Started another one! :)

I have started writing my next book. I spent the week getting the outline to an acceptable state, and this morning I got going with the story. It has been several months of world building, research, and story planning, but as commander Helmuth van Moltke said, no plan survives contact with the enemy so we’ll see how things go once the plot holes make themselves known, and the characters get ideas of their own. There’s no way out but through! Working title at the moment: “The AIWar
Will definitely have to come up with a better title than that.

Writing planning is reaching critical mass

I’ve written more than 10 000 words on my new book, but not a single word of description, dialogue, or exposition. Yes, it’s all planning.
World-building, actually, I’ve not even started the outline yet. All I’ve done so far is work out the details of the setting. I don’t like the world-building to govern the plot too much, but I do like it to inform the story. The characters must be shaped by their setting. By now I’m starting to feel as if it’s all getting a bit out of control and I need to rein it in and decide what the story is about.
Below is a screenshot that shows all the aspects of the world I’ve been working out. And this is just the start. There is some hope, though, notice the character section! That’s where the heart of the story planning for me.

Is Science Fiction a Dangerous Lie?

The research I’m doing for my current WIP book is raising some uncomfortable questions about my responsibilities as a science fiction writer. I wrote about it for the Skolion blog.

Pippin update! Good-bye Giardia

We just got the test results back and the giardia is gone! I am so relieved. Pippin is not out of the woods yet, he has all the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome which is apparently not uncommon after a giardia infection. He’s doing much better overall, but he’s an old dog so we’ll just have to take it one day at a time.

Pippin’s Giardia Saga

This is a long post! For practical information on how to treat a dog that’s sick with giardia, scroll down to the end and look for “Giardia advice and information”.

My dog, Pippin, is twelve. I used to love it when people asked his age because of their surprise at the answer. Until recently he was an active, healthy dog and he did not look old at all. I walked him for an hour in the mornings and about forty minutes in the afternoon.
In December there was a sewage spill in the vlei and Pippin got into the water despite my attempts to stop him. I can’t be sure that’s where it started, but it seems very likely.

Pippin at Park Island

He started getting diarrhoea. I ignored it at first because he likes eating rubbish and has had runny poop before, although not often. But when it didn’t clear up, I took him to the vet.
The vet prescribed the antibiotic Metronidazole. Pippin had several courses. Initially it seemed to help but each time the diarrhoea came back, like clockwork, 5 days after the last dose.
The vet got Pippin’s poop tested and we had an answer. Giardia. A single celled parasite that thrives in water contaminated by sewage. I was happy to get a diagnosis. The vet was confident that the correct medication would clear this up.
Long story short, it didn’t. Pippin went through two courses of the anti-parasitic medication Panacur and some more Metronidazole – by now I’ve lost track of how many courses of antibiotics he’s had. Each time the symptoms came back, like clockwork, 5 days after the end of the treatment. I quarantined Pippin in a clean room and blasted my house and backyard with disinfectant, threw away all his bedding and toys, in case he was reinfecting himself. Didn’t make any difference.
His symptoms got worse. Not just diarrhoea, but blood. And getting him to take the medication was stressful for everyone involved. Pippin hated being quarantined too. It was a bad time.
I made mistakes, some of which might explain why the medication didn’t work. Before the giardia diagnosis the vet recommended an anti-diarrhoea medication called Diomec. I continued giving Pippin this stuff, not realising that it contains kaolin and prevents medication from being absorbed.
I also didn’t realise that the fluid medications, Panacur and Rhonidazole, have to be shaken really, really hard because the active ingredient settles into a sort of gunk at the bottom of the bottle. I couldn’t figure out why the doses I was measuring out didn’t add up to the volume of the (opaque) container. When I did eventually figure it out, even shaking didn’t do the trick, I had to stir the damn stuff with a chopstick. The fact that it took me so long to realise this might mean he just didn’t get enough of the active ingredient.

Pippin after one of his medicated baths.

I kept Pippin out of our backyard in case it was contaminated with the giardia cysts. Every time he needed to pee or poop I had to take him for a walk. We developed quite a bond over this. Pippin would come over and look at me meaningfully, I’d get up from whatever I was doing and take him for a toilet walk.
I grew jealous of the random dog poops that I saw lying around outside. If only Pippin would produce something so firm and brown! I also had to be extra careful to clean up his poop as I didn’t want other dogs getting infected.
To Pippin’s alarm I had to wipe his bum for him for him each time he pooped to stop infected poop from spreading onto his coat and into our home. He also got washed for the very first time in his life. He accepted this and everything else with dignity.
The vet tracked down a new type of medication, another anti parasitic drug called Ronidazole. I gave Pippin a seven-day course of this, which was fairly traumatic as it became progressively more difficult to persuade him to take the medication. It’s a fluid that I either mixed with his food, or, eventually, squirted directly into his mouth. The stuff made him feel groggy and he quickly got very good at detecting its presence.
It’s a few days after his last dose and so far he’s doing OK. I’ve decided not to go on with any treatments even if the giardia comes back. It’s too traumatic. I’m going to keep him as comfortable as possible, but not do anything that will upset him further.

UPDATE! We just got the test results back and the giardia is gone! I am so relieved. Pippin is not out of the woods yet, he has all the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome which is apparently not uncommon after a giardia infection. He’s doing much better overall, but he’s an old dog so we’ll just have to take it one day at a time.

Giardia information and advice
The symptoms of a giardia infection are diarrhoea, often yellow, often with mucus, often with blood. In the early days the diarrhoea can be intermittent. The only way to diagnose it is with a fecal sample. Don’t wait till your dog is very sick before doing this. Get a diagnosis as early as possible.

Disinfecting and preventing infection
If a dog is infected the parasite will colonise its gut and produce cysts, which are like tough, microscopic little eggs that can survive outside of water and outside of the dog. These cysts contaminate the dog’s poop.
If a dog (or a cat) sniffs and or eats poop contaminated poop or licks contaminated soil they can get infected.
The cysts survive outside for quite a while but they prefer wet, cool conditions. They’ll last for a few days on dry sand in direct sunlight, but for weeks in shaded soil.
To stop giardia from spreading, pick up poop as quickly as possible and disinfect the area thoroughly.
You can kill giardia cysts with diluted bleach, (1 cup in four liters of water), or a cleaning solution that contains Quaternary ammonia, like F10 Veterinary disinfectant. F10 works well because they have a range of products that are easy to use, for example a soap for washing your hands or your dog, a spray for soft upholstery that doesn’t need to be rinsed off. F10 is also comparatively eco-friendly as it’s biodegradable and smells OK, a sort of piney scent that fades quickly.
Disinfect everything that might be contaminated and wash the dog, especially its bum, on the last day of treatment.
There are different strains of giardia and apparently it is very unlikely, (although not impossible) for a human to get infected by the type of giardia that dogs or cats get. Humans and birds get the same type of giardia, but it’s unlikely that a dog will get giardia from eating bird poop.

What medication to use
Your vet will guide you here. Panacur seems to be the most widely successful although in my case it didn’t work. That might be because, as I described above, I made some mistakes in giving it.

The importance of probiotics
Dogs can be infected with giardia without getting sick. There seems to be some evidence that it’s not the giardia that is the problem but the “bad” bacteria in an animal’s guts. If the gut bacteria isn’t healthy, the giardia can open up the way for that bad bacteria to attack. That’s why it’s so important to establish a healthy gut by making sure that a dog is getting enough probiotics. Unfortunately the treatment, antibiotics or anti parasite medications, kill the “good” bacteria so its a catch 22.
From my experience with Pippin I doubt that treating a dog only with probiotics will help much. You have to actually kill that parasite once its taken hold but the probiotics make an enormous difference to how quickly the dog recovers. As soon as I started giving Pippin probiotics he improved remarkably.
Oh, and just giving a dog live yogurt is not enough as it doesn’t contain all the different types of bacteria needed. A good probiotic for dogs is Protexin, it contains multiple strains of bacteria. I also use Pro-Kolin and Canigest but both contain kaolin so shouldn’t be given while the dog is getting medication. Pro-Kolin and Canigest are good for helping with diarrhoea. You can give a dog human probiotics, but you need to check that it contains the right strains. Look for the following:

  • Enterococcus faecium
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Lactobacillus casei
  • Lactobacillus plantarum
  • Bifidobacterium bifidum
  • Bifidobacterium animalis

Pro-kolin and Canigest both contain Enterococcus faecium and Protexin has got pretty much all of them. Protexin also seems to be tasteless and easy to mix into food without the dog realising.

These are the most helpful articles I found on:

General information on giardia in dogs and how to deal with it

Cross infection of Giardia in humans, dogs, and birds

The importance of probiotics in treating giardia

Probiotics for dogsÔĽŅ

Birthday Swim

My sister took me to Silvermine for my birthday and we swam in the dam there. The water was just perfect.

Pippin watched over our clothes while we swam.
A dragonfly sat on my knee.
Afterwards, Pippin was exhausted but relaxed. Had to bake in the sun for a bit to dry off! ūüôā

Cover Reveal: “The Strange”

Here it is! The cover of The Strange. 

And the print version:

The hand belongs to Kiran Ghatak, a new character who makes her first appearance in this book. Things happen to her hands, arms and wrists, so it seemed like a good motif to use for the cover. The actual hand is, of course, mine. I started with a picture of my hand:

 

Then I had to match the colours, fonts, and layout with the other books in the series.¬† Here is an early version. Far too dark overall! The image just didn’t “read” well.

Diseases and infections feature prominently in the story so it seemed appropriate to layer in images of infected lungs and viruses. These were some of the source images I used. Not so pleasant in their raw state, right?

The ebook of The Strange will be published on the 20th of November – watch this space, I’ll post a link. It’s the third in the series, but if you’ve not read the first two, don’t despair! Both The Babylon Eye¬†and The Real¬† are for sale right now, 99c¬† each, so you can get up to speed before the launch ūüôā

 

Silvermine Morning

For the first time in ages, we went for a morning walk at Silvermine. Windy! But beautiful. I think the walk was a little long for Pippin (he’s twelve, so not quite the hiker he used to be) but he didn’t complain one word, and seemed to be loving every moment. The picture below of his nose happened while I was trying to take a picture of a tiny plant, and he promptly butted in and ate the plant. ūüôā

Garden in Progress :)

Tiny garden progress:

All of that used to be just grass! My water-wise garden ūüôā
We moved here a year and a half ago, during a severe drought.  It was a challenge, finding plants that can survive here. This patch  faces north, which in the southern hemisphere means direct sun all day long. Harsh!

This front area used to be the only bit of garden I had. Now, the backyard is becoming more plant friendly, since I had all the concrete removed from it. It’s the domain of Pippin the Plant Squasher though, so we’ll see how that goes.

 

“The Strange” is complete!

One year later than planned, but I’m finally turning my book The Strange into an ebook. :: happy sigh :: I enjoy formatting. And it’s such a good feeling that this book is finished at last. I hope to publish it in the second half of November. Watch this space! ūüôā

“The Real” is shortlisted!

I’ve just heard that my book “The Real” has been shortlisted for the Ilube Nommo Award for best speculative novel by an African. How about that!
Other people on the short list:

Gavin Chait OUR MEMORY LIKE DUST
Deon Meyer FEVER
Tochi Onyebuchi BEASTS MADE OF NIGHT
Deji Olokotun AFTER THE FLARE
Nnedi Okorafor AKATA WARRIOR

That’s quite a list.

In the next three months, apparently all of these books will be made available to Nommo members so they can vote for a winner.  You can read all about this competition at the Nommo site:

Writing progress “The Strange”: First Draft Complete!

The first draft of The Strange is complete!

This is the most difficult, complex book I’ve ever written and the longest, too. I had moments when I doubted that I would make it this far.¬†¬†This draft is nearly 140 000 words. The first two books in the series are about 70 000 each ūüôā¬†It’s such a great feeling. There’s a lot of work to do still as it’s a very rough draft, BUT IT EXISTS!
* happy dance *

Day Zero Diary: Rite of spring

Today I became one of the thousands of Capetonians who queue at a spring for water.

This one is not very popular, as it’s very slow. You have to wait for ages while your bottle fills. Also, I didn’t realise that you need a hose to siphon the water down from the little pool where it gathers. Luckily a kind man let me use his.

It’s hot. Cicadas sizzling. Waiting your turn, watching wasps and butterflies enjoying the spilled bits of water.

Launching soon: “The Real”

If you are in Cape Town on the 16th of February, come to the launch of The Real, the sequel to The Babylon Eye.¬†We’ll be¬†at The¬†Field Office coffee shop, 34 Salisbury Road, on Thursday 16 February at 6pm. ¬†My other novels will be available, including The Babylon Eye (in print for the first time) and a discount will be given to anyone who has purchased either The Real or The Babylon Eye in e-book.

Book description:

The Muara. A ruined sea-side resort, shattered by the weather, buried in sand. Three children scavenge a living on the abandoned beaches and in the sand-swamped houses. This is their home and its desolation is their security…but their safety is an illusion.¬†
Under the sands of the Muara, in an underground room, is a secret that could destroy them and everything they know.

the-real-medium

 

 

The layers of language in The Babylon Eye

Several people who’ve read The Babylon Eye have asked about the languages used in the book. I put quite a lot of thought and research into that aspect of the world building. This explanation of my process will probably make more¬†sense if you’ve read the book!

I wonder how many readers picked up on the fact that while the book is written in English it is really, as it were, translated from whatever language the characters in this alternate world actually speak. They never refer to their own language as English. One clue is that¬†every now and then one of them will consider another character to be rather “anglo”, suggesting that they don’t think of themselves as anglophone. This¬†is my own private joke, as I have an allergy to¬†people who think of¬†English as the¬†default language, and consider all other languages¬†to be foreign, no matter the¬†country or context.

I decided early on in the planning process that the world I was creating would be very similar to ours but that its history would have some significant differences. These differences¬†don’t have a direct impact on the plot but they do shape the world and especially the names and words used.

For example in the world of the book, Germany ¬†won the First World War and the United States doesn’t exist, being a collection of smaller countries. The Second World War never happened and ¬†at the time the story is set in,¬†Prussia is still one of the dominant powers although some of the American countries have¬†been gaining influence over the last decades.

Closer to home, South Africa (called Nieu Batavia in this world) was never a British colony but stayed Dutch until it gained its independence. This had an¬†impact on the names of places and people. ¬†The character names tend to be Dutch or Germanic rather than British, for example the main character Elke is diminutive of Adelheid which is a German name and her surname is Dutch. Some of the place names are Malay (this is more apparent in the second book, The Real). Dutch titles¬†like mejuffrou (which means miss) and meinheer (the equivalent of mister) are used for ordinary people, while the high status Prussian characters retain their German “Frau” and “Herr”.

The names for the different castes of Strangers, (the people from the other world), are all words that mean “ghost”. Geist is Germanic, glim is middle English and¬†eidolon is Greek. ¬†This suggests that these terms were chosen by people from our own world rather than being official strangeworld titles, probably chosen to match some the unpronounceable strangeworld equivalents.

The first Strangers who contacted people from our world used a form of Latin. This is a clue that there must have been contact between the worlds before, and that the Strangers’ culture is not utterly alien to our own. Of course, Latin wasn’t necessarily their mother tongue, but¬†a bridging¬†language they knew we would be able to understand. Many of the names of things in the Eye itself are influenced by Latin, for example the dexter and sinister states of the Eye, and the soluster, the chandelier-like light that lights up the main levels of the Babylon Eye. Even¬†the cubbies, the tiny living quarters of most of the population of the Eye, is rooted in the Latin word cubile.

On the other hand, the slang and the swearwords used by the working people in the Eye is a little different. For that I mixed in a lot of Polish, Zulu, Afrikaans, Russian and Spanish, based on the idea that the mechanics, cleaners, drivers and other workers would have come from all over the world. ¬†Since the Eye has quite a communal culture and was, originally at least, to have a open and non-hierarchical structure, the¬†working people had a say in the running of the Eye and its customs. This is reflected in the official terminology. For example¬†the court, the body that is responsible for hearing legal cases, is called a “stolik” which is the Polish world for “table”.

The names people call themselves differ from what other people call them and reflect their status. The lowest of the Stranger castes, the untattoed ones, are called “weeds” and “blanks” and other rude¬†names by those who shun them, but they refer to themselves as Fugado, the fugitives. Using “blanks” (in this context, referring to somebody without tattoos to signal their status) as a insult was another in-joke, a play on “blanke”, a term which has a completely different meaning in Afrikaans, being a term for a white person and which is not usually considered and insult.

I could go on! There is so much more. I’m busy with the third book in the series now and have a whole new universe of titles, place-names and slang to figure out. I’ve been digging around in Somalian, Arabic, Assyrian, Yiddish, and some of the other ancient languages for inspiration. Only a small part of this shows in the finished book, of course, but I hope that it helps to make the world feel richer and more real.

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