A.J. Walker


Reading - The Way I Roll

It's been a good year for reading. I've already surpassed the book numbers I read last year and am just four books shy of my 40 target. From my initial plan back in January I have read the majority of the non-fiction books from the reading list, but I've been a lot less successful with the books from the fiction list–in that I keep getting other second-hand books to read.


I have just finished 'Rivers of London' by Ben Aaronovitch, which actually is one from my initial list - I'd previously read a later book from the series ('Lies Sleeping'). Have loved both of them - and it didn't matter too much that I read them out of order either - I will defo keep my eyes open for other books in the series when I'm in second-hand bookshops. So that is basically just two out of eleven of my fiction reads achieved–so far.

Currently reading another book on my Kindle, which wasn't on my list for the year but has been on my TBR list for several years. It's 'Station Eleven' by Emily St. John Mandel. It's another dystopian story to follow on the footsteps of Margaret Atwood from last month. Not sure which books will follow but it would be good to catch up on some of the fiction ones; maybe Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake, The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman, and They Came and Ate Us by Robert Rankin.


That said I suspect it'll be four completely different books, because that's the way I roll.


By the way, clearly I only know where I'm up to because I use Goodreads. It's a great website/app for tracking your reading and seeing what books are out there that you may like. One of my favourite apps, it's got one job and it does it very well.

VSS365 Anthology

Since the early days of VSS365 I've been involved in writing from these daily word prompts. It has grown immensely over the years and in the last six months in particular it has become a bit of a juggernaut. 'Back in the day' these wee stories were confined to 140 characters–I ask ya! But now we're back in the realms of flash fiction with up to 280 characters–wow!

Back in November 2018 I hosted it whilst travelling around the distant states of Zevonia and Zevonistan - from the foothills of the Mountains of Ruin and the famous Sprout Festival, along with my mate Benzo Diazapan - and it was very much a fun month.

Despite being a keen as mustard VSSer and evangelic about it I wasn't sure when the news of the anthology came out. I wasn't sure about an entire book featuring tweet length stories and wondered whether anyone would be interested in reading them. But I must say having just finished reading the anthology it hangs together very well indeed and looks great. I found it compelling to see how different the stories or poems were from each single prompt. And it is amazing how beautiful some of them were with so few words to play with. The quality of the stories are fantastic. It is sometimes difficult when reading one after the other to remember what the prompt was when they take you in different directions.

VSS Book1

The work of Mark and the Ambassadors in producing this book has got to be appreciated. They have done a fab job, as it has paid off in spades. It is a book to pop in and out of–Maybe even one for the small room.

I've only got the Kindle version at the moment. But I think I'll have to get myself the paperback.

Follow Mark King on Twitter @Making_Fiction

Buy the book: VSS365 Anthology

Kathryn Williams Gig

On Wednesday I went to watch Kathryn Williams play a gig at the Music Room in the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. Not sure what my last gig was or when, it must have been sometime last year I think. Whatever it was it could not have been better than this one–or else I'd remember it (even with my ever growing years and diminishing brain cells).

The tour is to showcase the release of Kathryn's 'Anthology'. And by anthology I don't mean a single or double CD with all her best songs, oh no. The anthology is a release of the majority of her whole albums (ten of them), each of which is accompanied by a CD with alternate takes, covers, live stuff etc (aka 'rarities'). That's a lot of music.


It was the first time I've been to the music room, which is at the rear of the Philharmonic Hall–at the same time as Kathryn's gig Christy Moore was playing the hall. Had an okay keg beer on (keg = expensive and cold, but better than a bottle of lager) and was glad to see it was a local brewery. The gig itself featured Kathryn, largely playing acoustic, accompanied by Neill MacColl (and yes, Ewan's son/Kirsty's brother). Whilst she was born in Liverpool, so it was a bit of a homecoming gig, she is based in the north east. She went through her back catalogue chronologically and interspersed it with some short stories and reminiscences–and occasionally jokes which didn't hit the mark, but were nonetheless engaging. It's amazing that her second album 'Little Black Numbers' – which was nominated for the Mercury prize that year – was back in 2000. Where does the time go when it's not around here?


It was a gentle, spine-tingling occasion. I won't spend much time going over it, in fact I'll give you my eight word summary: Great songs, beautiful voice and a wonderful soul.


I bumped into four people there I knew, which goes to show some of my friends have fabulous taste in music. If you get the chance to see Kathryn play anywhere: don't miss it. In the meantime you can always buy an album or two of hers, or check her out first on Spotify. I went for the Anthology (sold at the gig at a good discount from the RRP), which I bought from the lady herself, and so I now have 20 CDs worth of music to enjoy.


Website: kathrynwilliams.co.uk

Gigs... It's Been A While.

Been a while (ages) since I've been to any gigs. I used to go to loads but with one thing and another I just haven't been gigging lately. But I've actually got a couple coming up now and I can't wait.

Firstly, next week I'm going to see Kathryn Williams at the Liverpool Philharmonic in the Music Room and I've got tickets for Calexico and Iron & Wine in November also in the Philharmonic Hall. Last week I got their recent album 'Years to Burn' which I've hardly turned off. It's bloody brilliant. I saw them play in Manchester many years ago in the Academy. Acoustically the Phil will be miles better - the acoustics in the Academy seem better designed to magnify the volume of people chatting away about the current issues on Eastenders than the bands. Why do people spend money to go to a gig then chat all the way through it - just to say they were there? That said I would rather be standing than sitting. So the Phil will be both better and not as good - although very comfortable.

Calexico and Iron & Wine: Years to Burn

Anyway roll on Wednesday, and Kathryn. It'll be the first time I've seen her live. Perhaps I'll write a wee review. In the meantime if you don't know either of the artistes I recommend you check them out. I've put a link to a song each on YouTube for each of them (click on the photos) and their websites and Twitter details are below. Happy listening.

Kathryn Williams: Monday Morning

Website: www.kathrynwilliams.co.uk
YouTube Video:
Monday Morning

YouTube video:
Father Mountain

Words with Bots

I've been playing Words with Friends with… well, with friends, for years now. There's only a couple of people I play with regularly now, which is good - when I used to play more people it could eat into a lot of time. Now I just slot it in every now and again.

Last week something odd happened when someone I didn't now invited me to play. I know it always asks you to '
play with someone new' and gives you 'coins' if you start a match with someone that way. So I thought maybe it was someone winning a few coins for playing a match with me. Anyways I beat her easy enough and wondered if she'd play again afterwards, but no. Instead a few minutes later another 'woman' invited me to play. The timing could not be a coincidence; no new people had invited me to play for many months so to get two consecutive like that was clearly wonky. I suspected bots.

I went back to the one I'd just beaten and saw on her profile she played in multiple languages (six or so), not just English and American English. And so did the new invitee. I smelled a rat. Since then I've declined all these games, as they keep coming.

I like the game. I like challenging friends not a bloody computer. So why does the App do this? And why suddenly now? I'm assuming it's to collect more ad money. If I'm playing more games then I'm seeing more adverts. But who knows, perhaps there is some other more nefarious reason for this uncalled for activity. Or perhaps it has something to do with the recent hack of Zynga from Pakistan?

Interestingly all these new players have attractive women avatars with professional looking shots–apart from one; which had a cat. Their algorithms aren't working if they thought I'd go for a cat! There doesn't seem to be a setting to turn off these bots. And I haven't seen anything from the software maker, Zynga, on their use. All in all; very poor.

So far the bots who have invited me to play were:

  • Holly Rose
  • Emma Radcliff
  • Gaby Spiers (the cat)
  • Alexa Dimitrov
  • Tara McClusky

If you play Words with Friends keep an eye out for these characters. You may find you're playing them too.

Microcosms Results

The Microcosms website still seems to be having severe issues. I posted the results off a couple of weeks ago and due to those issues the results have yet to be posted up. In the interim whilst the website elves deal with the gremlins here are the results. Hope the Microcosms site is sorted soon.


As someone who never spins on principle I was surprised at how many did this week. That said, I hadn’t looked at the page until after I had completed the judging (which reminds me: thanks Sal for sending me the stories minus the authors so I could do the judging blind). I assume the spinning was to avoid the steampunk form, which may be a bit constraining and not an obvious choice so I do understand the spinning; and after all the option is there for a reason.

There were eight entries this week, but one was using the previous week’s prompts which I’ve discounted - not sure whether this has appeared in the wrong section due to some of the current issues the site has been experiencing.

There was a fun range of stories taking in time-travel to Stonehenge, steam-driven aeroplanes, environmental activism, transcendentalism, and the mundanity of war. Well done to all, it was pleasure to read them.

Favourite Lines

Earth Daze
After the massive marches in the States, the exhilaration of them, the fear of what they signified, Lucy asked, “What if…” and she hesitated a fraction, “what if we dedicated our lives to the earth?”
Sunset At Stonehenge
All human eyes were fixed on the sunset, so none noticed the otherworldly traveler who stepped from the shadows of the eastern arch.
The Transcendental Artist
‘I’m going to paint my way out of here,’ I told myself.
Five Words Screaming
But the message itself – the message was always the same:
I regret to inform you…
Per Ardua Ad Astra
It was a large machine, larger than any steam-powered aeroplane flown so far, it had to be to accommodate all the coal required to reach the fabulous speed expected of it.
The Gold Mine
A gigantic steamy bird is taking off: miners are on board cheering and screaming towards the freedom
On Pain of Death
“Everyone,” her voice cut through the flurry of screams. “Remain calm.”

Oscar (previous week’s challenge)
“Having trouble finishing my sentenc… ” Oscar said. Oscar 99-101 refilled his bowl with organic, unsalted puffed peas.
Er… maybe an issue with the website?

Five Words Screaming : Ellen Grace
Tightly written story and evocative of the hopes and expectations of the protagonist. Dreaming of helping the war effort, sending messages that would impact on the war effort–help in winning it. Then these hopes to be dashed (and dotted) by being given the task of sending out death notices time and time again. Well done. Lovely job.

The Transcendental Artist : KJ Watson
What fun we’d have if we could paint what we needed or wanted to happen. Great idea, nicely paced, well written and totally fun.