Saturday, 11 October 2014

Almost that time of year!

It's coming around again, the nights are starting to draw in, the hours of daylight shrinking as the calendar clicks onward, counting down to the fateful moment, that quiet tension in the still of the night when thousands of excited faces wait in hushed expectation, watching, waiting for that shift of the hands or the flicker on the digital screen and the zeros line up.  A moment, one second long breaks the tension and the rush starts. Fingers held poised over keyboards, hesitating to mark the first keystroke, searching a mind suddenly choked with the rush of freedom. One word, the first of fifty thousand and the midnight strokes sweep across the globe drawing a wave of creativity in their wake. The race is on, minimum rules, a definite target and a deadline - 30, 50k, 0!

Up for a challenge, throw the rule book out of the window, prop the dodgy leg on the table with it, then throw yourself at the challenge. Tell a story, write they way you talk, witty, confident, engaging! let it rattle on to the page and when the midnight hands reach the end of day 30, pause, look at what's already there - and go for it!

You're first draft should be as good as the brilliant story you told the other night socialising with friends. You can do that off the top of your head, put it down on the page.
Believe in yourself, and others will follow suit, they will see and appreciate what you have to offer, and offer it to them. Don't let it be "One day..." any longer, seize the moment and start the journey, spend thirty days with your imagination off the leash and see where it takes you.

Leap into a new world on the page and build it as you go, meet the people who populate its landscape and bring them to life.

Get to know them, they may be around for a long time; they may have more stories to tell in the future...
It's easy to remember; Thirty days, Fifty thousand words, and you're responsible for your own excuses.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

On the straet where you live

There is only one daft question, at least that's what I've been telling people for years. It's the one you didn't ask, and went away not knowing the answer. It does occasionally put me on the spot, It happened a short while ago, two separate conversations curiously linked.

The first mentioned the seven gates of  Rotherham inferring some strange mystical quality, seven being that sort of number, Perfect and spiritual; (lots of things come in sevens - days of the week, deadly sins, pillars of wisdom, dwarves, stars in the sky, feel free to add to the list) and the second simply asked, with there being a number of gates in Rotherham what happened to the walls?

The answer unfolds part of the history of the landscape; Rotherham does have seven gates, (check it out on Google maps if you wish) Moorgate, Hollowgate, Wellgate, Doncaster Gate, Upper Millgate, Westgate, Bridgegate, but they are the names of streets in the town centre. Doncaster Gate heads out of the town in the direction of Doncaster for about two hundred yards and the suddenly switches to Doncaster Road and heads off across country. 

It's the Vikings, after their intital plundering raids across the North sea to sack and pillage some of them decided to stay and work the land. The Scandinavian influence in Yorkshire and other parts of the North is considerable and the older Anglo-Saxon references were replaced. So Straet (It's not a spelling mistake at the top of the page), we would say street, became gata - a way, and Moor Street is Moorgate, Bridge Street is Bridgegate, etc.

So why think the town had walls? It's easy to see a wall with an opening in it, say a field wall and the way in is by the gate, some would say through the gate. The opening in the wall is the gate, yes? Sort of, where the Vikings settled it's slightly different. 

Lets look at it from a more familiar location. York, the county town of Yorkshire is a mediaeval walled city (there is evidence of the Roman town - Eboracum - having walls) and the walls are largely intact. The four main entry points are Bootham Gate, Monk Gate, Walmgate and Micklegate, each one is straddled by a fortified tower, the Bar. The tower effectively bar-red the road and closed the gate. Incidentally, there are a quite a number of English and Welsh towns that had, or have the remains of town and city walls. 

Rotherham has no Bars, just gates, and in the past there may have been more than have survived. In the Fifteenth Century the College of Jesus; founded by Archbishop Thomas Rotherham stood on the present College street, and the street was known as Jesusgate. I think the Reformation changed that. The gates of Rotherham are part of the ancient street plan, most of them have been around for a couple of hundred years at least and may even stretch back as far as the Scandinavian settlement of Yorkshire in the eighth and ninth centuries. Rotherham was certainly established by then, The Domesday Book records it as Rodreham - the hamlet by the Rother in 1086. Attaching the suffix ham stopped before the eighth century, 

It can be said with reasonable confidence that Rotherham is an Anglo-Saxon settlement and came under the influence of the Vikings, hence the different street names, much earlier than that and the evidence becomes sketchy, almost non existent.

No walls, no bars, just a handful of gates, an echo of Rotherham's past and for me, fascinating words, 

Friday, 19 September 2014

Tools of the trade...

A couple of months ago I bought a keyboard on Amazon and posted a review, now and again I get a question asking about the device, a Perixx Periboard 805 Bluetooth keyboard.

I was looking for a more flexible replacement for a piece of kit I'd worked to death over the last five years. My use of portable electronics started with a Palm T/X PDA, linked to a Freedom Universal Keyboard; a full size folding Bluetooth keyboard. With five years of work under its belt it was showing its age and when I switched to Android phones and tablets I needed a replacement. I wanted a device that would keep the on-board keyboard display tucked out of sight and leave more of the screen available to see and work with.

The Freedom Keyboard worked with a dedicated driver tied to the Palm and in spite of numerous attempts I couldn't divorce the pair. Hence the scouring of the internet and computer stores for something more flexible.

I knew what I was looking for, it had to be small and lightweight, yet physically big enough to cope with the size of my hands. (My weakness in texting boils down to predictive text, small keys and large-ish fingers - the results can be cringe-worthy and hilarious by turns) It had to be adaptable enough to work with multiple devices, switching it from the phone to the tablet and back again was not an option.

Starting locally, a visit to the nearest Maplin's led me to Maplin Mini Bluetooth keyboard, by Cerulian Technology;  at 218 x 92 x 22mm ( 8 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 3/4 inches) and weighing 215g it was larger than I was ideally looking for. There is no hinge to make it more compact it will fit snugly into a bag.

The manufacturer claims a keyboard life of 10 million strokes and the device is well constructed and solid to the touch. The Bluetooth connection is straightforward with Android and Apple devices and once the pairing code has been entered on the keyboard the link is positive and with a quick response. The Full 78 key QWERTY layout is clear and angled slightly and four rubber feet give it a good grip while you type. The keyboard, lacking any hinge mechanism is solid enough for lap typing and has a working range of 5 metres between the keyboard and the connected device. The keys click slightly when they are struck but respond quickly and the effort required is not great, this makes the keyboard suitable for prolonged use; much easier and therefore more practical than using the on-board keyboard.

Powered by a Li-ion rechargeable battery with a considerable working life between charges and supplied with a retractable USB charging cable it retains its functions while being charged. The cable is a charging cable and cannot be used as a USB connection to a PC or laptop. The Cerulian is compatible with Apple iOS, HID and Android 4.4

Periboard 805 (Top)
Cerulian Bluetooth Keyboard

As an interim it was a reasonable buy, but not what I was really looking for, so the search continued on-line. That brought me to the Perixx Periboard 805. This was more like it; compact flexible,, and like the Cerulian, powered by a Li-ion battery. The Periboard is a Bluetooth device, and again, like the Cerulian cannot be used through a USB connection. The dimensions, folded, are 146 ( 290 opened) x 96 x 17mm and weighing 253g.

The Periboard is compatible with Windows XP/Vista/7/8, supports HID, Android up to 4.4, iOS and with IBM and compatible PCs.

It had what I was looking for; folding, Bluetooth, lightweight and with large enough keys to avoid Fat Finger, the rechargeable battery has a long working life between charges. The key strokes are responsive and comfortable, a keyboard for long bouts of writing, ideal for churning out the word count for a dissertation or a novel in relative comfort. There is no click, the sound of the keystrokes is soft making little noise at all. On the downside; there is no support behind the hinge so lap typing is not possible. The Periboard 805 needs a firm surface underneath. That aside, the advantages far outweigh that consideration. It is lightweight and compact enough to be genuinely portable. The folded dimensions make it roughly the same size as a Moleskine pocket notebook and about 50g heavier.
Moleskine notebook and Folded Periboard 805
Hooking up the device is straightforward, and pairing it with a tablet or smartphone takes no more than a few seconds. If lap typing is your thing, you should look at the Periboard 806. The outer case is designed so that the back slides under the keyboard and locks in position making it rigid enough torest your lap.

Choosing between the too, The Cerulian and the Periboard, comes down to portability the Cerulian is good, but lacking the fold it is too bulky for a pocket Good for a bag or a briefcase, but the folding Periboard has the edge. Genuinely pocket sized and portable.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Update:The Obedience of Fools

Just arrived at, the latest update of the 2013 NaNoWriMo entrant The Obedience of Fools, a work in progress free to download. Grab yours and keep up with the action!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Virtually real!

I like surfing the net, not just in an idle sort of way, but following a hunch to see what I can unearth chasing the connections. It is usually someone who offering a service, I want to know whether they are who they say they are.

Self-publishing on a tight budget makes you tread cautiously, and consider carefully anyone promising the deal you can't afford to miss that may be the one to run away from screaming loudly. When the alarm bells start jingling and you've read to the bottom of the page and noted the address; indulge your inner detective!

A couple of weeks ago Green Shore Publishing flashed on to the radar. Reading through the blurb and testimonials left a strange itch, and it needed a good scratch. I scratched away

A new start-up with a prestige sounding address, an office in the centre of a major city. On a street that has been there for centuries (Not difficult when some urban street plans are unchanged since the eighteenth century), and the property may have been in the same hands all that time. Inner City properties come with a price tag, higher rather than lower; so how?

Writer Beware posted a warning detailing the elements of the website that didn't up; the comments attached to the blog make interesting reading. The question cropped up, what is real, how much of what was on the screen was genuine, the whole set up bordered on the unreal, and the scratching revealed an answer to the start up question.

Was any of it real; the virtual office; a working space in a shared address, secretarial cover and mail forwarding; emails go direct. The postal redirect could be as basic as the clerical cover opening the mail, scanning it and emailing the scanned documents (A small publisher using this system would accept only email submissions) and the originals would be stored for a limited time or shredded depending on the individual arrangements.

Fiction is our business, the making it up stuff and no resemblance to the living or dead is grist to the creative mill but what happens when the people you are working with in the real world edge toward fiction. A prestigious address may be money in the bank, your money in their bank. Scratch away, type in the company name followed by "complaint" and look at the results. View it from any angle you can think of and add the results to your list. 

Check everything, work through the links, use all your tools and if you're curious about where they are, street view is a handy piece of kit. The little orange man can drop you on the street where they live and check out the neighbourhood. Unscrupulous, straight up, decent and honest, the hunch could
lead you to any of these. Tread carefully.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Muddy Waters

Amazon's much discussed letter to authors yesterday morning has received much comment for and against and probably been dissected more thoroughly than decency should permit. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the current situation I personally found the Amazon letter to be a carefully and craftily worded document. RJCrayton makes a valid point that a call to arms should be at the head of a two page document not at the bottom; if the subject doesn't grab the reader they may give up long before the end. The suggestion she makes that writing to authors was targeting the wrong group is interesting, proposing that it should have been aimed at readers.

David Gaughran re-posted a guest post by Ed Robertson from November 2012 his blog. The piece discusses the historical similarities between the arrival of the ebook; the introduction of the paperback at the outbreak of World War II and the curious case of the inflation adjusted price. Making that adjustment a paperback and an ebook cost roughly the same amount. Then came the gradually increasing price of paperbacks over the years and the growth of the conglomerate publisher.

Much of the discussion regarding the price of ebooks runs against the traditional publishers and their efforts to keep the prices high that discourages purchases. Amazon's letter puts the point based on a hypothetical price comparison and projected return from sales. Is the simple truth that being forced into a market grants some influence but really, when you strip everything away the best solution for them is to kill off the ebook and let the world slide back into the old ways of print and...nothing! So any tactic that reduces the popularity of the ebook is a useful one. The big problem; there are so many outlets; digital stores, distribution sites and individual websites providing an outlet for the digital version, and the print copy that any hope to control the situation by either the traditional corporations or Amazon is pointless. They must adapt to survive.

Traditional and Vanity, the establishment who decided what you can read, or the sub-par Vanity published. A market dominated by the big 5 surrounded by the minnows of the small publishers. The situation survived the introduction of the paperback because it was cheaper but still required the infrastructure of the traditional system, physical print and distribution with bricks and mortar sales, warehousing and bookstores.

This time it is different, a new format has arrived; stored as electronic data, portable and requiring no storage facilities, distribution network or bricks and mortar outlet. It isn't destroying the landscape, but changing it dramatically. Seismic shifts and tectonic upheavals are creating a new world and the independent publisher and author, often the same person  has a way of reaching the public unheard of less than twenty years ago.

Old alliances crumble and new ones are created, even with the untouchables of publishing. The big publishers and the Vanities - with Author Solutions topping that list and exploiting the newly forged links to further their activities. Unfortunately the hoped for positive influence of the traditional over the Vanities has failed to appear.

Paperbacks still need printing presses and the technology to put the economically viable short run, and print on demand in the hands of the small publisher and independent author is reality not science fiction! That is the world changing shift that cannot be ignored, and the technology cannot be uninvented!

Friday, 1 August 2014

Best Before

Smashwords Discount codes for Control Escape are due to expire at midnight on the Ist of August (that's midnight in California). Don't worry if you miss the deadline, Iceline is available free on all channels for new readers and there willl be news about Control Escape and the other Grange Stories soon. Editing What You Ask For is progressing well, sort of...

You can help me with something, do you have any experience of working with mailchimp, or any similar service? Drop me a line through the comments, I'm interested to discover more.