Charlie's Diary

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Tue, 03 Jun 2003

Road Trip (part one)

I promised I'd talk about what I did at the weekend, didn't I?

Kinlochbervie is the kind of place where there are more turds on the pavement than any big city you've ever visited -- but they're sheep droppings, not dog turds. It's a hamlet in the far north-west of Scotland, about as far north as you can get without falling into the Atlantic. The landscape looks as if someone dropped about a trillion tons of granite into the sea, then fertilized it with sheep droppings for a century or two. The roads are about six centimetres wide apart from the infrequent passing places, intended to allow you to pull over while the confused Belgian RV's thunder round you in a storm of gravel. The main industries seem to be doing incomprehensible things to oil rigs, and poaching. And, god help us, it's where Stef had booked Writer's Bloc to do a weekend of fiction readings.

(And then there was Brian May, of Queen, and the annular eclipse, and the mob with pitchforks. But I'm getting ahead of myself.)

Writer's Bloc is an irregular happening that sort of grew like a curious tumour off the otherwise-healthy body of a long-time writer's workshop in Edinburgh. A writer's workshop is a place where men and women who are insane enough to want to actually write fiction in public go to viciously criticize each other's shortcomings and expose their sins in public, sort of like an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter for the terminally word-drunk. Merely torturing and killing trees in order to torment the public's groaning bookshelves isn't enough, and periodically we grow hairs on the palms of our hands and are tormented by the urge to rant in public. Hence Writer's Bloc, which is what happens when about six to eight of us take over a smoky pub basement for an evening of readings -- usually humorous, often with a heavy admixture of horror, and sometimes science fiction.

Stef is a short, dark-haired guy who has something of the ferret nature about him. He grew up in the highlands and worked on a fishing boat for a while before suddenly turning into a webmaster for a major financial institution in the capital, in one of those curious right-angle career turns that authors are prone to (some would say, by way of researching their novels; as others would say, because all they really want to do is write, and paying attention to something as unimportant as sailing a fishing trawler through a north Atlantic gale with a crew of drunken psychopaths is fundamentally not very interesting).

Anyway; we were sitting around in the Holyrood Tavern one Saturday afternoon, after having finished ripping each other's work to shreds and ritually pissing on it, when Steff piped up: "hey, guys, why don't we do a reading up in Kinlochbervie?"

"Isn't that, like, where they burn outsiders in a huge wicker man ever summer solstice?"

"Naah, it's grossly overstated. Mostly they burn sheep instead these days, and that's only when they get bored working on the rigs. My dad runs an art gallery up there, and he says we can get plenty of folk in for a reading. 'Sides, there's an annular solar eclipse due, isn't there? We could go up and get stoned watching the eclipse and then read the stories."

Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time. Which is why we shoe-horned ourselves into two cars last Friday morning and set out for the highlands, in an optimistic little literary convoy.

Kinlochbervie is about three hundred miles from Edinburgh, nestling up in the north-west corner of the isles. It's notoriously wet and windy, so we all packed waterproofs and boots, thus provoking the weather into throwing the kind of once-a-decade heat wave in which the entire Scottish highlands turn brown and curl up like a dehydrated slug or a marketing suit in the depths of the dot-com hangover. Three hundred miles might not sound too bad, but you have to remember that you run out of motorway at Aberdeen; from then on, it's cross-country across the highlands, where a major A-road has two lanes and a normal highway is about ten feet wide, plus passing places every quarter mile. And the poles. Poles every hundred yards or so, alongside the road, so the snow ploughs know where to point each December. When you're hurtling along single-track roads across precarious granite hillsides, at the mercy of oncoming German tourists in camper vans the size of Munich who don't know how to use the passing places, you don't make good time. It's about an eight hour journey, and that's pushing it.

The Scottish highlands don't belong in the UK -- they look like they ought to be part of Scandinavia. They're mostly made of granite, but the effects of the last ice age (when they were covered by an ice sheet a kilometre deep) are still evident; the terrain looks like a crumbly Lancashire cheese that's been scraped raw by God's own cheese grater, leaving crumbs of rock tens of metres in diameter littering the landscape ...

(to be continued)

posted at: 16:56 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry


I've been away in the Highlands for a long weekend, reading fiction to bemused villagers, twisting my ankle on beaches and being eaten alive by midges. I'll have a writeup shortly.

While I was gone, I took my Palm Pilot, loaded with wordsmith, a most excellent word processor hampered only by the pathetic state of the MacOS conversion conduit. In fact, the conduit's so crap that I wrote a front-end to their Linux command-line file converter; if you use wordsmith, you can find it here, and download the source. Like I said, it's just a quick hack that relies on a closed source (ack, spit) command line filter.

The good news: the fact that I felt the need to hack out a conversion tool should tell you something about how useful a Palm Tungsten C plus Wordsmith and a folding keyboard can be on the move.

[ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 13:57 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry


Is SF About to Go Blind? -- Popular Science article by Greg Mone
Unwirer -- an experiment in weblog mediated collaborative fiction
Inside the MIT Media Lab -- what it's like to spend a a day wandering around the Media Lab
"Nothing like this will be built again" -- inside a nuclear reactor complex

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Some webby stuff I'm reading:

Engadget ]
Gizmodo ]
The Memory Hole ]
Boing!Boing! ]
Futurismic ]
Walter Jon Williams ]
Making Light (TNH) ]
Crooked Timber ]
Junius (Chris Bertram) ]
Baghdad Burning (Riverbend) ]
Bruce Sterling ]
Ian McDonald ]
Amygdala (Gary Farber) ]
Cyborg Democracy ]
Body and Soul (Jeanne d'Arc)  ]
Atrios ]
The Sideshow (Avedon Carol) ]
This Modern World (Tom Tomorrow) ]
Jesus's General ]
Mick Farren ]
Early days of a Better Nation (Ken MacLeod) ]
Respectful of Otters (Rivka) ]
Tangent Online ]
Grouse Today ]
Hacktivismo ]
Terra Nova ]
Whatever (John Scalzi) ]
Justine Larbalestier ]
Yankee Fog ]
The Law west of Ealing Broadway ]
Cough the Lot ]
The Yorkshire Ranter ]
Newshog ]
Kung Fu Monkey ]
S1ngularity ]
Pagan Prattle ]
Gwyneth Jones ]
Calpundit ]
Lenin's Tomb ]
Progressive Gold ]
Kathryn Cramer ]
Halfway down the Danube ]
Fistful of Euros ]
Orcinus ]
Shrillblog ]
Steve Gilliard ]
Frankenstein Journal (Chris Lawson) ]
The Panda's Thumb ]
Martin Wisse ]
Kuro5hin ]
Advogato ]
Talking Points Memo ]
The Register ]
Cryptome ]
Juan Cole: Informed comment ]
Global Guerillas (John Robb) ]
Shadow of the Hegemon (Demosthenes) ]
Simon Bisson's Journal ]
Max Sawicky's weblog ]
Guy Kewney's mobile campaign ]
Hitherby Dragons ]
Counterspin Central ]
MetaFilter ]
NTKnow ]
Encyclopaedia Astronautica ]
Fafblog ]
BBC News (Scotland) ]
Pravda ]
Meerkat open wire service ]
Warren Ellis ]
Brad DeLong ]
Hullabaloo (Digby) ]
Jeff Vail ]
The Whiskey Bar (Billmon) ]
Groupthink Central (Yuval Rubinstein) ]
Unmedia (Aziz Poonawalla) ]
Rebecca's Pocket (Rebecca Blood) ]

Older stuff:

June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
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September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
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April 2005
March 2005
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December 2004
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March 2004
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January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
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June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
(I screwed the pooch in respect of the blosxom entry datestamps on March 28th, 2002, so everything before then shows up as being from the same time)

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