iTunes & Me

by Suw on March 26, 2014

I put off upgrading to iOS7, for fear my phone might be broken by the process. Today I thought, ‘Oh, don’t be silly, it will be fine’, but oh, no, no, no. The update failed halfway through. I managed to get the phone to finish its upgrade, but it needed to restore itself from back up, the back up that I had so very carefully taken this morning, just before I upgraded, because I am sensible.

“What’s your password?” asked iTunes.
“What password?” I replied.
“Y’know. Your password,” it said.
“Um, I didn’t set a password,” I said. “I don’t remember setting a password. But hey, does this one work?”
“No.”
“This one?”
“No.”
“How about this one?”
“Nooo.”
“Any of these ones?”
“Nope.”
“Any hope of recovering my password?”
“Ha ha ha ha ha.”
“And you don’t make me enter the password each time I back-up just to make sure that I know I’ve got a password. Also: still don’t remember setting a password!”
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. Of course not.”
“Right.”
“Right.”
“So, my carefully backed-up phone is, well, knackered then?”
“Fun, isn’t it!”
“No, it is not fun.”
“Turn it on! Turn it on!”
“I think I’ll search the web first, see if there’s anything I can do about it.”
“Oh, you can try. You can, indeed, try. I wouldn’t bother though. Turn it on!!”
“How about this password?”
“Still no. But I will sync it for you! How about that?”
“Ok, a sync is better than, well, no sync.”
“Aren’t I kind!”
“How about this password?”
“A ha ha ha ha, you kill me.”
“The internet says try backing up to iCloud.”
“Ooh, try that! Try that!”
“I am getting a bad feeling about this…”
“Look what I did! The iCloud back-up of your borked phone has overwritten the older, intact-if-inaccessible, back-up on your computer. I win!”
“Bastard.”
“There can be only one back-up.”
“So this isn’t like Time Machine, then? Where I can go back as far as I have memory to back-up?”
“Ha ha ha. Oh god, you’re still killing me.”
“Asshole.”
“No need to be rude. Go on. Turn it on.”
“It looks like it’s been factory reset. You’ve lost everything.”
“Keep going. You’ve got nothing left to lose now, have you? After all, you’ve lost it all already.”
“No, you lost it.”
“You forgot the password.”
“What password!”
“Y’know. The password.”
“Fucker.”
“Now, now. Oh, look, let me sync it again for you.”
“Bastard.”
“Right, done with that. Have another go at turning it on.”
“Ooh! Wait! There are my photos! And my contacts! And my text messa… wait a minute.”
“Tee hee.”
“Wait… there’s nothing on this phone newer than December 2011. You’ve… you’ve wiped all my contacts, photos, music, and everything else that’s been added over the last two and a half years. You utter, utter bastard.”
“But I synced your apps!”
“And lost most of the settings!”
“iOS7 is really shiny though!”
“No, it’s fucking not. It’s a fucking affront to anyone with even half a design sensibility.”
“I like it.”
“Arrrgh!”

 

With apologies to Muse & Me

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Two lessons in dialogue

by Suw on March 10, 2014

Dialogue. How I yearn to be awesome at dialogue. With good dialogue you can not only move the story forward, you can also draw the characters personality, background, attitudes, prejudices, class status, relationships to others and much more. Yet it’s only too easy, and I say this from experience, to use dialogue simplistically, either as a form of exposition or as a way to just glue actions together. Using it to reveal personality and background requires a more deft touch that I certainly am still trying to develop. 

Recently, I have come across two fantastic writers whose dialogue is really worth taking the time to study. The first is Naomi Novik, whose Temeraire I recently read and loved. Novik’s dialogue is fantastic, giving us an insight into not just what is going on in that scene, but also where her characters come from, what they’re like, how they think, and what their station is in life. It really is a delight to read, and if you haven’t read Temeraire (His Majesty’s Dragon in the USA) then I cannot recommend it highly enough! 

One of my favourite scenes is this: 

They landed together, to the anxious lowing of the cattle that had been delivered for Temeraire’s dinner. ‘Temeraire, be gentle with him,’ Laurence said quietly. ‘Some dragons do not have very good understanding, like some people; you remember Bill Swallow, on the Reliant.’

‘Oh, yes,’ Temeraire said, equally low. ‘I understand now; I will be careful. Do you think he would like one of my cows?’

‘Would he care for something to eat?’ Laurence asked James, as they both dismounted and met on the ground. ‘Temeraire has already eaten this afternoon; he can spare a cow.’ 

‘Why, that is very kind of you,’ James said, thawing visibly, ‘I am sure he would like it very much, wouldn’t you, you bottomless pit,’ he said affectionally, patting Volatilus’s neck.’

‘Cows!’ Volatilus said, staring at them with wide eyes.

‘Come and  have some with me, we can eat over here,’ Temeraire said to the little grey, and sat up to snatch a pair of the cows over the wall of the pen. He laid them out in a clean grassy part of the field, and Volatilus eagerly trotted over to share when Temeraire beckoned. 

‘It is uncommonly generous of you, and of him,’ James said, as Laurence led him to the cottage. ‘I have never seen one of the big ones share like that; what breed is he?’

‘I am not myself an expert, and he came to us without provenance; but Sir Edward Howe has just today identified him as an Imperial,’ Laurence said, feeling a little embarrassed; it seemed like showing off, but of course it was just plain face, and he could not avoid telling people. 

James stumbled over the threshold on the news and nearly fell into Fernao. ‘Are you— oh, Lord, you are not joking,’ he said, recovering and handing his leather coat off. ‘But how did you find him, and how did you come to put him into harness?’

Laurence himself would never have dreamed of interrogating a host in such a way, but he concealed his opinion of James’s manners; the circumstances surely warranted some leeway. ‘I will be happy to tell you,’ he said, showing the other man into the sitting room. ‘I should like your advice, in fact, on how I am to proceed. Will you have some tea?’

‘Yes, although coffee if you have it,’ James said, pulling a chair closer to the fire; he sprawled into it with his leg slung over the arm. ‘Damn, it’s good to sit for a minute; we have been in the air for seven hours.’

What I love about this is how the dialogue and the description work so well together. Temeraire, we have already learnt by this point in the book, is a smart dragon and although he speaks in short sentences with relatively simple constructions, he clearly has a level of understanding and intelligence that poor Volatilus wouldn’t even know how to dream of. He shows kindness, compassion, imagination and empathy; his actions and speech both reflect these personality traits. 

Poor old Volly, on the other hand, is a much simpler beast and can manage only one astonished word. But even with such restricted dialogue, we get a clear impression of Volly’s intellectual limitations, warmth of heart, and enthusiasm for cattle. 

When it comes to the humans in the scene, we can see Laurence’s stiff formality, sharply contrasted by James’ lack of the same. Again, dialogue and action reinforce one another, but you are also provided with a bit of extra information. Like his dragon, Laurence is solicitous of others’ wellbeing, but is also very aware of status and propriety. 

Throughout the book, Novik uses dialogue to flesh out her characters, using speech patterns appropriate not just to the period — the book is set in the Napoleonic wars — but also fitting to station, career path, and even family position. Laurence is a Navy man from an aristocratic family, but he’s not the first born son so he’s highly aware of interpersonal relationships and status differentials, and thus how people should modify their behaviours according to whom they are speaking.

When surrounded by and talking to his subordinates on ship, for example in the scene shortly after his ship has captured a French vessel and, along with it, Temeraire’s egg, he’s very formal: 

No one spoke, and in silence Laurence stared at the shining curve of eggshell rising out of the heaped straw; it was scarcely possible to believe. ‘Pass the word for Mr. Pollitt,’ he said at last; his voice sounded only a little strained. ‘Mr. Riley, pray be sure those lashings are quite secure.’

But when talking privately to the people on board that he trusts the most, and with whom he has the closest relationships, his formality drops a little: 

He [Pollitt] bustled away, and Laurence exchanged a glance with Gibbs and Riley, moving closer so they might speak without being overheard by the lingering gawkers. ‘At least three weeks from Madeira with a fair wind, would you say?’ Laurence said quietly. 

‘At best, sir,’ Gibbs said, nodding. 

‘I cannot imagine how they came to be here with it,’ Riley said. ‘What do you mean to do, sir?’

His initial satisfaction turning gradually into dismay as he realised the very difficult situation, Laurence stared at the egg blankly. Even in the dim lantern light, it shone with the warm lustre of marble. ‘Oh, I am damned if I know, Tom. But I suppose I will go and return the French captain his sword; it is no wonder he fought so furiously after all.’

Notice that we not only get signals regarding Laurence and Riley’s relationship, but we also get action in the dialogue, as Laurence talks about returning the French captain’s sword.

The richness of Novik’s dialogue is a delight, and the way she uses it to progress the plot and develop characters and relationships makes the book zip along at a very satisfying pace. It is my aim over the next month or two to really study Temeraire and Novik’s use of dialogue in order to improve my own, as her’s is some of the best I’ve read in a long time. 

My second example of awesome dialogue is a bit of a cheat, really, as it’s a radio comedy. Cabin Pressure is written by John Finnemore and concerns the slightly hapless crew of a charter airline, MJN Air. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Captain Martin Crieff, Roger Allam as First Officer Douglas Richardson, Stephanie Cole as airline owner Carolyn Knapp-Shappey, and John Finnemore as her rather gormless son who also works as the airline’s only steward, Arthur Shappey. 

Cabin Pressure is one of those radio gems where every word is exactly where it should be. There is no flab in the script, and no gun gets put on the table in the first scene without going off before the last. Jokes are set up with meticulous attention to detail and timing, and the voice acting is just superb, as you’d expect from such an awesome cast.

Of course, radio comedies are all dialogue, with only a few sound effects to add any necessary extra information, so they have to be sharp and well observed. But they also have to tell you everything you need to know about the characters without exposition. Here’s a snippet of Cabin Pressure, Series 1, Episode 1, from the Cabin Pressure Fans website

MARTIN: Blessed.

DOUGLAS: Ah, yes, of course. May.

MARTIN: Mm-hm, yep. Cant.

(Flight deck door opens.)

ARTHUR: Here we are, gents. Coffee with nothing in it; tea with everything in it. Great cabin address, Douglas. I love cargo flights.

DOUGLAS: Thank you, Arthur.

MARTIN: Ooh, Eno!

DOUGLAS: Ooh, eeno?

MARTIN (more slowly): Ooh: Eno.

DOUGLAS: Ah, yes! Sewell.

ARTHUR: Ooh, what are we playing?

MARTIN: Brians of Britain.

ARTHUR: There-there must be loads of them. Umm … uh …

DOUGLAS: Well, not to worry. As they come to you.

ARTHUR: Ooh, who was that guy? Umm, oh, grey-haired, did that game show, “Can I have a P please, Bob?” Umm, oh, what was his name?

DOUGLAS: Your hope being that it was Brian?

ARTHUR: Yeah, Brian … uh … Brian …

MARTIN: Bob Holness. It was Bob Holness.

ARTHUR: That’s it! Oh. Well, does he count anyway?

DOUGLAS: Does Bob Holness count in our list of people called Brian? What the hell, yes, he does. Well done!

FITTON AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL (over radio): Golf Tango India, expect twenty min delay due runway inspection. Enter the hold at Arden; maintain seven thousand feet.

MARTIN (into radio): Golf Tango India, roger hold at Arden. Maintain seven thousand feet. Can you confirm delay only twenty minutes?

FITTON AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL (blowing out a breath): Probably. All depends, really.

MARTIN (exasperated): Thank you, Tower. Hugely informative as ever. Out.

(Radio off.)

MARTIN: Sorry, chaps. Looks like we’d better divert to Bristol.

ARTHUR: Bristol? Why?

MARTIN: Fitton’s got a runway closure. We’d have to hold for twenty minutes.

ARTHUR: But Bristol? That’s miles away.

MARTIN: Yes. Luckily enough, though, we’re in an aeroplane, especially designed to be good at going miles away quite quickly.

ARTHUR: Yeah, but my car’s at Fitton.

MARTIN: Oh, well, then, let us by all means circle round it until we drop out of the sky.

DOUGLAS: D’you know, Martin, all these years and I’ve never been to Bristol.

MARTIN: Well, get ready for a treat.

DOUGLAS: I dunno. I was rather hoping not to break my duck.

ARTHUR: Skipper, are you sure there’s not enough fuel to wait? ’Cause there’s always a little bit left when the gauge shows red.

MARTIN: Yes, oddly enough, Arthur, a jet aircraft isn’t as precisely similar to a Vauxhall Corsa as a stupid person might imagine. We’re going to Bristol.

ARTHUR: What do you reckon, Douglas?

DOUGLAS: We could go to Bristol. I believe people do. However, we’ve easily enough fuel spare to hold for twenty minutes, maybe even thirty.

MARTIN: No, I’m sorry but we’re diverting.

ARTHUR: Yeah, hang on a tick, though. If Douglas reckons twenty minutes …

MARTIN: No, let’s not ‘hang on a tick’. Let’s listen to the captain, shall we?

DOUGLAS: Of course, Martin, if you say we divert, then divert we shall.

MARTIN: Thank you.

DOUGLAS: Unless of course we were to smell smoke in the flight deck.

MARTIN: What?

DOUGLAS: I’m just saying: if by any remote chance we smelled smoke in the flight deck, we would of course be duty bound to land at the nearest available airfield with immediate priority – in this case, by a happy coincidence, Fitton.

MARTIN: Yes, maybe; but I don’t smell smoke in the flight deck.

(Sound of a match being struck.)

DOUGLAS: How about now?

MARTIN: What are you suggesting, Douglas?

DOUGLAS: We tell the Tower we smell smoke, which we do. We get to land straightaway. They check the aircraft, don’t find anything; “One of life’s little mysteries, but jolly good boys for taking no chances.” Everybody’s happy and there’s jam for tea.

ARTHUR: Right! That’s – you know, that’s really clever!

MARTIN: No, I’m sorry, but absolutely not.

DOUGLAS: I used to do it all the time at Air England.

MARTIN: Well, you’re not at Air England now. Where you are now is in the co-pilot’s seat and on the way to Bristol. You’ll like it. They have a lovely suspension bridge.

DOUGLAS: Well, shall I just sat comm Carolyn before we make our final decision? It’s rather an expensive diversion …

MARTIN: No, we have made our final decision. I have decided, and as Carolyn knows, whilst in flight, I am supreme commander of this vessel.

DOUGLAS: Golly. Captain Bligh flies again.

MARTIN: Douglas, I’m not impressed by your Air England mates. When you’re on Captain Bligh’s aircraft, you can do it his way, but when you’re on mine, you do it mine. Is that understood?

DOUGLAS: Yes.

MARTIN: Yes what?

DOUGLAS: Yes it is.

MARTIN: Yes it is what?

DOUGLAS: Yes it is understood.

MARTIN: Yes it is understood what?

DOUGLAS: Yes it is understood … please?

MARTIN: I’m waiting.

DOUGLAS: Martin, you’re not seriously asking me to call you ‘sir’.

MARTIN: Yes I am. Why’s that so hard to believe?

DOUGLAS: Well, to select just one reason from the fifteen or sixteen that present themselves, I’m old enough to be your father.

MARTIN: Not unless you started very young.

DOUGLAS: I did.

MARTIN: Right, well, I think your age and your previous role is giving you a rather skewed view of the chain of authority on this aircraft, and maybe a little observation of the formalities will help remind you which one of us is still the captain. So: is that understood?

DOUGLAS: Yes …

(Long pause.)

DOUGLAS (grimly): … sir.

MARTIN: Thank you. (Into radio) Fitton Approach, Golf Tango India. In view of your delay, request diversion Bristol.

Even without hearing the dialogue spoken, we get a very clear idea of who these people are: Martin, the captain, is impatient with other people, overly cautious, insecure (particularly with respect to his position as captain), officious, and not as intelligent as he likes to think he is.

Douglas, on the other hand, is possibly too clever, and looks down on people who think they’re smart but aren’t. That said, he’s got more empathy than Martin and doesn’t take his frustration with Martin out on Arthur, who really is rather lacking in the intellectual capacity area. Douglas is frustrated by the fact that he’s a first officer and not the captain, and his causal disregard for authority turns into something more deliberate when it’s Martin’s authority that he’s disregarding.

Now, Arthur. What Arthur lacks in intelligence he makes up for in enthusiasm, being easily impressed and even more easily pleased. He’s the sort of person you’d find hard to actively dislike, but his similarity to a Labrador puppy might get a bit tedious after a while. 

Listen to the whole episode, or indeed, the series (plural), and you’ll rapidly see how well rounded the Cabin Pressure characters are. Again, the dialogue does more than just tie scenes together or set up the next chunk of description or action, it actually tells us almost everything we can ever know about these characters.

My aim for future stories is to produce dialogue that is as fat with information as Temeraire and Cabin Pressure. It’s not just about what people are saying, it’s how they say it. It’s the the words they choose and the cadence of their speech. And it’s also what they don’t say, the words they don’t use, the meaning they leave between the lines, even without knowing it. 

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Create more than you consume

by Suw on March 3, 2014

Hi. My name is Suw and I’m addicted to reading meaningless crap on the internet. 

There. I’ve said it. I have a procrastination problem. It’s a very specific problem, though, because it doesn’t affect my paid work. When a client is paying me to write a report, do some research, or write, I generally have no problem getting my head down and cracking on. If I do have a moment of procrastination, it probably means that I am hungry as a lack of calories often results in my brain switching off, but that’s easily fixed by getting lunch or a snack. 

No, my procrastination problem is most acute when it comes to my creative writing. I try to treat writing as work, so that it gets equal billing in my priorities as client projects do, but it’s not always that easy to convince my hindbrain that what I’m doing — indeed, what I’m doing right now — is making a valuable contribution to my career and quality of life. It doesn’t make me any money, so I find it difficult to put it on an equal footing as the work that pays my rent. But when I am not writing, I’m really quite miserable, so the calculation should be easy: A Suw that is writing is a happy Suw, so Suw should write. Somehow, though, that calculation doesn’t convince my hindbrain one little bit.

The trouble is that writing is infinitely put-off-able, and the internet is full of mildly interesting things to read and, occasionally, useful information that I need to know. It’s also full of people and, as someone who works from home, social media gives me a comforting level of social contact that I wouldn’t otherwise get. Unfortunately, much of that social contact is via random chitchat on Twitter, and Twitter is phenomenally good at piquing curiosity. What was that tweet in response to? Why is this person angry about this link? What funny cat picture lies behind that link? 

It becomes incredibly easy to while away the hours when one is not working by reading vast quantities of stuff that has very little utility, but which sates one’s innate craving for novelty. In fact, as I’m writing this, sitting in an apartment in Sheboygan, WI, without internet access except for via my husband’s iPad, the urge to put my laptop down and pick up his iPad just to see if anything interesting has been posted on Twitter feels almost physical.

The internet has wormed its way into my brain and is eating it. 

Add to this the fact that it’s also incredibly easy to lose one’s writing mojo to insecurity and soon enough you’ll find that months have gone by and you’ve not written a thing. You may even find that you’ve picked up a new hobby to fill the time that you once would have used to write, and are using the fact of that as another stick to beat yourself with. Soon enough, your urge to write might appear to have evaporated completely, and you start to believe that you’re not a writer at all anymore. 

Havi Brooks deals with this latter point most effectively:

There are many ways to know you are a writer, and doubting it is something writers go through, so let’s drop this pain-heavy rule that you must be writing now in order to claim that lost part of you.

That isn’t how it works, it isn’t helpful, and it isn’t the loving spark of truth. Sometimes writing lives in the spaces in between the words. Sometimes the process of not-writing is how you get quiet enough to return to it. Blame about the not-writing make this harder.

Let’s not perpetuate that. Let’s not tell these stories anymore. Let’s not pretend that ASS IN CHAIR is the only answer.

Let’s end it here and now. With love.

It’s a powerful read, and full of truth. But, even if I can forgive myself for my long periods of not writing, that still leaves me procrastinating actual writing far too often and for too long, and my delaying tactic of choice is always to read shit on the internet. No number of hopefully conceived but ultimately doomed New Year’s Resolutions will solve that problem. 

But, just recently, I read the blog post How to be useful, despite your smartphone addiction by Mark Schaefer, and whilst most of the post I can take or leave, one subheading leapt out at me: 

Create more than you consume. 

This. So very this. My resolution to publish a new piece of work per month was, in retrospect, a hard ask because it put artificial pressure on me to complete stories without giving me a sense of where the time to do that might come from. But this edict, to create more than I consume, gives me a clear choice to make. I can read shit on the internet, or I can stop and use that time instead to write. I can binge-listen to multiple episodes of my latest love, Cabin Pressure, or I can eek them out a bit by only listening to one if I have spent half an hour writing first instead. 

Creating more than you consume is not about finding extra time, it is about choosing carefully how you use your time. It’s not forcing me to make a choice between, say, going to the gym first thing in the morning or writing, it’s giving me a choice between doing something that is having an increasingly negative impact on my state of mind and is thus something I should stop, ie reading crap on the internet, and doing something that makes me happy, ie writing. This is an easy choice. Framing it in this way makes it not just easy, but compelling, a choice that will decrease the crappiness and increase my happiness. 

I have no doubt that my implementation of this edict will be prone to stumbles and falls. I checked Twitter four times whilst writing this post, though to my credit I didn’t click on a single link. Making any kind of major change to habitual behaviours is hard, but bad days can be followed by good days, and all you need to do is keep on trying to increase the number of good days. 

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Adobe Creative Cloud subscription warning!

by Suw on February 20, 2014

If, like me, you’ve signed up for one of Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscriptions under the assumption that because you paid monthly, after the first year the contract was also monthly, I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. Your subscription is yearly and if you cancel at any point, you will pay a penalty fee 50% of the monthly fees still outstanding.

I signed up for a subscription to InDesign on 30 July 2012, and thought that the contract was a year long, with monthly payments and after the first year a monthly rolling contract. That was not the case: When it automatically renewed in July 2013, it signed me up for a new one year contract, with penalty fees for early cancellation. So even though I paid monthly, the contract was annual.

That’s not a subscription or a membership – they use both terms to describe it – in my opinion. That’s a yearly renewable contract, and it should be described as thus, and the penalty fees much more clearly and prominently described. There are no mentions of the penalty fees on their membership plans page at all, and there’s no mention of penalty fees in their yearly renewal email either.

The first I heard of these penalties was when I tried to cancel my account this morning, and was forced to talk to a “customer service” agent via chat – there is no other way to cancel your account. This is the relevant bit of the conversation:

AdobeJust to confirm, you would like to  to cancel Creative Cloud single-app membership for InDesign (one-year) purchased on 30-Jul-2012 with order #: [redacted]

Suw Charman-Anderson: yes please

AdobeThank you for confirming.

AdobeSuw, If I offer you the next month free subscription, would you be willing to continue the subscription and to avoid the cancellation fees?

Suw Charman-Anderson: no, because I have no use for this software for the foreseeable future.

AdobeThe annual plan you enrolled in offers lower monthly payments and requires a one-year commitment. This plan is ideal for someone with an ongoing need to use Adobe’s Creative software.

AdobeIf you decide to end your subscription before the one-year period is over, you no longer qualify for one-year subscription pricing.

Suw Charman-Anderson: i don’t have any need for your software.

Adobe: You will be billed at 50% of your monthly rate for the remaining months in your annual contract. Hence, you will be charged Subtotal:35.75, Tax:8.22,  Grand Total:43.97 .

At this point, I got very cross, although politely so. I had no clear warning that there were penalties in the renewal email or when I signed up, though I am now sure that it was buried somewhere in the bottom of the Ts&Cs. These kinds of sharp practices are relatively rare in the UK and Europe now, thanks to strong consumer protection laws, so I’m not used to having to look out for them.

But Adobe is quite happy to sting you with unethical small print, although I can’t understand why they would do so. Why make it difficult for you to cancel, and then rub salt in to the wound by slapping penalties on top of inconvenience?

If I could have subscribed and unsubscribed easily, as and when I needed the software, then I would have done that, probably indefinitely. As it is, instead of having a loyal customer who’ll give them money relatively regularly for the rest of her working life, they now have someone who feels ripped off and determined to never give them another penny, and make sure other people know the risks of a Creative Cloud membership.

Instead of creating an evangelist for their products, they’ve alienated a previously loyal customer. I will be searching for alternatives to InDesign, and will give another company my money. I’m not averse to paying for good software, but I’ve never been able to afford Adobe software. I thought the Creative Cloud was a way to be able to access really awesome software at an affordable rate, but no, it’s just another way for Adobe to treat its customers like shit. Well done Adobe.

If you’d like to help me recoup the money I’ve lost to Adobe, please buy one of my books from the sidebar! Ten copies of A Passion for Science and I’ll break even on my penalty fee!

UPDATE: It seems that if you scream loudly enough on social media, Adobe will refund the penalty fee. I have told them, though, that they need to be much clearer in their communications about penalty fees, though I bet they don’t change a thing. Instead, if this happens to you, make sure you take to Twitter and kick up a fuss.

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For those of you who know Kevin or me well, it will come as no surprise to hear that we are finally moving to the USA: Kevin yesterday started his new job as Executive Editor of the Sheboygan Press and the Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter, both a part of Gannett. I am still in the UK, and will follow when I have my visa, probably in May or June (though it’s anyone’s guess, really!).

There’s a lot to write about regarding this move, but I suspect that the biggest question on most of my friends’ lips will be, “But what will you do for work, Suw?” The answer to that is that I will be taking my social media consulting across the Pond, still focused on media and publishing. Sheboygan is more well known for its bratwurst than its international publishing companies, but it’s only a couple of hours drive from Chicago and just over two hours flight from New York. I’ve plenty of experience working remotely, of course, and will also be interested to see what the local market is like in towns like Milwaukee.

Although Kevin and I started my visa application in September last year, it is a drawn out process, as you can imagine. It’s impossible to know exactly how long it will take before I get the green light to move, but it’s not likely to happen much before May. In the meantime, I’ll be trying to cram in as much work in the UK as possible, so if you’ve ever thought about getting me in, email me now! I’ve just revamped my website to give more details of the strategy workshops I have developed and the bespoke social technology consulting that I do.

If you’re an American publisher interested in social media, then I’ll be at the London Book Fair in April, so get in touch and we’ll find a time to meet. I’m eager to start conversations soon for engagements during the summer.

As for Ada Lovelace Day, that will continue as normal. This year, it is hosted by the Ri, who are already doing a fantastic job of taking care of us, and our producer, Helen Arney, will continue her great work putting the event line-up together. Today I have a meeting for next year’s event, which will also be hosted in London. I will be back for both, and the centre of gravity for Ada Lovelace Day will remain in London for the next two years, not least because it gives me a good excuse to come back and visit friends and family!

I am very excited indeed about this move. I’ve visited Sheboygan, and it’s a lovely lakeside town with a proper British pub and a picturesque downtown. There are some great outdoors opportunities, and finally the chance for us to own our own house, something quite impossible in Woking. And I hope to have a bit more time to write and to make and to enjoy exploring my new country. Grabbity and Sir Izacat Mewton will of course be coming with us, and I can’t wait to see them exploring their new house and enjoying a bit more space. So, stay tuned. I’ve a lot of pent-up blogging that needs to come out!

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Mike Cane wrote a blog post in response to Chuck Wendig’s and mine, saying that he thinks the self-publishing shit volcano will come to an end, because Amazon will end it. I left a comment on Cane’s blog, but it was starting to get longer than his initial blog post and I had more to say, so I’m expanding upon it here.

Cane’s thesis is that Amazon will act to remove bad ebooks that don’t sell because all that crap clogs up their site and is bad for business. He thinks that there will come a time where Amazon feels the pain so removes poor quality books and ban further submissions from terrible authors.

I wish he were right, but I don’t think Amazon will do anything within the foreseeable future. There is one circumstance which might fix this whole problem.

So, first, why won’t Amazon act?

Amazon is not a rational actor

At least, not in any way that you or I might consider rational. It’s pretty much the only company I can think of that can consistently not make a profit and not be punished by Wall Street. In the past, we’ve seen that it only takes action when it is cornered, and then it takes the smallest action it can get away with.

Take the bestiality/rape/incest/pseudoincest furore of last year. Amazon only acted when it felt cornered, and even then it did as little as it could get away with. There’s still plenty of dodgy porn on Amazon and will continue to be, because Amazon has no interest in really properly clearing it up.

Same with the sockpuppet review affair. And when Amazon did take action, it was to put in place stupid and ill-considered rules about whether Kindle authors could review or not. It has done nothing substantial about improving the quality of reviews, even though that would be something that you’d think would affect their bottom line quite significantly. After all, if you can’t trust the reviews on Amazon, how do you know whether to buy or not?

So at the moment, there is no force pushing Amazon to act, nothing making it whip out the banhammer. Yes, the shite clogs up Amazon’s arteries, but they have shown no interest in dealing with shite in other areas of their business, because clearly having heart disease isn’t producing any painful symptoms for them. Yet.

Amazon does make money out of bad books 

50 Shades of Grey. Not a masterpiece of literature, but it tapped into a market desperate for soft porn, did well, then broke out of that niche to became a cultural touchstone, bought not because it is good but because everyone wanted to know what the fuss was all about. Other areas of shitty writing, niche erotica in particular, do well again because people want stuff that the traditional publishers won’t touch with a bargepole.

So there is no 1:1 correlation between shitty self-published books and sales. The idea that self-publishing is a meritocracy where the good writing naturally floats to the top is at best a happy fairytale and at worst a delusion. If Amazon can make money out of monster porn without getting slapped about by the law, it will.

Storage is cheap and getting cheaper

Amazon has turned cloud storage into a business, and book files are small, so there’s no real reason for them to worry about how much space the long tale of self-published dross is taking up.

If your average ebook file takes up 500kb, then you can fit 2,147,483 in a single terabyte. Amazon charges $0.010 per gb per month for its “Glacier” storage. So if you’re hiring Amazon’s cloud directly, you can store 2097 averagely-sized files for a month for a cent. You could store 5 million books for just $2384 per month, which is certainly more than it actually costs Amazon, because they obviously mark up their commercial cloud storage offerings.

It is undoubtedly cheaper for Amazon to just store all ebooks uploaded than it is for them to pay someone to figure out how best to get rid of the ones that don’t sell AND are badly written, and then deal with the resultant backlash from offended authors.

That offended backlash

If there’s one thing Amazon isn’t interested in, it’s alienating hundreds of thousands of self-published authors. A few hundred noisy gasbags it can, and does, ignore. (Including the ones in the press.) But if you consider that most books don’t sell, and there is probably more than half a million self-published ebooks getting uploaded each year and growing, that’s a lot of shit and a lot of angry authors they’d have to deal with.

Whether there would be enough angry authors to hurt Amazon’s overall sales in any meaningful manner is something I couldn’t say. But it’s certainly enough to hurt Amazon’s brand (even more than they do themselves – they don’t seem to give a crap about brand), and hurt ebook and possibly paper book sales. Not to mention the deluge of angry email that would cripple their customer support department.

So whilst I would love Amazon to take a long, hard look at their self-publishing platform, I have absolutely no confidence that they will, because I cannot see any motivator big enough to push them to action.

What might change the calculation?

There is one thing that might change all this, and when it comes online it will revolutionise the book industry in ways we cannot even imagine.

Artificial Intelligence.

When we have meaningful AI, not necessarily all the way to full consciousness, but computers sophisticated enough to be able to learn to read and be programmed to develop a reliable taste, then the whole game changes. Everything. Amazon’s pathetic recommendation engine, which is the most overrated algorithm on the planet, will become utterly irrelevant. So will reader reviews. Because when we have a computer capable of reading a book and accurately scoring it for grammar, punctuation, plot, character development, style and genre, then we have a chance to be able to sift out the good from the bad.

Of course, then the question becomes, what do we mean by ‘accurately’? Or ‘good’? Whose standards will be used to draw the lines?

If past experience with technology is anything to go by, as soon as we have AI capable of doing this, we’ll have multiple interpretations of what ‘good’ is, and suddenly all books will become discoverable. Love monster porn? But really, really love velociraptor porn? AI will be able to scan the whole corpus and give you the very best in small dinosaur erotica. Want to read books that are just like Agatha Christie’s? Easy. Want to set your standards to embrace only the most obscure literary fiction? Piffle. Here I am, brain the size of a planet and you ask me to find you some literary fiction.

When we have AI, Amazon stops being the canonical catalogue of all books on the planet. Reader reviews become irrelevant. Sockpuppetry becomes impossible. Only quality – defined however the reader wants – matters.

Is this what Google is attempting with its mass book digitisation program? In 2005, Google played down that exact rumour. Last month, nearly ten years later, Google acquired Mind Deep, an artificial intelligence company based in London. I think we can all draw our own conclusions from that.

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Author Chuck Wendig has written a long post about how self-publishing is turning into a shit volcano. Vast quantities of terribly written rubbish is being published, and this is damaging to everyone in self-publishing. He says (emphasis as original):

[…] one of the features of self-publishing is that the door is open to anyone. Everyone. Always. No bouncers at this nightclub door, which is fine, but that also means you get folks with no shirt and no shoes. You’ll get folks dressed to the nines in sharkskin suits and you’ll also get wild-eyed dudes who are eating goulash out of rubber boots and who are quietly masturbating in the corner. You let anybody swim in the pool and, well, anybody can swim in the pool.

He goes on to make a number of arguments as to why this is a bad thing, and asks what we can do about it. If you haven’t read it yet, do so, because Wendig makes some very good points.

Right.

I’m afraid I have some bad news for Wendig, and for everyone else in the industry, self-published or otherwise. The shit volcano is not going to stop erupting, and there’s nothing we can do about it. There are a number of reasons for my pessimism, but the main one is this:

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

Charles Darwin was dead on the money when he said that, and it’s now known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Wikipedia says:

[…] unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude. Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.

David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University conclude, “the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others”.

I’ve seen it over and over again in social media. People believe that because using Twitter and Facebook is easy, that producing a meaningful long-term strategy for a multinational company is therefore easy, and that their intern can do it. After a decade as a social technologist, I can tell you from experience that it’s really not easy, and no, your intern cannot do it.

You see it in web design, which is what I did before I moved into social media. Because anyone can learn to throw a bit of HTML together, they think that it’s easy to design a website. Again, from experience, I can promise you it isn’t.

The problem is that people are generally very bad at accurately assessing their level of skill in any given area, especially an area in which they are inexperienced. That’s bad enough in a field where there’s an objective measure of capability. You may think you’re the bees knees at tennis, but if you keep losing every game you play, that’s a fairly clear indicator that you’re crap. And it’s not just an indicator to you, it makes it obvious to everyone that you’re crap, so it becomes hard, though not impossible, to maintain the delusion that you’re good.

With writing, however, there is no such clarity. The factors influencing the quality of a book can be broken down into three categories:

  1. Objective factors: Spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors. Formatting errors. Inconsistencies. Issues that, no matter the reader, are obvious and should have been avoided. Much of this stuff could be picked up by a well-written algorithm.
  2. Subjective factors: Poorly drawn characters, unconvincing plots, poor dialogue, cliche-ridden prose. Problems that many people will find problematic, but that some people will be able to successfully gloss over when reading. More experienced and professional readers/writers will notice these more than those who are less experienced. A computer couldn’t spot these problems, but us humans can, although the extent to which we are bothered by them varies.
  3. Matters of taste: Tone, genre, aspects of plot or character. Other issues that really can’t be said to be good or bad, but which either fit your taste or don’t. Computers have no sense of taste.

The problem is that if you’re unskilled, it can be hard enough to spot the objective errors, but the subjective problems are well beyond your ken. Yet what often happens is that the unskilled are so overconfident that they try to classify subjective (and even objective) errors as a matter of taste, and thus something that they don’t need to address because hey, not everyone likes everything.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is intractable, because it requires the unskilled to develop a high level of self-awareness to counteract their tendency towards overconfidence, and self-awareness doesn’t come easily. Again, from Wikipedia:

Dunning and Kruger proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:

  1. tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
  2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
  3. fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
  4. recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill.

So, according to Dunning and Kruger, in order to combat the massive shit volcano, we would need to train every self-publisher who produces shit, and hope that they realise that they aren’t as good as they think they are and need to try a bit harder. Well, good luck with that one.

Now, it’s true that not every self-published author is on the wrong side of Dunning-Kruger. Some are on the only slightly less wrong side: Good writers whose confidence is shot because they understand that they could be better, and are over-sensitive to the gap between the quality of the work they do produce and the quality they want to achieve. Those people are better than they think they are and will publish less than they should.

Of course, there are self-published authors who have an accurate view of their own competence, and others who are moving up the competence ladder and developing a better appreciation for their own skills and what more they need to learn. Here, it’s useful to think about the Four Stages of Competence (again, from Wikipedia):

1. Unconscious incompetence
The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognise their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.

2. Conscious incompetence
Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.

3. Conscious competence
The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.

4. Unconscious competence
The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

But if the quality of self-published books is anything to go by, most self-publishers are at stage 1. Very few have made it through to stage 4., though I think that’s true of all authors, even the traditionally published ones. It’s a very high bar after all. What we really need is more people getting as far as stage 3. Conscious competence is a perfectly fine place to be, but it is hard to get to with Dunning-Kruger in the way.

There is no intervention that I can think of that will help people, en masse, transcend the Dunning-Kruger effect and elevate themselves to a state of conscious competence as writers. Thus, we can expect the shit volcano to keep on spewing for the foreseeable future, and this without even beginning to think about the cultural reasons why there might be many people who are so eager to be authors.

Notes for commenters: I’m not talking here about people who just write for fun and give their work away on sites like Wattpad or in fanfic communities. I’m talking about people who are selling their books and, through asking for money for their work, presenting themselves as professional writers.

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Awesome Ada Lovelace Day news!

by Suw on January 23, 2014

This week saw the announcement of a couple of pieces of Ada Lovelace Day news that I’m very excited about. Last year’s day was fantastic, but this year’s is already shaping up well and, dare I say it, may be even better!

Ada Lovelace Day at the Royal Institution

We’re partnering with the  Royal Institution for Ada Lovelace Day Live on 14 October. This is just the most awesome news, not least because the Ri is the home of the Christmas Lectures and their lecture theatres is one of the most iconic venues in science. Michael Faraday, of whom Lovelace was a huge fan, began the Christmas Lectures there in 1825, as well as the Friday Discourses.

Tickets will go on sale later in the year, direct from the Ri, but there’ll be very limited amounts as the lecture theatre only holds 440 people, so make sure you sign up to the Ada Lovelace Day newsletter to be the first to know!

Our ongoing passion for science

After the success of our first anthology of writing about women in STEM, A Passion for Science: Stories of Discovery and Invention, we have decided to produce another. This time, we are opening up a formal call for contributions of articles about notable women or groups of women in science, technology, engineering and maths, as well as interesting users of technology.

Initially, we are asking people to send us 250 words on the woman or women that they want to write about, explaining why they are notable or interesting, along with a link to a writing sample. Ultimately, we’re looking for 20 articles of between 2,000 and 6,000 words. At this point, we don’t have any kind of budget, but we’re hoping to raise some money to pay for editing, cover design and an honorarium for writers. Profits go towards supporting Ada Lovelace Day, which remains essentially a budgetless organisation run by a very small group of volunteers.

To find out more, take a look at the call for submissionsauthor notes, and style guide. The deadline to submit an idea is 28 February 14, and please do let people  know!!

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The double-edged sword of mechanisation

by Suw on January 16, 2014

Via Mary Corbet’s Needle ‘n Thread blog I discovered this fantastic video about embroiderers in Appenzell in Switzerland and how their way of life was destroyed by mechanisation.

The documentary paints a fascinating picture of the rural families that earnt a living through incredibly delicate embroidery, supplementing what would have been a meagre income from fairly unproductive small-holdings. The woman of the household would pass on her skills to her children, boys and girls alike. They would all embroider from dawn til dusk and on into the night by candlelight. The school-age children would attend classes, but would still be expected to do significant amounts of embroidery in the evenings. The children who weren’t good with a needle worked at the household chores, often taking on many of the tasks that a mother would normally do so that she could embroider more.

The particular embroidery type that Appenzellers made was called whitework, and this still from the video show just how delicate it can be. (Sorry I couldn’t find a better picture that was also CC licensed!)

Appenzell whitework

Of course, fashions moved on which, along with mechanisation, put many embroiderers out of business. Those changes cannot have been easy for the rural families who depended on embroidery to make ends meet, and who didn’t have many, or any, other reliable income. But the life of an embroiderer would not have been easy either, working all hours and earning relatively little for very demanding work. One mistake would result in money being docked, and they weren’t being paid much in the first place.

Whilst mechanisation freed whole families from gruelling work, (although they may not have seen it like that whilst they were figuring out what else to do), it also likely resulted in the loss of many skills. The story is the same across the crafts. As mass produced materials superseded the hand-crafted, the knowledge that allowed those items to be made, that had been passed down from mother to daughter and father to son, was lost, if not in total then in major part.

The economics of hand-made items were never good. Time-consuming processes require either low-paid workers or very high prices that only a few can afford. The craft industry these days relies on both models, not just because of sweatshops in the developing world, but also Western hobbyist (or, in some cases, subsistence) crafters who sell their work for the cost of the materials rather than including time and other overheads because it’s hard to sell anything otherwise.

The results of this are, I fear, a gradual loss of skill and, worse, a loss of interest in those skills. That’s why I love blogs such as Mary Corbet’s, and why they are so fundamentally important. Although there are institutions such as the Royal School of Needlework who do a great job of preserving and passing on knowledge, craft blogs allow anyone to not only be inspired by the beautiful work on display, but to also learn a little about how it’s done. It is because of Mary’s blog that I’ve picked up an embroidery needle, with the intention of doing something more interesting than just a few French knots.

Argleton embroidered cover

But this is also why I like including aspects of crafting in my work, both my books and my writing. The Argleton project included a hand-embroidered silk-covered edition, and The Lacemaker, well, obviously, makes reference to the making of bobbin lace. I love learning about new crafts, as much as I love learning about engineering and physics – indeed, embroidery involves quite a bit of materials science, with different threads and fabrics behaving in different ways.

As the subtitle to my blog implies, I find it easy to nerd out over almost anything, and in that I don’t think I’m alone. There’s currently a boom in interest in knitting, which I hope will be followed by a revival of all sorts of other crafts, including embroidery and bobbin lace. Of course, if anything I write or create helps inspire anyone else to look into our rich crafting heritage, that’s great, but it’s people like Mary we should be looking to, and supporting, as they share their expertise in the crafts for all our benefit.

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Self-discipline is the mind-killer

by Suw on January 6, 2014

When I started my career as a freelance in the late 90s, I thought that working for myself would give me not only autonomy, but also more time to spend on creative projects such as writing. I was right about the autonomy, but very wrong about the spare time. The first couple of years I spent as a freelance I worked as a music journalist. I was very good at the writing part, but rubbish at the getting work part, and as a result I earnt around £8,000 over two years. Even back then, that wasn’t enough to live off and the financial trouble I found myself in killed my creativity stone dead for quite a few years.

I diversified my skillset, got into web design and then social media, even before it was called that, and built my freelance business into a successful tech consultancy which still earns me the majority of my income. (And if you want to hire me, please do get in touch!) As I developed my freelance work, I also learnt how to be self-disciplined. I’ll admit that, in those first two years, I was a bit rubbish at getting stuff done, and even worse at pitching stories to editors. I always hit my deadlines, but it was often a last-minute thing and I rarely had my next commission lined up.

Learning how to manage your time is an essential skill as a freelance, as there’s usually no one managing you, no one to make sure you’re on schedule, no one to help you make decisions and no one to check that you’re working on what is truly most important. In order to be successful, you have to learn how to prioritise, how to control your urge to skive off, how to be honest with yourself about how much work you’ve really done and whether it’s enough. In short, you need to develop your self-discipline learning how to prioritise your task list and then get on with the most important things first, whether you want to or not.

So whenever you have client work to do, work that brings in money and pays the bills, that work tends to get prioritised over everything else. I do love it when I’m really busy and focused on one big project, because it means that I can blot out everything else from my mind and develop a form of constructive tunnel vision that is hugely satisfying. Unfortunately, that also means that other tasks get put to one side, even if they are important. That’s not so good.

A side effect of being self-disciplined and focused on client work is that often, the first things to get put aside are the creative things, the blogging, the stories, the bookbinding. Whereas once I would have an idea for a blog post and then just write it, over the last several years I’ve developed the bad habit of having ideas and then thinking, “I don’t have time for this right now, I’ll write it when I have a moment”. Trouble is, those moments never come. Instead, the idea either gets forgotten, or, worse, written down on a To Do list where it can lurk at me and make me feel guilty about not writing it.

Creative writing is even worse. I have ideas for stories, think that I need a bit of time to flesh them out but that I’ll do it on the weekend rather than right now, and of course the weekend gets filled up with chores or social outings or the gym or work. I do jot them down, but again, they just lurk at me and never get the time or attention they  need to blossom into something writable.

Humans are very adept at learning, even when we don’t realise we are, even when we don’t want to. We might think that we’re in control, but our cats train us just as much as we train our cats. And we are more than capable of training ourselves without even realising it. Tell yourself that you’ll think about this story idea later, and soon enough your brain won’t bother telling you that it’s had an idea. After a while, you’ll forget that you’re even capable of having ideas, and they’ll dry up all together. The self-discipline that keeps business moving onwards is the same self-discipline that kills your creative life stone dead. Self-dicipline is the mind-killer.

At the root of this problem is the failure to align and integrate long-term goals with short-term needs. This is a problem I see a lot with my clients: They are so busy trying to deal with all the urgent stuff that’s screaming for their attention that they have no time or space to think about long-term planning and strategy. They’re too busy reacting to the now to invest resources in the future.

The same is true with our creative lives. We’re often too busy meeting our short term needs to be able to commit the time and resources required to reshape our future. This is especially the case with creative writing. Novels take a lot of time to write, edit and perfect, and the return on that time investment is uncertain at best. If you have a job and clear work-life boundaries, it’s easier to invest some of your personal time to your writing career, but it becomes difficult when those boundaries are blurred, as they so often are for the self-employed.

But “A-ha!” you might say. “All you have to do is turn this much vaunted self-discipline to your writing and bingo! Problem solved!” That is, however, the wrong starting point. The first thing to do is to recast writing not as a hobby or a lottery ticket or as a labour of love, but as work. It is work in the same way that doing the accounts is work, or doing marketing, or going to conferences. It may not pull in money directly, or at least, not to start with, but if you’re serious about becoming a full-time author, as I am, it is essential to commit time to doing it. It is an investment in your future.

I’ve had some luck with this approach in the past, but it can be hard to keep up. The first big client deadline results in the writing and blogging being put on the backburner as priorities shift. Often, though, they don’t shift back again when the deadline passes. The commitment to my writing is, after all, to me and not to an external party who has expectations. It is easier to prioritise external demands over internal desires, and so once again, the balance between client work and writing tips in the wrong direction and it gets harder and harder to get the scales level again.

Complicating matters is the fact that income from writing is unpredictable and patchy. I’ve done well the last few months with the sales of A Passion for Science, the Ada Lovelace Day anthology that I put together. That was only possible because of the generosity and kindness of my contributors, though. My fiction has done less well, not least because I’ve not had much chance to write, so haven’t put new work out, so sales have just fallen off a cliff. It’s a catch-22 in some ways: I could write more if my writing income were higher, but it won’t get higher unless I write more, so we’re back to prioritising the future.

This all leads me to wonder whether using a service like Patreon.com would be a good idea. In short, readers commit to paying a small amount on a regular basis if (and when) I produce a new story, novel chapter, etc. If I had a commitment to keep, and a commitment that involved money, perhaps it would be easier for me to re-catagorise and prioritise my fiction writing as ‘work’. So, what do you think? Is the Patreon model a goer? Would you be up for it?  Let me know what you think!

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2014: A year of massive change?

January 1, 2014

I have high hopes for this year. Last year, 2013, was a weird year. After a great first half, the second half became one giant effort to just cope with everything that was going on. I had my oophorectomy, but lost four work leads because I was off recuperating. As a freelance, that’s really frustrating, [...]

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Final oophorectomy post

December 2, 2013

It’s been six months now since I had my left-hand ovary and fallopian tube removed, along with a shit-ton of endometriosis, and there’s one final, very short update that I wanted to do for any other women who are going through this process. Though, as usual, I must note that this is just my experience [...]

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A quick word on gender parity at WFC2013

August 28, 2013

There’s been a kerfuffle over World Fantasy Con’s response to an author, Tom Pollock, who stepped down from a panel because of a lack of gender parity and was told by the organisers that he had “just excluded himself from all panels”. The tweeter, Pollock’s wife, quoted WFC’s response in a later tweet: Actual quote: “As [...]

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Where did the Queen of the May come from? It’s faerie complicated…

August 18, 2013

Faeries. Fairies. The Fay. The Fae. The Tylwyth Teg. Pixies. Piskies. Pizkies. Pigsies. The Tuatha Dé Danann. Brownies. Titania and Oberon. The Fair Folk. The Wee Folk. The Good Folk. There are, it seems, a boatload of different species of faerie, not to mention a multiplicity of spellings. Had he ever made the attempt, their classification would [...]

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Queen of the May 24 hour sale!

August 5, 2013

It’s four weeks since I released Queen of the May, and so far I’ve been very happy with how well it has been received. As a way of celebrating, I want to give all my blog readers a treat – a 60% discount! Yup, you can get Queen of the May right now for just 99p [...]

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