Sunday, 31 December 2017

The Waiting Room

Third and Starlight is finally on sale. Yes, the anthology you've been waiting for if you missed the first opportunity to read my story 'The Waiting Room' in Flame Tree's 'Chilling Ghost Stories' anthology of 2015!

This book is rather special, since all its contributors are finalists or semi-finalists in the Writers of the Future Competition. Never having quite cracked the final eight in that competition I can tell you it's not an easy thing to do. Those who achieve this distinction really can write. I am honoured that my story should have been included in such company.

'The Waiting Room' was quite an appropriate title for my first ever UK sale. I had to wait quite a while for that one and quite a while for the next one too. Though I've now had a total of eighteen short stories published, (ignoring reprints), this year's 'Heavy Weather' in the Flame Tree 'Pirates and Ghosts' anthology was only my second in the UK.

So, if UK fans of my work actually exist, this year you have two chances to obtain it!

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Eligible For Short Story Awards 2017

I'm not sure why I publish this list each year. But in case anyone does want to know what stories written by Philip Brian Hall were published during 2017, here is the list:

The Hard Stuff 6300 SF Unbound II: Changed Worlds
The Ship of Theseus 7400 SF Phantaxis
Iron Hail 4500 SF All Hail Our Robot Conquerors (ZNB)
The Black Horse 3000 Hist F Strange Beasties (Third Flatiron)
Heavy Weather 4200 Hist F Pirates & Ghosts (Flame Tree)
Conspiracy of Silence 1800 Mod F More Alternative Truths

Friday, 15 December 2017

Nationality and Geography

Considerably to my surprise, my first attempt to produce an answer, as opposed to a comment, on a Quora Question has resulted in over 12,000 views and 1,000 upvotes. In part my surprise derives from the fact that I first published my thoughts about Sir William Wallace on this blog in 2013. For some strange reason it appears more people get involved on Quora than read my blog - well, I never!

Anway, in response to my view that the so-called Scottish Wars of Independence were really an argument amongst competing Frenchmen, one reader suggested that a national element in these wars was undeniable. I replied thus:

Although today we understand nationality as having some sort of link with a geographical ‘home’, it is not at all clear to me that the same mindset applied in The Middle Ages. Let us remember The Dark Ages saw a continual series of great national migrations across Europe, including the Scots themselves who came originally from Ireland and did not establish military control over most of what is now called Scotland until the tenth century. The new Scots rulers imposed themselves on a diverse range of pre-existing peoples, including Brythonic, Angles, Pictish, Norse etc. The contemporary sense of group identity was mostly a function of tribe, and geography relevant only in the sense of the domain that a particular warlord was able to dominate. Fixed ‘national’ borders in the modern sense were not yet established.

Great Norman families held estates on both sides of what is now considered the Scottish border and hedged their bets by supporting both sides when claimants to the kingship of England and of Scotland clashed. De Brus himself changed sides back and forth, suggesting political expediency was more important to him than any principled sense of Scottish nationhood.

In this respect it is interesting to compare him with El Cid, now lauded as a Spanish patriot, who also switched sides more than once. Although the Cid’s successors in the struggle developed the notion that the Moors were foreign oppressors in order to unify their own side, it seems clear the Cid himself did not take that view.

A similar phenomenon during The 100 Years War was able to call forth a French identity distinct from the Norman French overlordship of much territory in what is now France.

I suggest it is more probable in all three cases that the geographical notion of ‘nationhood’ evolved and was deliberately cultivated by warlords during the wars of The Middle Ages and was thus an effect rather than a cause of those wars.

But any historical enquiry is best guided by evidence from contemporary sources. If (as is almost certain) I’ve overlooked some in the above theory, I’m only too happy to have it brought to my attention.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Pirates and Ghosts

Nicely in time for Christmas shopping, here is the exciting new Flame Tree anthology Pirates & Ghosts.

This features my story Heavy Weather, a tale of the Royal Navy during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), in which an impecunious lieutenant gets more than he bargains for when appointed salvage master of an unmanned vessel.

As usual from this publisher it's a beautiful hardback book that anyone would be delighted to own.

I don’t know whether it’s some kind of genetic inheritance from my sailor father, who died while I was still a toddler, but I've always been fascinated by the sea, and particularly by the age of sail. 

With all our technological advantages today, the sea can still catch us out if we don’t treat it with respect. The daring of the men who challenged the sea in ships made of wood, at the mercy of wind and weather, finding their way by measuring the angle of the sun and the stars, deserves our admiration. And if the way to hear a tall tale in a dockyard tavern is to stand an ancient mariner a glass or two of rum, by my reckoning it’s cheap at the price.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The Sovereignty of Parliament

In the UK, the sovereignty of parliament derives from the people. It was historically asserted against the arbitrary use of prerogative powers by the monarch, who was the hereditary head of the executive, and it was steadily strengthened after The Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the Bill of Rights.

At the end of the eighteenth century Edmund Burke asserted that an MP was not a delegate but owed his electors the benefit of his advice. This doctrine is still asserted today when MPs wish to establish their independence from the electorate.

However Burke was writing long before the democratic extensions of the franchise that began in the nineteenth century. The electors he had in mind were the bourgeoisie, not the working classes who had no votes. It might be reasonably supposed that a full time parliamentarian in those days had a better grasp of current issues than a voter who could only learn of them from the newspapers and was only consulted at corrupt elections.

A general election is a blunt instrument anyway. Voters choose a representative; they do not pronounce on individual issues. It is therefore not unreasonable to suggest that the political innovation of referendums has altered the relationship between voters and representatives. The MP now knows his constituents’ wishes on specific issues, as well as the will of the electorate at large.

Those opposing Brexit in Parliament might therefore be considered somewhat disingenuous. For forty years all major parties supported EU membership. They naturally selected a substantial majority of parliamentarians who also supported membership.

In the 2016 referendum the public rejected membership despite all major parties campaigning in favour.

In the 2017 election all major UK-wide parties campaigned on a platform of implementing the popular will as expressed in the referendum.

What we actually see is an effort to sabotage Brexit in a suddenly rediscovered enthusiasm for the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. However this is no longer asserted against the arbitrary whims of a hereditary monarch but against the declared wishes of a sovereign people.

Is sovereignty of parliament to be the new tyranny of the elite?

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Carlisle – Calais without a passport

Scotland has a drink problem. Alcohol-related diseases, domestic violence, road accidents and other social problems are fuelled by booze to a level higher than other countries. Something must be done, obviously.

The Scottish government, famed for its keen grasp of basic economics, is reaching for minimum pricing as its solution. At a minimum price of 50 pence per unit of alcohol, the retail price of some currently-inexpensive strong drink will double.

Of course this will only apply to alcohol purchased within Scotland.

Obviously it will not occur to any canny Scots that there are fair-sized cities just south of the border, where the price of alcohol will not increase.

Nobody will order cases of wine from English wine merchants.

There are no border patrols to prevent the import of English booze, so absolutely no-one will take up a lucrative new career running alcohol.

Similarly no cash-and-carry warehouses will be set up in northern England to exploit the situation.

Since there won’t be trucks full of liquor crossing the border in a northerly direction, no cheap alcohol will conveniently fall off the backs of lorries in the vicinity of unlicensed premises.

And in future all the whisky drunk in Scotland will be made in Scotland, driven over the border, sold, bought and driven back first.

I do hope the police force and the inspection authorities are currently underworked or that there is lots of money available for their expansion.

No? Didn’t think so.

On second thoughts, maybe I’m confusing the government’s alcohol-limitation programme with a job creation scheme.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Third & Starlight - Kickstarter

Third & Starlight
The Kickstarter for the forthcoming Third and Starlight anthology is now live.

All sorts of nice goodies on offer for people willing to help defray the costs of this project.

Among these rewards are included some free ebook  copies of my novel The Prophets of Baal.

What greater inducement could there possibly be?

Well, just in case you don't think I'm the greatest science fiction author since Asimov, there are are lot of other free ebooks on offer too.

Just a reminder that all the authors in this volume are semi-finalists or better in the Writers of the Future Competition.

Since I seem to have disqualilied myself from further participation in the competition as a result of my recent flood of published stories, I'm not going to improve on my semi-finalist placing.

But I'm nevertheless honoured to share the Table of Contents with these guys!

Please do take a look at the Kickstarter page!

Interview with the editor, Dr Robert Finegold.

Monday, 6 November 2017

What's The Laffer Curve?

All except one of the political parties at Holyrood appear to be agreed on the need for higher taxes to finance public services. Apparently we ought to be asking ourselves ‘What sort of country do we want to be?’

Now in any economy there are generally more far more poor people than rich people. If you ask the majority whether they would like something for free and would like the minority to pay for it, it would be quite surprising if you got a negative answer.

However to pose such a question actually begs a logically prior one. Will the rich minority be happy to stick around and pay up?

Scotland already taxes businesses more than the rest of the UK and has a lower threshold for the top rate of income tax. Without more detailed analysis it would be simplistic to suggest that its relatively high taxation is a significant contributor to Scotland‘s growth rate lagging behind the UK average. I suspect however most economists would agree that the impact is most unlikely to be positive.

Further tax increases may damage investment and encourage businesses to locate on the southern side of the border. Mobile workers may follow.

If personal taxes are raised, self-employed Scots may start to consider forming companies so as to pay business tax to the UK government instead of income tax in Scotland.

In short, there’s a danger of passing the point of peak revenue in Scotland’s Laffer Curve; not only might putting taxes up reduce government revenue, it may reduce the tax base itself.

We should bear in mind that it was Scottish choices on issues like student fees and care for the elderly that led to a situation in which Scotland spends about £1,300 a head more than England.

Perhaps it’s time to ask ourselves not ‘What sort of country do we want to be?’ but ‘What can we actually afford?’

Sunday, 5 November 2017

More Alternative Truths

 More Alternative Truths

As someone who taught philosophy for a couple of decades, I am regularly fascinated by attempts to define truth.

It is commonly assumed that the truth of anything is single and incontrovertible; all we have to do is find out what it is. Once we've done that, we can be quite confident that anyone holding an alternative view is just plain wrong.

But as Protagoras painstakingly explained to anyone who'd listen 2,500 years ago, that's not how the world actually works. Man is the measure of all things.

For example, since I live in Scotland I'm relatively unaccustomed to high temperatures. On holiday in Greece this past summer, I found the weather too hot to be borne and retired hastiliy to the air-conditioned cool of the Archaeological Museum. Outside, Greeks who found the weather no great challenge were engaged in strenuous physical labour repairing the road. So was the weather too hot or not?

Well, it was too hot for me and not too hot for them; we were both right and this particular truth turns out to be relative, not absolute.

Fast forward a couple of millennia from Protagoras and we find Spinoza comparing truth to a scene witnessed by different people through different coloured glass. This was the inspiration for ‘A Sonnet on Truth’ which appears in the forthcoming anthology ‘More Alternative Truths’ (see above.)

Although I’ve had poetry published before and once won the poetry competition held in association with my local Falkirk Tryst Festival, I’ve never before had a poem published in a paying market. I hope you like it.

Actually I was very surprised to make the Table of Contents here twice. The second piece is a short story entitled ‘Conspiracy of Silence’. This explores the perennial argument between the two groups of historians who, when I was at university, we used to call the Conspiracy School and the Cock-up School. Are recent events the outcome of someone’s dastardly plot or just another mess resulting from human incompetence? Well who knows?

I hope you enjoy this one too, as well as all the other pieces in this anthology inspired by recent events in US politics.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Pirates & Ghosts: More Author Comment

Not long to go till publication now! In the meantime, here’s a link to the latest Q&A.

The final instalment of this year’s Author Q&As sees the Pirates & Ghosts authors sharing the tales they like best from the genre, and shedding some light on how their own stories come together in the writing process.

As ever, this latest anthology in the Gothic Fantasy collection features a selection of classic tales from the genre – from the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, William Hope Hodgson, W.W. Jacobs and Joseph Conrad – complementing the work of the contemporary authors in their exploration of treacherous waters and the horrors that lurk beneath…

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Heavy Weather - Pirates and Ghosts Anthology

From Gilian Whitaker's blog on the Flame Tree Publishing website:

"The eerie depths of the sea form the theme of our latest short story anthology: Pirates & Ghosts.

With the publication date sailing into view, we turned to the authors to hear what inspired their stories in the collection, in the same way that the Agents & Spies discussed their story inspirations here.

Completing this year’s set of short story anthologies, Pirates & Ghosts promises a haunting mix of adventure, monsters and mystery – and the responses below help give a glimpse of what’s in store!"

Among the stories included in the anthology due out next week is my updated version of an ancient nautical legend. It goes under the title 'Heavy Weather'. I hope you'll enjoy it.

As usual with Flame Tree, the beautifully produced hardback volumes make great Christmas gifts Pirates and Ghosts is available to pre-order on their website here

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Veterinary Bulletin

Red is in the final week of convalescence. He is led out to the grass three times a day, both for the purpose of strengthening his fetlock by walking and readjusting his system to a grass diet.

So far this programme's progressing well, though the occasional 'whoopidoo!' bucks are becoming a bit difficult to hold on to. I'm not sure those were, strictly speaking, included in the schedule.

Anyway he stays out up to 30 minutes on at least one of these expeditions per day, weather and midges permitting.

I don't recall a year like this one for midges. Clouds of these annoying beasties are so thick you're almost lucky not to be breathing them in. I expect they'll persist until the frosts put a close to their activities.

On the other hand, once again it proved impossible to cut the winter field for hay, so when the herd moves across from the summer field they'll find the grass still thick, if reduced in nutrition because of the lateness of the season.

Meanwhile, in defiance of strict instructions that only one animal at a time is allowed to be sick, Mac the Dogue suffered a flare-up of infection in his damaged leg. (He has a bald patch resulting from an old operation scar, and since he is a very hashy-bashy-tearing-through-the- undergrowth animal he keeps scratching it.)

So he needed an emergency trip to the vet on Saturday. He's now progressing well on medication but hates having to wear a Buster collar to prevent him licking the wound.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Equine Injury

This is Red, the current herd boss.

Unfortunately he doesn't  look quite so spry at the moment because he picked up a puncture wound in a hind fetlock joint that somehow stove in a cubic centimetre of bone and then became infected.

Horse people will know that bad damage to a leg is potentially fatal to a horse. Fortunately we have reasonably locally the services of a first class equine specialist veterinary practice. They performed keyhole surgery to flush the infection.

After his period in hospital Red is now home again and on compulsory box rest because excessive activity with all that missing bone might set him back to square one.

Red hates this. During the day a rota of companions has been organised for him in our centrally-divided double stable. He's a good patient, all things considered, but he doesn't mind letting me know how displeased he is by a periodic ears back or a longing look at the field into which others are unfairly allowed.

He doesn't necessarily believe it's for his own good.

Kids, huh?

Wednesday, 13 September 2017


The Kelpies at The Helix, Falkirk

Appropriately enough, shortly before my story 'The Black Horse' is published in a few days' time, I was able to pay a visit to the Horsepower show at The Helix, Falkirk (above), home of the famous 'Kelpies' scuplture.

Outlander stunt riders

From the hugely popular pony rides to the vigorous re-enactment of fight scenes by Outlander stunt riders (left), there was something to interest spectators in a wide variety of non-competitive equestrian endeavour. The occasional shower failed to dampen the enthusiasm, though it probably added to the takings in the sales and refreshment tents.

Heavy Horses on The Towpath

Heavy horses were at work logging, pulling agricultural implements, and on the towpath of the Forth Clyde Canal (right).

The grand finale in the main ring was the hugely popular jousting tourney (below).

Jousting Tournament

We have to remark that not every competitor displayed perfect chivalry.  A certain amount of cheating seemed to be going on, none of which had the slightest connection with the large bag of gold allegedly deposited for safe keeping with the judge by the eventual victor.

A large crowd had a very good day. Many thanks to the organisers and participants who deserve much credit for ensuring everything went well.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

The Black Horse

I'm pleased to announce that my story The Black Horse is to appear in the forthcoming Third Flatiron anthology Strange Beasties, out later this month. The anthology is available for pre-order on Amazon.

I love writing about the legends of localities where I've lived or which I know well. This is a tale of the North Yorkshire Moors in the late eighteenth century.

All the village names of this part of the world still bring nostalgia for my university years when a group of us made regular trips to attempt The Lyke Wake Walk.

It's also a tale of horse racing and of course I've done a fair bit of that too, so I feel on safe ground here, which is more than can be said for the story's protagonist!

This is my second sale to Third Flatiron. Some readers may recall that the first, Time's Winged Chariot, subsequently did well in a reader poll, so we'll hope the new story will enjoy similar success.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Third & Starlight!

An anthology of 14 tales of wonder by award winning authors, finalists, and semi-finalists (e.g. Writers of the Future, Hugo, Cambell, Aurealis, and others). This year's collection of science fiction and fantasy stories from these impressive new talents:


Introduction: Back and Foreword----------- Robert B. Finegold, MD
The Memory of Huckleberries -------------- Rebecca Birch
The Temptation of Father Francis ----------Nick T. Chan and Jennifer Campbell-Hicks

The Waiting Room ------------------  Philip Brian Hall

Last Time For Everything -------------------- K. L. Schwengel
Skinners ----------------------------------------  Rachelle Harp
Amma's Wishes -------------------------------  M. E. Garber
Three Flash ------------------------------------  Dustin Adams
A Green Tongue ------------------------------   Frank Dutkiewicz
A Matter For Interpretation -----------------   M. Elizabeth Ticknor
The Root Bridges of Haemae --------------- Sean Monaghan
Red is the Color of My True Love's Hair -- William R. D. Wood
Bad Actors -------------------------------------   Julie Frost
In the Heart of the Flesh --------------------   Scott Parkin
Shattered Vessels -----------------------------  Kary English and Robert B.Finegold, MD

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Ancient Greek Horses

Most of us are familiar with ancient Greek sculptures of the human body, but here's another example of how brilliantly they observed the equine form. This is a relief funerary sculpture, photographed in the Archaeological Museum of Athens, of a caparisoned horse and his handler.

Now if he were my horse I should not be keen on the handler raising his whip-hand in this way, but it is of course possible that we are looking at a chariot horse being trained for battle. He is not saddled and the caparison bears some sort of emblem at the front.

Notice the detail extends to individual muscles and small blood vessels. There is even a small crack in the right fore hoof!

Unless the handler is very diminutive we are looking at a stallion of impressive size for the period too.

Next is a life size bronze of a horse and juvenile jockey. The statue was recovered in pieces from a shipwreck off Cape Artemision in Euboea.

The jockey would have held the reins in his left hand and a whip in the right. These were probably of less durable material and have not survived immersion.

Notice the boy has no stirrups. There is some evidence to suggest that these were not invented until the early Middle Ages. Of course he has no saddle either and they were used by cavalrymen in antiquity. The lack of a saddle would have been a device to save weight,as would the youth of the jockey.

The piece dates from about 140 BC. Oh yes it does.

Recovered here are the metal parts of a real brute of a bit. Notice the shaped bars to prevent it pulling through the mouth and the particularly fierce wheels and serrations of the mouthpiece itself.

If the horse in the first picture had one of these in its mouth I can imagine why he's throwing up his head. Again, I suspect this can only have been battle harness, when instant obedience would be required from the mount and you might actually want him to rear. It's hard to imagine why you would need something like this in normal circumstances.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Iron Hail

I'm very pleased to report that my short story Iron Hail is included in the Zombies Need Brains anthology All Hail Our Robot Conquerors. This is available now for pre-order on Amazon and due for release on Friday 1st September.


The robots of the 50s and 60s science fiction movies and novels captured our hearts and our imaginations. Their clunky, bulbous bodies with their clear domed heads, whirling antennae, and randomly flashing lights staggered ponderously across the screen and page and into our souls—whether as a constant companion or as the invading army threatening to exterminate our world. We can never return to that innocent time, where the robots could be identified by their burning red eyes or our trusty robot sidekick would warn us instantly of danger— Or can we?

With a touch of nostalgia and a little tongue-in-cheek humor, here are fifteen stories from today’s leading science fiction and fantasy authors that take us back to the time of evil robot overlords, invading armies, and not-quite-trustworthy mechanical companions. Join Julie E. Czerneda, Brandon Daubs, Tanya Huff, Brian Trent, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., Jason Palmatier, Jez Patterson, Gini Koch, Lauren Fox, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, Philip Brian Hall, Rosemary Edghill, R. Overwater, Helen French, and Seanan McGuire as we step into the future with a nod to the past. Hold on to those stun guns. You may need them!

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Heavy Weather

I'm delighted to announce that my short story 'Heavy Weather' has been accepted for the forthcoming Flame Tree Publishing anthology 'Pirates and Ghosts'.

Some of my readers will know of my enthusiasm for sailing ships, and of course I'm not long back from a cruise aboard the lovely barquentine Star Flyer.

Having been, since my youth a voracious reader of nautical tales, it seems I might be able to write them too. You may remember the first podcast of my work a year or so ago when Gallery of Curiosities put out 'Last of the Spice Schooners'.

Flame Tree do produce the most beautiful hardbacks and their lovely volumes intersperse classic authors with newer names. This volume includes work by Joseph Conrad, James Fenimore Cooper, Stephen Crane, F. Marion Crawford, Arthur Conan Doyle, William Hope Hodgson, Homer, W.W. Jacobs, Rudyard Kipling, Vernon Lee, H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Middleton, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, and  H.G. Wells.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

This year's butterflies

I wouldn't normally find the appearance of a Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) all that remarkable. On Sliabh Mannan these butterflies are usually relatively common but have been scarce this year. Peacock, likewise usually relatively common, have been almost completely absent.

I suspect the lengthy period of significant summer rain has been too much for some of the larger species. Quite often the butterflies I've seen have been short of bits of wing.

This specimen however was particularly bright and may well have been recently-emerged. I wonder if there might yet be a late-season surge?

By contrast Orange Tip in the late Spring, Ringlet in early summer and Green Veined White much of the time have been abundant, and a Painted Lady, not seen for years, did appear in the garden. Their periods of emergence were marked by more clement weather.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Getting at the truth

Julian the Apostate
We all think we know the meaning of the word truth. We all think that, if asked, we can give examples of it. We might even call these examples things we know (for sure).

Yet philosophers have written volumes attempting to define truth. If it’s so simple that everybody knows what it means, what did they find to write about?

My own ideas of truth were probably most profoundly influenced by Bernard Williams. He suggested the first issue for us to resolve must be whether truth is external or internal to ourselves. Is it something out there, waiting for us to recognize it, or is it something in our own heads?

If it’s the latter, then is there anything to stop what’s in my head (my truth) from being different from what’s in yours (your truth)? Might there be as many truths as people? Wouldn’t that be effectively the same as truth not existing at all?

If truth is external, then how did ‘what’s out there’ get into my head? How reliable is the perceptual mechanism that put it there?

The problem here is that we don’t have direct access to the outside world. We perceive by way of senses that are specific to ourselves and yield data relative to ourselves. That’s a good thing. It’s best that I should perceive, say, threats to myself in the most direct way possible. If a charging rhino’s fifty feet away from me, I’d quite like to know about it, and only it, rather than be provided with a total world picture.

The drawback to this system is, we can’t see anything absolutely. Our brains have become expert at deducing what absolutes must be there in order for them to receive the relative impressions they do, and most of the time they’re right, but not always. We may greet a friend in the street, say, only to find when he turns around that it’s not actually him. In other words, we all make mistakes.

Our brains use not only sensory inputs, sight, sound, touch, taste and smell, but also our own experiences and our cultural upbringing in order to make sense of the world and produce the perceptions they register. No two people therefore will have identical perceptions of anything, but similar people from similar backgrounds will have perceptions that overlap a lot, sufficiently for us to call that overlap truth.

It is however important to remember the relative nature of that overlap. Our truth describes the world as seen by people like us. There are alternative truths out there. It is not the case that everyone who disagrees with us is a fool, a rogue, or lying.

We are all rational people, aren’t we? We aren’t going to change our own notion of the truth because someone shouts at us, calls us rude names, or blocks us on Facebook. We’re stubborn, so that sort of thing only confirms our belief we’re right. The only thing that will persuade us we’re wrong is evidence. Like when the person who’s not the friend we think he is actually turns round.

So why oh why do some people apparently think other people will change their minds in response to abuse, threats, no-platforming or anything else except evidence and reason?

Phantaxis - Free Today until Sunday

A reminder that the digital version of Phantaxis' August edition is available for free download from today until Sunday.

My story is called The Ship of Theseus. I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Venice by Night Again!

Showing the value of feedback, I'm republishing my four views from Ponte degli Scalzi with a little post-processing courtesy of the freely-downloadable GIMP graphics program. These versions are much brighter and more contrast-enhanced than the orginals. On the other hand they're less dark and mysterious. I'd beinterested to know what you think.



Friday, 11 August 2017

Venice by night

Here are four views of The Grand Canal from the Ponte degli Scalzi:

For photography enthusiasts, the first photo looking towards the church of San Simeone Piccolo was 1/3 sec at f 4.5 on ISO 200. Compare it with the last one. This one I think looks much warmer and softer.

The restaurant on the left in the second picture is where we had our last dinner in Venice, and we couldn't have been much closer to the canal.

Above is the opposite side of the canal from our restaurant.

This one was 1/5 sec at f 11 on ISO 3200 just to see if it would be usable. The difference in result from the first picture is quite interesting, I think. The water of the canal looks almost frozen.

Well that more or less concludes my series of holiday reports. I hope you found at least some of them interesting. Now it's back to daily showers instead of a Mediterranean heat wave, but at least the dogue was glad to see us home!

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Venice by vaporetto

We discovered by accident that day tickets (and perhaps longer seasons) on the ‘little steamships’ or vaporettos (such as the one above lower left) are good value. Though this is the ‘bus service’ of Venice, it’s considerably more fun than a regular bus, most of the time.

Forty euros buys you uno giorno per due (one day ticket x 2 people). This entitles you to unlimited journeys during the day. You can hop on for a couple of stops or sail around the lagoon all day. It not only saves your feet but gives you unusual views of the city (such as The Grand Canal from the middle, below left).

Tip number one: get hold of a route map. The variously numbered vaporettos follow different routes and only small sections of a single route are displayed aboard the vessels. When planning your journey and deciding where you need to change lines it’s a nuisance to rely on the full maps that are only posted (if you’re lucky) at the stops.

Tip number two: make sure you’re at the right stop. Sometimes there are several stops next to each other, each serving different routes, and at a major interchange such as Lido di Venezia the array of stops can be about a hundred yards long. Be particularly careful not to get on the right number vaporetto going in the wrong direction.

Tip number three: you have to present the face of your ticket to an electronic card reader each time you access the boarding pontoon, even if there isn’t a physical barrier to be opened. Having a properly recorded ticket is part of the system and you’re not supposed to be on the landing stage without one, let alone the boat.

Tip number four: it’s great to visit the outlying island stops (such as Burano, right)  but try not to schedule your departure for the same time as everyone else, for example late afternoon when everyone’s thinking of heading back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. Failure to observe this rule may lead to overcrowding on the landing stage and failure to catch the vaporetto you want.

But hey, these are pretty simple rules and there are lots of fascinating places nearby. Venice isn’t just St Mark’s Square, the Doge’s Palace and the Bridge of Sighs you know. In fact if you go fifty to a hundred yards off the main tourist routes you may well wonder what all the fuss over excessive numbers is about.

Monday, 7 August 2017

The Ship of Theseus is in Phantaxis

I'm pleased to announce that my short story The Ship of Theseus has been published in the August 2017 edition of Phantaxis Magazine.

I'm very fond of this story, in which an undercover cop in a dystopian future San Francisco discovers a lot more than he expected about how his world is being run.

Phantaxis is available in paperback or as an e-book.

PRINT: here


Do note that the e-book version will be available for FREE download during a special promotion on Amazon from  Friday August 18th 2017 to Sunday 20th inclusive.

I hope all of you will take advantage of this great offer. And if you like my story, please be sure to let everyone know!

P.S. Change of Promotion Date

The publisher has changed the ebook promotion dates to Friday August 18th, Saturday August 19th, and Sunday August 20th. The promotion will no longer run August 11th through 13th. as previously notified. Phantaxis wish to apologize for this change which was out of their hands.

Lošinj, Croatia

If you’re interested in The Adriatic, it won’t have escaped your attention that it hasn’t escaped anybody else’s attention either. Some of the more popular places are almost overwhelmed by the volume of tourism and some are already taking steps to moderate the pressure on their facilities. That fact is, it’s quite hard to enjoy being a tourist when surrounded by hundreds or thousands of other people all trying to do the same.

Step forward the island of Lošinj, which adds to its numerous attractions the absence of an airport. Though you can fly in by light aircraft or seaplane, the bulk of tourists are dependent upon ships. Last year the island was praised by The Independent newspaper as an overlooked jewel.

I can confirm that the little port of Mali Lošinj is far from overpopulated. Tourists here do seem to have room to breathe. When we visited it was also significantly cooler than our earlier stops, (a blessing). Perhaps this is why it has been called the island of vitality.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Hvar Island, Croatia

I’m inclined to wonder why Admiral Sir Thomas Fremantle isn’t more famous. Hvar Island is another example of the outstanding achievements of his frigate squadron in The Adriatic during the closing years of the Naopleonic Wars. Again, considering that the fortress overlooking its harbour is as formidable as that of Kotor, the success of these relatively small ships in subduing the local French garrisons is quite remarkable.

Like Korčula, Hvar was controlled by pirates and necessarily subdued by the Venetians in the early years of their empire. It also followed a similar path through to the independence of Croatia in 1991.
Last time we visited, we climbed up to the fortress, from which the view is grand. This year it was too hot for such exertions and we contented ourselves with a pleasant walk through the back streets to the monastery and back along the seafront, where boating and water-sports are very popular.

The Old Town is beautifully preserved, with a spacious central plaza in front of the cathedral. Sadly we couldn’t walk up and down it in the relative cool of the evening, because by then we’d already sailed for our penultimate port of call.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Korčula, Croatia

Above may well be the best of my holiday photographs.

Legend has it that the island of Korčula was settled by Trojan refugees led by Antenor. Whether you want your city to have been founded by King Priam’s adviser might, I suppose, depend on whether you regard Antenor as a hero, an appeaser or an outright traitor, in which latter case you agree with Dante.

It is known that the island was later settled by Illyrians and Greeks, was conquered by the Romans and later became a haven for pirates who vexed the Venetians sufficiently for them to take it over themselves. Its sailors distinguished themselves against the Turks at the decisive Battle of Lepanto in 1571. Captured from the French by the British towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Korčula was subsequently held by Austria-Hungary until it was incorporated into Yugoslavia after the First World War. In 1991 it formed part of newly-independent Croatia.

Today the esplanade built by the British is a notable feature of a beautiful city whose fortifications offer just the right sort of romantic atmosphere to inspire fantasy writers, provided they can stand the heat!

Friday, 4 August 2017

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Historically the Republic of Ragusa, Dubrovnik’s prosperity was built upon maritime trade and foreign settlements, making it a thalassocracy. This brought it into rivalry with Venice, which actually ruled Ragusa in the 13th and 14th centuries.

After the great earthquake of 1667 it never really regained its former prominence and for several centuries maintained its independence only as a vassal of The Ottoman Empire. After the Napoleonic Wars Ragusa passed under the control of Austria-Hungary and was incorporated into Yugoslavia after the First World War.

During the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 the city of Dubrovnik was besieged and much damage done by shelling, requiring much reconstruction after 1995. You can still see the difference in colour between old and new roofs when looking at pictures of the Old City from above.

A walk around the city walls today is neither cheap nor in summer heat all that easy, but it leads one to appreciate the work that has been done to restore ‘The Pearl of the Adriatic’ to its former glory.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Kotor, Montenegro (Cattaro in Italian)

Kotor, Montenegro

A while ago, accusations flew around that Russia had tried to engineer a coup in Montenegro to prevent it joining NATO. If so, the object of the exercise was probably the port of Kotor, which would have given Russia an Adriatic foothold.

In their day, the Venetians, who held the place almost 400 years, the French and the Austrians all thought the same. The natural harbour was relatively easy to defend and its sheltered waters could hold an entire fleet without difficulty.

Castle of St John, Cattaro
During the Napoleonic Wars Cattaro was the scene of a little known but brilliant campaign. In 1813 the French garrison under Gauthier was besieged by a Montenegrin force but able to hold out because it could be supplied by sea.

Captain John Harper’s 18-gun Royal Navy brig Saracen arrived in November to assist the besiegers. Unable to sail up the long dog-leg, mountain-girt fjord to the fortress, Harper rigged tow ropes and had local people physically drag his ship into the huge inner harbour, where she made re-supply impossible.

However the French could still withstand a siege as long as they held the Castle of St John, whose guns commanded the port from its site half way up the mountainside.

Harper dismounted an 18 pounder cannon from his ship and set his crew to haul it to the top of the mountain, later assisted by The frigate Bacchante’s arrival with a substantially larger crew. The operation took a month, but finally succeeded. With his fortress under bombardment from above, the French general was obliged to surrender.

I contemplated the climb up to the castle but decided it was too much in the heat. The view Gauthier enjoyed is said to be spectacular and an assault against the Venetian defences would have been costly.

There is much to enjoy in the little town itself, which abounds with merchant palaces, interesting churches and fortifications.