawrence Burton are both friends of mine, but they’re also both extremely good writers, and the rest are all good too. This is very, very exciting. Obverse are an excellent publishing house anyway, putting out good-quality hardbacks and DRM-free epubs of their books.

(Proper update later – spent the last couple of days travelling, and am now staying with my in-laws).

Paul McCartney, MEN Arena 19/12/11

I sometimes think Paul McCartney can’t win. One of the big complaints I’d read from reviewers after the previous shows on this tour was “He’s doing too many hits. Why doesn’t he do some more obscure stuff? It’s just the obvious set.”

And yes, of the thirty-six songs in the set, twenty-five are the absolutely obvious choices that everyone would expect. But then, if you were Paul McCartney, you’d put Can’t Buy Me Love, Michelle, Penny Lane, My Love, Mull Of Kintyre, We Can Work It Out, Silly Love Songs, Coming Up, Let ‘Em In, Another Day, Drive My Car, Here, There And Everywhere, Love Me Do, Things We Said Today, I’m Down, I’ve Just Seen a Face, I Saw Her Standing There and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in the set, wouldn’t you?

And that’s the problem, of course. Paul McCartney is the most commercially successful songwriter in the history of the world, and has as good a claim as any to be the most artistically successful. So much so that he didn’t have space to fit *any* of those songs in last night. Nor did he do Mary Had A Little Lamb, Hi Hi Hi, Listen To What The Man Said, With A Little Luck, Goodnight Tonight, Waterfalls, Ebony And Ivory, The Girl Is Mine, Say Say Say, Pipes Of Peace, No More Lonely Nights, We All Stand Together or Once Upon A Long Ago, all of which went top ten. Yet he’s *still* apparently doing too many of his hits!

What he did do was a perfect mix of songs – weighted, yes, towards the Beatles years (and frankly I’d have loved him to have dropped at least three of those songs for solo songs, as he did Ob-la-Di, Ob-la-Da, Let It Be and The Long And Winding Road, none of which I have any time for) but with a good mix of solo material – both hits like Jet and Band On The Run and more obscure tracks like Mrs Vanderbilt and Ram On. He even did Sing The Changes, from the third Fireman album. And while there’s no such thing as an obscure Beatles song, choices like The Night Before or The Word are as close as it gets, and it was wonderful to hear them live.

McCartney is a stunning live performer – I can hardly even believe he’s human, frankly. His voice is *very* slightly gone at the very top end, but the set was chosen well enough that this was not noticeable, and in the mid and low ranges he sounds a good forty years younger than he is, and he can still scream with the best of them. He also got through the whole two-and-a-half hour show without as much as a sip of water, which given the amount of dry ice and the vocal gymnastics he was having to do is nothing short of miraculous. This is, remember, someone who was at school with my grandfather, yet there’s no way I could perform even half this show without taking a break.

The only thing that showed McCartney’s age at all was that he’s taking less strenuous instrumental parts these days, playing rhythm guitar or second keyboard for the most part. While he plays bass on a few songs, he leaves the complex stuff like Paperback Writer to his guitarists, and his few lead guitar spots are mediocre. But if he can no longer play complex counterpoints to his lead vocals the way he could when he was twenty-three, the fact that he can still sing those vocals at all is more than enough for me.

It was one of those shows that are all highlights from start to finish – whether the expected sort,like the mass crowd singalong to Hey Jude or the fireworks in Live And Let Die, or the unexpected, like Sing The Changes, a rather arty track on record, turning out to be a wonderful chantalong arena-rock song in a live setting (sounding spookily like a cousin of Stay Positive by The Hold Steady actually). Even Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da wasn’t too horrible, thanks to some ska keyboards from Wix Wickens. But a few of the standout moments:

Dance Tonight, with drummer Abe Laborio Jr dancing with his hands. When McCartney put on his mandolin, someone in the audience shouted “Petrushka!” which McCartney misheard as “Red Rooster”. (Oddly, this didn’t look like a scripted bit).

Ram On – just beautiful, one of those lovely little fragments that McCartney does so well.

Junior’s Farm – a brave choice for second song, and it worked very well.

A Day In The Life – the orchestral build works surprisingly well as a garage-psych rock section, though it was truncated to only 16 bars. Wonderful to hear the man who co-wrote this perform it live. Instead of the last verse and orchestral build, they went from the end of the “woke up” section into Give Peace A Chance.

Something – not performed solo like on the Back In The World tour, but instead done as he did it at the tribute to George, starting as a solo ukulele performance, but the full band coming in for the solo and finishing the song in the same style as the record.

But there were two moments that for me made the gig, and rose above the slick professionalism of the show to something approaching great art. The first was Here Today, performed solo on acoustic guitar. I’ve always loved this song, McCartney’s 1981 tribute to John Lennon, because even though the latter half is too generic by far, the first verse is as good a tribute to the loss of a particular kind of friend as I could imagine (“And if I said I really knew you well, what would your answer be/if you were here today?/Well knowing you, you’d probably laugh and say that we were worlds apart…”). I don’t mind saying I cried.

The other real highlight was Come And Get It, the song McCartney wrote for Badfinger in the late 60s. With McCartney banging away at the piano, for a moment he seemed to transform into the man he was when he wrote the song – a cocksure lad in his mid-twenties, able to turn out classic pop songs without even thinking about it, discovering the song as it came out of his fingers and mouth, and grinning a stupid grin at his own cleverness.

I really can’t recommend McCartney’s show highly enough. While I’ve seen better gigs, and certainly cheaper ones, he really is astonishingly good, and given that he’s nearly 70 and has had heart trouble in the past, I can’t imagine he’ll tour too many more times, so go and see him while you can.

If nothing else, when else are you going to get a chance to see the late lamented Liberal MP Clement Freud projected on a screen the size of several houses? (During Band On The Run they show footage from the album cover shooting, featuring Freud, Michael Parkinson, Christopher Lee and others).

There are only two complaints I could make about the show. The first, which McCartney couldn’t really do anything about, is the Everton supporter who was sat next to me. He confirmed my opinion of footballists (which some would call a low opinion – I prefer the term ‘accurate’) by deciding that what delicate, thoughtful ballads like Eleanor Rigby really need is a drunk moron bellowing along to them with no attempt to either keep his voice down or have any idea of the tune or the words. He even managed to sing the wrong words to the ‘na na na nanana na’ section of Hey Jude, which is impressive. Luckily, he also didn’t seem to know anything that wasn’t on the Beatles’ red and blue albums.

What McCartney *could* do though is augment his band. Wix Wickens is a fine keyboard player, but when you’re playing to 21,000-seater arenas, with audiences paying up to a hundred and fifty quid a ticket (not mine, I was in the nosebleed seats), there is no possible excuse for not having real strings and horns. If Brian Wilson or The Monkees can do it playing theatre venues with lower ticket prices, there’s no reason to skimp on the musical side of things. Leave Wix to play the piano and organ parts, but get some real cello and violin players for Eleanor Rigby, and real horns for Got To Get You Into My Life. Those songs deserve better than tinny synth patches.

Magical Mystery Tour
Junior’s Farm
All My Loving
Got To Get You Into My Life
Sing The Changes
The Night Before
Let Me Roll It/Foxy Lady
Paperback Writer
The Long And Winding Road
Come And Get It
Nineteen Hundred And Eight-Five
Maybe I’m Amazed
I’m Looking Through You
And I Love Her
Here Today
Dance Tonight
Mrs. Vanderbilt
Eleanor Rigby
Ram On
Band On The Run
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Back In The USSR
I’ve Got A Feeling
A Day In The Life/Give Peace A Chance
Let It Be
Live And Let Die
Hey Jude

First Encore
The Word / All You Need Is Love
Wonderful Christmastime
Day Tripper
Get Back

Second Encore
Helter Skelter
Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End