Tag Archives: Observation

Looking forward


Generally speaking I try to keep away from mainstream politics, it distracts from my narrative habits. However, I may not be interested in politics, but that alas, does not mean that politics is not interested in me.

Take for example a forthcoming and hard earned holiday in London. The planning and booking for which trip were finalised in February, with only a minor panic over accommodation in June interfering with our schedule. On my to do list from the 15th October to the 6th of November are many visits to museums and all the other cultural wonders that the UK’s capital has to offer. Afternoon teas, theatre, lectures, sightseeing, a couple of grooming interludes and a few strolls down memory lane. Three whole weeks of just chilling out and having my own form of restrained fun. By restrained incidentally, I do not mean any kinky sojourns around the more salacious streets of the capital. I leave all that to younger flesh.

While there I will also be editing down an old copy of ‘The Sky full of Stars’ to make the story crisper and more engaging, refreshing my memory prior to a wholesale rewrite of the whole trilogy. A task I have long neglected. Then I have a few quirky stories which I will be throwing at some of the more mainstream sci-fi magazines from this list. I hope some of my narrative mud will stick, or at least get some worthwhile feedback.

Also whilst in London I hope to run into a couple of very decent people I have come to know through online contact. Just for a general chat and the simple pleasure of shaking their hand. A little face to face socialising, nothing much.

Regrettably a shadow has arisen which threatens our enjoyment. The whole dreadful soap opera of the UK’s departure from the European Union. Overall, I think leaving that bureaucratic farrago is a good thing. The UK should have been freed March 31st 2019. At least according to the date set by the triggering of article fifty of the EU constitution. I have seen no good reasons for not leaving on that date. Nor should another extension to the leaving date be sought, no matter the court judgements. Courts should not interfere with the political process, nor create political law retrospectively. That is a dangerous path to walk.

This does not matter to those who do not want the UK to leave. They do not believe in democracy. At least not in any form I have ever witnessed.

In the UK we were always told that we lived in a country where the average voter had a say via the ballot box. The general rule being that the majority gives an elected government an opportunity to fulfil promises made, contingent on their party being given a parliamentary majority. Whilst those elected are not compelled to keep their word to the absolute letter, a promise to their voter base is a promise and such commitments should not be broken lightly. Failing that, what is the point? If politicians continually break faith with those that elect them, does a walk to the polling station become nothing but an exercise in outright futility?

Let me expand. When I was eighteen, I had the opportunity of voting in the plebiscite for the UK to remain in the Common Market, as the European Union was called then. To my undying shame I voted for the UK to stay in, voting that way because my older brother told me it was a good thing and that I should vote yes. That decision has haunted me for several decades. It was a bad decision, made in ignorance that I have regretted for over forty years. During that time I have had the displeasure of watching the great promise of the then EEC morph into little more than an exclusive club for the well connected and arrogant. Of laws concocted by crass bureaucrats for what seemed no more than their own self-aggrandisement. Regulation for regulations sake from an unelected commission and rubber stamped by a parliament in name only. Watching the importance of my vote diminish as European democracy began to languish and die, the sovereign bodies of all the nation states gradually becoming little more than yes men for a patronising elite, hoping against hope for their turn to ride the bureaucrats great gravy train.

Now the UK is (probably) leaving the EU, I think a great wrong is at last, I hope, being righted. ‘Deal’ or no. All precautionary mechanisms are, from the best information I have available to me, in place for Britain’s World Trade Organisation terms exit aka ‘no deal’, or more pejoratively ‘crashing out’ if one is to maintain the hyperbole. Emergency provisions have been made and supplies stockpiled. The much prophesied worst is like the weak protestation of a street corner penitents mantra that ‘the end is nigh’, it will not come to pass. Like so many of the scare stories presented as news drip fed from so many once reputable media outlets.

On the day, the greater British public may not even notice the difference. Only those involved in warehousing and distribution will notice significant changes to their paperwork. The price of some goods may even fall as suppliers will no longer be forced to use EU based distribution hubs and instead bring their products directly into the UK as they did before the EEC and later EU.

My final word on the matter is this; if the UK does leave the EU on the 31st October I will be in a London bar somewhere celebrating with a modest glass of single malt, then stepping out to see the fireworks. This promises to be a Halloween and bonfire night to remember.

There may even be a story in it.

Word up


There are times I am thoroughly glad I no longer use Microsoft Word products for writing projects. I also tend to switch off certain functions in the thesaurus and grammar writing functions, why? Because a) I don’t need the help and b) if an infinitive needs splitting, then I want to take the biggest bloody word-axe I have to it, not have my creative licence suspended by someone else’s idea of what I should be saying. When language is narrowed, the ideas it can express become restricted and of lesser value.

I’ve recently heard that Microsoft, acting as some kind of self-styled Word Police are apparently introducing a tool in the latest version of word that will correct the users use of English to make it more politically correct which will;

“provide estimated reading times, extract and highlight key points in paragraphs, underline potentially sensitive geopolitical references”

Wait a moment. Extract key points in paragraphs? Well excuse me. If I write something, I want it that way because it expresses the ideas I want to examine. And so it should stay until the flow of the narrative demands otherwise. As for underlining potentially sensitive geopolitical references who decides what is ‘sensitive’? Does this value change with whatever political wind is blowing?

As a thoroughly disgruntled Windows 10 user, I find this function even more intrusive than the function-degrading ‘upgrades’ of Windows 10 that cannot be switched off.

Fortunately, I do not use Office 365 or any other Microsoft office product. Primarily because I’ve never liked how Microsoft Word can hide formatting code within a document. OpenOffice and LibreOffice are just as good, possibly better office suites, firstly because they can handle documents from a wider range of formats and secondly I think Bill Gates is quite rich enough, don’t you?

As for keeping copyrighted data out in the cloud, that to me is an invitation to copyright theft by a disgruntled Microsoft employee / teenage hacker / plagiarist. Therefore I would caution any would-be creative writer to avoid Microsoft 365 and derivatives like the plague. At least if they want their output to remain their own.

Nor does this make me some form of Luddite. I have no wish to return to the bad old days of strenuously bashing away at the mechanical keys of an old Imperial Safari as I once did. I like computers. They make it easier to create, organise and adapt ideas. From a creative perspective the advantages of word processing software speed up the transfer of imagination to page without repeated messy applications of semi-toxic correction fluid or wasting the growth of a small deciduous forest for each major writing project. As for the Internet, I was in at the birth of the World Wide Web and I still love it for the cornucopia of knowledge that it makes available, although I’ve fallen heavily out of love with social media of late and having deleted my Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, will shortly be casting my little used Twitter and Instagram feeds into the nether voids between the datastreams if I can remember to do so. They contain nothing that is either real or of value.

Cogitus interruptus…


As someone who both writes and holds down a fairly mundane day job, I tend not to have very many adventures here in Victoria BC. Life is mostly routine with little real drama worth recounting. However, a few weeks ago I had a little medical discumbuggerance which threatened to upset a number of apple carts. My own especially. Let me expound.

My wife frequently complains about my snoring. It’s been costing both of us sleep. So, after considerable trial and error I worked out that the problem was catarrh based. During the hours of sleep, mucus was collecting at the back of my throat thus causing a partial blockage resulting in a sound like someone sawing a depressed camel in half. So just before Christmas I elected to try an extra strength sinus medicine to dry up the offending excess secretions and hopefully let the household get a good nights repose. The first night went reasonably well, I took the maximum dose and the morning consensus was that we’d all slept the better for it, so around eleven on the Wednesday evening before Christmas I popped another two of these over-the-counter nostrums and decided to stay up writing until two to let Angie take a run up at a decent nights repose.

At around two in the morning my heart began to pound uncontrollably. Just like a regular heartbeat but impossibly fast. Boom-boom-boom-boom. My body’s heretofore reliable muscle pump felt like it was trying to jackhammer out of my chest. Even at rest I couldn’t find a steady pulse, just my heartbeat thundering in my ears, my chest and fingers reverberating.

I went into the main bedroom. The light was on. Angie was awake and reading. So much for letting her get some sleep without me. “Hon. I’m not feeling so good.” I said. Truth be told I felt bloody awful. Light headed, unsteady and with an urgent need to call an ambulance. However, a quick run down a mental check list came up with no symptoms that might indicate a full-fledged heart attack. No pain, no clamminess or tightness in the chest. Just a super fast hammering inside my rib cage and the weird feeling that my head was going to float away.

Angie got up and joined me in the front room, checking my temperature and pulse as we sat on the couch. By now it was two thirty in the morning. “Emergency?” She queried.
“Please.” I said.
“Get dressed.”

I managed to pull on some clothes and stagger into the garage and thus the car. Angie hopped into the drivers seat and we took off into the early hours of a damp December night, me failing to bite my tongue as she put her foot down, pushing hard through suburban bends, nipping artfully through several tail end amber lights. As if my heart wasn’t hammering hard enough beforehand it was pounding even harder when we reached Victoria Hospital emergency. Angie decanted me at the door and I wobbled through the doors to the front desk. I managed to hand over my BC care card and burble something about having a fast heartbeat before slumping into a chair at front desk. A ponytailed girl in dark blue scrubs checked my heart rate and blood pressure. “Can we get a wheelchair for this gentleman?” She asked a colleague. By this time my vision was greying around the edges and I was too tired to walk down to the treatment area. Fortunately I was the only sick person in the emergency waiting room that night, so the road to treatment was short and timely.
“Thanks. I’m not sure I can walk. I’m a bit lightheaded.”
“With a heart rate of over two hundred I’d be light headed.” Someone, I’m not sure who, commented as I was wheeled into the very beige treatment area. I recall my head wobbling a little on my shoulders and commenting that my spatial sense was very disturbed. The simple act of being pushed around a corner in a wheelchair made me feel very uncomfortable bordering on nauseous.

A male nurse named Fraser, or was it Frasier? My normally accurate memory skips a groove every time I try and recall certain details. All I remember of him is an image of a jocund, portly young man with black frame glasses, short dark hair and jawline beard. He handed me one of those draughty hospital gowns and allowed me the dignity of changing behind curtains. Jeans and jacket draped over a cabinet I slumped onto one of those all singing, all dancing hospital beds that act as support, occasional operating table and sometime hearse.

One thing I noticed was a distinct distortion of my colour perception. Everything but the nurses and doctors scrubs seemed beige. Curtains, walls everything. Even if they were pastel shades of light blue or green. Which left me with an overwhelming impression of Victoria General Hospital’s curtain draped ER as an overall beigeness. I might have been mistaken but even the defibrillator-laden bright red crash cart parked at my beds foot appeared somehow pastel and muted. All I could do was lie back and let the medical staff get on with their jobs. Plugging leads into a heart monitor, taking various samples for testing. Ripping off bits of my chest hair when they had to move the electrodes for a better signal.

When properly wired up to a monitor I recall someone trying to find a vein in my left arm to stick in a needle and failing. Which in my semi-stupor struck me as odd as I used to be a blood donor and never had a problem with hidden veins before. A week later there was still a three inch long oval bruise on my left forearm punctuated with at least half a dozen bright red needle marks.

Then there was the annoying bleeping of the heart monitor alarm. My natural breathing rate is about five or six breaths a minute when the monitor alarm default was nine. Sometimes if I’m concentrating hard I’ll stop breathing for at least half a minute at a time. Some people stick their tongues out, others frown, I hold my breath. It’s an old habit from when I used to meditate a lot. Which of course set off the alarm every time I tried to focus on what people were saying.

Angie arrived, I’m not sure exactly when, after parking the car and chatted to the male nurse, filling in medical history details I’d omitted in my foggy mental state. She was briefly quizzed on why we hadn’t called 911, but that’s one of those questions you never have a decent answer for because you’re too caught up in the moment. Our attitude was, why call an ambulance when you can still walk?

At some stage the collector of blood samples switched to my right arm where they actually struck oil. I was also told to try various things like holding my breath and clenching my belly, which seemed to help. I believe it’s called the Varsalva manoeuvre or some such. After five minutes of this the pounding eased and I felt my booming heart gradually slow to a more leisurely eighty beats per minute and my hands stopped vibrating. To the point where I could actually use one of those cardboard urine collection bottles without spilling any. For some reason I really needed to relieve myself and couldn’t have hung on to it much longer.

What I do remember precisely is offhandedly wondering whether I was going to die that night. For some reason the thought did not worry me overmuch. At least I don’t remember feeling frightened. My heart hadn’t failed at the peak of the attack when I’d almost gone into full defibrillation, so now things were calming down I felt able to relax. I reasoned that the worst hadn’t happened by now, so it probably wasn’t going to. Panic over.

After my heartbeat steadied I dozed until four thirty despite the comings and goings of staff and one loudly complaining woman with a sand-rasp voice. At which point a slight bespectacled man with short sandy hair appeared at my bedside and introduced himself as a heart surgeon. He told me my bloods were all within normal range and we could go home. I was also quizzed about medication and confessed to maxing two doses of extra strength sinus medicine. With this revelation it was generally agreed a lack of decent regular sleep plus the medication had unbalanced my electrolytes, to the point where my cardiac electrical system literally shorted out, which was the cause of my ultra fast heartbeat. The medical name for my condition was Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia. Which is usually first noticed in much younger people. Highly unpleasant and not to be recommended, but watch the meds and get more sleep in future. At least that was what I remember being told.

After that advice I dressed, still a little unsteadily, and we walked out into the damp darkness of the early morning, arriving home just after five. Angie and I went to bed but all we could do was doze fitfully for another three hours, our little bit of hospital drama at an end.

As anyone with the slightest imagination might attest, the whole experience made for a rather thoughtful, sober and reflective festive season.

It’s a curious thing, this not-dying. Very curious indeed.

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’?

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.

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.

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.

Is the Internet over?



Commenter Misha tells me that ‘the Internet is over’ and that ‘I won’. Oh dear, did I break something? I’ll try and fix it. Didn’t realise it was that delicate. After all the Internet was first designed to survive a first strike in a nuclear war and even famous rock stars haven’t been able to stop it (Even though they have subsequently changed their mind). Hmm. Maybe I can glue everything back together and no one will notice. All that TCP/IP and subnet mask setup, the horror, the horror. I’m so sorry. Didn’t mean to.

Yes, I know I was being teased. No offence taken and none, I hope, given.

Seriously; there’s an idea here for a new collective noun. An “Internet of argumentsfirst seen here. The Internet is full of argument and debate; from polite, studied discourse to flaming and virtual fist waving. There are virtual feuds and even death threats. People actually losing their jobs for making bad jokes (Which is a greater wrong than any original perceived wrong or slight). Which tells us that there are certain people who really should step away from the keyboard and take a chill pill once in a while. Which we all should do occasionally before adjusting our viewpoint and returning to any given discussion. That or become crazed obsessive compulsives.

In closing I would argue that arguments are very rarely lost or won, but they can achieve resolution. Even lead to new understanding if we learn to use such a useful sounding board as the Internet intelligently. Although this is only my opinion of course. There are others. Billions of them.

Why does the world have to be doomed?


In many Science Fiction movies there’s one plot device that, like a broken down show pony forced to perform despite old age, is dragged out time and again to strut its stuff. That of the Earth being ‘Doomed’ somehow by mankind through overpopulation or environmental disaster. Something that only a ‘hero’ can ‘save’ a sacred few from. It was a tired idea by the 18th Century CE (Seriously) and it’s worn to a nub of nothingness now. This premise is what’s put me off going to see the movie ‘Interstellar’.

In looking at possible (or impossible) futures I’ve always found it a good idea to examine what has sparked human migration since our species first learned to walk upright. From observation, the biggest motivator is that the grass will grow greener over the next hill. Fresh ground to occupy, new resources to develop, new ideas to explore. It’s part of the human condition. Only in the very early days of bipedal endeavour has environmental disaster played a significant role in mass migration. In the more modern era, migrations tend to be generated more by politics, war and economics than simple resources. To illustrate by analogy; when the fattest of cats have locked the dairy, the kittens will go elsewhere for their cream. And they will cross continents, even galaxies if the means are available.

It’s also worth noting that most of us simply want to get away from our parents and make our independent way in the world. Visit other places, learn other languages, meet other peoples. It’s been part of the human condition ever since we evolved to spread out a little. Mate, carve out a patch for the next generation and expand. If anyone were to ask me the meaning of life, that’s how I’d describe it. The Earth may well be our mother, but frankly wouldn’t it be embarrassing to tell other intelligent life forms that we still live in her basement?

First snow


Snow always gives pause for gentle reflection. This morning’s two centimetre whitewashing isn’t deep enough for a snow day and will be gone by mid afternoon. Overhead the clouds are already breaking with the promise of winter sun to grace a Victorian Saturday morning.

Today is not a writing day. Instead the snow has made it a gentle day of reflection to review what I’ve been doing this week regarding marketing and visibility. Yesterday was a day out checking bus routes for Sunday’s little trip over to Vancouver. Making sure the timing is viable, booking ahead on ferries etc. After travelling up and down the Saanich peninsula, Angie and I ended up downtown in the Bard and Banker, which has one of the best selections of single malts locally. Two pints of Innis and Gunn to lubricate the synapses and talk over what we thought we’d learned. Or at least what I thought I’d learned. Which are:

Things I’m trying to do: Raise my profile as a writer of science fiction. How am I trying to do it? Registering on as many of the book promotion sites as I feel able to regularly update. Putting out sample pieces. Linking my profile carefully back to this website and blog and other points of sale; ensuring people can find what they want in three clicks or less. Give them the opportunity to read samples and decide for themselves what they like, or not as the case may be. I’m also toying with the idea of doing my own sample readings. I went to drama school and did specialist voice training all those years ago, so maybe I should put what I learned about intonation and performance to good use.

Things I’m trying not to do: Making ‘friends’ with just about everyone who is visible online, then spamming their Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook feeds with interminable promotional links saying “Read my book!” and little else. I don’t know about anyone else, but I find that a huge turn off. Even for mainstream productions, my feeling is that the bigger the hype, the less likely the advertised content is worth seeing.

Like many writers in real life, I’m not a hugely social person and have very few real friends. Which is something I’m very comfortable with. Why? I simply can’t keep track of everyone else while trying to juggle a universe or two in my head. It’s too easy to slip into cognitive overload. Which is why I don’t list my contact details and never respond to blind “Add me to your contacts” demands via Skype. Whenever I see those pop up my paranoia asserts itself: Who are you? Why do you want to talk to me? I’ve had too many low quality experiences with the slightly unhinged to be comfortable with random online socialising. Ask a pertinent question in the comments or on FaceBook; even if it’s a bit geeky I’ll do my best to respond promptly. Providing I’m within reach of my keyboard.

Bearing that in mind I’d like to make a small request regarding invitations on Facebook; I’m a man of limited funds and have not the resources to flit hither and thither. Victoria is fine. I’ll happily wander downtown if the conversation is worth my while (A cup of coffee will suffice, I’ll pay my own bus fare). Unfortunately I can’t afford a two thousand dollar round trip air fare and hotel bill for Europe. Not for a small meeting. Not on my sales. But it’s very flattering to be asked.

Profiles and marketing


Over a lunchtime coffee yesterday I was explaining to my long suffering wife about what it means to be an independent author. All the hoops that have to be jumped without assistance and the sense of never actually having caught up with yourself. It’s not just the writing, it’s the marketing and self promotion. How even with a mainstream publisher you’re still going to have to do a lot of this. Especially if you’re like me, a modest man with much to be modest about. The whole practice of self aggrandisement goes against nature. Sometimes I can feel my body cringing at the very thought. Friends, family and employers may congratulate you on your turn of phase and ability to communicate in prose, but from the depths of childhood there’s always this awful insidious doubt. Like fluffing your lines at five years old and having the whole class laugh at you. It’s a little like dying.

Nonetheless, accepted wisdom is if you want to sell, you are your own brand and this can get in the way of actually producing anything for a possible reading public. I hear this a lot on the forums I lurk around and get automated emails from. There’s just so much to do, if like me you’re an Independent with limited resources to pay for visibility. With another million (and then some) voices out there, clamouring for attention the task of getting noticed can seem impossible. Even if you do manage to get your work listed in all the right marketplaces. Then you’re faced with the last hurdle that most bookstores won’t stock independently published work. Everywhere there are mountains to climb with a great deal of sometimes contradictory sounding advice on how to scale those vertiginous heights.

So here’s my ten cents worth; there are ways of attacking this issue. Send it out to get reviewed, if the reviewers aren’t swamped or simply aren’t interested in your genre. Wait for a third party to check it out and see if they like your work enough to pen a couple of lines about it. Quite frankly I find the whole business of reviews a little scary. I try not to read them anyway, as I’m more likely than not to disagree with the reviewers. To quote the Latin; De gustibus non est disputandum. For example, in the past I’ve tried to read past Man Booker prize winners and found myself going to sleep after the first three pages. Same for many ‘critically acclaimed’ works. I’ve heard friends say exactly the same. It seems to me that critics and the public rarely concur.

Bearing this in mind, what I’m going to do over the next week is to work down the list of online distribution outlets and marketplaces checking my listings. Post a couple of short stories on genre web sites. This is time consuming but critical. Check my author profile is correct, confirm as much of the work as the distributor has listed, ensure they’re the right editions. Check the ISBN’s, iBookstore ID’s, Amazon references and other reference numbers. Confirm on at least three of the Amazon sites; .com, .co.uk, .ca and more because they’re all separate entities. Apple Author ID (Which I knew nothing about until today) Then there are all the promotion links; all forty six of them. Even logging on using my standard Facebook profile is a lot of duplication of effort and that’s only the beginning. Did I mention iAuthor? Then there’s the site admin updates by the providers coming up with the next big thing. You almost need another person full time to keep track of it all, never mind doing any writing.

My solution to keeping track of everything is to create a spreadsheet and make a list of tasks or I’ll never keep up with all the necessary site updates. It’s like eating an Elephant. You have to do it one sandwich at a time. Not to mention that after a while you can get heartily sick of Elephant Sandwiches.

Still, it’ll keep me gainfully occupied on the run up to next Monday and our Canadian Citizenship swearing in ceremony.

Almost Canadian


Another day, another hoop jumped. We’ve been accepted for Canadian citizenship. Swearing in ceremony is for December 1st 2014, Vancouver. Angie and I have decided to make a weekend of it as we haven’t had a break that wasn’t work or family business related in almost a year. Christmas shopping, Citizenship, a little wine and personal abuse. I’m still shaking a little.

We had our interview on the 6th, which apart from the usual interminable waiting, went well. I think both of us were humming like tuning forks on the quiet. I was suffering from a bad case of “What have we forgotten?” on the drive up to Nanaimo, trying desperately not to go rifling through our documentation package every five minutes. We’d got our whole lives in there. Passports, old passports, Permanent Residency cards, copies of IMM1000 forms from November 2010. Copies of just about everything we could think of; certificates, travel receipts, a neatly printed out schedule of all absences from Canada over the past seven years, receipts for all travel, car hire, hotel bills the lot. Memberships, qualifications, the kitchen sink. We were ready for just about everything.

When Angie and I arrived at Nanaimo, we found our way to the right room in the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, even though it wasn’t exactly as specified on our letter of notification. Joining a crowd of about eighty people, we sat down in a large room, about a hundred feet by sixty unless I’ve lost my eye for distance, with the oddity of power outletsalmost twenty feet above us in the alcoved ceiling. Four officers sat at brown folder loaded desks interviewing everyone in turn. Only one had a computer of any kind. Which I found a little odd in this day and age.

The time rolled past. Names were called, interviews done, documents inspected and boxes ticked in a surprisingly church-like atmosphere. Everyone talked very softly, so no one would miss their turn at being called. No voice was raised in frustration, exuberance or disappointment. Even the one young man we heard turned down over his refugee status barely spoke over a whisper. I found it curiously eerie.

After over an hours nervous wait our turn came and our young (Nice lad, mid-late 20’s, bespectacled Asiatic with a brown dyed buzz cut you could almost have balanced a plate on) interviewing officer checked our UK passports PR cards and Drivers Licenses. He asked me whether or not we’d been in trouble with the Police or Immigration, to which I answered “No, no, no.” in a mildly distracted manner, slightly surprised by the question. He worked for the Immigration department didn’t he? Surely he knew we were squeaky clean. He said that I didn’t sound convinced, but Angie confirmed we hadn’t had any problems, and that was the one tense moment over and done with. He asked us about our absences from Canada, then almost in a teasing manner asked about proof of the journeys. “Which ones?” Asked Angie.
“The first two?” He asked. At which my darling wife proceeded to extract the relevant stapled receipts, passes and booking forms out of a huge buff envelope. A wedge of papers two inches and more thick. I caught a flash of alarm in his eyes as if we’d called his bluff, but in the end it came out all smiles and handshakes. The right boxes were ticked, and we were offered the choice of Vancouver or Nanaimo for our citizenship ceremony. “What about Victoria?” I asked. Our interviewing officer did a little double take as he realised our new Victoria address was on the form, but we happily agreed to Vancouver on the 1st of December. Considering the course we’ve sailed, a ferry journey and long weekend are no real inconvenience.

With a final handshake we were on our way to pick up our house guest for the weekend. My knees almost giving way beneath me as Angie disappeared for her third rest room break in two hours. My sense of relief was that intense. We’d done it. From a wedding day promise in 2002 to here. I’m still not sure I really believe it myself.

Now it seems as though a leaden weight has lifted. I see a new happy light in my wife’s eyes. Citizenship has been a long road that’s almost broken both of us. But champagne has been drunk, a new confidence has arisen, and now we feel more secure in ourselves. Or we will do when we get our citizenship cards. We’re still a little on edge, but not so much. Smiling is much easier. 2014 has been a hard year emotionally.

‘A Falling of Angels’ should be ready for distribution by next Friday, and all the links will be on this web site, Authors Den and GoodReads by then. For now the only book I have to deal with is booking a Vancouver hotel.

Royalty


Got my first royalty notification via email half an hour ago from Kobo. I’m not saying how much for, but let’s just say it’s not enough for the tax man to get excited about. This will not be catapulting me into the upper tax bracket. The deposit on the Lear Jet will simply have to wait.

Still, it’s nice to have sold something. I hear about other people claiming to have made thousands, but I’m sceptical. There are many sellers, but only a finite number of readers. The mathematics are not encouraging. Even the best-selling authors find it tough. For my part I hardly do any marketing, as I spend most of my time creating something to market. Let the dice fall as they may.

Editing day


In an effort to be disciplined and productive, I’ve decided that every Thursday is going to be an editing and rewriting day. What I’m trying to do is keep a story still fresh in my mind, reading and re-reading the previous few days output until I’m happy with it, at the same time keeping a lid on the typos and filling in details I missed on the first and second read throughs.

I’ve tried editing MSS all the way through from end to end and the results, to be quite candid, have been a bit patchy. Far better to run through the last six or seven thousand words and get what you want to say as close to right as humanly possible. Keeping the sentences rhythmic and fluid without getting too ‘flowery’. And try to keep the characters, dialogue and situations reasonably credible. Keep the ‘passive voice’ to a minimum without messing up the cadence.

Readers need to suspend a certain amount of disbelief, but not so much as to sprain a neuron every time they trip over an impossible plot device. Even if you’re writing fantasy, a certain amount of logical consistency has to be applied. These are the rules I write by. Even if I don’t always manage to live up to them. We’re all human.

So, today is the naming of parts. My editing day. Back to the keyboard, and maybe a walk later.