Category Archives: Writing

Blog posts that have to do with my playwriting, Community Theatre or freelance writing interests.

May the Fours be with you…

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Still putting one foot in front of the other, with three Weasels in tow…

It’s my forty-fourth birthday. Despite dire warnings regarding fruit and vegetables and the necessity thereof, I’m still here. Which is nice.

This summer has been long and very, very pleasant. We’ve had a visit from my parents and been out to see new places, as well as revisiting some old favourites. The Weasels have had independent adventure time, and plenty of family time too. Mrs Dim and I managed to take simultaneous vacations and discovered that we still like each other very much.

In past years I’ve put my books on sale and encouraged new readers to try them, but I think there’s enough misery in the world right now thanks to Brexit and the US elections, so instead I’m encouraging everyone to embrace the spirit of the Fours and review four books. ANY four books. Doesn’t matter if it’s a book you read last week, or your childhood favourite. Doesn’t matter if you post the review on Amazon, or on Facebook, or on a sheet of A4 pinned to the nearest telephone pole.

Reviews matter. They matter to the poor author who has torn their hair out arranging these 100,000 words into that specific order for your pleasure. They matter to other readers, who want to know if this is a book they should devote time to. And if Oprah and Richard and Judy and their ilk can influence entire countries to buy a book (“50 Shades” and “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” respectively) then you can encourage people too. Even if it’s just the author, relieved that someone has READ their book, thank you.

You don’t have to be a literary critic. You don’t have to analyse the beats of the plot, or the structure, or the effectiveness of the b-story. Did you like the book? Did it grip you from the beginning? Could you see it happening in your head as you read it? Did you want to read it right to the end? Were you sad when it was finished? These are the things people want to know about the books, not whether the symbolism was richly influenced by the pre-modernistic fiction of Northern France.

Summer’s pretty much done, and as Sean Bean is always here to remind us….

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Dammit, Sean, YOU HAD ONE JOB! Try again….

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Right. Thank you.

Yes, Winter is coming, so no more lying in a hammock reading books. Now comes the time for curling up in an armchair near the fire with books. It’s completely different.

So, may the fours be with you. Go FOURth and review books.

Adventures in Tech

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Writing is always going to be difficult, one way or another. If it was easy to write brilliantly, we’d all do it and no author would ever have a crisis of confidence, or hangups about plot or character.

As I’ve mentioned before, there are plenty of books that will tell you they have a surefire method to make the process of writing easier, and just like them there’s a lot of software geared towards helping the struggling author sort their ideas out and get them written down.

This week my struggles have been of a different nature. My dear old netbook, veteran of a dozen plays and several e-books, has reached the point of no return. After rejecting Windows 10 over fifteen times, it finally caved and installed the new OS, resulting in a twenty minute start-up time, followed by enough time to brew fresh coffee in between opening programs, or switching from one thing to another. This could not stand, but since this is a Dell Netbook, there’s no chance of upgrading the hardware (not at my level of expertise, anyway…)

There were two options:

  1. Buy a new Netbook. $399 or more.
  2. Experiment with reviving the netbook as a Chromebook for free.

Option 1 was my favourite, so I looked at my finances. Option 2, then.

Now, I’m not very technically gifted. But I had the distinct advantage here of starting with a machine that could get no more broken. Even if I totally borked this installation, things would be no worse than they already were. Yay.

I did some careful research…well, ok, I Googled a couple of things and then took my folks out for the day.

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(My parents are visiting from the UK.)

I asked about on Google Plus and people seemed moderately ok about the idea of working on a Chromebook. Not overwhelmingly enthusiastic, but it seemed that I would at least be able to do SOMETHING on the new machine which is, as stated, a step up.

I visited the Neverware site to use their “Cloudready” software. The step by step guide I was using really wanted me to understand that I would be losing everything from the hard drive of the machine I was Chroming, but that was ok with me. If I hadn’t backed it up by now, I didn’t need it. Probably.

Things weren’t quite as easy as the guide suggested, but I was able to manage. My main issue was that, once I had created the boot disc on the USB stick (wait, shouldn’t that be “boot stick”? What kind of world are we living in where people need a boot stick?), the machine didn’t recognise the file. I had to restart the computer (as we know, a twenty minute process) and then catch that brief moment when you’re offered boot options if you hit F12.

Once I did that, Cloudready took over and the process began. In about an hour it was done, though I wasn’t entirely sure when I was supposed to remove the USB. As a result I wasn’t actually working on the real installation for the first twenty minutes, but the one running from the stick, however that works.

A whole day later, and I have the machine a little better organised. I have some music and movies stored on the local hard drive (more or less), since I’ll often be working on the machine while it’s offline. I’ve ensured that the Google Docs software is configured to allow me to work on files while offline too, and the whole thing runs a lot faster than it used to. It’s still not as fast as a new machine, but I can switch it on and be working in five minutes instead of twenty. And actually working, not poking at the keyboard and swearing while I wait for it to catch up.

The big test will come in a couple of weeks, when an aspect of my library work will give me three hours of peace and uninterrupted quiet to work on the final third of the latest play. I’m going to be using the Chromebook. As long as I have figured out exactly who DID dun it for my whodunnit, I’ll be relying on my revitalised machine to get the words down.

After another visit to the pub…

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Favourite books of the week

Since I raved about LJ Cohen’s space masterpiece last week (or thereabouts) it seems only fair that I mention two books that have been delighting me since then.

Available from Amazon

A colleague at the library asked me if I’d read this book, and I had to admit I’d picked it up a couple of times but not committed to reading it. Finally convinced by the presence of Toffos on the cover, I took it home and read half of it that night, only putting it down because 1am is too late to be reading when you have a 6am start.

The book is a collection of letters written by Nina to her sister Victoria. Nina is working as a nanny to a couple of boys in London in the 1980s, and the letters really concern themselves mostly with everyday life, which sounds dull, but the family live over the street from Alan Bennett (who drops in regularly for tea), a few doors along from Jonathan Miller (who lends them a saw to trim their Christmas tree) and round the corner from a famous novelist.

The everyday life that Nina describes is crazy and strange, and yet completely believable. You only catch a glimpse of Margaret Thatcher once or twice, and there’s no mention of The Falklands War, or Northern Ireland, or unemployment (which are my abiding memories of the 80’s). It’s just the real (and sometimes surreal) life of a single Mum and her two boys, along with the young woman who helps them out with the little things, like cooking and playing, but not cleaning.

And it’s a lot more funny and interesting than I made it sound. Sorry.

Available from Amazon

Continuing the theme of real lives from a time I remember, I picked up Simon Pegg’s autobiography expecting the kind of detail-lite life story that I’ve often read in other celeb’s books. But this is not the case here. While the non-linear structure can make it tricky to parse the actual timeline of Simon’s life (he leaps about through time talking about his developing love of acting and comedy, the girls he’s loved and the major influences on his life and his work), this is a book worth reading. He uses his academic chops to dissect the appeal of Star Wars to the generation upon which it burst, and while I’ve read similar explanations in drier books, Pegg’s love of the movie and his unapologetic dislike of the prequels is backed up with solid reasoning. He’s famous for a quote about being a geek… Hang on, I’ll go find it….

This attitude comes through strongly in the book – Simon has discovered things he loves, and he doesn’t see why they should be treated with any less reverence than sports fanaticism, or classical theatre.

Another thing worth mentioning is his theory of microcosmic accretion (although that’s my term for it). He’s looking at the reason he became part of a group that went on to such success – Edgar Wright, David Walliams, Jessica Hynes and many others. His theory is that similar interests and life views filter people towards one another, which I guess only works if you embrace those loves and are willing to stand up for them. He’s discovered that both he and Edgar Wright were in the same movie theatre for the premiere of “Akira” in the UK when they were in their teens, though they didn’t meet and begin collaborating until years later. He and the woman who ultimately became his wife had many friends in common and had even been in the same locations a couple of times before actually meeting.

We (outsiders) often look at groups that change their chosen field and remark how strange it is that so many people of a similar mind should emerge at the same time – Monty Python, or George Lucas, Spielberg and Coppola. Pegg’s theory is that this is not Fate, but the inevitable consequence of admitting the things you love, and giving full rein to your enthusiasms.

I’m in awe of the fact that he’s met so many of his childhood idols – Leonard Nimoy, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, Gillian Anderson, JJ Abrams. It seems the only one he missed out on was Lee Majors. There may be an argument that fortune plays a part in his success, but if so, it’s a very minor one. Simon identified his loves early on, and worked hard to achieve his success. Stand up is no easy route to take, and along the way he’s made sure he kept his friends around him and makes no secret of his admiration for the talents of others.

 

 

The Great Canadian Adventure is FREE!

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Yes! To celebrate the fact that it’s been EXACTLY 7 years, 2 months and 14 days since we arrived in Canada, I’m giving away my account of our first year here for FREE!

It’s filled with fun pictures and interesting facts! It’s an e-book, so people won’t see it on your shelf and ask why you bought it! It’s free, so you won’t regret spending money on it! And it’s an Amazon product so you can leave reviews warning others away from making a similar error!

(I may not be good at this marketing thing.)

You can get your copy from Amazon.com, or Amazon.co.uk . If you live somewhere else, check out your local Amazon site and see if it’s free there too!

And ok, yes, it may not be because of the timing, but because i haven’t given away any of my e-books in a long time. There’ll probably be other giveaways coming up soon. I’m busy working on a new play, co-writing the next pantomime, and there’s a side-project running over on Wattpad that I’m not convinced will be worth publishing, but is making me smile. Also, I haven’t made any kind of replica film prop for more than a week.*

 

 

 

*There may be a complete set of plans for a Cyberman head in the bottom drawer of my desk. I refuse to comment.

My Imaginary Friends

Sydney the red nosed etc

Sometimes, as parents, we ignore the advice we give our own children. We eat sugary foods after nine o’clock at night. We drink more than we should. We talk to strangers.

When Eldest Weasel was born, we were living in Wales, and though there were folks around us, none of them were long-term friends. I was home, raising a baby for the first time, and I didn’t have a peer-group. Lucky for me, we had an internet connection, and I began to explore the world of online communication. I had started writing, after all, and wanted to build a relationship with potential readers.

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At the time, Yahoo was running a social media site called “Yahoo 360”. It looked a lot like Facebook, and before too long I was “talking” daily with a bunch of people there. We talked about books, and tv programmes, and how our days were going. I didn’t know them as actual people – the picture above is the avatar I used, and most of the others had avatars that didn’t show their actual faces. Or species.

Sadly, 360 didn’t last much longer than our time in Wales, and I didn’t find a suitable replacement for many years. I still have some of the stories I was told by those people, and still think of them fondly – some had user names that crop up from time to time in other contexts. I don’t care what my kids tell me about Mario, for me Bowser will always be the name of a small dog wearing goggles.

These days, as I’ve often mentioned, I hang out at G+. It may not be popular with the media, who love to announce the demise of the platform every few months, but I have a healthy circle of friends on there, and they help me out with my stuff and vice versa. Recently one of my online friends let me know she was going to be in Vancouver, and could she drop by?

Me and Lisa

Lucky for me, her visit coincided with my break at work, so I got to show her the library where I work, and then we sat in the sun and chatted. Since Lisa’s husband’s work takes him on many trips, she’s recently begun meeting up with the folks she’s met online when the destinations coincide, and so far, she says “none of them have been axe murderers!”

It was great to meet Lisa, because she’s what I think of as a “proper” writer. She’s written five novels (with a sixth on the way) and she has two collections of short fiction available too: check out her website.

I picked up the audio copy of her Sci-Fi novel “Ithaka Rising”, the sequel to “Derelict”. It’s great stuff, and available at Audible. Lisa is a “proper” writer because she does the work, just like S.A. Hunt, who I wrote about recently. She produces a first draft then gets it professionally edited before going into re-writes. Her covers are gorgeous and produced in consultation with professional artists. Once she has the complete product, she works hard on the sales, the word of mouth, the reviews and the recommendations. She networks well, and the people who have met or spoken to her are happy to pass on a recommendation – she’s good at what she does!

It was great to meet Lisa and to be reminded that there are people behind those tiny square pictures. It’s nice to know that the conversations I have with my imaginary friends aren’t sailing off into the ether, but connecting me to real people, wherever they are int he world. So if you’re ever tempted to shut down Facebook and make some “genuine” connections, take a second to think what it is that’s making you think like that. You can choose what you communicate, no matter the medium, and it doesn’t matter how the message is delivered if it touches someone’s life.

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Waiting for Twist Stiffly – RPI Players

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I was delighted to get a Tweet from the RPI Players this week, telling me they had completed their run of “Waiting for Twist Stiffly” and enjoyed the play very much. They had the very talented Demetrius Green (photographybydegrees.com/) on … Continue reading

The Flash Fantasy Project 5: non-epic tales of other lands

WP_20151109_001 (2)The final descent into the valley was steep, and made trecherous by loose scree. Tired feet stumbled, and though their packs held only the last scraps of food, they still weighed heavily on their shoulders.

Silence lay thick amongst the ancient ruins. Bordin walked steadily at the back of the group, unwilling to intrude on his friends’ air of reverence. These were the homes of their ancestors, and they were the first of their people to walk these streets in hundreds of years.

Frembar halted the company a few times, checking his faded and worn map. He lead them through the remnants of the once-proud city, now just walls, paved sections of street and smashed statuary.

After a while they turned aside from the main streets, weaving through smaller ruins until they found themselves inside a building that backed on to the slope of the valley itself. Frembar pushed aside debris and rubble to clear the very back wall. Dusk was coming on, so torches were lit and the flickering light picked out a design, cleverly manufactured into the brickwork. Bordin gasped. It was the same symbol that had been carved into his father’s work chest, the very thing that had tipped him into this adventure.

The others were muttering now. A couple had fallen to their knees, and old Wargon was actually weeping. Frembar, however, seemed unmoved. Consulting the map again, he pushed hard at a number of bricks in the design and they sank back into the wall. Each brick made a satisfying “clunk!” and then the wall shook and folded down, becoming the floor of a new chamber.

The company cheered as one and stepped forward eagerly, pushing past Frembar who stood holding his map. Bordin wondered if they’d even need it again.

“Look!” called Wargon, “Ahgscript!”

He was at the far end of the new chamber, his torch held aloft and illuminating strange runic characters carved deep into the wall.

“Can you read them?” asked Frembar.

Wargon sneered.

“Better than I can read YOUR handwriting, you young whippersnapper! Just give me a moment to get used to the light.”

Everyone waited as patiently as they could while the elder waved his torch back and forth, muttering to himself and shaking his head. When he shuffled back to the beginning of the carving for the fourth time, Frembar burst out:

“For the love of Egbar’s beard, old man! What does it SAY?”

Wargon turned to face them, the picture of dismay.

“It says the door to the hidden treasury will only open on Vilbard’s Day each year!”

“So? When’s that?”

Wargon would not meet Frembar’s irate gaze.

“Six months from now.”

The shocked silence was broken by Bordin’s raucous laughter. Frembar turned outraged eyes upon him.

“What”, he demanded frostily, “is so funny?”

Bordin gulped and hiccuped his way back to sensibility.

“It’s just”, he said, hiccuping again, “that if we hadn’t taken that shortcut with the eagles, we’d be arriving right on time!”

And he was off again, his laughter ringing off the chamber walls and his stony-faced companions.

It was going to be a long six months.

It’s not the end of the world….

Missing lynxAccording to the stats page of this blog, someone has been looking for the script to my sketch “It’s not the end of the world”, but the page they looked at included an old link that doesn’t work anymore. Rather than contact me (or, I guess, Lazy Bee Scripts), the person has come back a few times to check if the link has been fixed.

Since it takes a while for me to get a hint, I’ve finally fixed the link today. It works on the original page and here too.

If you spot any other missing lynx…er….links, please let me know so can fix them!

Reading the Last Discworld Novel – The Shepherd’s Crown

The last Discworld book completed by Terry Pratchett.

The last Discworld book completed by Terry Pratchett.

When Middle Weasel was nine years old, we read her “The Wee Free Men“. It had been around for seven years at that point, but the main character, Tiffany Aching was nine years old too. She is a determined young girl, looking to make sense of the world, unwilling to take at face value the nebulous explanations offered by adults . In this way, she and Middle Weasel were very much alike. In the book, Tiffany decides that she wants to be a witch, and when the Baron’s son goes missing, Tiffany goes off to save him. She knows that in the “real” world, it’s boys who do the saving and girls that get saved, but no one can give her a good reason why this is so. Armed with a frying pan, she defeats the Queen of the Fairies and restores Roland to his father, earning the respect of the senior witches along the way. She also learns a lot about herself.

wee_free_menThe Wee Free Men is supposed to be a children’s story, but it’s by Terry Pratchett and it’s got a lot to it. There’s comedy, certainly, provided by the titular blue heroes, who generally help Tiffany. But there’s a lot of philosophy too, a lot of musing on the reality of life, and why we see things a certain way. Terry Pratchett has always flipped genre stereotypes, and here he takes on the massive task of inverting the old prejudice against the old woman who lives on her own in the woods with only her herb garden and cats for company.

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Middle Weasel liked the book, primarily for the comedy, but enough that she took on the subsequent Tiffany Aching Stories. Either with us or alone she read “A Hat Full of Sky” and “Wintersmith” and “I shall wear midnight“. Along the way, Tiffany grows up, sometimes a little faster than Middle Weasel. She learns that being a witch is more about not using magic, not because you can’t, but because you can. It’s about doing the job that’s in front of you. It’s about helping everyone in a million tiny ways, and not expecting thanks. It’s about learning that when you dig a hole well, your only reward is a bigger shovel.

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Tiffany faces challenge after challenge in the series, and each time the challenge is brought about by who she is, and resolved by it too. The other witches support her, but never do the job for her. By the time we reach “The Shepherd’s Crown“, Tiffany is in her teens and working flat out as the only witch on the Chalk – the downs where she lives, not terribly unlike Wiltshire, where Terry Pratchett made his home.

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I felt guilty when I heard that Terry Pratchett had completed this last book before he died – guilty because I was pleased. When Douglas Adams died, I eagerly bought the collection “The Salmon of Doubt“, because it contained seven chapters of an incomplete Dirk Gently Novel, but reading those chapters and knowing the story would never be finished was terrible. The introduction to “The Shepherd’s Crown” explains that Terry Pratchett would probably have revised this version of the book a few more times before publication had he had the chance, but I’m glad it was published. Other stories and outlines that were incomplete at his death will never see the light of day, something I am simultaneously sad about and glad for. His daughter recently said on Twitter that she might work on tie-ins or spin offs, but the books “remain sacred to Dad”.

Some fans have read all but the last page of the book, so that the Discworld novels will never end for them. I couldn’t be that way, devouring the book in a single night. The story is classic Pratchett, and I found it more satisfying than the last Sam Vimes outing (“Snuff“) or the final Moist Von Lipwig story (“Raising Steam“) even though I’m a big fan of both of those series too. The story does leave one thread loose, but not in a way that will bother most readers. I won’t go into the story itself, because you should read it – and if you haven’t already, start with “The Wee Free Men” and work your way through, learning about Discworld witchcraft along with Tiffany.

Quite early on in the book, Death comes calling. Death is a frequent character in all of the Discworld novels, and actually is the central character in more than one. As anthropomorphic personifications go, he’s a kindly reaper, and in this instance he says more than he usually would about the nature of the life led.

“…YOU HAVE LEFT THE WORLD MUCH BETTER THAN YOU FOUND IT, AND IF YOU ASK ME, said Death, NOBODY COULD DO ANY BETTER THAN THAT…”

(For those who don’t know, Death always speaks in all caps.)

It struck me, on reading this line, that this was a worthy aim for all of us. Instead of trying to change the whole world, instead of raging and demanding it change to conform to our view of right, perhaps we should do the job in front of us, help those around us, and do it because it’s the right thing to do, not because we expect to benefit.

Free again!

Free until Friday! Probably should have mentioned this  earlier...

Free until Friday!
Probably should have mentioned this earlier…

Thanks to an attack of camping, I’ve been offline for the first couple of days of the free giveaway of “Tribute” my only YA novella (so far…)

“Tribute” tells the story of Lisa, who has grown up thinking that legendary rock guitarist Stone was her father, only to discover, on the day of his funeral, that she might actually be the child of the band’s frontman and long forgotten star, Pitch Blend.

Lisa struggles to bring her parents together and find her own place in the world in this coming of age story.

Which is free, on Amazon until Friday.

Amazon US

Amazon CA

Amazon UK