Tag Archives: Canadian

A year of citizenship and a new publication

Just over a year ago, we took our oath and became Canadian citizens.

Just over a year ago, we took our oath and became Canadian citizens.

So, what has changed for us in that year? What does it mean to be a citizen, as opposed to the Permanent Residents we were before?

Well, not much. We have shiny new passports that mean we don’t have to stop at the border and get visas to cross into the US (saving time and $6 each!). We do get to vote now, which is a privilege and a responsibility, and means we have to think about what our politicians are doing, and how we might get them to stop doing it.

However, even a year on, it still feels like more of a statement than a tactical move – we were saying “we’re here to stay”, and since we’re still here, I guess we were right about that.

It’s been a few years since I published my first e-book, and while I’ve had a few sales and things, I’m not rolling in cash and movie rights offers. While discussing online publishing with some friends, I realised I’ve only used the Amazon Kindle programme to publish with. Since I was hoping to run a talk at my library on the nuts and bolts of E-publishing (A “how-to” rather than a “Write an e-book and become a Bazillionaire!” type of talk), I thought I should check out the other options.

The main counterpart to Amazon is Smashwords. After asking around, most people seemed to be of the opinion that Smashwords is harder to use than Amazon, but they place your e-book in a wider variety of places, electronically speaking.

I dug out an old manuscript, then downloaded the Smashwords style guide to format it correctly. It was not easy, or fun. I use Word a lot, but I don’t do much that is creative and exciting, so using the Smashwords Template and altering the style of each paragraph and manually building the hyperlink chapter headings was actual work for a change (Amazon requires less formatting, but this simply means the ultimate look of your typesetting is up to you. Mine is, therefore, dreadful.) The end result was a little quirky, with each first paragraph after the Chapter Heading in a different font to the rest of the text, but I thought that might be how they roll at Smashwords.

Odder than that was the fact that I hit “Publish” and a few hours later got a congratulatory message saying it was done. Then I got a message saying there were errors with the text and the cover image. I changed the cover image size to the required dimensions. Nothing. I changed it to greater than the required dimensions, and that was ok. I fixed the text and got the congratulations message again.

Seven people downloaded the free first 20% of the book. I’m fairly sure two of them were me. None of us noticed that I had left a chunk of placeholder text at the end of the book, because that wasn’t part of the free download. None of us bought the whole book as a result of the free sample.

I noticed a button that would let me enter my book into the “Premium Catalog”, so naturally I pressed it. This generated a new message telling me about errors that didn’t matter before, but were critical now I was playing in the big leagues. All these errors, by the way, were simply that my formatting did not match up to the requirements of Smashwords – they had nothing to do with the quality of the prose itself. Smashwords cannot detect one dimensional characters, hackneyed plots, on the nose or trite dialogue, or clichèd situations. I can state this with utter certainty.

Having reformatted the whole book once more (and removed the placeholder text at last) I achieved the dizzy heights of the Premium Catalog. Twenty four hours later, I’m still poor as a church mouse, but my book is theoretically available through Barnes & Noble online, iBooks, Kobo (which powers the bookstores of multiple other retailers such as FNAC in France and WH Smith in the U.K.), OverDrive, Flipkart, Oyster, txtr, Baker & Taylor (Blio.com and the Axis360 library platform), and others.

If only it was a good book.

You’ll notice there’s no link to my newly published book. This is because I am not kidding about the quality of it, and I was publishing it simply to try out the process. My conclusion is this: If you’re a wannabe writer and you have some basic skills, go with Amazon. It’s easy and most people will find you if they go looking. If you are serious and you know your way around a Word Processor, it’s worth using Smashwords because of the range of places they can put your book. With some active marketing on your part, you could reach a lot of people.

If you’re really smart and have some time on your hands, write two different series of books, and place one series on each platform.

Advertisements

Still juggling after all these years

Juggling responsibilities....

Keep it all in the air, and don't worry about what happens when you stop...

So I’m still fighting the battle of three fronts, but it feels like the domestic reno fight is being won. We have a beautiful guest bedroom now, with a luxurious carpet, bed, wardrobe and new armchair. Yesterday I took my life in my hands and wired in the new light fitting. I don’t do electrical or plumbing normally. Plumbing has the nasty habit of flooding the house in the time it takes to get the plumber to answer the emergency hotline, and electricity gets you dead before you have time to think “Did I switch off the BZZZZT!” However this was a special case – if we kept the old fitting, people would bang their heads on the shade as they crossed the room, and I wasn’t going to call the electrician out AGAIN…They’ve done brilliantly with the various assigned tasks, but we’ve paid generously for the privilege and the reno fund is dribbling away fast enough already. Anyway, despite spending twenty minutes stood on a chair with my arms above my head, I managed to complete the job and reset the breaker. Then I flipped the light switch and nothing happened. I had time to mutter the rudest word I know, then the light came on. Of course, energy saving bulbs! Ha ha!

The next challenge is going to be the roofing and guttering. A nice man from the local company came out to check over the roof and admitted that it could last another couple of years, but he wouldn’t swear to it. Sadly, the fascias and soffits (my favourite word of the week! Say it three times to yourself and try not to smile…) are almost all rotting and need replacing. Some of these we could *gulp* try to sort ourselves. So, today’s question to consider – should we purchase two very long ladders and twenty metres of soffits and fascias, write off a couple of free days and spend them cursing and swearing because the one sodding screwdriver I need is back on the ground AGAIN and I’m at the top of the ladder holding fifteen screws and a length of soffit….Or should we pay most of the remaining reno fund to the nice man and his company, get the roof and soffits done professionally and admit that the deck was just a lovely dream? Answers on the back of a twenty dollar bill please….

On the work front, I have three whole weekdays off. One I squandered yesterday in catching up on reviewing and buying the new armchair, but since the sun was shining I also walked Moose and got a haircut (I only get haircuts in the sunshine. It’s like not buying a car in the rain.) Today (Day Two) I’m returning stuff to Ikea, doing more reviewing and maybe some writing. I have a screenplay I have resurrected in order to enter it for the wonderful Red Planet Prize (http://www.redplanetpictures.co.uk/prize.php ), since it was co-founded by the brilliant Danny Stack ( http://dannystack.blogspot.com/ ) who I met during our time in Bournemouth. As a Canadian, I’m outside the entry requirements, but once I’ve got the first draft into shape, it’ll go through TLC Creative, who are officially based in the UK and we’ll enter it when we all like it. This is a pet project that I’ve already had rejected by the BBC – it was a proposal for an hour-long comedy drama, then it became a stage musical, now it’s back to the standalone tv piece again. It’s one of the few things I’ve written that has a complete outline for me to work from, but it keeps wriggling and changing while I’m typing, so it may emerge from the process as something different to the piece I originally imagined. As long as it makes me laugh, I’ll be happy. Although a big fat paycheck would be welcome too, obviously.

Speaking of which, the e-book is creeping closer to production. This week I received a full draft version – if we were printing it on paper, this would have been the Galley copy. There are very few typos, and only a few points that need changing. Since it’s coming out as a pdf file, we can include fun stuff like hyperlinks to the plays online so people can read about the play, then follow the link to read the play itself. And since it’s a pdf, you don’t need a dedicated e-book reader to read it. David and Steve have done a brilliant job, adding a series of great comedy pictures and captions to the text, breaking it up and rasing the laugh level considerably. Now we have to sort out the various ways we’re going to sell it : through Lazy bee Scripts (www.lazybeescripts.co.uk ) obviously, but we may host some of the sales direct from the TLC site too (www.tlc-creative.co.uk ).

In more local news, I heard that there was a sale of one of my short plays to a group in Burnaby, just down the road from where I live. I got in touch with them and hope to receive tickets for the show fairly soon. They’re called “Third degree Theatre” (http://bradtones.webs.com/shows.htm ) and their current show is a really good one. I’m jealous! With luck, I should be able to join the group and get them to work with me on some of my more recalcitrant plays, like the wretched Holocaust piece that won’t BEHAVE ITSELF AND STICK TO THE PAGE!

Mrs Dim was suggesting that I revisit the idea of being a playwriting guru, running classes at the local Adult Ed centre, something I’ve always shied away from. I’ve written a lot of plays, most of which have sold and been performed, but do I really have anything to teach? Well, the e-book was part of that experiment. I wrote a book about playwriting, so I must know something about it. Maybe the next stage is setting up a teaching programme.

Ok, I got a job….Now what?

Me, with a real Olympic torch

A real Olympic torch, a real author....

So, that went well. Interview number three, that is. I actually got to feel like a genuine, caring parent, because I made sure Moose got walked before the school run and drove the Weasels to school so I could read to Tiniest Weasel in “Parent Reading Time”. Having rushed through “The Cat in the Hat” (I love the classics) I leapt back in the car and made it to the prospective employment zone in time to meet the Store Manager.

Now, as a point of policy (and not to bore people beyond belief) I’m not going to write about the people or the place where I work unless A: They give me explicit permission to do so or B: It becomes clear that no one there knows or cares about this blog. Since B seems to be the prevailing attitude of the entire world, you may get to hear about it all anyway. But not today.

One of the things I love about being in Canada is the National Pride. Folks love being Canadian. You see it in the advertisements, the fact that the McDonalds arches have a Maple Leaf in the middle, and you can’t miss it right now anywhere in BC. Vancouver is hosting the Winter Olympic games and you can’t move for people in Canada tops, hats, scarves or Olympic mittens. The cars are all festooned with snapping Canada flags, and flags drape the houses, fill the windows, are in every aisle of your favourite Home Improvement Retailer…

It so happens that a couple of our favourite television programmes are on a channel called CTV, and they just happen to be the channel that is screening the principal Olympic coverage. Naturally, their adverts have been saturated with Olympic imagery in the last few weeks, but it’s not just “Watch CTV for the Olympics”, it’s almost all “Support Team Canada” and “Go Canada Go!”. They did a brilliant series of introductions to Canadian Olympians, which made me think – how many members of the British Olympic team could you name? The only one I could really remember was the snotty fourteen year old kid in the posh diving competition*, who blew it at the last minute. What was his name? Exactly. But now we hear about different Canadian Olympians every day. they’re in the papers, on posters in the bus stops, everywhere. I watched the theme song to the Winter Games “I believe”, sung by Nikki Yanovsky and found it very moving. I think I’ve mentioned before, Canadian Pride is a very interesting and non-threatening thing. It’s not about being better than everyone else, not about putting anyone down because they’re NOT Canadian, it’s celebrating the fact that WE ARE Canadian, eh? There are some dreadful commercials by the food suppliers President’s Choice, saying how they supplied some of the food the Canadian Olympians have eaten, and it ends with this “So if they win gold, we’ll take a little of the credit…But not much. After all, we ARE Canadian.”

So tonight, I won’t be celebrating getting a job. Yes,  I’m pleased, it’s a relief and the start of a new phase of life (again!). I’ve noticed how much more I’ve got done in the last few days when I thought I was losing all the time I’ve had at my disposal since we arrived, and I hope I can maintain that momentum when the pace really does pick up. But tonight we’re gathering together as a family and watching the opening ceremony, with popcorn, hot dogs and probably ice cream too. It feels like there’s a great big party here in our adopted hometown and whether there’s any snow up those mountains or not, the world is looking at Vancouver and it would be churlish not to smile and wave. Well, it would be un-Canadian.

*I realise that this may not be the correct name for the event.

10 Things You Won’t Be Expecting From Vancouver (when you come for the Olympics)

The buzz is building in Vancouver and Whistler with less than a fortnight to go before the Olympic Winter Games 2010.  Ever since we arrived, I have been wondering how the visitors from the UK will see my new home city.  Will they be disappointed?  Will they think the friendliness too phoney?  Here’s the 10 things I think you ought to know before you board the plane…

1              It’s ugly. OK, not Downtown, which is full of achingly beautiful soaring skyscrapers and historical buildings, or the sweeping majesty of Canada Place, built to reflect the sails of the thousands of ships that sailed into port here. But outside the beating heart of Downtown, you’ll find roads lined with urban sprawl, strip malls, big boxy shops and warehouses. The key is to lift your eyes, now and then, and glimpse the mountains that line the horizon wherever you go.

2              People really are that nice. You may think this is some sort of effort laid on for the Olympics, but you have to remember these people are Canadians. If they see you looking lost or worried, they’ll ask you if you need help. Total strangers are happy to help you with the complexities of travel on the SkyTrain. Let them – this isn’t the Tube.

3              It’s really this clean all the time. I’m sure there are people who’ve been asked to tidy up especially for the Olympics, but it won’t need a concerted effort to make the place look smart, because generally speaking the city is a clean place. People put their trash in the garbage, to use the local terminology.  And if you put your hand on a piece on gum on the SkyTrain, I’ll bet one of the visitors put it there.

4              No matter what you might have heard, pot is still illegal in British Columbia. You won’t find it being handed out for free on the streets. Smoke it in public, or try to buy or sell it and you WILL be arrested.  OK, you MIGHT be arrested… if the officer doesn’t have anything better to do.

5              You can only buy alcohol in a Liquor Store. It can be annoying, if you’re doing your weekly food shopping and then have to go to an entirely different shop to buy a bottle of wine and some beer, but make the effort. BC wines are worth trying, and the Granville Island beers are terrific. Just don’t try drinking any of them in a public place.  The cop that can’t be bothered to arrest you for smoking pot might suddenly get all conscientious and arrest you for public drinking instead.  Then bust you for the pot you have in your pocket.

6              The Outdoors is more important than the Indoors. Sure, people like their houses to be nice, and they spend plenty of time and money in The Home Depot (the world’s largest Home Improvement Retailer) but they call it “Super, Natural British Columbia” for a reason. That might explain the ugliness in point 1, because everyone’s too busy skiing, cycling, walking the miles of trails and watching the wildlife to worry about town planning and the state of their front yard.  

7              People like being Canadian – if you’re here for the Olympics, you may be impressed by the support for Team Canada, but the odds are those flags are up all year round.  All those special clothes in red and white, with Canada on the front?  We all had them already.  Even our deckchairs have maple leaves on them.  If it stands still long enough, someone will put a maple leaf on it. It’s not a “We’re better than you” kind of thing, everyone’s just so happy to be Canadian, they want the world to know.

8              When we say “multicultural society” we really mean it. Canadians come in all skin tones, sizes and accents, so don’t make assumptions based on the way someone talks. You’ll know they’re Canadian – there’ll be a maple leaf on something they’re wearing if you look hard enough. It’s best not to bring your assumptions at all – that beardie weirdie guy strolling along the pavement towards you wearing scruffy jeans, sneakers and a hoodie may not be homeless; he could be a businessman, a father, or a college graduate. Casual is the ONLY way to dress over here.  So, dress how you like and no one will complain (this guarantee does not cover your spouse or children).

9              Food. This may be North America, but don’t believe that you are condemned to a choice between a famous burger chain or a famous fried chicken franchise. If you understood point 8 about the multicultural society, then you’ll understand there’s a whole world of food to choose from, usually on the same street.  It’s all great, all fresh, usually reasonably priced, and the restaurant staff are just thrilled to meet you.

10           There’s no snow. OK, this may not be a huge surprise, since I hear the news has mentioned it a couple of times. But really, Vancouver is not an icy wasteland populated by lumberjacks and Mounties. We’ve got a temperate climate not unlike that of the UK, with a stunning range of cultural pioneers, pushing the boundaries of art, theatre, film and music for more than one hundred years.  So you are more likely to get rained on than snowed in.  Do what the Vancouverites do; wear a light fleece and a tee shirt, put up with the damp and never carry an umbrella.

And the one thing you should be expecting – it’s a spectacular, beautiful city.  Try this link for a great piece of music and a taste of what’s to come.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xMz2SnSWS4

It’s Christmas time….

I think I’ve said before that, in many ways, this emigration has not been hard. It wasn’t easy leaving family and friends behind, it wasn’t easy having to re-equip a home, and it’s never easy fitting into a new school or new job….But generally things have gone well and we’re settled.

Up til now, the only test has been time. Mrs Dim has a Social Calendar in her head that goes off every few weeks saying “We haven’t seen/heard from so and so, we must call/write/visit/thank our lucky stars..” It’s a supersense she has developed over many years, and is therefore not something that gets deactivated by minor details like moving a few thousand miles. So moments have come and gone where she suddenly sits bolt upright and then slumps slightly… I know she’s thinking “We should go and see…oh.”

But then you get to Christmas. Like any married couple, we have evolved a system for visiting family over the festive period that allows the maximum exposure with the minimum of fuss. Clearly, dropping in on anyone’s parents this year would involve quite a bit of fuss.

It was difficult, but at the same time, it was simple too: There was no way we could go back to the UK and visit. It was not an option. That only left deciding how to spend it here. We’d been invited to some friends of Mrs Dim for Christmas Day, but that didn’t feel right yet, so we plumped for throwing a Christmas Drinks do for the people along our road.

Most of the church stuff was done on Christmas Eve (I’ve decided not to talk about Religion on the blog, at least for the moment) so we spent the afternoon watching the kids being angels, then got a babysitter in so we could go to the evening service. We got to sing my favourite carol, so that got some extra points.

Christmas Day itself was non-standard. Yes, the smaller weasels got up at ten to four in the morning, but they were persuaded to go back to bed. Once everyone was up and conscious we compared the presents we’d been left in our stockings and exclaimed over the sooty footprints by the fireplace. (Some of us, with responsibilities for household cleanliness, exclaimed a little more loudly than others…) Then we clambered into the car and went off up a nearby mountain for tobogganning. I was a little disappointed at how regimented it was, with lanes marked out, rules to follow and a fee to be paid, but actually, none of that matters once you’re hurtling down the slope on your flimsy plastic sled. The views were amazing, and the other people (of which there were many, surprisingly) were good natured. Well of course they were. They were Canadian.

Then we came home and had Hot Dogs for lunch. Yep. With a boned and rolled turkey in the fridge, we had Hot Dogs for lunch. I may never get over that. On Christmas Day, we sat down for our midday meal and ate Hot Dogs. Huh.

Then came the massacre of presents, with wrapping paper everywhere, the dog in a frenzy over her new toys (and everyone else’s new toys – three pieces of Middle Weasel’s action figure were recovered from Moose’s jaws during the day.) And we all got what we’d asked for, more or less. It was good.

THEN came the turkey with all the trimmings, though we skipped both the Christmas Pud and the Christmas Cake, not being big eaters of either of those. We may have to figure something out about those for Mrs Dim next year.

And where was the family in all this? Well, in that magical time after stocking presents but before getting dressed, we hooked the webcam and computer up to the tv in the lounge and went online. We spoke to both sets of parents, my brother and his family, Mrs Dim’s Aunt and Uncle, their children…It felt like they were just around the corner (although my brother’s internet connection is as reliable as British Rail.) We may not be able to drop in at a moment’s notice, but we’re not out of touch. It’s times like these I believe Father Christmas can get around the world in one night – it’s such a small world after all.