Oct 31st

The Squeaker

By Edward Picot

A short song/video about the tribulations of a professional busybody - an inspector of doctors' surgeries, in fact. This will eventually appear as part of the third series of Dr Hairy videos (collectively entitled "Dr Hairy and the QCQ"), but hopefully it also works as a stand-alone. Loosely based on "The Seeker" by The Who, which is a particular favourite of mine. Made using InkScape, Blender, Kdenlive, Audacity and the Gimp.

Oct 31st

New nonfiction book

By Daedalus

Just thought I'd let everyone here know that I have another non-fiction book out. This one is a labour of love that I've been working on for nearly a decade, about the Royal Navy's Fairey Barracuda torpedo/dive bomber. It's an odd-looking aircraft with a reputation as a bit of a deathtrap, but as with all these things, the truth is more complicated.

Link to the publisher's website here - http://mmpbooks.biz/ksiazki/337

'The Fairey Barracuda was the first monoplane torpedo bomber operated by the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm. The Barracuda experienced a difficult birth and development during the Second World War, and this, added to a number of fatal crashes, led to a poor reputation which the aircraft would never truly shake. Despite this, the Barracuda proved highly successful in service, carrying out raids against the Tirpitz, and against Japanese forces in the East Indies that contributed greatly to the war effort. It also undertook a variety of less well known roles, and remained in Fleet Air Arm service into the 1950s. This new book by naval aviation historian Matthew Willis contains an extensive history and technical description of the Barracuda, drawing from a wide range of archive materials and accounts from the men who flew and operated the aircraft in service'

As with my previous books along these lines, it was a privilege to speak to the people who flew and worked on these aircraft. They had many fascinating stories to tell - the young pilot stuck at his unit when everyone else was off on leave, aerobatting his Barracuda like a Spitfire strictly against regulations; the gunner who survived a crash landing when the aircraft broke in two just behind his seat - he unbuckled his harness and stepped onto the tarmac like he was getting off the number 22 bus; the men who flew into a Norwegian fjord to bomb the most heavily armed battleship in the Western hemisphere, and those who went to face the Japanese Zeros and kamikazes, and indeed the men and women who criss-crossed the country delivering a tricky aircraft to frontline units, with no more training to fly it than a set of typed notes... the problem with time, being the way it is, is that some of these wonderful fellows aren't with us any more, and a few words in my book feels like a very thin memorial. Still, it's the best I can do. It's worth a word for the magnificent fellows who built two and a half thousand of these in a couple of years, and had to face verbal abuse by people in authority who should know better claiming that the aircraft was useless. The test pilots who had to race against time getting it ready to go to war. Anyway, here it is.

Oct 28th

Road rage from the stone age

By dyslexic of dartford

So there I was zipping along the M2 on my way home from work when approaching junction 5 I became aware of a small white van galloping up on the left hand side.

Now junction 5 is a nasty one. The slip road can't be seen from the main carriage way and there's traffic lights at the bottom. The result of this masterpiece of engineering being that convoy of assorted vehicles jumps out in front of you all at the same time. Best thing to do is get in the right hand lane until the potential demolition derby on your left sorts it's self out.

Today however the afore mentioned little white van is hurtling at my side in an attempt to pass me on the left (a naughty no no as we all know). I put my foot down and block their path by pulling level with a big van. The small white meteorite was forced to pull in behind me and in my rear view mirror I could see it's inhabitants.

A slightly less articulate version of the Slag Brothers from the Wacky Races who seemed to be trying to communicate with me. The van's driver seemed to be telling me that I loved myself with a series of hand gestures. While his companion having lifted his knuckles from the passenger foot-well, pointed at the left hand lane in a strange swinging motion.

In the end however they flew past me (on the left) shouting something incomprehensible in a language that I didn't understand. They managed to get a whole five car lengths in front of me (worth it I'm sure you'll all agree).

Anyway if anyone's doing any driving this weekend, stay safe out there people.  

Oct 27th

Spam Spam Spam Spam

By AlanP


Chatting with a whisp of cloud this morning I had cause to reflect on my spam condition. I seem to be getting rather a lot right now. A month or so ago one of my main email addresses was spoofed. Spoofing means it was copied and pasted onto junk mail sent to spam lists (like sticking a false address on the back of an envelope). My account wasn’t hacked; they would find that tricky. Anyway, I need that address for work purposes, so I kept it on. But I fired up the spam filter. Normally I don't like spam filters because email you want goes into them, but I was getting about 5,000 incoming messages a day bounced off email addresses that had been discontinued. I had to deal with it.


The spoof has died away. I hear that they use an address for about a month and then move on. But, since then I have had significantly increased quantities of genuine junk. It used to be one or two a week. Now it's up to 100 a day. I wonder if because my address was used by a spoofer its profile shot up the scale and is now on a lot more spam lists. Or is it just that it's on quite a few sites and contact lists for work reasons anyway. But that doesn’t explain why now. On reflection I think it's stage two of “have your life messed around by spam assholes”. First they use it, then they abuse it. My plan is to outlast them.


The variety of this nonsense is surprising and it’s all so obviously dodgy that only an idiot would fall for it. I have the same message from two different names there, I mean really!


Then co-incidentally, this article on the BBC rocks up




and I am left thinking there are more stupid people in the world than perhaps I had thought.


Oct 27th

Tales from the ward

By Barb
A quick snapshot:
This week I've been going to hospital as a day patient for eight hour long stints of infusions. I've been dealing with an autoimmune disease and the treatment I'm having is a bit full on but it has got some great results so far in its trials and now in general use. It's basically a pause button with some people also seeing a reversal in their condition.
Most interesting prize:
The ward that I'm on is for anyone that needs any type of infusion. Due to this I have got to hear about a wide range of conditions that people are dealing with. The prize for the most interesting case has to go to the guy who was bitten by an Eastern Brown Snake.
These are seriously pissed off reptiles. Maybe it's because they are the second most venomous snakes in the world - they've got a bit of a hang up about it. All I know is that if they wore trousers, they would be cranky pants. Attacking bush walkers and bike riders are among their favourite hobbies and they have been known to chase after people. And this is without any legs.
Woman morphs into leopard:
The infusions that I'm receiving are known for causing a serious rash. I thought I had got away with just a bit of a red flush but this morning I woke up in Spotsville. This will probably last for about two weeks.
The yellow diet:
As I will have a seriously depleted immune system I need to be careful of food poisoning. This means no deli meats, fresh fruit, vegetables or salads or lightly cooked foods. While this makes sandwich fillings tricky, the hospital kitchen was up for the challenge. I have a feeling they may colour-code by condition.
I've also discovered that I can have potato chips - although they have a suspicious yellow hue as well.
More info:
This treatment has a few names - Campath, MabCampath, Alemtuzumab - and is now used for all sorts of conditions. Let me know if you'd like some links.
Oct 26th

Diary of a supply teacher.

By Gerilyn

In September I set off on my journey as a teacher. A newly qualified one. An NQT. Which obviously stands for 'Not Quite There'.

I'm not a young twenty something like most NQT's. I don't think I'm over the hill either. Just kind of basking about on top of it admiring the view. Anyway, that's not really important. I had a career in the construction industry and then for reasons I can't be bothered explaining because they aren't relevant, I changed track and went into teaching. It's not a massive change really. I had a degree in architecture and designed buildings and now I have a degree in fine art and I design everything from puppets to pots. My old job involved climbing scaffolding and my new one involves climbing the walls.

I'm actually a qualified art and design technology teacher but as I couldn't get a permanent job teaching  art I registered as a supply teacher. I teach in a different school from one day to the next and quite often don't know what subject I will be teaching until I arrive at the classroom and I never know how many students I will be teaching until they begin filing in. Each time I pray to the patron saint of supply teachers that the students will be a top set high ability group. That there will be a maximum of 15 students. They will all be polite and they will all be shorter than me. 

But then if that were the case, then why would their usual teacher have phoned in sick that morning due to stress?

Since September I have taught in five different schools and have covered eight different lessons. I've covered a lot of maths lessons. I'd say say 6 out of 10 subjects I teach are maths with every other subject making the remaining classes. Did I mention that I am an art teacher? So that suggests that a) maths teachers phone in sick a lot more than any other subjects and b) schools are so desperate to find cover for maths that they employ art teachers. 

Last week I was in a particularly rough school. Not THE rough school but probably the       Runner up for the title. (I have worked in THE roughest school in my area but I'll save that story for another time). I arrived at school reception at 8:15am and had my timetable stuffed into my hand. The subject I was 'teaching' was Maths.

I eventually located the room and found that the Teaching assistant had kindly logged me into the computer system. I love TA's. They are the absolute backbones of the classroom. I just had to call the register. The class numbered 26 students. 

'That's ok, I can deal with 26 kids.' 

I usually have about 60 seconds to dump my bag at the desk, cast a glance across the room to locate, openable windows, possible escape routes, the location of the white board, marker pens, school books, throwable missiles and hopefully the cover work set by the school. Then I greet the snarling hordes at the door, set my teacher face, and invite them in.

They were Year 10's (14 year olds). Towered over me. 

I can pretty much tell from first sight if a class is brainy or not. I don't want to upset any parents reading this who know that their offspring will never win awards for academic achievement, I'm not talking about kids who just aren't bright, I'm talking about kids who are the product of generations of a limited gene pool. (During my teacher training year, I was on placement with a a proper Geordie lass. An absolute scream. At our first breaktime on our first day, Caroline turned to me and said "My god, ha ya seen them kids?! Like, are their parents brother and sister or what?!") I'm sure you get the idea.

This class was not brainy. They reminded me of the scene in The Lion King when Mufasa is trampled by a stampede of Wildebeest. They tumbled in over chairs and tables, shouting and jostling for space, Waving their drinks bottles around like they were samurai swords. (Why do schools provide vending machines for students to buy bottles of juice?? It's just something else that can be used as a weapon.)

Before I can get them quiet enough to listen out for their name in the register and so I can explain what work they had to do, ('Was there any work left? Please let there be some activity sheets to work from, that are neither too hard for their delicate brains nor too easy so as to warrant immediate transformation into a paper aeroplane.') I have to address the deluge of questions:

"Where's Mr Insertnameofpoorlysickoverlyworkedmathsteacherhere?"

"Who are you?"

"Are you our new teacher?"

"Do you work at this school?"

"Miss can you dab?" (I get asked this in every lesson.)

"Can I go to the toilet?".

Once I get them quiet, and this technique changes from school to school depending on how good the school's behaviour policy is (in this school you raise your arm and the kids fall silent. It's weird. I feel like professor Dumbledore brandishing a magic staff every time) I can then call the register and hand out the work sheets.  (I found them! Thank fudge for that.) 

Breath and .... 'oh shit', I forgot to move the trays of equipment from the centre of each table and am sure there were... Yep. My heart sinks at the flash sailing through the air like a heat seeking missile toward the poor guy with the mono brow and squint hunched by the door. Lucking he ducks and the pair of compasses clatter to the floor behind his chair. I spin around and now have to correctly determine which sniggering carnivore launched them. 

And so the day is under way. Only another 5 hours and 55 minutes to go until home time.

Oct 25th

'The first plot point. Have I got this right?

By mike

 I read Phillipa’s blog and am in two minds about the ‘first plot point”

     A brief recap!  A week or so ago, I typed out a novel written by a grandfather about mad monks and their TV apparatus.   I now have an editable text.

      As far as I can see, the narrative concerns the relationship between a writer and his conscience. 

      The novel is a classic of gothic romance.  One of the ‘tropes’’of these novels  is a visitor from the unknown,  True to the genre, the novel includes  such a guest.  He is the conscience.

      There are two versions of the novel and, in both, this conscience does not appear until the second chapter.  The appearance must be the ‘first plot point‘   There are five subsequent ‘plot points’  when the writer makes increasingly desperate attempts to remove his conscience.

    If you read the first chapter, you are given the impression that the book concerns a different issue - the Second Coming’ The book is divided into chapters and sections.  The first section is called ‘The coming’  But this refers to the coming of the guest and not ‘the Second Coming”   The writer conceives of writing the Second Coming’ with himself as the hero.  And this is the problem with the conscience.  The story may well be blasphemous.

       In the revised version the impression is given that the book is about the mad monks and their thought screen -  as well as the Second Coming,  But the Second Coming is the b plot?   It is also boring and needs  a  lot of attention;  In the earlier version  this is better handled.

   So the first chapter gives a totally wrong impression of the nature of the book due to the positioning of ‘The first plot point;’

    This book had a bizarre publishing history and a short forward ends with    “An interested publisher has now issued the book  to the extent of a bound up first edition.  And the author awaits, with interest the next calamity to befall this ill-starred book.”

     At the moment, this is where I come in.

     I am not changing anything in either book.  It has been put forward - to me - that constructing a book is rather like building a house.  All I am doing is  taking the building apart - brick by brick - and rebuilding it in a slightly different way. And polishing up the bricks as I go along.  I do not know what publishers and literary agents do?  Presumably, I am doing their job, while they polish their fingernails, whatever -  attending bookfairs and suchlike.


Oct 24th

Celebrity Economics

By AlanP

Stephen Terry wrote a blog a few weeks ago that suggested that a particular writer was in effect getting away with publishing any old crap. I agreed with much of what he said and also I though that the comments were pretty much on the ball – overall the message was in effect “He (the example ST has chosen) has celebrity, what can we expect”.

In September Emma Darwin blogged, on here and in her own blog, on the economics of making a living as a writer – her message in effect is “prepare for disappointment – financially at least”

This weekend I accidentally came across a declaration of member’s interests article. MPs have to declare their extra earnings outside of their full time jobs. Nadine Dorries is reported to be receiving £13,000 a month in regular payments from her publishers. With “other advances” and royalty payments chipping in another £210,000 Ms Dorries reportedly trousered something like £340,000 last year, from writing alone.

What I would now like to do is try to normalise those numbers.

A quick check on her web site reveals that she has eight fictional books out there. I should imagine she pulls in a few quid from twitter and an occasional column and she wrote a bit about her time in the Jungle for “….Get Me Out of Here”. Let’s be generous and say that 80% of her writing income is from her books. She is not claiming any of it is appearance money.

She writes “Misery Lit”, nostalgia for 1950’s Liverpool, strong women rising above adversity and such. I don’t criticise the genre, it’s not to my taste personally. But it’s a popular and therefore crowded marketplace and she is not first in. Christopher Howse, apparently, described “The Four Streets” as the worst novel he had read in ten years, but let’s keep it in there for simplicity and use a simple average. I have googled around a bit and professional positive reviews are hard to find. In a part of the business where positive reviews are usually to be had for an ice lolly and 30 seconds under a kiss me quick hat even my cynical self was surprised at that. I invested a small amount yesterday, downloaded one of her books, stuck at it for an hour and deleted it, I just couldn’t take it. On that scientific survey I conclude that Ms Dorries' work is in the mush with the many others of her genre

A bit of baselining. As I understand it an author can usually expect at best 10% of profit. That “of profit” matters, it means royalties kick in after costs and advances have been amortised.

Let’s do this two ways. Let’s assume that the advances for her two “Call the Midwife” derivatives published in 2016 account for the lion’s share of the lump sum in her present income. Say £200,000. £100,00 each is actually not an unheard of advance for a celebrity novel. But it means that, with a publishers profit margin of let’s say 50%, and a cover price of £8 average, they expect to sell 25,000 copies minimum of each. After which they have to pay out royalties.

25,000 is a lot, although I note there is an airport edition, which I assume uses thick paper and is a larger physical size to get noticed at speed – but I might have that wrong.

So, that’s 50,000 sales on two to pay out the advance.

Then we have the remaining six. Let’s say that they are selling evenly and cover the £13,000 a month, but let’s reduce that to 80% for other writing income (as I suggested above) to £10,500. As above I believe an author can usually expect 10% of profit as a good deal. But let’s say Ms Dorries drives a hard bargain after being toughened up in the jungle and let’s say she gets 20%. The start up costs are written off by now, so let’s adjust the profit margin to a rolling 75% of cover price.

The cover price of her last six books is about £7 a pop (average). With those numbers Ms Dorries gets £1.05 a sale. That means her 6 established books have to sell 9,900 copies a month in total to cover the declared income. That’s 120,000 a year or 20,000 of each example.

If she is truly earning out those figures then wow; on the other hand if celebs get subsidised at a loss to that extent then perhaps we’re all buggered. It could be a mix of the two or I could have dropped a decimal point somewhere. But unless my sums are way out then those are the numbers for celebrity authors based on this MP's declared income - which must be correct. And there I’ll stop.

Oct 24th


By Tony

In Philippa's Up and Downs blog she gave us a link to Jennifer Blanchard's article on Four Signs your Novel isn't Working, which contains some useful pointers (thanks, Phillipa.)

Jennifer makes one point, however, that I would take issue with regarding censoring your own writing - "for fear of what people may think of you", is a paraphrase of why, she says, we might do this. But she says: "Censoring your story is a major no-no. The real story has to come out—no matter how crude, offensive, disgusting or downright dirty it may be. Otherwise it will never work."

Now this sounds very writerly and sensible. We must tell it as it is (Sorry! Show it as it is. Oops.) We must be real. The story is everything. What others will think of us cannot be allowed to get in the way of realism.

However, for some of us - and we may be in the minority, I don't know - crude, offensive, disgusting or downright dirty is not our thing. We dislike it when we read it, maybe skimming through or skipping the worst bits, and we certainly have no wish to write it ourselves. I wouldn't call it censoring, myself, but rather writing in my own style which doesn't happen to include crude, offensive, disgusting or downright dirty.

But I understand what Jennifer is getting at. If we decide to write something which seems to demands such baseness, how can we avoid it and still "make the story work"? Without taking extreme examples, we can still find much swearing, profanity and crudity in everyday thrillers and romances and for many readers that's fine, even, perhaps, desirable. And so for many writers, who have no problem with this, it is also fine.

But what of us poor sensitive souls who would prefer not to put foul language into the mouths of our protagonists? Who would prefer not - indeed, would simply never allow blasphemy to appear on our pages? Or wallow in crudity? Our we codemned as self-censorists whose story can never work? I say, absolutely not!

The story works through the skill of the writing and it's up to us to convey the true sense of what people are feeling. If someone accidentally bangs their thumb with a hammer they may well utter a blasphemous expletive, but if this is salient to the story we can show it without spelling it out.

"The sound of the approaching train distracted the Rev. Thomas and the hammer head crashed down on his thumb. His face contorted and his mouth gaped, but his blushes were mercifully spared as the sound of his involuntary invokation of his Lord was quite lost against the noise of the rushing carriages."

I speak with all the vast experience of having published one novel (though I have written three) but, although my novel is a thriller with some real baddies, it contains no profanity. I think the strongest word I used was "bastard". Some of my rougher, periphoral characters are foul-mouthed fellows: they just don't happen to swear in the scenes in which they are depicted in my novel and readers seem to have accepted that. I have had lots of 4 and 5 star reviews because the story does work. Just as a little description here and there allows the reader to imagine the scene, so showing a character by his actions allows the reader to infer the type of person he is without haveing to listen to a sting of invective from him to prove it.

By the way, if anyone who has read Dillon's Rising noticed the lack of swearing and felt it detracted from the story in any way, do please say - I'm not really that sensitive :-) 

I'm hopeless at bringing to mind specific books and authors as examples but I know some best-selling writers choose not to use foul language or blasphemy, or very, very little. It's not compulsary.

But what do others think? Do you agree with Jennifer Blanchard that a censored story will not work? Or should our writing skills be able to supersede such restrictions?


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