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"Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg..."

29 December 2007


Many people decorate their houses on the outside with lights, but few go to the trouble of erecting a wooden facade in front of the garage and painting a Simpsons nativity scene on it. My neighbours did. The front garden also includes a life size Santa who moves his head, waves his arm and sings; a sleigh and an inflatable reindeer.

House decorated for Christmas

UPDATE: Come to think of it, a better Bartism for the headline might have been 'You would even say it glows - like a lightbulb!'

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Photos of Paris

23 December 2007


I've just returned from a trip to Paris visiting friends, where I had an opportunity to play tourist and 'do' the Eiffel Tower, Louvre and Arc de Triomphe.

On my city walks, I also came across a shop that sold shop dummies, a plastic waiter wearing a feather boa, and a war monument shaped like a country into which someone had drilled an eye hole so it looked like a bunny rabbit. You can view my Paris photographs here. The light was fantastic: the sky was blue and the sunshine was crisp, although it faded early.

Here's one of my favourites - a photo of a saxophonist busking, which was taken from a balcony on the Pompidou Centre.

Photo of a saxophonist busking by the Pompidou Centre

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My Life Story: back to the future

16 December 2007


I lost count of the number of copies I bought of My Life Story's debut album 'Mornington Crescent'. I used to give them to friends all the time. I was an evangelist for the band. But while many of my friends were converted to disciples, others didn't quite get it. Despite having great songs and arrangements, the album didn't quite capture the band's energy or the sophistication of the live sound. It works much better as a souvenir of the live show, than it does as a promotion for it.

When the band split up seven years ago, it was the end of an era. In the preceding five years, I'd seen the band dozens of times. I was at three of the four 'Month of Sundays' gigs at Dingwalls. I spent three New Years Eves with the band, and was with them for election night in 1997, when a swingometer was used to pick the songs that would be played. If there was a gig taking place in London (or as far away as Bedford), then I was either there or out of the country. Support slots (and co-headlines) introduced me to Kenickie, Babybird, Bikini Beach Band, Gretschen Hofner, Orlando and many more great acts. Inevitably, I was at all of the three consecutive gigs that brought the curtain down in December 2000.

After My Life Story, Jake started a new band called ExileInside. In contrast to My Life Story's trademark orchestral sound, the ExileInside albums were more synth and guitar-led, designed to be played by a four piece rock band. There were hints of this direction on the final MLS studio album, where the orchestra didn't play on some of the tracks. I caught most of the London ExileInside shows too, and they were great. But there was no doubt it was a new band: they weren't about to burst into 'Motorcade', less still something like 'Garden Fence Affair' or 'Megaphone Theology'.

Last year, Jake reunited My Life Story to play a one-off gig. The atmosphere was overwhelming. So many people had waited so long to hear that My Life Story sound again.

ei collage

My souvenirs from Thursday: an ExileInside shirt and the tenth reason why

This Thursday, My Life Story played their only gig this year at Shepherd's Bush Empire. The gig marked the coming together of ExileInside and My Life Story when Jake performed an acoustic set drawing on both back catalogues as his own support. It reflected the 'Month of Sundays' where the string quartet played a set before one of the MLS gigs, and also brought ExileInside to a wider audience. Accompanied by a synth piano, cello and his own guitar, Jake played MLS classics 'Claret' and 'You Can't Uneat the Apple' alongside ExileInside songs 'Antiques', 'Butterfly Wings' and 'ExileInside'. Apart from a short acoustic interlude in one of the ExileInside gigs, it was (I think), the first time the new and old songs had been brought together like that.

The main show was as great a party as ever: 'History of the world on ice' was a treat, and all the classics were present and correct. 'Angel' (which sometimes sounds a bit scratchy live), sounded fantastic - perhaps the best I've heard. I was at the front for the whole show, and got a number 10 thrown by Rox into the audience during '12 Reasons Why'.

The only disappointment is that we're told there are no plans for future MLS gigs (which recent experience shows doesn't necessarily mean they won't happen), and there were no video cameras at the show. With the DVD link on Jake's new website, I was hoping this one would be filmed for posterity.

The good news is that there could be a solo tour in March, which is particularly welcome now that Jake is comfortable with playing the best from his whole back catalogue. By using the MLS brand name and fan loyalty, Jake can introduce new listeners to the ExileInside project. The first EI album is perhaps the best album he has created (even if many of his best songs are on other albums and b-sides), and deserves a wider audience. Until then, there's a new acoustic album out called 'Written Large' (the first album to be released under the name 'Jake Shillingford'). You can order from the ExileInside website [broken link removed]. There I go, evangelising again. Some things never change.

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Christmas fun and games

09 December 2007


Here are a couple of Christmas-themed Javascript games I wrote. There's a version of Hangman called Snowman with seasonal vocabulary, and a game of pairs using Christmas-themed cards. I didn't make an advent calendar for this site this year, but Brenda Paternoster wrote to tell me that she's implemented my advent calendar script for her site about lace making and genealogy [link no longer available].

Screenshot of Snowman

Screenshot of Xmas Pairs

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University of Death: Sample chapters PDF


You can now download a PDF of the first couple of chapters from University of Death, so you can print it and read it on the bus to work, over breakfast or during the Queen's speech.

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How to write a novel

06 December 2007


I've written 17 tips on novel writing. There are many more experienced people offering advice on how to paint a scene or structure a plot, so I've just focused on the logistics. In all the guides to novel writing I've seen, there's relatively little attention paid to organising ideas and time, which are key challenges for most writers.

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University of Death MySpace page goes live

02 December 2007


University of Death's MySpace page is live, including some blog posts by Dove and a soundcheck recording from the Berlin gig. If you're on MySpace, please add University of Death as a friend.

The mini-site for the book is now live too. I'll let you know on this blog when I add new content to it.

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My novel University of Death: Available now!

01 December 2007


Book cover: University of DeathI'm delighted to say that my satire of the music industry 'University of Death' is available now, exclusively from Lulu. You can preview the first two chapters now.

When you order it, your copy is printed and bound and sent to you in a sturdy cardboard box. The book is 380 pages, and 6x9 inches (which is a bit like a hardback without the hard cover). The book costs £9.99 plus shipping, which varies depending on where in the world you are.

In my last quality check, I still found things I would have liked to have done slightly differently, but the book is definitely ready for the world now and any more editing would be tinkering and procrastination (which as we know is fear in slow motion).

After working on this for about two years, it does feel odd to be sharing it with the world now. Karen was the first person to read it when I'd finished it, and when we discussed it, it felt strange to hear her talking about people like Dove and Bigg, who for such a long time had lived in my imagination alone. I'd never heard their names spoken out loud before. I am excited that new readers will be meeting them for the first time soon and discovering their story.

This is kind of a soft launch to blog readers. I am planning to put together a corner of this website about the book, which will include an author interview. If you've got any questions you'd like to pose about the book or how it came together, feel free to email them over or put them in the comments here. In exchange, I'll try not to be too much of a luvvie in the answers. I'll also be putting together a few special features and a book preview in PDF that's easier to print.

Phew. Now I'm off to relax with a Chinese take-away and a silly film with lots of explosions in. Perhaps later I'll have a celebratory game of Beach Head.

PS: The book makes an ideal Christmas gift (hint, hint - but not for me, I've got plenty). Lulu took nine days to deliver my latest copies this week, which is slower than its usual target of printing in 4 days, but you should still be able to get copies in time for Chrimbo.

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Books by Sean McManus

Scratch Programming in Easy 

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Scratch Programming in Easy Steps

Raspberry Pi For Dummies

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Learn to program with the Scratch programming language, widely used in schools and colleges.

Set up your Pi, master Linux, learn Scratch and Python, and create your own electronics projects.

Super Skills: How to 

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Super Skills: How to Code

Web Design in Easy Steps

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Learn how to code with this great new book, which guides you through 10 easy lessons to build up your coding skills.

Learn the layout, design and navigation techniques that make a great website. Then build your own using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

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©Sean McManus. www.sean.co.uk.