Category Archives: Random Rants

Filling the gaps

I heard it said that there are basically three kinds of writers:

1) Those who plan everything to the Nth degree

2) Those who wing it

3) Those who fall somewhere between the two extremes

I’m a three leaning towards two, I did try writing out a plan for I think the Landfall Campaign but then once I started writing, never remembered to refer back to it. What I do have for each work is a set of mental notes in the form of key scenes. These might be battles or a brief conversation, either way they’re important points for the creation of the story. I like to think of it as an incomplete alphabet. When I know I have A, B and D, I know have to go through C to logically get from B to D. It helps break huge looming task that is book writing down into more manageable lumps while at the same time keeping at eye on the endgame*. There is no such thing as a one perfect method of writing that works for everyone – no matter what people who are usually trying to sell their ‘perfect’ method claim – what there are is a number of techniques and what you have to do is find the combination that works for you.

 

 

*Quite a few of the early Discworld books by the late Terry Pratchett were chapterless and I don’t know how he managed that.

 

I’ve now started twittering and can be found:

HERE

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Writing for a living

Over the weekend I attended a house warming barbeque and I got talking to cousin I haven’t spoken to in a while. They were telling me about an in-law who has recently moved back to Ireland and has yet to get a job and start supporting themselves. One of their alternatives to employment my cousin told me, was to instead write a book. I was not supportive. In fact I was even less supportive of the idea than my cousin is.

Hard information on how the average writer does in financial terms from their work is hard to come by. Based on the occasional article I’ve read and other anecdotal information, I believe this is where I fall on the old bell curve.

Bell curve

I published my first work in July of 2011 and since then I have sold a combined total of twenty seven and a half thousand copies. Of this twelve and a half thousand are the Nameless War, a little under eight thousand the Landfall Campaign, five and a half the Last Charge, with the balance covered by the Job Offer novella and the two tech manuals. What has this amount to financially? Well in three years after expenses and taxes I’ve made about the equivalent of one year of the take home pay from my day job. As a supplement, that’s really good. As an actual primary income, not so good.

In fact the situation is worse than that. The Last Charge was about my most efficient book; it took two years and about a thousand man hours to get it from the first word to the finished product. I have no idea how many man hours the Nameless War took but to say many, many thousands is probably no word of a lie. Of course all the expenses from living costs, editing, cover art, etc are all front loaded. You will have to pay these out months or years before you can hope to see a penny come back.

Okay but that’s self publishing, what about traditional publishing? I have never gone down the traditionally published road so what follows is deeply anecdotal.

Assuming you’re first time writer, based on what I’ve read, advances on a first book are likely at best single digit thousands, with little likelihood that there will be anything beyond that*. This is to be expected, there aren’t many lines of work out there where you immediately walk into the top job, you have to prove yourself and writing is no different. Also once again even with traditional publishing, that first book is going to have to be written before you approach a publisher, so you’re front loading the living costs while you write.

Does this mean I’m saying you shouldn’t even try? No, definitely not. What I am saying is that even you’re a really good writer with a compelling story to tell, writing is difficult way to earn money and if you get to the point where you earn minimum wage through writing, you are doing very well. Certainly for several years something else is going to have to meet the bills. It is worth remembering that even the boys and girls who’ve made it big in publishing were often several books in before they started to see major money.

So in conclusion writing as a means of earning a living. Possible? Yes. Easy? No. Fast? Definitely no.

 

 

* If any readers can offer better information I would certainly welcome hearing from you.

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So… Mad Max: Fury Road.

In broad terms I think there are two kinds of films: those that get better on further reflection and those that get worse. Fury Road is one that falls into the first category. At first glance it is THE FILM WITH NO PLOT, basically one long chase sequence with anything resembling character development sacrificed to yet another car explosion.
However on reflection it is a film with a surprising number of layers. The first and probably the most noticeable is just how much agency the female characters have, in fact that rather understates it. Charlize Theron character’s – Imperator Furiosa – makes at least ninety percent of the running. The plan to rescue the five wives of the despot is her plan and by the time she meets Max she’s successfully pulled off the first stage of the plan. Max is virtually a supporting character; I have to wonder whether this film started life as a ‘Furiosa’ film with Mad Max only tacked on when a Hollywood suit realised they were in danger of making an original film and panicked.
Even the secondary female roles make significant contributions as willing human shields that their attackers can’t simply shoot through. Considering in most of the films I watch the female characters are the trophy that is awarded to the hero at the conclusion, usually without an acknowledgement that even conceivably she could have an option on the matter. A strange thing to find in a film that appears to be this years biggest dumbest film.
Another layer can be found in the form of Nicholas Hoult’s Warboy character, who gives us an examination of how individuals can be persuaded to sacrifice their own interests to a charismatic leader who controls through both means of production and religion.
In more general terms the visuals are impressive with physical effects front and centre. CGI I presume was used for some shots only because I haven’t heard anything about Charlize Theron having her arm amputated. I saw it in 3D and I remain unconvinced it is worth the effort or the gimmicky shots that it seems to bring to a film.
This isn’t an good film, its an okay film. Had they ditched the Mad Max character completely and spent the time on developing Imperator Furiosa, her history, her motivations and fleshing out the world she lives in, then perhaps it could have been good.

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Clean Reader and why I don’t think you should use it

Up to a few days ago I hadn’t heard of Clean Reader, then someone I know retweeted the following from John Scalzi

Asked for my thoughts on Clean Reader. They are: you bought the book, do what you want, but if you use the app, it’s not the book I wrote. [LINK]

My first thought was – that’s just dumb. Since then I’ve read a few more articles and blogs on the subject with more… colorful responses[LINK] and  [LINK] (you have been warned) and I have come to the conclusion that Clean Reader isn’t dumb, it is dangerous.

This censorship of swearing is to me the thin end of the wedge. In itself if someone told me that they had read a book that had been subject to Clean Reader, what I would take from that is that they have actually read the book at all. In much the same way that if you read a book originally written in another language that has been translated into yours, then you are reading a version not the original. With a formal translation the objective will be get the most accurate conversion possible. While Clean Read is designed to be inaccurate. So in itself Clean Read doesn’t seem that big a deal; it is a clumsily and inferior version of the original.

But the more I think, the more I see things I don’t like and that might provide unwelcome precedent.  To start with by using such a system you are effectively attributing words to an author that they didn’t actually write, something most us would react badly to. Secondly what next? This is just replacing individual words but assuming it doesn’t exist already, then if given the opportunity could we see programs that are even more invasive? One that edits away the subject of your preferred prejudiced, like people of colour?

Other religions?

Homosexuals?

Women?

It is worth noting that while Clean Reader is the product of an American Christian couple, this tendency isn’t unique to them. They was some argument a year or two ago about the removal of the word – and I apologize for its use – nigger in the works of Mark Twain. To put it mildly, it’s not a nice word but for better or worse, it is part of language and mindset of the time. If it is okay to change individual words in Twain’s work then is it for example okay to rewrite Jane Austin various heroines, so that they go out and make their own fortune rather than wait around for a man?

It speaks of a bland or cowardly mindset that decides to take out anything that doesn’t fit into its existing worldview. One that doesn’t want to be challenged and while Scalzi is right, you can do are you want, I can’t help feeling that there is a better solution:

Don’t read the book.

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State of the writer address

Okay, I’ll start by not apologizing for my failure to post in a while.

Or the I ain’t dead line either.

Instead lets move straight on to what have I been up to. In short a lot, most of it entirely personal and on the whole most of it positive or at least status indeterminate. However it has ate into my time for writing but that said I have managed to get some things done.

Firstly my second ships of the fleet book is about 70% done. This one is going to be covering the cruisers through and shortly after the Contact War. I have one more model to do, then check the write ups match the designs and then do the final images. ETA Before June (unless real life intrudes)

Second up we have my time travel piece. I’m not sure yet whether this is going to be novella or short novel (yes there is a difference [no I don’t know exactly what it is] ) ETA? Well with time travel this image probably sums it up:

 

time-travel-irrelevant

Finally we have an on going project relating to my other main hobby – table top wargaming. A friend and myself have been modifying a science fiction rule-set into one for World War Two, covering platoon to company scale games for 15mm figures. If you don’t game then that sentence probably meant absolutely nothing to you. While by this stage there’s not a hell of a lot left of the original rules  odds are this one will remain a private project since there would be copywrite issues but you never know.

What you be seeing here in the future is some samples of the new Ships of the Fleet book to replace the earlier attempts.

Until then regards

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History – picking the bits you like

This week I came across the following:

Verdun is an online video game where multiple players can take part in the fighting of World War I. The idea for the game was based on the 1916 Battle of Verdun.

 Even though the Battle of Verdun took place in 1916, two years after the Christmas Day Truce, the Verdun game designers decided to build in an extra section where gamers could call a truce in commemoration for the centenary of World War I,

The new sections give players the option to take a ceasefire and re-enact the truce. They can play football, have snow ball fights, make fires and sing Christmas carols with their opponents, rather than fighting.

The players can continue fighting at any point, but the designers felt it was a poignant feature to include at this time.

The Christmas Day Truce of 1914 is an iconic story and image of peace amongst bloodshed during World War I and still resonates today. Both sides of the conflict emerged from their trenches to meet in no-man’s land and enjoy a brief time of peace and festivities at Christmas.

The rest of the article can be found HERE but my first thought was ‘Presumably not getting hung up on fussy details like there were to the best of my knowledge no truces between the French and Germans (the French wanting the German out of their damn country), there were no Christmas truces in 1916 and last but not least the Battle of Verdun went from mid Feb 1916 to early Dec of the same year so didn’t actually straddle the Christmas.’ But on further reflection I find this kind of thing annoying.

The obvious response is, this is just a computer game, so who the heck cares? The answer I think is anyone who gives any kind of damn about history. At the start of this the centenary period I’ve largely been avoiding any kind of documentaries on the subject of World War One, which might surprise people as my interest in military history is well established. There has been a lot of what I wouldn’t even call revisionist history, I’d call fairytale history. The Christmas truce and football game in no-mans land is one of these fairy tales. Another popular one is tales of shell-shocked men dragged in front of kangaroo courts before being summarily shot. The problem with them, is that they aren’t actually true.

Certainly there were sections of the front where there were ceasefires on Christmas day 1914 but equally other sections saw fighting and casualties which because they don’t fit with the fairytale we don’t tend to hear about. Between the French and the Germans to the best of my knowledge there was no Christmas ceasefire because the French wanted the Germans out of their country! In the late eighties the BBC made a TV comedy series called Blackadder Goes Forth, which was set in the trenches of WW1. (Americans might not have heard of this one but it starred Rowan Atkinson also known for Mister Bean) It was really great, laugh out loud comedy with a final scene that remains powerful no matter how many times I’ve seen it but too many people seem to loose sight of the fact that it wasn’t a documentary.

The problem with fairytale history is that it at best twists that narrative puts a focus on items well out of proportion to their real relevance and at worst is used to justify personal agenda. So yes it is just a computer game, it is also spread falsehood and I believe that matters.

 

 

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attaching something blunt and heavy.

Okay there has been a long hiatus on this blog, in part because frankly I’ve had nothing I really wanted to talk about and in part because WordPress has changed things, which in the finest traditions of the computer industry seems to be one step forward for five steps back – ho-hum.

On a mildly related note there was this story on NASA emailing a crescent wench into space. There is no doubt that currently 3D printing is a technology still in its infancy but it is a fascinating infancy. I’ve heard that the US Navy is currently testing the technology aboard some of its ships, where the motions of the ve3ssel are a distinct complicating factor. There are predictions that someday soon every household could have its own 3D printer. I’m not so sure on that one, especially if the manufacturers of paper printers get involved; my HP printer hasn’t seen the light of day in months because the cartridges cost €30 a pop and the ink somehow magically goes ‘off’ after a couple of months. But it is field of space travel where this technology could really come into its own. If the technology can be got to work reliably and can use local materials, then that spares us the difficulty of lugging everything from Earth.

It wasn’t a technology that existed when I started writing the Nameless War (a bit like e-readers), which I guess goes to show that the future will arrive sooner than you expect and won’t be what you expected.

Have a good Christmas folks.

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