Category Archives: Personal thoughts

Why I’ll never be a prolific writer

I still haven’t finished my collection of short stories.

Too many things seem to get in the way of my writing.

We’ve just returned from a trip of over two weeks, visiting children and old friends in various locations across the UK. A lot of driving, but very enjoyable, and for the most part, exceptional weather for the time of year. Only downside was no writing done.

At home the garden is a never ending distraction, particularly when it is left unattended for 17 days. I normally restrict this activity to after lunch. This year I’m doing some landscaping, so I’ll need to find extra time to spend outside.

This year also, a couple of rooms need redecorating. Painting doesn’t take a long time, but the moving everything before, and putting back afterwards will probably take even longer.

My involvement with the local dog club continues to takes up a significant amount of my time. I’m the chairman, and I run the dog agility section. In addition, I produce all the posters, the newsletter and do a lot of the club’s typing, as well as helping with the club’s accounting. I run the club blog and update it as infrequently as I do my own!

I’ve been doing my family history for many years now (since I was 15), and every so often I have a surge of enthusiasm in this direction. More and more information is becoming available on the internet, so the job will never be finished. A friend recently gave me some notes someone had given him on his family history and asked if I could corroborate the information and maybe find anything else out for him. I rose to the challenge, forgetting I was trying to get my short stories completed. I handed a 20 page document to him this week with far more information than he already had. Anyway, now that’s out of the way I have returned to the short stories. Still just the one to complete, but at least I’m working on it now.

The cover design is almost complete. We just have to wait for the final story to be incorporated so we know the width of the spine.

Then I need to work out how to get the book up to Kindle as a paperback. With my previous two books, I have created the paperback version first on CreateSpace and then uploaded a version to KDP to create the Kindle version. As KDP have taken over the function of CreateSpace, I’ll need to take some time over the set up of the paperback this time, to make sure I get it right.

And then, when that’s all out of the way, I’ll get cracking on the final instalment of the Supremacy trilogy. At least I have a good idea where the storyline is going. All I need is to be able to devote large chunks of time to it.

For the Love of Sci-Fi, and other things

A couple of days ago I went over to Manchester to the ‘For the Love of Sci-Fi’ convention. Three of us left Bangor at 7.15am on Sunday morning, arriving nearly two hours later in the queue to get in. Fortunately it was quite fast moving. There were horror stories of overcrowding the previous day, but we were lucky; Sunday wasn’t sold out.

I’ve never been to one of these before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I have to admit, one of the main reasons for going was to see William Shatner’s talk in the afternoon. Gareth spent most of his morning queueing, first to get Dolph Lundgren’s autograph and then his photo, while me and Kevin wandered round the various stalls becoming a bit bored with it all. We went to see Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars) on the live stage and sat a long time before someone came out and said he was having trouble with his voice and wouldn’t be appearing. Disappointing. So we killed some time going round the trade stalls before watching the Piccadilly Symphony Orchestra rattling off some sci-fi tunes.

Who you looking at?

After finding Gareth, complete with photo, we went for some lunch and spent forever in a queue waiting to be served. We were annoyed to discover we could have been watching David Hasselhoff. Not that any of us are big fans; he just seems a very interesting character; a larger than life character. Instead we got cold queueing, then our food got cold as we tried to eat quickly before going back inside. Cold nachos with chilli isn’t as nice as when it’s hot.

Another thing I wanted to see were some Daleks which were supposed to be there, but they weren’t. We searched the hall for them but no Daleks. I wanted a photograph of myself with them. Oh well. We decided to go into the Live stage area and grab seats ready for William Shatner. We couldn’t get as close to the front as we would like to because it was already filling up. A magic show was in progress which was quite entertaining. Then Billy Dee Williams (Lando in Star Wars) came on stage for a Q&A session. He seemed very slow, and perhaps not as with it as he should have been (he is 80 after all). He seemed to suffer from memory problems and needed the occasional reminder and prompt. Shame really.

When I grow up I want to be a dalek!

What we couldn’t understand was why some people got up to leave after his session, with William Shatner due on stage five minutes later. The hall really filled up for him and I don’t think anyone was disappointed. For an 86 year old he was still quite sharp. There was the occasional slip, such as referring to Stephen Hawking as Peter Hawking once, though he didn’t repeat the error when naming him again. He also mixed up a few astronomical terms but the gist of his talk was clear and interesting. Then he did a Q&A session. He was very comfortable talking about himself (which we thought the Hoff would be as well). The time flew by. If he didn’t point out he’d overrun, the session could have gone on for hours. He was a very good talker and seeing him more than justified the cost of the ticket. I really enjoyed it.

Would I go to another one? That depends. In the morning me and Kev agreed it was probably a once in a lifetime event and this was that occasion. After seeing William Shatner I think I’ll reserve judgement and see what guests are lined up.

Plus points: William Shatner

Negative points: no Daleks (which were advertised) and no Ian McDiarmid

As you can tell, I’m a Star trek fan (more so than Star Wars, though judging by the costumes people were wearing it would seem more people were fans of Star Wars). Someone asked William Shatner what he thought of the new Star Trek (Discovery), and he said he hadn’t watched it. I have to agree with some of the criticisms of it from the audience – shallow characters and disjointed episodes. I’m hoping for better things when the series resumes in January now the Discovery (and all its advanced technology) has been shuffled off to wherever its gone (parallel universe perhaps). I found it hard to reconcile the fact that it was supposed to be set ten years before Captain Kirk went boldly where no-one (including, presumably, the Discovery) had gone before. He would have loved the technology of the Discovery on board the Enterprise. Can’t wait for it to resume.

With regard to my writing, I’m working on the comments I’ve received back from it being read. Several chapters have been rewritten, but, of course, this all has a knock on effect on the rest of the story. I’m less than a hundred pages from the end now. Releasing it this year won’t happen now. Hopefully it wont be too late into the new year. I’m still waiting for the cover design to come back, so I couldn’t have gone live with it yet anyway.

One of four draft copies printed for readers to comment on (temporary cover)

The short stories haven’t progressed. I’ll finish the two remaining stories once I’ve finished Times of the Changes.

Finding time to write is a problem. You would think, having retired, I’d have lots of time. It’s true what they say – I don’t know how I ever found the time to work. I think the problem is you fill your life with lots of other stuff – writing is just one of those things. Another is the local dog training club. I somehow seem to have not only become a member of the club, but get elected to the committee, and then become the Chairman. I’ve also taken on most of the computer based functions (apart from the Facebook side of it, which my wife handles), and I organise the Agility sessions as well – Nantlle Vale Dog Training Club, if anyone is interested (I’m as bad at putting entries on their blog as I am on my own! OK, perhaps not quite as bad.)

Instead of writing this, I could have been editing. Doh!

Happy New Year

Good riddance to 2016. Hoping 2017 will be better.

Editing of Times of the Changes ground to a halt over the Christmas period but should be back on track from tomorrow. I’m working to a tentative target of having it pretty much finished by Easter, and available within the first half of the year.

No further progress on the short stories. I did want to put the collection out at about the same time as the novel, but it’s going to have to come out later. Think the novel is late enough, after all the interruptions last year.

Happy new year to everyone reading this and hope it brings what you want.

Here’s a lesson for you all

Having finished the draft of the first part of the novel last week, I’ve started from the beginning again, doing a readability and sense check. On Sunday night, having completed chapter 4, I saved my work and closed up my laptop, pretty much as normal.

Yesterday morning when I opened my lap top, instead of resuming Windows as it normally does, it informed me the previous run hadn’t been shut down normally. I selected the normal start option. This happens occasionally.

I think you know what’s coming here.

Usually, Open Office flags up documents which were open, and goes into recovery mode, On this occasion it didn’t. So I went into the folder and clicked on the document. It presented me with a panel headed ‘ASCII Filter Options’. Strange. I’d never seen this before. It contained a number of options which seemed to suggest it was importing from an ASCII file, rather than opening an Open Office file. Whatever option I selected, by the time it opened the document, all that could be seen were #’s. 204K of them! (It also thought the document was locked by an unknown user, so I could either open it in read-only mode or as a copy. The copy didn’t work, so I had to select it as read-only)

I spent yesterday trying to get out of this problem, before reluctantly having to say goodbye to my document. I even tried software which searches the disk for deleted copies in the hope it might find a version deleted by the word processor when it saved a newer version.

No joy.

From googling the problem, it seems the file is corrupt and the only way out is to resort to a backup.

Guess what. I had no recent backup.

With everything that’s been going on this year I’ve not been very good at doing the house keeping. The most recent copy I could find was on an external disk, written in early May. Ironically, I had been thinking it was time to do a backup on Sunday afternoon. I wish I’d followed up on the thought at the time, but somehow the editing seemed more important.

Fortunately, on this occasion, it’s not as bad as it seems. I have been extracting a chapter at a time into a separate document, editing it and then pasting it back in to the main document. So with a bit of work I can get back to where I was at the start of last week. I know I did a few tweaks to the text after putting some chapters back, so I’ll have to look out for them when I go through it all again. The only stumbling block here is that as I did the editing I created multiple copies of each chapter document, so I need to figure out which versions to incorporate.

By doing this I should be able to come up with a fairly recent copy. When I started the readability checks, I did so against the main document, so all the changes I made – and there were a lot of them – have been lost. On Sunday night I had just completed chapter 4, so at least I don’t have too much to do, but a couple of the chapters are quite long.

I’ve rebuilt the first four chapters of the book now, and while the changes (might) be fresh in my head, I intend to do the readability check now before rebuilding any more of the document. This unfortunately spoils the continuity of the editing process. I don’t think I’m going to end up with the changes I was happy with before, so I have this sneaking suspicion I will feel less than happy about chapters one to four, no matter what I do to them from here on.

So, the lesson to you all, is never put off doing a backup because you think the more interesting stuff is more important.

What is really ironic is that when I was working as a Database Administrator, I was so diligent about backup and recovery routines. Losing someone’s financial or planning data wasn’t something I ever wanted to experience. Yes we sometimes ‘lost’ data, for instance with disk failures, but we were always able to recover it from backups. Funny how other people’s data seems more important than your own.

I’ve learned a lesson here the hard way and intend to change my method of working. As a temporary measure, I will backup to a memory stick before closing the lid, to cover me between backups to external disk.

Take backups seriously.

Writing Again

After everything that has happened this year, I’m pretty confident about saying I’ll miss the two targets I set for myself during 2016. Both the second volume of the Supremacy Trilogy and the short story collection are unlikely to be out this year. The good news, however, is that I’m getting back into the swing of writing.

I’m editing the first part of Times of the Changes, the follow-up to Betrayal, although I’ve still got to write a few connecting chapters near the end, to tie it all together.

At the same time, I’m working on the short story collection. Five stories included so far. I want at least 8 stories, so 3 more to go. I was editing an old time travel story, but after a lot of thought, I’ve decided to put that one hold for a while, and am now writing a new one for inclusion.

Outside writing, my mum’s injury appears to be responding to treatment. The nurse who changes the dressing twice a week seems happy with the progress. I’m also back at the agility, wearing an ankle support, and running round the field trying to control the dog over/through all the obstacles. I’m still taking care, however. Don’t want to reverse my recovery. We’ve also had two long weekends away during September which meant no writing: one at my son’s place in Derbyshire close to the Peak District, the other at my uncle’s in the Yorkshire Dales. My relatives live in some nice places! Visiting them is the kind of distraction I don’t mind having.

More Woes

In my last post I mentioned my mother-in-law had gone into hospital again. Sadly, this time, she didn’t come out, taking the same downward spiral as my dad. We returned home last Saturday after the funeral in the village of Bulkington in Warwickshire.

I thought I was in a position to start getting back into writing again without too many more distractions, but yesterday we went over to see my mum on Anglesey (about an hour to get there) to find she is suffering from a nasty gash in her leg, picked up from my sister’s car door. It’s not healing very well. On Sunday she was given antibiotics, and yesterday seemed to suffer an allergic reaction to them. My sister took her to the doctor this afternoon, but as she can’t make the follow-up appointments tomorrow and Friday, I’m going to take her.

On a happier note, we’re going over to my son’s place in Derbyshire on Saturday for a few days, which will hopefully involve a trip to watch some cricket on Monday (weather permitting).

So perhaps I’ll start writing again properly next week, and just try and fit as much in as I can around everything else that’s happening this week.

2016 – not a good year so far

2016 hasn’t been a good year for writing. As if I hadn’t had enough interruptions to my writing schedules already this year, I am now nearly two weeks into recovery from a sprained ankle (done when I fell doing agility with the dog). Yesterday was the first day I’ve managed without a walking stick, so I’m on the mend, though it is still a bit sore and reminds me of its presence every time I forget it and overdo things a little.

You might think that all that extra time confined to a chair might provide the ideal opportunity to do more writing than normal. Wrong. My wife has been away for two weeks, first at her daughter’s who is struggling with her second pregnancy, and then visiting her mother who has gone into hospital again (this visit being somewhat open ended). I was forced to ignore medical advice. So many things needed to be done. The dog needs exercise (she’s a collie), so I was going out in the garden every few hours to throw a ball for her, in lieu of taking her for walks. The chickens need cleaning out and eggs collecting. Things had to be done in the garden – broad beans, peas, blackcurrants, gooseberries and red currants all had to be picked, or we’d lose them. Greenhouse needs watering everyday, and sometimes twice a day. And of course if I want feeding I have to do it myself.

Overall I have had more time sitting down than I would normally get. But keeping my ankle elevated has made writing difficult. It’s not a comfortable position in which to use a laptop. It has been getting easier as the ankle recovers.

Now, to compound the problems, I had a back tooth taken out today. Afterwards, I checked up on the internet about after-care. Seems there’s so much I shouldn’t be doing. On the first day I should be resting (yeah – with a lively young collie!!). So now I have discomfort at both ends of my body. Hardly conducive to concentrating. I need to get the next couple of days out the way so I know the gum is going to heal properly. It’s quite frightening to read what can go wrong and how painful it can be. Yes, I’ve spent too much time researching teeth rather than writing, just like I did with ankle research two weeks ago. Sometimes the internet can be such a distraction.

I think I need to revise my target dates. The way things are going, it’s possible that both books, the follow up to Betrayal and the short story collection, may not make it out this year after all. It’s all so disappointing to have set targets only to see them continually being moved further back by events beyond my control.

Conspiracy to stop me writing

May and June haven’t been good writing months. My return to writing was brief. I already knew May would be bad because of taking a week off for my wife’s 60th birthday celebrations with her family in Derbyshire, and then a ten day break (spilling over into June) in Malta for my son’s wedding, as detailed in the previous post.

My mum had come out of hospital after a six week stay during which I did little writing, before our first break, While we were away in Derbyshire, my mother in law became ill and was taken into Derby Hospital, and then, back in Wales, my dad became ill and was taken into Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor.

The first time we went to see my dad after we got home, I knew it was bad. From that evening we maintained a bedside vigil for the next few days, until he died. We then had the business of organizing a funeral and sorting out as much of his affairs as we could before going to Malta. We planned and ‘performed’ the funeral ourselves – an informal burial only. I said a few words about him (well quite a lot really), and then invited others to chip in before we lowered the coffin into the ground. I was pleased several others were moved to say a few words as well. The ‘DIY’ format we chose for the occasion seemed to be appreciated by everyone there, with some even commenting they would like something similar when they go.

While we were planning the burial, my mother in law, who had come out of Derby Hospital the day before we came home from Derbyshire, got taken into Solihull hospital, giving us more to worry about. She came out of hospital the day before we travelled to Malta, but still gives us cause for concern.

The dog training club we belong to has taken up a lot of our time recently as well. This is its 30th anniversary year, and we became involved in setting up and running a fun day, which was well supported (making the effort worthwhile).

Last weekend we had my wife’s granddaughter and son-in-law to stay. Again, no chance to write.

So with one thing and another, writing has been shelved for a long time. Although I’m still trying to deal with various issues concerning my dad’s estate, and trying to tame the now overgrown garden (it got neglected as well), I’m now in a position to resume the writing. I’ve begun editing chapter 2 of the follow-up to Betrayal to make it sit better with the revised start. I’m not sure what to do about the short story I’m working on at the moment. I’ve chopped and changed it so much, I think it needs a lot of work to put right. I might even abandon that one for now. I’ll spend a bit more time thinking about this one.

Also, I have to admit I’ve been distracted by Facebook coverage of the referendum here in the UK over our relationship with the European Union. It became compulsive ‘viewing’ in the run up to the vote, and indeed, in its immediate aftermath.

On the positive side, the holiday in Malta gave me a few ideas for stories which might one-day appear in print. And my son’s wedding was a memorable day, in the ornate setting of the Palazzo Parisio, in Naxxar.

Writing again

Why do things conspire to stop me writing?

I’ve begun to get back into the writing, but things are still intruding on my writing time. I’m pleased to say my mum is out of hospital as of yesterday, after a six week stay. I’ve also been doing a lot of work for the dog training club I belong to, ready for the AGM, which was two nights ago. I’m now on the committee, so more work no doubt. The garden is in danger of getting out of hand and the seedlings won’t wait to go in for much longer before they get past it.

I won’t get much opportunity to write over the next few weeks. We’re on a week break with my wife’s family, in Derbyshire, as part of her 60th birthday celebrations. Then we’re back for about a week and a half before we fly out to Malta for a ten day holiday, during which my son will be getting married over there.

Everything seems against me at the moment. But I have managed to replace the first four chapters of the follow up book to Betrayal, by a single chapter. I’ll run it by my wife  – she wasn’t happy with the previously long introduction. I’ve reduced the word count from around 101k to 89k. It’s still too long considering I’ve yet to write some bits of the ending. My next task is to tackle chapter 2, which I think is too long, so I’ll cull that and then see how it looks.

 

Writing Progress and Wordcounts

It took a long time to edit the third short story, and I don’t think it’s complete yet. After rewriting substantial parts of it, I think I’ll leave it to rest for a while and come back to it later. So I’ve moved onto the fourth short story. This one, I wrote three years ago, and it describes the fortunes of a ‘changeling’ in a grim off-world prison when his ‘talents’ are called into service for the use of others.

My first novel, Betrayal, started out life as a short story, or rather a novella, and grew from there as I explored the various possibilities. I’m well into the second book of what is now going to be a trilogy. I see, in this fourth short story, the potential for it to also be grown into a novel, allowing me to develop the characters more, and expand the plot. But I shall resist. Maybe one day I’ll come back to it, if I run out of other ideas.

I think I said my revised date for the completion of the short story collection was Easter. I didn’t realise Easter was early this year. I could have done with it being a late one! I think I will miss that ‘deadline’ as well. I won’t schedule a revised date. I’ll just work at it, as and when. My plan was to reserve my evening writing for the short stories, but the second novel in the trilogy, Times of the Changes, keeps encroaching into it.

Talking of the second volume. I passed 100,000 words recently. This is too long in my opinion. I’m a slow reader, and I’m put off by over-long books. They’re too easy for me to give up on. I tend to shy away from books that approach, or exceed, 400 pages. Betrayal was around 90,000 words which, with the formatting I used, came out at 350 pages. Quite long enough. I don’t want to put off any potential new readers with something too daunting, especially from an unknown author. Another consideration is the cost of production of a paper copy. The higher the page count, the higher the production costs, pushing up the price of the paperback.

As a first stab at reducing the word count, I’ve decided I’m going to go back and rewrite the first six chapters (about 20,000) words to shorten what is basically an introduction to the main story to make it less meandering and more relevant, but I’ll need to cull a lot more when I finish writing.

I had set a target date of the middle of the year to have the book ready but I’ll probably miss that deadline as well. Hopefully it will still be this year.