The Voodoo Viewpoint: Is new media stealing our souls and memories?

Halloween bookshelf

I haven’t blogged for a while, having had new things to deal with through the summer and autumn along with writing, and waiting for other things to be resolved – everyday life has got in the way, and all of it worthy of my time – so I can honestly say I don’t feel I’ve missed anything by not procrastinating online too much.

This post has been on my mind for a while over the past year, and I’ve turning it over further in my mind since a topic came up on Facebook regarding the well-roasted old chestnut of ebook vs. print books, and what might supplant them in the future. When I made my comment, I didn’t realise how much of an observation it really was. But the thought of it keeps returning to me, so I’ll attempt to dissect it further now. (I’ve used ‘Voodoo’ in the title as I was originally going to post it as Voodoo Spice first – but there is another relevance to the reference).

My comment on the post was:

I think real books will stick around for another reason – the same reason as real music disc collections, and real movie DVDs, and real photo albums. The death of these things will mean the end of being able to remember lost loved ones. Imagine going into an elderly relative’s last residence, and instead of shelves full of their favourite media that you can pick up and read and smell, and admire, all that’s there is a computer tablet full of password-protected cloud-storage erotica. Supposing they’re survived by 20+ family members all wanting a memento? Will they have to take turns hacking into his or her tablet to read their, erm, favourites???

It’s not only the issue of having physical objects with which to remember a loved one, though. When you first make a new friend, visit their home for the first time, you see immediately by their books, music, film collections, and photographs what you have in common. Without those, it takes far longer to define. How do you learn about a person who wears nothing on their sleeve in real life? Are they hiding something about their personality, their cultural and entertainment tastes, behind password-protected anonymous digital storage products? How much of their social media persona is genuine – do they really like Top Gear, or do they just ‘Like’ it on Facebook? How long does it take to make early judgements of compatibility when all you see in their home is the faceless packaging and housing of technology? Is this creating the hacking, snooping, prying, suspicious culture that troubles present-day relationships?

Are we sacrificing our personalities, our ability to connect with one another in real life without the social media screens, in favour of electronic packaging?

Back to the subject of bereavement and memories, there is another agenda surfacing to consider.

Electronic media itself has no re-sale value. The tablets and electronic devices can be re-sold, but they lose value in the very short term. Unlike physical books, vinyls, cassettes, picture frames, CDs, and DVDs – when you buy anything in digital format, to watch, read or listen to, its solvency value is zero. So even if your descendants, friends and family don’t want to share the digital tablet and know your passwords to enjoy your *ahem* favourites, they can only sell the tablet itself. Even if you have bought 70,000 books, movies, and songs in your lifetime, they do not add up to £70,000 worth of house clearance on ebay to divide among the mourners. They add up to zero.

They money you spend on electronic books and media to fill your device has gone for good. You cannot donate the products to an Oxfam bookshop after you have enjoyed them in order for others to benefit. You cannot have a yard sale or a car boot fair stand of portable entertainment to fund a party, or to pay a few bills. You have not invested your money in anything physically reminiscent that can be enjoyed as part of the soul of a lost loved one, or liquidated as an asset in the future.

The money has gone for good, into the great black hole of the business that also sold you the device to enjoy it on, or to store in some online cloud.

So in the future, without personal possessions for family and friends to remember us by – not even the chance to flick through the same books and photo albums we held, and no idea how to access our family photographs and music – and more and more social lives being conducted online – how will anyone remember their grandparents and great-grandparents beyond faces on a screen?

Will the youngest family members have the sense of identity and individual heritage that children before the digital age grew up with?

Will old people just die and disappear, leaving nothing behind but an online account full of media they spent thousands on, which is worth precisely nothing to their descendants even if they have the ability to access it? Will their living memories and personalities evaporate the second you tap on ‘Confirm shut down/log off device’?

Will folk start leaving clauses on their departure, that no-one is to hack into the tablet at all to avoid finding out how much porn and erotica they downloaded to keep them warm in their old age?

Never mind what to do with Granny, the last Will and Testament says we have to burn her Kindle first… aptly named device, if ever there was one. I see a new business opportunity looming – the “Kindle Crematorium” where dirty old reading habits go after you die…

It’s a mystery that leaves me very curious. I already find houses without books, music, photograph or film collections very odd – rather like pictures of home interiors in advertising, with no identity of the occupants visible. Sterile, like a showroom to sell a product or furniture lifestyle – not a working, living home. And if that is what remains in the future, when individuals die, what is left to know of them? An indentation in the sofa, perhaps – where they sat while playing Candy Crush Saga online?

So never mind that a computer tablet doesn’t provide the same decorative impact as a bookshelf, or provide the same soundproofing from your neighbours. Never mind that it’s a good way of hiding your reading habits, and a bad way of storing your nekkid selfies. It’s also a good way of spending your children’s inheritance – permanently. Throwing your small change onto the Kindle Fire (literally), never, ever to return as second-hand small change, ever again. Quite possibly thrown away along with the material potential for any of your descendants to remember you for more than one surviving generation…

Happy Halloween! 🙂 xxx

If you want to learn to how to format a print-on-demand book, publish and distribute for free, click here for my tutorial. You can also learn how to format ebooks and multimedia booksIf those still light your candle 😉 x

We are officially post-Apocalyptic…

At the first annual ‘1066 Walk of the Dead’ Hastings zombie walk…

Welcome to my personal 2012 round-up…

Two eye operations (resolving four years of eye infections and one year of sleep deprivation), three live zombie events, one Book Fair, one new 83-chapter parody novel blogged all the way to completion and published, four first dates, fifty pages of non-explicit quotes from my older books compared to prose and scenes in the Fifty Shades trilogy analysed very kindly by the legal office of Random House (who initially stated their author had never heard of my books, but investigated anyway, to assure me later that the list of similarities must be coincidental), the world didn’t end (and neither did the superstitions of everyone who believed they saved it), a very recent and encouraging response from the BIG romance publisher, DS-10 said she doesn’t need a dad around because watching Jeremy Clarkson and the lads on Top Gear tells her everything she needs to know, new cousins, family weddings, fantastic reunions, one stone and two dress sizes dropped, an unprecedented variety of editing and formatting jobs (from true-life books to cultural thrillers to creative self-help therapy to more zombies), accidentally deleting Sophie Neville’s blogger image source file for Funnily Enough four days before Christmas while trying to clean up unused duplicate images on Google+ (doh!), managed to pass yet another year without either having sex or watching any soap operas / reality TV / celebrity game shows, one charity book contributed to and associated book trailer made (New Sun Rising: Stories for Japan), around 165 Youtube clips and mash-up tunes shared on this blog, from Reaps007 to movieclips (I don’t have a problem, really), meeting Olympic gold multi-medallist Ben Ainslie and remembering what it feels like to be star-struck on that occasion, around 1000 sunset photographs / 370 zombie photographs / 240 family photographs / 7 cat photographs / 5 hedgehog photographs and 1 photograph of my car (not by a speed camera, I have to say)…

Wishing you all a happy and merry and peaceful post-Mayan-Apocalypse future! 🙂 xxxxx

The Youtube trailer for ‘New Sun Rising: Stories for Japan’ shot and edited by yours truly…

The London Book Fair 2012 – Has Anyone Spoken to the Author?

Hands shaking with excitement, I was too busy listening to take a decent picture! 🙂

This photo from ‘Has Anyone Spoken to the Author?’ panel discussion with Unbound Books, and authors Nick Harkaway, Robert Llewellyn, Ilana Fox and Salena Godden – definitely my highlight of the event, for entertainment value as well as insights onto the what’s going on in the hearts and minds of authors, in the current publishing climate. More on that later…

A bit late to the ‘write-up the LBF12’ blog party – I’ve been so busy since. I was at the London Book Fair on Tuesday 17th, this year with Sophie Neville, who had never been before.

You could barely get out of the train station, before people were handing you flyers about books. And these weren’t just indie authors – it seemed that even the big leagues were going out of their way to snag readers, with flyers and promotional copies.

This was cool, because Sophie also had a bagful of postcards she wanted to give out.

“You can tell I used to be a promotions girl, can’t you?” she joked, as we camped out by the HarperCollins stand (they had a comfy seat free), while she accosted passers-by with her British upper-class charm, and I schmoozed with folk wanting help and advice from me on formatting for Kindle. I told her this was the wrong way around, Sophie being the celebrity, and doing all the work. But she was enjoying herself too much not to do it.

I’d never have dragged her away, but The Daily Mail rang her to talk for 45 minutes about her book, Funnily Enough, and the boat Swallow, from Swallows and Amazons. (See the article on Richard Kay’s Daily Mail page here).

So while she was talking, still perched by the lovely HarperCollins, I met the even more lovely Clive Boutle, of Francis Boutle Publishing. Clive had just been speaking at a talk on translations. Francis Boutle publish English translations of works in endangered European languages, including Manx, Gaelic, Welsh, Catalan, and Occitan. While waiting for his next meeting, he got to chat with me, about what constitutes a great bar in Barcelona, and what constitutes a bad translation into English. The kind of thing you wouldn’t want turning up in another Funny Ha Ha, and Funny Peculiar. (It turned out we’d both read the Denys Parsons book of silly news headlines and signage – I remember hiding it in the cover of Lord of the Flies at school, and anything dull about grammar). While we were talking, I recalled the episode of Q.I, where they discussed the ancient parrot who was the only known speaker of a dead language from the depths of South America. (So if you want to preserve an endangered language and keep it going into the next century, teach an Amazonian Grey parrot to speak it!)

We also talked about the work of the translator – the costs, the role they play – and that a translator is not considered to be ‘the author’ of the original work being translated, in intellectual property terms. They are paid highly for their job role, and recognised as the translator, but are no more credited for the original piece than, for example, a translator of Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books into French. Clive said that translation is usually the most expensive part of publishing a book in a new language.

In other words, anyone wondering what sort of job roles in publishing are in demand, and for a good wage now, you’d do worse than having excellent foreign language skills, and going into translation.

Earlier in the day, I’d left Sophie researching colour illustrated print-on-demand costs with FastPrint, and gone off on my own mission to research Science Fiction in China at one of the other seminars. I don’t think I’ll quite make it to the level of Mandarin Chinese translator (just recognising the prefixes and a few verbs nowadays, at native speaker speed – I must revise!) but they had simultaneous radio translation, which was more than impressively done, the real-time translators got a hearty round of applause from both the Chinese and English-speaking audience. Science Fiction in China featured authors who worked their way up through University student papers and magazines in the genre, sometimes publishing their own, before gaining market recognition and awards through specific publications. More Chinese science fiction is now being translated into English. Not by me yet, I have to add. Unless you only want to read about the easy acquisition of fizzy drinks, and the location of the Ladies’ Toilets in a bar.

Sophie’s chat with Richard Kay’s office at The Daily Mail finally concluded, and we went to grab a cup of tea. At one of the coffee outlets, we happened upon a nice young lady from Scholastic Books grabbing a coffee-break, here at LBF12 with their Hunger Games Trilogy phenomenon.

I used to read Scholastic’s earlier Point Horror imprint, and actually submitted my first book, Living Hell, to Point Horror in 1996, after finally getting it back from PanMacmillan, who’d had it for three years, and I’d submitted a sequel to them on request (long story short – the awesome Simon Spanton, who was overseeing it at the time, left PanMac and couldn’t fit both epics up his jumper, LOL). So that was very spooky. But I remembered Point Horror and Goosebumps, and discussed how Scholastic had really been at the forefront of the current YA paranormal market, with their earliest Stephen-King-style thrillers, and horror stories for teens. Stephen King meets Scooby Doo – great stuff, as I recall.

But as I said, the highlight for me was ‘Has Anyone Spoken to the Author?’

Sophie would have happily continued networking (next year I think I’m going to have to get her a marketing stand of her very own), but I dragged her along to this one, and it provided a hugely valuable insight. Published authors, including high-profile ones, now want more input into their work, and want to offer more interaction to the readers. Which was funny, because I’d just designed a Kindle ebook edition to do exactly that, with my interactive, reader-preference enabled Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition.

And as Robert Llewellyn said, you don’t want to send off your painstakingly re-read and edited manuscript off into the unknown of a major publishing house machine, trusting implicitly that all is well, and get back your first publisher proof copy – to find that they have helpfully inserted their standard typographical errors. Usually at the optimum Funny Ha Ha, Funny Peculiar settings.

I recall Sir Terry Pratchett saying something very similar once, at a talk he was giving at the Barbican in London many years ago, while DS-10 enjoyed her tiny self immensely and squealed delightedly in the baby-sling, loud enough for even Sir Terry himself to hear and crack a joke about. We didn’t get kicked out in the end, for which I’m eternally grateful (although we’d have been in more trouble, most likely, for DS-10 discovering the delight of reaching into other people’s pockets if they stood too close to her on my lap, while travelling that day on the London Underground). Sir Terry said at the end of his talk, on world-building in SF and fantasy fiction, that we could all look forward to his next book at the time “Once it has gone to the publisher to have all the spelling errors put in.” Not an unusual phenomenon, I’m starting to realise. It’s not just you, Robert – you’re in good company! 😉

The subject this year at ‘Has Anyone Spoken to the Author?’ also covered the keeping up with reader expectations and attention span, in the current handheld electronic reading device environment. How long can you keep a reader’s attention, before they want to go off and look at their own Twitter? Or blog? Or Facebook? What sort of interactive, bonus material provisions can you make for the readers?

I’d discussed this at the London Book Fair last year with Jason Kingsley of Rebellion (see earlier post ‘Let’s Cut to the Chase…’), and had included a screenplay as bonus material in one of the even earlier ebook editions of mine – Death & The City: Heavy Duty Edition. So it was interesting to hear that this is still a hot topic, which authors and publishers want to definitively crack.

Ilana Fox, in particular, wants to make her character’s lives more accessible to the readers, and I won’t give the game away, but she has big plans for her next book in that respect. It looks like being an exciting time in the coming years, for both readers and writers.

Salena Godden finished the talk with a stand-up of fantastic ‘slam poetry’ about ‘expectations’ – highs and lows… and lower… and lower… As writers, we all feel that at some point. Very funny, and so appropriate!

Great end to the day. I went to say congratulations afterwards to all of the panellists, and handed out my own cards, to which I’d added information about the Cut to the Chase edition. Before running away for a much-needed drink of water, with all of Sophie Neville’s spare change in my jeans pocket.

I had to, or I’d have had a Wayne’s World I’m-Not-Worthy moment. Such amazing, entertaining, and lovely people.

Sophie couldn’t be dragged away at the end, but stayed at LBF12 to do a bit more networking, and to visit her friend from the biggest Christian bookshop in London. It was a stroke of luck that she did pay a visit, because the girl took all of her print copies that she had on her, to sell there. A good day out, all told.

Looking forward to next year already 🙂

L xxxx

Happy 13th Birthday, Gargle!

Dear Gargle,

I’m so pleased you’re 13! Now, have you had your HPV vaccination? I wouldn’t want you to catch anything from all that webcrawling.

Now you’re a teenager, it’s likely that you’ll start telling people that you know everything, and feeling quite self-assured generally. A certain amount of swagger will find its way into your general demeanor. Especially now that your rival, Farcebuck, is starting to show early signs of insecurity, and going through more image makeovers than Madonna did, between 1984 and 2008.

There’s nothing better than arriving in your teens, and looking forward to all the grown-up stuff that is now almost within your reach. But there will now, more than ever, be questions cropping up which aren’t nearly as easily answered as those classroom ones you’ve had to deal with so far.

Why do matching socks always part ways? How do red things always end up in a white wash? And what is the proper etiquette for disposing of unopened, out-of-date condoms? (Recycling, biohazard, household waste, stretched over Farcebuck’s pint glass on a night out?). How much gel (or texturising mousse) can effectively conceal dandruff? If you notice a spot on your forehead while out with friends, should you squeeze it in the toilets and risk being noted for absence of said zit, or keep it and behave as though you would never stoop to tampering with your delicate skin in public?

Most of all, the questions of fashion and hygiene will be foremost in your mind for the forthcoming decade or so. You want to court popularity, and attract lucrative networking opportunities. You also want to avoid scandals and a bad reputation. You want to be seen at the cutting edge of technology, but you don’t want to be seen boasting about the next Betamax.

Like most teenagers, it seems like a time when you want to rush out into the world announcing that you, Gargle, are now a TEENAGER, as if no other individual has achieved the same status before. You want to party. You want to be the leader of the pack.

My advice is, like other teenagers, invest the next decade wisely. Get a good education. Research is the key, as is attention to detail. Start thinking about your future security – not just what adventures you could go on, but how those adventures could improve your life and the lives of those around you. And how you’d like to make the world a better place.

Celebrate your special day. It’s the beginning of many.

Happy birthday, Gargle 😉

I had a dream…

Not the scary kind of dream, where you have no concept of reality, and cats in snorkels try to convince you that your hairdresser has stolen a priceless hovercraft and vandalised all the school toilets. Terrifying, because at that point what you most need is a working lavatory, not a hovercraft designed to save the world. Let alone a decent haircut.

Nope. I was sort of dozing, because there was no Q.I. on Dave, and DS10 had fallen asleep after her booster jabs to protect her from future Youtube-transmitted diseases (for those of us whose social life consists entirely of the internet, we’re all quite literally fully protected from everything except carpal tunnel syndrome). I’d been pondering in my diary the concept of being able to do anything I wanted with my life (as opposed to waiting for Mr. Right, who so far doesn’t exist, or settling for Mr. Wrong, who isn’t interested and doesn’t know I’m alive anyway). And out of this attempt to expand-my-consciousness exercise (not as easy as it sounds, without committing to a church, or well-intentioned cult), the idea popped into my head of hula-hooping on rollerblades. As if trying something ludicrous-sounding and potentially dangerous would be a start, at least.

I can’t rollerblade. Well, I can, only on carpet or lino, i.e. indoors. So wobbling around trying to keep a hoop aloft outdoors on the patio (it’s the only space there is to swing a hoop nicely, unless I stand on the living-room coffee-table when it’s raining – and with wheels on too, I’d bump my head on the ceiling) – sounded to me like a shortcut list of broken wrist-bones. I promptly forgot about this, and fell asleep, which wasn’t easy either as I couldn’t be bothered to wake up DS10 and tell her to get in her own bed. Seeing as she’d been a medical pincushion already that afternoon, and earned the right to sleep during hours of darkness – instead of inventing new demons to summon while the rest of the country sleeps.

I remembered this idea again at around 5pm today, while clearing old storage boxes in the spare room. My first thought was the horrified one, along with the perceived future of comminuted fractures such a venture might bring. But then quite suddenly, some quote, or half of the quote, turned up in my brain:

“Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.”

Now I knew I’d heard this quote somewhere, probably one of those dozens of self-help books that function even when unread, as soundproofing on shelves around my home. So I thought, cool. Let’s put those rollerblades on and see if I fall over.

Well, I didn’t fall over. And after a few slow starts, managed to hoop for about an hour. When my shins got sore from the boots (my blades are two sizes too big, because they were cheap, but it makes for pretty good stability and lots of sock room) I went back to my usual trainers and found I could move around far more with my hoops than previously – so my normal stability and confidence improved by trying something much more challenging. So I carried on and did another hour and a half, through the Jamiroquai and Timbaland albums.

I thought I’d see if I could find what this quote is, so typed the bit I remembered into Google. It’s from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). So many quotes are credited to him, he most likely pre-empted Twitter, along with everything else.

What is curious to me though, at this point in time, is why I’d channel a famous writer, thinker, artist and scientist in order to motivate me to put wheels on my feet and twirl a sparkly tube around my body?

Maybe it’s a physics experiment I’m not yet aware of…

Have you had your shots?

First Aid Advice

I live in rural U.K. It’s the time of year when campers and caravanners come in their droves to our tiny townlets, paddle in the rivers, pat the wild animals, barbecue outdoors and live the good life.

Generally speaking, they do everything that the locals don’t do. So it’s not as if they’re getting in the way. It’s all very jolly and very Ealing classic comedy, except when they find once they get out here, for a week or so, that they have to drive to the nearest large town to get a phone network or decent 3G signal. Small beans for the price of a good getaway.

However, whether you are in the countryside or the city, if you and your kids are playing outdoors in the dirt, getting grubby, building up that sluggish immune system supported only by cola, McD’s and KFC, particularly if you are knocking back the more-than-usual pint of White Lightning, Bailey’s, or Chateauneuf du Pape, there are things to keep at the back of your mind that us bumpkins who were brought up on bouts of outdoor-related jungle bottom, projectile vomiting, vermin encounters, bites and splinters of varying sizes, are used to, as par for the course.

Get tetanus shots. They’re free. You won’t get lockjaw. You won’t feel terror when you get scraped by that rusty nail climbing over the stile. If there isn’t a stile, you could be on private property. Make sure the owner knows they’re expecting you, as the countryside often comes with large dogs, licensed firearms, and occasionally bored bullocks who like a challenge.

That black thing stuck in your skin may be a tick. They hate neat tea-tree oil – a few drops applied directly will kill it overnight, or loosen it enough to remove with tweezers. Don’t throw it back in the grass. Flush them down the toilet or put them in the garbage. Horrible things. If a red mark is still visible after a week to 14 days, go IMMEDIATELY to the doctor for antibiotics, as this may be the onset of Lyme Disease – common in areas where there are deer, such as the New Forest.

Leeches are easier to remove, and range from the long black wiggly sort, to little red threads, to small brown leaf-shaped things. Can be found in both saltwater and freshwater locations. Less likely to transmit an infection, but treat any ongoing residual marks or inflammation as you would a tick bite – see your doctor. It is not necessary to bring the culprit with you as evidence, and the doctor might not appreciate this either.

The best way to avoid insect bites is to take Mosi-guard, Autan or Jungle Formula – any good recognised insect repellent – and USE it. Mix it in your sunblock cream to save time if you must, and apply every morning, and before bed – I found this worked brilliantly when I was in Rhodes, where the mosquito is rampant. Anywhere with ponds, lakes, fishing is likely to be a mosquito haven, as the larvae mature in water.

Horsefly bites are very unpleasant. They can inflame an entire limb up to the joint, and cause infections. Make sure you take plenty of Savlon and antihistamine/Piriton with you. Savlon and Germolene also come in handy for those burns sustained while cooking on an unfamiliar stove, or outdoors, especially one-handed while trying not to spill your beer/cider/Jacob’s Creek.

You are unlikely to encounter a giant pirahna while holidaying in the U.K. I would like to quash any rumours that anyone known to me has released one into the wild after outgrowing its tank. It can be seen happily re-homed at a Reptile Centre in South Wales. And it only eats cucumber mostly. In fact I believe it was a Pacu.

Your children may be mixing with other children during the holidays. Hooray! Discreet nit-comb checks may remove another added concern before returning home, unless your child has spent the summer under a sports hoody.

If your children have been enjoying one another’s company in town, our cities do have vermin, and it’s wise to know what they may have come into contact with while exploring. In the U.K, bubonic plague and rabies are virtually unknown, but rats do carry something called Weil’s Disease or Leptospirosis – which is passed via the animal’s urine, so the animal itself does not need to be present for infection to occur. It need not be said that skip-diving and rummaging in garbage is probably not a healthy holiday pursuit. It can lead to kidney failure, and in a few cases, has been fatal. Starting with flu-like symptoms, it is advisable to see a doctor immediately that any contact has been suspected.

Cat offerings left in dirt, and pets in general, come with their own pets, ranging from bitey things, wiggly gastrointestinal-tract things, to fungal things. Ringworm or Dermatophytosis is awesome to look at under your doctor’s special light which will make you believe you are turning into a werewolf at full moon, but a pesky itchy thing that won’t heal up, so if you can’t find your mum’s extra-strong Canesten, the GP will give you some nice fungicide to clear it up. Highly contagious, rather like impetigo, and may need a second treatment as it can recur – being a spore-based infection.

Spider-bites and adder-bites are EXTREMELY rare, but do occur. Go immediately to the nearest major A&E – smaller hospital MIUs (Minor Injury Units) are not equipped for this. Although our local spiders are not known to be vicious, some do have venom, not to mention those that have somehow avoided the Reptile Centre and are currently ‘between owners’. The same is to be said for ‘hobo’ pythons, and escaped tigers, the Beast of Bodmin, that black thing photographed stalking sheep in Aberdeenshire, wild boar (which always have right of way on ANY footpath), and cows. Cows do not have a reverse gear. If you come across cows, either on foot or en vehicle, it is considered polite to give way. A solitary cow is a rather smelly trampling machine. A herd is the equivalent of a road-roller. Nothing is that important that needs to be arrived at quicker, than your destination not covered in hoofmarks and cowpat. And contrary to appearances, females HAVE been known to stampede, or charge, and can be as territorial as bulls.

If you come across something of man-made origin, such as a discarded hypodermic needle, metal or glass of any kind, remove IMMEDIATELY if possible, and wash the wound under soapy running water. Cover and bandage the area with gauze, and if unable to remove object, pad around it and do not flex if at a joint – keep immobile, and cover lightly with gauze without touching point of entry. Take the item bagged-up with you if removed, and go directly to a major A&E. Any suspect item may need to be tested for substances.

The summer of 2011 has already had a lot to answer for. Don’t let a little untreated scratch ruin yours.

L xxx

Hot on the Trail…

Living Hell trailer - final slide

Having spent a week chilling after my eye op, accumulating housework to do over the weekend, and working – yes, working – doing that thing that I left my last job to do! …I’ve introduced DS10 to Youtube as part of her birthday treats, and she’s torn into it like a bat out of Hell on a mission, churning out some jaw-droppingly awesome stuff in less than a week.

And I’ve realised, holy crap – that’s my audience, in some part at least. Anyone writing for young adult, teens, or even children’s fiction now has to realise that this market are using computers, creating their own content, deciding on their identity and choosing their entertainment, much faster than JK Rowling can say “Let’s have a meeting to discuss the strategy.”

Some friends on Goodreads invited me into their YA Lit group, and one of them has set up a (stunning) YA trailer website purely for the posting of trailers for teen fiction, and it is really inspiring. I’d done one trailer previously, a slideshow, for Living Hell, my current major YA work – an alternative-history stab in the dark at a fantasy dystopian contemporary society – written originally when I was 18 years old – which actually functions rather well, considering (it’s called social evolution, baby – no vampires or werewolves here, not that any are admitting to). But when I saw the work already on the site, and the material that DS10 is creating, I decided things needed cranking up a notch (or ten) and using a bit more imagination, even with only a scanner, WinXP and MS Paint at my disposal at home. I guess ‘disposal’ is a good choice of word – but it’s got me through publishing everything so far, and will darned well continue to earn its keep until I can afford myself one of those fancy offices and staff, with a water-cooler for equally cool people to brainstorm and flirt with each other around. 🙂

Okay, so I plug in the scanner and grab my notebook, and basically make this up as I go along. I had some idea of what I was doing, but not until I was actually holding a pen did I know what was going to come off the end of it:

Living Hell trailer - slideI remember writing lists, essays, and occasionally angry letters to imaginary Points of View presenters in my schoolbooks, and also doodling and drawing, which was where I wanted to head with this ‘animation’.

I decided to use a transition rather than painstakingly draw each letter (the ‘invisible hand’ writing across a screen style, which has been used to good Living Hell trailer - slideeffect many times).

What was fun was how organic this process was – I let my gut dictate each stage that I scanned, without really knowing what I was going to draw or write on the page next, just sticking to themes in the book and keeping the schoolbook graffiti style. Just like drawing at school, or in my room when I was a kid. Frequently I’d Living Hell trailer - slide 6start a picture or painting back then not knowing what it would end up becoming – those often turned out more pleasing than the ones I’d planned and could see clearly in my head.

I haven’t got to the stage of constructing a ‘formal’ book trailer, where titles take the place of Hollywood movie voice-over (“A man.  A woman. A ship. An iceberg. A date with destiny”). My style leans more towards the ‘teaser’ type of advert, at the minute. Maybe because those voice-over styles don’t work on me so well… I have seen some great ones on the trailer site, however, so I may give traditional trailer composition a shot at some point.

But for me, hearing a teenager say “Cool!” is as good as it gets, feedback-wise. 🙂

Here’s the finished trailer. Tell me it doesn’t make you glad you’re not still in school, LOL! 🙂

Solo a mano

I have no idea what that technically translates as, but it might be construed as rude. 🙂

Anyway, today, I’m officially self-employed, having left my previous job with no savings, almost £4 over my small overdraft limit, no work-related social life to miss, and no workplace relationships. I’ve never gained a holiday through working, or earned enough to buy a house, never started any big credit purchases… so it makes me wonder, what the fuss was all about?

Here’s my circumstances. I’m a single parent of a 12-year old who schools at home. I do that, so I’m her unpaid tutor. I pay for all the books, all the trips, all the projects, and all the internet she hoovers up with her global blogging phenomenon.

She was bullied at school, has no friends, and might be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s on the wait-and-see list. We both have counselling, which is free on the NHS.

In the meantime, I write novels or do illustrations, or design covers, whenever I’m sitting down trying to watch TV. My laptop gets in the way of the TV, and sometimes she talks me through the finer points of CSI or NCIS. I’ll get paid my tiny royalties for any that sell on Amazon some day, or when pigs fly – whichever happens first.

I’ve also taught individuals blogging and tweeting, and shared info on self-publishing for cups of tea and laughs.

If I call the Jobcentre and ask for money to live on though, I have to be available for and actively seeking work. Which I’m not – I can’t go out and leave DS10 alone to form her own anonymous internet review empire instead of doing schoolwork. So I have to work from home around what constitutes schoolwork.

So I’m not eligible for those benefits as an individual, which in fact makes it easier to get on with working. No worries about what status to declare, or justifying all the books I’ve written. The only worry is what we’re going to live on until I start making any profit from writing and tutoring people, both big and small.

Being self-employed is straightforward. If you earn less than £5000 p/a, you can apply to be exempt from National Insurance contributions. You can still get help with Housing Benefit and Council Tax by giving your income details, and also get Working Tax Credits. You can do your own accounts, unless you become very successful and require the help of an accountant, particularly if you become so successful that you need to delegate and employ other people.

You deduct your outgoings the same as running any other business. It’s amazing what it costs to work for yourself. Last time I was self-employed, as nightclub security. I kept having to deduct figures from my income to replace my watches. Comes from buying cheap ones to start with, but every time one gets smashed, full of blood, or disappears, they need to be replaced – and away from that job, I never wore one. So it was a uniform expense.

So anyway, I really am starting from scratch financially. But there’s a lot of freedom in that which I’ve gained. Freedom to work, freedom to study, freedom to teach, and freedom to parent with responsibility.

Countdown to going solo…

Lisa Scullard on Amazon

Just so you know it's me. 🙂

Hello! Long time no see! Well, actually, it probably isn’t that long, especially if you’ve just popped in from Twitter or Blogspot to find out what’s new with this particular renegade mercenary writer now.

Well, having been tutoring the use of WordPress to a fellow writer, I’ve realised how much fun it is, and rather than besmirch my other blogs with being myself on them, decided to set up one of my own and blather on about whatever takes my fancy, whether it has anything to do with writing or not.

If you haven’t guessed so far, I’m Lisa Scullard. Gosh, that sounds weird. Just Lisa Scullard on its own. Not Lisa Scullard the NHS Health Care Support Worker, or Lisa Scullard the patient announcing arrival for a hospital appointment, or Lisa Scullard the door supervisor taking your details for a First Aid nightclub incident report. Not even Lisa Scullard the author, desperate to sell some books so she can justify writing some more, LOL! 🙂

It’s been a long time even since I had to say, Lisa Scullard the parent. Not in an official capacity. Since my holiday-romance baby, now nearly a teenager, has been registered as schooling at home, there’s a refreshing lack of red tape around the whole issue of parenting. Still a small amount, but it doesn’t revolve around school spam mail, charity begging letters, uniforms, shoes, P.E. kit, lunchboxes, clock-watching, sports day blackmail, ransom demands in the form of requests for official sick notes, pointless phone calls in which teachers apparently never SEE bullying occur, and reminders that ‘your child is a representative of the school’ even when they’re walking home in their own time, with their shirt untucked, kicking a football. Well, it doesn’t seem fair that way around. What about the school being representative of the child? Such as sticking up for their rights, to learn in a classroom where they’re not being excluded and bullied?

Anyway – not our problem anymore. But I have to say, it’s not something to be taken lightly. I’ve found through various jobs and hours and shiftwork over the last eight years, that it doesn’t really work out for me being a single parent trying to work and fit in home education – unless you’re earning enough to pay for private tuition – especially when there’s the added consideration of ongoing counselling, and special needs assessment for Asperger’s Syndrome also in the pipeline.

What I’ve found works best in this scenario is working from home. Writing – ideal, especially when your own child then reviews your books on their blog. 🙂

I always thought I was being a role model for my child by going out to work, without realising how much we were missing out on and she resisted it. But when she said she wanted to read my book I’d written and published in my spare time, and told me how great it was, and that if she goes back to school she’ll be able to say I’m an author and show other children my books – I realised that the thing she was most impressed by was that I had a creative hobby. Not that I went out and saved lives, or broke up fights between drunk people, or worked in a hospital tucking old people into bed. She was impressed by something I did right at home, watching the TV, with my cold cup of tea, and a pile of laundry on the chair next to me, where she could get one of her five-hugs-a-day on demand.

So I’ve given in my notice, guessing that there’s more to life than what I thought were good standard examples of ‘lifestyle’ or ‘work’ – whatever they are. I’ll just have to call it self-employed, and wing it. 🙂

I took her to see Shakespeare performed outdoors last weekend, without a clue whether she’d enjoy it or not – and she’s already asked to go to another one. And I got to be there with her while she laughed, and joked, and had such a great time. That’s something I definitely wouldn’t have missed.