From 12/3/14 – Crisis in Crimea

As I write this blog update it is now 13 days since the world was plunged into possibly the most significant political crisis since the official end of the Cold War.

Russia stands accused by much of the International Community of having violated the sovereign territory of Ukraine by surreptitiously invading Crimea.  The Superpowers are bandying threats and apportioning blame, while the gentle peoples of all countries wait in a moment of suspense, hoping for a peaceful conclusion and fearing conflict.

As I recently commented in my essay entitled “Some thoughts about Post-Apocalyptical fiction – how bad could things get?”, the Western World and Russia entered into a totally committing arms race that spanned nearly fifty years of threats between the end of the Second World War and US President George H.W. Bush’s speech on Christmas Day, 1991, which acknowledged the end of the Cold War.

Immediately after the Second World War, US President Harry Truman told the USSR that the US would be taking a “tougher” stance against them.  The Cold War started at that moment, with East and West then facing each other across a no-man’s-land of differing ideologies The USA and USSR, the two major global Superpowers, invested literally trillions of dollars on the development of nuclear weapons of mass destruction. The United States had detonated its first device in 1945 during the “Trinity” test that led to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and subsequently the end of the War in the Pacific. The USSR followed with their detonation of “RDS-1” in 1949. An escalating cycle then followed of threat and defence, ‘Massive Retaliation’, ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ (MAD) and then strategic ‘sufficiency’ within ‘limited wars’.

It is a testament both to the cost of developing nuclear weapons and the restraint of many developed nations, that today only 7 other nations are known to have developed these terrible weapons of mass destruction. In Europe, the United Kingdom and France also developed “the bomb” (known in the UK as the ‘nuclear deterrent’). China followed just a few years later with their detonation of “596” in 1964. The US, USSR, UK, France and China are all signatories to “The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons” (NPT), which at least holds out a credible hope for restraint in their manufacture, and disarmament in the future. Outside of the NPT, India, Pakistan and North Korea are known to have nuclear weapons. Israel is strongly suspected to be a nuclear state, with secrets from its nuclear production facilities being famously leaked to the world by Mordechai Vanunu in 1986 (his story is sensitively told in the film “Secret Weapon”). There are fears that Iran is also attempting to develop nuclear weapons.

Why the focus in this Blog entry on ‘Nukes? – Simple: on 27th and 28th February 2014, following a period of unrest in Ukraine, Western media started to report that Russian armed soldiers had entered Crimea (which had been gifted to Kiev by Khrushchev in 1954). These soldiers appeared in large numbers and were apparently well-equipped, but significantly they were not wearing any uniform insignia. These soldiers are claimed by Russia to be local ‘self-defence forces’ and not Russian troops.

Most other nations and the United Nations have not accepted that statement and demanded that Russia de-escalate the crisis and remove its troops immediately. Russia has asserted a right to use its military to protect the lives of ethnic Russians living in Crimea, and on 6th March the Crimean Parliament asked to join the Russian Federation, saying it would put that request to a referendum on 16th March. The rest of the world has essentially stated that any such change of affiliation or referendum would be illegal under Ukraine’s constitution… and so a war of words has rushed around the world.

In the meantime a pro-Russian ‘New Crimean Army’ has been sworn in. I saw a news report of them parading which reminded me very much of the fascist posturing of the fictional storm-troopers in the old sci-fi series Blake’s 7. It the circumstances weren’t so serious it could have seemed almost insanely comical.

The only sane moment for the public of Western nations has been that both the US and USSR have seemed very reluctant to escalate the Crimean Crisis into full-blown war. Even the Ukrainian government in Kiev has been reluctant about that, but given its capabilities next to those of Russia, this is understandable.

Despite other complaining noises coming from the West, things seemed to be settling into a predictable pattern of diplomacy that would end with Crimea becoming part of Russia.  The Western public were then further shocked on 4th March with the announcement that Russia had test-fired an RS-12M Topol inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM).

When I saw that test reported on the BBC News website that night I clearly thought ‘Oh my God, this is it!’ Thankfully this was a scheduled test that had been expected for months, but the decision to continue with it at a time of such heightened international tensions seems irresponsible to me.

Nobody wants Crimea 2014 to be the spark for a new global armed conflict, but I very much suspect it will have triggered a new Cold War.

So now we are all waiting… waiting to see what develops next and how the US will respond. Retaliation seems to be expected to be economic rather than military, and I am thankful for that. I live near the longest airfield in the UK: a quick run of the online application “Nukemap” showed that my town would be destroyed by a single warhead from such an ICBM and there would be very few (if any) survivors– a sobering thought and a reminder of the trust we place in our politicians to wisely use the power vested in them by the people.

From 30/12/13 -“I had a lovely walk around Ramsgate Harbour just after Christmas…”

28th December was a lovely day and I decided to have a walk around Ramsgate harbour. The south-east has been hit with a lot of unusually strong storms this Christmas but on this day the weather was quite pleasant!

Ever since I was a boy I have enjoyed the atmosphere around the harbour. In those days it was much busier though, with a constant bustle of fishing boats queuing to unload their catches and pleasure craft moving around.

I remember one magical night, sitting on the edge of a platform in the outer harbour at about midnight to watch a crew unload their catch. A whole shoal of flatfish rose from the harbour floor to circle their boat under the yellow cast of the artificial lighting; it was an almost surreal moment.

Today the fishing fleet is very depleted but the harbour is getting plenty of use by Fisheries, Pilots, Lifeboat and assorted survey vessels. It is still a busy place for pleasure craft but somehow they don’t seem as glamorous as they did when I was growing up.

Ramsgate was in many respects a tough town to grow up in. Over the years, when compared to most of the rest of the south-east region, it seems to have become even more deprived and degraded. This leads (in part) to a fierce outlook on life and very direct, harshly strong views being held. There can be strong prejudices and long memories over past political follies.

I noticed this freshly painted graffiti while walking towards Port Ramsgate. It seems that even ten years later, the February 2003 “dodgy dossier” used by the Blair government to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq is still casting a long shadow over the Labour Party’s credibility.

From 30/11/13 – Enjoyed the 10k MoRun in London’s Greenwich Park today


Lee at Greenwich Park


I enjoy running for general fitness an relaxation. I don’t aim to run competitively against other people. Rather, I like to see how my personal fitness varies over time.

But when the opportunity to take part in this charity run for Men’s Health in the UK, I thought “why not?”

So at 7:00 this morning a team of three of us from work headed up to London to ‘enjoy’ the run. The photo shows me just before the race.

We all got to the end and completed an unexpectedly taxing course. Greenwich Park sits on a slope facing the River Thames, across from the Isle of Dogs. The downward sections were fairly steep and of course, what goes down must go up! (sorry Mr Newton)

With a very cold wind blowing up from the Thames it was a hard run but I was pleased with my time: 6 miles in 65.6 mins – 5.5 mph. That was a bit slower than my normal speed but not bad, given the terrain… and not bad for someone who was once told he couldn’t run again after rupturing some disks in his lower back – way to go!

Have I caught the ‘race bug’ from this? Probably not: the ‘atmosphere’ didn’t add much to my fun (but the company did) and my overall position in the race is largely unimportant, as I’m not bothered about being faster than ‘Mr Jones’. Still, I might run again for charity, let’s see next year.

And what were my overall results, do I hear you asking?

Finishing time 65m 38s. Placed 1252 from 1526 finishers, 777 from 861 male runners.

Not fast, not last, and good enough is good enough.

Another concept drawing for “An End Of Beginnings”…


Here is a quick drawing from the scene where our group of survivors meet an inhabitant of Charybdis for the first time…

 I’m not a great artist, as the drawing shows, but do I find that sketching things out like this helps me to visualise a scene. At this point the story had reached 50k words. ‘The survivors’ had just entered their first proper chamber in Charybdis and were about to face the challenge of Lust and another death!

In the coming scenes we would see Byrne finally ‘crack’ and be helped in his recovery by ‘Doc Gardner. We’d also see Walczak complete his task of murdering Kaminski despite the fact that the Gdansk mobster who paid him for the ‘hit’ was now long dead, following the destruction of the Earth.

Moving towards the final scenes we would finally meet the mysterious “Pilot” and discover that for the past 13 billion years he has been facing a far greater challenge than our survivors have imagined!

Musical inspiration

Do you listen to music when writing? I don’t like to be distracted when I’m writing and enjoy the feeling which comes when my study is quiet and suddenly I’m really “in the zone” and the story is taking off. This happens most often when writing dialogue, but I have a confession to make… I don’t actually enjoy writing dialogue! Of course, in keeping with the old mantra of “show don’t tell”, this is the most effective way of writing for pulling readers into our stories. Writing dialogue can feel long-winded and slow the pace when trying to build a backdrop for action. It is also hard work, and who likes that?

One way that I have found to ensure I keep engaged when writing is to actively choose background music that matches the scene I am trying to create. I started to do this when I was distance-studying for a degree; I found that the soundtrack to the film Event Horizon was just what I needed. That music was often subdued enough not to detract from my studies but energetic enough to keep me focussed on the task at hand. The soundtrack uses long sequences of fast-paced but subdued drumming that was just what I needed then!

Today I have two science fiction stories on the go: a short story entitled GRIT and a novel-length tale called An End Of Beginnings. GRIT has a folkey,open spaces feel and I am using Jon Boden’s “Songs from the Floodplain” to build an ambience while I’m writing.

‘An End Of Beginnings’ is both the longest and the most complex story I have attempted to date. It is in part a tale of survival, a “road trip”, a journey of self-realisation for the characters, and an opening foray into speculations about cosmology and religion. That is a very mixed bag of over-arching themes and goals!

To stay appropriately focussed two soundtracks are proving very helpful: firstly Jerry Goldsmith’s 2-CD complete soundtrack to Alien – this film is an enduring favourite of mine and the soundtrack stands as an atmospheric masterpiece in its own right.

When I’m not listening to ‘Alien’ I am currently playing either Marc Streitenfeld’s soundtrack to Prometheus (a somewhat coincidental choice) or Marco Beltrami’s 2011 offering from the remake of The Thing – “God’s Country Music” from that album is one of my all time favourite pieces of music.

On other occasions I will choose different musical styles in order to actively develop a particular emotional state for other pieces of writing. Mozart is always uplifting, Ultravox can be energising, whilst “Chant: Music for Paradise” from the Cistercian Monks Of Stift Heilgenkreuz is very calming.

The next time you are writing why not try actively choosing background music yourself?

Harry Potter World – great for the imagination!

In August 2013 we enjoyed a fantastic day at Harry Potter World at Leavesden…

I have become a great fan of the Harry Potter saga; the stories have been a massive commercial success but they’re also very engaging tales! This ‘Making Of’ event is arranged around two “sound stages” that are used to showcase a very extensive display of actual props and sets from the films. We spent a good couple of hours walking around the displays and taking (literally) hundreds of photographs. It is probably true to say that something from your favourite part of the saga will be on show and the atmosphere was wonderful.

There was a comment in the ‘Screenwriting’ section of the tour that resonated with me:

     “The thing about Potter is that it’s very earnest about expressions of things like Loyalty, Courage and Redemption. Audiences were hungry for that.”

I think those themes are always appreciated by both film and book audiences since they talk to basic motivations about behaving well and “good” triumphing over adversity.

I get a real sense of J K Rowling using those expressions honestly in her writing, without it feeling forced or contrived, and that gives the stories a great sense of authenticity, in my opinion. Of course, I’m noting that big hint as something to consider in my own writing!

My favourite parts of the tour included seeing the massive model of Hogwarts that was used in the filming, the sets from the Ministry of Magic and the various creature models. Diagon Alley was interesting but felt a bit odd due to the (understandable) railings running down both sides.

I had a walk across the Hogwarts Bridge, sat in the Weasley’s flying car and drank a Butterbeer – what more could you want? It was fantastic!

Another piece of concept art from ‘An End of Beginnings’

This picture dates from 3rd May 2013:


“The Living Rock Swallowed Fuster”

At this point in the writing my survivors of humanity had been “ingested” by the approaching ship (Charybdis)and were enduring their first real test. Some people were dying while others were rising magnificently to the challenge. They couldn’t afford to lose any member if their crew and any death is a tragedy, but something wonderful was about to happen – I couldn’t wait to see it develop under my pen!

Doctor Who – Series 7 Part 2: “Hide”

I can’t resist sharing this old blog entry from 20th April 2013 – this small scene from an episode of Doctor Who had me laughing out loud:

Dr: “… And ignorance is… what’s the opposite of bliss?”

Clara: “Carlisle.”

Dr: “Yes! Yes Carlisle. Ignorance is Carlisle.”

Wonderfully funny, as long as you don’t come from Carlisle…

So, I decided to try a new blog format…

Welcome to my new writer’s blog!

Back in 2008 I had to abandon a blog I was running on LiveJournal when it was targeted by spammers. I then stopped keeping a blog for a few years in order to concentrate on developing my fiction writing skills. By 2010 I started running a small writer’s website on my own domain (‘’) and for the past 5 years I have maintained a blog there, written by hand in straight css/HTML. It was becoming too time consuming to maintain that blog and in early ’16 I shifted my blogging to Facebook.

What I didn’t realise was that family & friends would get confused about my intentions with Public posts that were intended as my blog record, versus Private posts that were intended for them. So…in order to try and resolve that small problem I’ve decided to give WordPress a try!

So far, so good – WP feels like a good platform and I’m looking forward to sharing news and ideas from my writer’s life here – hope you all like it!