Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Amazon's Confusing Automated Communications

Image CC0 via Pixabay

Like it or not, writers are affected by Amazon. Amazon will sell our books. Reviews on Amazon can encourage people to buy our books. So it is quite scary when an author receives an email from Amazon that threatens severe penalties (such as not being able to sell books) - without even specifying what it is the author has done to receive the warning, or offering any appeal. I experienced this recently, and it was a stressful situation. It is the equivalent of police warning you that "If you, or someone you know, continues to do something which we won't specify, then you'll be locked up, and you can't appeal against our decision or question what you're supposed to have done or what evidence we think we have." Then add to that the fact that you haven't done anything, but seem to be targeted for an act someone else (unknown to you) has done. Bizarre, isn't it? But when organisations like Amazon get so big they start to rely on software algorithms to flag things up - especially when that software is flawed, or creates false positives - things get worrying.

This is the shocking email I woke up to a couple of weeks ago:
From: review-seller-appeals@amazon.co.uk
Sent: 05 April 2017 04:08
Subject: Policy Warning


We have determined that your account is related to accounts that have written Amazon customer reviews for products that you have a financial interest in. This may include products that you or your competitors sell. Family members or close friends of a seller on Amazon may not write reviews for the seller’s items or negative reviews for items sold by that seller’s competitors. Sellers are not allowed to manipulate ratings, feedback, or customer reviews.

If this problem continues, we may not allow you to sell on Amazon.co.uk.

To learn more about this policy, search for "Prohibited Seller Activities and Actions" in Seller Central Help.


Seller Performance Team
Amazon Services
I have no idea what it refers to, and still don't - Amazon refused to reply to any of my follow up emails. All I know is that it must be a false positive. I am not an Amazon Seller, and am unable to even login and see any contents in Seller Central Help - which is one of the huge warning flags that Amazon is incorrectly sending out automated warnings.

In case it is of interest, this is the reply I sent to Amazon nearly two weeks ago. As stated, I didn't get a reply, or even acknowledgement of their error. All that stands is the threat to my livelihood if their software creates another false positive. I write horror, but this is scarier than anything in my books. Has anyone else received a message like this?
From: Karl Drinkwater
Sent: 05 April 2017 10:14
To: review-seller-appeals@amazon.co.uk
Cc: Jeff Bezos
Subject: RE: Policy Warning

Dear Amazon,

Please can you give me some more information.

The only products I "have a financial interest in" are my books. But my family do not write reviews. I only have two friends on Facebook, and they don't read my work. I have many followers on Facebook and Twitter and Goodreads, but they are fans of my work, not "close friends". I do not leave negative reviews for other authors - if I don't like a book, I just don't mention it. I do not write reviews for the books of close friends.

Therefore, please can you tell me _something_ about the review or user this relates to. Being told that Amazon will close your account if you do something a second time, without defining what that thing is or giving any indication of it (even though you obviously have a particular time/circumstance/review/user in mind) is unhelpful. Further, I can only assume this message has come about as a misinterpretation of something, such as a person wrote a review of one of my books, became a fan, and now follows me on Twitter.

These Policy Warning messages should include:

1. What the person is being accused of (specifically), and
2. A chance to point out if the accusation is incorrect (since the warning flag has probably generated by an algorithm rather than a person).

To send such dire warnings without the recipient having any way of avoiding further warnings or punishments (such as account closure) is stressful and unhelpful.

I do not, and never would, "manipulate ratings, feedback, or customer reviews": and I disagree with those that do. I support Amazon fully in trying to fight against that kind of unethical behaviour. But obviously you are also flagging up false positives, and there needs to be information and an appeal process for these cases. Otherwise your algorithms cannot improve, bugs will not be spotted, and genuinely innocent authors - the ones that you should be supporting - will be caught up in these false presumptions.

Further - your email says "To learn more about this policy, search for Prohibited Seller Activities and Actions in Seller Central Help". There is not even a URL included. I Googled that and found this address https://sellercentral.amazon.com/ - a site I have never seen before - but the site won't let me log in, saying "Welcome. You don't have access yet." Obviously something has gone wrong with your system if you are directing users to policies they cannot view, on systems they do not use. And again, the lack of information and an appeal opportunity makes this even more stressful and confusing.

I hope this is a misunderstanding or bug, and that I can help you get to the bottom of it before it causes problems for other users.

Yours faithfully,

Karl Drinkwater

Update: 19th April 2017

Just before I wrote the post above, I had copied my email to Amazon once more. Well, I did get a new reply last night. This.
-----Original Message-----
From: review-seller-appeals@amazon.co.uk
Sent: 18 April 2017 17:46
Subject: RE: Policy Warning


Thank you for taking the time to contact us in response to the policy warning.

Our investigations have shown that your account is related to the accounts of customers who have reviewed your book. Our policies state that family members or close friends of authors on Amazon may not write reviews for that author’s book.

We want to call your attention to this policy because violations may result in the removal of your Amazon.com KDP selling privileges.

To learn more about this policy, please see our Customer Review Guidelines Page for Authors (https://www.amazon.com/gp/community-help/customer-review-guidelines-faqs-from-authors).

We cannot share any further information about this warning and we may not reply to further emails about this issue.
I was flummoxed. I have no problem with their policy. If someone who knows the author writes a review, fine, delete it. But it's me being threatened with punitive measures and pointed to policies I can't access, not the unknown person who wrote a review. And, due to the lack of information, I'm still betting this is a false positive, that they are misinterpreting something as a "related account" e.g. I used to send ARC - Advance Review Copies - to bloggers via Amazon; maybe Amazon then takes that to represent a "related account", assuming it was a gift and therefore the person was a friend? Someone who follows me on Twitter? A “Friend” fan on Goodreads? Did some author I'd reviewed in the past go on to read and review one of my books? Who knows. Amazon make it impossible to do anything but surmise.

I was quite stressed by this, and replied.
-----Original Message-----
From: Karl Drinkwater
Sent: 18 April 2017 21:09
To: review-seller-appeals+A31C2CR2VCF8EE@amazon.co.uk
Subject: RE: Policy Warning

Thank you, but this is so bizarre.

I don't know which book, or what person, or when this applies to. There seem to be only two options.

1. Someone who knows or follows me wrote a review. I have no idea who, and I have no control over anyone writing reviews, or any ability to stop them, yet I could have my account closed for something I have no control over.

2. Amazon has mistakenly created a false positive, and since I am not given any information to help Amazon check that, I could have my account closed for something that hasn't happened.

Whichever is true, I am given no information as to what happened, and am not allowed to appeal against it anyway.

Does that not strike you as incredibly unfair?

"We cannot share any further information about this warning and we may not reply to further emails about this issue."

As a literary editor, I have to point out that sentence is incorrect. Amazon could do both of those things. It is Amazon's choice not to provide any useful information that could help to identify a false positive, or to improve your processes.

This is incredibly depressing and scary. I cannot tell you how stressed I feel right now having been accused of something I am completely unaware of. I really am knocked for six by the unfairness of it.

Karl Drinkwater
I have no control over this. No author does. This is what happens when we become connected to large organisations that minimise their accountability via their guidelines and terms and conditions/EULAs. You have no say, no matter how bizarre or unfair the issue. Pretty scary stuff. It's probably why many people keep quiet about these cases, for fear of the organisation lashing out for you having the temerity to ask what you are accused of. All authors who publish to Amazon can be held hostage in this way. Amazon customers are generally our largest market. So, there's nothing we can do. Just accept that our livelihoods, and that of our family, can be taken away for infractions we have no control over, and no way of stopping.

To end on a more positive note, I've been discussing this with fellow authors, and some of them managed to reassure me.

"Wow. That's getting crazy. I'm not saying it doesn't make sense that they don't want bogus reviews. But how do you prevent someone you may know from reviewing your book?"

"A few of my friends posted reviews when I first started and I got the same threatening email and vague responses. Amazon is a little over the top sometimes."

"Make sure your Facebook email and Amazon email are separate. Amazon and Kobo are known to delete reviews from "friends" on Facebook, whether they are real friends or not, whether they live across the world to somewhere you've never been. Apparently you aren't allowed to socialize with your readers. Kobo email and Facebook email as well.  I've had a few of mine deleted of an author who lives in the UK whom I've never met, but I love his books."

"I had my 5 year old KDP account terminated 2 months ago after my best month. So did 4 others in the same group I was in. Not much of an explanation given."

"It hasn't happened to me, but I've heard of it happening to others. I've also heard of authors being dropped from KDP Select for sudden increases in page reads. The way they handle these things is less than encouraging."

"I've heard of similar letters: they're form letters sent out when Amazon thinks they've detected unusual activity, and as you surmised, it's probably a false positive. It's also a hollow threat. I don't know of any author who's been permanently banned from selling on Amazon, though I've heard of two who were permanently banned from leaving reviews. (In both cases, Amazon's actions were harsh, but justified — there were shenanigans by the authors.) And in the cases where authors have been banned due to other issues, like KU anomalies, they've been restored on appeal (e.g., Pauline Creeden). I wouldn't lose any sleep over it."

So I'm going to hope this never recurs and I can just get on with writing and selling fantastic books.

Update: 20th April 2017

I did get a final reply. Unfortunately, despite escalation, it just reiterates what has already been said, something I have found many times with Amazon. There are no answers to any of my questions. I am still in a position that I had no control over. I'll include the email anyway, for completeness.
From: Amazon.co.uk [mailto:review-seller-appeals@amazon.co.uk]
Sent: 20 April 2017 16:13
Subject: **JB Escalation**CTC 24465749586 CID501075982

Message From Customer Service

Hello Karl,

Jeff Bezos received your email and requested that I research this issue and respond on his behalf.

Our investigations have shown that your account is related to the accounts of customers who have reviewed your book. Our policies state that family members or close friends of authors on Amazon may not write reviews for that author’s book.

Due to the proprietary nature of our business, we do not provide detailed information on how we determine that accounts are related.

We want to call your attention to this policy because violations may result in the removal of your Amazon.com KDP selling privileges.

To learn more about this policy, please see our Customer Review Guidelines Page for Authors (https://www.amazon.com/gp/community-help/customer-review-guidelines-faqs-from-authors).

We cannot share any further information about this warning and we may not reply to further emails about this issue.

Warmest regards,

Your feedback is helping us build Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company.


Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Wales Book Of The Year In Review

Literature Wales is currently looking into how to run its publicly-funded Wales Book Of The Year award. The review is being outsourced to a PR/marketing firm (cost unknown), and their review is scheduled to be completed by the end of April.

In case the topic seems familiar, I have discussed this prize in the past. See these posts for background:
In summary: this prize used to be open to all books published in Wales or by Welsh authors (which you'd expect from the name), but things changed in 2013. For the 2014, 2015 and 2016 awards, Literature Wales discriminated against independent authors and changed their eligibility criteria, so a book could only be entered if the author transferred their rights to a trade publisher. It's not clear where this prejudice came from - presumably some person or group within the organisation - but it seemed rather dishonest to continue to call the prize Wales Book of the Year when it arbitrarily excluded many works that might have actually been the best Book of the Year. It's a disservice to authors and to those following the prize, as well as having other deleterious effects; for example discrimination just reinforces prejudices ("oh, only trade-published books win, so only trade-published books are good quality"). It would have been more honest to call it Wales Trade-Published Book of the Year.

It's a shame the controversy about this prize is still unresolved, as it shadows many of the good things about Literature Wales, and the many staff at (and connected to) the organisation who do good work, who are helpful and friendly, and who I've been happy to share a pint with. Along the way I have attended some of their excellent courses, and promoted them to other writers. I want it to be clear that today I'm only grumbling about this one issue of discrimination.*

Photo: Some famous authors and some soon-to-be-famous authors.
Plus some whingy bloke with a funny surname.
And as if on cue:

[*Though Literature Wales are the only funding source for writers in Wales and they turned down my application that was backed up by statistical and qualitative evidence when I was in desperate need of financial support, and I worried that it was because I mentioned being published in various places, including independent - but hey, shut up Karl! I've had cake and chocolate since then! And it's past, and I'm still alive as Pearl Jam sang, and I try to be thankful for all the good things rather than focussing on the worst. But I suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to splurge. Sorry, normal service is resumed.]

So! What shall I add that wasn't in the posts I've already linked to above? In no particular order:
  • I love this: the Romantic Novelists' Association has many respected prizes. Some of my favourite author friends have been honoured on their lists. Well, for the first time in the awards’ history, the shortlists included both traditionally and independently published authors! This year Kate Johnson was named winner of the first Paranormal or Speculative Romantic Novel Award for Max Seventeen: and Kate was also the first self-published author in the award’s 57 year history to win one of the prestigious RoNAs. That is amazing.
  • There’s a brand new Arnold Bennett Prize which specifically states that all authors are welcome, however published.
  • Another exciting prize that is open to all authors, regardless of how their books are published, is The Jhalak Prize
  • The £40,000 Folio Prize has relaunched, not only taking self-published titles, but also opening up to non-fiction as well as fiction.
  • Do non-discriminatory prizes get too many entries? No. Can it be managed? Of course. An insider told me it's really not hard to do - the Folio prize starts with a form submission about the book and goes from there. My contact said some prize bodies are initially terrified of the perceived extra work involved, but the feedback she had from another really huge prize (that is also open to independent authors) - the Young Writer of the Year Award - was that despite massive publicity they struggled to get any indies to enter.
  • Also: if an organisation was worried about the number of entries, they can implement quality controls – this is far better than arbitrary exclusions. Apply the same criteria to all books, trade-published or independent. Personally I'd exclude books with more than one typo or error (grammatical, printing, formatting): that would get the list down pretty quickly, without prejudice. But they could be more lenient than me and still have a manageable list with poor-quality works excluded.
  • What a prize should NOT do (if it wants to be open) is charge fees to enter. Costs that can be swallowed with no problem by a large publishing house such as the Big Five (Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster) would be impossible for an independent author or small publishing house. This is why independent authors could not win the Costa Book Awards (the prize requires a £5,000 fee from publishers if a book is to be shortlisted), or be part of the Richard & Judy Bookclub ("publishers have to discount their books heavily – typically by around 65 per cent – to get them into the front of book stores, and are also required to contribute towards steep marketing costs").
  • If Literature Wales remove the unfair discrimination, I promise to promote their open prize on this website.
  • Someone recently described Gladstone’s Library to me as “stuck in the 1950s” because its smallprint was so old-fashioned and included prejudice against independent and hybrid writers ("We do not accept self-published authors of any kind. No correspondence can be entered into."). I don’t want Literature Wales to get permanently tarred with the same brush, I want my national literature organisation to be at the forefront of modern culture, relevant, where it belongs to be.
  • My article linked to above, "A World Of Writers And Readers: Understanding Modern Publishing" makes it clear, but independent publishing is not vanity publishing. Vanity publishing is generally paying a third party an inflated sum for a poor service, all smoke and mirrors trading off the lure of being able to say "Wow! I'm published!" before realising that it isn't being published at all. It is basically paying for a printer. Maybe with unethical rights grabs in the process. Self-publishing means being in charge of it all yourself. This encompasses the range from unprofessional (no quality control, amateur, perhaps for personal fulfillment - which is great but which won't trouble national prizes), to professional independent publishers. It's the range of quality and diversity that confuses things, especially for those who only know about traditional publishing. At the professional end of independent publishing books go through all the same processes that they would at any publishing house (and sometimes more), but with the difference that the author chooses who to hire and use for each job (beta readers, literary editors, copyeditors, proofreaders, interior designers, cover designers, distributors etc etc), and the author has the final say on blurb, marketing, cover etc. The author foots the bill for all those services (usually £1-3,000) but retains all ownership and copyright and can publish in any formats, languages and territories they wish.
  • The Arts Council For Wales (ACW) distribute public money set aside to support literature. They pass it all on to Literature Wales, making Literature Wales the only source of funding for writers in Wales. Literature Wales has annual bursaries for developing new works, but does not set aside any money for a hardship fund (as some other organisations do). So the only option is the once-a-year bursary application, even if it is an immediate and desperate need. There is no flexibility in this. The Arts Council For Wales could stipulate that some is reserved for a hardship fund, but they choose not to have any such guidelines. (It is similar to how ACW treat the Wales Book of the Year - totally hands-off - and why, when I first asked them why they were funding a prize that excluded Welsh writers, and not stipulating that Literature Wales should consider all Wales-connected books, ACW had no interest at all). It was no surprise then when I recently discovered that The Arts Council For Wales invite comment on their Facebook page but delete/hide any questions they don't want to answer (with no explanation or response). They do the same with Tweets, so obviously miss the “social” bit of social media, and think it is just a one-way system to do self promotion. It's a shame, because how can an organisation improve if it doesn't listen to those it represents? Though ACW does have a reputation for being a quite old-fashioned and small-c conservative institution. Sorry, another aside while I'm talking about official organisations connected with writing. I get distracted easily.
  • 5 Famous Books That Were Originally Self-Published
  • I just found this excellent piece by Joanna Penn: Am I Good Enough? The Validation Of Awards For Writers
  • And this by Roz Morris: A plea for reviewers – can we open up a dialogue about self-published books? 
I'm going to stop. That is some first class waffling and haranguing, and a lot to take in. At the end of the day we will hopefully see fairness as things become more open and inclusive again, for the benefit of all authors and readers, who are the two central pillars without which all of publishing collapses. I try to be positive, and in this world that's sometimes hard, but By The Power Of Greyskull everyone working for good can continue to shape things to create a fairer and more compassionate world. And I'm not even talking about books any more! Peace and love!

(And if my national prize doesn't open up then dammit, I'm moving to Scotland.)

Update 22nd April 2017

Strangely, the consultants, Mela, haven't replied to (or acknowledged) any of my emails. I find it hard to believe that they'd ignore information and evidence (otherwise, what kind of consultation would it be?), but it is worrying. No reply from Literature Wales either.


Friday, 7 April 2017

Get Out - My Thoughts

Last night I went to the cinema (first time in ages) and saw Get Out. I like to flag up films and books I encounter that are either disappointing or brilliant. My verdict:

Go and see Get Out while it's still on at the cinema!

I knew nothing about it when I went, and it was all the better for it. I'm one of those people who hates knowing too much - often I can't even watch trailers because they give away so much of the plot (and as a creator, I'm adept at filling in the spaces - most trailers destroy my desire to see a film, even before they add that stupid reverse-bass-boom cliched sound effect that gets more airtime than the Wilhelm scream or BWAAAAA). Get Out kept me guessing for a good while, there were so many possibilities.

Some of my spoiler-free thoughts.
  • Get Out has great acting throughout, especially Daniel Kaluuya (Chris) and Betty Gabriel (Georgina), who were mesmerising at times; but all the actors were utterly convincing in their roles.
  • Get Out was never boring. There was always something to see or think about. It's a masterclass in cutting out the flab and keeping up momentum without losing coherence. So taut that even a momentary shot of choosing things in a bakery ties in to the plot and characterisation. Not a moment wasted.
  • I couldn't find anything to criticise. That's rare for me when I see a film.
  • There was some beauty in the film too. Balance is important.
  • Excellent use of sound.
  • Humour well-done, at just the right times, to relieve-but-enhance tension.

Do not read on if you haven't seen it - SPOILERS!!!!

And further thoughts as I walked home at night (passing a parked white car with its lights on at one point, which was fun). I haven't read anything about the film yet, so this is all speculation, but I know I'm right. :-) With Get Out I really had no idea what direction it would go in. The name gave nothing away. Alien invasion? Serial killer? Torture porn? Psychological breakdown? Would it be a variant of Them (2006) or The Strangers (2008)? Was there something in the woods? Was it playing off The Visit (2015) - a thought that seemed especially likely in the early jump scare of an old woman wandering a house at night. But Chris's friend's obsession with sex slaves was the closest to the truth, since for me the touchstone is obviously The Stepford Wives (1975), based on Ira Levin's 1972 book, but replacing sex politics with skin colour politics.

I loved the depth of connection in images. Car-hit dying deer = his mother by the road = white father's hatred of deer because they "over-breed" and are "taking over" = deer head on the wall watching him undergo the change = his antagonist's mother by the road hit by his car. So much fun connecting the dots. And I said the sound was good, but it also helped reinforce all this: I especially liked the first night, where the dying deer sound morphed into a mosquito - both blood connections - reinforcing the deer/mother analogies, and preceding Chris's major encounter with his girlfriend's mother.

Talking of connections and significance, another one impressed me. At the start there was a momentary shot of Rose choosing things in a bakery. Even this wasn't just pointless segue - it turns out to be ominous in retrospect. I think there were only two scenes where Rose was seen totally alone. The bakery, and using her laptop at the end. In both of them she is perusing brown items like a catalogue, humans reduced to a small-size commodities that makes them seem identical, items she can consume later after making her choice. Chilling characterisation.

I said some of the acting was mesmerising at times (I couldn't resist that pun in relation to the teaspoon control). As a writer I liked the hypnotism element, words gaining more power than muscle and martial arts. It also led on to scenes that reminded me of the final chapters of Turner, which weren't in my first draft but were added after discussion with my editors.

What else? The ending. They didn't do the obvious Night of The Living Dead ending, even after setting it up with the racist cop earlier, and the audience knowing it would tie in with real-world events. As earlier, they made you expect one thing, but then surprised you. They'd made their point simply by creating that expectation. Restraint and control were keywords for the whole film, in multiple ways.


Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Chugga Chugga Whammy Kerrang Wahwah Slide

This isn't book-related (not that irrelevance has ever stopped me), but I just thought I'd share this as a bit of fun/personal stuff.

When I was a librarian I taught classes of hundreds.

As an author I've done readings to ... fewer than hundreds, but still some pretty big groups.

I'd never played music in public before though. I've been teaching myself to play basic guitar over the last few years. Maybe my love of music is why I wrote 2000 Tunes. Well, I took a few lessons and did my first gig on Sunday! Since I'm used to being in front of groups I wasn't nervous at all, and just had a great time. It was over before I knew it. Here's a few pics of my band's performance to prove I was there. :-)

They were a lovely set of band mates to perform with.

The cat hated the rehearsals at my house, mind you.

There were actually two mini bands for the rock school performance. My band did these songs:
  • Creep (Radiohead)
  • All The Small Things (Blink 182)
  • Go Your Own Way (Fleetwood Mac)
  • Bad Reputation (Joan Jett)


There was also a brilliant open mic session after we finished, so much talent - I'll try and go to those in future. You get goose bumps when you hear brilliant music live, and see the talented people who can make it.

And here's a few seconds in action. Go Your Own Way.


Thursday, 30 March 2017

UK State Pensions For Writers - Class 2 NIC Nuked

Okay, do UK writers know about this? I found out last night and had quite a sleepless night.
New bombshell for self-employed: pay 400% more NICs … or lose state pension
You should know about it. As should anyone on a low income who is self employed.

I'm in the same position as the person in the article, and I'm sure some of you are too. I'm self-employed (author) and I currently earn too little to have to pay National Insurance Contributions (NICs), but if I don't pay voluntary ones I won't get a state pension. So I pay the voluntary Class 2 contributions. I need to do this for another 10 years or so to get a state pension (it's hard to be exact, because the Government doesn't keep you informed of it - part of the reason many women got shafted by pension changes, including some of my friends and family).

According to the new budget the Government are going to get rid of Class 2 contributions. For people like me, the lowest earners (with least savings, claiming no benefits), we then have two options: not get a state pension at all, and live off nothing when we retire; or pay the Class 3 contributions, which are four times more expensive. Instead of £145 a year, we'll have to pay £733 a year. That's more than I earn some years! But unless it is paid, the state pension I've contributed to (worked in paid employment for over 20 years, paid weekly voluntary contributions since then) will be lost and I'll have nothing to retire with. There's no way I can afford that. And no way I can afford not to have a state pension. It is an untenable position.

I'll obviously write to my MP, and I suggest you do the same if you are self-employed and on a low income. We're the ones hardest hit, and the ones least able to take the hit. Ouch.

Find your MP here or here. Feel free to ask them on social media too. And sign this petition.

Oh, and the person implementing these changes is Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Conservative MP).



I've been in touch with The Society Of Authors. They have this useful guide to the planned changes, including a template letter you can use:
Have your say on Making Tax Digital and proposed changes to National Insurance


Monday, 27 March 2017

Recent Promo Images

On social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook - do follow me on one or both!) I try to create a mixture of post types - text, shares, links to information, and images. For the latter I'm always playing around with different ideas to create interesting visuals, as can be seen from previous blog posts such as this and this. I've filled this blog post with various images I've used recently. Do you have any favourites?

General horror

Me messing around

Jumping on the "inspirational quote" bandwagon

Cold Fusion 2000 - since it includes a drawing in the story

Cold Fusion 2000 - since it has a love scene set in a gallery

Trailer For Harvest Festival

As a reward for those who read this far: a moving image promo! The future is now!


Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Karl Is Angry: Moon Hit By Scientists


I saw the following link in my Twitter feed yesterday, covered by the BBC:

"Sighting of meteorite's moon hit by Aberystwyth scientists"

Why are Aberystwyth scientists hitting meteorite moons? What did those poor moons ever do to them? And why did the BBC only report that scientists had been seen doing it, rather than going to the police with this information?

This got me proper affronted. I studied astronomy at university. Even won a prize in it for "outstanding achievement". Then these scientists come along and start hitting things. What next? Will they chin a planet? Uppercut a star? Suplex a black hole?

Proof of my astronomical credentials

I complained but got no response from BBC, who obviously have an anti-moon bias.

I will continue to report on cases of science gone mad.


Thursday, 16 March 2017

My Girlfriend's In A Comma, I Know, It's Serious

What punctuation issue do people come to blows over most often? Single versus double quotation marks? How to use an ellipsis? Dashes? Apostrophes?

Nah, it's commas. Specifically, the serial comma. (Some people call it the Oxford comma. I don't particularly like Oxford so will stick to the proper name of a serial comma. Though as a peripatetic writer, I am aware of other punctuation elements tied to real places, such as the River Piddle Slash and the Shitterton Dash.)

A serial comma is where a comma is added before the final conjunction in a list, usually "and".

Example without a serial comma: Karl wrote Turner, They Move Below and Harvest Festival.
Example with a serial comma: Karl wrote Turner, They Move Below, and Harvest Festival.

Generally, individuals either brandish knives and shout "You must always use a serial comma!" or they raise a club and yell "You must never use a serial comma!" Yep, it's all or nothing for most people.

But guys, come on, peace and love! Chill! In most cases the answer is not to be found at one extreme or the other. Those who say it should never be used are being silly. Look at this sentence.

The inspiration for "Fast Times" was my ex-lovers, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Teletubbies.

Wow, how many ex-lovers did I have? It becomes a lot clearer (and prevents me being taken to court for slander) if I add a comma:

The inspiration for "Fast Times" was my ex-lovers, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Teletubbies.

Phew! They were just inspirations, and separate from my ex-lovers.

My infinitely wise view: if the comma clarifies things (prevents confusion), I definitely add it. If it creates confusion, I definitely leave it out. In all other cases it doesn't matter one way or the other as long as you're consistent. That's how all punctuation should be used - the minimum to achieve clear communication.

And clarity of communication is always the issue. This week a court case hinged on a serial comma. If a certain dairy had used one they would have won the case. As it was, they lost. Hard cheese.