So… what IS the most dangerous thing in the Universe?!


You’re a writer, right? And you’re stuck?

When you ask Google – or Jeeves – a question, you’ll get an answer. It’ll be dry, it’ll be humourless, but (assuming you’ve asked the question correctly) you’ll get what you were after.

When you ask Twitter a question, THIS is what happens…

@Danacea Cub Question du Jour: Mummy, What’s the most dangerous thing in the Universe?

Replies received went as follows: –

@Becca_Masters in all honesty it’s probably humans!!!
@Steve_G A collision between matter and anti-matter? That should keep ‘em quiet for a while :)
@RyanMacG Mums :P
@daphneblake eating too much candy and watching Hannah Montana
@ALRutter Boredom
@bobcatrock my inner-hippy immediately said “a closed mind!”
@pandermoanium gossip
@garenewing the Universe itself!
@justinpickard – Sharks with laser beams? Or a supernova? Though the second answer, when explained, might cause more problems that it solves
@SamSykesSwears Desire
@frandowdsofa Mummies
@Big_Jim religion. Or Galactus. Your choice.
@ALRutter Religion
@destroytheearth “Questions, so shhh!”
@Entorien Seriously? The Human Race. Non-seriously? The Cookie Monster.
@Entorien Or if you’re feeling really deep and thoughtful, and your Cub’s as smart as he sounds… ignorance ;-p
@sennydreadful Spiders. Yeah, I know that mostly they’re harmless, but that’s just because they haven’t revealed their plans yet.
@neilbeynon A big red button marked Do Not Press
@mrdomrocks [shortened version from Twitlonger] People.
@davecl42 Black hole? Gamma Ray burst? Dalek??
@Shockwave A woman locked out of a 95% off shoe sale
@Faithful_Shadow The teen says pissed off mum
@stephenjsweeney Cheese
@x_richard_x Daleks, cybermen, a woman scorned?
@ghostfinder Anti-matter!
@talithabee A curious mind
@Faithful_Shadow my vote goes for black holes
@Rhiarti Stupidity
@beaki gamma rays
@brendajos tell him girls that aren’t mummy
@leighjohnston Quasar?
@kevmceigh Simon Cowell
@dracona1031 I’m not sure Daleks count any more, now that they come in Fisher Price colors…
@Herne politicians

@Von_Cheam Chinese-built motorcycles


This list has omitted those of you with protected streams, the debate between @ghostfinder and @davecl42 about the nature of Quasars, and the venn diagram overlapping Religion and Desire as outlined by @SamSykesSwears… just an extra level of involvement to put a blue bird on your shoulder.

But… you’re a writer, right? And you’re stuck? That’s over thirty answers to a single tweeted question – all creative, all with a sense of humour, all with insight and each with a personal slant. That’s fodder for fucking days.

The most dangerous thing in the Universe? Is bloody Twitter.

I was going to thank people in my twitterstream, but you’re all too cool *laughing!*

So – who’s going to pick a favourite?!


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Writing and Twitter: The Case for the Opposition

So – the validation thing.

I have this theory (stone me if you will): the point at which you stop needing validation is the point at which you’ve learned to write like yourself (not like Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk or Dan fucking Brown). Don’t get me wrong – we all need feedback, positive or negative, that’s how we learn – but thirsting for constant reassurance means you’re still seeking your own voice… and your own feet. As you’re finding these things, and becoming secure in them, that need will thin and fade.

Those authors who have success as their feedback seem to forget this – they, too, started somewhere.

I’ve blogged before about Twitter as a distraction (and Gods fucking KNOW it can be!) but the Case for the Opposition is that Twitter can provide three things (other than helping you market your title, we got that one already): –

Support and reassurance: we all have to take those first steps.

A smack round the head: as well as being a distraction, Twitter can be a motivation. Whether you gain your necessary arse-kick from stating what you’re going to do, or from a friend’s booted foot, that doesn’t really matter. Perversely, Twitter can be good for actually making you work.

Research: neatly bringing me to where I was going.

While the Great Prophet Google goes almost all the way to making research easy, there are times it genuinely can’t help you. So, when you find yourself asking a question, a question that’s so spectacularly simple, so downright fucking dumb, a question that’s so ridiculous that you didn’t even know that you didn’t know…

…you ask Twitter.

And Lo! Where the Great Prophet fails, the Little Blue Bird offers up the answer.

So – this blog is a thank you to all those people who answered the idiot query ‘Do you open your glove compartment with the same key as you open your car?’ It’s also a thank you to Lloyd Davis over at Perfect Path for chipping in with his busking experience – and a shout out to all those people who make Twitter, not about pointless validation, but about help that actually matters.

Twitter can be like the bottom of the bird-cage – what you get out of it depends entirely…

…you know what I’m saying.




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Tweetox and the #amwriting Hashtag


So, there you are – you’ve got 20 minutes between finishing the dishes and settling down for Doctor Who. No point writing anything, let’s fire up Twitter and see what the world is up to…

…whaddaya mean it’s still fired up from the last 20 minutes 40 minutes ago?

You, yes you, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

I’ve tried to be good – when I #amwriting, I shut twitter down. On those glorious, rare and blissful occasions I actually get the house to myself for four WHOLE HOURS I can still crank out the wordcount – and Twitter goes OFF.

But it’s the snippets, the corners of time between one thing and the next, the not-quite-getting-round-to-it and the I’ll-do-it-in-a-minute…

…who am I fucking kidding?

After coming back from EasterCon, I entertained a little cold turkey – quit the booze (to give my long-suffering liver a rest), for a start, but also took a moment to wrap twitter’s beak in gaffer tape and shut it the hell up.

What I found out should be no revelation.

Those twenty minutes matter. Those corners of time, those fragments of finger-twiddle between this thing and the next… even if they don’t count towards your final wordage total, they keep the ideas moving, the characters talking, the plotline unrolling (okay, occasionally writhing) in your head. If you default to tweet, soon you find your characters wandering off into the middle distance – and when you DO have time to actually write, you spend a precious hour going to look for them – and bringing them back.

And that’s wordcount wasted.

I can’t pretend I didn’t miss it (my Facebook updates became rather more frequent and I really missed both twitpic and blip.fm), but the tweetox was well worth the insight.

With absolute respect to those who use the #amwriting hashtag to network, community build and connect with other writers to help each other and all move forwards, I still can’t get my head round it.

When I #amwriting, Twitter gets shut down. And that should now go for those errant 20 minutes, as well – yes, all of them.

No mercy! :)

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Odyssey 2010 – Breaking Into The Future

And so, to the Heathrow Radisson, two years on from my own return to fandom – and with a wash of déjà-vu borne by the wings – and the scent – of the aircraft overhead.

This year, we finally witnessed the fusion of fandom with social media – the Saturday afternoon saw a plethora of panels discussing blogs, soc med platforms and the glory of the #EasterCon hashtag. Saturday membership soared from speculative walk-ins – not fans, just people who’d seen the chat on twitter and wanted to see what was happening.

My own Social Media panel was live-streamed – huge thank you to Nik Butler for the tech spec and to Lee Harris, Del Lakin-Smith and Paul Cornell for their expertise – but the hotel was full of many digital champions. Mark Charan Newton, John Coxon and the ever-blogging Cheryl Morgan only touched the screen-surface – for one glorious moment on the Sunday, the #EasterCon hashtag hit as a world trend.

As ever, I spent much of my time behind the Dealers’ Table – but, with MacBook open, was able to track the Twitter backchannel and attend events by proxy – something that was happening with fans at home, I’m sure. Cheryl’s panel on Virtual Attendees opened this concept wider – a huge potential for people to attend Conventions all over the world, for knowledge and family to be shared. Not only that, but the huge out-spilling ripples caused by the Award announcements each made more noise than the Heathrow runways outside.


My work-mate Mat commented ‘you know everybody’ and it did feel like that – an odd two-year jump from ‘08 where I sat scared on the Thursday evening knowing one name from the 1,000 plus in attendance. This year, I could stroll the semi-marble oddities of the Radisson, from the Corner of the Damned (Smoker’s Terrace) to the Atrium Bar, and there would always be someone to chat to – and always something to chat about. Reading, writing, gaming, fighting, costume-making, publishing, tech spec and social media – whatever your part in it, the SF/F industry is a strong community; it embraces its own and no amount of hashtagging can equal a Con’s strong feeling of extended family.


‘I like Cons’ I overheard one fan said to another ‘It’s okay to be weird’.

In the Venn diagram of real and virtual, this was an EasterCon that occupied the centre – where we watched as the two things met and overlapped and enhanced each other, working on dual level to share information within the Con itself and to broadcast that information to the outside world.

I know ‘everybody’ because of Forbidden Planet – but also because of Twitter – and because of the way I’ve woven them together. Watching this happen on a bigger scale, on a Worldwide Trending Topic scale, was astounding.

Fandom’s gone digital. And high time!
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So: Just What IS The Collective Noun for Twitterers?

As a teenager, I had the best English teacher.

The syllabus didn’t really interest him; he taught us useful stuff. A good vocabulary (the difference between ‘undulate’ and ‘ungulate’), a good memory (I can still recite large chunks of ‘Ozymandias’), respect (if we yawned in his class, he’d sent the whole pack of us on a run to the school gates). He also introduced us to one of the greatest quirks of the English language – the Collective Noun.

Yesterday, I stumbled across a ‘create your own’ site for these. I took a moment to laugh my arse off – and to tweet out the link.

And discovered that other people are equally intrigued by this bizarre linguistic anomaly. So: just what IS the correct Collective Noun for Twitterers?

Here are some of the suggestions: –

@berinkinsman – an Ashton
@davedevereux – a Whale
@denny – a wail
@gt_p a byte
@paulgrahamraven – a nest
@sconsult – a procrastination
@solobasssteve – a bonfire (think about it)
@peacockpete – a crash
@rhiarti – a prattling

The final tallies from my twitterstream put ‘whale’ and ‘procrastination’ at the top of the list. (My own suggestion, ‘a Britney’, didn’t last beyond the first round – funny, that!)

The results were collated by @collectivenouns and listed here.

This is one of the things I love about twitter – no, not that other people actually get my love for the bizarre, but the global sense of humour, the desire to throw creative ideas round on a Sunday afternoon because… well, because we can. Seems a ‘procrastination’ is uncomfortably true (whodathinkit?) not to mention @elucid8‘s ‘sleep-deprivation’!

Wordle courtesy of http://www.wordle.net/

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Twitter as a Dating Site


It’s the weekend. You’re at home, your latest flame having preferred to spend the night with his/her cat rather than paint the town pink with your hawt self. You crack the four-pack, you reach for the DVD… then it strikes you…

You could always try…

Twitter.

After all – shhhh! – what have you got to lose?

So, you need a profile. You find a picture – of yourself is good, funny, (more-or-less) clean (let’s face it, we’re all pretty sick of Britney’s mouthful). A good pic on a dating site ups your hits instantly and Twitter is just the same. The second thing – don’t add numbers to your @name – @bigcock4U may give completely the wrong idea. Rise above the sea of spam and look like an individual.

Then you need to start tweeting. On a dating site, blanket-bombing the closest 500 men/women to your location is unlikely to win you a dream date. Why? Because people like to feel special. Take time, add people individually or in small groups and talk to them. Warmth, accessibility, humanity, humour – all of these things count in your favour. Let’s face it; anyone tweeting from home on a Saturday night is probably conversation-hungry too.


If someone follows you, check their profile; if they’re human, follow them back. The skill to setting a promising date – and a promising twitter profile – is two-way communication (and besides, if people don’t follow me back I always feel like I’m eavesdropping). If their twitterstream is an endless list of links – or indeed if they’re a nubile young lady offering you a webcam – they’re probably not up for conversation.

Be on the lookout for the single-tweet ad-profile and the self-professed social media marketeers who follow 4,000 other self-professed social media marketeers. Much like the local sexual professional who’s on your dating site for business purposes, they’re trying to sell you something you only think you need.

Back to setting up that great first date. If someone on twitter @addresses you, talk back to them. You can check their hawtness rating if you like (after all, no-one said you couldn’t get dates through twitter), but it’s the start of a conversation – and maybe a friendship. (Maybe a coffee, dinner…?) In its earliest days, twitter was a global village, a powerful community… don’t lose sight of that.

Watch your mouth. No, I don’t mean like that – I mean remember that anything you tweet is searchable. We’ve had one lawsuit, don’t be the next one. After all, if your husband/wife/boss finds out exactly what you said about… you get the idea. Stay out of the hot water!


A little self-promotion is forgiven, even expected. By all means, tell people you’re fit, and have a GSOH – be chuffed with your achievements and tweet a link to your latest blog genius. But there are respectful limits – if all you do is talk about how cool you are, you’re not going to impress that hawt date…

…but you will if you ask him/her to talk a little about themselves. You know the drill – good eye-contact is always the cincher. Hard to manage that on twitter, but remember the basics: say ‘thank you’, show appreciation by a retweet or a #followfriday, tweet links to cool shit that you didn’t write. If you want to convince your date you’re interesting and knowledgeable – it’s a sure-fire win!

(Don’t over do it, though, no-one likes an arse-kisser).

This is all pretty facetious, but the core message remains: just because it’s twitter doesn’t mean you can be a twat. Remember that your followers are individuals. They may (possibly) not be a date, but that doesn’t mean you can treat them like a statistic.

(And if you’re still stuck for that date? Get off your sodding arse and go to the pub!)

Oh – and the Harry Potter snogging picture came from this fanfiction site.

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Twitterstream of Consciousness


The first rule of Twitter – and I mean real Twitter not celebrity Twitter or marketing opportunist Twitter – is ‘be yourself’.

While I may front Forbidden Planet, it’s never occurred to me to be anything else – it’s a Twitterstream of Consciousness; I don’t (probably rather obviously!) think before I tweet.

This week has seen my partner’s carpentry driving me round the twist and a certain TechDigest article listing the UK’s most prolific tweeters… in the light of both, I find myself suddenly – horrors! – self-conscious. Maybe even twelf-conscious.

Twitter has another rule, more ambiguous and subtle – it’s probably listed on a dozen Newbie Twitter Guides under ‘positive mental attitude’. I’m calling it ‘don’t be unhappy’. Be yourself, but by All The Gods Of New Media, don’t ever be miserable!

Well, fuck that; we all get stressed. To me, Twitter requires honesty – and forgiving that honesty in others. I’m not a Social Media Maven or a motivational speaker (for which you can be thankful). I’m Danie, and I defend my right to have crap days. And not to feel self-conscious about sending a tweet that isn’t sparkling with happiness.

As for TechDigest?

It’s odd seeing yourself under a microscope. The article made me laugh (I’m immoral? My mother reads the Daily Mail! I have a boring job? I’m not dignifying that with an answer!) Yes, I’m chatty, but that’s how the bonds of the community are built; that’s how connections are made, discoveries are shared – it’s how the world is made smaller and how wonderful and unlikely friendships spring from 140 characters.

Having my Twitter presence – and those of my UK friends and neighbours – summarised in five lines is disturbing… is that one sample tweet really all my life has distilled down to?

I know it’s not – seeing myself scrutinised, bizarre though it is, isn’t going to change who I am.

In fact, it reminds me of a wonderful Twitter irony – and something that TechDigest has missed completely: –

Why is Twitter so full of chatter? Because when people are really busy, they don’t tend to tweet.

Funny, that.

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EasterCon – Beer and Boundaries

Take 800 writers, artists, publishers, journos, retailers and fans. Stick ‘em in a hotel with a (very) late bar and a full program of events. Mix in some costumes and some corsetry, a side order of steampunk and a sprinkling of social media – and you have EasterCon, LX2009.

Marred only by travelling to spill-over lodgings, LX provided an open forum to learn, undertake and discover; in the SF industry, it seems, all men are equal, everyone is a hero to someone, and we each have something to share.

It’s been a weekend of facing stage-fright fears, too many beers and mockery of my advancing years; a weekend of realisation… apparently events like LX catalyse personal achievement. Whodathunkit.

Friday saw me popping my panel cherry, discussing ‘The Marketing of Novels’ – to a flattering turn-out, considering the hour. Saturday was a day of networking, meeting new friends and old ones and loading up on business cards. Sunday kicked off with the Twitter panel – also very well attended despite disparaging comments and the community’s incomprehension.

Sunday night, of course, saw Rock Band – late-starting due to a technical hitch and saved by the insight of an eight-year-old (thus proving that Douglas Adams was indeed right about everything). It didn’t go quite as visualised (what does?) but Those Who Rocked had a fantastic time and the positive feedback was overwhelming. I hear Sleazy Diesel rocked so hard they’re taking their band on the road…

Excitingly, LX has seen one huge change from last year. No, not the few young fans, creeping out in the wee small hours to play Werewolf; no, not even Rock Band’s outrageous silliness.

At Orbital, there was no Social Media – a handful of Twitterers at the back of the disco. This year, due to the exponential rise of the site and the greater awareness of SocMed as platform for both marketing and socialising, we saw EasterCon have its own Twitterstream. We saw those Tweets roll live on the BSFA website. We saw live broadcasting from Peter Sullivan and LXtra. Finally, are things really changing?

They are, but not as fast as they could. Why did Phil Bradley have to fight to set up a Twitter Panel – and get no technological support? The committee threw themselves behind Rock Band – but opening a twitter discussion to (duh!) twitter would have brought on board a massive new audience. I was gutted I couldn’t do it myself – couldn’t even tweet from the discussion due to lack of mobile web. (Whatever personal achievements have come from this weekend, I’ve learned I can’t champion Social Media effectively until I can expand my technological boundaries. D’Oh!).

It still defeats me how people can revel in an event like an EasterCon, use it to network, to touch old friends and make new ones, to open their minds and learn new things… and yet not see how this parallels in the wide world of the web. Most of fandom – and many industry notables – are content to just dwell in the security of the smaller community; they rarely stray beyond the confines of LiveJournal.

I know I’m the minority – most people are content in their safe place and have no need to push boundaries, see where they can go. Why should they? In this case, they have fiction that does it for them.

Tech or no, the Twitter panel and LXtra proved that things are changing, that there is a new generation of fandom that’s broadcasting a change of era. This isn’t in a book – isn’t even scrolling up your Kindle.

It’s happening now.

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Incommunicado: Four Days No Twitter


A warm log cabin, wide veranda stretched along the edge of idyllic wetlands. Mornings spent exploring the Island, walks and museums and parks – ours alone in the quiet off-season. Evenings devoid of television, playing Gloom in the clear night air, accompanied by good whisky and the brassy impertinence of geese…

Sometimes, you need to stop.

Recently, I passed the epiphany that was Tweet 23,000: shocking myself slack-jawed as I totalled out 230,000 words. Two novels (or half a Neal Stephenson) – and my two-year twitterversary next month… How much time have I spent?

I plead sophistry – I can tweet while looking after my home and family, wheras writing requires concentration – but that number grins too stark to be denied.

Hence, my holiday has been totally Incommunicado; leaving my phone in the office was both unintentional and perfectly timed. Before I left, I sent everyone and his cat a panicked email to explain my silence – more for my benefit than theirs, I know – and then turned to face that cold, beady-eyed turkey…

The world without the web.

On the first day, I wanted to tweet everything – the hovercraft ride, the cabin itself, the great food in the local pub – I was bereft, reaching, craving to share.

On the second day, I found distractions – a veranda-breakfast with ducks and moorhens, watching the cormorant pose like the Angel of Death – I involved myself with family and outings and allowed the hankering to recede.

On the third day, it had almost gone – I walked through an eternity of mud, saw a red squirrel in an ancient wood, made friends with an ocelot kitten – and Twitter was a world away, another life. My universe was smaller – yet each thing in it was precise and significant. Real.

On the fourth day, I reached for a RSPB book to discover what a Marsh Harrier looked like… and realised I was cured. No longer dwarfed by epic, breaking news or world-shaking media achievement, there was enough silence in my heart to be looking at the little things.

And understanding why they matter.

Call me a Social Media heretic if you will, four days Incommunicado has not only upped my wordcount (and my confidence to produce it), it’s also reminded me that red squirrels and ocelot kittens really matter – even when, especially when, they’re not validated by an audience. In the greater amphitheatre of Social Media, the mass-onslaught of feedback and information can deluge us, bury us under Significance and take our eyes from the things right in front of them.

Just like wordcount, just like Twitter itself in fact, we should remember – if we’re going to build BabelTower 2.0?

Even the biggest things are made up from the little ones.

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20/08 Hindsight: A Social Media Year

Okay, you got me red-handed: I didn’t mean to do this.
Not real Social Media.
I get retail marketing – even emarketing – but a year down a line of friends, followers, forays and fuck-ups and I’ve tripped over the truth without even meaning to.
What do I mean? Well…

For example: –

In the pub after Amplified08, @Yellowpark commented that he’d not heard of Forbidden Planet until Twitter – iconising how the openness of Social Media brings niche Brands like FP onto the ‘High Street’ of the web. For us, successful marketing isn’t selling SF to fanboys – it’s throwing the doors wide and saying ‘everyone can come here’. And that ‘everyone’ is bigger than we could’ve imagined.

For example: –

This year has seen the FP Megastore become a satellite Hub for London’s Twitterers. They’re at every signing; at big events, they add their own skills and insights to the on-web coverage. Social Media becomes its own beacon – the more they enthuse, the more enthusiasm is generated and the more it broadcasts – and the more it feeds back, and so on.

Believe in what you do – and Social Media becomes the field that surrounds your magnet. All you need is passion, conviction and sincerity.

For example: –

There’s always talk about the ‘human face on the Brand’, about ‘accessibility’– for a retailer, it’s the web version of standing on the shop floor. It’s a calculated gamble – on the one hand, you’re the first target when the e-mud starts flying; on the other, you reach friends, customers, guests and clients personally. And these are the people that will come back – to the store, to the site. Social Media is about hands-on Customer Service – and it matters.

For example: –

The failure of The Headless Bartman at SxSW created the MonQee, a classic example of out-of-the-box marketeering that caught the web’s imagination and went rapidly Viral. Social Media Marketing, coupled with genuine creativity, thrashes the pants off any amount of ordinary advertising.

As a personal footnote, 2008 has seen me return (at last!) to my ‘real’ job – to being back at the core of things, to taking full responsibility for promotion and event organisation at Forbidden Planet. From re-entering the SF fan scene at Orbital to my growing contacts lists on FaceBook and LinkedIN, to my recent interview with Tony at StarShipSofa… as this year comes to a close, I’ve realised something: –

Y’know what? I get it.
Y’know something else? It never was rocket science.

The big secret to Social Media Marketing? It’s common bloody sense – sling in a little humanity and a little respect (and a big ol’ bag o’comics) and there: Twitter’s your Uncle.

Honestly: how hard was that?

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