Wednesday, 9 May 2018

This is an ex-blog

Please note that this blog is now closed and all future bloggery will be found here.

See you there!

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Review: The BENQ EW277 HDR eye care monitor

Now, I don't do reviews of technology. And there's a good reason why I don't.

I'm something of a dinosaur and I still look at my smartphone as some kind of possessed magic box. I have no idea how most tech works and, frankly, I don't care. As Blackadder once said, when confronted with the Industrial Revolution and new technology like the Spinning Jenny, 'I am quite happy to wear wool but I have have no interest in how it works.'

For me, technology is often a hindrance and can make a simple job far more complicated than it needs to be. Therefore, the only tech I invest in is stuff that makes my life easier. Occasionally, I come across something that also makes my life better too.

The BENQ EW277 HDR Eye Care Monitor is one such piece of tech. Yes, it's a monitor and there are lots of pretty monitors out there but this one genuinely improves my working life. Let me explain why.

Like many professional writers I work mostly at home. And I work quite long hours, either because I have a deadline or, most often, because I love writing and once I get the bit between my teeth it's pretty hard to walk away. Working from home is seen as some kind of Nirvana by many people but the reality is that there's a lot to consider. Distraction is a big problem: dogs need walking, the phone is always ringing, and there are cold callers and postal deliveries to deal with. On top of which you have in front of you the world's greatest distraction device - the whole of the internet. You have to be pretty disciplined in order to get the work done.

There's health and safety to consider too. Your home, even if you have a bespoke office space like I do, isn't set up like a company office. You have to make sure that things like seating, lighting, heating etc. are right. I invested in a bigger computer so I wouldn't be hunched over a laptop. I installed non-flicker daylight bulbs. I bought an expensive chair with good lumbar support and lots of adjustability. However, the one thing that many people don't think about is eyes.

Staring at a monitor all day isn't great for the eyes, especially if you work into the evening as I often do. I'm also Type 2 diabetic and have to be extra careful about eye strain as it can lead to terrible problems with the finer blood vessels in my peepers. The idea of a monitor that caters for eye care appealed to me greatly and the BENQ EW277 HDR delivers in spades.

Firstly, it's a great monitor; crystal clear, flicker free, has vibrant colours and is very reasonably priced. The High Dynamic Range (HDR) function - accessed by a simple button on the front - increases the overall dynamic range between true black and bright white to resemble what your eyes see in the natural world. I don't play games but I'm told by friends who do, and who have this monitor, that it's excellent.

Now, let's talk about blue light.

In recent years, we've discovered that the blue light given off by screens isn't great for us. All the time that we're staring at monitors or tablets or smartphones, that insidious blue light is worming its way into our brains and doing things we'd rather it didn't. For a start, it can suppress the production of melatonin, which is an important chemical that helps us sleep. And if you don't get enough sleep, there are all kinds of health risks that could affect you from emotional imbalance, through depression and difficulties with memory, to cancers even. In certain wavelengths, blue light is also implicated in the development of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and possibly in increased likelihood of cataracts. Just Google the subject of blue light and see how much concern there is. I dread to think about the health issues this is going to cause for the younger generation in later life (along with neck problems from constantly staring at their phones).

You can filter it out by wearing orange lenses but the BENQ EW277 monitor saves you the horror of looking like Bono all day by having a Low Blue Light filter mode. It's accessed, as are all the functions bar HDR mode, from a series of small buttons just under the bottom right of the screen. There are four different BL settings that you can choose from, all designed to reduce the blue light: document mode (what I use mostly), websurfing, watching video or games, or general office (emails etc.). It means that I can work into the wee hours with minimal strain and with no effect on my sleep patterns, which is a life saver. Or an eye saver anyway.

It also has something called Brightness Intelligence. The monitor actively scans the ambient light of the space you're working in and adjusts brightness and colour to the optimum to reduce eye strain. How bloody clever is that? My monitor is apparently smarter than me.

The third function that I like a great deal is the Smart Focus function that allows you to pinpoint an area on the screen and make that the focal point. The highlighted area remains bright while the surrounding area is dimmed so you’re able to focus on what you enjoy. How mad is that?

I can't say enough nice things about this monitor, which is why I've taken the rare step of doing a review. If it helps other writers and people who work with screens all day to have a better time of it then I'm happy to sing this monitor's praises. And when I mentioned on Twitter that I'd got one, I wasn't surprised to get messages back from people I know who have also found BENQ eye-care monitors to be of benefit.

Oh, and I can even point you in the direction of a discount. If you click here and use the discount code:SCNINFEW277HDR_freeshipping you'll get free shipping. Just ensure that you enter the code exactly as written here. The offer is valid until 31st December 2017.

Right. Now onto the next novel.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Flash Fiction Day Submissions

Three stories created for Damon L Wakes' Flash Fiction Day. Links to all the stories created by the writers who took part can be found on Damon's blog here.


The Promised Land

I awoke and I knew that I was no longer on Earth.

I could feel the sun upon my back and the warm sand between my fingers and, though my head ached and my heart pounded in my chest, I forced my head up to look around me. What a sight greeted my eyes!

This was no beach, but a desert; from horizon to horizon there was naught but sand. And this was not the dull, dun coloured sand of Earth; it shone like a scintillating carpet of colour, a dazzling miasma of reds and golds, greens and deep blues, as if a million precious gems had been crushed to dust and acattered about like litter. I grabbed a handful and let what felt like immeasurable wealth trickle through my fingers. Then, a sudden nausea overcame me and I was violently sick. My head began to spin and my vision blurred. Eventually, the convulsions subsided and I was again able to force my head up to examine my new surroundings.

Pinkish clouds drifted lazily across a lemon yellow sky. Where was I? Was it Mars perhaps? Or Venus? I had no answer. What I did know was how I had arrived here.

My name is Adam Fox and there are those who will say that I am an evil man. Perhaps I am? Perhaps not. But I firmly believe that many people would do as I did, had they found themselves in the same predicament.

 At first, there were few outward signs; an occasional dizzy spell, the odd nosebleed. But when I collapsed at the grocer’s store, I knew that something was terribly wrong. At the time, I assumed it to be over work. Ah, but what wishful thinking! Confirmation of my worst fears arrived vide Dr Laxby. I had contracted a form of cancer and I was given less than a year to live.

Desperation will do strange things to even the best of men. I sought solace in religion but the Church could offer me nothing but a promise of eternal life in the hereafter. So I began to look elsewhere. Call me foolish; call me a madman, but accept that I was an impetuous thirty year old male, lusty for life. Real life. My researches led me to a book, supposedly bound in human skin, that purported to contain a spell that could transport my soul into another body. I used my life’s savings to acquire the book. I was a drowning man, despairingly clutching at straws.

On the night of January 12 1866, I sat naked on the floor and waited for midnight. I had torn up the carpet of my home in order to draw an arcane pentagram upon the parquet. The furniture had been taken away by the Rag and Bone that evening; one way or another, I'd not need them after that night. The snow was falling heavily and the wind howled in the chimneys as a perfect backdrop to this, my act of heresy.

Being so close to death, they say, clears the mind. Certainly, I was lucid. I had even made provisions for the possibility of failure. A bottle of barbiturate and a syringe lay beside me. The pain had become much worse of late; if this did not work, I would be in pain no longer. The clock chimed twelve and I painfully shuffled into the centre of the pentagram. A sudden chill wind caught me unawares and I shivered. Then, a great gust seemed to rise up from nowhere and reddened the ashes in the hearth. I began to chant.

A feeling of utmost calm overcame me. I surrendered to its warm and comforting embrace and let it embrace me. Was this death? And then, a fierce pressure pushed at my temples and unseen hands seemed to pull me in all directions at once. I screamed for them to stop. Then all was dark.

And now I was awake once more and I knew that the spell had succeeded. My soul had been drawn from my body and deposited ... where? Into what vessel? I could see that this new torso was clothed in a mat of dark hair and had a sharply defined, well developed musculature. This was a strong, powerful body.

I was wishing for the throbbing of my head to pass, when I became aware that I was no longer alone. I looked up and was astonished to see that it was a woman. Her skin was white, almost blue, and her face was framed with jet black hair that cascaded over her shoulders. She was tall and willowy, almost glass like in her frail elegance. She was very beautiful. At her side stood a fantastic beast that I can scarce describe. The girl approached, perhaps sensing that I posed her no threat, and looked at me with curiosity writ large upon her face.

"Garathrey set serhaija?"

It sounded like a question, but I had no answer. The hammering in my temples was so loud as to drown all other sound. I clutched at my chest and tried to rise to my feet but I hadn't the strength and I collapsed to the sand. I forced my head up one last time.

I had travelled perhaps many millions of miles (or years mayhap?) to a world that no Man had ever seen; a world of strange beauty and wonder. A world where the precious stones of Earth were as pebbles; a world where at least one woman was more beautiful that any terrestrial maiden; a world that offered me a chance to be a Man again, able to do great deeds and reap vast rewards. A world, in short, that offered me everything that the Earth could not.

Everything, that is, except an adequate oxygen atmosphere.

(With huge apologies to Edgar Rice Burroughs)


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Man of Hunger 

The O’Halloran’s convenience wasn’t at all convenient.

It stood at the bottom of a long and rambling garden and, here and there, scattered on the rough crab-grass and cobbles, lay the shards of broken flower pots. It was bad enough trying to negotiate this dangerous obstacle course by day, let alone in the middle of the night. And, to make matters worse, the night held terrors for eight year old Padgraig.

He wasn’t sure what he should do. He’d drunk too much water at supper time and now he needed to relieve himself. But how? He had no chamber pot (He’d broken a brand new one a week ago but hadn’t built up the courage to tell his father yet.) There was no other choice. He would have to go outside.

Into the garden.

Into the dark.

Since he was baby, his Nana had told him stories of the night people that inhabited the moonlit world. Just as grey was neither black nor white, so moonlight was neither night nor day and the folk that lived and bathed in it were something less and yet something more than human: Like the Banshee who wailed and screamed across the marshes; the one-armed and one-legged Fachan; the child devouring Ghillie-Dhu. Padgraig respected the faerie folk. And he feared them. However, the pain in his bladder was growing worse and he knew that he would have to go soon or burst.

He slowly pulled back the bolt on the kitchen door and his stomach growled. He was hungry. Everyone was hungry. Padgraig prayed to God that his hungry tummy would stay silent as his bare feet touched the cool stone of the back step. An owl hooted and somewhere, in the distance, a vixen, sounding for all the world like a woman howling with misery and loss, called for a mate. Padgraig's courage nearly deserted him but desperation drove him on.

One step.


He made his way carefully down the garden path towards the little shed. All was silent except for his gentle footfalls and a shuffling, rustling noise like dry leaves whispering wind-blown over dry bones. He stopped still, hardly daring to breathe. He listened closely. A cat? The soft scraping noise was coming from the Baxter's garden. And there was another noise; a low moaning like the noises his uncle made when he'd drunk too much poteen. Padgraig slowly and silently tip-toed to the wall and peered into the garden next door. His eyes opened wide with astonishment. At the back door of the Baxter’s house stood a scarecrow of a man; a stick figure dressed in grubby rags that floated around it as if pushed by a warm breeze. It had the face of a dead man; skull-white, old as parchment, slivers of red muscle and pink flesh clinging in tattered sheets. The eyes were deep-set and staring. The teeth were yellowed and chipped. Wisps of wiry hair grew in clumps upon its wrinkled leathery scalp. The creature was peering through the window and moaning softly to itself.

Padgraig was so mesmerised and so scared that he hardly noticed that he had wet himself. The skeletal figure seemed to become even less substantial as, soundlessly, its arm slid into the wall. Its body followed, slipping through the solid bricks and mortar like a man wading into a pond. The wraith was gone and Padgraig stood trembling in his damp socks. He knew what this being was and what it did. This was the Man of Hunger - the man who stole into houses at night in order to clothe his wasting body the the muscle and skin, sinew and bone, of those who were close to death. It was a sad, pointless existence that the Man of Hunger endured, for as fast as he re-built his body, it would immediately begin to crumble and wither away. He was a damned soul, destined never to be whole, spurned by God and the Devil.

Despite his terror, Padgriag felt unable to leave the wall and stayed waiting for a further ten minutes, his eyes glued to the rear of the Baxter’s house. His perseverance was rewarded when the Man of Hunger re-emerged rubbing his saggy belly. Muscle and skin now clothed his skull and barely any bone shone through. The pitiful creature let out a last, lonely, mournful wail and walked slowly towards the gate. Then it stopped and those terrible empty black eyes stared straight at Padgraig.

“Not your time”, hissed the Man of Hunger and then, he was gone.

The next day, Padgraig admitted to his father that he’d broken his chamber pot. Calum O'Halloran cuffed him gently around the ear and said, “Accidents happen.” Then he insisted on Padgraig putting on his Sunday best and going next door to pay his respects to old Mary Baxter who had died in the night. She was 83 and had been ill for some time.

The only person Padgraig ever told about the Man of Hunger was his best friend Terry Colhoun. He didn’t believe a word of it, of course, and Padgraig was so cross that he didn't call for Terry for a week. And he never again drank water at supper time.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Author Interview - James Flynn

What's your name? 

James Flynn

What's the title of your most recent book? 


Describe the book in under 100 words. 

The Earth is dying, and humanity isn’t far behind. Overpopulation, famine, and environmental destruction are ravaging the world. A corporation launches a huge generation ship full of crew members and animal wildlife in search of the next habitable planet, but one lone passenger manages to unleash a plague of violence and madness that could destroy all hope for the revolutionary vessel. When a donator to the famous project researches the ship's disappearance, he discovers an ugly truth that will change his life forever.

Describe the book in under 10 words. 

When earth finally crumbles, can humanity work together?

What is your favourite book and why? 

Possibly American Psycho, because of the lasting impression its had on me and also because of its cult status.

Who is your favourite author and why? 

Thomas Harris, because in my opinion he's created the most chilling, disturbing character in literary fiction—Hannibal Lector.

Name a book that you wish you'd written and why? 

Probably 'The Running Man' by Stephen King. The idea of a mainstream game show that includes hunting down civilians like that is very chilling to me. The idea of a whole society becoming so relaxed and accepting of violence is scary, and I enjoyed the film as well, despite it being a little bit corny.

Describe a typical writing day for you.

If I want to get any serious work done, I have to leave the comfort of my flat. Spending the day in the local library, a coffee shop or a quiet pub somewhere usually suffices, as long as I'm outdoors. I don't tend to listen to music much when working, although I'm beginning to warm to the idea a little. I'm yet to find anything that's not distracting, though.

What's your biggest frustration as a writer? 

Not being able to express things as clearly as I'd like is always a frustration of mine. I often edit sections of writing multiple times until I get it right. Somebody said once that we are all 'stuck inside a prison of words'. I think this is very true.

How do people find out more about you? 

Website, Twitter, Facebook, blog? email? etc. I'm very active on Twitter and my handle is @james__flynn (that's two underscores!)

My book—Conservation by James Flynn—can be found on Amazon, as well as my author page. For general enquiries you can also contact me by email:

Friday, 16 June 2017

Author Interview - Ian Skewis

What's your name?

Hello, my name is Ian Skewis.

What's the title of your most recent book?

A Murder Of Crows, published by Unbound on March 27th.

Describe the book in under 100 words.

The most violent thunderstorm in living memory occurs above a sleepy village on the west coast of Scotland. A young couple shelter in the woods, never to be seen again... DCI Jack Russell is brought in to investigate. Nearing retirement, he undertakes one last case, which he believes can be solved as a matter of routine. But what Jack discovers in the forest leads him to the conclusion that he is following in the footsteps of a psychopath who is just getting started. Jack is flung headlong into a race against time to prevent the evolution of a serial killer...

Describe the book in under 10 words. 

Detective battles to prevent the evolution of a killer...

What is your favourite book and why? 

Atonement by Ian McEwan. I love books that comment on the healing process of writing. It's an extraordinary story - this woman who tries to atone for something she did to two entirely innocent young people when she herself was only a child. In the end all she can do is to rewrite their life story - her final act of kindness, her atonement is finally fulfilled - but what a sad story, so poignant. I think Brighton Rock by Graham Greene would be a close second.

Who is your favourite author and why? 

Again, Ian McEwan. The Cement Garden was the first book I read that really hooked me. I won a prize for English at secondary school and I was given a book token as a reward. I only chose The Cement Garden because I recognised that the front cover of that particular edition was by Russell Mills, who I was a fan of (he did many album covers for the likes of David Sylvian etc). The story was secondary, but when I read it I was hooked.

Name a book that you wish you'd written and why?

None really. I'm happy with what I do and enjoy what others do. I'd like to be able to write as well as the likes of McEwan but I just keep trying to improve. I can't really do much more than that to be honest.

Describe a typical writing day for you. 

On a good day I'll shower, have breakfast, and get straight onto some writing. It makes me feel less pressured if I get some words typed first thing in the morning. Then, I'll write throughout the day, in between tidying the place up and the countless other chores I'm always doing. (I suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder so it takes up a lot of my time and headspace!) And when work gets in the way with my 12 -15 hour shifts too? It's no wonder that A Murder Of Crows took so long to complete!

What's your biggest frustration as a writer? 

At the moment it's the amount of time I have to spend doing writing related things, especially the marketing and publicity. It means I have even less time to write! Lack of money is always a problem too because I can't afford to take time off to write either. A vicious circle, but I obviously get a kick out of seeing my name in print so that's the pay off I guess.

How do people find out more about you?

I can be found on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. There is also A Murder Of Crows Facebook page too. The book itself is available via Amazon, Waterstones, the Book Depository, local independent booksellers and libraries. This is the Amazon link:

 I thank you!

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Author Interview - Pierre Hollins

Who are you? 

Pierre Hollins

What's the title of your forthcoming book?

The Karma Farmers 

Describe the book in 100 words or fewer:

The Karma Farmers is crime fiction based on a philosophical conundrum. The question is this: If science demonstrated that consciousness could survive death, how far would you go to discover if it was true? In this age of divisive belief systems, Bradley Holmeson a thirty-something bookshop manager, is attempting to cure the existential dilemma with science. Research leads him to a rare quantum paradigm, which he self-publishes in a revolutionary manifesto. He expects to be discovered and celebrated by popular media. He’s not looking for revolution so much as literary notoriety, hoping that commercial success will impress his estranged girlfriend. However, his manifesto begins to attract the wrong attention… This quest for The Holy Grail of Science is a fast paced adventure in which a hipster philosopher becomes embroiled in occult experiment; where he meets the violent, the obsessed and the dangerously misguided, armed only with his defensive sarcasm. And all to win back the woman he loves. 

Describe the book in fewer than 10 words:

Love, murder and quantum theory

What is your favourite book?

Come on Mr Colgan, you know that’s an impossible question. There are so many contenders. In truth, I have two lists: current favourites; and all-time favourites, books that I have returned to over the years and re-read. So here’s a small selection from both lists. Current favourites include: ‘I Regret Everything’ – Seth Greenland. ‘I Have America Surrounded’ – John Higgs. ‘War’ – Sebastian Junger. ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ – Ben Fountain. ‘Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight’ – Alexandra Fuller, ‘Princess Naughty and the Voodoo Cadillac’ – Fred Willard. ‘Edisto’ – Padgett Powell.  And from the all-time list: ‘Give Us A Kiss’ – Daniel Woodrell, ‘Vineland’ – Thomas Pynchon, and ‘The Neuromancer Trilogy’ – William Gibson 

Who is your favourite author?

Again, another unfair question; but here’s a short list of authors who never seem to let me down: Elmore Leonard,  Philip K Dick, Charles Bukowski, Daniel Woodrell.

Name a book you wish you'd written:

Three contenders: all wonderful and completely diverse… ‘Really The Blues’ - Mezz Mezzrow, ‘A Room With a View’ - E M Forster, and ‘The Tao of Physics’ - Fritjof Capra

Describe a typical writing day:

There is no typical day. It depends what stage I’m at with a particular project. If I have a completed draft that needs re-writing or editing, then I’m full on, every hour of the day. I seem to crave that level of immersion. I’m currently working on a sequel to The Karma Farmers – at the stage of making notes, reading for research, and I’m actually trying to postpone writing the first draft, because as soon as I commit to it, I know little else will get done until it’s finished.

What are your biggest frustrations as a writer?

Many years ago I attended a course on story structure by the writing guru Robert McKee. Three days of insight and inspiration that still manages to echo and inform. So here’s a neat McKee paradox that answers this question: ‘writing is the most difficult thing you can do, but everything else is more difficult’. Writing is the most difficult thing you’ll do, because you want it to be right – you want the product to be as close to the ideas that inspired it – and so you work night and day to serve that idea. However, everything else is more difficult because everything else is a distraction from writing. And that is currently my biggest frustration: the need to do other things, to buy the time, while attempting to become a great novelist. 

How do people find out more about you? 

Web site:
Twitter: @pierrehollins
Instagram: @thehollins

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Author Interview - Stephen Leslie

What's your name?

 Stephen Leslie

What's the title of your forthcoming book?


Describe the book in under 100 words:

Sparks is a book of 60 short stories, each inspired or 'sparked' by a photograph I've taken over the past 20 years. None of the photographs have been staged; they're all candid and so the stories are largely fake contexts and scenarios I've invented to explain them. They can be treated as convincing lies or even 'alternative facts'. The stories range in subject matter from a melancholy dog who's been stood up on a blind date, to a trainee chiropodist who actually yearns to be a pirate, to an Indian shopping mall owner who's having trouble with his escalator ...

Describe the book in under 10 words:

A unique blend of street photography and short stories. Here's an example:

'Years ago all this used to be trees and greenery. That's how my grandparents lived, foraging for nuts and berries. It's crazy, I wouldn't know a nut now if one came right up and bit me. My days are filled with collecting rent from the humans who live here. We've got about 40 units on this site and I go to each one in turn and get a little something. Mostly it's sweets or left-overs, sometimes cash but being a squirrel cash doesn't really interest me. Occasionally I'll go in through the window and check that they're keeping things clean and tidy. If they don't then we can throw them out but that means getting the rats in and I try to avoid confrontation. I don't want to be doing this forever. In a few years time I'd like to move abroad, somewhere warmer. Maybe I'll even try living in a tree ...'    

What is your favourite book and why?

Fiction book is probably Where I'm Coming From by Raymond Carver, it was a total revelation to read short stories that were so economical and yet so rich. Photography book is probably Sidewalk by Jeff Mermelstein, he just has the ability to find the most extraordinary images again and again.

Who is your favourite author and why?

At the moment it's probably George Saunders because I honestly don't think anyone else has ever been able to combine viable science or speculative fiction so well with humour and pathos. He's like a modern day Kurt Vonnegut but even better. He's got a new book coming out this month and I'm very excited.

Name a book that you wish you'd written and why? 

Under The Skin by Michel Faber, no other novel has stuck in my head so firmly. It's brilliantly strange and original. There was a film made of it a few years ago and although they did a really good job it just couldn't match the alien complexity of the novel.

Describe a typical writing day for you:

I'm a script writer by profession so I write or at least do research for writing every day. I'm lucky enough to have a room all to myself which is kept deliberately messy to both force me to search for stuff and also to discourage anyone else from coming in and finding anything. I have a 6 year old son who I often have to collect from school so I try and get most of my work done before he's chucked out at 3:15. I drink lots of cups of tea, have regular battles with the cats who both want to monopolise my lap and will occasionally listen to some furious electronic music to try and jolt me out of a rut. If I get really stuck, I'll pop out and walk around the block to take a photograph or ponder a new story, I have a twenty year archive of images so there's always a few new ones bubbling away. If I'm on a deadline then I'll also write in the evening after eating, when the boy's had his stories and gone to sleep. My wife's a writer too, so quite often we'll both be typing late in to the night while the cats march about the house honking for attention.

What's your biggest frustration as a writer?

Lack of time and the state of the British film industry but now is not the time to start ranting about all that.

How do people find out more about you? 

My book:
My Flickr stream: