Writing by Women and POC

I’ve caught a couple of posts doing the rounds in the last month or two basically asking the question “how many books by women writers have you read?”, obviously with the aim of getting us to confront the inbuilt sexism in our cultural consumption.

I’m not going to bore you with a listing of the writing by women I own/have read. What I will say is that only around 25% of my library is by women. (Please don’t ask me about POC, that’s an even smaller number. I’m not proud of that.)

I want to make 2016 the year I start to correct this. I want to read, at minimum, one new book a month by women or POC.

Yes, that’s still pretty pitiful. The sad truth is that working from home has entirely cratered my reading habit, which used to be about 2 hours a day, while commuting, and is now about 4 hours a week in a good week. I want to set a goal I can reach and exceed, and keep going in future years, not a goal I’m going to miss by month 3, and give up on.

So, if there’s a book by women or POC that I really *must* read this year, feel free to suggest it in the comments/on Twitter.

Current “to read” pile:

  • The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K Le Guin
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  • Hild, Nicola Griffith
  • Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

Yes, that’s all women, no POC. Those 4 have the benefit of having been on my “I really must get around to this” pile for some years now. I’m hoping that by the time I’m done with them, I’ll have the benefit of some other recommendations. If not, I’m sure I can google around for them.

Also: that list is skewing a bit toward what I think of relatively heavyweight/classic. I’m as keen (if not keener, my tastes are not highbrow) to read light/pulpy/action-y stuff, so if there’s some cheery trash you think I’d enjoy, please, fling that in, although the odds I’ve already read it may be slightly better.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to use my holiday time to get some reading in.

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Shaken Down

I received the following email a while back:

Hello,

I am contacting you today to request that you remove our website url: [redacted] from your website:

The reason for this request is because Google recently penalized our website for unnatural links. As a precaution, we are asking certain webmasters to remove our link(s) from their website. If the above links are NOT removed we will add them to a Disavow list that suggests to Google that the offending website is an ‘untrusted’ one. So please do us both a big favor and promptly remove the links that I listed above.

I’d also appreciate you letting me know when they are removed. I will follow up with you in a few days.

Thank you for understand and your assistance in this matter.

[Name Redacted]

Webmaster

I ignored it, and they never followed up, but I did take a quick look in my archives. I linked to them in 2001 – a completely legit and fair link (it was really absolutely nothing exciting). Honestly, what concerns me is that apparently, Google make available tools that websites can use to threaten one another with. “Do what we say, or we’ll damage your Google ranking”. Now me, I don’t care. This is my private blog, from which I derive no income. But if I were running a money making business and I started to get letters like this, I would be seriously concerned.

Does anyone know if there’s someone I can get in touch with at Google about this? (I’m not expecting to be able to, but it’s worth asking.) Because seriously, if I were making money on this site, is there anything about this that doesn’t smell like a classic shakedown?

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Writing For Focus

Having one of those evenings where I can’t seem to focus on anything – I’ve started to watch three different films, only to turn them off after ten minutes. I made myself an Old Fashioned, then decided I didn’t want that, and added lime, and decided that wasn’t right, and added ginger ale and lemon (and that’s ended up kind of OK, but mostly in a “this doesn’t really taste of anything specific, but it’s alcoholic and relatively pleasant” sort of way). Can’t figure out what I want to to be doing. So I’m just sort of typing into this box here, to give myself something to do, in the hope that my brain will settle out a bit.

Went to Borough Market this morning, for the first time in a while. Services like Pact and Farmdrop have kind of obviated my need to go there. Have the ingredients for a boeuf bourguignon in the fridge as a result, which I’ll chuck in the slow cooker on Monday afternoon, and have meals for a few days.

As I haven’t tired of telling people, I now work from home (hence the daytime cooking on Monday), which I find incredibly pleasing, although I have been out and socialising a lot, and I suspect the acid test will come when I have one of those weeks where I’ve got nothing at all going on in the evenings, and will therefore go a full seven days without human contact, and become reduced to even more of a grunting monster without human niceties. What I have been doing, that I’m relatively proud of, is getting up early doing 40 minutes on an exercise bike, showering and dressing, every day. I remain semi-human, at least.

I haven’t really done anything productive with my spare time in a while – no writing, no coding-for-fun. Haven’t been able to summon up the focus and/or enthusiasm. I should do something about that.

Relatively excited for the Bake Off to return next week. I sort of intend this to be the season I actually manage to watch from start to finish, rather than remembering it’s on some time in the last few weeks, and seeing the final few episodes. I might even try and blog about it, just to give me something to write about. I was about to say that I might even try and bake along (or at least, do one of the cakes the weekend after and write about that), but then I remembered that all the numbers long since wore off my oven dial, and consequently, my choices are “low”, “medium” “roughly 180” “roughly 200” and “very hot”, and the timer is knackered, and is at best an approximation to within a ten minute window. Baking at precision times and temperatures is contra-indicated.

OK, I’ve replaced the abortive Old-Fashioned-with-stuff with a rye with ginger and lemon, and that’s much more acceptable.

In related-to-nothing news: it’s not likely that many of you missed the news that Andrew won an Eisner (yes, I know, the publication he is EiC of and that has many contributors won it, not him alone, but like I care) and announced his forthcoming comics series Another Castle, all in the space of one weekend, but I don’t care. Basically, this is all brilliant news and I wanted to write it down here, so that when I come to re-read this a few years from now (and if you think I don’t read this blog back periodically, you’re mad – it’s the closest thing I have to a diary), I remember and smile. I will also note that in conversation with a mutual friend and his daughter last night, Another Castle came up, and the daughter looked very excited. And I’m buying a copy for my niece, when she’s old enough.

OK, I’ve wittered on for long enough now that I feel like I’m focusing on things again, and I’m going to go do something constructive. Like maybe write, or code. Or bake.

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Absolutely Not Weeknotes

For a start, they’re so very 2013. For another thing, the last time I did them, I kept them up for about a fortnight. But in keep with my general resolution to document what I’ve been up to a bit better, just for the sake of remembering it all in years to come, a brief round of boring you all with What I Done Did This Week:

  • Went to see a weird theatre piece in the Waterloo tunnels, about the old Necropolis railway, and about our modern relationship with death. Combination of a guided walk and a theatre bit, it was hard to tell what was actual history, and what was made up because it made for good theatre. Annoyingly the bit I found most interesting/amusing – the source of a pub name – is one of things I haven’t been able to substantiate.
  • The Six Nations has started back up, and I had folk round to watch Saturday’s matches. Teenage me is spinning in his grave – I had fun watching sport. A few rounds of board games thereafter, including a few hands of my newly-purchased Skulls and Roses, which I am filing along with Perudo as a good game for a whisky and cigars type evening.
  • Went to Dishoom for the first time, for Stu and Andrea’s birthday meal. Really lovely night out, both for the company and the food. Had never thought to associate curry with being comfort food before, but the general tenor of several of the dishes is absolutely the sort of thing I would want a big bowl of when I’m unwell.

The week ahead holds fun with TfL APIs at work, which I’m quite looking forward to, a couple of lots of gaming, and I want to start some more “serious” research for a pseudo-historical game I want to start later in the year, sent in the wake of the Albigensian Crusades.

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Passing Observations And Navel-Gazing

After realising that the archive of this blog contained quite a lot of duplicate posts (from back when I reconsolidated everything) I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading back over it – initially just because I wanted to clean things up, and then as a bit of a more-or-less pleasant nostalgia trip. I used to write a lot more on here, didn’t I? About things I’d done, people I’d seen etc. It was much more diaristic. I’m not sure it was better for it, but I have to admit, I’ve enjoyed the stroll down memory lane, and it’s notable that the last few years have been rather lacking in any sort of permanent record of Stuff. (Mind you, I appear to do less Stuff than I used to.) I should maybe try and do more of that, so that I can continue to look back on this when I’m old, and my memory is even more shot than it is now. At the moment, the bookmarks do sort of guide me back to what I was thinking about and roughly what was going on in my life around the time I bookmarked something, but they’re not exactly a perfect write up.

The other passing observation is that I’m about to be settling back into a rhythm I’ve had a year off from – running a game that requires me to generate something on the order of 5000 words of text every month. It’s hardly a vast amount of writing (some months, it might be as little as half of that, but that’s the average), but it’s there’s a regular discipline to it – sitting down to run off a batch of emails describing a world and characters, every month. And it’s made me very happy to do so, in an “I hadn’t realised I was missing this” kind of way.

I used to mention to people that I got a bit funny if I didn’t write something on a reasonably regular basis. I should probably make a bit of an effort to remember that.

So in the spirit of all the above, a bit of “What I did in January”, with the intent to try and do a bit more of this sort of thing, generally keeping up with my day-to-day life. (Yes, odds are I’ll be doing well if I do this once a month….)

  • Quite a lot of cooking. Goosemas (I buy a Victorian Stuffed Goose, and invite most of a dozen folk round to help me eat the beast), Burns night, a couple of experiments with sous-vide steak-cooking (the second markedly better than the first, and a serious contender for the best steak I have ever cooked).
  • Started the aforesaid game. Not a flawless beginning, but a start, nonetheless.
  • Continued playing in a very traditional D&D game that a group of us began late last year – the first time I’ve played D&D in 20 years. It has actually been kind of awesome, and not just in a retro-gaming way – it’s made me think a lot about randomness in narrative design.
  • Started to think about dusting last year’s zero-draft novel off and seeing how much is salvageable. Had a brief look, and shuddered.
  • Not actually very much else. Hmmm. Still February’s shaping up to be medium busy at least in the first half of the month.

Final idle thought in passing: I have the fortnight before Easter off work, and am considering a holiday to somewhere like Islay sort of roughly March 23rd to 29th, but it’s a bastard expensive thing to do solo. Is there anyone reading this (that I actually know in the real world) that might be interested in going for a week’s self-catering there, and splitting the costs of things like care hire and a cottage?

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2015: Station Identification

Geometry

My name is Alasdair Watson. I live in London, where I work down the Internet Mines, and play story-games of various types. Sometimes I write. I also take photos, and occasionally cook. I am a nerd-of-all-trades.

This blog is largely a collection of stuff I want to remember, relating to technology, programming, and stuff that might be reference material for some kind of terrible fiction. Sometimes, I use it to have opinions in public.

I don’t imagine any of that will come as a terrible shock to any of you who are reading this, but I thought this was a good time of year to remind myself what it’s for, and post a photo.

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Struck a Chord

This one’s doing the rounds, but it struck such a strong chord with me that I want to give it its own post, rather than just linkblogging it.

Brent Simmons, on the relationship between blogs and “social media”:

My blog’s older than Twitter and Facebook, and it will outlive them. It has seen Flickr explode and then fade. It’s seen Google Wave and Google Reader come and go, and it’ll still be here as Google Plus fades. When Medium and Tumblr are gone, my blog will be here.

The things that will last on the internet are not owned. Plain old websites, blogs, RSS, irc, email.

At this point, I’m not 100% on “it will outlive Facebook”, I admit. I do live in the hope that it will outlive the relevance of Facebook, but at this point, I fear that Facebook and Google are IBM-like – they’re only going to fade away when we pass through another major tech boundary that significantly alters the something fundamental about how we use the internet, and even then, it’ll be a fade and a change, not an outright death. I suspect that anything big enough to do that to Facebook will also be big enough to obsolete this little blog.

But that aside: yes. I may be a control-your-own-data crank, but in ten years I’ll still be able to be here, doing this that way I currently am, if I want to be, no matter what decisions are made by some other company. That’s worth a lot to me.

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Looking Back/Looking Ahead

I’ve been trying to write a year in review.

I can’t seem to do it without whinging.

So let’s do this quickly, like pulling a sticky-plaster off. 2013: Professionally stressful, personally awful, my pleasure in my hobbies is more or less gone, and I’m in therapy.

On the bright side, (and it is a very, very bright side), my niece arrived and becomes more adorable every time I see her.

My heartfelt thanks to everyone who has made a really rubbish year that bit more bearable.

2014: All the usual plans: write more, take more photos, exercise more. A few others that I’ll talk about when I’m ready to, which may be this year, or may be a few years away yet. All I’m really hoping for for 2014 is that I’ll be happier at the end of it.

Which is what I wish for all of you, too. I hope your 2013 was excellent, or at least better than mine, but much more importantly: I hope your 2014 is better.

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