Venom (2018): A Misunderstood Romance For Our Turbulent Times

Hotly-anticipated and almost instantly critically panned, Sony’s Venom has spawned a cascade of memes and a throbbing pulsating slash fandom which has mystified those same professional movie-watchers who derided it as “fantastically boring”, “incoherent”, and riddled with bad CGI (I’ll give them that). Far more importantly, the social media hotbed of fannish discourse that is the microblogging site/hellhole Tumblr has adopted the central couple as its flagship… ship.

Venom, whose titular character has already been compared to someone drizzl[ing] Creme Egg filling onto a bin bag, is an absolute masterclass in how to balance horror (bodily and external), action (some whizzy fight scenes and a bathetic bike chase), comedy (…lobsters), and romance against each other, to pepper respectable action sequences from 1999 with clunky eggfart dialogue generated by a bot, inexplicable delivery without logical emphasis, a nonsensical plot – and produce a thoroughly entertaining movie on the strength of genuinely warmth of character decision-making rooted in kindness rather than ideology, and a cast who were determined to have fun – with no amount of embarrassing dialogue preventing them from serving up whatever performance they felt like giving.

Also, I think a lot of respectable critics haven’t really grasped a vital fact about Millennials – and even more so Gen Z – which is that they really, truly are extremely thirsty for big monsters. The bigger, slimier, more toothy and threatening the better. Google the word “kaijufucker” if you don’t believe me and enjoy having your afternoon ruined.

In the opinion of my afternoon’s companion, the movie opens with 20 minutes of completely unnecessary nonsense. I find it hard to disagree. The movie-watching public probably don’t need the majority of set-up that’s fed to us in action movies in particular, and while the opening crash-landing of the Life Foundation spacecraft and its subsequent goo refugee symbiotes gave some smaller part actors an opportunity to add to their showreels that I absolutely do not begrudge them, the attempt to build tension with this didn’t really work and was quite boring.

We’re all hear to see Tom Hardy get tongue-boxed in various orifices by a living sex toy while having an absolutely catastrophic case of the junkie sweats and gurning like his life depends on pulling a plausible Jim Carrey impression – so let’s skip the niceties.

Mr Hardy, playing himself as a vlogger who has accidentally got a job as A Real Journalist with absolutely no investigative skills (plausible, unfortunately), immediately shits up his job and gets fired for trying to publicly generate some sort of conscience in Riz Ahmed’s beautifully understated Elon Musk pastiche villain. He’s then promptly dumped by his long-suffering girlfriend, Michelle Williams, because of his complete failure to respect her boundaries, and completes the classic movie downward trajectory into a “loser apartment” and scenes of frantic job-hunting while haunting the local corner store and trying to avoid low-level gangsters. Although, as he has the wherewithal to live by himself in a whole apartment in San Francisco, one of the most housing-crisis-y cities in the US, we have to assume he’s not doing too badly.

Elon’t Muskn’t, the off-brand Pharma Pioneer at the not-at-all ominous Life Foundatain meanwhile continues to blithely murder his way through the large homeless population of said city in the pursuit of “saving humanity” with an untested injection of a recently-acquired alien lifeform that’s already detonated a couple of rabbits, which is… ethically problematic. The idea El-not Mus-off appears to be peddling is that what with ecological Armageddon looming, mankind – or at least the part of mankind that runs the Life Foundation – could escape to a life beyond the stars rather than stick around to fix its mess. Who could possibly… do… such a thing? Oh. Perhaps the problem with Venom isn’t that it’s far-fetched, but that in a time when every news report feels like a waking nightmare, it’s not really far-fetched enough for fantasy,

One of the scientists acting as a shepherd to shoddily-constructed tests and general murder finally develops a spine about her misgivings and for some reason takes her problem to Eddie Brock, a man who spectacularly crashed out of his career practically in front of her eyes. Eddie Brock, disaster journalist and haunter of cornerstones, loved by homeless women but loathed by his ex-girlfriend’s cat, goes through the inevitable dance of “I absolutely am not helping you” / “oh no I’m personally invested now” and accompanies his whistle blower in breaking into the worst-secured secret science facility on the face of the earth. Huge, wall-sized doors slide open at the touch of a palm. One solitary security guard is on patrol. The security at my local gym is better than that, and to the best of my knowledge we only have the usual range of deadly contaminants in the shower room.

A series of predictable disasters plays out now, replete with red flashing lights, gratuitous suffering vulnerable people, and one black alien goo impregnating our reluctant protagonist, and now the fun truly begins.

Two moist losers, against all the odds, have found each other and become one sweaty, unbalanced idiot eating last night’s chicken from the bin and muttering to itself. Then! Terrible Bad Men with small mouths come to split these two newly-weds asunder!

Every minute of Tom Hardy’s possession by interstellar parasite and self-avowed loser Venom is a romp. He saw the chance to flex a set of comedy muscles that rarely get the opportunity they deserve to put on a gun show, and he went for it – much to the gratitude of thirsty Tumblr fans and to the detriment of live lobsters.

As an aside, one of the reasons you will discover that Venom and Brock are absolutely the core couple of this movie is that ex-girlfriend Anne’s new boyfriend absolutely does nothing to conform to the jealous ineffectual stereotype that the Replacement Boyfriend normally does in an action movie. Instead, he behaves… like a doctor, treating a man in obvious distress, doing his best to care for his physical and mental safety, and not once throwing even the slightest bit of a shitfit about his girlfriend speaking to her ex. That is maturity!

The core of the several terrible movies baked into one moreish cakewreck of a movie is an odd couple romcom. Leaving aside the illustrative line about having “one of those things up your ass” (it could have been anywhere else in your body – probably was – but you had to make it like that, didn’t you?), leaving aside the keynote smooch which is, technically, an interspecies threesome – every moment of this film exists for the sole purpose of getting the two main character together in a beautiful, bickering unity, a meeting of like souls. If that’s not the definition of romance, I don’t know what is.

Admittedly, it’s perhaps a similar sort of romance to the kind Bryan Fuller made for NBC, but I don’t think that should disqualify this charming little globe of used lube from picking up some romance movie plaudits.

And besides, in the comics – it’s canon:

A comics page showing a discussion between Eddie Brock and the Symbiote, who is represented in the form of lights and shadows. Dialogue follows - Venom: I only do what you want, Eddie. What we want. / Eddie: And what DO we want? / Venom: We want to be TOGETHER, Eddie, FOREVER. / Eddie: Yes, love / Venom: We want to hurt people in the way, people IN BETWEEN. / Eddie: But NOBODY is. I'm just WORRIED that you're not okay. / Venom: There is ... Anger. HATE. Sometimes feel weak. Sometimes Strong. Even weak, will kill ANYONE who-- Eddie...

Venom #150, Writer: Mike Costa, Artist: Tradd Moore, Colorist: Felipe Sobreiro, Letterer: Clayton Cowles.

Image of a partial comics page showing an explosion from a helicopter caught in a giant spider web. Eddie Brock is piloting another helicopter. Speech, from Eddie Brock: So, it's true. The symbiote is here. MY symbiote. My darling.

I rest my case.


It’s the blogger’s birthday today! Why not swing by and shower me with money

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Shameless Grubbing for Gifts

It’s my birthday on the 30th, and I can’t celebrate in style because a) I’m broke, b) it’s in the middle of the week and c) I have a job interview (Good, but limiting).

Why not buy me something to make up for it?

Vegan Mini Christmas Cake Bars

This is not Aesthetic Vegan Recipe Blogging. This is Vegan Recipe Blogging when you live in a one-bedroom flat above a shop that’s slowly disintegrating and you have a kitchen the size of a postage stamp, which I feel is a far more realistic representation of the true cooking experience for many of us.

Ingredients:

An image of a white breakfast bowl, empty, and three smaller bowls containing the ingredients below, followed by a banana. The bowls are lined up in a narrow strep between piles of groceries, and a hob top.
I don’t usually take mis-a-place photos because this is the amount of space I have to work with in my kitchen. Which I deep-cleaned for the purpose of this photo. Please feel honoured.

A post-it note with the ingredients listed on it.

Makes 3.

21g/3 tsp date syrup (if you don’t need this to be vegan feel free to replace with honey. Probably also works with golden syrup or molasses, but don’t use sugar, you need the viscous moisture).
1 medium banana
1 tsp of baking powder
1 tsp of pumpkin spice mix if you’re American and mixed spices (the kind you put in cakes) if you’re anywhere else.
53g (ish) / 2oz mixed dried fruit (which dried fruit is entirely at your discretion, I used Morrisons Luxury Mixed Fruit because it’s got glace cherries and lemon peel in it and I’m a child)
21g / 3 tsp pea protein isolate (you can also use soy protein isolate, or if you want a more protein-heavy, chewy bar, vital wheat gluten)
21g / 3 tsp unflavoured, unsweetened Huel. If you can’t get Huel, try another meal replacement powder, but make sure it’s unsweetened/unflavoured or the cake will be weird.

Method

Image of a small sieve with pea protein powder in it, over an empty white bowl

Image of baking powder in a small tub being tipped into a bowl Image of mixed ground spices in a small tub being tipped into a bowl

 

Image of a digital clock from the front of a cooker, showing the numbers "180C"
I did not, however, clean the readout on my cooker

First, mix the dry ingredients in the bowl (you can sieve them or not sieve them, I don’t think it makes a huge difference), and pre-heat your oven to 180C. I would say “180C fan-assisted”, but the fan in my oven is more of a hindrance than an assistance. I also have no idea which gas mark this is, but it’s 355 F.

Image of a bowl with slightly mashed banana chunks in it, sitting on top of dried cake ingredients

Image of a bowl full of dried cake ingredients and banana chunks with a small tub of date syrup being tipped into it.

Next, add the banana – chopped or torn up into chunks – and the date syrup, which will be reluctant to come out of the dish fully.

Then mix (I used a spoon, and I regret this, so if you’re in the position not to use a spoon, use a mixer).

A bowl full of cake mix, which is light brown and a little fluffy

It should end up looking like this.

Then get some mini loaf baking trays (or muffin cases or whatever, I’m not your boss), and give them a grease. I did mine the lazy way, with FryLight.

Image of three grey silicon mini loaf baking "tins"

An image of a hand holding up a bottle of Fry Light cooking spray

Slap your mixture in there and stuff it in the middle shelf of the oven for 10 minutes (or longer if you want a less soft, moist texture and more of a dry, cakey one)

Image of the cake mix divided into three cooking trays

Image of a timer screen from a phone, set to 10 minutes

Image of the three cakes in their trays, now cooked and darker/less moist
Let them cool a bit first. You’ll see why.

Time’s up! Extract your cakelettes!

Image of two small loaf-shaped cakes sitting on a chopping board. Half of a third sits beside them, the other half still in a baking tray.
Whoops.

Fortunately, they still taste delicious in pieces. Coming in at 156 calories each (if you care about that sort of thing) they’re a perfectly good snack, and thanks to the Huel, pretty replete with vitamins and minerals and all that stuff.


The blogger is bearing down on his 36th birthday like a tonne of bricks. If you’d like to help him celebrate, or just enjoyed this recipe, why not fling some coffee this way?

The Naming Of Mechanical Beasts

A long, long time ago, I used to be one of you people. Or rather, I wanted to be.

The kind of people who have lovely leather notebooks full of crisp, clean handwriting; who drink tea and coffee from pleasing, clean cups and do not immediately dump half their hot drink onto their chest; who wear cosy knitwear without transforming immediately into a sweat monster who’d make Tom Hardy’s admirably moist turn in Venom look positively understated; autumn people, in short.

Autumn people of the Instagram type, twee journallers with cats who’re able to take pleasure in the rain and who, for reasons of personality, have naming themes for their electronic devices.

I have several friends who fit this description, acquired over the years, and aside from discovering that leather notebooks make them nervous because they’re quite sure whatever they write in them won’t live up to the beauty of the exterior, and that everyone  pours tea on their tits at some point, I’ve learnt that they do indeed all name their electronics, and bicycles, and cars.

Apart from the first car I remember my family having (a red, old W-reg Citreon Dyanne with a manual choke and the approximate roadworthiness of a rotten egg), which was named primarily so my mother would have something to shout encouragingly at the electric-scooter-power engine as the red insect chugged desperately up a slight incline in second gear, I’ve not really been able to stick to the names given to my devices.

I tried, of course. There’s the option to give them names, so why wouldn’t you?

For a while I named my computers – the early, fifth-hand laptop that weighed more than a desktop; the room-sized desktop which ran MS-DOS and got upset if you tried to use Windows 3.11 more than once a day – after dead writers. The laptop, for example, was called Shakespeare. This seemed reasonable to my teenage self – I theoretically used them mostly for writing [and actually mostly for playing solitaire] , and I had Ambitions towards becoming a famous writer because I was 15 and had no sense of proportion whatsoever. If nominative determinism is real, however, it latched onto the “dead” part of the equation, and repeatedly bricked these creatures, leaving me clutching floppies full of half-finished novellas and very bad poetry.

I broke the pattern with the beige beast I acquired, brand-new, in 2003. I was tired, I was somewhat the worse for University excesses, and I was running low on imagination. The computer was christened “Big Jimmy Idiot”, to differentiate it from the laptop; later, it was demoted to “the box” (everything in my house by then – 2006 or so – was “the box”. There was the “cold box” [fridge], “noise box” [TV], “internet box” [the one internet-capable computer in the house], and “Jimmy box”).

I also named my MP3 players. “Jack the cube” contained about an album’s worth of music, no better than a CD player. He was followed by “Black Jimmy”, who could manage a full 1GB, and was eventually upgraded to a proper, chunky iPod, called “Aslan”, because the idea of having 80GB of music all at once, working in a data entry job, was fairly godly. “Aslan” was supercede by “the Empress” (even larger), and then, as Avatar: The Last Airbender (the animated series, I’m not a heathen) filled up my life and a tiny red netbook entered it, the next iPod was known as “Appa” (large enough to carry several things, you see), and the netbook Momo (small and theoretically quick).

More whimsical names began to accompany items in my home: a short-lived and extremely heavy folding bike was going to be called “Bucephalus” but was so awful that she was renamed “Yersinia” after the plague. A replacement iPod after I bricked one was titled “Sultan Mehmet II” for reasons that probably made sense at the time. The next, far less awful bicycle was called King George VII, after the Brough Superior that …. killed T E Lawrence. Never let it be said that I don’t have a realistic view of the dangers of cycling on London roads without a helmet.

All of this has been swallowed up by necessities: the tablet I’m typing this on has no name. My phone and the half-in-use-still predecessors have no name. The tiny, dented, aluminium-clad MP3 player that replaced the last of the great hulking iPod Classics that Apple refuses to manufacture any longer is nameless, too.

But as I was investigating the system requirements for the refurb desktop that houses all of my design work, trying to figure out how much more memory I can give it and which is compatible, I discovered the following: the desktop’s name is, apparently, “Large Idiot”.

Some things don’t change very much in the end.


The blogger turns 36 at the end of this month. If you’re enjoying the content or simply feeling generous, why not buy me a coffee?

A Righteous Knees-Up

I’ve been singing down a hole.

Before I went down a hole for a singalong, I was lucky enough to be offered a friend’s spare ticket to see Garbage Version 2.0 Twentieth Anniversary Tour at Brixton Academy. (In between those things I’ve been to Canterbury and Salisbury and even some places that don’t have cathedrals of such grandeur, but we’re not talking about that now). This was… kind of a very big deal.

It was a very big deal because like a lot of people of my increasingly ageing and absolutely failing to grow up generation, Garbage were a highly formative band for me and Version 2.0 was one of the first albums I ever bought and played obsessively and fell in love with. The decision to – with a couple of other songs for flavour (Cherry LipsNo More Horses, and some B-sides) – play 2.0 in its entirety was exactly the kind of decision to appeal to that obsessive 15-year-old with the poster of Shirley Manson on their dormitory wall.

It was also a very big deal because everyone else in the room seemed to have been a fan for about a minimum of 20 years as well. We were Of An Age. My cohort tolerated the support act (Dream Wife, inexplicably described by the Guardian as one of their bands to watch in 2018. Watch, perhaps. Listen to, no), and all lost our minds to Shirley playing the part of the pope of pop, resplendent in her 50s: commanding and enthusiastic and full of professionalism and joy in a way that makes it absolutely clear why people in these awful little islands traditionally followed red-headed women into glorious battle. I would absolutely have run out into the night in an army headed by Shirley Manson that night, and torched whichever Roman Garrison she wanted.

Shirley Manson in an white-trimmed red gown, bathed in white light, presses a microphone to her lips
Ms Manson, the new Boudicca

Part of the the joy of live music – part of the reason for going to stand for an hour while Swedish Gen Z children yelp onstage beforehand and you consume desperately overpriced cider from a plastic cup – is the audience. It’s part of the downfall of many a gig. I’ve encountered a lot of fucking awful audiences, and a lot of beautiful ones. As a young fan I made it my business to be in circle pits whenever they appeared; as a slightly older one with fewer kneecaps I found it more expedient to cram myself against the barrier, and now that I’m decrepit and in my mid-thirties and going steadily bald, I’m perfectly happy to stand somewhere in the middle and sing.

And that’s really why Shirley Manson playing a 20 year old album from start to finish to people who’ve been fans for two decades, with love and with glee and with a spectacular array of colours and a robe I wish I could replicate, was so beautiful. It became the same experience that Christmas carols, communion, a national anthem, a football chant is – strangers suddenly united in song, in some kind of praise of a shared quality, all working together as one rather wobbly and disparate voice.

And on Saturday night, I went down a hole to sing some somewhat less “cool” but equally enjoyable songs.

The hole in question was the Shaft at the Brunel Museum. I have to be careful in expressing my absolute affection for this charming and oft-overlooked treasure of an East London museum, because my terms of praise are often taken in a manner completely out of keeping with their intent. So I will say this: I am a rabid fan of tiny local museums. I absolutely live for small scale models of things, teatowels with typography that would make designers cry, and an air of genteel desolation. I especially like them when it is raining. My favourites – apart from the Brunel Museum which I absolutely love – are Bruce Castle Museum in Bruce Grove, Haringey, and the Queens Hunting Lodge in Epping Forest, which is a pain to get to on foot but worth it because it has things to try on and enormously outdated models and fake food and overlooks a Premier Inn. It couldn’t be more perfect.

The Brunel Museum hosts Midnight Apothecary in the winter and autumn, a cocktails and campfire affair in the beautiful herb garden on the roof of the Shaft. For entertainment this season – and this season last year, when I also attended – the cabaret performer and MC, ukulele songstress, lady dandy, leader of the All-Girl Swing Band, regular facilitator of soul-cleansing pub singalongs with tiny instruments and long-time friend of this blogger and I absolutely cannot understand why she’d lower herself to that but am very grateful for it, Ms Tricity Vogue hosts a rousing singalong inside the Shaft, preceded by cabaret or burlesque acts.

Firstly, the Shaft is a fascinating structure with incredible acoustics:

An image of the bottom of the Shaft, taken from above. It is set up for a show with a semi-circle of empty seats and the lyrics to It is also absolutely freezing but that’s why there are cocktails (many made or garnished with herbs from the roof garden) in the Shaft and hot toddy on the roof. Also, singing along definitely raises the body temperature.

An image of the bar in the Shaft, taken from one side. The bar is surrounded by fairy lights and greenery and flowers, with a large water dispenser balanced on it.
The bar dispenses many delicious cocktails, including the Sage Advice and the Monk’s Muse.

Our first act was Marlene Cheaptrick, a Weimar-themed extremely raunchy burlesque act who won us all over with squeakers hidden in her bra, a masterful comedic hula hoop routine (“Like Brexit, when I bought these hoops on Amazon I thought this was a wonderful idea and what could possibly go wrong! And now here we all are, ladies and gentlemen, careering towards the edge of a cliff, no one has a clue what we’re doing, and we’re all too stubborn to stop. Let’s see if I can still pull this off.”), and some impressive chair acrobatics using a game member of the audience who’d coincidentally come from Salisbury – the same place I’d just travelled back from!

“You can tell they have a good relationship,” said Marlene out-of-character, gesturing to the girlfriend of a man whose lap she had just writhed about in, “she has responded to this in the best possible way, ladies and gentlemen: she could not give a single shit. Because she’s secure!”

And then the first of many singalongs: a tune of Tricity’s own, a drinking song entirely right for breaking what ice hadn’t already been melted by Marlene.

After a break, in which we acquired more cocktails, we were startled into our seats by an air-raid siren, and Ms Fanny Gonightly (I *think*) came onto the stage in a state of disarray. Missing a stocking.

Ms Fanny, dressed in a glamorous 1940s dress and hair curlers, stands with her back to the audience while I draw her stocking onto the back of her leg with eyeliner.
The kind of stocking you draw on. Photo taken by @effienell, Instagram.

It is time for a confession. I am a horrible sucker for audience participation. I love audience participation. I can’t act like a serious Actor Actor – my level has always been panto, stand-up, and … well … cabaret. I will take any opportunity to make a fool of myself onstage, and frequently do. In evenings like this, when not everyone in the audience is warmed up yet and no one is answering the “I need a man – or someone who can pretend to be a man – just to hold my hand” cry, I don’t actually need a lot of prompting to come and play along.

So yes, that’s an image of the top of my head as I help Ms Fanny draw on her other stocking. There is, mercifully, no image of me accompanying Ms Fanny in a kazoo duet but rest assured, I looked an absolute fool and loved every minute of it.

Our singalong for this second act, after a saucy WW2 song about staying in the deepest shelter in town, was a classic: Victoria Wood’s Let’s Do It, and I can say the audience acquitted itself beautifully this time. Drunk, uproarous, and perfectly happy to at least attempt some of the more difficult lines: we raised the roof for the late, great, inimitable Victoria.

In this interval I finally made it up the stairs to where – experience had taught me – there were marshmallows, pointy sticks, and a blazing fire to enjoy in the garden. There were, however, also complete strangers greeting me by name to compliment my idiotic turn on the kazoo, so I melted some gelatinous sugar and ran away again as fast as I could! Bold on the stage, horrifically shy in person. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Our third act was nothing but rousing singsongs from start to finish – the finish being Summer Nights, as advertised above. By which time we were drunk enough to forget who was supposed to be a T-Bird and who was supposed to be a Pink Lady, which would have spoiled the effect were everyone not so absolutely delighted to be bellowing along to a banjolele, down the Shaft with a spectacular hostess.

Minight Apothecary Goes Down The Shaft with Tricity Vogue & Friends is on all the way up to Christmas, and you can buy tickets on DesignMyNight, which I very much recommend. If your curiosity is piqued by the Brunel Museum, which is just next to Rotherhithe Station, I thoroughly recommend it – adults pay £6 and children £4, and there is a tiny and adorable cafe as well.

FOCUS ON FICTION: Heavy

I’ve been doing one of these a day (ish) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available, to help anyone make a decision about what they want to read next, or just to give background if you’re already familiar with the story.

A novel again today, because I’m out of individual shorts, and with this I’m also out of self-published material altogether! Everything else is either in anthologies or still being edited or is poetry etc. What a ride it’s been!

If you’ve read and enjoyed my (or anyone else’s) work, here’s an article on why it’s important for you to say so in public: beware of monsters: why you should review books you love.

HEAVY

What if not only everything you knew about yourself was wrong, but everything everyone else knew about you was wrong too?

Pig is in hell.

He’s been in hell for the twenty years since half a continent was atomised; since his own ignominious and contentious escape from a fate that never came; when a face from his past comes offering alleviation, he inadvertently drags behind him a young revolutionary, an extracted spy, and an admin assistant way out of her depth on an unexplained mission that will take them across the world, and which may well solve nothing at all…

“I’m always pleased to see Derek Des Anges writing, with his acute understanding of the horror we do to each other and the tactics we take to survive it.” – Kieron Gillen (Wicked + Divine, Darth Vader)

Within the last couple of days, a friend informed me that “I think I really am going to have to by a copy of this for [their 90-year-old Godmother], she was very taken with the idea when I described it to her,” which I think goes to show that you’re never going to predict quite who will go for what book, no matter how certain you are of something’s niche appeal.

Its genesis was longer ago that I realised. In fact, when I say “I usually take a year to plan and write a book and then another year to edit it, because I hate editing”, I’m being disingenuous. Books overlap. Ideas for one come up, get toyed with, doodled over, put back down, a book about something previous comes out; the new idea ferments disgracefully in the back of my mind and resurfaces later, gets played with again, reshaped, and eventually dragged to the front of the conceptual queue God knows how many years down the line, often radically changed.

So it was with Heavy. I wrote what was to become a version of the first few stories as a short exploration of what might happen to the boys of Lord of the Flies (a book I have loved with fascinated horror since my adolescence) sometime between 2007 and 2008, when I was working on Pass the Parcel.

I think I thought that was the end of it. But the opening line: Pig is in hell, kept echoing around my head. I knew enough about PTSD, and began to learn enough about gaslighting – a central theme in this book – to understand that I hadn’t finished what I’d wanted to say when I wrote that short. Also, the world that had grown up in 5,000 words of speculation nearly a decade before I wrote Heavy had the potential for scope and range beyond the small glimpses I’d given of it.

I’ve been writing multiple-PoV fiction in earnest since Pass the Parcel. Prior to that there might be the odd glimpse into one character’s thinking but overall I was wedded to a specific genre convention (for example, detective fiction may or may not do this as much as others) that “one character’s perspective is all you need”. It works for Lolita, after all. This is the first time I think that the wider potential of a multiple-PoV story saw realisation in my work, where structure and major themes echoed each other.

It’s also the first time I’ve written about faith, and loss of faith, and the importance of faith to characters. I’m an atheist: always have been, always will be, unless something dramatic happens. But I have friends of faith, and friends for whom the abrupt divorce from faith under less than favourable circumstances didn’t create a happy or happily antagonistic atheist as it does in some cases, but rather someone with a profound sense of loss and sorrow – grief, really – at being closed off from something so inherent to themselves and so important to them. And, well. I like a challenge. Part of me wants to write about things I am very familiar with – and that part has had lots to work with in Heavy – but part of me thinks that’s lazy. And so that part got to write some very unfamiliar experiences indeed.

What else? There’s a cat, who doesn’t die (I am informed that every time I include a named animal in these books I have to clarify that they don’t die, because otherwise Nasty Shocks Happen); there’s an honest-to-gods car chase although perhaps not in a very cinematic fashion; there’s spycraft, adventure, derring-do, giant mecha suits, a stealth plane, an undercover mission–

–And it is nothing like what that list makes it sound like. At least, not to all of the characters involved. That’s the thing about stories; everyone in one is living a different one.

If any of these focus on fiction posts have left you curious about the works mentioned, be aware that the title of each book links to the original launch post, where links to the Lulu and Amazon pages for each can be found. Alternately, append “/books.html” to my main blog URL for a brief outline of all my publications so far and links to their Amazon pages. 

If you’ve read and enjoyed any of them, please tell your friends! Tell the internet! Tell your mum and your boss! If you didn’t enjoy them tell people too, and say why, because I guarantee that what you didn’t enjoy, someone else will love, and it’s cool to give people a chance to find that out for themselves.

The author is currently laboriously researching for this year’s draft, and editing another draft novel, which I promise I will talk about very soon. There is also an exciting, writing-based, art-based long-term project slowly taking shape, and I promise when there’s more on that I will return to this blog and shower everyone with details.

FOCUS ON FICTION: The Next Big One

[I paused these for a while because I didn’t want to drive traffic towards Amazon during a worker strike].

I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available, to help anyone make a decision about what they want to read next, or just to give background if you’re already familiar with the story.

A novel again today, because I’m out of individual shorts.

THE NEXT BIG ONE

With the number of UK cases hitting a hundred, it’s clear that KBV is a problem which isn’t going away. Downing Street have released the following statement: “The total number of KBV cases in the UK is still comparatively small, and we are confident that the disease can be contained. NHS leaflets advising on lifestyle and behaviour changes which can help protect against infection will be available soon. We ask the public to remain calm and to continue to behave responsibly about their health in all areas.

Vocational journalism student Ben Martin is the last person who ought to be investigating a major viral outbreak. He doesn’t know a single damn thing about biology; he pays his rent by DJing for hipsters. He’s nervous, easily-discouraged, and not over his ex.

But it’s him who ends up with the assignment, and it’s him who ends up facing down the truth: there is more to this than meets the eye.

The Next Big One is definitely a watershed novel for me. It was the first book I wrote where I actively looked at what I was writing in the planning stage and said, “Does this character really need to be [white/cisgender/male/able-bodied] in order for the plot to work”, and when they didn’t need to be, I changed something about them. It was such a simple alteration, and yet somehow it brought so much more depth and affection for the characters, so much more realism to my experience of writing them.

Drawing on life helped, too. Many of the locations are subs for places that I’d been to, or vague nods to people that I’d met, rather than just being a kind of Londish place which disappears into vagueness. It helped, too, that I’d been getting out more, in the intervening years, as my mental health continued on its slow upwards trend (unlike the protagonist of the book, the poor sod); the more you see of life, the more qualified you are to write about it.

Research, too, helped. While I set out to look into what was possible and plausible with disease design in mind, I picked up a lot of peripheral knowledge as I tried to get to grips with virology and epidemiology from a starting point of being so scientifically illiterate that I’m still not sure I understand what mitochondria are, never mind things like apoptosis.

It grew from frustration with how public health issues are reported; it grew from my general distrust of the ethics of large corporations; it grew from my overall fascination with the brutality of sickness and the fragility of the human body balanced against the surprising strength and resilience of human bonds. But the characters, once the groundwork was done, more-or-less wrote themselves.

What I set out was to write an epidemic thriller, but it’s not pacy enough. It’s not suspenseful enough. And it’s far, far too much about the people, and very little about the disease. That’s the thing about the way I write, I’ve come to understand: I am interested in how people work and how they stop working, and I am interested in the effect of squeezing one part of their life on all the other parts of their life. Larger mechanisms of society and the universe, while operating in their own casual frameworks, do kind of narratively exist for the purpose of making the protagonist’s life harder. Sorry about that, protagonists.

While it’s not exactly a dramatic story of the world battling a deadly evil together, I still hope it’s exciting. The smaller dramas within it kept me entertained while I was writing them, at least.

Further Adventures In Not Dying Of Cooking

For an introduction, please see here.

Today I’m going to teach you how to make three – THREE – whole things. Two of them can even be put together to make a meal, if you’re so inclined. Although remember, anything you combine to eat in one sitting is technically a meal and is 100% allowed.

How to make MASHED POTATOES!

With Interrim Stage: You Have Boiled Potatoes You Can Totally Just Eat Those.

YOU WILL NEED:

Some butter! Milk will do in a pinch but it will taste better with butter. Or coconut oil I guess, if you’re rich and vegan.
Some potatoes! This part is pretty important. Big potatoes are better. New potatoes – the little round waxy ones – don’t mash well.
Salt and pepper! You’re a fucking chef now. You can also add herbs and spices or garlic power/paste if you want to be a funky boy.
OPTIONAL: Why not get some grated cheese or something as well?

1 saucepan! That’s the kind with the tall sides. It will need a lid.
1 knife, sharp, for cutting up your potato, and a thing to cut your potato on, which could be a chopping board or a kitchen surface (clean) or your ex’s face (they probably deserve it)
1 potato masher. Or a fork, but a masher will do this a lot more easily:

Image result for potato masher

The downside is they’re not exactly versatile.
You’re going to need a colander as well. Remember those from making pasta?

You can get a fork and bowl for eating out of or just eat it out of the pan, no one’s judging you.

Make sure your potatoes are clean, by washing them until any mud comes off.

Okay, fill your pan up about halfway with water. Put it on the hot thing, put the lid on it, and make the hot thing hot.

While the water’s getting a bit hotter, cut the potato up into chunks. Like, roughly the size of your thumb? The smaller they are the easier this will be, but don’t go mental.

Put your chunks in the water and put the lid back on.

Play several phone games. If the water starts to boil over, turn the heat down. If the pan starts to get dry, add more water. Do not grab the pan lid or the handle without something insulating wrapped around your hand, like a teatowel, because it is standing on a hot thing, and heat travels, because Physics.

…I’m an arts graduate.

Check on your potato lumps. Are they starting to look a bit disintegratey? If you poke them with your fork are they pretty soft? They’re probably done. When they get to that stage you want to turn the heat off.

A word on the skins: I didn’t tell you to peel the potatoes because that is an unconscionable nuisance. Peeling potatoes is basically an invitation to the kitchen Gods to draw blood from your knuckles, and it’s a waste of time as mash with skins in is doubly good for you and also pretty tasty.

So you have a pan full of cooling water and fluffy potato lumps. Go drain the potatoes in the colander, over the sink.

When the pan’s not full of water any more, put the lumps back in it, let the colander sit in the sink, and fetch your Tools. The fun is about to begin.

Unless you just want to like, put salt and butter on them now and eat them as is.

Salt! A pinch or two! Pepper! About the same amount! Spices, if you’re feeling that! Butter! A big ol’ lump. I usually go with a lump the same size as one of the potato chunks. All of this goes in the pan on your potatoes.

Get your masher.

Hold it like you’re in a painting of the assassination of Caesar, which means with the fun part pointing down out of your fist. Now. Stamp down on your spuds with it, over and over, and over, and over. Pretend they are the toes of the last person who gave you a shitty grade. Or that ex I mentioned earlier. Totally fuck that person with your masher.

Every so often you’re going to want to scrape the mash from the sides of the pan towards the middle then start mashing again.

Keep going until the butter’s dissolved and spread about and the mash has about the consistency you want. If you’re mashing with a fork this is going to take a lot longer and you’ll want to hold it differently – pointing forwards, like you’re trying to stab someone in the stomach instead of the back.

Anyway, you now have DELICIOUS POTATOES so you’re probably feeling less like murder, and that, my friend, can only be a good thing.

Get in losers, we’re scrambling some fucking eggs.

AKA: What To Do When Your Omelette Doesn’t Cohere.

Remember how you made an omelette?

Okay it’s like that, but like, you need to continue to do things to the mixture when it’s in the pan. Namely, stirring it up constantly. You can use a spatula or a fork, but if you use the fork, you have to not use a non-stick pan, because your fork will fuck that shit up.

I usually use a saucepan. And a whisk. The whisk because it’s fun and the saucepan because if you’re using a whisk you need to limit the amount you get, say, egg on your ceiling and walls.

The deal is, you keep fluffing that shit up by moving it around the pan more or less constantly with your shovel/fork/wizened monkey paw, and then just before you serve it – DID YOU TURN THE HEAT OFF? PLEASE CHECK – stick some butter and black pepper on it. And then it tastes Really Really Good.

.If it doesn’t, put ketchup on it until it just tastes of tomatoes. You’re welcome.

Those Bastards Haven’t Even Given Me A Microwave

How to make yourself a rounded meal when the scumsucker in charge of accommodation stuffs you in a Travelodge and shrugs when you ask about this mythical “student hall” thing.

Here’s your ingredients list:

Princes Tuna Chunks Spring Water 3X80g

(or other tinned fish; if you don’t like fish a jar of mini hotdogs might do it but be careful about how fast they go off; alternatives also include pre-wrapped pepperoni but now you’re getting expensive).

Tesco Everyday Value Sweetcorn In Saltwater 325G

(see also peas, carrots, mixed veg – as long as it’s a single-serving tin you can get into with what you have – check for a ringpull if you don’t have a tin-opener, although tin-openers are usually only a quid).

Tesco Everyday Value Chicken Flavour Instant Noodles 65G

Or whatever flavour.

Your equipment list runs:

Kettle, for making water hot in.
Fork, for making food go into your face
Bowl, for placing food in
Possibly some sort of lid for keeping the heat in the bowl, although a large book will also work.

Here goes: put about half a bowl of water in your kettle. Boil the kettle.

While the kettle is heating up, put your noodles, tin of veg, tuna, and flavour sachet contents in a bowl.

Pour boiling water over it. Put the book over the top.

Play a phone game for about 3 minutes.

Take the book off and give everything a stir with the fork. Put the book back on for another minute.

Congratulations you’ve just made a meal that contains at least 1 of your 5 a day, protein, carbs, and A Flavour.

How To Make Food And Not Die If You’re Really Bad At It

Hello, it’s summer. Soon it will be autumn again, because time moves in a linear direction, dragging us all on towards our deaths with inexorable inevitability, except David Attenborough, who is definitely never going to die. Even if the weather doesn’t acknowledge the seasons, time will pass.

So a bunch of people will in all probability be leaving for university and possibly having to cook for themselves for the first time. Or maybe you’re just… in a position now where you’re like, yeah, I should probably learn how to do the thing. I have also been there! And then I learnt how to make food and not die, which is a skill I feel I should pass on.

FIRST THINGS FIRST:

What shit do you absolutely definitely need?

2 x pans. Probably a frying pan and a saucepan. Get something that won’t stick to things if you can. Stainless steel if you can’t. If you don’t have a hot plate/stove because where you’re living is fucking deranged, skip that. You will be making a lot of things in mugs.
1 x not-metal spatula. Silicon is good. Wood is also good.
Some forks and shit
MAYBE a blender if you wanna get crazy about it
Mugs. Good for measuring and drinking out of.
Bowl. Maybe a plate.
Spoons. Get ones in actual measuring sizes and you won’t then need to buy measuring spoons as well. Although it’s worth remembering that if you’re not baking, amounts are pretty much a matter of personal preference.
Sharp knife, for cutting stuff. Big. But controllable. Make sure it STAYS sharp.

What do the fuckin’ words mean?

BAKE = I put this shit into a hot box and made it hot and now it is cooked.
ROAST = as above, but with fats (usually oil, sometimes animal fats)
BOIL = I put this shit in water and the water was making bubbles and then it was cooked
SIMMER = I put this shit in water that had been making bubbles but is now just constantly hot
FRY = I put this in a pan on a heat source with some fats probably
SAUTE = (pronounced Soh-tay because it’s French) frying, but quickly, and with a little bit of fats specifically
GRILL = I put this shit underneath a heat source on a thing that allows the fat/moisture to drain out from it without it sitting in it (rack, grill tray, whatever thing)
STEAM = I put this thing in a thing with a bit of water and raised it out of the water, then made the water hot so the steam cooked it
BROIL = Literally no idea, this is an American thing
BARBECUE = grill but the heat source is underneath and it’s probably outside

CHOP = cut it up, probably fairly small
SLICE = cut it up into thin regular bits
DICE = cut it into cubes
GRIND = you’re a beginner, don’t do this, just buy it pre-ground
WHISK = you don’t actually necessarily need a whisk for this, you can usually do it with a fork if it’s like, an omelette. circular motions around the bowl full of liquid, fast
STIR = like whisk, but a lot slower, and with a spoon or spatula
BLEND = usually involves a blender
PULSE = always involves a blender, and means stop-start blending at very short intervals
FOLD = this one’s a pain in the ass. You usually only do it with things that have been whisked up, to keep the air in them. Call it an Intermediate or Beginner 2 skill, and move on.
KNEAD = advanced, don’t bother yet

What do I do if it catches fire?

Shut off the heat source immediately. Now, what’s on fire?

Oil? Cover the thing the oil is in with a pan lid then leave the pan lid on it. The lack of oxygen should extinguish the flame. If it doesn’t – after like, 45 seconds? – dump a whole canister of baking soda on it.

Things which are not oil? You are okay to throw water on these, but it might still be more effective to cover them with a pan or pan lid.

What happens if I fuck up my meal?

There are different parameters of “fucked up”. Whichever happens, make a note of what you did so that it doesn’t happen the same way again. That’s science.

  1. Not as intended but still safe and probably not-disgusting to eat = eat it.
  2. Safe to eat but probably gross to eat = try a bit, if it’s actually gross bin it or cover it in ketchup and eat it anyway.
  3. Undercooked? Just cook it a bit longer. Throw it in the microwave and zap it for 5 minutes. NB: If you are doing this with an egg, break the shell off first or it will detonate like a tiny chicken bomb in the microwave and scare the living shit out of you.
  4. Overcooked? If it’s a cinder, in the bin. If it’s just A Bit Crispy, scrape that off and see what the middle’s like. No one is judging you on this shit; you just have to feed yourself.

SECOND THINGS PROBABLY COME SECOND

Budget

Are you broke as fuck? Yeah, me too, pretty much constantly. Here are some things which are cheap and useful to keep in your kitchen and won’t go off. This list presumes that you don’t really have access to a working freezer; if you do, here’s some shit you can freeze, please feel free to go absolutely ham in the marked-down food section.

  • A massive quantity of cooking oil, whichever kind is cheapest
  • A huge bag of rice. My local supermarket went bananas around Ramadan and started selling 10kg bags for £4. This is an excellent way to definitely not starve.
  • Tins of beans, baked or red kidney are usually the cheapest (savers/own brand, etc). Of all the things you can buy in tins, these are the most useful. Baked beans come with their own sauce so you can just throw them in cooked rice and pretend it is a meal. You can in theory buy big bags of dried lentils and dried beans and that’s cheaper, but requires Forward Planning and you are a not ready for that shit yet.
  • Dried pasta. I hate pasta like the devil but it’s a staple food for a reason.
  • Spices/dried herbs. NOT in those infuriating little Schwartz pots in the seasoning aisle. Go to the World Foods Aisle or your local Asian supermarket / Turkish supermarket and buy a big ol’ sack for like, 59p, then dump it in a screw-top jar.
  • Salt. This is incredibly cheap and will prevent your food from tasting of sorrow.
  • Tins of tomatoes also good, as are Squeezy Tube of Concentrated Tomato.
  • Ketchup. To conceal your cooking sins.
  • Onions, carrots, potatoes, and often swede are usually cheap as balls and take a long time to go off. With the potatoes, do not leave them in direct light or in a sealed plastic bag (buy them loose, not in a sack, if you can) or they will go liquid and gross and make your dwelling place stink and people will accuse you of trying to make vodka; I speak from very specific personal experience here, don’t do Thing.
  • Eggs are pretty good and last a long time out of the fridge.
  • Sardines are usually cheaper than tuna if you’re a fish person. I mean, a person who likes fish; if you’re a fish person I assume you live in the sea and don’t have a cupboard.
  • Bag of peanuts, if you’re not allergic. The main purpose of these is to make food magically seem fancy, but the secret purpose is so that so that when you get in and you’re ravenous and confused and about to make BAD BUDGET/FOOD CHOICES, you can put peanuts in your face and your body will stop freaking out and you can then make a GOOD food decision, like “I will not spend my rent money on seven pizzas”. If you are allergic, try dried fruit or something instead.
  • Emergency Vegetables. Tinned vegetables are disgusting but sometimes your fridge will die and you will need them.
  • Sugar. Even if you don’t really have a sweet tooth, putting this in savoury dishes a tiny bit makes them taste miraculously good-er.
  • Flour. DON’T PANIC. You’re not going to be baking cakes or bread or Advanced Level Shit. This is for making Pancakes (British/French style) which are very easy to make regardless of what Shrove Tuesday Propaganda has led people to think and fear.
  • OPTIONAL: if your kitchen suffers from a fridge with a mind of its own, or you don’t drink milk fast enough to stop it going off before you’re finished, or you have a bad case of Thieving Shitheads in your dwelling-place, powdered milk is not a bad option at all and is usually in the baking or breakfast foods aisle.

Probably don’t buy all of that at once because it’s heavy. DO make a habit of stealing condiment and sugar/sweetener sachets whenever you’re within breathing distance of somewhere that has them.

Rules

Here are the important things:

  1. Don’t give yourself food poisoning
  2. Mild food poisoning is okay and isn’t a sign that you’re a terrible person
  3. Literally any items that you combine in the same sitting are a meal
  4. You are not making dinner to please Betty-Jo’s Italian Nona back in her ancestral homeland, you are making it for you. Go with what’s easiest and tastiest and if anyone utters the word “authentic” or “diet” around you, punch them.
  5. Try to eat regularly.
  6. If you eat it when you wake up it’s breakfast. Doesn’t matter what it is or when that is.
  7. Don’t panic.

ALRIGHT WE’RE READY

It’s time to make an omelette.

Stop panicking.

Get your frying pan. That’s the one with the low sides and the flat bottom.

Image result for frying pan

Get a spatula. Basically a stick with a flat bit at the end. For moving your omelette with.

Image result for spatula

Get a spoon. Cereal spoon is fine. This is for measuring oil and milk. When you get the hang of this you can just eyeball it. If you want, you can also use butter.

Bowl. For mixing in.

Fork. For mixing with.

Plate for eating off later.

Milk, like 2 eggs, some salt.

You can add spices when you know which ones you like, or herbs, or both. You can also get stuff to put in your omelette. But first: Omelette: The Basics.

Okay. Deep breath! One thing at a time.

Break the eggs into the bowl. Try to tap them on the edge of the bowl with the middle of the longer side of the egg, then put your thumbs in the crack and pull it open. (VIDEO)

Fish out the bits of shell. No one has to know.

Drop in a pinch of salt. Literally just pinch some of the salt from between your thumb and forefinger and that’s it. Self-explanatory measurement.

Get your milk and your spoon. Pour out like 2, 3 spoons of milk. (Put the milk back in the fridge)

Get your fork. Hold onto the bowl, and with the fork, give the eggs and milk a good violent stir – this is called “beating” if you want an indication of what kind of level of violent. You’re aiming to break the yolk (yellow bit in the middle) and mix it up with the clear stuff and the milk. Keep going until the whole lot is mostly opaque light yellow.

Image result for beaten egg

Put that to one side, and wash your fork.

Okay cool. Go to your hot plate or stove burner or whatever. Put the pan on a ring/plate/thingy. Turn that on to a high heat.

Measure out one spoon of oil into the pan and tip the pan about until the oil has spread out. When the air above the pan feels worryingly hot, turn the heat down and right away tip your eggy mixture into the pan.

Tip the pan about like you did with the oil so the eggy mixture covers the whole thing evenly. This may be when you discover how badly your kitchen slopes. Congratulations, you have subsidence! Me too!

Let that sit there on the heat. (If you have extra bits, this is when you add them. Grated cheese is a good one.) The top will start to look more solid in a bit. When it does, give it a gentle prod with the spatula.

Is it still liquid? Leave it longer.

Image result for cooked omelette

(This is okay)

Pretty much not liquid?

Time to put the edge of the spatula under the omelette and unstick it from the bottom. If the omelette is cooked, this should be easy. If it tears, no big, you just have a torn omelette. It’s still edible.

With the spatula, fold the omelette in half, then press down on the top. If you want, you can also turn it over from underneath at this point.

Count to like, twenty.

Turn off the heat, make sure the stove/burner is definitely off.

Tip out your omelette onto the plate! Go put your mixing bowl in the sink with some soapy water. You can also do that with the frying pan but to be honest, if you’ve only cooked the omelette it won’t actually need cleaning yet. Done?

EAT YOUR OMELETTE, YOU OMELETTE-MAKING CHAMPION.

BOILING SHIT

Not shit. Pasta. We’re going to make pasta. I’m not going to talk to you about time and making pasta, because time is an illusion and you are legally prohibited from leaving boiling water alone until you’re at least Basic 3, and you have a phone, just look at your phone while you’re standing next to the pot of water waiting for it to boil.

Okay. We’re also going to make a sauce with it. Get some stuff.

If you have a colander get that. It’s a sort of bowl full of holes. You can also use a sieve. I normally crack open a pan lid a fraction to drain stuff but that’s because I’m like, Intermediate 1 and I’m allowed to.

Image result for colander

Pan! Deep one. For boiling.

Image result for saucepan

Wooden spoon or spatula.

Cereal spoon for measuring, fork for eating. Bowl for mixing stuff in and eating out of.

Salt, pepper, onion – you can buy this frozen and pre-chopped. Or fresh and pre-chopped. I’m not going to try to make you chop an onion yet. 1 carrot. 1 stick of celery. 1 tin or carton of chopped tomatoes. This is going to make a lot of sauce, btw, so you can save some. Paprika if you like it, and garlic powder. I’m also not going to make you deal with the pain in the arse that is peeling and pressing garlic cloves. You can alternatively buy a tube of garlic paste. If you have and like dried oregano you can put that in, same goes for black pepper.

Big handful of dried pasta, two if you want to eat the same thing tomorrow and just microwave that shit.

Cut up the carrot and celery into lumps. Smallish ones.

Put water in your pan. Put the pan on the heat source. A hob or hotplate or whatever. Make it as hot as it will go, and put the lid on.

Play a phone game until the pan is boiling and terrifying. Turn the heat down a little bit, and wrap something heatproof around your hand before take the lid off. Fling your pasta in, with some salt probably. Turn the heat up a bit until the pan is raging again, then turn it down a little so you’re not actively terrified.

Image result for boiling water

Play another phone game.

Fish out a bit of pasta with the spatula or spoon, and bite it. Blow on it first, idiot.

Is it the way you like pasta? Cool, turn off the heat and drain the pan over the sink. If it isn’t, keep cooking and checking until it is.

When the pasta’s definitely how you like it, drain it in the colander (over the sink), then put the pan back on the heat source and put the pasta in a bowl with the pan lid over the top to keep the heat in. You’re going to make sauce.

First, check your pan is dry-ish. Then put in about a spoonful of your oil – cereal spoon is fine – and turn up the heat.

Image result for spoonful of oil

Remember the way you tested the air over the pan for the omelette? Do that again. If it’s hot, put the chopped onions in. If you got garlic paste put that in too; if you got powder, wait until later.

Turn the heat down a wee bit so it’s not hellish and shove that shit around with your spatula/wooden spoon so it doesn’t stick. Smells nice, doesn’t it? Put the carrot and celery in and turn the heat down more. You can play another phone game now but make sure the stuff doesn’t stick.

Finished your game? Are the onions looking a different colour now?

Image result for fried onions

Stick all that tomato in. Fling in the salt and pepper and spice and herbs and whatever you have there. Turn the heat up a bit until the tomato goes bubble bubble.

Now just phone game and stir – so it doesn’t stick – until it gets thicker and less watery.

Image result for pasta sauce

And when it does? Congrat! You have sauce! You can do this with chopped mushrooms or aubergine and stuff in, but probably don’t try mince yet. If you eat meat, and you want to put bacon in this sauce, you put chopped up little pieces in at the same time as the onion.

Take that pasta, put it in the pan and mess it around a bit for like, a minute. NOW you can turn off the heat and put your pasta and sauce in the bowl. You did it!

you’ve made two whole things

I’ll come back and tell you how to make more stuff later.

Images not mine.

FOCUS ON FICTION: As Simple As Hunger

I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available, to help anyone make a decision about what they want to read next, or just to give background if you’re already familiar with the story.

A novel again today, because I’m out of individual shorts.

AS SIMPLE AS HUNGER

FOCUS ON FICTION
I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available. If anyone’s read any of them and wants to add their impressions or things they think people...

Non-occult engineer Hajar Al-Fihri is about to find herself dragged into a world of intrigue, mystery, exploding ornithopters, intelligent parasites, and some Very Large Arthropods. Right now her only problem is that her colleague and friend Benjon is, in all probability, about to swear on the wireless again, but that happy state of affairs cannot last. This is, quite simply, the fantasy fiction saxonpunk universe with giant bugs and zeppelin cities to end all fantasy fiction saxonpunk universes with giant bugs and zeppelin cities.

Somewhat undermining my insistence that I was definitely not ever going to write fantasy because (list of reasons including horses), this is solidly in that category. It’s got: oil rigs, universities, trains, zeppelins, and a radio system but it’s still fantasy. Or Saxonpunk. Or we’re not really sure what the logic is here but there’s a massive quantity of enormous bugs and some unresolved mysteries, some political wrangling, some bad mother/daughter relationships, some highly protective friends, some unconventional romance, and a lot of world-building.

There’s even horses.

I need everyone to know that I read a huge quantity of entries for the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle while doing preliminary research for this, and then just manfully flung all my research out of the window while bellowing “well what if helicopters”.

I think you can, if you squint, see elements in this novel which got further development in Heavy; I’m not going to tell you what they are, only that there’s a degree to which old fixations cycle through works in different forms even with the best of us.

I think this is the only story I’ve written that has a character who is unequivocally, incontestably A Hero, meaning someone who does what is right and what is brave and all the rest. That the character happens to perhaps not be the one anyone might expect is part of the fun.