If you enjoy the occasional blog posts here on my website, or would just like to keep up with what I’m working on, my thoughts on various books, movies, comics and more I now have a weekly newsletter that will provide all of that.
AJP’s RAMBLES is a new newsletter available on Substack, or direct to your email InBox with a FREE subscription.
Each week the newsletter will have one or more stories or updates inspired by what I’ve been working on, or things that have caught my attention during the week.
They will fall (sometimes loosely) into one or more of the following categories.
Brabazon Bits – updates and side notes while working on the “Bristol Brabazon: Lost Airliner of the Skies” book
Travels with my Laptop – Notes and observations from travel trips
Pages and Screens – Thoughts on things read and watched
Word Slinging – Updates on various writing projects
Podcast Procrastinations – Updates on my adventures in podcasting
Weekly Web Round-up – Summary of stuff I’ve inflicted on the internet over the previous seven days.
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Over thirty years ago I started my first job out of college as a Technical Writer at British Aerospace’s airfield located in Filton just to the north of the city of Bristol in the southwest of England.
The then Head of Technical Publications, and my new boss had a large framed picture that hung on his office wall. It was of a large majestic silver aircraft flying low over some building, and a strange misshapen tree, clearly coming in to land nearby. I thought I knew my aircraft types, having been interested in most things mechanical and transport related since early childhood, but I’d never seen this one before. “It’s the Brabazon landing at the Farnborough airshow in 1949.”
I wanted to know more, and over the following few years, I would ask questions about the Brabazon whenever I got the chance. It also didn’t take me long to appreciate just how big the Brabazon had been, for the massive three-bay hanger on the airfield was referred to by everyone as “The Brab Hanger.” Clearly, it had been associated with the project, and on one walk through the hanger on the way to a meeting on the other side of the airfield, I asked how many Brabazon’s could fit in each bay, as after all, I could see multiple aircraft in the bay on that particular day. The answer of “one” made me understand that this had been a true giant of the skies.
When my boss retired I inherited his role as Head of the Technical Publications department, and his office with the Brabazon picture on the wall. With most of our work at that time focused on the Airbus program, specifically the upcoming launch of the A320, we were looking ahead to the future. We still did some work supporting older aircraft that were still in service, such as Concorde, and the BAC 1-11 airliners, plus some military contract work., but no one had any time for talking about the past.
One day walking across the airfield I came across a dumpster and noticed a thick blue book sticking out of the top. It looked like an aircraft manual, and as that was my department’s responsibility I pulled it out to see what it was. I found myself holding a copy of the Handling and Servicing Notes for the Brabazon Mark 1.
There weren’t any Brabazon manuals in the Technical Publications archives (I’d already looked) so I assumed this had come from someone clearing out an office. I asked around. No one knew where it had originated, and no one cared. I talked to a few executives and was told “Keep it if you want, it’s only a curiosity now.” So I did. It still sits in my home office today.
During my investigations into the source of my find, I kept hearing the same things. “It was a failed project,” “No one’s interested,” “What’s past is past,” and similar sentiments. In fact, a detailed company history published at the time only gave the Brabazon a cursory and somewhat dismissive mention. But while on the surface this magnificent giant of the skies may have been a failure, I knew that it had shaped the very structure of the facility where I worked, and without it, we wouldn’t have been working on Concorde or Airbus projects.
This aircraft needed its story to be told. Now 30 plus years later I’m going to tell that story, thanks to Pen & Sword Books
I am now in the early stages of writing “Lost Airline of the Skies: The Remarkable Story of the Bristol Brabazon and its Legacy” to be published by Pen & Sword under its Air World imprint – provisionally scheduled for 2025. I’m excited to be diving into the research around this unique aircraft and the people who designed, built, and flew her.
The ancient sages say, “Do not despise the snake for having no horns, for who is to say it will not become a dragon.” So may one just man become an army.
So began the opening narration of one of my favorite TV shows growing up. The BBC’s English-dubbed version of a Japanese TV show that adapted a classic Chinese martial arts tale. The Water Margin.
I was honored to be asked by editor Jim Beard to contribute to his volume of essays looking back on those childhood Japanese TV shows and immediately thought of penning a few words about The Water Margin.
My essay “Nine Dozen Heroes,” can be found in the recently released RISING SUN RERUNS anthology, along with the reflections and memories of several other pop-culture writers about their favorite Japanese shows.
So let’s get back to it and answer the next couple of questions on the list.
The Book I’m Ahamed Not to Have Read
That’s an interesting question. As much as I read (usually around 100 books a year), I know I’ll never get around to reading everything I want to read, never mind something that others think I should have read. Actually, I never take any notice of those articles and lists outlining what you “should” read. Read what you want because you want to not because someone else says you should. So is there any book I’m ashamed not to have read? No.
But there are books in my to-read stack (currently numbering just a little under 500 volumes) that have been hanging around for several years and I get the occasional twinge of guilt that I haven’t picked them up yet. Let’s pick two; one fiction and one non-fiction.
Several years ago I worked alongside a Russian colleague who knew of my interest in Sherlock Holmes and would tell me stories about the character he felt was the closest Russian equivalent, Erast Fandorin. One day he gifted me this volume suggesting that as it was set around the same time as one of my Holmes stories, 1905, I might enjoy it. – I was delighted and humbled, but I’m afraid that it has sat on my shelf for at least seven years now and I still haven’t got around to picking it up. – And Dimitri, if you’re reading this, one day I will read it. I promise.
This has been on the shelf for around the same amount of time as I purchased i on a trip back to the UK in 2015. I must admit I picked it up while browsing the history section in a Waterstones book store for one reason alone – the title. The book was shelved in the bookcase in our guest room, and I think it’s become a victim of out-of-sight, out-of-mind. But given the fact that I’ve spent a considerable amount of my professional career working alongside French colleagues, I really should give it a read at some point – just to see if it lives up to the, what I hope is, tongue-in-cheek, humor of the title.
The Book I Give as a Gift
My first reaction to this question was that I don’t have a specific book that I give as a gift. Each Christmas we gift books to each member of the family and try and make sure they are a good match for the individual. There isn’t anyone title that we’ve repeatedly gifted.
But then I thought about this question from a different angle and there is one book that I’ve bought for others on a regular basis, rather than loan them my copy (which is a rather fragile first edition), and that is Watchmen.
I read Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s now iconic series when it was first published as a twelve-issue monthly comic. I picked up the first UK trade paperback edition (the one that is now falling apart from being re-read so many times), and I also have a nice hardback edition that I was lucky enough to get Dave Gibbons to sign for me. So if talk ever talks to Watchmen, and it’s surprising how often conversations around comics and graphic novels do, and I’m asked if I have a copy that someone could take a look at, my answer is “Yes I have a copy,” and “I’ll happily buy you one to try.”
We recently held our first in-store signing for the James Bond Lexicon book (almost a year after release) and it felt so good to be back out in public, meeting and chatting with friends old and new. First off a big vote of thanks to Austin Books & Comics for hosting the event.
But that was just the start as we book more and more events for the rest of 2022. Upcoming we will be at the following:
All promise to be fun events, but I will admit that two stand out in particular, both in September, our first visit to DragonCon, and the return of our local library’s convention, vastly different in scale, but both sure to be great events.
We had hoped to also be at FenCon in Dallas in September, but work-related travel schedule conflicts meant we had to withdraw from this year’s event.
You can keep up with any changes or additions to our convention schedule on our dedicated events page. – Looking forward to meeting some of you out there on the road in the coming months.
Well, we did it. The first episode of our new personal podcast, Can’t See The Forest, is now available. For the moment it is only on Anchor.fm – but other platforms will follow soon.
In this initial episode, Gillian and Alan discuss the ethical dilemma of resurrecting woolly mammoths, talked about sword-swinging superheroes, revisited the spice planet, got nostalgic on the turntable, and even got a little homesick for the British countryside.
If you want to listen to us waffling on for 45 minutes or so about books, comics, movies, tv, and vinyl you can find the podcast at https://anchor.fm/cstf
It’s about time I answered a couple more of the questions on the list.
The Last Book To Make Me Laugh
I’m not one for humor or comedy books, but I do read a book that makes me smile and have the occasional unexpected laugh along the way. Such a book was The Ravenmaster by Christopher Skaife.
Who would have thought that a book about an ex-infantry squaddie who lives in an old castle looking after seven blackbirds could be so engrossing that I literally couldn’t put it down? This was an unplanned single-sitting read. Skaife has a simple honest prose style (and I mean that as a compliment) that immediately engages and entertains. He comes across as a consummate storyteller and educator as well as a highly empathic human. But the real stars of the book are the Tower of London ravens who emerge as distinct individuals with their own personalities and behavioral quirks.
A Book I Couldn’t Finish
One book that came highly recommended and that I was looking forward to reading was The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar. I’d heard nothing but good things about the author’s other work, and the premise, what-if there had been superheroes during World War II, while hardly original, certainly appealed to me. I was hoping for a fresh new take on the idea.
The story I was hoping for maybe in there, but I couldn’t find it. This was mainly due to the use of a staccato prose style combined with what seemed to be a mix of an unfinished movie plot synopsis and half thought out author’s notes strained through one of Alan Moore’s infamously voluminous comics scripts. The result for me was an unreadable mess that left me unable to finish.
The one thought that kept running through my head was if the author wanted to employ a script-type approach then they should have gone that route and developed this as the graphic novel it seems to be struggling to be.
This book has got some great reviews and feedback and won several awards – so maybe it’s just me – but it just didn’t work in capturing my attention the way I wanted it to.
In just a few hours I’ll be heading into Austin to join fellow writers, artists, and fans of SF/F media for one of my favorite events – ArmadilloCon. During our regular walk around the neighborhood this morning I was trying to think back to how long I’ve been attending this particular convention. (A quick dive into the box where I keep past convention brochures confirmed that my first ‘DilloCon was in 2007, so that’s 14 years on and off).
My schedule for this weekend for this weekend is looking something like this:
4:00pm- Welcome to Armadillocon panel
8:00pm – 25 Things You Didn’t Know About James Bond
3:00pm – Reading (from an as yet unpublished story)
4:00pm – Streaming SF/F panel
5:00pm – Monsterverse panel
12:00pm – Signing session
1:00pm – Getting Creative in Comics panel
If you are in the Austin area I hope that you can come along and join us for what promises to be a fun and entertaining weekend.