Writing is a mugs game


A while ago, I was introduced at an event to a local dignitary as ‘A novelist’. His response was an honest; “Well that’s no way for a grown man to earn a living.” Having read my latest sales figures I’m inclined to agree. I spent a good while on marketing based activities, going to seminars, engaging on social media, completing profiles etc, to no avail. Writing, particularly fiction, is a mugs game.

It doesn’t help that I’ve got a bad case of writers block, and outside influences are interfering with putting down half decent content. I was toying with a bizarre tale of ritualised dismemberment; the protagonist apparently keeping his victim alive whilst amputating each part, joint by joint, without anaesthetic. I’ve organised the story so it does a one hundred and eighty degree flip with a twist at the end, maintaining a good degree of suspense and high revulsion factor all the way through. The trouble is, every time I get things straight in my head and begin to work there’s an interruption or other weighty matter demanding my attention – right this moment. Now.

The thing that most annoys is that it’s the incompetence and intransigence of others creating these distractions. By contrast, stuff hits my desk, it gets dealt with. Once done it’s out of my head and I can get on with writing. Waiting for others to simply do the job they took on is highly frustrating and very distracting. Especially when I can see my own, self imposed, deadlines looming while they are fiddling around.

Nonetheless, I’m taking a well earned break this Summer. Taking a good long step away from the keyboard to have a few real life adventures. Get grounded. Walk, talk, and rediscover the inspired part of myself, wherever he’s got to.

Maybe when I next put fingers to keyboard it won’t seem so bad.

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New light though altered windows


Yesterday I had my eyes altered by Lasik eye surgery. My old prescription was right eye 7.5; left eye 7.0(ish). Today my distance vision is as close to 100% as makes no odds, and after a little blurring first thing this morning my still healing vision no longer required correction by contact lens or glasses. Pain is barely a little dry itchiness, I’ve had far worse with routine displacement of a contact lens and I currently find myself needing 1.25 magnification ‘readers’ to work at a keyboard. Although as the swelling in my corneas goes down, they’re presently a pale pink, this need should disappear. Another three months will see everything totally healed and stabilised, although I’m already signed off as being fit to drive. After less than twenty-four hours. I’m seriously impressed.

As far as the healing process goes, it’s a weird sensation having to wear sunglasses around the house. A happy by-blow of which was finding a whole ready-made screenplay with tagline unreeling from my overactive subconscious in front of the bathroom mirror. Lots of stunts and gags with a whole ream of ready to write sardonic asides. Overlay onto a fairly standard ‘save the world’ plot with a twist that is more of a mobius loop and Robert is one’s Father’s brother. I can have a lot of fun with the idea, even if no-one wants to buy. Maybe I’ll put together a script treatment have a go pitching it to a few of the studios and see what happens. All they can say is no, right?

Inspiration comes from the oddest places. Maybe it will help me finish ‘Darkness’?

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Counting down


Having worn contact lenses for over thirty years, I’ve finally put together the time and money for laser eye surgery. Ever since I heard of the first primitive Russian treatments for short sightedness in Omni magazine back in the seventies, I’ve wanted to dispense with glasses and contact lenses for good. The reviews look good, and I’ve satisfied myself that the practice selected is both reputable and competent, so next Monday 16th February I’m booked in to have both eyes corrected.

Laser eye surgery isn’t cheap at four thousand dollars for both eyes, but as far as I’m concerned it will be money well spent. I’m told recovery time is twenty four hours with the selected treatment, and provided I don’t get hit in the eye for the next week or so afterwards, my eyes should heal up nicely.

The journey towards clear sight started last Thursday with a thorough set of eye tests which include having my cornea thicknesses checked with ultrasound. Which is a mildly disturbing sensation, rather like looking upwards at ripples in a pond. The other tests were more like the usual opticians checks where the retina and outside of the eye are checked for general health and dimension. Bright lights and reading charts. Each of the major eye checks done in a different room by a technician followed by a chat with the eye doctor himself. Then the money conversation, finding out that the advertised $400 per eye price is the most basic PRK treatment, not the LASIK the practice specialises in. Still, when you’ve set your heart on something, cheapest is very rarely best. I’ve elected to go down the high end route with a decent after care package just to be on the safe side. Not the latest cutting edge treatment, but the tried and trusted.

Being short sighted hasn’t been much fun. Not being so good at contact sports like Rugby because first, you can’t really see properly for distance kicks and passes without vision correction and secondly, wearing glasses while playing isn’t really practical. Contact lenses are better, but they do have the habit of popping out or even worse, folding or flipping over under exertion. Sweat stings more if it gets in your eyes while running too. Of course I’ve been able to swim wearing soft lenses, but with my favourite trick of swimming underwater, the lenses can get lost, even wearing swim goggles. There was also the usual tiresome business of getting bullied at school for being different. In Junior and senior school (6th to twelfth grade) my glasses were always getting broken until I got a reinforced set. Getting my first set of contact lenses in my early 20’s was a boon beyond measure. Now I’m looking forward to doing without any external vision correction at all.

As an interesting aside, I’ve noticed how certain people make up stories about the unfamiliar to compensate for their own anxieties. For example, I was working as a warehouse manager back in the early 80’s and mentioned to one of my colleagues that I was interested in the treatment. We were amiably discussing the matter, when another member of staff butted in with an involved and rather lurid tale about the treatment making one of her ‘friends’ go ‘totally blind’. Being of a sceptical bent, I later asked one of her closer work friends if this was the case. The answer came back “No.” Apparently her information had come from a second hand discussion about a TV consumer show where people had been complaining about low quality results from bargain basement treatment, or those who had not followed the post operative recommendations closely enough. Further asking around over the next month or so revealed that the “Friend” in question had not actually undergone the treatment, but rather backed out when they’d seen the full price tag. Which is why I didn’t go for corrective eye surgery at the time. Cost. I simply wasn’t earning enough at the time to afford the treatment. Although if I totted up how much I’ve spent over the last quarter century plus on contact lenses and fluids, maybe it would have made economic sense.

However, that was then and we can all be wise in hindsight. Today I find myself nervously counting the days until next Monday. Hopefully to enjoy 20/20 vision, but if the treatment gets close enough to let me work and drive without vision correction, I’ll be moderately content.

There’s also the thought, that back in the 1970’s when the first radial keratotomy eye treatments became available it seemed like science fiction. Now it seems the updated treatment is being offered in every single town in the Western world.

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One of the problems with writing….


One of the biggest problems with writing are not about grammar, spelling etcetera. As far as I am concerned the biggest issue is lower back pain. Most of my problems arising from poor posture for long periods, like sitting the wrong way in the wrong chair at the wrong height for hours at a time while writing. Which is an occupational hazard for anyone involved in the craft.

When you’re ‘in the zone’ and focussed on your work, it’s easy not to notice what you’re doing to yourself. Nothing matters but the web of ideas you’re spinning and the fact that your own hip and back muscles are about to turn traitor is immaterial. You leave sensible at the office door and spend long hours twisted and cramped into the wrong posture. Which is the source of my problem.

Now I’m not talking about some relatively mild discomfort you can shrug off with a good nights sleep or a couple of painkillers, this is the real deal. Pain like someone’s sticking a butchers blade into the top of your pelvis. Pain to almost make you cry. You can’t put weight on the afflicted limb. The discomfort is so acute it locks down your lower spine, making it impossible to bend, turn, stretch, walk up, or even down a short flight of stairs. Pain over the counter painkillers hardly make a dent in. A relaxing nights sleep becomes a stranger and every waking step becomes a purgatory in microcosm. It’s also depressing. When our new Canadian passports arrived on Friday I didn’t much feel like celebrating.

For the last two nights I’ve been tied in knots, hardly able to sleep and unable to get out of the house to visit a doctor. Now I’m fine. For a given value of ‘much better’.

The simple little video below came as a complete revelation. A lacrosse ball under the buttock? Who knew the answer to my problem was so simple? My relief was almost immediate, and a succession of cold packs further tamed the fierceness of my lower back’s agony to make it jump through flaming hoops.

Which is not to say that the pain is completely gone, simply reduced to manageable proportions where the painkillers work and I can actually function again. Fabulous.

Update January 3rd; Pain is gone. Completely. Last painkillers were taken 6pm 2nd January. Remarkable. Work chair has been changed for something a little more sensible.

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The implications of printed food


New year, new story detail. I was hunting around for a novel type of ‘crime’ for my sci-fi detective character to get embroiled with yesterday afternoon and found myself wondering about the implications of food replicator technology or 3D printed food like Pizza or Gnocci. What are the base materials? Would they be able to work off a basic amino acid powder mix, or something a little more familiar? How much adulteration would one of the units be able to take in the form of cheaper bulking agents before it broke down, as manufacturers try to minimise outlay? Adulteration might become a problem because, notoriously like white bread in Late Victorian times, ingredients like Chalk and Alum were used to bulk out and bleach wheat flour. At the time, the practice of adding these bulking agents were credited with leading to widespread malnutrition until the abuses were (mostly) stamped out. However, A more detailed analysis, shows that the situation was a good deal more complex than it might appear. So while all is not doom and gloom, instances of adulteration might occur as organised gangs infiltrate the 3D food replication chain. Maybe even instances of illegal drugs accidentally making it into the food supply.

Household replicators as an extension of 3D printing technology will initially be a status symbol, producing everything from a new pair of shoes to Sunday dinner or special order Pizza. Eventually reducing the need for agriculture as more people turn away from food productions less palatable practices, like slaughtering for meat, or simply even the messier end of cooking. Why bother with all that tedious slicing, mixing and dicing when a single machine can produce perfect hot meals every time? 3D food printing technology may be closer than we think. As for broader applications, a German company (Bizoon) is actually working on easy to chew versions of 3D printed food for Senior Citizens and high energy ‘Sports’ foods.

The possible social implications are enormous. A shift in the employment market away from manual fast food production, and there’s plenty of scope in there to experiment with crime related storylines. Ergo, I’m currently playing around with a bunch of short story type works (4-10,000 words) using the technology as a sub-theme. Maybe they’ll turn into something, maybe not. At the moment I’m purely in the note taking stage of research.

As for bribery and corruption; while technology advances so rapidly it’s often hard to keep track, it is my sad observation that human nature evolves at the speed of a heavily sedated slug.

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Apologies….. #VATMESS


… To anyone in Europe who wants to buy an eBook via Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.es, and Amazon.it.

The 20% UK price hike from 1st January 2015 is not due to publishers and authors getting greedy. Far from it. Collectively we’ll be taking a sizeable pay cut. Because in the New Year (2015) eBook downloads and similar are being subjected to Value Added Tax. This will hit anyone who is an ePublisher, both coming and going. Especially the small independents.

As a Kindle Direct Program Author I received an email containing this bombshell;

On January 1, 2015, European Union (EU) tax laws regarding the taxation of digital products (including eBooks) will change: previously, Value Added Tax (VAT) was applied based on the seller’s country – as of January 1st, VAT will be applied based on the buyer’s country. As a result, starting on January 1st, KDP authors must set list prices to be inclusive of VAT. We will also make a one-time adjustment for existing books published through KDP to move from VAT-exclusive list prices to list prices which include VAT. We’ll put these changes into effect starting January 1st; you may always change your prices at any time, but you do not need to take any action unless you wish to do so.

One-time Adjustment for Existing KDP Titles:
Starting January 1st, for any titles already published in KDP, we will make a one-time adjustment to convert VAT-exclusive list prices provided to us to VAT-inclusive list prices. Subject to minimum and maximum thresholds, we will add the applicable VAT based on the primary country of the marketplace to the VAT-exclusive list price provided. For example, if an author had previously set £5.00 as the VAT-exclusive list price for amazon.co.uk, the new VAT-inclusive list price will be £6.00 because the applicable VAT rate in the UK is 20%. Please note, if an author had set a consistent VAT-exclusive list price for all Euro based Kindle stores, those prices will now be different due to varying VAT rates for the primary country of each Kindle store. For example, if an author had previously provided a €6.00 VAT-exclusive list price for amazon.de, amazon.fr, amazon.es, and amazon.it Kindle stores, the list prices including VAT will be €7.14 (19% VAT), €6.33 (5.5% VAT), €7.26 (21% VAT), and €7.32 (22% VAT) respectively.

Minimum and maximum list prices for the 35% and 70% royalty plans will now also include VAT. For books published before January 1st that would fall outside these new limits after VAT is included, we will adjust the list price to ensure the book remains in the same royalty plan that was previously selected.

I have only one title available on Kindle alone and that’s ‘Head of the Beast’ special Kindle edition. Which has me thinking of withdrawing said ‘Kindle only’ eBook and producing a new edition for general distribution on all the main platforms.

In the interim, there is a way around the EU’s tax grab, which is to surf Amazons listings via a VPN service like TunnelBear. Avast! antivirus also offer a reasonably priced VPN solution for subscribers. Or go to your chosen author’s offshore web page and purchase a download directly from their US or overseas publisher. In my case Lulu.com (See sidebar). This is a win-win for both independent author and reader, as the author of a chosen title will probably get a bigger royalty than if purchased via Amazon. In my case that works out at CAD$3.46 (About GBP1.90) from Lulu.com out of a CAD$4.99 priced title (Currently about GBP2.75) or CAD$1.92 (About GBP1.05) if the same title is purchased via Amazon and the reader can duck the EU’s tax hike. Currency conversions are based on the current rate of 1.82 Canadian Dollars to one British pound.

We should have seen this coming like a twister on the horizon. Staring at this dark cloud but not quite believing it was heading our way. A tax on eBooks? Surely not. Too late. If you can’t use technology to duck the extra tax, buy all the eBooks you can before the 1st January 2015 deadline. For my part, I’ll try to work out how to trade direct to consumer with a virtual currency like Bitcoin.

The UK’s Daily Telegraph is not impressed. Neither am I. It’s hard enough trying to make a little money in the writing game without being subject to daylight robbery.

Pass it on.

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Commerce and the world wide web


I’m old enough (Don’t remind me) to actually remember the ‘world wide web’ being ‘born’ in 1994. At the time I was trying to be a Business Development Executive, writing PR pieces for an IT consultancy amongst other things. Wrote a few trade piece articles, did a couple of local radio interviews. I do so hope they no longer exist. Cringe. I might be lucky as these low points of my career predated even the Wayback Machine. Everyone was trying to work out how to use the Internet to sell stuff and apply old business models to new technologies. Which still happens.

Back in the mid 90’s I recall penning a piece called “The Cybermarket, the future of retailing?” about how virtual 3D shops might work on line if sufficient bandwidth was available. Forget where I managed to place it. Didn’t foresee the rise of Amazon, Craigslist or eBay of course, but you can only get so much into five hundred words. With today’s big plasma screens and cable connections, creating virtual stores like in Second Life would be relatively easy. Think of an HD shopping channel connected to your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts so you could gossip with friends while doing the weekly shop. Cruise along behind your virtual shopping cart and not block the aisles for those with more pressing needs on their mind. No unruly children or other people’s personal issues. No waiting in line at the checkouts. Virtual shop assistants.

There is both an upside and downside of course. You couldn’t choose exactly what Oranges or Avocados to buy or do a first hand check for freshness. Unless there’s a real time arrangement where a robot arm and camera can physically pick and test the exact fruit / vegetable selected. Which is now possible. Delivered directly to your door by Drone. Fewer jobs in the retail sector as the need for physical supermarket premises shrink. More employment in non-public contact jobs like in legal departments thrashing out customer disputes. At first only available to the rich or avid early adopters, then as costs reduce over time available to the rest of the population. Should they want it. Rather like Amazon, eBay or Craigslist.

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