Best writing software ever

I write my books and short stories exclusively on Scrivener. Like the beer ad, “Probably the best writing software in the world.” Of course you need to have an Apple Mac. You do own an Apple Mac, don’t you? All my friends with PCs are always reporting problems with theirs. I’ve had Apples for years and probably only had three (fixable) system failures since 1985, and never a virus the whole time. Think about it…

Fantasy, steam punk and boy’s own stories

Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver is a free podcast from The Guardian. It’s a coming-of-age tale set in an unspecified prehistorical period. Young Torak’s father is viciously killed by a bear possessed by a demon. The boy is left alone in the ancient forest and sets out on perilous journey to a mystical mountain to ask the World Spirit for help. He encounters an orphaned wolf cub on the way and discovers he can communicate with it. The two of them encounter many perils and near-death experiences, including a narrow escape from the Raven Clan. Read superbly by Ian McKellen, the story (the first in Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series) is a stirring YA tale full of adventure, magic, and excitement. Paver’s beautiful, crisp, and highly-visual style is well suited to being read aloud. Listeners are immediately transported into Torak’s world, and the device of switching the point of view between boy and wolf cub is a delight. Don’t miss this one.

I’ve just started listening to Natania Barron’s The Aldersgate Cycle, a gripping steampunk tale. I am very fond of the genre but, as Natania says herself in one episode of her podcast, in which she muses about fantasy writing in general and steampunk in particular, it’s not a big seller in the publishing industry. Instead there is a plethora of standard sword-and-sorcery, motley crews setting out on long (painfully long, sometimes) odysseys. But Natania is doing something quite different here. Romance, adventure and – cogs, gears and steam! From her intro: “It has been four hundred years since the Great Collision changed the face of Earena. Bards still tell tales of how the sky was split asunder, how the one moon became two, and how, after, the gods fell silent. Forests turned to deserts, deserts submerged into the seas… But one thing still endured: the Aldersgate, the long line of curiously hardy alder trees growing from the northermost reaches of the Isles, to the southern tip of Soderon. Bards once told of the Aldersgate’s powers, that the trees healed a rift in the earth itself, that without it, not only would the sky and moons have split, but all of Earena, too. But now, the world has changed. Songs of the old world have been forgotten and such stories of trees, of gods, and of magic, hold little clout in the age of steam, politics, and philosophy.”

Finally, I was whisked back to my young teenage years with JJ Campanella’s podcast of the Doc Savage novel, The Man of Bronze by Kenneth Robeson (Lester Dent). Before Indiana Jones, or even Superman, Dent wrote a pulpy, fast-moving series about scientis-as-hero, Clark Savage and his eccentric sidekicks. JJ is also a science writer, and his column on the latest developments in science for StarShip Sofa is also worth your time. JJ is also a pretty good reader, with a broad range of suitably tongue-in-cheek character voices at his disposal.

Recommended reads

Fear: A Cultural History by Joanna Bourke
A book which looks at how fears such as phobias, nuclear holocaust, terrorism and war have developed and changed in social consciousness in the last 150 years. Well worth reading.

The Physiognomy by Jeffrey Ford
A peculiar, extremely well written and gripping weird fantasy about a physiognomist who determines character from taking measurements of their bodies (for example, width between the eyes, nose to top lip) and acts as a sort of government investigator to uncover criminals or potential criminals through his art. I also recommend Mr Ford’s shorter work, in particular, The Empire of Ice Cream, which you can read online. But I also hope you will help him feed his family buy buying his terrific books.

Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained by Peter F. Hamilton

I love a good space opera. And this two-parter, while hugely long at around 3,000 pages, combine multiple storylines that will appeal to lovers of science fiction, crime, westerns, romance, horror, and outdoor adventure (a la Jack London). Hamilton manages to mash together a host of genres seamlessly. Impressive stuff. Oh, and I loved one of the central conceits. How do you get from one planet to another in across a vast galactic commonwealth? By train, naturally. Only a British writer could come up with that one. You can also listen to a postcast review with Peter at