A fresh lick of paint for the site. I am inordinately proud of myself, as I had to edit the footer in CSS. A career in web design awaits.

Living the Dream – 30. Harvest

My mum always jokes that if you throw a rotten tomato into the garden in Cyprus, months later, you would have a tomato plant. The soil here is incredibly fertile. Fruit and vegetables grow in abundance and taste divine.

Winter is citrus season and we are fortunate to have some trees in the garden.

The harvest is grapefruit, clementine, mandarin, orange, lime and pomelo.

I was looking forward to a little fruit. A little fruit? I’m fond of understatement, but holy moly…what a harvest!

Mandarin Harvest
Masses of fruit

So much fruit, I’ve never seen. There is something very special about walking down the garden in the morning and picking breakfast from the tree.

The huge yellow things in the title picture are Pomelos. I now know,(thank you, Google), that the Pomelo pre-dates the Grapefruit, which is a hybrid of it and the orange. It’s a curious fruit. The bright yellow skin promises a super-grapefruit. Cut open, the fruit presents as a pale grapefruit wrapped in papier-mâché and a yellow leather jacket. The size comes from the protection that the fruit wears.

The papier-mâché, more properly called pith, is tough and as well as encasing the fruit, it acts as a skeleton. The flesh, which is the fruit, is lovely and sweet.

That said, its best not to be too hungry when choosing a pomelo for breakfast. Getting to that sweet flesh is hard work and the rewards seems scant in proportion to the effort.

Marmalade

However, it is alleged that one can make marmalade from pomelo, so even as I type, Mrs L is doing battle with pomelos.

Meanwhile, I’m having a grapefruit every morning and as many mandarins and clementines as I can. Visit the house in winter and you get force-fed citrus fruit.

In between writing and editing this post, Mags presented us with an honest to goodness, absolutely authentic, damn tasty, pomelo marmalade. My type of harvest.

The harvest, bottled
Pomelo Marmalade

Fame and fortune awaits!

Working Tools – 6. Writing Setup

Writing Setup

The photo is not staged. I got up from my chair, picked up my iPhone and took a picture. It’s 09:27 on a Friday morning. Mrs L has gone out to do the weekly grocery shop. Spice is in her crate, just to the right of this picture. Once this draft is written, I’ll wake and take her out into the garden for some play and some training.

I would like to be in my office – but I’m not for a couple of reasons.

  1. The office is a converted car port. As such, it has no heating and it’s cold today.
  2. Spice needs attention. We are crate-training her, which requires some supervision and some energy. She is not at the stage where she can be left alone for long periods. It’s easier to bring some work kit to the the kitchen than it would be to take her and the crate to the office.

I could equally have brought my laptop upstairs and used that. I chose, in fact always choose, to bring the ipad instead.

Why the ipad?

I’m not asking you, I’m asking myself.

  • Footprint. I like just having the magic keyboard in front of me and the screen separate. It means I can put the screen off-centre, which I enjoy. Why? Search me.
  • Footprint II. As my workflow changes, this writing setup works with me. I push the keyboard to one side and pick up my notebook. Everything is much easier to move around.
  • The keyboard. I enjoy the magic keyboard, and it is seldom taken down by a speck of dust or a crumb. The MacBook Pro? Well…
  • Focus. I know there is a split-screen mode on the iPad Pro. Periodically, I learn it, then forget it again. The singular focus of one task / one app, is a huge plus for me. I have no notifications on the ipad, and I will remain on the Ulysses edit screen until I’m finished with the post.

Environmental

I listen to a lot of podcasts, but not when I’m writing. Writing, I need some music. Spice and I have settled on some chilled jazz. I asked Siri to play some mellow jazz on the homepod, and, brace yourself, she did. As you can see, it has had the desired effect on Spice, and I’m enjoying it too.

Dog in my writing setup
Spice enjoying the jazz

Conclusion

The iPad Pro is great. So is my laptop. Both run my favourite software for writing (Ulysses). Not surprisingly, I have a top quality range of notebooks to choose from.

For the first time in a long time, none of my Apple kit is the latest and greatest. There is a new generation of ipad pros out. A new Apple Watch. An improved MBP. iPhone X with letters appended. There is a reasonable chance that I will soon be in an Apple Store, unsupervised. Of all the goodies there, I will sneak a look at the new iPads, but I imagine will leave, empty-handed.

The writing setup doesn’t do the work. I use a mix of the analogue and the digital, and I am absolutely certain that my workflows will continue to evolve, but when push comes to shove, there is no substitute for sitting down and getting on with it.

Living the Dream – 29. Winter

Winter

Winter is here. Cyprus has one. No, I didn’t know either.

Many rejoice.

“The dams need filling.”

Recent arrivals look at each other, glum. Doubt wafts about. Nobody came for this.

Winter has got out of the blocks early, and with alacrity. The news reports that yesterday, we had a mini-hurricane. I doubt meteorologists would use such a term, but I find it accurate.

Soaked

We are house-training our puppy, and her bathroom is on the terrace outside the kitchen. The floor is lined with “puppy pads” and we have a fence around it. At relevant moments, we lift her into place. Though open on three sides, the terrace does have a roof.

So it is, that several times, both day and night, we can be heard exhorting and encouraging a bemused canine:

“Go pee-pee. Good girl. Good pee-pee.”

Early in the morning, I stood in my dressing-gown sleepily observing that the post-dawn air was on the decidedly fresh side, that the last brandy of the previous evening may have been a tad unnecessary.

The sky darkened. Both Spice and I looked up, puzzled.  From bone dry to sopping wet, in half a heartbeat. Rain hit from two sides. No. Three sides. On reflection, from four sides. Dog and human were unanimous in utter mystification.

“What the …. was that?” I queried, not unreasonably.

Spice perceived the rhetorical nature of the question and intensified her stare.

With the benefit of hindsight, I suspect that she may have been hoping to communicate that we might more comfortably speculate upon the nature of the weather from the warm, dry kitchen, not two feet away, rather than in the midst of the spray.

Keep Calm and Carry On

The squall, or whatever it was, passed in ten minutes or less and no more than thirty minutes later, the sky was a dappled blue and the sun shone.

Either this is an unusual winter, or our luck continues to be poor. Wave upon wave of storm has rolled over the house. Thunder, lightning, hail and now, it would seem, a mini-hurricane. Weather is extremely localised on the island, but this wet, stormy spell appears more a general theme.

I have spent enough time in this part of the world to know that soon enough, we will miss the rain, and will be referring to the sun as relentless, rather than the storms.

Victim

However, I do feel for my sister-in-law. She is here for an extended break, hoping for warm, dry weather. Every morning, she comes into the kitchen where she is enthusiastically greeted by her new best friend, Spice, and looks through the window at the back-end of the latest storm system heading out to sea.

I’m not sure she believes me any more when I say,

“It’s usually much nicer.”

I’m not sure I believe me either.

Working Tools – 5. Ulysses

Ulysses

I wrote here about the software that I use most, and in this post, I explore writing options in more detail.

History

In the corporate world, all writing was in e-mail clients or Microsoft Word. I’m old enough to remember when Wordperfect was THE word processor. (To my great surprise, it’s still going strong, apparently.)

Scrivener

Once I declared myself “a writer”, I, like many, bought Scrivener. I suspect that buying Scrivener is a rite of passage, a declaration that one is serious about writing.

Scrivener is a powerful piece of software, developed by a writer for his own use. Over time, more and more options were added, and the result is an entire infrastructure on its own. Research, planning, outlining, editing and writing all have their place. One can write in any font and publish in another in any number of formats.

I imagine that I was not the first, nor the last, to take one look at the complexity of “Scriv.”, and immediately started using it as if it were Word. Don’t get me wrong, It is a superb piece of software, capable of doing whatever one might need done, to write a novel; but intuitive, it isn’t. Learning to harness the software is a project on its own.

Wilderness

In one of my frequent quests for simplicity, I abandoned the complexity of both hardware and software and bought a Chromebook.

“Privacy be damned, knickers to complexity! I’m going to type directly into a Google doc on Google drive.”

Ahead of my time, I did this before Google made a a good Chromebook. My aged-brain could not quite buy into only having documents in the ether, so I soon returned to the Cupertino fold.

I tried many apps for writing. Pages, Bear, Drafts, Ulysses, Apple Notes, WordPress App, and probably more. None really worked for me, for one reason or another.

Ulysses

Listening to tech podcasts, I was intrigued by people singing the praises of Markdown and of Ulysses for focused writing. I knew that Markdown was the creation of John Gruber, but assumed that it was some sort of coding language. My experience of Ulysses was that it was mostly a blank screen. Nice in as far as a blank page is nice, but not exactly revolutionary.

I determined to explore a little more. Turns out that Markdown is all about simplicity. I had missed much of what Ulysses could do. A particular appeal was that my Mac would sync with my iOS devices. Scriv. was threatening an iPad app, and had been for years (it now has one.)

On The Sweet Setup, I found a course called “Learn Ulysses”, (which is still around for $37), which I took.

Ah.

This is a clever piece of software. On the surface, an uncomplicated interface. A digital notebook in which to write. Yet, hit a few keyboard shortcuts, and you are into a world of organisation, customisations and tools. More than enough for me, without being overwhelming.

At the end of the course, there were case studies, by real people. One of these was by Matt Gemmell. Much of my workflow is an adaptation of his, which is outlined both on the Ulysses site and in the Sweet Setup course.

Recommendations

Full disclosure. I receive no payment or incentive from Matt Gemmell, The Sweet Setup or Ulysses. Nor would I wish to, I am simply sharing my opinion.

Ulysses is a powerful application that I now use for all of my writing. The novel, blog posts, corporate reports, everything. I do so, because it’s a joy to use, both on my Mac and my iPad. It’s £36 per year. Money well-spent.

The Sweet Setup Course held my hand and walked me through the functionality of the app that was not immediately obvious. Could I have discovered it myself? Yes. However, taking the course was a shortcut, and eliminated frustration. $37 seems reasonable.

Matt Gemmell’s novels, Changer and Toll are excellent. His website exemplary and I have shamelessly adopted much of his method. Go have a nose around his site. I think you’ll like it.

Structure

This post is reserved for Members. Membership costs £12 per year. For this princely sum, you will get access to subscriber only posts, direct access to a members chatroom , and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year. Become a member.

Living the Dream – 28. Perspective

Perspective

December has been about recovery and perspective for us. After the horror of October, and intense sorrow of November, we just kept going. We were feeling sorry for ourselves, bruised and battered. Still do. Mid-month, I read this.

Kim and I have worked together and got on famously. Take a few minutes to read her blog and I’m sure that you will see why. I was delighted that all ended well. This year just-gone, we have a friend who lost her husband to a chronic disease. Sometimes, we need to be hit hard by a bit of perspective.

In difficult times, my tried and tested coping strategy is to fall back on pop psychology.

“Bad things happen to good people.”
“It’s not what happens that matters, it’s how you react.”

Cliché or not, there is truth in these statements. Hell, there are times that Margaret and I want to scream and shout at the injustice of what happened to Nero and the indifference of the law. However, we can’t change that. We persist in pursuing all legal avenues, but we may be stymied. We can only do what we can do.

Christmas

Christmas would have been degrees harder if not for the arrival of Spice, part cute-puppy and part Gremlin post-shower, and the presence of an angel.
Margaret’s sister Adele arrived with us on the 8th of December. She and Spice immediately became besties, and Adele (to her own great surprise) has become an expert puppy trainer. The sisters have talked, and talked and talked. Adele offers enormous strength where I am weakest. She listens. And Margaret needs, now, more than ever, to talk.

Back to work

My office has come together, and gradually I am re-establishing a work routine. I’m excited that I am writing again, and through the generosity of readers of this blog, getting paid for it.

January is about new beginnings, and for us, this is especially true this year.

Draft Wrangling

This post is reserved for Members. Membership costs £12 per year. For this princely sum, you will get access to subscriber only posts, direct access to a members chatroom , and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year. Join now.

Members

Members

4 minute read

I’m building a new lifestyle, here in the sun. Mags and I packed up and moved to Cyprus at the end of September 2018. If you are interested in our journey so far, click on the category “Living the Dream” which catalogues our progress.

I do a few things to keep me busy. Nero’s Notes is a company that sells notebooks and stationery online. Lime Training and Consultancy Ltd  offers anti money laundering expertise. I like to hang out with my family, which for me, means Margaret, and our canine sidekick, Spice. I play golf.

Each pastime rewards me. With revenue, satisfaction, joy or a combination of these. Thankfully, I do not try to earn money from my golf; I would be very hungry if I did rely on it to put food on the table.

My real passion is writing. I love to write, both on paper or on a keyboard. I love talking about writing. Agonising about writing. Complaining about writing. Writing about writing. In February 2015, I confidently posted here about writing my novel. April 2016, I was going to publish.

Ah.

In a matter of hours it will be 2019. I still haven’t published a novel. That’s despite taking time off other work to write the book.

Why not?

The answer to that will run long, and will certainly run the risk of being defensive, and self-serving. I shall try to be concise, and honest.

Imagine starting a new job. You arrive, eager and excited.

A desk? You need a desk? You’ll have to buy one. With your own money. A computer? Yes, you’ll need to buy that too. Pen? Paper? Yes, that too. You need to buy it all.

You realise that these things actually cost a bit. A lot actually, if you like the good stuff. Undeterred, you rationalise that these tools are important. You will use them every day to work; to work at being a writer. You’re investing in your future. The earnings will cover it.

Earnings, yes. Those. How much will you earn? Well, for the first eighteen months, nothing. Nada. Zip. After that, you can self-publish and you never know, you might get a thousand or two in sales. That might translate to a few hundred after costs.

Hmmm…hoping for more than a few hundred? Fame? Fortune? It takes years to be an overnight success, you know.

It takes hard work, talent, hard work, luck, hard work, timing and hard work. Did I mention hard work?

And with all that, the chances are that you will never earn back the money you invested in equipment, let alone the thousands of hours of your time.

That’s why not.

Why now?

Having spent a couple of years “being a writer”, which did involve some writing as well as quite a lot of buying writing ephemera, I ended up with not one, but two, first drafts. I had even done some work on combining those two drafts into one timeline. Then I stopped. Nero’s Notes took much of my time, Lime grew. I decided that these two things had better earning potential.

While that was undoubtedly true, it was not the whole answer.

I don’t like the idea of editing or of trying to find a publisher, or self-publishing. I don’t like the idea of putting hundreds more hours into marketing, with huge portions of any revenue going to third parties.

Those things too, are undoubtedly true. They are not the whole answer either. Yes, the work is daunting, Yes, the return per hour will be tiny.

The real obstacle is fear. Pride. Imposter syndrome. For many reasons, I measure success in pounds and pence. Publishing will crystallise the loss. Somewhere, I will have a spreadsheet that starkly demonstrates that writing is a waste of my time.

Now. I’ve told you. You know the truth. That’s a relief.

I’m going to edit the drafts. I’m going to publish – first to members, and then to the wider-world.

Membership – A new model

As I publish books, they will be for sale through all the usual channels, with all the usual cuts being taken by the middle-men. However – members of this site will already have copies as part of their membership.

Members will pay £12 a year. A pound a month.

Members will get access to subscriber only posts, on writing, publishing and productivity, direct access to a members chatroom, where I will hang out, and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year, before it is available on general release.

Members act as both the carrot and the stick. Revenue (after payment fees) comes direct to me, not to Amazon or Apple. Having people willing to commit upfront creates a huge incentive to repay that faith, to overcome imposter syndrome and to publish.

This approach is not new. I subscribe to several websites with similar models. The Pen Addict for one. I was inspired to write this post by Matt Gemmell, who has an excellent membership scheme and website. He has also written two superb novels, Changer and Toll, which I heartily recommend. Buy them, or even better, become one of his members.

How to join

If you would like to help, then become a member of stuartlennon.com, or give a membership as a gift.

I will still be publishing many posts on the site for everyone, after all, I want people to find me. However, a proportion of posts will be exclusive to members. Non-members will see the following message.

“This post is reserved for Members. Membership costs £12 per year. For this princely sum, you will get access to subscriber only posts, direct access to a members chatroom , and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year.”

Naturally, there will be a link to become a member.

I don’t anticipate a tidal wave of people signing up. There are already many, many demands on our wallets. However, if you do feel able to become a member, then I’ll do my very best to give you value for money, and you will be helping me to live the dream.