From the Earth to the Moon using 21st Century Science

Two things:

1) The zombie/recency mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (written by  Seth Grahame-Smith, published by Quirk Books) was a huge hit when it was published in 2009 and although it has spawned a sequels, notably Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever AfterPride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the DreadfullsAndroid Karenina and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters – all titles also published by Quirk Books – it seems that the novelty can only run for so long (I imagine the sales figures for each subsequent reading make for more and more disappointing reading).

2) Alongside all the other books I’m currently reading I am also dipping in to, sporadically,  an ebook version of Jules Verne‘s From the Earth to the Moon saved on my iPod. The plot is simple, gun makers of America decide that since there are no longer any wars in which to fight the science of gun making must be put to use in another way. A giant canon is conceived for the purpose of sending a projectile to the surface of the moon. This projectile is hollow and able to carry explorers.

Given the scientific understandings (or misunderstandings) of the times there are ideas and descriptions that are inconceivable now (low lying air available to breath on the moon, water available drink once there, soil to plant seeds in etc) but the driving force of the book are the characters and their desire to reach the moon, and the invention and imagination of Verne make is an entertaining read.

And to tie these two things together:

Verne was writing in the eighteen hundreds so all his work is now out of copyright and available for adaptation. I can’t help thinking that leaving the bones of From the Earth to the Moon as it is but then applying today’s science to the story would elicit a delightfully underwhelmed ‘ohh’  from a reader. The preparation and the build up of excitement should remain untouched and then once the canon is fired a couple of sentences finish the book off as the intrepid explorers are crushed to a soup-like consistance by the force of the explosion / the projective which contains the explorers melts to nothing upon reaching the atmosphere / the explorers reach the moon, open the door and are sucked in to the vacuum/instantly frozen to death.

Maybe more of an ebook thing?



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The Art of the Con – #1

I arrived at the cafe at just after four thirty that afternoon and looked for Philip. He was sitting at his regular table in the far corner.

‘How are things?’

He looked up; ‘Ah James, hello. How are you?’

‘Very well thank you, and the work?’

‘Oh you know, rattling along’. He closed his book and shuffled a bunch of loose sheets of paper together into his notebook. He called for another coffee and then turned to me, ‘James, you’re a publisher, a man interested in stories, let me tell you something fascinating’.

I sat at the table next to him. It was my pleasure to sit in the cafe every once in a while, usually after a day spent proofing manuscripts, and over the summer we had moved from strangers frequenting the same cafe to casual acquaintances. His work as a writer and mine at Hackforth-Newman Publishers meant that our worlds intersected somewhat, though we did not publish any of his work.

‘There is a con, a very simple con’, he began, ‘Where a man at a station approaches a waiting traveler with a story that he has lost his credit cards, his wallet, his identification cards, and all he needs is ninety Euros to get home.

Continue reading

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A transitory meet-cute

The tube carriage is close to empty when I finish my book; an old couple sit at the far end, a man with a duffle bag stands in the centre well. There is also a girl sitting opposite me, reading as I am.

I close the final page of my book and as I do I see the girl close her book as well. She looks up, stares ahead for a second, lost in thought, then puts the novel on her lap and places both hands on top of it in a final, concluding flourish.

‘Done?’ She asks, pointing at the book I’m holding.


‘Me too.’ She smiles lazily. ‘How was it for you?’

The girl is Asian, or at least part Asian, dressed in a loose fitting vest and black jeans. Her hair is long, tied up loosely behind her. Her ears are pierced.

‘Good’ I say. ‘You want to read it?’

‘What is it?’

I pass her the book and she reads the back cover.

‘Sounds good,’ she says.

‘It is.’

She passes her book to me and I take it. I read the back cover.

‘How is it?’

‘It will make you cry.’

‘You’re not crying’ I say.

‘I don’t cry easy.’

She smiles again, then leans forward.

‘Have you heard of a ‘meet-cute’?’ she asks.

‘Yes’, I say.

‘This is it.’ She says, ‘This is one. Two strangers finish their books at the same time, in the same carriage of the same tube. They talk. They swap books. They promise to meet again in one month’s time, to the hour, to the minute.’

‘You want to swap books?’ I ask.


The tube is slowing, the lights of the stations flashing through the carriage windows. She stands, gathers her bag up, still with my book held in her hands.

‘Sure,’ I say, ‘Okay’.

She puts the book in her bag.


She points her hand towards the book I’m now holding, ‘That one’s good. Enjoy it.’

‘I will.’ I say.

The doors hiss open and she moves towards them.

‘And in a month’s time we meet again?’

‘Possibly.’ She  says, ‘Possibly.’

As she walks past the window  I turn my head to follow her, and then the train pulls off and the crowds seem to grow on the station and when I search for her she has already disappeared in the press of bodies.

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This is a reworking of an earlier piece.


Wasps buzz and tumble over each other deep between my eyes. Light stings, sound sickens. I bury my head; try to suffocate the wasps, try to starve them of air, starve them of life.

Thump. Thump. Thump.


Thump. Thump. Thump.

The beat of blood pulsing though my veins echoes and warps, spills out of synch until the moment I feel the beat and the moment I hear the sound it makes are far enough apart that the world seems tipped sideways.

Outside my window, low down on the street people shout at each other. I can smell the cotton fibres of the sheet in my nose.

My eyes crack open and when the do the wasps, unsettled, beat their wings. The darkened room, tipped sideways and seen through black flashes of lightening, is still. An empty glass of water, the glass streaked with fingerprints, sits on the bed side table. A crack of light knifes through the tight drawn curtains, flashes off a mirror. Dust motes drift across the room, blaze like a meteor in the light, vanish. The room smells cold.

In the bathroom my skin oxidises, decays in the air. My throat tightens and I gag. Above the sink the small circular mirror is marked with lime scale but when I stare in to it I don’t see death, only two bloodshot eyes ringed with black, surrounded by pale wax skin pulled tight across the scaffolding below.

The water splashes in the porcelain basin, fills the dirty glass. I breathe the cold smell of ammonia through my nostrils.

I drink, and immediately afterwards am sick.

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World Book Night – Someone Like You

WBN is fast approaching and I’ve now collected my 25 copies of Someone Like You from the wonderful Camden Lock Books at Old Street.

I chose Someone Like You because reading it as a child I loved the brevity and the complexity of the stories. Or possibly I loved the fact that each story raced towards a twist that was, on the whole, dark and fantastic and, well, twisted.

Flicking back through the book now it’s absurd how clear my memories of the stories are; without looking at a word I could tell you what happens in Taste, in Lamb to the Slaughter, in Man From the South. Dahl weaves his magic and without even realising you find that his stories lodge themselves unbidden in your mind.

WBN’s remit is the promotion and celebration of reading and literacy. If ever there was a book to encourage someone to read, this is it.

The books!

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Unintentional friends

Friend 1: Morning. You’re looking rugged today.

Friend 2: (strokes facial hair) Thanks bub.

Friend 1: Hah. Kudos for the Wolverine reference.

Friend 2: Say what?

Friend 1: No? He says it in the comics a lot.

Friend 2: Oh . . . okay . . . So you got time for a coffee?

Friend 1: Sorry mate, no. I flew in to Starbucks on the way in. Had time to grab a banana too.

Friend 2: And kudos to you for Groucho Marx reference.

Friend 1: ??

Friend 2: ‘Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana’?

Friend 1: Um . . . no.

Friend 2: Oh.

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The Bathysphere

A few years ago I had the idea of a story set on a bathysphere, sunk deep below the waves. The crew would have been small, four or five, and the cable would have snapped, plunging them down, down, down to the depths of the ocean. Back on board the research ship a reporter for the London Express would have been sending telegrams back to England about the disaster, rousing interest and sympathy in equal measure. The captain of the ship was named Rachman. His father was a tailor. The first mate, unnamed so far, was a coward, though it was only when Rachman was knocked unconscious in a mishap that this cowardliness became evident. In the great depths of the sea they would have been almost blind, but the phosphorescent glow of tiny sea creatures would have been visible in the black, like stars in space.  Later they would rise to the surface somehow, and find themselves the other side of the world than when they started. I had been reading a lot of Alan Moore and Jules Vern at this point, and the sketch, and idea, are obviously influenced by this. Something to come back to in the future perhaps.

A sketch drawn one lunchtime:

The text reads: The history of the explorers of the oceans is long and varied. From China to the Persian Empire, from Aristotle’s tales of Alexander the Great sinking deep beneath the waves, to sponge divers in India and village girls diving for pearls in the Philippines. The sea holds many attractions and many terrors. In 1903 a new diving bell was built in the docks of Liverpool. Not really a diving bell at all, this steel ball was built to sink many thousands of feet in to the churning waters and then hang suspended, a tiny point of light in the engulfing inky darkness. A bathysphere. 

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