Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Glorious autumn

I love autumn. I think I love it more than summer because it's cooler and the flies have gone, the leaves are starting to turn glorious colours and a walk is so pleasant. If I think of the summer I remember batting flies away and sweating when I walked Tim - even if I went at a snail's pace.

A couple of days ago we went to walk at Allen Banks so early we were nearly the first ones there. Near Ridley Hall and Bardon Mill, its a National Trust property with glorious wooded banks following the River Allen, a tributary of the South Tyne. We scrambled up the hill away from the river, because most people amble along beside the water towards Plankey Mill and the old bridge that got washed away in last winter's floods. It is beautiful, but we have a more peaceful walk if we meet fewer dogs, so we opt for the high road.

 The video clip is of me  playing with Tim, and if you think I'm very delicate with my throwing of a stick for him, it is because the banks suddenly drop off like a cliff and I didn't want him suddenly disappearing over the edge! We plan to return in a week or so when the leaves have more colour and I finally have a fully charged up camera. DH chides me for not charging it, and I insist I have been; but the last few times I've taken the wretched thing out, it has calmly informed me its battery is low and then it refuses to work. when we got home we found the instruction book and discovered I hadn't been doing it with the right bits of wire and plugs. Duh!  How complicated life is these days!

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Free speech and PC

The week has flown by and I'm overdue with a blog post!  

There's an interesting discussion going on one of the yahoo groups (it may be over now) about whether or not to use certain words in historical novels. I am surprised that anyone would think about re-naming Guy Gibson's dog in order to be politically correct, because surely that is changing history. I use that example because it is fairly straightforward: the dog, a black Labrador, was called Nigger. Gibson's dog, his choice of name and surely a reflection on his character and an interesting sidelight on the man and his culture of almost eighty years ago. Change the dog's name and you "sanitise" the story.

How far does this censorship go? For that is what it amounts to. We used to have a nice little word that described happy people but now it is never used except to describe people of a certain sexual persuasion. The allowable words to describe those with physical or mental problems, people of colour and/or a particular religious habits change almost every week, making it nearly impossible to keep up and be correct - if you subscribe to the idea that you should. It is even hard to describe some of these situations without getting the language in knots. PC-ness is tied up with gender and sexism, too; I notice more and more actresses don't want to be anything but actors, as if the word itself conveyed something special on them. Waitresses are in danger of becoming terribly Americanised "servers," which I think is a rather more demeaning concept than being a waitress. But there you go. what do I know? But I have to ask, before this all goes silly:

What happened to free speech?

Some thoughts that bear thinking about, discovered while researching the topic;

We recognise bullying as the most unpleasant form of physical abuse by someone who wants to wield power of some sort over someone else. Political correctness is the most insidious form of bullying where the bullies attack the psychology and thinking of another for their own satisfaction, even though something is said in complete innocence (and ignorance) of its origins. We should recognise the politically correct brigade as nothing but bullies in another form, trying to twist the minds of others to satisfy their own inadequacies.

Political Correctness: Only saying what one is allowed to say - by whom? Didn't the Nazis practise something like it, or the Soviet Union especially under Stalin. Double talk, double think results in lies and deception. Sweep away PC once and for all.

These kinds of regulations are completely insane, and yet they exist. Has anyone asked just why it is that in Britain today, faceless bureaucrats, whose names aren't even known, apparently have the power to impose legal restrains on the speech of other citizens. And they can apparently do this with any law being passed through Parliament, and in complete defiance of the will of the vast majority, without any form of accountability.

I don't want a sanitised language, and I really don't want history sanitised. History was often brutal and unkind, but that is part of the reason it is endlessly fascinating. Trying to whitewash the language is like trying to say that no wars ever took place and Henry VIII never executed two of his wives, that so-called heretics were never burned at the stake. 

Monday, 21 September 2015

Autumn masterclass

 Joyce Maynard seems pleased with the James Patterson MasterClass in writing fiction. You know - the one I've received adverts for - and I'm sure you have - over the last three weeks.

Patterson covers where he gets his ideas, designs his characters—and what makes a character compelling. Villains. Creating tension. Writing Dialogue that doesn’t sound like real life—which would be tedious. He writes dialogue that’s wittier, tighter, more filled with dramatic tension and suspense, than anything ever said around the dinner table.

He believes in the importance of a great outline which is the thing he actually writes before he turns it over to his "stable of co-authors." (The guys who actually write the books.)

He believes in research, surprises, action, and claims that if a story isn’t galloping along, it’s sinking. Fast. The first sentence must be a killer, every page needs to contain some drama and intrigue; suspense and excitement that keeps the reader in the chair.

“I’m not that concerned with style," Patterson says. "Don’t think about the sentences. Just keep that train roaring along.

Write in such a way that words “turn on the movie projector” in a reader’s head,”

Can James Patterson’s MasterClass turn out an accomplished author? Not if a person doesn’t have some natural instincts. The MasterClass has not been created—nor will it be—that can impart talent, or originality, or simply a good ear. For the three hours it takes to listen to all 22 segments of his MasterClass, students may actually get to feel like writers. And that in itself is a bonus.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Third time lucky

Finally, on the third attempt, Createspace has accepted my covers. Now all I have to do is proof and publish. Was it all worth it? That's doubtful, since as far as I can tell I've sold very few paperback copies of Abduction, and I doubt the sales will suddenly streak up the charts now. It was certainly an interesting exercise getting to know Createspace, and it was a thrill to hold my paperback copy - the sort of thrill I didn't get with the Kindle books I've published. The cover is slightly different; I decided to do away with the "archaic" font on the cover and went for a plain, bolder style and colour in what some will call a sickly greenish-yellow. I may follow suit with the Kindle cover.

I'm also toying with experimenting with a bought cover and using it on Dark Whisky Road, but it is hard to find anything that will suit a Victorian story. Maybe the dark winter days will seduce me into trying to do one of my own - who knows?

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Createspace ~ Unexpected trouble

I have just got myself into a lot of trouble. Deciding I wanted to carry out two corrections to the Createspace copy of Abduction as well as the Kindle copy, I went ahead and made the changes to the interior file. Then a message pops up telling me I have to reload the cover art as well. Duh. I hadn't expected that, and a terrific hunt ensued among the many versions of the cover to locate the correct cover pic. Finally found it, uploaded it and breathed a sigh of relief. Then this morning I find a post that had gone into my spam box telling me that I had failed to upload the back cover, so now my book would be available with a plain white back cover.  Just what I didn't want!

I'm beginning to think that though doing corrections on the Kindle version was easy-peasy, I wish I hadn't bothered with the Createspace paperback copy. The two correction were minor - a surplus "and" and a surplus "her" which would be a hangover from when I changed the structure of a sentence, and if anyone noticed them, the sense would have been clear. Or perhaps Amazon should put a warning note on the website so that authors are prepared to reload the entire cover as well as making changes to the interior text. Now you must excuse me while on go on a further hunt to find out exactly how I get the entire cover uploaded.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Writing sequels

Guess what I saw on my bird feeder yesterday?
I know the picture is fuzzy and that's because
I took it through double-glazing. The last time I tried to open the window the mouse was gone in a flash! He lives under the sink-pond and no doubt shares accommodation with the resident frogs who inhabit said pond every spring, have orgies and produce hundreds of tadpoles. The level of nuts goes down very quickly, but it is not just the mouse; we have flocks of young sparrows and bluetits who have taken up residence in the garden this year - or if not our garden, then one very close by. The fly in in squadrons; one day they were closely followed by a sparrow hawk which crashed into the Virginia creeper never to be seen again. It survived, but I bet it got a fright.

Busy with the sequel to Abduction of the Scots Queen and trying not to get tangled in the politics of the time, or to fall in the trap of assuming that every reader will have read Abduction and have net the basic characters like Lennox and Meg Douglas. Tricky to get it down on paper without giving info dumps or confusing the reader. I'm also looking into the best ways of PR, which I abandoned at the beginning of the year. Now things seem to have changed. The online groups are not so busy as they used to be and don't seem to be where the promotion is taking place, whereas Twitter seems to be full of it. I'm re-visiting old links hoping not all of them are now defunct. Owners and moderators all have lives outside the group, of course, and "life" may well have got in the way of running it for a while.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Rebecca Tope

I've discovered a new author - Rebecca Tope.


She writes about Thea Osborne who house-sits in the Cotswolds and usually manages to get involved in a murder investigation. I suppose they are the same genre as the Euphemia Martin mysteries except that the Cotswold stories are contemporary and the Martin mysteries are Victorian. Sometimes the Tope mysteries leave me with questions (such as what happened to Jimmy, and what did the owners say when they came back from Hong King and found their dogs had been shot?) and often the murderer comes out of left field at the end of the book, but I'm reading number nine in the series at the moment, and have only missed the very first and number five, so you could say  there is something about the stories I like. 

There is an element of peering into lighted windows as darkness falls to see how other people live. Each book has a new setting, a new set of characters plus some we've met before and of course there are the animals that Thea must care for until their owners return. The dialogue is entertaining because Thea is nosy and sometimes people dislike her; the topics briefly cover all sorts of modern issues such as the right to suicide and often I find myself in agreement - and that's always nice! My local library has a raft of Tope paperback sitting on the shelf, so my reading is assured for a few weeks to come.

Monday, 7 September 2015

MacGuffin and Open analytics

Autumn is on its way
James Bridle reports that Manchester’s Comma Press, which specialises in short stories, has launched something called MacGuffin. It is a self-publishing platform that gives detailed analytics showing when readers get bored.

Read the whole article: here

“The clean, minimalist interface echoes popular blogging platforms, and visitors are encouraged to search for something to read by theme and length: trending tags at time of writing included #crime, #humour and #10minuteread. Currently in beta on the web and launching mobile apps in the next couple of months, the site already contains plenty of stories from Comma’s own authors.
Alongside every story published are its open analytics, visible to both author and readers. Mercilessly, these detail the exact number of people who have opened a story, and the number of people who actually finish it. They even display a chart of exactly when each reader stopped reading: which, while painful, does give writers the chance to test their narrative structure. Whether this will prove a digital innovation too far for more sensitive writers remains to be seen, but if MacGuffin does take off, mining this data for insights into human attention might be one of the smartest things any publisher has done in some time.”

I’m half-tempted to try it.... except that I might not like what I see!

Thursday, 3 September 2015


Self-publishing still attracts hostility and an assumption that any self-published work is sub-standard.

Alison Baverstock, writing in the Guardian recently, did some research and discovered that 65% of self-publishers are women. Nearly two-thirds were aged 41 to 60, with a further 27% aged over 61. Half were in full-time employment, 32% had a degree and 44% a higher degree. Self-publishers tend to be educated and busy.

It cannot be denied that there is much dross out there. Baverstock cites three main reasons for so much tosh – and also a "case for a cultural value that is less easy to quantify."

1. The author has not thought about what self-publishing means 
2. Making content available is not the same as making it readable 
3. Success is not defined by the number of books downloaded or sold 

Baverstock's definition of self-publishing is “the process of taking personal responsibility for the management and production of content”. I agree with that, but beg to remind her that Marketing and selling have to be self-published author's concern too. No agent or a traditional publisher to hold her hand and wave a magic wand as she says We'll do the cover and sell it for you while you write the next book.

"Material made available without sufficient thought damages not only the writer’s reputation but that of self-published work in general. Typing is not the same thing as writing. "I can't disagree with that.

"Most of the material  from traditional publishers is so well handled that it’s only when we see badly-presented content it strikes us that publishing is more difficult than it looks. For some, the penny never drops.'

The other thing she does not consider is that many readers today actually want what Baverstock would call tosh. The short story of 40k words or sometimes less, with a vague storyline and two long chapters of sexual encounters, often race up the bestseller lists on Amazon.  Somebody out there wants to read that sort of stuff. 

"Publishing is a different skill from writing, and laying out content to ensure it is easy to read takes research and practice. Effective publishing is not just pressing a button." That's true also, but it doesn't mean self-published authors don't strive to publish well.

Self-publishingauthors tend not to get in included in surveys of authors’ earnings, but Orna Ross, founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, says: “Many of the association’s members are earning significant salaries now. I’m not talking here about the outliers, like the Kindle millionaires, but the many who are earning enough to leave their day jobs, feed their families, pay their mortgage, afford comforts and luxuries. And let us not forget that sales doesn’t just equal money, it equals readers. It’s one of my great delights to witness what this does for their confidence in themselves and in their work.”
 Amazon does not make its results public. If they did we would have a better idea of how things are going. There are signs now that self-publishing is being seen as part of publishing in general. "At its best it offers the traditional industry a new source of writing talent and a chance to take on material with readerships already established. In the process, it cultivates the kind of author proactivity that publishers need if they are to reach markets that are no longer predictable, due both to the proliferation of new media and the challenge to reading of so many other alternative leisure activities."

"But it also allows people to create products that bring huge personal pride, even if they include a few spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. As a process, the value of self-publishing to communities who want to share or preserve material is huge. But for its reputation to be assured as a medium for reading pleasure, the desire to go public straight away must be resisted. Just because you can share immediately does not mean you should. There is a world of difference between attention and approval."

• Dr Alison Baverstock is Associate Professor of Publishing at Kingston University and author of The Naked Author, a guide to self-publishing (Bloomsbury). 

Lost dog!

Sunday 8 th May Slow start to a sunny day with a promise of high temperatures. Bill took Perla out at 7.30 as he has done all this month ...