Monthly Archives: September 2016

So I went to Fantasycon



It seemed a good idea at the time, so I signed up for a table at Fantasycon, it’d give me a chance to sell my books etc.

Finally the great day came, I loaded the car and drove the four hours it takes me to get to Scarborough, arriving in time to grab one of the last cheap car-parking places. So far so good.

I grabbed something to eat, then signed in, was escorted by red-shirts to my table on dealer alley and started to, quite literally, set out my stall.


So the con itself?

Well run, there was always plenty on. At times as we lounged at our tables on dealer alley it was a bit like being back at school. At the turn of the hour you’d see everybody pour out of one workshop or interview and scurry down the corridor to the next, clutching bundles of books, notes, freebees and suchlike as they went.

Watching from the semi-detached position of a dealer, it was obvious that there was a lot going on and there was plenty for people to enjoy. To be honest, from the dealers’ point of view, a couple of periods of tedium, relieved by retail therapy, could have been useful, but I’m not sure that’s a suggestion that would meet with much widespread enthusiastic acceptance.

By Saturday afternoon people were starting to flag. We were on the balcony and at one point I looked over to the entrance hall below to see arm chairs filled with dozing convention goers.

One small sadness for me, I saw very few cosplayers.

But as evening arrived everybody seemed to get their second wind. I was unchained from my table and unleashed on the convention. One nice thing about this event is that dealers were welcomed into the events. I’ve been to some where a dealer badge allows you to your table and that is it. But I had a chance to attend a number of fascinating interviews and readings during the evenings.

I also gave a poetry reading. Now whilst I am not a poet, I took some of the verses penned by Tallis Steelyard and read them. They were politely received by a courteous audience.

I had also been booked down to do a reading from one of my books. Given that this reading was at 11pm, I was a bit worried about whether there would be anybody else present, and if present whether they’d be both awake and sober.

Fortunately I was sharing the slot with Kit Power. If anybody doesn’t know Kit, check him out on his horror column at


He read a cracking story which is available in the anthology ‘Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers.’


Free on kindle so if you’re into horror get it now.

Anyway Kit is much better organised than I am and fetched with him enough sober and wide awake people to pass as a respectably sized audience. Our readings went well, nobody threw anything, and we all enjoyed ourselves.

Sunday, exhausted, I packed up my stall at 1pm as dealer alley closed for the last time and loaded everything into the car for the long trip home.


A good weekend, met a heap of nice people, sold a decent number of books and had a lot of fun. I recommend the experience.

Sorting the monkeys at your circus, all for a Werther’s Original.



You know what it’s like, I’d just go for a walk, nothing special, just round and about. But it meant that I somehow misplaced so much time chatting to people that I had to change my route which in turn led me into chatting to another couple of people. And one of the interesting things about being a churchwarden is the questions people ask you.

OK so some of it is technical stuff about when the sheep are going back into the churchyard to keep the grass down. But a lot of it is far deeper than that.

We had a couple of funerals. An elderly couple, the husband died and the day after the funeral they found the widow dead. It was sad, they’d no family, their son had died years ago and the husband had already been buried with him. They had good friends and kind neighbours but they’d lived for each other for over sixty years and she didn’t want to go on. They found her drowned in the dock.

So then it’s her funeral. If anything she got more people than her husband, and it was tough because they felt guilty. It’s that nagging question, “What could I have done?” Frankly they couldn’t really have done any more; her community had supported her as much as they could without trespassing on her dignity and independence.

And then at the end of funeral somebody comes up to me and asks if she’ll go to heaven, what with suicide and stuff.

So I just looked at him and explained gently, “I’m sorry, I’m just the churchwarden, you really want to speak to him at the front, he decides these things.”

“Oh, you mean the Vicar?”

“No, I mean the chap nailed to a cross on the stained glass windows. He’s the one who decides that sort of thing; it’s above my pay grade.”


And then today I get asked whether I approve of Gay marriage in church! I’m sitting on a roadside bench dressed in my working clothes with wellies and flat cap. Now it might be that this is the standard garb of the working theologian, in which case it’s an obvious mistake to make.

So we discussed the matter. I explained that various denominations had had a problem with ordaining women. I coped with this by just listened to him at the front. He said, and I briefly paraphrase, “A good tree can’t bear bad fruit. And a bad tree can’t bear good fruit…………You can tell each tree by its fruit.”

So I just watched those women I knew in the ministry and looked at what came of it. Well it was pretty obvious that they were doing what they were supposed to be doing so I wasn’t going to get in the way. Same with gay clergy, it’s just the case of having the humility to shut up and watch what’s going on.

Well the chap I was talking to seemed to think that this was sensible, but didn’t cover gay marriage.

So I asked him what he was, what summed him up? He thought a bit and said, “I think I’m a walker.” He looked to the lady who was with him for confirmation and she agreed.

So I said, “So you don’t define yourself by your heterosexuality?”

I’m afraid that for me, the first question to a wedding couple should be ‘who are you, what sums you up?” I’d hope that they would answer that they’re Christians, rather than telling me their sexuality.

You see, if they’re Christians, part of the Church, part of the community, known for the work they do and the help they give, then it’s obvious that they’ll want to marry in their parish church and I think that the parish, knowing them and loving and respecting them for what they do, will want them to be there.

But if they’re just a couple who want a pretty building so that they get ‘better’ wedding photos, why on earth are they bothering with a wedding service where they make vows in the sight of a God they don’t show any signs of believing in?


Anyway I think the couple liked the argument, the lady gave me a Werther’s Original


They once asked a chap, ‘What is Truth?’

But what is Justice?

When somebody shoots down a documentary maker, what are they covering up? Haldar Drom of the Governor’s Investigation Office on Tsarina finds himself dealing with illegal population control drugs, genetic engineers, starmancers, and the risk of brushfire wars. Who knows how far up the chain of command the corruption reaches?
You use what you can get, allies in unusual places, reconnaissance by journalist, or a passing system defence boat.

The advertisers are now the ones in charge?

Rule one, “He (she or it) who pays the piper calls the tune.’

There are other rules which you might want to keep in mind.

Rule two, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

Rule three, “Pay peanuts, hire monkeys.”


These are all simple, while tried, maxims which have stood the test of time and are bitter and cynical enough to survive even into the internet age.

But it’s the internet age that is now showing how, deep down, these three rules still count.

As well as my time consuming professions of farming, writing books and suchlike, (all guaranteed not to put too much strain on my amateur status) I also do freelance journalism.

And here again we’re seeing a field of endeavour evolve in front of our eyes. When I first sent copy to magazines, I typed it using a typewriter, double spaced, and kept a carbon copy for myself. The good copy I put in an envelope and posted it, courtesy of the Royal Mail, to the editor.

Then we had fax, which probably wasn’t a particularly big advance.

Then we got word-processors and email.

Now the editor is the important person, the editor is the one who decides what is wanted, so as a freelance, you aim to write stuff in a style that the editor will like. He or she is the customer (editors are rarely ‘it’) and your job is to keep the customer satisfied. From the publisher’s point of view the editor should know their readers and ensure that the periodical is optimised to appeal to those readers, but that’s their problem. For the freelance it’s the editor who commissions, it’s the editor who decides.

Anyway over a similar period, magazines and newspapers got caught up with technology and went onto the web. The web is fabulous, provided you don’t want to get paid. Some stuff goes behind a pay-wall and I suspect a lot of people are like me, if google leads me to an article behind a pay-wall, I just go back to google and take the next suggestion that doesn’t.

But for magazines the web offers a possible future. You get rid of two big costs, printing and distribution. So you can make your product cheaper and still make the same money. But how do you collect the money?

If the reader isn’t willing to pay who do you turn to? Well a lot of print magazines and newspapers have relied on advertisers for many years. Some have entirely relied on advertisers, giving their paper away free. OK the reader gets a free paper but editors get remarkably nervous about upsetting advertisers and the editor can find his advertising department giving him a timetable showing what sort of articles they need to go with the adverts they hope to get. Even if the advertiser doesn’t realise it, doesn’t want it and would be horrified by the prospect, the advertiser can be dictating the content.

And now I’ve come across another model. Rather than having your readers come to the webpage where the advertiser can tell how many visitors click on their stuff, you post the periodical out attached to an email. You then tell the advertiser that you’ve sent it out to 10,000 (or however many) people. You’re telling the truth and the advertiser hasn’t a clue how many of them read it.

But along with this I’ve known publishers decide that, actually, there are plenty of people out there who will write stuff for nothing, so rather than employ professionals, you just need an editor who will tidy up the free stuff (often press-releases issued by companies you hope will advertise) and frantically rewrite stuff found in blog posts and other strange corners of the web so it’s not easily traceable. This is a lot cheaper than actually paying people for independently produced content.

Now the reader might not like this, but unfortunately the reader is largely irrelevant, because the editor isn’t putting together a magazine to please readers and get more of them to buy, the editor is putting together a magazine to please advertisers and to convince them that their advertising budget is well spent.

And because they’re the ones paying, one can only assume that advertisers will get the publications they want.


There again, what do I know? Speak to the expert

As a reviewer commented, “Excellent follow up to his first collection of bloggage – Sometimes I Sits and Thinks – this is another collection of gentle reflections on life on a small sheep farm in Cumbria. This could so easily be a rant about inconsiderate drivers on country lanes and an incessant moaning about the financial uncertainties of life on a farm. Instead, despite the rain, this is full of wise asides on modern living that will leave you feeling better about the world. Think Zen and the Art of Sheep Management (except he’s clearly CofE…) Highly recommended, and worth several times the asking price!”