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simon collis

musings of an omnivorous biped

So, although Bernice was a much shorter story, ironically, this one felt a lot harder to write than Another Stack.

Spoilers ahead if you haven’t read Bernice yet, so the click-here thing is going here Read more


Posted by Simon Collis on 2018/01/13
Posted in Year of Short Stories  | Tagged With: , , , , | 2 Comments

Bernice sprinted out of the glass doors and pounded across the parking lot. She allowed herself the luxury of a glance at the glass-walled walkway between the two halves of the shopping mall, nodded, and started off again, running towards the crossing.

Officer Bostaph came out a few seconds later, following her trail carefully. As he ran, he watched her, concentrating on following where she went so as not to lose sight of her behind the bushes as she headed away from the mall.

What on earth is she doing going this way? he thought. What does she think she can gain from this?

And it occurred to him that he already had his answer in the shoes that she was wearing. Read more

Behind The Scenes: Another Stack

Posted by Simon Collis on 2018/01/12
Posted in Year of Short Stories  | Tagged With: | No Comments yet, please leave one

OK, so this is basically going to be a post about how I wrote “Another Stack”. I’m not sure really why I’m doing this, or whether I’ll even do another one, but I thought someone might be interested in the writing process, so here goes…

Having set myself the challenge of writing a short story every week for a year, the first problem came with the writer’s age-old problem: what to write about? I had a few ideas spinning around, but it wasn’t until Friday evening that the idea for the story came about.

It really was about outsiders, and how outsiders don’t react in the same way as other people. Doctor X here is clearly an outsider to the group, in a way – he doesn’t dress the same way, he doesn’t seem to behave the same way, and he clearly doesn’t feel the same way about the rest of the group’s “end justifies the means” approach. (Interestingly, neither does Tom the Roadie, and perhaps I should have explored that a little bit more, but I didn’t want to detract from the main flow.)

The name “Another Stack”, associated with the band name “Chimney”, had come into my mind years ago, during a train journey to work. I noted it down in a little notebok of “ideas for stories” and left it. I have no idea where that notebook is right now, incidentally; the band popped back into my head some time Friday evening.

Having written the first draft, I rewrote it – twice – on Saturday. The beginning changed a lot, being re-ordered to make things more readable before the first interview. Once I hit the first interview, everything stayed more or less the same, minus a few tweaks, until the very last line, which didn’t get its final form until the very last moment. Once I’d got it, I knew it was right. A quick read through, spell and grammar check, and it went live.

I did want to touch on the manager a bit more, but again, there wasn’t space. Maybe I’ll write a story about him later in the year…

See you tomorrow for story number 2.

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Another Stack

Posted by Simon Collis on 2018/01/06
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So here’s the first in my year of short stories. It’s not as polished as I’d like, but I’ve set myself Saturday as a deadline, and so I had to do it. Here goes. Be gentle with me 🙂


I’m going to call him Doctor X. Not for any legal reasons, or because I’m trying to shield someone’s identity here – his real name is Julius Green, and you can look that up if you like, if you can work out how. No, the reason that I am calling him Doctor X is that it’s the name by which you’d be most likely to know him, if you’d heard of him at all.

I first heard of him after my uncle died of cancer a few years ago. Some time in the early seventies they played together in a progressive rock band called Chimney. My uncle never told me anything about them. In fact, I didn’t know they existed until I found the one vinyl LP among all this things. Read more

Year of Short Stories

Posted by Simon Collis on 2018/01/02
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New Year’s Resolutions are a wonderful thing, aren’t they? “Let’s lose weight”, is how it starts. Then it’s “we’ll go to the gym every day, save 20% of every pay cheque in a high interest account and learn to play the flute.” Then around halfway through New Year’s Day, reality sets in and you end up sitting on the sofa, surrounded by empty Quality Street wrappers. Not that I’m complaining, you understand. (And just for the sake of impartiality, other selections of chocolates are available.)

In fact, my resolution for this year came to me the night before New Year’s Eve, and it’s a doozy. I’m going to write a short story a week, and publish them, every Saturday, right here on my blog. If life or other technical stuff gets in the way, then I might have to break that. But I’ll try not to. (And there’s another resolution gone – I ended a sentence with a preposition. Allow me to go and punish myself before the Grammar Police arrive.)

Why? Read more

CoverSo why does this book exist? Surely there’s no doubt who invented the computer, right? I mean it was Babbage. Well, technically he invented the difference engine, which was a forerunner of the computer I suppose. Hmm. Then was it Turing? Although his work was entirely theoretical. Moore? No, that was microprocessors. Ah wait, I know.

Stop there. Before you say it. The right answer is John Vincent Atanasoff and Clifford E Berry, not – as I’m sure you were about to say – Eckert and Mauchly.

You see, back in the 1970s there was a court case over who actually invented the computer. Read more

Cover image from WikipediaIf you’ve never heard of Sinclair Lewis, perhaps you should. He was, in 1930, the first American to win the Nobel Prize for literature. But that’s not why I picked this up – it was a brief Guardian mention about how this, and other dystopian novels such as Brave New World and 1984 were experiencing a resurgence in popularity.

Now, Brave New World I’ve never read, although I’ve heard the CBS Radio Workshop version, and 1984 I’ve read many times (and I’m waiting for the Peter Cushing version to be released on DVD.) But “It Can’t Happen Here”, I’d never heard about before.

The novel centres around Doremus Jessup, editor of the local paper in Fort Beulah. While the paper isn’t particularly partisan, he does pride himself on standing up for truth, justice, the American Way, etc. Then along comes Berzelius Windrip and Lee Sarason – modelled on Hitler and Goebbels, they could just as easily be Trump and Bannon.

There are major spoilers ahead, and should you wish to read it without the benefit of those spoilers, please look away now. Read more

There are two or three things I thought I knew about the battle of Hastings. Bear with me, because this is half remembered from primary school…

First off, a bunch of French blokes all called Norman – except for their leader, who’s called William – sailed over from France to claim the throne of England. While this was happening, King Harold was off fighting Vikings at Fulford and Stamford Bridge. When he found out what William was up to, he got proper cross and came down with what was left of his army and fought them all at Hastings. Given that a hat trick is difficult in whatever sport you’re playing, he lost the third one when he got an arrow in the eye, meaning that William got to be king, and some clever archer got a pay rise.

Naturally, that’s just me doing a sub-par impression of Philomena Cunk. Of course it didn’t really happen like that, and no, I don’t really think all the French people were called Norman (evidence that just one of them was, though, would please me immensely). But really, quite a lot of them could be, because as this book makes abundantly clear, the fact is we know very little about the Battle of Hastings at all. Read more

Knut Hamsun – Victoria

Posted by Simon Collis on 2017/04/29
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I won’t pretend I’m as good a writer as Knut Hamsun. I won’t even pretend I’m even one tenth as good: the man won a Nobel Prize for literature.

But I’d like to leave that aside, and concentrate on the actual book itself. Victoria – published in 1898 – is quite a short book. The translation I read comes across perfectly well, and I always wonder, when reading any translation, whether the translator has chosen the Constance Garnett route of unadorned translation, or chosen to “amend” the prose in the way they see fit.

The plot of the book is, on the surface, simple. Early on it’s established that the humble miller’s son is unworthy of the beautiful Victoria, daughter of the master of the local manor house. He, of course, is madly in love with her. And then, of course, he meets her fiance… Read more

Steve Taylor – Making Time

Posted by Simon Collis on 2017/04/24
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I wanted to enjoy this book. I mean, I really did – the premise is really good:

Why time seems to pass at different speeds and how to control it

That’s the tag line on the cover. And it does sound interesting – a quick stroll through the psychological processes that make time seem to shrink or expand. And the first part is exactly that: it postulates a series of laws that govern how human mind perceives time, and then goes into detail with evidence to back up these assertions. Along the way, there’s fascinating detail that explains why children experience time as longer, and how adults feel that the years are passing quickly.

And all of this psychological insight is fascinating, but around chapter six, the “how to control it” part kicks in. Read more