Whitby Writers Group

a self-help writers co-operative

NEWS

Thu 1 Dec 2022

The Genetically Modified Little Mermaid. A wry parody of the far more familiar (and more vandalised) Copenhagen landmark.

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Wed 30 Nov 2022

Titanosaurus – a nomen dubium? Or our first glimpse of the fabulous Monstosaurus?

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Tue 29 Nov 2022

What is a meme? To most people it means little more than an internet cliché. But when Richard Dawkins gave us the word in his book The Selfish Gene, he intended it as something more interesting. Knowing he was able to explain the behaviour of genes theoretically, Dawkins was keen to search for things that obeyed his theory without arising within living matter. He found it in the catchphrase, the joke, the graffito.

Dawkins’s memes are replicators, i.e they give rise to copies of themselves. Not always perfect copies, but with variations. Whether a variant dies out, or survives to be replicated in its turn, is not purely random, but relies on something like Darwin’s natural selection. The meme gets improved upon over time, i.e. it evolves, in much the same way that living organisms do.

So a meme is not merely an internet fad. It’s arguably an example of a life-form that is not carbon-based. Which is good for us to know when we go searching for extra-terrestrial life.

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Mon 28 Nov 2022

This is just the 6th time in recorded history that a meteor’s arrival has been successfully forecast.

It’s good to know that we now have such effective international cooperation to warn of the arrival of a space rock that could trash the planet. Leaving us free to do it ourselves in our own inimitable way.

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Sun 27 Nov 2022

Memories of a lost childhood. The Coyoacán Bazaar Toy Cemetery.

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Sat 26 Nov 2022

I’m so good at sleeping I can do it with my eyes closed.

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Fri 25 Nov 2022

Meet Carrot, possibly the world’s largest goldfish. It’s not the first time he’s been caught and released. Perhaps he likes the publicity?

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Thu 24 Nov 2022

I saw a robbery at the Apple store. What does that make me?

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Wed 23 Nov 2022

I’ve often wondered what sort of people become Fifa bosses.

Someone who’d organise a piss-up in a nunnery?

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Tue 22 Nov 2022

To illustrate the news item below, I instructed my new pet AI called DALL-E with the prompt:

A medicine bottle with a label showing a warm cosy fire

DALL-E generated. © 2022, Clark Nida

DALL-E is a marvel, but not only can’t it count fingers on its hands: it’s also hopelessly dyslexic.

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Tue 22 Nov 2022

From the BBC website: Patients prescribed heating as part of health trial. What a brilliant idea! The doctor will actually pay to help heat your room if it will keep you out of hospital – which would cost the NHS a lot more. This trial is being extended since it’s proving so popular.

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Tue 22 Nov 2022

Christies was all set to auction a T. rex skeleton when someone pointed out suspicious similarities with another exhibited skeleton. Do you suppose it was one of the T. rexes that Spookie the Cat put together to sell to museums?

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Mon 21 Nov 2022

The luxury Swedish ice hotel that simply never melts.

How do they do it? With a great big refrigeration plant.

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Sun 20 Nov 2022

King Tutankhamun had an iron dagger bound into his mummy wrappings. This was in the Bronze Age, before iron-ore smelting was known. How did the Egyptians get hold of iron?

It seems they used iron from iron-rich meteorites. King Tut’s dagger was made from two different meteorites.

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Sat 19 Nov 2022

More fluffernutters. I’ve now got a yen for fluffernutter wraps!

Spread half of a plain tortilla with peanut butter, and the other half with fluff. Roll it up, starting at the fluff edge.
For aesthetic reasons, hold it tightly at the bottom as you eat it.

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Fri 18 Nov 2022

To stop the Artemis launch being scrubbed yet again, they had to send in guys with spanners to tighten nuts right under the rocket – a very dangerous place to be. It all sounds a bit string-and-sealing-wax to me, for a rocket that’s planned to be the mainstay of the Artemis mission to return the USA to the Moon.

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Thu 17 Nov 2022

Big big toys for big big boys.

So, after a string of aborted launches, NASA’s Artemis single-use, legacy-tech heavy launcher finally got off the ground – just before the solid fuel boosters went past their sell-by date.

Is this really a milestone on the way to the Moon – and Beyond! – or The Fighting Temeraire being towed to its last resting place?

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Wed 16 Nov 2022

Yesterday the Electoral Reform Society published Time for Change: The 2022 Welsh Local Elections and the Case for STV.

This report compares the Welsh elections, run under FPP (First Past the Post), with the Scottish local elections, run under the proportional STV (Single Transferable Vote), and makes a strong case for changing the Welsh system. 

ERS found that in over a third of councils in Wales a party holds more than 50% of the seats on less than 50% of the vote. Shockingly, more than 100,000 voters in Wales had their choice taken away from them as there was only one candidate standing in 74 seats. First Past the Post makes many elections so uncompetitive it simply isn’t worth challenging the incumbent.

Here are my thoughts, for what they’re worth…

What’s a good name for a political constitution like this? It’s certainly not Democracy.

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Tue 15 Nov 2022 20:24:00.

The eBook of my anthology ‘Wandering About’ is free to download on Amazon, 15th to 20th November. Please help yourself. 

From Harry Nicholson
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Tue 15 Nov 2022

The choicest bit of fake news doing the rounds in the USA: the rumour that schools are providing kitty litter boxes for children who “identify as cats” and refuse to use regular restrooms.

VICE News scotches the lie. But this one has 9 lives – it just keeps going and going.

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Mon 14 Nov 2022

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order relocating Japanese Americans because he deemed them “a threat to national security.”

The Ireichō is a sacred book of names listing the 125,284 Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in US internment camps during World War II.

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Sun 13 Nov 2022

At our last meeting, Harry declared that a Maltese luzzu always sported a pair of eyes. We discussed how all over the world it seems to be a traditional way of symbolically bringing an inanimate object to life.

I chanced to recall that in my boyhood in the 1940s and 1950s, London buses were also in the habit of wearing eyes. Nobody was aware of this fact, which sent me looking for evidence of it on the internet. Lo and behold, I found several examples of what I remembered. It was a tradition: Londoners knew buses sometimes had eyes – and advertisers booked the appropriate corners to explore the meme in every imaginable variation.

Here are a few examples (which I will only show as links for copyright reasons):

  1. Picture Post was a popular glossy magazine.
  2. Here’s a suburban bus (green) with the same advert.
  3. The Heathrow Express seems a bit red-eyed.
  4. Capping The Joke in Sevenoaks.
  5. A daring variation, but you can’t miss the allusion.
  6. The eyes have it – perhaps the spot is for sale?
  7. That tram didn’t watch where it was going!
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Sat 12 Nov 2022

The Troll is a magical being from Nordic myth and legend. It takes many forms, as do the Dwarf and the Elf – the three terms overlapping so much as to be practically indistinguishable. The most popular form of troll is the ugly slow-witted giant described by JRR Tolkien in his fantasy stories. In modern Swedish: troll the word simply means magical, and gets attached to any animal, vegetable or mineral.

The association of trolls with bridges may be nothing more than a pun on troll/toll. Like millers, the builders of toll bridges were solitary, vulnerable individuals providing an essential service at their own cost, but which made them few friends. Their designation as trolls was simply a subterfuge to justify violating their human rights. In England the association with toll bridges dates back to the 1840s with the Norwegian fairytale: De tre bukkene Bruse, translated into English as The Three Billy Goats Gruff. It recounts the adventures of three goat-brothers who try to outwit the hapless owner of a toll bridge as they seek to cross it without paying.

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Fri 11 Nov 2022

Kurt Vonnegut, American novelist, born 11 November 1922, in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA.

Best known for his novels The Sirens of Titan (1959) and Slaughterhouse-Five (1969).

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Thu 10 Nov 2022

Helmet-headed dinosaurs (pachycephalosaurs) kickboxed like kangaroos, new study suggests.

And we all thought they would have head-butted like bighorn sheep.

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Wed 9 Nov 2022

QUOTE: If extraterrestrial life sent us a message tomorrow, how would humanity respond? According to researchers, we don’t know yet — and that’s a problem.

What? We can’t even agree how to respond when terrestrial life sends us an urgent message – and has been doing so for the past 30 to 60 years.

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Tue 8 Nov 2022

I’ve been experimenting with DALL-E, a website which lets you create AI-generated artwork. I’ve featured it before (see below: 29 Sep). I was keen to know how practical it was for illustrating a novel, an anthology of stories or poems, or even a book cover. My pockets are not deep enough to commission an illustrator, who might charge £30 to £300 for one illustration, though I know for a fact that illustrators earn their fee and are probably selling their time at floor-cleaning rates.

You can see the results of my investigations in Anitra’s Petition, a serialised extract of an unpublished novel. I think it’s a feasible proposition. Next I want to try a children’s story.

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Mon 7 Nov 2022

Maharajah Duleep Singh was the last legitimate ruler of the Sikh Empire in the Punjab. The BBC website records the Indian boy king’s warm friendship with Queen Victoria.

Not mentioned in the BBC article is the fact that from 1858 – 1862 Duleep Singh rented Mulgrave Castle at Sandsend, just north of Whitby. The story of his privileged life, which ended sadly, is told on another BBC webpage.

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Sun 6 Nov 2022 00:11:33

Scientists just discovered a huge river hidden under Antarctica.

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Sat 5 Nov 2022 00:03:31

A massive space rock impact could have instantly created the moon. A sort of Newton’s Cradle effect.

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Fri 4 Nov 2022 03:01:43

A Mondrian painting has been hanging upside down for 75 years. But they’re not going to change it, in case bits fall off it.

Do you suppose they’ll install climbing bars for hanging upside down to look at it?

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Wed 2 Nov 2022 01:53:42

I’m fascinated by jumping spiders. Often called eight-legged cats, these creatures possess so many feline features they are the most “mammalian” of invertebrates. This is due to convergent evolution, which arises because a jumping spider doesn’t catch an insect in a web, like other spiders, but creeps up on it and pounces, like a cat. They have movable eyes (the big pair, which give it binocular vision and colour vision) plus cognitive abilities reminiscent of cats. Oh – and they’re covered in gorgeous fur.

I haz fruitflies pleez?

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Tue 1 Nov 2022 01:15:35

On February 22, 2020, “Mad” Mike Hughes died following the crash of his steam-powered rocket. After his death, his public relations representative stated: “We used flat Earth as a PR stunt… Flat Earth allowed us to get so much publicity that we kept going! I know he didn’t believe in flat Earth and it was a shtick.”

I confess I’m disappointed. I felt that Mike Hughes showed the dedication of a true scientist in his quest to establish the flatness of the Earth. But it appears he was altogether a showman in the Evel Knievel mould.

And what of those people – climate deniers – who for two whole generations successfully torpedoed effective global action against man-made climate change by engineering a fake scientific debate? Will they one day be telling us they never doubted the true state-of-affairs, but only wanted to preserve their egregious profits from coal, oil or gas?

And will they too call it a shtick? Others may call it by its right name.

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Mon 31 Oct 2022 11:27:07

On this day 100 years ago, a one-time ardent socialist, Benito Mussolini, was appointed the youngest ever Prime Minister of Italy.

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Mon 31 Oct 2022 00:23:33

The Washington Post (WP) is still spooked by TikTok (see my NEWS post below of 2 weeks ago). WP insists that American lawmakers have not done anywhere near enough to keep the internet safe for Americans and their children, and now carries an article on how the USA and China are locked in a bizarre dance over its control.

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Sun 30 Oct 2022 01:35:10

Feeling the yen for a fresh-smoked kipper again.

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Sat 29 Oct 2022 00:44:48

I’ve acquired a taste for fluffernutters!

In nearly 30 years of travel throughout the USA (I’ve seen some changes during that time!) plus living there for 3 years, I’d never heard of a fluffernutter – until my daughter asked me what it was. It turns out to be a sandwich of peanut butter and “fluff” – spreadable marshmallow foam. I guess you only get to know about such things by being born and brought up in America.

However the other day I spotted a jar of fluff in the local Co-op. Locating some peanut butter and a loaf, I bore all the ingredients home in anticipation.

Delicious!

I knew about peanut butter, of course. Post-war, ordinary butter was hard to come by, so your butty was made with either peanut butter or margarine, which you most emphatically could tell from butter because of its metallic taste. Then you put jam (USA: jelly) or golden syrup on top of that.

Fluff takes away the manky taste of peanuts, and doesn’t hit you with excessive sweetness. I think of the flavour as quintessential Generica: hints of vanilla and cinnamon. I’m told the standard ingredients are: sugar, water, air, plus a whipping agent. For that last item I doubt anyone these days uses the marsh-mallow: Althaea officinalis.

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Fri 28 Oct 2022 01: 06

“Mummy, mummy, are we snakes poisonous?”

“Yes, dear. Very poisonous. Why?”

“Oh dear! I’ve just bitten my tongue.”

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Thu 27 Oct 2022 01:16:40

Pablo Escobar left Colombia with a lot of problems, not the least being a breeding pair of hippos that have done the obvious thing.

How do you “doctor” a hippo?

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Wed 26 Oct 2022 00:00:09

“It is improper to boil a head in here”.

Notice in newly-discovered Egyptian shrine

I wonder if Spookie the Cat might have some views on this?

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Tue 25 Oct 2022 00:13:08

Aren’t you glad you’re not 1 mm high, when you might come face to face with a carpenter ant?

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Mon 24 Oct 2022 00:04:27

The James Webb Space Telescope revisits the celebrated Hubble picture of The Pillars Of Creation, and has a slightly different take on it…

So does my daughter Leela. She doesn’t see it as a divine hand, but as a big brown animal reaching up. And she knows which animal… the Giant Ground Sloth.

I propose a new name for this celestial object: the Giant Sky Sloth.

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Sun 23 Oct 2022 01:20:46

Did you know that Great Britain once had rainforests? There are still vestiges of them – and they could be revived.

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Sat 22 Oct 2022 00:39:11

Still on the theme of rest-breaks round Whitby, the so-called Wishing Chair looks to me like a lot of other lumps of sandstone in the town, which were used as alighting steps in the days of stage-coaches.

Perhaps you sat in it and wished for the stage-coach to hurry up and come.

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Fri 21 Oct 2022 00:06:30

The coffin benches at intervals on the 199 Steps at Whitby are a godsend. Without them you’d be dead by the time you reached the top.

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Thu 20 Oct 2022 00:10:22

On 3 June 1991 at 3.18pm, a pyroclastic flow erupted from Mount Unzen in Japan. A cloud of superheated gases and particles descended at more than 100mph from the peak of the volcano, consuming everything in its path.  It instantly killed Katia and Maurice Krafft, volcanologists and film-makers from the Alsace region in France. They were too close.

from Storyville [BBC iPlayer]

The Fire Within pays homage to the Kraffts, who left an archive of more than 200 hours of footage of their final journey, unprecedented in its spectacular and hypnotic beauty. 

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Wed 19 Oct 2022 00:47:00

The bunyip is a cryptid from Australian folk-legend, inhabiting billabongs and doing mischief to skinny-dipping visitors. Some drawings of the beast are vaguely evocative of a fur seal as drawn from traumatised memory by someone who doesn’t know what a fur seal is…

The same could be said of the barguest: a Whitby cryptid made famous by Bram Stoker, who has Count Dracula making landfall from the beached Russian ship in the form of a great black dog (one of the beast’s manifestations), which bounds up the 199 Steps to lie low in the grave of a suicide.

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Tue 18 Oct 2022 01:10:06

Doctors now have access to artificial blood cells. These have a storage life of 6 month compared to 35 days for human red blood cells.

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Mon 17 Oct 2022 00:32:03

Black frogs in Chernobyl? – the green frogs have all croaked.

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Sun 16 Oct 2022 00:10:07

How TikTok ate the internet. If you’re pre-Generation Z and are too scared to download TikTok, this Washington Post article brings you a taste of it without sacrificing your privacy and identity to global bad-actors. TikTok shows audience-generated snatches of movie, changeable at a swipe, then puts you under a microscope (without your knowledge or consent) to investigate and log how you respond to its smoke’n’mirrors.

Before long it’s slurped your mind (an easy enough task with most adolescents). Big Brother with bells on.

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Sat 15 Oct 2022 01:16:32

The Simpsons jokes forensically analysed to bits.

…And you thought it was easy to write humorous stuff?

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Fri 14 Oct 2022 00:00:47

Why do crested penguins lay two eggs, reject the first one and hatch only the second?

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Thu 13 Oct 2022 03:15:00

Listening yet-again to the marvellous Secrets of Sleep Science: From Dreams to Disorders (audiobook) by Craig Heller.

Think you know everything about sleep? Then answer this…

Q: Why should a blind person always wear dark glasses when going outside?
a) So you can’t see their eyes are shut,
b) So they can’t see you staring at them if their sight suddenly returns,
c) To help them get up in the morning.

ANSWER: c)

The retina has special melanopsin-producing light-sensitive cells not involved in vision. Their function is to entrain (i.e. synchronise) your circadian rhythm to the daylight cycle. These cells continue to function even when vision is lost. But a blind person’s eyes no longer close the iris in daylight to protect the retina against UV light. Dark glasses shield a blind person’s eyes against UV, which would otherwise burn out these cells, making the circadian rhythm free-running, typically on a 26-hour cycle. Thus without dark glasses when you go out, waking up in the morning gets harder and harder.

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Tue 11 Oct 2022 21:14:57

The Palace of Culture and Science has long been the tallest building in Warsaw (but a taller one is under construction). Built in 1955 in the Stalin wedding-cake style like the Seven Sisters, it prompted this joke I heard in the city in 1968:

Q. Why are there so many people queueing to go up the top of the Palace of Culture and Science?
A. Because it’s the only spot in town where you can’t see the Palace of Culture and Science.

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Mon 10 Oct 2022 14:58:52

From that outstanding source of wacky information Atlas Obscura I read about the Anchoress of Shere. This unhappy woman got so tired of being stuck indoors that in 1332 she broke out of her cell in St James’ Church in Shere, near Guildford. But very soon she was petitioning the Pope to have herself walled up again.

No matter how bad things seem, they could be a whole lot worse.

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Sat 8 Oct 2022 03:11:34

Freedom From Torture are running a poetry competition.

Entry fee £5, deadline 28 October 2022.

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Fri 7 Oct 2022 20:33:11

It’s hard to get into the mind of an autocrat who devises an elaborate practical joke to shame an errant underling. But perhaps the Mikado-esque punishment was so memorable, whatever one’s sense of humour, that scant sympathy accrued to the unhappy victim.

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Thu 6 Oct 2022 22:59:39

Excellence rewarded. Further to yesterday’s news item, Sergei Krikalev is currently executive director of human spaceflight programs at the Russian space agency Roscosmos, serving under Yuri Borisov, who on July 15 of this year replaced the fire-breathing Dmitry Rogozin as head of the agency.

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Wed 5 Oct 2022 23:34:12

Sergei Krikalev: the cosmonaut who spent 311 days in space and time-travelled through the dissolution of the USSR.

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Tue 4 Oct 2022 23:18:41

York born bestselling author Andrew Martin is appearing at Scarborough Library this Thursday 6 October at 6pm. Author of bestseller ‘The Last Train to Scarborough’, Andrew will be discussing his Jim Stringer railway detective series and also his new entertaining book about Yorkshire.

Tickets are just £4, including a glass of wine and are available from Scarborough Library in advance of the event. Alternatively phone 01609 536602 to reserve a seat. Some tickets available on the door but spaces are limited.

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Mon 3 Oct 2022 13:48:42

If you think the key conceit of The Last Of The Time Cats is too far-fetched, then read this article: Can stringy physics rescue the universe from a catastrophic transformation?
(WARNING: not right before bed.)

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Sun 2 Oct 2022 01:06:27

Want to escape from Russia? Not in Russia – want to escape from the world at large?
Chota Sahib – Charles H G Nida’s memoir of his adventures as a box-wallah (travelling salesman) in pre-WW1 India, is sheer escapism. Keep an eye on our right-hand sidebar for more stories from WWG to read again.

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Sat 1 Oct 2022 00:46:57

JPC Whitby Supercar Saturday
Saturday 1st October 2022 – 10am – 4pm

Experience some of the most impressive collections of supercars you’ll see in one place as they roll into the Whitby Harbour for the inaugural 80 vehicle Supercar Saturday event.

Why should an event like this be of interest to writers like us, still creating stories for the printed page? Well, would you dare write a novel set in the 19th century or earlier if you knew nothing about horses? What about a novel set in the present-day?

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Fri 30 Sep 2022 04:39:46

Had one or two genuine laughs out of this website

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Thu 29 Sep 2022 16:25:06

Volchin is back in-print. Copies from the author at concessionary price (1 copy) to WWG members only.

From Clark Nida
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Thu 29 Sep 2022 15:52:21

AI can now create any image in seconds, bringing wonder and danger.

From Washington Post (28 Sep 2022)

The above article describes DALL.E 2, a website presenting a research AI which sells you “points” (quite cheaply too) to generate your own picture from a text description you type-in yourself. 50 free points to start you off, another 50 free each month, no obligation to buy anything, no 3rd-party ads.

Craiyon is an alternative site for an open-source version of DALL.E 2, totally free but financed by ads and generating artwork of lower quality, especially where faces are concerned. But for fantasy themes this has its merits. For example:


which readers of Volchin will recognise from the short story: A Hand In The Dark.

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Wed 28 Sep 2022 15:15:05

I thought to let you know the eBook ‘Green Linnet’, my anthology of short pieces, is free today and tomorrow (Thursday 29th). From Harry Nicholson

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WWG NEWS is edited by Ian Clark

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