Friday, November 27, 2009

Sci-Fi London

Somewhere out there in the inky darkness lie parallel galaxies, strange universes we know nothing about, whose denizens march to the beat of a different drum. That's right, my dears. I'd never heard of all these Sci-Fi and Fantasy magazines before X Isle was published, and I have to say that I'd never thought of X Isle as being a sci-fi title. But it does seem to be going down well with this other-worldly readership, so am I complaining?

No. Or, as they say on planet Xon, 'nimpf'.

Take a look at this. Evidence, if it were ever in doubt, of extremely intelligent life elsewhere.

Sci-Fi London

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tough love

If you write for a living then you must learn to bear the whip of editorial criticism, and strive to improve your work accordingly. But you don't pass such lashings on to your nearest and dearest. Spare a thought for this poor woman - Evelyn Waugh's wife - on receiving the following letter from her husband on January 7, 1945:

Darling Laura, sweet whiskers, do try to write me better letters. Your last, dated December 19 received today, so eagerly expected, was a bitter disappointment. Do realize that a letter need not be a bald chronicle of events; I know you lead a dull life now, my heart bleeds for it, though I believe you could make it more interesting if you had the will. But that is no reason to make your letters as dull as your life. I am simply not interested in Bridget’s children. Do grasp that. A letter should be in a form of conversation; write as though you were talking to me.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Flying ESC

The glamorous nature of my job means that I’m forever jetting off to Rio, New York, Leeds-Bradford etc., which is a pain because I really don’t like flying very much. But every once in a while, provided there’s nobody more important on board, I get upgraded to Ejector-Seat Class.

I love Ejector-Seat Class. It’s a completely different flying experience. You’ll never see it advertised of course, and so I hope I’m not going to get into trouble with BA by giving away their secrets. But for those not in the know, the Ejector section, or ESC, is situated at the very back of Business Class, where the bar once used to be, behind a door discreetly marked ‘Precious Cargo’.

There are just eight seats, presumably because of the extra weight of the rockets, and you’ll rarely see more than three or four of them occupied – usually by celebrities of one sort or another, or politicians. As I said it’s an amazing experience, and knowing that there’s an escape route puts a very different aspect on your journey. It’s not that you’re actually hoping for disaster as such, but you can’t help wondering what it’d be like...floating like thistledown into the blue, as you watch the stricken plane spiralling downwards... then landing in a quiet water meadow, Cafe Americano still to hand, your pink parachute settling softly about you...

So whenever the pilot’s voice warns of approaching turbulence there’s a kind of frisson in ESC, a certain look that the occupants give one another. You check your console and lean back into the firm embrace of the padded headrest, staring at the hydraulically operated skylight above you in readiness, if not hopeful expectancy.

ESC is by invitation only, and said invitation is reversible. You can get upgraded at the gate, only to be subsequently bumped if somebody more important should show up later. I was once bumped in favour of the girl band Mis-Teeq, which hurt a bit. You do wonder where the priorities lie. In fact it can be quite a good game, sitting in Business Class, spotting some well-known figure and wondering who’s keeping them out of ESC. If you ever see Gordon Brown or the Pope flying Business Class then you'd have to assume that it was Bono or Macca back there in the hot seats.

I’ve never flown ESC in such heady company, but I did get to share with the Osmonds on one occasion. It was actually a quite a hairy ride. Once those boys got some corn liquor inside them and started with the Crazy Horses routine, I found my left hand permanently hovering over the big red button (see pic).

Not that the red button is going to work, of course, until proper disaster is imminent. You can’t have passengers pinging off into space just for the fun of it. No, I gather that there’s an automated lock on the system to which the pilots have a manual override. I worry about this. You see, the pilots themselves don’t have ejector seats, and so it’s rather up to them whether or not they decide to activate ESC as they go plunging to their own doom. They won’t care a fig about me, and so in the event of a crash I have to hope that I’m back there with someone really nice, someone worth saving. David Attenborough maybe, or Lisa Simpson.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Irish Times review

Here's a (mostly!) appreciative piece on X Isle from the Irish Times.

'The X Isle Factor...'
ANNA CAREY YOUNG ADULTS : IF REVIEWING books teaches you anything, it’s that you really should never judge a book by its cover – or its blurb.

Steve Augarde’s new book, X Isle (David Fickling Books, £14.99), comes with an ugly cover with a blurb so cheesily melodramatic it should be declaimed by that man with the booming voice who narrates film trailers. The novel itself is much more interesting. Set in a very near future in which catastrophic floods have submerged most of Britain, it’s the story of a boy called Baz, who gets a chance to go to the “island”, a supposedly safe place run by salvagers. But the island turns out to be a harsh place, run by the messianic Preacher John and his cruel family, who force the boys who live there to work like slaves. It’s a gripping and often unsettling tale, and it’s suffused with a sense of genuine loss; amid all the action the characters are still grieving for their families and suburban lives.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Not a bad idea, every once in a while, to remind yourself of just where you fit into the bigger picture.