Category Archives: Writing

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.

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, 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.


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?

In two minds

EricsqmultiI’ve been talking with my sister and found out that thinking is one of the big differences between us. We live at opposite ends of the country and rarely spend time together.

Whilst we both take our dogs for walks on the beach and would both say we did meditate the effect we seek is almost opposite.

I never have an empty head. I always have at least four thoughts queued up demanding that “I think them next.”
At the moment, I go to bed with my wife, but go to sleep think about another woman and start again the instant I wake up.

Amara’s predicaments take over a huge part of my downtime thinking. She’s suffering a crisis of confidence, doesn’t want to face life and has to go into battle with a troll-like opponent. Should she let him kill her? I examine the feelings and emotions of my main character, her companions and even her enemy.

So, where my sister walks the beach and tries to empty her thoughts, I walk the beach with scenes playing on my inner wide screen.

Meditation is a reluctant part of my life. Its something I feel better having done it, but I have a constant battle with my inner voices. I confess I ended up terrified when I tried a guided meditation to send me deep into the tranquil mind. Its too quiet! I feel as if somebody has killed off my friends.

Maybe one day I’ll enjoy a peaceful mind, but it hasn’t happened yet!

Did you see Gielgud’s Bottom?

geilgud_Sounds smutty and a bit ‘carry on’, doesn’t it. A typical response might be, ‘No, but his King Lear was divine.’

Even the bard’s attempts to write fantasy and humour are often perceived as lesser works compared to his serious writing.

My first attempt to write full length novel was a parody of the fantasy genre. Dissatisfied with the derivative offerings (crap) being sold as “high fantasy” I wanted to poke fun at it.

At the time I was regularly travelling on the train and spent my journey giggling like an idiot at the scenes unfolding on my computer. This also meant I never had to share a table with anybody.

The best way to avoid the nutter on the train is to be the nutter!

Of course when I asked other people’s opinions, my efforts took a hammering. I now understand the writing was flawed, but the main feedback was people just didn’t get it. Scenes where I was being ridiculously over the top sexist were criticised as … being sexist! (Doh) I decided that if I had to scream, ‘It’s a parody!’ then I was failing.

Many people say it and I have to agree; humour is the hardest form of writing. Where people accept they don’t like a specific genre such as Romance or Detective, they don’t appear to consider there could be forms of humour they don’t get – a story is simply wrong.
Even those who enjoy humorous books are often apologetic, because their reading matter isn’t sufficiently weighty in meaning.

That is why I have a great respect for the Sir Terry Pratchett (STP) and Douglas Adams (DA). They wrote magnificent works, but will never be regarded amongst of the great literary minds, purely because they made us smile.

So many times people will quote from Hitch Hiker’s Guide, possibly no longer knowing where it came from. DA was taken far too soon.

pratchett_As well as contributing a huge canon of work to British Literature, STP contributed to my writing with the simple statement (Writers and Artist Yearbook):

‘Make your world work.’

By this he meant, when you create a fantasy world, you still have to think out how trade and money flow. Without doing so, a world is simply a matte background rendering everything in it unreal.

As a learner fantasy writer, I hated the idea of spending time not just thinking up backdrops and action, but also needing to plan how the various countries functioned.

Was it necessary?

In my mind it proved essential. Even if I don’t mention Serenia trades wool as well as warriors, or Bara sell spices and minerals. Knowing how my world works shapes my thinking of how my characters move around.

Will I ever attempt humour again? Never say never. I still chuckle on the train.

My artwork – Gemma

gemma_smallBattling against my limitations and using autodesk sketchbook on an ipad, I’ve been working through a few of the characters and scenes from Shudalandia.

I’d love to see what other people with real ability can produce. If anybody out there wants to submit, I’d be pleased to show it on the website.