The long dark

Dirt_and_Mud_007_-_Mud-500xSome people hate winter. I like it. I like being able to rug up, hide under blankets with a hot water bottle. I like the chill on the air and the sense of losing feeling in my wrists while typing. Well, not that part, but you get the idea.

Summer is, on the other hand, a special hell. The sun is too bright, too intense, my clothes stick to me and whether I’m exerting myself or sitting quite still, I’m covered in sweat. The sweat is moist and uncomfortable — sidebar: I once read a survey that suggested that certain genders “preferred” (if you can call it that) one of two words: Moist, or Soiled — and there’s just no escaping it. Sure I can turn on the new Airconditioner, but that’ll only hammer my electricity bill and a single room for the duration it’s on.

Why am I writing this? No idea, I came here for something else. Ranty McRantFace has taken control and I’m now at a loss.

Ah yes, Grammar.

I’m a writer. Once I’m published I’ll be an author, a singular distinction and subtle but fundamental difference to the former.

And being a writer, I toil over a hot processor for long hours determining the order of words. English ones in this case. Trouble is, I belong to a generation of kids that the “Education System” decided not to bother teaching English Grammar.

“They’ll pick it up”, seems to have been the pervading mindset. And in the time saved, we’ll teach the kids SPORT!

And what this taught me was a pervading dislike of team sports, at least the way they’re played in general. The concept of “sportsmanship” was replaced — to my eyes — with puffed chests and arrogance from the winners, the endless drubbing of the losers.

Again I’ve gone off on a tangent. That’s me I’m afraid. Easily distracted.

So, grammar is one of those things I don’t have much of a clue about. And many years ago I was asked to help edit a magazine. My contribution was in hindsight basic in nature. I could see when things weren’t working, and the “read it out loud” approach to editing would always save things. Try it, you’ll trip over words and sentences that are poorly phrased.

But here’s the odd thing.

The teachers were right in the end. Not about specific knowledge of the use of Adverbs and past participles, but that I picked up the language and could work out how to use it.

At least, that’s what I think. Subjectively I mean. Objectively I might be throwing words at the page like a kid throws mud at a wall. Only a future publisher will be able to tell me that. Which reminds me, I need to edit this damn book for a final time. And find an agent. And write a synopsis.

So enough distractions.

Moi Rools 4 Ritng

A_broken_pencilWritten as a reminder for editing purposes. Nothing to see here except cringe-worthy mistakes I’ve been guilty of in the past.

This is a growing list which may be categorised and expanded at a later date.

  • Simple wins.
  • Spellcheck is my friend.
  • Avoid MS Office.
  • Backup. Regularly. I mean it! And not just in one place.
  • An expert is, by definition, knowledgeable about a subject. Plot never trumps their expertise. See also, Prometheus.
  • Shoehorning plot into dialogue can be problematic.
  • Plot can be as complicated as I like, but at the end of the day, if I can’t understand it without an Ouija board and a flow-diagram, I need to simplify.
  • Two characters may know the backstory, but they shouldn’t explain it to each other.
  • Don’t labour the point; rewrite so it’s simple and clear.
  • Simple wins.
  • Did I mention about backing up?
  • Don’t oversimile; it’s as messy as a walrus who’s eaten a bad seal.
  • Conflict is good; melodrama is not. Telling the difference between the two may require downing tools and picking up at a later date.
  • Super-Characters (A.K.A. people who walk through the world without difficulty and who can catch bullets in their teeth) are boring. Think Indiana Jones and Ellen Ripley, not Superman.
  • Enjoyment comes from writing for me first, and if others like it, that’s great and may mean I get to eat this week.
  • Men are not superior to women.
  • Skin tone doesn’t matter.
  • Characters develop over time, so don’t just yank them out immediately.
  • If a character is in the story, it has to be for a plot related reason, not because it seemed like a good idea.
  • Reverse tropes wherever possible. Men are not manly; women are not feminine, people who are not lily white are not the enemy. Everyone’s people.

 

Should have been an Olympian

BillyMills_Crossing_Finish_Line_1964OlympicsJust completed the book, edit 10, which clocks in at 78,000 words.

It’s a bit of an anticlimax to be honest, especially in these days of Th€ O£ympic$ ©®™ and highly trained athletes crossing the finish line to the adoration of millions.

Writing isn’t a spectator sport. It’s held in quiet venues in the absence of an audience. It’s a sport for introverts. Watching it would be as dull as watching paint dry. There’s no competition here, it’s a series of personal bests; I finished that scene, that chapter, that book; I rewrote and it’s better. Every version is an improvement. I’m no Michael Moorcock; it took two years to get here. And I try not to say “I’ve finished” because people keep giving me funny looks. But I really am now. Honest. And besides, writing is like software development; you should never go with version 1. In Pseudocode terms;

Begin

Write;

Rewrite;

Until done.

Determining “Done” is a goal unto itself. It’s four parts toil and one part perfectionism. But the trap for me has been to toil without feedback, because without it, I could never be truly objective. Constructive feedback is good — point out the shortcomings and the good stuff — so thanks to Gem and Monika for helping there. It’s also the editing. Because when you edit from the beginning, you can see what’s working and what has to go. This final version is 78,000 words, I’ve written and cut triple that.

Now there’s a final read-through to iron out any phrasing weirdness, and then the hard part: find an agent.

So if you know of anyone who handles Sci-Fi Mystery Thrillers, let me know.

 

 

 

The Strange Game of Hyde & Seek

hyde-seek-dvdNathan Hill’s The Strange Game of Hyde & Seek is a riff on Robert Louis Stevenson‘s immortal work “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde”, published 130 years ago this year.

We open with a growly narrator, who will soon turn out to be Jekyll (pronounced Jeekl, rather than the traditional JekEl that most productions go with). Intercut with this is a woman on all fours being slowly pursued by a shadowy figure. This has S&M overtones rather than horror, and it’s hard to tell whether this was intentional or not. Continue reading “The Strange Game of Hyde & Seek”

Vampire Mac

My Macbook Pro is a vampire, and has sucked every little bit of love I had for Apple out of me. All that remains is a sense of disappointment and loss.

I’ve loved Apple since my father brought home our first computer, the Apple ][ europlus (the ][ plus for Europe). It was a thing of beauty, and held its own against the Vic 20, Commodore 64, Atari games boxes and just about everything else that popped into existence at the time.

Even when we moved over to a PC, there was still a feeling we’d traded down, not up. Beige boxes were hardly the things dreams were made of.

I regained the love back in 2001 with my first ever Mac, the aluminium PowerBook, 11 inches of screen, lovely small keyboard and a general sense of well-being in the face of the abominable Windows variants.

Everything was easier, simpler. More streamlined.

A friend once remarked: You buy a PC if you want tech support, you buy a Mac to do work.

And over the years I bobbed between different Macs, a bubble iMac g3, a G4 PowerMac (two actually), a clamshell iBook (a laptop with a handle! What a useful little machine! And even though it was nicknamed the “toilet seat”, I could build magazines, do writing and even a little graphic design on this baby), and a white iBook too (less impressive in the handle department, but still a nice piece of kit). Never once did I think of going back to the worrying world of PC. Every subsequent version of the Mac OS improved things, streamlined and kept things clear and easy to use. Every subsequent version of Windows, that I could see, turned peoples hair whiter and whiter, and apoplectic rage ruled the day when trying to network the damn things together.

I remember a moment with some friends in my car. Four macs connected within seconds creating their own wireless network. To this day, Windows can’t do stuff like that.

A couple of years ago, I dabbled with Ubuntu 12 on a machine I found on the side of the road, but it had no utility; everything it could do, my Macbook could do better. It was a white one, purchased in 2008, and had run 10.5 (the first operating system I’d ever bought), and 10.6. And it worked well and kept me going for seven years.

Over time, I found Apple’s own software was becoming bloated (iTunes and iPhoto were the main contenders for The Biggest Loser). They’d started out as such innovative, simple ways to manage music and photos and became feature-heavy and difficult to use.

So I investigated alternatives and got out of using pre-packaged software in favour of open source which lightened the load. VLC was a great alternative to iTunes, and I found a piece of software which would do everything iPhoto could, but wouldn’t hide my photos under endless metadata. The only thing iTunes did which there is no alternative for, was the music and video store. To this day I’m unsure of how to substitute this, and I expect I’ll have to use iTunes in an emulator.

But I digress…

The Macbook wasn’t perfect though. Trying to plug in the DVI output to an HDMI TV was an exercise in extreme frustration; I ended up finding out the on-board video card in Macs had some kind of handshake issue where it wouldn’t bother communicating with the HDMI on the other end, and so picture and audio would just disappear. But this was overcome with Plex media server and an ethernet cable, so it was all tickety-boo again.

But upon purchase of the new 2012 Macbook Pro, things took a nosedive.

Prior to purchase, I upped the hard drive capacity and maxed-out the memory. And to this day it is sluggish as hell. Upon unpacking, I made a fatal mistake: I upgraded the operating system – as recommended in the App store – to Mavericks. This was a sub-optimal decision. It failed twice on install, and the mac was never quite the same again.

Mavericks introduced some irritations which I was sure I’d pointed and laughed at in Windows Vista. Why the hell was I being prevented from using software I’d downloaded? Turned out I had to go to Finder and right-click>open on the application then choose deliberately to open before the system would allow me to use it.

But the hardware was the bigger issue. Apple was kind enough to replace the logic board, but it didn’t solve the majority of the problems.

It was the sleep issue which drove me to despair. You know on older Macs when you close the lid and you’ve got a sliver of red on the battery indicator and ten seconds before the whole thing powers down? Then when you open the lid again, and plug in the power, it’ll restore from a hard drive backup, slowly becoming clearer on the screen while the status blobs illuminate? Well I have this on my brand new fully charged Macbook pro, all the bloody time. And even when the screen comes back, it takes another minute for the mouse to become active. Mac experts and service people repeatedly told me there was nothing wrong with the machine.

It’s only recently I’ve discovered this is, in developer parlance, a feature, not a bug. It turns out because of some European directive, computers have to deactivate fully while in powered sleep mode, rather than staying on standby. That Mac rolled this out across the board is logical from a purely business standpoint – why have Macs that operate one way in one region of the planet and operate differently everywhere else? – it’s really painful to have a fully charged computer and have to go off and make a cup of tea while the damn thing wakes up. It’s like I’m using a 386 computer running MS DOS.

Alone, that would be a poor excuse to cut ties with the company that I’ve enjoyed for so long. However, the operating systems and software though provide a more than ample excuse.

If Mavericks was a step backwards, Yosemite had a shovel and started digging.

The UI looked very snazzy, but it seemed less than the sum of its parts. It was like by flattening the icons and display, the experience of using the software was similarly rendered two dimensional.

And where the hell did the scrollbars go (another hunt through Google to find how to turn them back on again)? And why when I upgraded, did some of my software stop working? Well, it was because Apple engineers had introduced a new security feature (again, very Vista-like) which I had to research online and actually go in as an administrator and hack the bloody system.

Copying from external hard drives is similarly vexing. Partway through a copy, Finder will conk-out and declare the destination drive is full (it’s not. It’s got Two Terabytes on it, ninety percent of which is EMPTY!). And it does this over and over again. Doesn’t matter how the drives are formatted, whether they’re connected directly to the computer or networked over wi-fi or Ethernet, the same damn message happens. I’m now at a point where I’m copying individual files and hoping for the best.

(And before you go on about Time Machine, and other solutions, this is for a NAS I’m setting up, and the drive connected to the router must be a specific format, which Time Machine doesn’t accept, because “Reasons”. I could also use Terminal commands to transfer from “A” to “B”, but my point is that This Shouldn’t Be Hard.)

Now occasionally upon Restart, the screen alternates between a blank white screen, a world icon, to the apple icon, to the folder question mark and back to the apple icon. I think it’s dying and I have to say if it were an animal, I’d put it out of its misery. And given the annoyance and despair this Mac has invoked in me, it’ll be with a hammer.

As an experience, an overall sense of usability and utility, it feels to me that this isn’t Apple any more. You know, the company that ran the “I’m a Mac” ads a decade ago. But rather than becoming stodgy and conservative business-computers, it’s become an obscene fashionista. Don’t get me started on the $10,000 iWatch. This is what luxury brands like Dolce Gabanna or Louis Vuitton would do. Apple is no longer the cool kid with the edgy, interesting, innovative approach to computing, music and video. It’s entered parody-space, where four or five versions down the track, an Apple computer will have two buttons to encapsulate the entirety of Human expression.

And to add insult to injury, I feel like one of those music fans who eternally pines for the “old stuff”, the stuff that the band made before they got Really Big. I used to roll my eyes at people like that, but now I’m one of them.

Seance (2011)

SeanceSeance is described as a mystery thriller, and in the 1970’s might have passed muster, but in the second decade of the twenty first century, the movie is a grindingly slow affair that could actually have deserved the genre classification had it been 2/3 shorter. Continue reading “Seance (2011)”

Book update: Insanity Edit is GO.

 

sanity-edit-complete

Some news on the book.

So it’s got a title finally. It went through a few iterations, including “Insert Name Here”, “Fuck Knows”, “Shit, Meet Fan”, “Hot Cell” and “Happy Landings”. The one I’ve settled on is “Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself”, which when you finally read the book will be a Pun; you’ll like it, trust me. Continue reading “Book update: Insanity Edit is GO.”