Just enjoy reading

kindleThe Guardian once more raised the rather boring cry regarding the drop in e-readers sales versus paper books. Of course the quoted statistics originated from ‘The Publishers Association.’ A body of mainly the old style print publishers. These are the people who price ebooks higher than paperbacks, the people who would far rather produce yet another celebrity life story than risk publishing a new author.  Certainly, they are a group with a vested interest in promoting paper sales.

The creator of the article took no view of the other channel for ebooks, the Indie press. These are the people who now choose to self-publish, rather than handing margin to the member of ‘The Publishers Association.’

The BBC picked up the story and invited an author to comment. The author into a tirade against the smugness of people who only want to read on paper and who grasp at any fake news on the demise of ebooks as a good thing.

“There is an elitist air around those who decry the ebook.”

The Beeb wheeled out a teacher who quoted the proven fact that retention when reading from paper is greater than reading from an electronic device. Possibly true. When I edit, or prepare an important document, I would usually take it onto paper. But not all reading needs to be retained, certainly not in fiction.

Anybody who loves the feel and smell of a book is welcome to it. Anybody who has the shelf space to house their collection can feel proud, but surely coveting books is different than reading?

Reading is the pathway to another world. Whether I read to my grandchildren from an ereader, or a weathered and ancient tome doesn’t matter. They experience the pleasure of reading. It is the job of adults to encourage reading whatever the medium.

As a person who has ended up scouring the shops of a greek island desperate to find a paperback, a person who needs to take at least seven novels on holiday and as a person who ended up reading their passport over and over because it was all they had left on a rainy day in Yugoslavia, I am willing to sacrifice the olfactory delight of a book to have my current library available on ereader, phone and tablet. I am never stuck anywhere without a book and if I finish the current one, I can acquire another in seconds. This includes trains, doctors waiting rooms, traffic jams and airports. I love my Kindle.

The only question should be: How can an Ebook with no print and negligible distribution costs be priced at anywhere approaching paperback prices? Of course, the member of ‘The Publishers Association’ splits an equitable share of the increased profits with the author, don’t they?

Progress Report – Amara’s Destiny

scrivAfter the last few months of the day job taking a huge slice of time, I am trying to catch up some writing before the holiday season cuts in.
Amara’s Destiny is currently sitting at 80k words and I’m guessing it will hit around 110k in total.
I’m back on the edit cycle of the development, leaving the heroes poised ready for the start of the end (to paraphrase Churchill).
I’m still using the 10k at a time writing and then a full edit technique from Conrad. I’ve been using Scrivener’s colours on the chapters to keep track of how many passes each section has been through.
I suspect I’m going to have to extend the shades available as the number of passes increases. At least it helps me to get a quick idea where I’m up to. The darkest blue being sections I have printed and edited on paper.
No matter how much I try, I don’t see errors until they go into print.
I need enough in my head to work on. When I drive, I often run through the story and try to add a little more tension and complexity to the plot.
No idea when this will see the light of day. Once its complete I really hope to get my children’s story (Pog and the King)  into print.

Amazing product support Osprey Rucksacks

Our Osprey soft luggage/ wheelie rucksacks are a vital part of our escapes to the Greek islands. Each year I breathe a sigh when I see them appear on the luggage carousel. They come with a ‘lifetime’ guarantee, but who really believes such things?sojourn

This year, the smallest of defects occurred, the zipper tag snapped. A minor, but necessary part. I assumed I would be able to buy one on the website, but couldn’t find anything other than a link to the ‘Mighty Warranty’ page. Not really expecting a response, I filled in the form and hit the send button.

Within an hour I had an email. Within two days I had the replacement tag.

Having spent the last few months handling my father’s estate, dealing with banks, building societies and stock brokers, I have become rather jaded with the ridiculous procedures and practice of what are euphemistically called ‘help desks’.

I’ve never met her, but I find myself a little in love with Viktoria, from Osprey. If only all help desks were as helpful life would be so much easier!

We are now ready for our next adventure, a new zip tag fitted, the bags ready to roll. I will still worry about them. Having seen my sister’s indestructible luggage destroyed (You might remember the advert, an elephant standing on a case. Well, Athens baggage handlers did a better job than the elephant.) I always marvel that our bags survive the airport baggage handlers trip after trip.

A flight, a bus ride, and a ferry to … awaits.


Thanks, Osprey (and Viktoria!)

Self Publishing

I don’t claim to be an expert, but this is my experience.

Self publishing through Amazon is really easy. Ebook is obviously Kindle, where Createspace gives paper production. There are other routes to paper, such as lulu.com, Smashwords for ebooks. Smashwords is a good starting point because the production process helps you clean up the manuscript. The process they recommend is ‘Nuking’ your word document. Basically, taking it apart down to raw text and building it back up again.

You can also buy a package to help you self publish. Some of these aren’t bad, especially if you don’t want to learn the skills required to self-publish.

Most newbie writers feel they will gain by acquiring a “real” publishing deal. If it is with one of the big publishing houses, they will provide the publicity required to get a book out there.

However, there are a thousand pitfalls waiting for the new writer.

Vanity press is the old shark in the water. Lots of tales of how many famous authors paid to get their first book published. I have heard serious horror stories. 10K and upwards in costs to end up with a room full of books, or even worse a bill for the pulping costs to destroy the print run.

The other shark is the agent who gushes about how much they can do to help you. They just require a reading fee and some expenses covering.

The new kid on the block is the small press. Usually with taglines of staff disenchanted with working for the big boys, they want to offer the writer a new deal. In honesty, they are simply using the same self-publishing engines available to any author, but taking a cut … a big cut. The promise is international sales etc.

So, besides writing, an author has to get cynical and hard-skinned. The search for an honest agent or publishing deal is hurtful. So many rejections, no matter how much you tell yourself they won’t hurt. They do.

The financial payback with the publisher / agent route is usually abysmal. Typically 5 – 10% of the end cost. Of course the argument is that their reach is so great the thousands of books they sell we still result in JK Rowling style riches.

You also relinquish any control, or rights to your baby. Remember, this is the x years of your life you are passing to an unknown person. The promises are legion, the delivery can be poor.

Check everything on sites like ‘writer beware’ anybody who gushes is out to con. The agents on the top of any google search are probably the ones to avoid.

The W&A yearbook is a valuable resource, but you don’t need it everyday and they do have them at the library. Plus, things like lists of agents and publisher don’t go out of date that quickly, so last years book works quite well.

Earnings – There are stats around, but author earnings are usually small. On Kindle, you can choose to take 35% or 75% of the value. Whilst this might seem a good deal, very few self published (indie) authors sell for more than 1.99 a book. However, do the maths and you will see this is still a better deal than 5% of a lot more sales.

I always pay for a professional edit and cover. You can do these things for yourself, but I know my artistic capabilities don’t run to design and I need another head to polish a book.

Finally, the whole thing doesn’t mean a bean unless you sell yourself. This is where I fail and have to get better. Talk to people, do talks at schools, publicity is the hardest thing for me to do.

Scrivener on IPAD

Time, the final frontier.

keyboardNo matter how much I try to make time for writing, obligations emerge to consume it.

Last time we headed off for a break I seriously considered taking my laptop along in case I got an hour or so to write. The trade off was that I would need to leave it in the car for long periods and as my entire life is on the thing, I would be constantly worried.

My next bright idea was to buy a small netbook to work on. I could load scrivener on it and it wouldn’t be a disaster if it was stolen.

Scrivener … I love it as a creative tool, it let’s me keep my notes in step and control my writing in a collection of small documents.

Of course even a netbook costs money, plus I always take at least one tablet away with us. A tablet and a netbook is too much tech! I’d never avoid a nagging.

Hang about, didn’t I see Scrivener was available on Ipad? I’d initially dismissed it as a frivolity. Plus, at fifteen quid, it felt rather too expensive. The fact I spend hundreds on PC software for my day job was irrelevant.

So, my new portable writing kit is an ipad mini 2. Much as I dislike apple, I had to buy it for a work project and I can’t bring myself to completely discard such an expensive thing.

The final piece of the jigsaw is a small bluetooth keyboard. Seeing as my ipad is a mini, I thought the screen would be too small with the onscreen keyboard displayed. Also, I’ve tried to type properly on it and the lack of feel slows me down.

Is it going to work? I have no idea. Over the years I’ve tried just about every combination of portable tech and failed to be productive on anything less than a full PC/ Laptop. From palm pilot, to tablet, I just can’t be creative on them.

One thing is certain, I am impressed with Scrivener for IOS. Of course I wish it had been on Android, but as Scrivener is primarily an Apple piece of software reluctantly moved onto PC, I doubt it will ever appear on Android.

Although it is cut down from the desktop product, it has all of the functionality I’ve needed so far.

Stay tuned for how well it works!

Steampunk – literature or lifestyle.

steampunk01_thumbI have a weakness for steampunk, even though I previously confessed to being horrified by the lack of original thinking that goes into it.

In my opinion, basic science has to exist. If an accepted rule of science is to be broken, it has to be explained. Steam powered vehicles … okay, if they are portrayed as evolved from the first attempts at such things. Converting water to steam takes heat and time, a character can’t leap into an unprepared vehicle and immediately accelerate to unheard of speeds.

In addition to the books, steampunk is being seen as a lifestyle choice. One I applaud, but doubt I could adopt. Even if I could, I suspect my beloved might have me committed.

One tenet of the lifestyle is the full liberation of women. Unlike the reality of the Victorian era, steampunk females can pursue any role in life they choose: engineer, spy, housewife, pilot etc.
The chosen mode of dress for the women combines sensual with the fantasies of the Victorian gentleman’s mind. To me, it seems they revel in creating an exciting, if somewhat impractical appearance. They preserve their fiercely defended right to independence, whilst suggesting a, ‘look, but try and touch at your peril,’ approach to life.

I recently started working on digital art and what started as a dalliance became a full-blown obsession. Drawn using Autodesk Sketchbook on an ipad, plus Adobe 123 Design. Like any creative piece, I know I could carry on ‘improving’ it, but there comes a point where you put it out and move on. I offer this as my first piece of steampunk art.


Reader Blogging – Eric Tomlinson (EHHoward)

(If you feel like adding to the blog, cut out the questions and include them along with your answers in an email to blogspot at shudalandia dot co dot uk)

First up is myself, Eric (Oz) Tomlinson. Computer consultant, Programmer, Author and self confessed geek.

What was the first piece of fiction to transport you to another world?

Harry Harrison, stainless steel rat. I was intrigued by the silliness of some of it and the cleverness of being able to invent advanced technologies that don’t exist, even in the embryonic stages.


Favourite Author?

CS Lewis. From the Narnia books, to the deeper theology. The Screwtape Letters is simply amazing.

Guilty pleasure author?

Kim Harrison – The Hollows. Rachel Morgan and the rest. All of the volumes. Loved it, but never wanted my hardcore fantasy buddies to know I’d read such a thing. Love/ Kisses/ Vampires … get real.

What genre(s) do you read?

Nothing that comes close to reality. Fantasy and Sci Fi. Some of the vampires and demons series. I enjoyed the mix of demons and steam punk of Cassandra Clare.

What would induce a flinging tantrum sending a book across the room?

Utterly impossible technology. Simple facts not checked. Referring to a shotgun as a rifle kind of thing.

Best book ever – in your humble opinion

Lord Of The Rings

Worst book ever – in your humble opinion

The Player of Games: I know lots of people love it, but Iian M Banks Culture series. I just can’t get near it. The viewpoint shifts jar too much. (Of course everybody hates 50 shades don’t they? – Never got past about the 30th page, never made it to the sex.)

Which fictional location would you visit?

Narnia, Cair Paravel

Which fictional characters would be at your dinner party?

Gandalf, Belgarath, Polgara, Stella (From Amara series – I love her!), Boromir

Which Authors would be at a dinner party?

CS Lewis, Oscar Wilde, Terry Pratchett, Virginia Wolfe, Kim Harrision

Ereader or real book?

EReader every time. Can’t understand why people won’t switch. I had my first Kindle when they had a keyboard on the bottom, I’m currently using a paperwhite, which I love.

Tell us a bit about yourself?

Born in 56, in Manchester England, I’ve just turned 60.

I consider myself one of the luckiest people as far as I love the job I do and people pay me to enjoy every working day.

Been married twice, have three children and up to date seven grandchildren.

I love walking the paths of the ancient Greeks. To tread the beaches of Ithaca, or walk up to the acropolis where Homer might have strolled will reduce me to tears.

I’d love my stories to be able to join the body of fantasy people feel is worth recommending to friends. I want my stories to be read and enjoyed.

Credentials – Part 1

What creates the credentials to start writing?

Many authors always loved words and books from an early age. That wasn’t the case for me. I hated everything to do with school and teacher-led learning.

Throughout my education, I didn’t encounter a single book I enjoyed reading. I struggled through the Lord of the Rings, because everybody else raved about it. I completed it, but didn’t immediately sink into the world. That came much later.

p100Leaving school as soon as I could, I was in employment at 16. Rapid career shifts placed me working for the adding machine company – Burroughs, just at the point where they were making the move to electronic computing.

I certainly attribute my steampunk/ gearwheel tendencies to fixing mechanical adding machines. I had one client, a Jewish accountant company who possessed a black cased, manual adding machine they said it had come over from America in the war.

I loved that machine. I visited it to polish the case. (The new ones were grey crinkle covered steel, or worse, plastic.)  The black enamel would polish to a shine you could see your face in.

The keyboard had deeply inlaid keys worn smooth with use. Inside the case I lavished love with an oil bottle and a cloth so that it gleamed.

Of course, I shouldn’t have been giving so much attention to a single machine, I should have been out in the rain on the streets of Manchester with my tool bag, but what the heck. I don’t take full responsibility for the collapse of Burroughs. I was just a minor cog.

Ray, an older engineer, invited me around to dinner. I was stunned to see how many books he had on the shelf. He selected Harry Harrison, Stainless Steel Rat and suggested I tried it. He wouldn’t lend me his copy. Yes, he was one of those kind of readers.

I owned my 65p copy for over forty years. Where my beloved books went is another story entirely.

At the age of 23 I started on the track of light science fiction. I became one of those readers who is reluctant to lend a book out. I developed a hate for any who might consider putting a coffee mug ring on a cover.

Does Steampunk work?

steampunk1bSteampunk, is a genre of fiction usually set in an alternative Victorian “future.” Certain tropes: airships, mechanical gadgets and goggles tend to pepper the stories.

I confess to dabbling at writing and I’ve enjoyed a number of the stories. However, the amateur engineer in me finds many aspects too difficult to cope with.

One recent book had clockwork aircraft. Worse than this, the engines were assembled in a matter of hours from discarded metalwork by the ingenious goggle-wearing sidekick. I wish I could accept it, but it doesn’t work.

No amount of redesigning gear boxes will put a clockwork plane in the air for hours, if not days of flight.

So, when I can write about magic, happily read stories of vampires and werewolves, why does my head object to these things?

Surely, an essentially engineer-oriented genre should respect engineering fact

Rules can be bent, but not entirely broken.

Possibly the discovery of a new power source ‘unimaginum’ or some such might help an author explain what physics says is impossible and I can go along with that. I can also accept that steam power was never developed to its full potential. Maybe it was prematurely surpassed by oil and electric sources. Therefore, improvements beyond what is currently known is fine.

Fiction even allows complete bunkum. I’ll cringe slightly, but allow a pocket size bug to possess a mechanical brain capable of following verbal instructions. It’s fiction, after all.

I do find it offensive that clever devices are often assembled by near-idiots. To make the simplest gear train requires jewel-cutter accuracy. To pipe steam and efficiently power motion requires maths beyond all but 10% of the human race. The Victorian engineers were masters of mathematics and ingenuity. Give credit to these giants.

So, if I ever write a steampunk novel, I will have to abide by my own constraints. I’d also suggest that anybody writing in the genre should know what can be done, or produce an acceptable explanation when they break the rules of physics. Surely, readers deserve this?

Change the Honours System NOW!

Watching the devastating events in France and listening to doctors, nurses and people who were simply there. These people acted without considering their own safety.

Who do we honour? Half-wit celebs, singers, actors and civil servants.

As a nation, do we honestly consider any of them worthy? How many so honoured have subsequently been discredited revealing perversions beyond belief, making a mockery of their position?

Why can’t we honour heroes of every nation? Why not reach out beyond our borders to prove we care?

Stop the mockery. Honour people anywhere in the world deserving our respect.