Comparison: Travel Chopsticks

Once upon a time, the author of this blog was an undergraduate at university. They lived in a hall of residence and shared a kitchen with twelve other people, about four of whom were thieving fucking bastards who continually nicked their bloody cutlery and just casually used it like it was theirs. Such are the perils of communal living.

Being opposed to starting fights that aren’t winnable when the kitchen is already a warzone (some joker at admissions had put Greek and Turkish Cypriots in the same corridor, sharing the same kitchen, and Opinions Were Aired Loudly, although not loudly enough to drown out the girl on the floor below us who liked to practice the Imperial March from Star Wars on her trumpet at 3am most mornings) I adapted: on a trip to Yo! Sushi (which was a big deal from a lump from West Devon back in 2002) I got some of their retractable chopsticks and kept them in my wallet.

As a result of this solution to the thieving buggers in my halls I learnt how to eat everything up to and including ice cream using chopsticks, and when I finally lost the retractables I mourned their passing and tried to find suitable replacements.

This has proven more difficult than you might imagine. For one thing, the Yo! Sushi retractables are disposable by intention. They don’t clean well: once you’re no longer a student it’s not really appropriate to carry around some bacteria-infested spit-soaked wooden sticks. I mean, it’s probably someone’s fetish and I don’t want them to feel bad about it, but I have also worked cataloguing brain samples for a prion disease research project since then (never let anyone tell you that data entry does not provide you with access to some weird situations) and I’m somewhat more circumspect about what I put in my mouth now.

On the subject of the bacteria-laden wood-tipped telescoping Yo! Sushi disposables: it would be so easy to make these in something more durable and easier to clean. There is a gaping HOLE in the market here, if I were an entrepreneurial person instead of a massive whiner I could just march onto Shapeways and hire a designer and have these things in shops by the end of a year. I’ve studied the design! And because I’m really quite obsessed with this I’ve taken photos so you can too:

click on any of these images for a larger, closer look
travel chopsticks
click on any of these images for a larger, closer look
click on any of these images for a larger, closer look

As you can see, there’s a ridge and dent locking mechanism and the wooden part slides in through a hole at the top which on the intact one is plugged by a little plastic cap. If you were to make the thing in metal (with a rough bit on the tips to help with grip), you could just put in little rubber bungs in that spot – easy to remove so you can completely dismantle both the tube and the tip in order to give it a thoroughly good wash/autoclaving depending on your level of obsessive sterilisation. Also the rubber would grip more firmly and prevent the bun from coming out the way the cap’s popped off these.

On a dull night at work I even sat and tried to draw a diagram, that's how obsessed I am.
On a dull night at work I even sat and tried to draw a diagram, that’s how obsessed I am.

One set of perfectly good telescoping sterilisable/dishwashable chopsticks to a design that ALREADY EXISTS. WHERE ARE THEY?

To save you the weight of my wrath, here are all the goddamn replacements I’ve bought and been dissatisfied with, and why.

The Current Chopstick Winners: Monbento Flexible Retractable Chopsticks

What’s Right With Them: They’re compact, they fit into their own handles, the connecting module is firm, the little chopstick stand that also keeps them together when they’re folded away is handy and cute, they’re easy to wash, and the tips are ridged for keeping a decent grip on your food. They also come in a range of colours.

What’s Wrong With Them: They’re expensive, because they’re Monbento and because delivery from everywhere seems to add an unbelievable additional cost; they’re not telescoping which means there are more pieces to get lost, and the cap is very good at getting lost indeed; and they don’t actually fit in my wallet.

The Not Winners:

Generic Tableware.

The whole kit.
How the chopsticks work.

What’s Right About Them: Cheap as hell, come in a convenient case, ridged ends for food grip, relatively firm connection, are easy to clean.

What’s Wrong About Them: That case will break, and before it does you will be obliged to wrap the chopsticks in a paper towel to stop them from rattling against each other and the cutlery; they don’t fit in my wallet; the screw connection comes undone occasionally in use; no means other than the case of keeping them together; clinkclinkclinkclink; they don’t telescope so when undone you have more pieces to keep track of.

Terra Nova Lightweight Collapsible Chopsticks

Image is misleading: these slot together with a divot, and the tips are made of wood.

What’s Right With Them: Precious little. The case keeps them together and under those circumstances they are quite compact. That’s all I can say in their favour.

What’s Wrong With Them: Everything. They have wooden tips which absorb grossness and cannot be easily cleaned; the metallic finish on parts of it comes off in flakes; they’re hard to get out of their case with any great ease and when assembled aren’t secure (I’ve had bits fall off when I’m using them); they don’t telescope; they don’t fit in my wallet; they’re not hygienic; they’re awkward; and to top it all off they’re expensive.

Muji Travel Chopsticks: No longer available online.

What’s Right With Them: Cheap, and plastic so easy to clean. Come with their own case.

What’s Wrong With Them: Not in any way collapsible; do not fit in wallet as a result, no form of grip on the tips so especially with the glossy finish of the plastic it’s actually very hard to eat a lot of foods, including noodles, rendering them pointless not only as travel chopsticks but as chopsticks in general.

Nice eShop Knife & Fork Chopsticks

An admitted deviation from my stated search.

What’s Right With Them: While these were clearly not going to be what I was looking for, they’ve proven handy so far: the contrast section is easy to handle, they work as chopsticks and as cutlery (Although I don’t link them up as demonstrated), and the tips are abraded enough to have a decent grip.

What’s Wrong With Them: Aside from very obviously not being travel chopsticks I’d add that the slot in the fork predictably gets clogged with food and can actually be kind of hard to clean properly.

Coloured Travel Cutlery Set

The configuration took a while to master.

What’s Right With Them: I’d place these as second to the Monbento. They’re not too expensive, they have their own case, the fork and spoon are also pretty useful, there is a rough patch on the tips for grip, they’re easy to clean, and the connection point is firm.

What’s Wrong With Them: They don’t fit in my wallet, they’re not telescopic – the usual problems. Also they’re ugly as all hell, although that doesn’t rank particularly highly in my list of requirements.

Coresmart portable chopsticks.

What’s Right With Them: In theory there’s plenty going for them: I got them from eBay very cheaply; they look cute; the case is more compact than the option above; the connection looks straight forward, they’re easy to assemble–

What’s Wrong With Them: They literally broke the first time I used them. Fuck off. The connection snapped right off. This is not what I call a reliable set of anything.

Ones I Haven’t Been Able To Test:

Brunton FlipSticks

Not telescoping but removing the “extraneous bits will get lost” issue.

These look like they could be the business (although the wooden tips trouble me for hygiene reasons) and I question how well I would be able to grip the arch. Of course that is not a problem as I can’t get these. Not only are they Not Available from the US Amazon site, when I’ve found them on eBay the postage costs have been so prohibitive, so insane, that the idea of trying them out seems like playing Russian roulette with my bank balance, as if I will pay for these and my job will immediately fire me in an act of hubris to punish me for spending so much money on something so stupid.

It’s not rational but neither is charging me £20+ for shipping some chopsticks, eBay. Get bent.

Collapsible Compact Chopsticks.

I mean it becomes immediately apparent where these aren’t acceptable: they’re not telescoping, for one thing, but on the whole they’re pretty alright in every other area. Can’t see the tips to see if they have grip, but the package looks sound and the chopsticks rest as a means of keeping them together is a nice touch even if it increases, ultimately, the number of parts which can go missing.

Have you been to the link and seen how much they cost? Because when I wrote this post it was in the region of £60.

Pray excuse me while I cackle disbelievingly all the way to hell no, a street in the vicinity of a town known as What Am I, Made of Money?

Nameless Japanese telescoping chopsticks

The holy grail.
These are they.

Here they are: The holy grail. These are they. The thing that I want. Ridged ends for grip. Telescoping. Maybe wallet-sized? Metal! Clean! Compact! Perfect! Beautiful! Why don’t I own them?

Because they’re Not Available on Amazon, I’ve been able to find this Japanese import literally nowhere else, and during the brief period they were available they were MORE THAN A HUNDRED POUNDS. And listen, my quest is great. My obsessive need for telescoping, hygienic, durable, wallet-sized chopsticks is mighty. My endurance is beyond calculation. But my bank balance is as feeble and as ephemeral as the fluttering petals of spring cherry blossoms and even if I were possessed of, oh, even a whole twenty thousand pounds a year instead of my current stipend of “you literally cannot live on this without a partner”, I would not be putting that kind of money into acquiring them.

This is vexacious. Something must be done.

But in a twist!

Because I like to end with irony: I finally found eating implements that fit in my wallet and are easy to clean and light-weight. And they’re not chopsticks.

Droog Credit Card Cutlery


Okay, the cost of shipping them put them at an embarrassing price for some bendy bits of plastic. Okay, I’d probably have been better off with something like this if I was going to insist on fiddly stupidity. I am however beyond shame now. I have weird, bendy plastic cutlery in my wallet and I’m not afraid to use it to scrabble futilely at salads.

But one day I will have those telescoping chopsticks, I’m warning you.


There’s one more edition to be sorted out but I thought I’d teased and withheld this for long enough.

As Simple As Hunger is here.

Kindle edition

It’s here on the Kindle on the site.

It’s here on the Kindle on the site.

In fact, if you search most regional Amazon sites, you’ll find it, replete with scorpions and stuffed with intrigue, adventure, massive arthropods, zeppelins, radio celebrities, and the grand knowledge that it is literally the best saxonpunk giant arthropod adventure story with a female protagonist of colour on the entire whole of my blog. Guaranteed.

Don’t have a Kindle or Kindle reading app? We got you covered.

teaser 1
Epub & Paperback

Both here on and here on the iBookstore.

“But Del,” you obligingly call out in a shamelessly P T Barnum hard sell hawker move, because I’m just so bloody excellent at marketing, “I have bookshelves, Del, bookshelves with gaps in them. Bookshelves which do not groan with the modest physical and pregnant metaphorical weight of the finest printed copy of a book which, lest we forget, is the foremost saxonpunk giant arthropod adventure story to feature a fictional version of Durham university.”

Unbelieveable! I am sorry for your bookshelves. The absence of this book is an insult they cannot be expected to endure for long. Happily, they no longer have to as for the price of a standard UK mass market paperback this handsome green jewel emblazoned with the most glorious arachnid the scorpion can shuffle off the bounds of the print-on-demand warehouse, TAKE FLIGHT (probably in a zeppelin) and bound willy-nilly with glee from the arms of the postman onto your loving shelves.

Where, if you feel like it, you can pick it up and read it. Amazing.

It’s real. It’s here. It’s got scorpions on it. And it’s available on for a perfectly normal price.

Other editions are going to be available too.

Get cracking and get reading: Hajar al-Fihri, as portrayed by Twitter's @BigHatDino, would like you to get on that as soon as you can.
Get cracking and get reading: Hajar al-Fihri, as portrayed by Twitter’s @BigHatDino, would like you to get on that as soon as you can.

How To Get Your Five A Day When You Really Don’t Like Veg Much

Evolution is such a bitch. Just because fat and salt were in scarce supply for the first Forever of our development of a species, we’ve evolved the tendency to just crave them like hell and fill up on them whenever they’re available; and now, when we’ve been Not Starving in the UK for a whole two generations! I mean, two, come on! Somehow we haven’t evolved immediately into people who crave exactly what our bodies require at all times in order to meet a set of fairly arbitrarily-designated dietary parameters. Why is that?

We didn’t even need to develop a craving for vegetation because that was what was always going to be around, and also the majority of it is calorifically void, so during that Forever of Starving that we had we’ve for some mysterious reason gravitated towards high-calorie, low-effort foods because That Kept Us Alive or some boring shit like that, and fell back on vegetables because, well, we had to. And they were there. And they didn’t run away or bite you or require milling or milking or anything. Fuckin’ vegetables.

No wonder so many people hate them. I mean, Default Food isn’t exciting, they’re not contributing to your endorphins the same way fat and salt do, by servicing a literal millennia-deep survival-oriented addiction, and they’re not servicing that silly calorie-led need for sweet stuff and starches, unless you’ve eaten nothing but paper for months. Around then carrots start tasting like chocolate. So, under those circumstances, does your own arm.

Not to mention a lot of people have basically vegetable PTSD. Thanks to the Depression, WWII, and austerity in quick succession, not to mention being the first industrialised nation on earth, the UK has effectively gone Food Stupid for several generations, with old skills and preferences being replaced by “it’s a fucking pie I have to get back to work now” and “we don’t have any vegetables right now would you like some tinned green dye” and “I have boiled this until it is soft because we have no teeth”.

I mean, there’s a reason we’re consistently mocked for having terrible food. We’ve had well over a hundred years in which to lose our ability to food like sane human beings, and after the involuntary dieting of Depression, WWII, Austerity, as a country we kind of turned into one national eating disorder. People who have been starving for a long time go weird. If you’re finding it hard to force yourself into poking steamed kale into your face like some kind of virtuous rabbit while the media informs you simultaneously that you’re a disgusting personal failure for not enjoying this more and also that what you’re eating is boring and what you really want is more chocolate, but you can’t have chocolate, so you should buy chocolate but then either throw it away or eat it and feel bad and then buy all this other stuff to feel better, muahaha, capitalism…

… take heart in knowing that a) you’re part of a culture that is mentally bloody ill and hell-bent on punishing itself, and b) there is nothing whatsoever the matter with not liking food that is presented to you in a boring way with a huge fanfare about how good for you it is.

Also, you’re a grown adult. Saying “Mmm, yummy yummy kale” is not actually going to work as well as the marketing department thinks. That sort of psychology tends to go best with children.

But you know you need to eat some of the bloody stuff because the Government and NHS said so, and that’s really the case: your body evolved to eat a shittonne of vegetables and so it doesn’t work well when it’s eating no vegetables and a lot of refined flour. That’s not because vegetables are “inherently better”, it’s not because chocolate is “sinful”; food is not good or bad. Food is food. Our bodies just happen to have evolved a certain way, over periods of time, because of what was available to us. Putting stuff into the human machine that it is designed to take makes it work better than putting stuff in that it isn’t used to, much as servicing your car regularly and using the right sort of petrol gets better results than using bioethanol and ignoring it for 364 days of the year, even if the latter is “better”.

Oh and before I continue any further: evolution is a work in progress. There is no “end goal” beyond effective self-replication, and it doesn’t stop happening. So the Paleo people who consistently make themselves miserable eating no bread and enormous lumps of meat which they mysteriously don’t allow to partially decay before eating despite that being Very Authentic are deluding themselves: we’ve been making bread as a species for a damn long time. There are some things we’re better adapted to than others – and Steven Johnson has a very interesting theory about the evolution of alcohol tolerance in urbanised places where boiling water (for tea etc) was not the norm – because we’ve been doing them for longer, but it is worth noting that ultimately if we can digest it then it is food and there is no reason to cut anything out of your diet completely unless it is actively making you ill.

Also if you think something is actively making you ill see the bloody doctor, don’t buy an allergy-testing kit from Holland and Barrett and decide you’re never eating raspberries again because the little thingy said so.

Tips, Tricks, Recipes, Fooling Your Brain

So after all that, I have a handful of ways to convince your brain that you’re not eating the Horrible Vegetables after all, which should hopefully taste alright, and which doesn’t involve any scolding about you being “sinful” or “indulgent“, no infantalising language, and no woo.

Soups & Smoothies


So the thing about vegetables is that a lot of the time people hate them because of the texture. The texture is weird. You’ll have seen a lot of advice about this but really do bear in mind that just by thwipping things about a bit in a blender you can make a soup (or smoothie) that removes all the gross texture of fruit or veg and leaves nothing but taste. If you’re a bit iffy about eating soup, remember that soup is, effectively, just a sauce and you can use it as the base of a stew. No one pays that much attention to it after you’ve cooked chicken thighs in it for several hours.

Smoothies, too, might be a bit off-putting and health-ish, but not if you try reducing them down over a heat with some sugar and then pour them on ice-cream, because then they’re not “smoothies”, they’re sauce.

Pancakes & Cakes


Soup gets boring quickly, and sometimes people hate vegetables because of the ass-like taste. This is the only recipe I will include here and it’s pretty simple and adaptable. The great thing about this is that two of them amount to one of your 5 a day, and they don’t taste remotely like vegetables.


  • 40g of grated or blendered courgette (can be replaced with any other sort of grated or blendered anything).
  • 2 x tbsp of flour. Can use chickpea flour for a nice specific taste or just regular flour.
  • Water if you need it
  • Bitta salt, some spices, y’know


  1. Mix all that together until you have a thick gloopy paste.
  2. Fry it on both sides in a hot pan until it is cooked through
  3. Congratulations you have a pancake which is full of vegetables and almost certainly does not taste of it.

You can also make vegetable-based cakes like carrot cake, which usually tastes of Health Food, but which when you make it yourself can be rendered fantastic by adding cocoa powder and more sugar. Pro tip: adding cocoa powder to anything improves it enormously, and you can do it to anything you want. There is no rule that says you can’t make chocolate banana cake, or chocolate courgette cake, or chocolate flippin’ coleslaw if you want. You’re a grown-up!

Further note: you can also mix grated and blendered stuff into omelettes or traditional pancake mix, tomato paste into omelettes, etc, and bam! Another helping of your 5-a-day is done.

Burgers and other meat tricks


Meat, unlike vegetables, which we have established taste of ASS, tastes awesome. Happily, that particular AWESOME taste can be used to mask the ASS taste and help smuggle some vegetable helpfulness into your diet.

Firstly, if you can deal with the texture but not the taste of some veggies, there’s the simple expedient of frying or roasting your veg in the same pan or tray you’re doing your meat in. Lamb, as most people know, is good for this, because it’s so fatty. Yes, you’re eating cabbage, but as far as your tastebuds are concerned it’s just an extra helping of lamb, smothered in lamb fat. Your 80g portion of peas, boiled, can still be rolled through the cooling pan for a bit before you serve them, giving you some happy little lamby tidbits – and thanks to the surface-area-to-mass ratio, you have hardly any veg taste and a whole lot of meat taste to enjoy.

If you really cannot stomach vegetable textures, no big. This is where the trusty food mixer comes in again. Grab your veg portion, run it through the mixer until it’s a paste, then mix it 50/50 with burger mince and whatever you’re using to bind it. This gives you a) no veggie taste and b) twice the amount of burger for the same amount of meat! MAGICAL.

Yeah, I know, making your own burgers from scratch is a massive pain in the arse but you only have to do one big batch and fling the rest in the freezer and then you can can have frozen burgers the way God and Nature intended.

Food Colouring

food dye

Part of your hatred of vegetables also comes from your brain associating “green” with “oh god no not more boiled sadness”. There are two solutions: some vegetables are naturally Not Green, like carrots, pumpkin, most squashes, parsnips, tomatoes-which-everyone-will-remind-you-are-a-fruit, and aubergines which you almost certainly do not like because look at them, they’re fucking weird. The other is food colourant.

If your brain is an angry, sulky toddler about Not Eating Green, you can use food colouring to adulterate whatever paste, gloop, or soup you’re making that’s likely to be vibrantly that colour, and drag it around to either something a little more neutrally Foodlike (brown is often a good one because your brain will decide it is meat), or if you’re feeling daring splatter in some blue and eat something virulently turquoise.

Butter, Salt, Honey, Oil, The Roasting Dish Solution


Perhaps you don’t want to have to pulverise everything you eat. That’s fine. It makes you feel like a fucking grandma. Perhaps you’re even trying to edge your way around to actually liking vegetables either for reasons of virtuosity or just because it annoys you to be blocked off from so much potential food matter, or you’d like to be able to show off in restaurants, or whatever. Your reasons are your own. I’m just here to tell you that one way to do this is roasting.

So you know how roast potatoes are basically the pinnacle of potato (barring chips) and everyone agrees they are superior, and you’d shank a toddler for a roastie over a boiled potato? Same applies to every other vegetable. Even sprouts! You know brussel sprouts? It turns out they’re not so disgusting when they’ve not been boiled yellow and turned into mush by sitting in a pan for forty years, leeching all their nutrients into the water.

So chop up your veg, arrange it in a roasting tray, Google “how to roast [vegetable name]”, and follow the instructions. The oil and butter are for roasting it in, and the honey, or salt, or herb mix, or spice mix, are for making it taste nicer and for distracting you from the fact you’re eating vegetables. Honey-roast carrots are a good place to start.

And if you’re not ready for roasting, and want to really ease yourself into vegetables slowly: frying is a thing. Anything that can have chips made out of it – carrots, parsnips, swede, turnip – is good for a go, and if you look up “tempura vegetables” you’ll see a wealth of possibilities. There’s also stir-frying, which invariably makes things taste of whatever you’re frying them in. I suggest putting a little stock powder in your oil to make your greens taste of chicken.

Ketchup, Baked Beans: Hidden veg, possibly crouching fruit

I might be lying a tiny bit about the crouching fruit.

crouching fruit

(Did I choose to draw a banana specifically because I could make it look like a dude with a ridiculous penis? Come on. Of course I fucking did).

Did you know that a serving of baked beans in tomato sauce counts towards 1 of your 5 a day? Neither did I! Apparently that is a real thing. The same goes for other things tinned in tomato sauce, like spaghetti, or ravioli. Tomatoes are a magical thing! But you can’t just eat five and call it a day, unfortunately – they only count as one. Variety is necessary.

Ketchup is, as you know, made from tomatoes. You can add it to other vegetables to make them taste less of vegetables. It’s not actually very high in calories, either. Everyone’s heard of someone who only escaped scurvy as a student because they put ketchup on their relentlessly-consumed plain pasta…

Ice Lollies & Jellies


That’s right. You don’t have to dive into Actual Whole Pieces of Fruit for desserts. You don’t have to cautiously throw in expensive peaches or turn into your Nan with a tin of pineapple chunks. You can pudding yourself up with this stuff. Homemade jellies with gelatin or (somewhat easier to my mind, if harder to find, and bonus: if you are a vegetarian who is worried that living solely on cheese is going to kill you, it’s vegetarian) agar agar, and fruit juice. As long as the actual fruit juice is made from actual fruit, you can bang in some sugar to sweeten it while you’re boiling the water, and then you have low effort puddings for days, and days, just sitting in the fridge, being jelly.

A bit more agar agar in the mix and you can make FRUIT GUMMY SWEETS. That’s sweets. That have a value on your 5 A Day front. Seriously!

Ice lollies: I think most people are aware of this already. Everyone’s parents probably did the thing. Mine didn’t, because we didn’t have a freezer that would fit lolly moulds, because The Eighties, but happily in these enlightened times you can now buy silicone molds that make Calipso-style lollies, so even if your freezer compartment barely fits an ice tray you can still have a fruit lolly. And because you’re a fucking grown-up, you’re not limited to “Mum says I can have apple juice or orange juice”, you can go mental. You can mix juices. You can put in actual pieces of fruit. You can buy wanky smoothies and freeze them in molds. You are the boss of freezing fruit.

Fruit Leather


Yeah I know it sounds fucking weird but it’s very sweet and you just chew it up while you’re doing other stuff, like sweets, and pow, job done, vitamins etc achieved, Government appeased, body slightly less likely to fall into pieces. It’s not quite “taking a vitamin pill”, in terms of easiness, but is definitely higher on the “making your body not die” scale because it’s actually made from fruit and the process of alleged extraction isn’t quite so insane.


Disclaimer: I actually quite like vegetables (most of them, at least) and eat quite a large amount. But I’m not about to sit here and start moralising at people about how they eat. Far more important that you eat. If anyone tries to make you feel bad about eating food when there are still people in this world who’re starving themselves to death, fucking eat them.

EDIT: Of course, I wrote one blog post about this and it turns out someone much cleverer than me has an entire blog about smuggling vegetables into your diet…

EDIT EDIT: And a lady who flippin’ hates vegetables shares her experiences and advice (similar to mine) relating to sorting out that hatred, here.

THIRD EDIT: Then I discovered that there’s this scifi food substitute called Huel (which is either “human fuel” or “h’well” as in “human well”, depending if you pronounce it the English way or the way you do if you’re aware of Huelgoat in Breton); it claims to provide all of your daily nutrient needs and I did some experiments to see what you can make with it.

Weaponised Low Self-esteem and Good Rejections

One thing that happened recently was that an agent, after some months, rejected the manuscript I sent them. I’m now free to take it somewhere else. We are told not to talk about these experiences, as if some kind of stench of failure will accompany us and create an eternal miasma of Loser, because we are obsessed with luck. Given that good luck in most areas is a combination of qualification, charm, and connections, this is a little rough.

I mention the rejection because, for a form email saying no to representation, it was well worded enough to be inspiring and uplifting, and I want to celebrate that delicacy and degree of interpersonal skills, although I will from general tact refrain from mention of the agency. First of all, the reason I sent out that manuscript at all was to have it rejected.

Surely not? No, seriously:

I was going through one of those periods that are pretty much the norm for any creative person in any field, the “nothing I make is any good and anyone who thinks it is either is lying to me or doesn’t know any better” swamp. It isn’t even doubt, because sound suggests uncertainty, as opposed to this rock solid conviction of absolute terribleness which refuses to be budged by any kind of external validation.

At the same time, this self hatred was servicing my laziness beautifully. Well, all my work is terrible, right? So it would be pointless to go through the long and tiring process of either self publishing – making edits, writing my marketing copy, typesetting, designing my cover (s), making changes based on print and ebook requirements, all of which I do myself – or of submitting it to consideration, which as everyone knows involves covering letters and synopses of differing length and focus, elevator pitches, constantly having to describe your work…. Really to undergo this kind of process, to really SELL something, you have to BELIEVE in it, truly and with zeal.


You can do what I did, while I was in that sad, immovable pit.

You can do all of this as a form of self-punishment.

“No one will ever want to read my work because it’s terrible and all the people who have read it and enthused about it are Just Saying That”? Alright, brain, you’re right, but let’s get some more evidence. Let’s prove how awful this story is. Let’s send it to every single agent who could conceivably be interested in it if someone else had made it, and let’s get rejected.

Let’s get rejected by everyone.

“It’s going to be humiliating”, is it? Well, you keep saying how worthless I am and how I don’t deserve anything. So maybe I don’t deserve to avoid humiliation like the big sad coward you keep telling me I am. Maybe I have to go out and look for people to tell me how shitty I am, and how I shouldn’t have wasted their time, and how much they hate me for having gifted them this book I think is so awful.

“It’s a lot of effort–” Yes, it is. But you keep saying I’m worthless, and only people who are worth something get to sit down and do nothing. That’s called “relaxing”, and you’re just painting it as “being lazy” because you’re just laziness in disguise and want to distract me from the fact that you’re trying to stop me from doing anything by making me feel bad. I am onto you, Shitty Self-Worth, and now I am going to validate everything you keep claiming by making sure the entire world agrees with you. That’s science, Brain.

So I sat down and I wrote the synopsis and it was horrible and I hated it and I wished I’d never been born about ten times in each sentence. And I wrote the covering letter from a template, because I wasn’t going to give my awful, awful, horrible book the excuse of being failed by a bad letter: it had to stand or fall – definitely fall, because it was obviously hideous – on its own merit. Not something I could worm out of, like the coward my brain kept telling me I was. The punishment had to go all the way.

And I sent off my manuscript, and then I said “well, I have done this and now I can be a lazy waste of space and do nothing until it gets rejected”.

Good Rejections

Submitting short stories to magazines has traditionally been a gruelling business for me because the majority of them don’t bother to send out rejections. They just go in for “if your submission hasn’t been answered by X time assume we don’t want you”, which seems at first like it’s great for your ego but actually turns the whole process into even more of an insane and dispiriting waiting game than it is already, which is really saying something.

Occasionally you will get A Rejection, which ought to feel crushing and terrible but after endless pranging of stories into the void to the sound of an automated confirmation email, “we have received your submission and now the darkness has eaten it, goodbye”, even getting back an actual immediate response of “this is not what we are looking for thank you” is worth a fanfare.

When I was 17 and filled with Hope, like a moron, and had just won a writing competition and spoken to the editor of the company who published the anthology (because Networking Is Important, You Guys), I was encouraged to send in any other work I had, and because I was 17 and filled with Hope, like a moron, I did not do what I do now when encouraged to send someone my work, which is to laugh it off because They Are Just Saying That, and then never send them my work or indeed speak to them ever again in case they remember I exist and ask me to send in my work or express an interest in something I’m doing or continue to be there as a possible avenue towards some kind of Obviously Undeserved Success. Instead, I … sent in a manuscript.

It was my First Ever Novel and I’d written it the year before and it was objectively fucking terrible, but I didn’t know it was objectively fucking terrible, because I was 17 and filled with Hope, like a moron.

And the editor of the company who had published me in an anthology read my submission and said they didn’t really handle that genre but I shouldn’t let that stop me and here was some advice on how to improve my manuscript, because I was 17 and filled with Hope, like a moron, and sensible editors nurture young writers so that there will always be a pool of new talent for the industry to draw from, and because sane human beings derive no enjoyment from destroying the dreams of even the most stupid and annoying of 17-year-olds.

That was A Really Good Rejection. It contained ADVICE! Pointers on how to be better! Editorial guidance! More Hope for me to fill up my idiot 17-year-old self with, like a moron!

A Good Rejection Doesn’t Take Much Effort

The recent form rejection of the Awful, Horrible, No-Good book (which on reflection, having reread it in the light of not actually being in the midst of a firestorm of utter self-loathing and negativity at present, is unsurprisingly not the worst book ever written by a human mind and is in fact a perfectly decent work of fiction with some pleasantly complicated characters, a solid plot, and entertaining dialogue, the way EVERYONE KEPT TELLING ME IT WAS, ONLY I COULDN’T LISTEN BECAUSE MY BRAIN WAS FULL OF SHIT) has proven A Good Rejection too.

It turns out it’s really easy to reject something, in a form letter way, in a way that’s really obviously a form letter, without sounding like you’re enjoying smashing someone’s dreams, without discouraging people from writing any more, and without sounding anything like as stern and terrifying as the example letters on writing blogs, or indeed the ex-editors I know socially who all have fire and hatred in their souls and 90% of it aimed at authors, who are objectively The Worst People Alive.

though I found the premise interesting and the writing good, I didn’t feel passionately about it in the way that I need to to champion a novel in this competitive marketplace.

Already this is a masterclass in presenting the bad with the good. It contains praise – the praise may well be bullshit and it is almost certainly the same wording for everyone but that’s irrelevant, because when you’ve just been rejected, being told you’re interesting and good at what you do is a definitely balm on a wounded ego. Similarly, “I didn’t feel passionately” is a wonderful piece of “I-not-You” phrasing. It says “this is on me. There’s nothing wrong with your work”, regardless of whether there is, in fact, something horrendously wrong with my work. It is once again, artful soothing of the sad sputtering flame of the authorly ego.

There’s more:

This is – of course – entirely subjective, so I wish you the very best of luck with other agents.

“I wish you the very best of luck with other agents” would have been standard and sufficient for good manners, but underlining the “I didn’t feel passionately” with “entirely subjective” reinforces that social delicacy, the idea that it’s merely a matter of Personal Taste, the subtle chemistry for which no one receives blame and everyone is happy. It is frankly the kind of rejection that job agencies and employers could learn from, and designed to keep things running smoothly, which is really what you’d expect and hope for from someone whose entire career is predicated on persuasion.

Several Good Rejections

But this form email, obviously, is not going to be sufficient. I have more punishment to acquire. My ego might get ideas as a result of being briefly told that it isn’t terrible by some external force – although I’m quite capable of rationalising this flicker of formula praise into nothingness – and there are a lot of literary agents in London, never mind the world. They all deserve the opportunity to explain to me that I’m appalling.

So I’m going to create a new email folder in my inbox, and I’m going to dust down the online equivalents of the Writers & Artists’ Yearbook that was my bible back when I was 17 and filled with Hope, like a moron, and I’m going to do my absolute best to actually break the email server with the sheer number of stored rejection emails.

And also if I accidentally screw this up and end up somehow convincing an agent to represent me, it will be at least interesting to see how my godawful brain chooses to spin that as They’re Just Saying That.

If you are being persistently bullied by your brain I can thoroughly recommend “pretending to go along with its bullshit” as a method of getting things done in spite of the constant hail of self-loathing, but I’d point out that as a way of living it’s pretty much only possible temporarily, and that I’m in long-term therapy trying to teach my brain to stop automatically kicking me in the crotch whenever I do something. If your brain also thinks it’s Jolly Highjinks Fun to persistently hit you with the Big Stick of No Self-Esteem, I’d recommend doing the same thing.

Bao Soho

On Tuesday I took a break from behaving like a sensible adult and went on a brief binge around Soho and Chinatown, which ended not so much in disaster as in Primark on Tottenham Court Road, buying slippers, but that is another story.

What’s more important is that Bao in Soho was, for all that we had to queue outside in the street forlornly and then huddle around a tiny table, entirely worth the privation.

Here is a photo story:

There were three of us and this is what we had:

Pig blood cake
Trotter nuggets
Guinea fowl Chi Shiang Rice
Aged Beef Rump Cap, Aged White Soy Sauce
Classic (Bao)
Confit pork (Bao)
Fried chicken (Bao)
House pickles

And just out of sight:

Sweet potato fries.

Fried chicken Bao.

Confit pork Bao

Trotter nuggets.

Aged Beef Rump.

Sweet potato fries with pickled plum ketchup.

guinea fowl

Guinea fowl Chi Shiang rice, photo by ossifier.

pigs blood

Pig blood cake, photo by ossifier.

classic bao

Classic Bao, photo by ossifier.

The portion sizes are tiny, the prices less so, but this does allow for multiple visits and sharing is encouraged. The tiny sizes also help to let you try absolutely everything without turning into an enormous balloon of food, and if you want a massive steamed pork bun, Chinatown is less than a mile away and will sell you sodding enormous ones full of dubious ground meat purporting to be pork for £1.70: in Bao you get one tiny one filled with definitely-gloriously-wonderfully-tasty pork which you savour for as long as you can.

Recipe: Date Paste & Apple Sauce Brownie

Turns out you can replace butter with date paste, which dramatically cuts the calories and fat content and is sweeter. So that’s cool, because then you don’t necessarily need as much sugar. Of course, you can use sugar, and then you have a really sweet brownie. If you don’t want it to be overpowering, there’s always gram flour, as in this recipe, which means no gluten.


  • 15g date paste* (a bit more than 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 and 1/4  tbsp of sugar or Splenda or, if you fancy, I guess, honey or something
  • 1 and 1/2 tbsp apple sauce
  • 1 quail egg  or 1/4 of a beaten egg or the equivalent in no-egg egg replacement for vegans
  • 1 and 3/4 tbsp of gram flour, otherwise known as besan or chickpea flour. You can also use wheat flour, or rice flour, depending on what flavour you want.


  1. Pre-heat a fan-assist oven to 180c. Adjust accordingly if you don’t have a fan-assisted oven**
  2. Mix the sugar/splenda/honey, apple sauce, and date paste.
  3. Mix in the quail egg.
  4. Sift in the gram flour. It’s less necessary with rice flour and reasonably necessary with wheat flour but you can’t forgo it with gram flour because that shit forms lumps constantly.
  5. Mix it all together until it’s thoroughly blended.
  6. Put it in a ramekin or whatever you want to eat it out of, and drop it in the oven for 30 minutes.

Gram flour gives food a distinctive flavour and it’s worth taking advantage of that. It offsets the overpowering sweetness of the date paste, whereas the rice flour augments it and heightens it – worth considering depending on what kind of brownie you want.

* I don’t have date paste.

Of course you don’t, it appears to be sodding impossible to buy. Here is how you make it:

  1. Get some fresh or fresh-ish pitted dates.
  2. Put them in a food mixer with big sharp blades and mix.
  3. Add a little water every now and then.
  4. Keep mixing and adding water until you have a thick, sticky paste like jam.

** I don’t have an oven.

Good news, you can make this without an oven by putting it in a microwaveable container like a small mug and zapping it for about 30-40 seconds then letting it sit for a sec.

Book Promo Reminder!

It’s a work week, so I haven’t been hyping you all up about my BUG BOOK (As Simple As Hunger) because sleep, but sleep decided to interfere with that last night:

Dreamt I was promoting ASAH launch by trying to distribute homemade cakes to get people excited. They weren’t decorated or anything which is probably a good thing but you’ve seen my cakes, that’s not going to make people want the book more.

If you haven’t seen my cakes:

I think the kindest thing that can be said about them is that their charm lies primarily in their taste.

Happily, and with much less restraint, the same thing can be said about alla youse; excellent taste, am I right? Therefore, brace yourself, because the impending book is so, so nearly upon us:

teaser 2

See how it impends.

Book Launch: As Simple As Hunger (It’s Coming!)

As I mentioned on Friday, I’ve got a new book coming out soon.

Before you get the opportunity to drown out the clamour and sorrow of the world with GIANT BUGS, SARCASTIC ENGINEERS, SPIES, and the SAXONPUNK FANTASY MASTERPIECE to end all saxonpunk fantasy giant arthropod masterpieces (apologies if I have miscalculated and there are other books in this genre, I suggest we settle this like gentlemen – by sulking about it on our blogs!), I’d like to introduce you to some of the characters, as drawn by some very talented and awesome artists in moments of passing fancy.

Unfortunately the headshots were drawn by me, but you’re just going to have to cope with that.

Benjon Silverstein.
Benjon Silverstein.

A non-occult scientist!

What does that mean? You scream impatiently.


I'm not the only person to have drawn him...
I’m not the only person to have drawn him…

Kevin has his own take on the character…

hajar al-fihri

While I didn’t do a great job of representing our heroine, non-occult engineer Hajar Al-Fihri, the ever-talented Howl was kind enough to sketch a couple of shots of Hajar and her colleague Benjon:

hajar and benjon hajar and benjon

Which show off a great deal more personality…


Kevin got to grips with some ideas for the style of fashion in this world and I dug it enormously!


Then he took on some of the other protagonists – as you can see, Kevin and Howl both captured Hajar’s cautious, careful approach to situations… and her stubbornness.

Who else is in this picture? Well:

Ferdinand del Cadiz
Ferdinand del Cadiz

A wireless engineer, Ferdinand del Cadiz…

Hana Al-Fihri
Hana Al-Fihri

Hajar’s mother, Hana Al-Fihri, who suffered somewhat from my inability to draw her… poor Hana.


Radigis, who looks slightly less simian in Kevin’s art, and a good job too… there’s a reason I don’t illustrate my own work!

John Lancaster
John Lancaster

And at last, John Lancaster, who works on an oil rig.

That’s not quite the whole major cast, though:


REMINDER: you too could have a copy of As Simple As Hunger on your bookshelf or on your e-Reader (phone, tablet, whatever). IT’S COMING VERY SOON. VERY, VERY SOON.

I shall leave the final word with a tiny, teasing close-up of more from wildly talented artist B L Becotte

The full image would, alas, constitute a fairly major spoiler.
The full image would, alas, constitute a fairly major spoiler.