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Friday 28 September 2012

Lost in the Post

Many years ago, back in the early days of married life when money was something only other people had, all our outgoing Christmas cards went missing. I had spent hours writing them out, used the housekeeping to buy stamps, then posted them in a postbox in a nearby village. The cards never arrived, and I was forced to dig deeper into the housekeeping to buy more cards and stamps. I never could understand how every single card could simply vanish. There must have been some mischief at work, surely?
Well, maybe not. Bizarrely, it seems the Post Office does sometimes entirely forget about whole post boxes, in one case for twenty three years! According to the story on the Telegraph's website today, workmen renovating Birmingham New Street Station discovered a post box, still full of letters awaiting collection: Forgotten Train Station Post Box
The Post Office are now endeavouring to deliver the letters, but I wonder how many will find their intended recipient after so long. Thinking back to our Christmas cards, most of the recipients have moved house since they were sent, some, sadly, are no longer with us.
The idea of receiving a letter from the past is an intriguing one: where is the sender now? did they fall out with the recipient over the lack of response to the letter that didn't arrive? were deals lost? did someone miss an urgent call for help?
A whole post box of twenty three year old letters - how many stories are in there?

Thursday 27 September 2012

Promotion for Book Two of the Boldre Wood Trilogy

Kindle will be running a second promotion for Book Two of the Boldre Wood Trilogy, Billy and the North Oakian Alliance, this Saturday, 29th September. I can only give approximate times, but the promotion is scheduled to run from 12:00am Pacific Standard Time until 11:59 Pacific Standard Time, although Kindle cautions that this can vary.
Either the link above or the blue book cover to the right will take you to the relevant page on Amazon.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

And Further Afield ...

While I'm at it, I might just carry on 'til I reach Australia. Another feelgood story on the Mail's site today is that of the surfers at Bondi Beach who received an impromptu lesson in the best use of the waves by a group of dolphins. I wouldn't mind being taught to surf by a dolphin!
Bondi Beach Dolphins

A Short Walk to Garda

We took a family holiday a few years ago, crossing the continent using the excellent EuroCamp. We travelled by car through France, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy, Austria and Germany. It was an amazing trip that took us as far as Venice, saw us getting sun burnt on the Grossglockner, trotti-biking in Switzerland and swimming in Lake Garda.
I was reminded of the trip by the story on the Daily Mail's website today of the Shropshire couple who decided to walk all the way to Lake Garda after their daughter gave them a pedometer. (Note to that certain special someone - don't get any ideas!) Here's the link if you'd like a look: Short Walk to Garda.
1424 miles in a car was tiring enough! But even so, when I saw the photos of the couple enjoying the sunshine in the Swiss Alps and striding along together looking blissfully happy and disgustingly healthy, I was ready to dig my walking boots out and grab my passport. As they rightly point out, they had none of the stresses of driving, and they got to enjoy seeing the seasons play out as they travelled.
Yup, I've definitely got twitchy feet now!

Monday 24 September 2012

What Email Bird Are You?

Important research conducted by the University of the West of Scotland and Glasgow University has revealed some valuable insights into our email behaviour. Apparently our conduct can be likened to particular birds. I'm not sure how this really helps, but I read it anyway: Email Bird Research story.
Nor am I sure why the Telegraph chose to use a photo of a woman reading a piece of paper to illustrate an email story - maybe they couldn't find one of a woman shouting at her computer.
I've narrowed my own behaviour down to Compulsive Woodpecker, with a strong element of Hoarding Magpie.
You might have noticed that I'm struggling to limit my online time!

Oh L

Spotted on our travels:
It would appear that 'L' didn't heed his own sign:

But did he fall or was he pushed?

Sunday 23 September 2012

Tech Free Week

I've been considering taking a complete break from technology/ internet/ computers for some time now, just to see if the constant deluge of information was clogging up my creative gears. I wasn't sure I could do it, the lure of the computer is, for me, very strong: the quest for up to the minute news, the need to be in the loop, the ease of finding answers at the click of a mouse button - hard to resist.
Well, I did it! Though I should probably confess here, being in a cottage in the depths of Kent with no internet access was a big help! I also have to confess to using my phone to find a couple of items, when I could get mobile signal. In my defence, the signal was so flaky and 3G so hit and miss, that mostly I gave up searching before the answer appeared anyway! The important thing is, I survived without internet access, mostly, for a whole week.
So, did I miss it? Well, not especially. We had BBC News to satisfy my need to keep up to date, though their habit of repeating themselves endlessly, covering the same story over and over, was infuriating. And exploring Kent and Sussex proved sufficiently mind-occupying to keep the internet pretty far from my thoughts.
I think what I've learned from this is that I should limit my time online. Allowing my mind to figure things out for itself, to feed itself on the world around me, did seem to unblock my creative side a little.
I'll let you know how I manage. Hopefully at the very least my experiment will lead to a few more short stories for the website.
I'm off now to stare at the rain and not think about computers! Don't think about computers ... don't think about computers ...

Thursday 13 September 2012

So is Sock-Puppeting Bad?

Christopher Howse has written an article for the Telegraph suggesting that we are all becoming over-exercised by the sock-puppeting row. He suggests that such practices have always abounded, citing Walter Scott as an example. He also seems to say that anyone conned or outraged by them is naive and deluded.
That writers have often been found to have provided fake reviews (sock-puppeting) for their own work is probably not open for debate. Regrettably, I think many have, and continue to do so, though I give my word here that it's not something I shall ever indulge in, no matter how desperate I become to sell my books. But what Mr Howse overlooks in his article is the fact that RJ Ellory was pillorying his competitors' work in fake reviews: he was deliberately sabotaging their business. It wouldn't be tolerated in any other sphere, so why is it okay in writing?
Many readers have commented on the article, and it's heartening to see that the vast majority do not share Mr Howse's opinion. It's also worth remembering, as one commenter points out, that most Kindle books offer a preview, so you can read a sample and make your own mind up rather than place all your trust in the reviews.
This row, I suspect, will rumble on for years. The anonymity of the internet makes it impossible to police review systems, and the willingness of some writers to pay for reviews will always skew results. My personal opinion will hardly come as a surprise to those who follow this blog: yes, sock-puppeting is bad.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Animal Magic

In the matter of animals taking a surprising interest in photography, there are pictures on the Daily Mail's website today of some marmots who look for all the world like they're in debate over how best to frame the shot, what f/stop, what aperture. The accompanying article describes them as usually shy, then goes on to explain they were snapped on the Grossglockner pass in Austria. When we visited the Grossglockner, our daughter and I spent most of the time admiring and photographing the marmots rather than the beautiful views, much to he who fixes the computer's annoyance. I can report without any reservation that they were anything but shy!

Cheap Kindle

I hope you'll forgive this piece of very self-serving advertising, but as a Kindle publisher, I have something of a vested interest in persuading as many people to have the e-reader as possible. Amazon UK are now selling the basic, but still fantastic, Kindle for £69, £20 cheaper than before.
I have to say, I still love reading an old fashioned paper book, but the Kindle is great for compiling a huge library of books that you can carry with you and read anywhere. Before getting mine I had been worried that reading from a 'screen' would give me eye-strain, something I suffer with from my computer, but the e-ink technology is every bit as good as they claim, and because the screen isn't backlit it's just as easy on the eyes as conventional paper printing.
I assume the lower price is a reflection of the fact that they are now pushing the more complicated, all-singing and dancing versions, but seeing as you're buying it simply to read books I'm not sure all the expensive extras are really necessary.
And of course, if you get one you could also download books one and two of the Boldre Wood Trilogy!
Okay, shameless plug done. Normal service shall now resume!

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Red Squirrels

Many years ago, when holidaying in Scotland, we were fortunate enough to get a glimpse of a red squirrel. It was beautiful in its summer coat with a gorgeous blonde tail, but it was also elusive. As I recall, despite the entire family creeping through the woods with what was, in all honesty, the stealth of a herd of startled wildebeest, we never managed much more than a couple of blurry photographs. And we were proud of ourselves to have got them.
Our efforts look rather paltry compared to the stunning pictures captured by photographer Alan Wennington. Mr Wennington clearly had more patience than us and over the course of several visits, managed to win the confidence of a family of red squirrels. So much so that one of them actually decided to take a closer look at his camera. Now had that happened to me, I would have been so excited I would have forgotten to take a picture. Thankfully Mr Wennington kept his emotions in check and captured the moment.
Of all the websites currently running the story The Daily Mail seems to have the most impressive collection of his pictures.

Monday 10 September 2012

Summer's Over

It was a sad weekend, as our daughter headed back to university after the long summer break. Lectures don't start for a couple for weeks yet, but apparently it's essential to be in place for pre-freshers and freshers weeks, as there are good opportunities for snapping up freebies. Who am I to argue with that? Besides, she's been missing her friends (and probably her independence, though she's far too diplomatic to say so) so she was anxious to get back.
I know I will adapt to a tidy house, I know I'll grow to like not having rock samples, computers, maps and weighty geological tomes full of words I can't pronounce spread across the living room floor, but right now it's hard to imagine. And it's altogether too quiet.
That quiet was relieved somewhat last night by the magnificent Coldplay, rounding off the Paralympics with an epic closing ceremony. As Chris Martin charged around the arena, belting out some of the band's most popular numbers, live (no pre-recorded miming cheats are Coldplay!) he who fixes the computer observed that it was no wonder he carries no excess weight. The final count was five changes of sweat-soaked t-shirts. He must have shed at least a stone during a show that saw the band performing alongside the fantastic British Paraorchestra, Rihanna and Jay-Z.
And so now the house is quiet again. I know once I make the mental adjustment I'll enjoy the arrival of autumn, my favourite time of year, and before I know it, we'll be putting up the Christmas Tree and the house will once more be filled with noise, laughter, music and rock samples.

Billy and the North Oakian Alliance

Thanks to all those readers who have so far purchased the second Book of the Trilogy. Saturday's promotion seemed to go well, so hopefully Billy's story is spreading.
I'm working on book three now, so watch out for news of the full dramatic conclusion of the trilogy.

Friday 7 September 2012

Promotion Reminder

Just a reminder to everyone that Book Two of the Boldre Wood Trilogy will be on offer on Kindle tomorrow. I can't be precise about times, as Kindle runs on Atlantic time and I haven't got to grips with it yet. If you want to get your copy, as ever you can click the blue book cover to the right, or click here.

Our Friend, Robin

Most of the plethora of fledgling birds have left the garden now, booted out by their exhausted parents to go and find their own way in the world. The fluffed up young sparrows and the enormous baby blackbirds no longer pester the adults for scraps, and a calm sense of order has returned to the birdbath.
The only youngster who has decided to stay is the feisty little robin. He now sports a very handsome red bib and has spent most of the summer endearing himself to us with his cheeky curiosity. He has taken a great interest in our activities, watching from close quarters, normally under our feet, as we have trimmed the hedges, built the shed, had water fights, washed the cars (an activity that caused him no end of excitement as it washed out all the spiders, though he did get sprayed a couple of times), and he has claimed a prime spot in the chocolate vine above the patio table and chairs where he can listen in on our conversation when we're sat out there.
He's become ever braver as the weeks have passed, so much so that yesterday I turned around from my desk to see him standing in the open patio door, watching my every move. He remained in place as I obediently hurried through to get the pot of bird seed, then fluttered out onto the patio for his snack.
But if that was a surprise, it was nothing to the shock he gave me today when he hopped right into the dining room and was well on his way to the kitchen when I came around the corner. I gasped, he gasped (I think, though I don't speak robin), I stepped backwards and he took to the wing and flew outside, where he waited by the door for some more seed.
Speculation is rife about what he'll do next, though I think the idea of a robin hammock next to a radiator for him to over-winter in might be going a bit too far!

Thursday 6 September 2012

Kindle Promotion for 'Billy and the North Oakian Alliance'

I'm happy to announce that Kindle will running a promotion for Book Two of the Trilogy 'Billy and the North Oakian Alliance' on Saturday 8th September.
To reach Billy's Kindle page, either click on the blue book cover to the right, or click here. Hope you enjoy the second book. Book three is under construction as we speak!

Wednesday 5 September 2012

The Next New Story!

Café ThreeZero set a writing challenge of 'Choices' this week, which prompted a short short. It's called 'The Choice Shop' and, well, we've all been there, haven't we?
If you fancy a look, here's the link: The Choice Shop
Hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday 4 September 2012

Models in Weekly Parts

While watching television the other night, he who fixes the computer started muttering and doing some lengthy multiplication out loud. 'That's over £800!' he cried, at last, startling me so much I spilled my coffee.
The source of his outrage was an advertisement for a magazine, subscribers to which will receive parts of a model of the 'Sovereign of the Seas' in weekly issues. The first issue, to entice potential model makers, is offered at the bargain price of £1.99. Subsequent issues will cost £5.99 and there are, apparently, going to be over 135 of them.
The Telegraph has calculated the model will take two years and seven months to build, longer than it took to build the original, full scale and fully functioning version, and will cost £804.65.
Telegraph magazine article
Even with the interesting and informative articles in the magazine, that's a pretty eye-watering figure, and if experience is anything to go by, at least one issue will never turn up, meaning the end result will be missing a mast, or a chunk of hull, or the sails.

The Ongoing Fake Review Row

Various high profile authors have come forward to add their voices to the campaign against the practise of fake reviewing, or 'sock puppeting' as it's known. Ian Rankin, Lee Child and Val McDermid are amongst many who are appealing to both Amazon and fellow authors to seek an end to the practise.
It's thoroughly dispiriting to an indy author struggling to find a way into the market. If I'm to make it as a writer I want to do it honestly and on merit, but the honest author is at an automatic disadvantage when others are either creating their own false identities to promote their own work and undermine that of their rivals, or are paying others to do it for them.
I'm not sure what the answer is. For now there is no real pressure on Amazon to change its system: as far as they're concerned, reviews work. I suppose it will only change when the end consumer demands it.
For more information, see the stories on the Telegraph and Forbes websites.

Monday 3 September 2012

The Problem of Reviews

As an indy author publishing on Kindle, I know very well the power reviews have in the selling of a book. Having a bad review that slates your narrative, your dialogue, your plot, basically trashing months and months of graft in the space of a single paragraph, can mean that your book is doomed, even if the slating is totally unwarranted. On the flip side, a five star review that heaps praise upon a possibly rather shaky work can see it soaring up the charts.
It's a cruel business, because anyone can write a review, anonymously, with or without even reading the book. As such, as a buyer I've learned to treat reviews with scepticism, but for many they're still what clinches the deal.
An example of the abuse of the review system is playing out in the news today, with one of my favourite authors being forced to apologise after being exposed as a review cheat. Using various false names, RJ Ellory has apparently been posting reviews, glowing ones for his own works, terrible ones for the works of his rivals. If it's true then it's a thoroughly despicable thing to do. Selling books is hard enough, without fellow authors conspiring to derail your efforts by underhand means. It's cheating. No other word for it.
The good news is that a story such as this exposes the inherent problems with the review system. I just wish it hadn't been an author I've admired so much that had been caught.
Telegraph RJ Ellory Story

Saturday 1 September 2012

Travel Dreams

There are many places in the world I should like to visit, among them the Grand Canyon, Maine, Yosemite, many parts of Australia, Canada, along with so many places closer to home. Now I have to add Africa to the list, thanks to a Telegraph gallery: Telegraph Africa Gallery
The first picture alone would be enough to get me over my fears of flying and into a helicopter. The wise one would go for picture number nine - he does, as he oft reminds anyone listening, like elephants!