Thursday, 30 June 2011

A Lovable* Rogue at the Halfway Point

It's that time of the year when many writers see one of their seasonal offerings thrust out into the world. I'm talking of course about today, June 30th, being the halfway point in the calendar year.

It's a good opportunity to pause and reflect and, as every ex project manager knows, it pays to review your progress at regular stages and see where the hell you are in relation to where you'd planned to be.

The latest good news is that a classic sci-fi story of mine called Rogue is included in Beyond the Horizon, published by Alasdair Firth's Bamboccioni Books at the end of July. This brings my 'ISBN by association' tally to three this year (the others being The Wanderer and Coffee Shop Chronicles Vol 1). So far so good. I've also put together my first ebook - a drama resource of comedy sketches for non-profit use. A good friend of mine is, as we speak, combing through the collection of 30 or so sketches and probably weeding out the ones that relate to religion, sex and drugs. I haven't quite figured out where it will be sold, but I have heard good things about Smashwords so that's a possibility.

Longer term business clients have been crossing my path with e-silver, which is always gratifying. Meanwhile, my novels Covenant, Standpoint and Line of Sight continue to circulate through the letterboxes of agents and publishers, which I consider a bit of a no-score draw. As all writers know, submission is very much a waiting game with occasional pauses. But, in the spirit of the midpoint, I have chased up three contacts today to find out about my other submissions (you didn't think that was ALL I was working on, surely!).

There have been one or two casualties along the way. I achieved my goal of a magazine column then promptly lost it upon the altar of economics. It was fun while it lasted although fun and well paid would have made for a more enjoyable experience. Still, one can't have everything. And I've already mentioned the client who thought my working for two hours gratis would be an excellent way to demonstrate my ghostwriting skills. Gone but not forgotten.

My all-seeing spreadsheet tells me I have:
6 books collectively awaiting 11 responses
7 short stories collectively awaiting 11 responses
33 magazine submissions, pitches and queries awaiting a response

Anyway, I can't sit here yapping all day - I have a deadline to meet. Here's to the next six months!


* Spelling approved by my trusty copy of Guardian Style.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Ghosts in the Machine


I don't profess to be particularly technically minded; I still don't understand how to get more than a hollow sneer out of my Adsense account, for example (or Absense, as I've lately thought of it). And I also haven't got my head around the finer points of improving the rating on this blog and my fledgling website.

Marketing does interest me though and I regularly re-read It's Not How Good You Are... by Paul Arden, which provides encouragement and inspiration in the wee small hours. It also helps that it's a wee, small book.

No, there are other things I think about when I wake up in the middle of the night. Ghosts, for one - not the spirits of the departed or that theory about locations retaining recordings of images and emotion, under certain circumstances.

The ghosts I'm talking about are the blog visitors who stay for 00:00 and whose presence only registers on my sitemeter as an IP address. Someone once said that the past is an unknown country. That may be true, but these IP addresses are also from an unknown continent and given that there are only seven to choose from, I find that adds to the mystery. Who are they? What do they want? Why don't they stay very long - are they looking for somewhere else to haunt? Even googlebot leaves a calling calling card.

Technical answers on an e-postcard or comment please.

And my thanks to the friend who suggested I leave out a mince pie and a glass of sherry - I'm fairly sure that's only for Christmas visitors.


Saturday, 18 June 2011

Weird science


Okay, so this blog post is a little bit of a cheat. I'm doing my best impression of an editing octopus at the moment, but fellow writer David French sent me a youtube link so extraordinary that I feel compelled to share it with you. Yes, just you, sitting there reading this - never mind about the others.

Here's the all-important link showing something amazing that Honda have developed.

And just to show I've paid attention - here are a few thoughts (along with some anally retentive timings to match the footage):

00:08 A self-balancing robot is amazing, but whenever I see Asimo's (non) smiling face, I hear two words in my head: Cyberdyne Systems. And not the British company of the same name. It took decades for Daleks to manage the stairs, but Asimo has already got it covered.

00:19 It's a CD player, surely?

00:44 Hey lady, you've just broken your speakers.

00:59 Wow, a unicycle for people who can't be bothered to pedal.

01:08 Erm, brakes?

01:19 This heralds the office jousting contests we'd always dreamed of. Now, where are the broom handles? (Every office has those, right?)

01:26 How, surely?

01:34 Not a rip or run in that carpet and no stains either.

01:42 'A natural riding feel' - if you happen to think riding on the edge of a CD player that can't tip over is natural.

01:54 Parallel parking - I see a future market for cars. And it's mere coincidence that it's a woman riding the thing.

02:16 I've got to be honest; as soon as I saw the 'wheels within wheels' concept, I thought of Ezekiel in the Bible. Then I remembered a book that I'd read a long, long time ago about a NASA engineer who took an analytical eye to Ezekiel's vision.

02:51 Pressure to... test its tilt correction limits, try and trip it up or just to point and gawp?

02:54 Just for a moment, I thought the jousting had been ditched in favour of mid-air arm-wrestling.

02:57 Hmm... anyone else think she's carrying an accident insurance claim form in that box somewhere? And she doesn't look down at any point. Ta da!

03:05 One of my favourite parts - how to combine galleries, performance art and technology. But when do they start juggling?

So there you have it. A truly amazing piece of technological advance that will hopefully open up new horizons to anyone with mobility issues and anyone who doesn't have room for a Segway. Not so good for drunks though, I'd have thought.

It's very impressive all the same. But... get Asimo to ride a U3-x and we'll have a surefire winner for Britain's Got Talent. And best of all, he doesn't sing (as far as I know). Genius.

* U3-X image located at:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Honda_U3-X_2009_Tokyo_Motor_Show.jpg

Saturday, 11 June 2011

A Grave Undertaking

So there we were, watching the telly last night. Jo Brand was on fine form, hosting the last of the current series of Have I Got News For You. And slap bang in the middle of the programme, Ian Hislop mentioned a new word to me (not to me personally, I'm aware there are many other viewers as well as a studio audience): taphophile.

So Anne, who does not enjoy the idea of appearing in this blog, looks in my direction and says, "That's what you are." Now, I've always thought I like a good graveyard as much as the next man (or woman - taphophility is an equal opportunity pastime), but it turns out that I like it more.*

A graveyard can be a haven for nature and one of the few places to see a decent yew tree. There's social history there too and, more importantly, personal stories. It sounds obvious to say it, but these were real people who lived, loved and went the way we're all heading. I find all of the above both sobering and cause for reflection. As a writer, I also draw inspiration - from the names, the poignancy of the dedications, the artistry of the headstones and the sheer atmosphere of the place. I'm also drawn to war memorials, but that's another story.

Writing about death and mortality in fiction can be a test of nerve, sensitivity and skill. Most adult readers will know what death and grief sound like, smell like and feel like. Whether it's a thriller, a fantasy novel or even a comedy (I can only speak for myself here), we aim for authenticity. And the way we do that is to draw upon our own experience or our imagination of that experience. I haven't gone so far as to borrow names from headstones yet, but I have tried to draw on the mood of the graveyard and what it represents - peace, closure, loss and anger. In the end, I suspect, we're each exalted in that final scene or brought down to earth by mortality.

Writing about death and grief in non-fiction is another ball of beeswax. I've commented on that before so rather than repeat myself, here's that link:

So here's to you David.

* The picture was taken in Scotland. We were visiting Roslyn Chapel and I wanted to check out some supposed Templar or Masonic graves. I suppose that's a little exotic even for taphophiles!