Friday, 28 August 2015

Secondary Character And Other Stories


Secondary Character And Other Stories is an anthology of Welsh short-story writers, just published by Opening Chapter. My cheery short story Miasma is included.

There will be readings at the two (free!) launch events. I'll be reading at the Cardiff one.

Swansea
Mozart's Bar and Venue
Wednesday September 9th 2015 at 7.30pm

Cardiff
First Space at the Chapter Arts Centre
Saturday September 12th 7.00pm

See here for further details about the book and the launch events. Maybe see you there!
Share:

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Manchester Music In The Septembers Of Years Past


September is the month for new things connected to Manchester music.

  • September 1971: Richard Ashcroft born.
  • September 1978: "Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)" released by Buzzcocks. People should love it, and they do.
  • September 1978: Joy Division's first television performance; the Granada Reports host is Tony Wilson, who later co-founds Factory Records.
  • September 1979: Ian Curtis gets his first guitar; it's eventually inherited by Bernard Sumner and used in early New Order songs.
  • September 1983: James release their first record, "Jimone" (Factory Records).
  • September 1985: Factory Records release the first official record by Happy Mondays. It is delightful.
  • September 1987: "Strangeways, Here We Come" released by The Smiths; their final studio album.
  • September 1989: Inspiral Carpets record "This Is How It Feels"; becomes their first Top 40 single.
  • September 1990: Factory Record's headquarters (FAC 251) open on Charles Street, near BBC Manchester's Oxford Road building.
  • September 1991: The Stone Roses release "I Wanna Be Adored". They are.
  • September 1994: Release of "Definitely Maybe", Oasis' debut album. Straight to number one.
  • September 1995: The UK's number one album is "The Charlatans" by The Charlatans.
  • September 1995: Chemical Brothers single "Life Is Sweet" released; guest vocalist is Tim Burgess from The Charlatans.
  • September 1997: The Verve's "Drugs Don't Work" single gets to number 1 in the UK; their first #1.

Hopefully a good month for 2000 Tunes!

(Guest post written by Mark Hopton).
Share:

Friday, 21 August 2015

Book Layouts And Starting New Chapters


I'm interested in books - both the knowledge and stories in them, and their existence as physical artifacts. Yesterday on one of the writing fora I visit someone asked "Should the first page of the first chapter always be on a right hand page?"

"Easy!" I thought at first. "For print - if you have the spread open, a new chapter always begins on the right, which will be an odd-numbered page."

I felt certain that this was common sense. It means that sometimes there's a blank page on the verso (left-side page when the book is open), but you just learn to love the space and tidiness. It means that in my latest novel, 2000 Tunes, where a dark full-page image starts each chapter, you can even see where each chapter begins when the book is closed because of a black line, making it easy to flick back and forth - very helpful in a long book.

(Aside: for e-books this is irrelevant, because the device or app will re-size the pages based on the font and size chosen by the reader. Likewise there are usually no blank pages in an e-book. I just insert a page-break at the end of each chapter, so a new chapter begins on a new page, whether reached through the table of contents, or just through normal reading.)

Of course, our most cherished "knowledge" is often an oversimplification. Other contributors pointed out that the first page of the first chapter does always begin on an odd-numbered page (i.e. on the right when a book is open), but the rule doesn't have to apply to the pages following. There are actually three possibilities.

Share:

Monday, 17 August 2015

Zombie Survival


I've always liked games that tell good stories, such as Go Home. I also like PC games which let you add characters, so you can include yourself and friends in the game. The Sims was probably the first time I'd experienced that. Recently I had a bit of fun with a zombie apocalypse survival game called Zafehouse Diaries (buy / review) that lets you import photos of you and your friends and create them as in-game survivors, along with photos of their homes and workplaces that you can visit and fortify in-game.

So, I entered some names, then sat back to see how my friends would survive in a zombie apocalypse. The game then lets you export all the actions as a diary. It didn’t go well. This is their story.

Share:

Monday, 10 August 2015

Sources Of Images


Where can you get images to decorate your blog posts? Can any of them be used for book covers, banners or business cards? I get asked this from time to time due to my background as an information specialist/librarian. Here are some ideas. I'll go beyond images and include some other media types.

General Images
If you want to re-use things then Creative Commons is one option. The Creative Commons search is really good, and lets you search different types of media (you can do the same for Flickr). Compfight can also do searches (search for a term, then apply licence filters on the left), and markets itself as a tool for visual inspiration and ideas.

These sites are the main ones I browse when I am looking for free images or inspiration.
There are also sites where you pay for images. I have reservations about some of these.
Specialist Graphics
Image Editing
I favour Gimp for editing images - I used it for the covers of 2000 Tunes and Cold Fusion 2000. Gimp is a free, community-maintained tool. There are also online options such as Pixlr, which I use when I am on a PC with no decent graphics software installed. Many people also praise Canva for having good control of image and layout, Facebook/Twitter covers etc, though I haven't used it myself.

Always Check Permissions!
Many of the sites I have linked to offer images that are free as in "no money" and also free as in "no restrictions" (or fewer restrictions) on use. Although the quality of images may not be as consistently high as those on professional stock sites, I have often been impressed with the free ones available.

Note that not every image on the sites is available for every use though. Here we get into the issue of "licences" - the rules governing what the photographer says you can do with their image. Always look at the small print and check in case the images are free for personal use (e.g. decorating a blog post), but not for commercial uses (such as a book cover). Most sites will make the licensing information and permissions clear from a link. Do read this, and abide by it - it's not worth breaking the law for the sake of a minute checking what you can do with an image! If in doubt, go elsewhere. And be aware that even on the same site, different images might have different restrictions - some sites let the photographer decide on the particular licence. I usually make a screenshot of the licence and save it in a subfolder along with the image URL, for future protection.

Sites may well have their own licences, but many use Creative Commons, which has a variety of licences with different meanings. There's also public domain and royalty-free works. Even Creative Commons includes a Public Domain licence where the creator surrenders all rights in the work, so you can use it for any (legal) purpose. If you work in education then Xpert can be a useful tool - as well as finding images, it can build in the source, attribution and licence, so also teaches students about these issues.

Any graphics sites you use which other people should know about?
Share:

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

A Writer's Day


How does a best-selling, full-time writer divide up their day?

I don't know, but I can tell you how I divide mine up. <ba dum tsh>

I need structure. It needn't be something super-rigid like a suit of full-plate armour; you have to be able to bend and adapt. But on days when you've no talks to give, no meetings, no research trips, no courses, no-one to rescue as your heroic alter-ego, it is good to make best use of time. This is the pattern I try to follow.
  • 9-9.30am Communications
  • 9.30-11am Creative Writing
  • 11am-12pm Writing CPD
  • 12pm-1pm Food. Fuss the cat. Shoot a zombie. Practise pole dancing. Walk in the garden.
  • 1-2.30pm Creative Writing
  • 2.30-3.30pm Business Stuff
  • 3.30-5pm Creative Writing
  • 5-5.30pm Communications
I find it helps prevent the opposing demons of distraction or paralysis. I know what to do, and at the end of the day I've got something to show for it. What do the headings mean?

Share:

Sunday, 2 August 2015

"One" by Conrad Williams

This is no country he knows, and no place he ever wants to see, even in the shuttered madness of his worst dreams. But Richard Jane survived. He walks because he has no choice and at the end of this molten road, running along the spine of a burned, battered country, his son may be alive. The sky crawls with venomous cloud and burning rain while the land is a scorched sprawl of rubble and corpses. Rats have risen from the depths to gorge on the carrion, and a glittering dust coats everything. It hides a terrible secret as new horrors take root. He walks on, with one hope.

Any book which makes me go to bed early to read it is already doing something right.

This is The Road, set in Britain, but with correct use of apostrophes.

Actually, that undersells it. It is its own complicated beast. But we travel with a father. Such an intense focus on one mind works for immersion, even if having an unreliable narrator sometimes irritates. It's like being inside someone else's head, wanting to control their body, to make them ask a question or look at a certain thing so you can find out more, but their head stubbornly refuses to move. It has its own agenda. You are a passenger, with your own intelligence, along for the ride.

The prose is sparse and often beautiful.

The book entertained. It finished with plenty to think about. It sustains itself and reader interest. ONE star short of five.

Share: